‘At Basel, I founded the Jewish state.’ So said Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl in 1897, in the aftermath of the first Zionist Congress.
Last week, Basel came to Jerusalem – or more accurately, to the Kedma Banquet Hall in Neveh Ilan – for the wedding of Esther Gilgen and Doron Hess. Though residents of Jerusalem, the bride and groom were both born in Basel, going to the same kindergarten there, later students of the same rabbi and some years later, both serving in the IDF. With all these commonalities, their paths had never crossed, until a chance meeting on a plane between close relatives of the bride and the groom. After that, nature took its course and in the words of Marcel Hess, the father of the groom, “It was a match made in heaven.”
That was fairly obvious during the wedding ceremony, as the bride and groom, while under the canopy, were chatting, smiling and laughing in a totally relaxed manner, without any sign of nervousness. Not only were the bride and groom and their parents – Batja and Beat Gilgen, and Suzanne and Marcel Hess – from Basel, but so were a very large proportion of the guests, the officiating rabbi and the cantor who sang the blessings.
That explains why the bilingual wedding invitation was in German and Hebrew, instead of the customary English and Hebrew – though with the recent influx of immigrants from France, English is often replaced by French.
The rabbi was Israel Meir Levinger, the former chief rabbi of Basel, and the cantor was Issachar Helman, the chief cantor of the city’s Great Synagogue. But that wasn’t all. The ketuba was created by a Basel artist, who unfortunately was unable to come to Israel, but was mentioned by the rabbi. As Marcel Hess put it, “It was a Basel huppa kedushin.”
The Hess family represents generations of kosher sausage-makers, and Marcel Hess earned the title of Sausage King by winning competitions with sausage-makers who produced non-kosher sausages, which Hess – who is religiously observant – could never taste, though his rivals tasted his and awarded him many prizes.
A Swiss-certified master chef and sausage-maker, Marcel Hess, when he first moved to Israel close to 20 years ago, lived in Netanya, and operated a restaurant and delicatessen in Ra’anana – where his three children, especially Doron, helped out when they were not at school. Later, the family moved to Jerusalem, and Marcel and Suzanne opened another restaurant, relinquishing the management three years ago to Doron and his sister, Dahlia.
At the wedding, Marcel Hess revealed that when he got married 39 years ago, he presented his bride with a pair of specially designed Shabbat candlesticks. They were not passed on to either of his daughters when they got married, but he wanted his new daughter-in-law to have them. To Doron, he gave a potted plant – not just any old plant, but one that in a sense was symbolic of the family business, which Marcel had learned from his father and passed on to his son.
When the Hess family left Basel, Marcel took a cutting from a tree that had belonged to his father and carefully cultivated it in Netanya, bringing another cutting to Jerusalem, which he again cultivated until it grew into a tree. For the wedding, he took yet another cutting from the tree in Jerusalem, and presented it to Doron as a sign of continuity. He also abdicated his Sausage King title, and bestowed it on his son.
It’s unusual at a wedding to have a menu on the table – and indeed there were no standing menus, but there were scrolls with a very extensive menu, under the headline “Gala Wedding Dinner: Esther and Doron Hess-Gilgen.” Waiters didn’t even bother to ask for preferences, but just kept bringing each guest a new item within minutes of the previous one having been consumed. One suspects that at least some of the food came from the Hess restaurant, because the traditional French chicken liver pate was just too mouthwatering for a banquet hall.
But even at a wedding, business is business, and the last sentence on the menu was, “Don’t forget Purim is coming soon!” The implication was, of course, that for those planning on engaging in the mitzva of mishloach manot, a meat platter of sausages and cold cuts would be an ideal gift.
■ YIDDISH CAN be a uniquely succinct language. So much can be expressed by the two words “oy vey,” especially if they are accompanied by an exclamation mark.
That was the case with the online Jewish Press report about Yair Netanyahu, the older of the two sons of the prime minister, and his non-Jewish Norwegian girlfriend Sandra Leikanger, with whom he has been keeping company for several months, and with whom he spent a vacation in Norway.
In its news index, The Jewish Press listed its stories in blue, and the only one with a comment of any kind under the headline was the Netanyahu junior romance, with “Oy vey!” written in black underneath. The exclamation mark may have served a dual purpose, in that the publication was not only clucking its tongue over an inter-religious liaison, but also over the Swedish caption under a photograph of the young couple that stated (according to a Google translation): “Sandra (25) from Grimstad, and her Dearest, the son of one of the world’s foremost terrorists.”
The story was all over the Internet last weekend and the beginning of this week, and the prime minister is reported to have told his Norwegian counterpart Erna Solberg, who he met in Davos, that his son was going out with a Norwegian girl. The lovebirds met through mutual friends, who like Leikanger are students at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. Yair Netanyahu is a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The two have made no effort to hide their relationship. In fact, there were reports of them being seen at the Mamilla Hotel’s Mirror Bar, one of Jerusalem’s distinctly upscale establishments.
Binyamin Netanyahu cannot really order his son to refrain from cultivating a romance with a non-Jewish girl, because the prime minister’s second wife, Fleur Cates, whom he married in a civil ceremony, was not Jewish. There are conflicting reports as to whether she converted before or after the wedding, but in any event it was a Conservative conversion, which was unacceptable to the Chief Rabbinate.
For the prime minister to censure his son would be akin to saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.”
Meanwhile, the story has caused more than a hiccup in political and religious circles. Shas leader Arye Deri, when interviewed on Kol Berama, remarked that it was sad to hear of the romance, when so many people are spending so much money to prevent assimilation. On the other hand, he observed, the prime minister’s daughter by his first wife is religiously observant, and his son Avner, the youngest of his three children, is Shabbat-observant.
■ APROPOS IDC, the educational institution of higher learning, which can point to some sterling academic achievements as well as instilling a spirit of social justice and community consciousness in its students, is this year celebrating its 20th anniversary.
Founder and president Prof. Uriel Reichman has taken IDC even beyond his own dreams. This is partly due to the fact that major Jewish philanthropists are aware that some of its foreign students from around the globe, who are learning to know and even love Israel as a result of their IDC experience, are among the movers and shakers of tomorrow. If their impressions of Israel are positive, they will eventually influence people in their home environments to take a more balanced view of Israel.
Among those whose largesse has enabled IDC to develop to the extent that it has are Ronald Lauder, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, Harry Radzyner, Shari Arison, Oudi Recanati, Leonid Nevzlin and the late Efi Arazi and Sammy Ofer, to name but a few.
There are non-Jewish students in the vast majority – if not all – of Israel’s institutes of higher learning. Heartening though it may be that they have ignored mounting global waves of Israel-bashing, the bottom line is that they represent no less an existential danger than any country that is hostile to Israel. Love defies ethnic, national and religious boundaries, and the more foreign students Israel attracts, the more Israelis who will be attracted to them.
■ HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR, former Knesset speaker, former chairman of the Yad Vashem Council and former Israel ambassador to Poland Szewach Weiss warns of the danger of inflation of Holocaust remembrance.
Too much of anything results in its devaluation, he says. While it is of paramount importance to remember the Holocaust and the atrocities humanity must not allow itself to commit again, there has to be some kind of accepted policy about how and when the Holocaust should be commemorated.
■ AS HAPPENS every year in the week of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, as well as on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Israeli publications contain reports about: the dire economic straits in which some Holocaust survivors find themselves; the recollections of survivors, some of whom were previously silent about their experiences; the fact that so many survivors pass away in any given year; and the rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Europe and elsewhere.
This week was no exception.
But there was a certain irony in the passing of at least two Holocaust survivors who were not silent: One was Irving (Ignac) Milchberg, who was the leader of the group of youths who in 1942, escaped the Warsaw Ghetto and were immortalized in Joseph Zhimian’s book, The Cigarette Sellers of Three Crosses Square. Milchberg was the leader of the group, which took on Aryan identities, and not only sold cigarettes to the Nazis but also smuggled guns and food to resistance fighters.
He died in Toronto on Sunday.
Another member, Peretz Hochman, who was to have been one of the memorial torch lighters at the Warsaw Ghetto commemoration at Yad Vashem last year, died shortly before the event.
This past Monday, Hana Greenfield – who survived Terezin, Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen, and authored the book Fragments of Memory – passed away in Tel Aviv, ironically on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Greenfield was a member of the board of the Terezin Ghetto Museum and initiated a project in the Czech Republic, The Holocaust through Czech Children’s Eyes.
There were several anti-Semitic incidents in Europe throughout January, among them the parcels of pigs’ heads that were sent last Friday to Rome’s Great Synagogue, Jewish Museum and Israel Embassy. In addition, anti-Semitic graffiti was scrawled on a municipal building. The offenses were widely condemned in Italy and abroad, as well as here in Israel, where Italian Ambassador Francesco Maria Talo drew attention to the fact that Prime Minister Enrico Letta had expressed solidarity with Rome’s Jewish community. Talo said he had expressed his own shame to his friend and colleague Naor Gilon, who is Israel’s ambassador to Italy.
Aside from the irony of Holocaust survivors passing away on the week of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, is the more obvious irony in the number of Israelis of German background who are seeking German citizenship. In a remembrance day message, German ambassador Andreas Michaelis wrote how moved he is each week to see that the waiting room in the German Consulate is filled with Israelis who have decided that they want German citizenship, more than 70 years after the Nazis stripped German Jews of their citizenship. He also noted that 18,000 Israelis are now living in Berlin.
■ WHEN HE visited Israel in May of last year, legendary Dutch footballer Johan Cruyff filled out Yad Vashem pages of testimony in Tel Aviv detailing information about three Jewish members of his family who were murdered by the Nazis. But it was not until this Monday that the pages of testimony were delivered to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem by his son Jordi Cruyff, himself an international football player.
Johan Cruyff’s uncle, who was Jewish, fled the Netherlands during the Holocaust, but his sisters remained behind and shared the tragic fate of so many other Dutch Jews.
■ IN A rare display of consideration for the guests who paid NIS 1,000 a plate to attend the gala 13th-anniversary dinner of Hakav Hameached (The Line of Unification) – which works to ease the lives of children suffering from rare disabilities and at the same time, does all possible to restore light and joy into the lives of child victims of terror and their families – there were hardly any speeches, and a goodly portion of entertainment preceded any speechmaking.
The only real speech of the evening was delivered by the honorary president of the organization, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, who could almost be regarded as part of the entertainment, because of his anecdotes and ability to keep the audience riveted. Lau – who was leaving the following day for Paris, to give testimony as a child Holocaust survivor at the UNESCO ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day – took time out to praise Israel Shai Sheinfeld, the founder of Hakav Hameached, for the heartwarming work that he and hundreds of volunteers do, saying that Kav Hameachad is not about a fancy building, but good deeds.
Lau’s anecdote was about the Altneu Synagogue in Prague, where the walls are covered with acronyms based on verses from the Bible, Talmud and Psalms. Lau was able to work them all out, until he was given the seat once occupied by Judah Loew ben Bezalel, better known as the Maharal of Prague. Looking ahead, he saw a hole in the wall and a set of letters that he could not fathom. But it was the hole, more than the letters, that fascinated him.
The synagogue, which is the oldest active synagogue in the world, had been maintained even during the Communist era by a man called Feinlicht.
When Lau asked him about the hole and the letters he couldn’t decipher, Feinlicht told him that the whole thing was related to giving in secret and not shaming the poor. The rich would send money through the hole, and the poor would wait on the other side and pick it up as it fell to the ground. The rich never knew who picked it up and the poor never knew who gave it, and thus when they entered the synagogue to pray, they could sit comfortably among the rich.
Yishai Lapidot was one of the entertainers, along with Eitan Masuri, Yossi Vider and Moshe Peretz, and said that all the entertainers had provided their services free of charge. In fact, they often accompany Hakav Hameached volunteers to hospitals to entertain sick children. Also providing their services free of charge were husband-and-wife actors and singers Guy Zuaretz and Yael Bar-Zohar, who were the moderators of the event, and Meni Pe’er, who auctioned off sets of tefillin, to be given to bar mitzva boys, at NIS 1,800 per set. One of the guests, David Myers, bankrolled 18 sets of tefillin.
Awards were distributed to special guests, including: hotelier David Fattal, who had donated the dinner and donates the services of his hotels in Eilat to the cause, and ensures that every child who stays in the hotel under the auspices of Hakav Hameached is treated like a VIP; Joseph Gitler, the founder of Leket Israel, which collects surplus food for distribution to the needy, and who is also a keen supporter of Hakav Hameached; and Rabbi David Krimalovsky, who is one of the organization’s foremost volunteers.
There was also a surprise by way of a birthday cake for Bar-Zohar, and a huge bouquet of flowers for volunteer Haya Smilowicz, who has been active in Hakav Hameached for four years and happens to be the fiancee of founder Sheinfeld.
The organization has more than 1,000 volunteers throughout the country.
■ WHEN VETERAN Government Press Office photographer Moshe Milner showed up with his family at the President’s Residence to bid farewell to Shimon Peres, he was being premature. The president will remain in office until the last week of July, but Milner has just retired.
Because Peres was busy with a previous engagement, they meeting was delayed. Milner, who has been photographing Peres for half a century, instead turned his attention to photographing his grandchildren. When he did meet Peres, the latter jokingly said Milner had not made him sufficiently photogenic during his visit with the pope.
“But you were extremely photogenic when you were younger,” said Milner, promptly producing a batch of photos to prove the point.
One was a most historic photo of three young men: Yitzhak Rabin, who was then chief of general staff; Arik Sharon, who was then a general; and Peres, who was merely an MK at the time. “This is a photo of three prime ministers of Israel, though none of them knew at the time that he was going to be a prime minister,” declared Milner.
Other photos included Peres with David Ben-Gurion; with Al Schwimmer, the founder of Israel Aircraft Industries, now Israel Aerospace Industries; and another of Peres with Madonna. Of the tens of thousands of photos he has taken over the years, the most memorable for Milner were the return of the Israelis who had been held hostage in Entebbe, and the signing of the Camp David Accords.
■ ANYONE WHO tunes into Reshet Bet when the dawn is rising will hear current affairs and news anchor Aryeh Golan reading headlines from the morning papers, and sometimes commenting on reports. This week, in reference to a Ma’ariv front page photo of Sapir Sabach, the ORT student who complained that teacher Adam Verete had expressed left-wing opinions in the classroom, Golan remarked: “There’s a successor to [Likud MK] Miri Regev.”
As a result of Sabach’s complaint, Verete was threatened with dismissal.
There have been demonstrations by students, teachers and others on his behalf. Among those defending Verete’s right to express his views was another teacher whose politics are diametrically opposed, and who was dismissed 13 years ago for refusing to teach about Rabin’s legacy. Rabbi Israel Shiran said it pained him to hear of Verete’s criticism of the IDF, but it was his right to say what he believes.
Shiran, by the way, took his case to court and sued the Education Ministry for wrongful dismissal. He was awarded compensation of around NIS 400,000.
■ IN CASE some of the people passing a well-known Jerusalem bookstore wondered why an Australian flag was flying over the doorway this week, it was because Sunday, January 26, was Australia Day, and the store has an in-house relationship with someone from down under.
Unlike many other expatriate communities in Israel, the Australians were not invited to a reception hosted by the ambassador, because for many years now, such receptions are held only if they coincide with the visit to Israel on Australian Day by an Australian prime minister or foreign minister, or if the president of the Zionist Federation of Australia is attending a January meeting of the World Zionist Organization. Considering that Australian soldiers: helped rid the country of Ottoman rule on the eve of the signing of the Balfour Declaration; were also here during World War II; are buried here in Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries; though few in number, were among the volunteers who came to fight in the War of Independence; and were among the early settlers in kibbutzim such as Kfar Hanassi, Jezreel, and Nirim, it can safely be said that Australia’s ties with Israel go back for nearly a century.
What is interesting is that the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of most of the people who went from Palestine to Australia in the aftermath of the 1929 earthquake, have made the journey in the opposite direction – though over the past half-century, several thousand people with Israeli citizenship have settled temporarily or permanently in Australia.
Just as Israel is known as the Promised Land, Australia is known as the Lucky Country, and indeed for many Jews, especially Holocaust survivors, it has proved to be just that. Many of the Israelis who go to Australia do so because it is so far away from the tensions of the region, and most people know very little about Australia – beyond the fact that including flight connections, it takes more than 20 hours to get there from Israel. There are no direct flights from Israel to Australia.
For the sake of enlightenment, and to be honest, due to the writer of this column’s pride in her Australian heritage, here is some background on Australia, as written by Leo Maglen in Quadrant magazine: We have no land borders, and Australia is the largest country in the world not to have any.
According to Geoscience Australia, we have a coastline of almost 60,000 kilometers (mainland plus islands).
Australia is the only inhabited continent that is not criss-crossed with international boundaries and a patchwork of nation states. Not for us razor-wire fences, concrete barriers, guard posts, checkpoints, manned border crossings, heavily armed border patrols, disputed terrain.
We are one country, one nation, spanning an entire continent and its offshore islands. The shape is so iconic, so much the image of our country, that we take it for granted.”
Australia was annexed as a British Colony by Arthur Phillip with a small ceremony in Botany Bay on January 26, 1788.
It was another Englishman, Matthew Flinders, who first circumnavigated the continent and revealed in detail its size and shape, and it was he who bestowed upon it the name Australia.
It’s worth reading the whole article to see how fortunate Australia was to be annexed by Britain, which takes a much more lenient attitude towards decolonization than do other European countries.