I knew Raphael, better known to me as Rafi, from the many days we spent together in the 'Tzofim' youth movement in Tel Aviv during the early forties. I remember well the enthusiasm and devotion that Rafi showed towards every creative idea which he believed could serve the Zionist cause and lead towards the establishment of the State of Israel.
No wonder that immediately after graduating from high school Rafi volunteered his services first, to the 'Palmach' striking force of the Jewish underground defense force, and later to organizing illegal 'aliya' (immigration of Jews) from one of the neighboring countries, an act which involved great personal risk. Rafi was a rare combination of a visionary idealist, always ready to serve his country and people unconditionally, and at the same time a daring business entrepreneur, a banker and large-scale economic investor. He became one of the world's leading shipping magnates, the sea playing an important role in his universal outlook. With his creative mind and authoritative personality he, on occasion, became involved in political and economic issues on a national level, to which he contributed his time, energy and resources. Rafi often acted behind the scenes, not expecting any kind of reward, be it power or personal privileges.
Maritime archaeology in Israel owes its initial development and growth to the Recanati family. I first approached Rafi in 1961, requesting his support in sponsoring, the then newly created, Archaeological Undersea Exploration Society of Israel. He immediately responded positively, joining the executive committee of the Society, then chaired by Y. Ben Aharon, initially serving as its honorary treasurer. His first contribution to the Society was the purchase of basic equipment for underwater exploration, together with a generous sum to cover the operational budget.
Following Rafi's move to New York, Ya'acov took over the family's interest in the Society's activities, moving its H.Q. to the El-Yam office in Haifa. During the next decade volunteer ex-navy divers successfully carried out marine archaeological surveys, which were followed by important discoveries along the Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts. When the time was ripe to turn professional and introduce marine archaeology into an academic institution, it was again Rafi who acknowledged the importance of developing a new discipline within the field of the history of the land of Israel. When approached in 1970, Rafi accepted the challenge and made a generous donation to the University of Haifa to establish a new graduate program, for the History of Maritime Civilizations, with its operational research unit, the Center for Maritime Studies. So typical of Rafi, he insisted that the Center be named after his father, Leon.
Many years have passed since then, but the Recanati family's involvement
in developing maritime studies at the University continues, and has been
passed on to the second generation. It is my great personal privilege to
have been closely associated with Rafi and Ya'acov for over half a century.
I know that my feelings of deep respect and gratitude towards this unique
family of proud Israelis, who serve as an example in modesty and decency,
is shared by my colleagues at the University as well as by friends and
former fellow members of the Undersea Exploration Society of Israel.
May Rafi's memory be blessed.