Grapevine: All roads lead to the Western Wall

The Old City, which is always a destination for visitors, will be more crowded than usual on Thursday due to several important ceremonies.

April 15, 2014 22:19
Hungary Holocaust

Israel's chief rabbis, Yitzhak Yosef (R) and David Lau, in Hungary to comemorate the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust.. (photo credit: SAM SOKOL)

BECAUSE PASSOVER is a pilgrim festival during which in ancient times people took their offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem, the capital is one of the most crowded places in the country during the Passover holiday period.

It is even more so when the festival coincides with Easter, as it does this year, bringing thousands of Jews and Christians from all over Israel and many parts of the world. The Old City, which is always a destination for visitors, will be more crowded than usual on Thursday due to several important ceremonies.

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The first will be the blessing of the priests at the Western Wall, which always draws thousands of people.

This is scheduled to take place at 10:15 a.m. following morning prayers. Immediately afterwards, between 10:45 a.m. and noon, the two chief rabbis of Israel, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and Rabbi David Lau, together with Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, the rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Sies, will meet and greet people in the plaza leading to the Western Wall.

The two chief rabbis will do the same later in the day from 5 p.m. in the more intimate surroundings of two Jerusalem synagogues. Rabbi Joseph will be at Hazon Ovadia Synagogue in the Romema neighborhood until 8 p.m., and Rabbi Lau will be at the Great Synagogue on King George Street until 7 p.m.

In the Old City, immediately after the blessing of the priests, beginning at 10:30 a.m. at the Hurva Synagogue, there will be a memorial tribute to former Sephardi chief rabbi Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu in the presence of ministers, Knesset members, mayors and rabbinical leaders, including Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, Minister for Senior Citizens Uri Orbach, Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel, Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs Eli Ben-Dahan, presidential candidate and former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee Nissan Slomianski, Rabbi Dov Lior, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Shomron Regional Council Mayor Gershon Mesika, chairman of the Jewish Quarter Development Company Moshe Yogev, Judea and Samaria Council chairman Avi Roeh and Jewish Quarter chairman Israel Twito.

Several well-known singers and musicians will also be participating.

And in the course of the ceremony, Rabbi Meir Israel Nahon, who was born in the Jewish Quarter, will be officially installed as a neighborhood rabbi in Ashdod.

■ THE HEBREW calendar month of Nissan is a particularly busy period for the two chief rabbis Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau who, in addition to acting as intermediaries for the sale of leaven and lecturing on various aspects of the Passover festival, have been called on again and again to affix mezuzot on new enterprises or old enterprises in new premises. There is no more visible sign of pride in one’s Jewishness than putting a mezuza on the door post in accordance with the directive in the Book of Deuteronomy and as a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt when the Children of Israel were instructed to smear their door post with the blood of a lamb so that the Angel of Death would not visit them.

■ THE WIVES of the chief rabbis, Tzipi Lau and Ruti Yosef are also expanding their community activities. Last week they visited Bat Melech, the shelter for battered women from haredi communities.

The two women were greatly moved by their encounters with the battered women with whom they spoke at length, embraced them to demonstrate their support and commended their courage in leaving cruel husbands to start a new life. Lawyer Noach Korman, who founded Bat Melech, has urged rabbis and educators to teach yeshiva students how to treat their wives and, most important, to refrain from violence.

■ THE FIRST guests of Jerusalem’s new luxury hotel, the Waldorf Astoria, checked in last Thursday.

The hotel is having a soft opening and will have a gala opening in July once it has successfully overcome its running-in period. Unlike the situation in other hotels in the capital, the staff did not have to frantically change dishes and kasher the kitchen for Passover. Management deliberately refrained from opening before Passover, and general manager Guy Klaiman gave the hotel’s chefs total freedom to experiment with any kosher-for-Passover ingredients that took their fancy so they could challenge their creative abilities and come up with culinary creations that were a feast to the eye and the palate.

Klaiman could not help boasting of the talents of pastry chef Claude Ben-Simon, saying that “he does wonders with potato flour.” It was not an idle boast. The pastries were indeed beautiful to behold, and most of them tasted as good as they looked. Although, to be honest, there was an exception or two; but then again, just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, taste is on the tip of the tongue, and what may not be tasty to one person may be delicious to another.

The Waldorf Astoria is Hilton’s luxury brand and signals the first return to Jerusalem by an international hotel chain since the intifada.

Hilton was always interested in being in Jerusalem, said Moti Verses, the in-house public relations director for Hiltons Israel. He stated that Hilton had twice before opened hotels in the capital. Verses noted that Sheraton, which also had twice opened hotels in the capital, was no longer a presence there nor was Hyatt. The Sheraton hotel, which had the longest staying power, is now the Leonardo and is part of the stable of the Fattal hotel chain. The Hyatt was taken over by the Dan hotel chain, which has taken over three hotels that previously had other names, other managements and other owners. Together with the King David, the Dan chain operates four hotels in Jerusalem.

According to Klaiman, when Hilton was given the opportunity to bring its luxury brand to Jerusalem, it didn’t think twice about saying yes. As for the King David, some needy Jerusalemites were able to eat a five-star meal on Seder night thanks to the generosity of the King David management, which contributed 150 meals to the Shekel Organization tha provides community services for people with disabilities; and to the social welfare department of the Jerusalem Municipality. The hotel, which supplies food for the needy throughout the year via various organizations, decided to enhance its contribution after taking into account the latest poverty statistics.

■ FOR JEWS, the concept of freedom dates back to the Exodus from Egypt, from slavery to independence.

For South Africans, freedom is shaking off the shackles of apartheid and living in a democratic country in which all people, regardless of the color of their skin, have equal rights. Towards the end of April, South Africans at home and abroad will celebrate the 20th anniversary of Freedom Day.

Because there may be numerous duplications on their guest lists, South Africa’s ambassador to the Palestinian Authority MW Makalima and his colleague Sisa Ngombane, South Africa’s Ambassador to Israel, have decided to make their Freedom Day receptions on two consecutive nights.

Makalima is holding his reception in Ramallah on April 28, and Ngombane is holding his reception in Ramat Gan on April 29 not only because of the fact that some of the invitees are being invited to both receptions but also because April 28 is Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Each of their invitations carries a quote from Nelson Mandela.

Makalina chose “No power on Earth can stop an oppressed people determined to win their freedom,” which Mandela wrote before he went to prison. Ngombane chose “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.”

■ PEOPLE WHO volunteer for National Service rather than serving in the army have a huge choice of educational and social welfare projects in which additional staff are sorely needed. Last week, at one of the Jerusalem youth hostels, many young people who have turned 18 or are about to lined up to check out their options.

Also present was Minister for Senior Citizens Uri Orbach, who was not really there in a ministerial capacity, although he was treated as a minister. Orbach’s daughter, who is completing her high school studies, will soon be entering National Service, and her father went to see what was available for her. He insisted on going through all the procedures that potential recruits are subjected to and asked a lot of questions along the way.

That’s not really surprising, considering that he came to politics from the world of journalism.

■ THE ANNUAL gala dinner at the King David Hotel, at which Bar- Ilan University’s Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies confers its prestigious Guardian of Zion Award, is likely to be a sell-out this year. All previous honorees have been people of distinction, and some have been extremely eloquent speakers. But with no disrespect intended, it is doubtful that any of them had the extraordinary popularity of former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

During previous visits to Israel when Sacks spoke at the Jerusalem International Book Fair and after that at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue, the crowds were such that it was impossible for everyone to be seated. In the case of the Great Synagogue, several hundred were left outside because they could not get in. The queue was more than a block long. Thus it will not be at all surprising if Bar-Ilan has to close reservations well in advance of the June 2 gala.

Sacks is the second British citizen to be named a Guardian of Zion. At the award ceremony, he will deliver the Distinguished Rennert Lecture, which he has titled “Jerusalem: Home of the Jewish Heart.” The first British citizen to be honored was Sir Martin Gilbert. Nearly all the others were American.

Sacks is a natural for the award, according to Rennert Center director Prof. Joshua Schwartz. “Rabbi Lord Sacks has made an outstanding contribution to Diaspora Jewish life by bringing the message of Jerusalem to the Diaspora. He serves as a beacon of light for us all and is a true Guardian of Zion,” said Schwartz, who described Sacks as “a towering figure in the intellectual life of the Jewish world.”

■ LESS THAN a week later, last year’s Guardian of Zion recipient, Israel Museum director James Snyder, will be hosting the museum’s annual International Council.

One of the important events is the Honorary Fellowship Ceremony at which dedicated friends of the museum are honored. Just as the central theme for the Israel Festival this year is Jerusalem, so too is the theme of the Israel Museum’s gathering of the International Council, albeit from a different perspective.

The theme is “Celebrating Light” in recognition of the unique quality of the light in Jerusalem and simultaneously saluting the museum’s James Turrell exhibition “Light Spaces,” as well as Doug and Mike Starn’s “Big Bambi.”

Both exhibitions will open in the presence of the artists and the council members.

■ JEWS IN Europe are not quite sure whether to be proud or afraid.

Rising anti-Semitism is a cause for concern, but at the opposite end of the scale, the growth of many new Jewish organizations, especially women’s organizations, is a cause for pride. The International Council of Jewish Women will hold their 22nd Quadrennial Convention in Prague from May 4 to 7 to celebrate the growth of many new Jewish women’s organizations in Eastern Europe. The convention’s theme is “From Roots to Fruits: Jewish women yesterday, today and tomorrow.”

Delegates will attend from more than a dozen countries. The opening of the convention at the old town hall of Prague will be attended by the American and Israeli ambassadors to the Czech Republic, the chief rabbi of the Czech Republic, Rabbi Karol Sidon and Verona Miletinova – vice president of the Czech Council of Jewish Women.

Participants will tackle some of the most pressing issues of concern to women in the 21st century: trafficking, the changing roles of women, interfaith and inter-cultural relations, Jewish religious gender equality and the future for women and girls around the world.

Aside from lectures and discussions, participants will also see the film Nicky’s Family, which pays tribute to Nicholas Winton, an Englishman who organized the rescue of 669 Czech and Slovak children before World War II. The screening will be followed by a discussion with the filmmaker Matej Minac.

Israel Independence Day will be celebrated with a gala dinner during the convention with speaker Dr. Bonna Devora Haberman, one of the founders of Israel’s Women of the Wall and author of the ICJW Bea Zucker Online Bible Course.

■ AS HAS been previously mentioned in this column, errors elicit the best feedback. In last Friday’s column, an item about the Bronislaw Huberman Philharmonic Orchestra’s being headquartered in what was previously the Great Synagogue of Czestochowa was not quite correct. The synagogue itself was destroyed by the Nazis during the Holocaust period, and the home of the Philharmonic Orchestra, named for a native son of Czestochowa, stands on the site of the synagogue. Alon Goldman, chairman of the Association of Czestochowa Jews in Israel, was quick to point out the mistake and even sent a photograph of the ruins of the original synagogue building..

■ IN A new twist on “if you can’t beat them, join them,” the operations division in the struggle to prevent the dismantling of the Israel Broadcasting Authority has urged all those who are engaged in the effort to save the IBA from closure to join Likud so they can exert their influence from within instead of trying to fight. Communications Minister Gilad Erdan has yet to submit his bill proposing the shut-down of the IBA. But those who want to preserve public broadcasting are not sitting on their haunches while waiting for that to happen.

While there is consensus that the IBA is in need of a severe overhaul, no one at the IBA thinks that the drastic measure proposed by Erdan is justified. The previously agreed upon reforms were signed by representatives of the Finance Ministry, as well as representatives of other parties that were involved in the protracted negotiations, but he said there were more holes in the agreement than in Swiss cheese.

However, the people at the IBA, as well as the National Union of Journalists, contend that what Erdan is proposing will result in greater political influence than ever on the new public broadcasting entity, should it ever come to fruition. Currently, the only bright spot on the horizon for the IBA is the possibility of new elections if the government falls. That would give IBA employees much-needed breathing space, but there’s no guarantee that if there are new elections, that Likud won’t win; and if it does, that Erdan won’t be given the communications portfolio the second time around.

■ IN ANOTHER sphere of broadcasting, the religious radio station Arutz Sheva is celebrating its 25th anniversary. It started as an offshore pirate radio station to combat the influence of Abie Nathan’s The Voice of Peace, which also broadcast from a ship somewhere in the Mediterranean. Attempts were made to close down Arutz Sheva, but eventually with lobbying and right-wing empathy with Arutz Sheva, it was given legal status through a vote passed by the Knesset in February 1999. But it was opposed by the Supreme Court, which nullified the legislation, and in October 2003 convicted 10 of the employees. The defendants, including the station’s founder Ya’akov Katz, were fined and sentenced to several months of community service. Katz was subsequently pardoned in 2006 by president Moshe Katsav.

Since then, Arutz Sheva, which broadcasts from the settlement of Beit El, has expanded in many directions. Katz was elected to the 18th Knesset, where he served until February 2013. Last week, Radio Kol Hai, another religious radio station, as a gesture towards Arutz Sheva, held a nostalgia fest in which it interviewed some of the pioneers of Arutz Sheva, including Katz.

■ AT THE annual dinner in Paris last week of the Franco-Israel Chamber of Commerce, France’s Foreign Minister and former prime minister Laurent Fabius presented the 2014 prize for the most dynamic partnership between France and Israel to Elbit Systems President and CEO Bezalel (Butzi) Machlis and Dassault Aviation CEO and chairman Eric Trappier. The two received the award in recognition of their joint contribution to the enhancement of good relations between their two countries.

Elbit Systems developed a unique Head-Up-Display System that includes Enhanced Flight Vision System (ClearVision™ EFVS), Synthetic Vision System (SVS) and Combined Vision System (CVS), which will allow pilots of Falcon business jets to land safely even in low-visibility conditions. The system was selected by Dassault for its new aircraft – the Falcon 5X.

Among those attending the event were France’s Ambassador to Israel Patrick Maisonneuve, Minister Plenipotentiary at the Embassy of Israel in France Zvi Tal, and Elbit Systems and Dassault Aviation management.

■ EVEN THOUGH there are very few Jews in Estonia, which at its peak had a Jewish population that was slightly in excess of 5,000 and today has less than 2,000 Jews, Estonia, like almost every other country in the former Soviet Union, wants to improve its relations with Israel by presenting evidence that even though there was collaboration with the Nazis, there was also resistance to the Nazis, and there were people who risked their lives to save Jews. Towards this end, the Embassy of Estonia last week sponsored a history conference under the title Exceptional Estonia, which primarily focused on Jewish academic life and cultural autonomy in the Republic of Estonia between the two World Wars (1918-1940). The conference was held at Beit Hatfutsot on the campus of Tel Aviv University.

According to the conference organizers, there are several little- known facts about Jewish life in Estonia prior to World War II.

Among the little-known realities are the Cultural Autonomy Act of 1925, which enabled the local Jewish community to function as an autonomous entity and the founding of the Chair of Jewish Studies at the University of Tartu in 1934 as the darkest period of anti-Semitism of the 20th century began to take hold.

Among the speakers was Prof.

Isidor Levin, professor emeritus of the University of Tartu, who in 1937 was a student of Jewish studies at the University of Tartu and is the last living witness who can recall the activities of the Chair of the Jewish Studies in Tartu. During the Nazi occupation of Estonia (1941 – 1944), Levin was hidden by his teacher and Tartu University scholar Uku Masing and his wife, Eha, who are among those who have been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous among The Nations.

Jewish Studies has been revived at Tartu University, and Ana Poldsam was there to talk about Jewish studies in Estonia past and present.

There were some half dozen lecturers from Estonia, including Mark Rybak, founder and former director of the Estonian Jewish Museum and chief administrator of the web-based Estonian Jewry Archive.

It is quite a remarkable achievement, considering the size of the community.

■ THERE’S NOT a single Israeli among the recipients of honorary doctorates to be awarded by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev during the 44th annual meeting of the BGU Board of Governors in May, unless one counts Russian-born classical pianist Evgeny Kissen, who in December of last year received Israeli citizenship, even though he lives in England and has been a British citizen since 2002. In the biographical blurb released by BGU, there is no mention of his Israeli citizenship.

While people chosen for this distinction are all worthy individuals, one can’t help thinking that omitting Israeli academics or philanthropists is yet another contribution to Israel’s brain drain. The extraordinary people who have made Israel a start-up nation that maintains its creative edge surely deserve recognition from Israel’s institutions of higher learning.

Be that as it may, the people who will be recognized on May 20 for their support of BGU are Dr.

Linda S. Birnbaum, director of the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences; James M. Breslauer of the US, who was one of the major proponents of the Advanced Technologies Park adjacent to the university and remains deeply involved with it; cancer research scientist Prof. Linda B.

Buck, a US Nobel Prize laureate; leading Holocaust historian Prof.

Saul Friedlander of the US; Russian- born Nahum Guzik, a philanthropist who lives in the US and established Guzik Technical Enterprises, which provides test solutions to the disk drive industry, as well as waveform acquisition tools for demanding ATE and OEM applications in avionics, signal intelligence, military electronics, physics, astronomy, semiconductors and a variety of other disciplines; Prof. Andrew D. Hamilton, vice chancellor of the University of Oxford, who is also a professor of chemistry; and Cheryl Saban, philanthropist and advocate on issues pertaining to women. She is married to Israeli entertainment mogul and major donor to the Democratic Party, Haim Saban.

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