Former New Yorker Maureen Kushner, who now lives in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda/ Nahlaot neighborhood, likes to celebrate biblical events in addition to having a women’s Hallel service at her home at the beginning of every Hebrew calendar month. On the anniversary of the death of Moses, she goes to Mount Nevo, and on the anniversary of the death of his sister Miriam, for the third consecutive year, she has organized a women’s boat ride and singing of Hallel across Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee).
This year she had so many reservations from all over Israel and from some of the original Shlomo Carlebach followers in the United States that she had to put some 50 women on standby because the century-old wooden boat, the King David, could not hold more than some 120 women at most. Some came with babies and some came with walkers, so the age range was from a few months to 90 years young. On the way to the Kinneret, the buses stopped at the tomb of Rabbi Meir Ba’al Hanes in Tiberias, to enable any of the women who might need a miracle in their lives to pray for one at the final resting place of the great Mishnaic sage. The women were all in high spirits, and 30 of them were musicians, singing and playing a variety of instruments.
There was also a good Sephardi-Ashkenazi mix, with traditions of both, although the Hallel was a Carlebach Hallel.
Almost 20 years after his death, the influence of Shlomo Carlebach seems to be more widespread than ever. His melodies are sung by congregations from every stream of Judaism. Though Orthodox by training and in his own personal beliefs, Carlebach never rejected anyone – Jew or non-Jew – and sang in Reform temples and Conservative synagogues just as he sang in Orthodox synagogues. His purpose was to draw Jews closer to the Torah, and in this ambition, rejection of any Jew defeated his mission.
His daughter Neshama Carlebach, a very popular and successful singer in her own right, has in recent years shared a stage with Josh Nelson, a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and popular performer. Next week, Carlebach and Nelson will travel to Poland, where they will participate in March of the Living events in Warsaw, Krakow and Auschwitz.
They will be in Poland on April 24-29, and just under a month later will do an Israel tour on May 22-28. More than two years have passed since Neshama Carlebach last embarked on an Israel tour. She incorporates her father’s songs into her own repertoire, sometimes singing them in his style, sometimes in her own. It is unknown whether she will sing his famous “Krakow Nigun” when in Poland.
Meanwhile, Emuna Witt Halevi, editor of Kol Hevra, an annual anthology of the personal memories and memorabilia that people have of their relationships with Shlomo Carlebach, is preparing a larger-than-ever volume due to come out in six months’ time for the 20th anniversary of his death. Contributors to past volumes have included people who knew him at the very start of his career, people whom he brought back to their Jewish roots in the House of Love and Prayer and others whom he befriended along the way and around the world.
■ ARGUABLY ONE of the oldest tourists to come to Israel in time for Passover is veteran editor, journalist and publisher Jesse Zel Lurie, who was one of the early journalists working for The Palestine Post before it became The Jerusalem Post. Lurie, who lives in Florida and continues to be an active blogger and peace advocate, celebrated his 100th birthday last December. He officially retired in 1983, but continued to write a column on Israeli affairs for various Jewish publications in America.
Zel joined The Palestine Post in 1934 and remained there till 1937, when he returned to New York.
However, he remained the Post’s foreign correspondent till 1967. In the US, Zel worked as editor of the New York Jewish News, as managing editor at Opinion Magazine, then as a freelance writer in Jamaica for the Miami Herald. For most of the war years he worked in public relations, first for United Palestine Appeal and then for the Jewish Welfare Board.
In the spring of 1947, in the months leading up to the United Nations vote on the partition of Palestine, Zel began covering the UN for The Palestine Post, and in June of that year was hired by Abraham Feinberg to open an office for the American Friends of Haganah, who were finally ready to go public after a long period of operating in secret. He was hired to become their first executive director and was in charge of the Haganah Speaks newsletter.
Next, he was hired by Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America to improve its newsletter.
He remained with Hadassah for 36 years as editor and publisher.
Over the years he made many trips to Israel, where members of his family live, and during these visits interviewed all the leaders of the day. As editor of Hadassah Magazine he nurtured many promising writers, some of whom have since become big names not only in the world of journalism but also in the world of literature.
Zel was in Jerusalem on one of his many visits when Egyptian president Anwar Sadat made his historic journey to Israel’s capital, and covered Sadat’s address to the Knesset for the New York Post, which put the story on its front page.
Zel has worked to improve relations between Israeli Jews and their Arab neighbors, and is a founder of Neveh Shalom, where Arabs and Jews live together.
■ ONE OF the groundbreaking thinkers who has called attention to the deep linkage between Judaism and vegetarianism is Prof. Richard Schwartz, professor emeritus of the College of Staten Island. A keen promoter of vegetarianism through his writings and lectures, he will be honored this coming Tuesday, April 22, slightly in advance of his 80th birthday, at the Vegetarian Community Center at 8 Balfour Street, Jerusalem, which is opposite the side entrance to the Prime Minister’s Residence. Guest speakers at the vegetarian event will include Rabbi David Rosen, MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, Rabbi Yonatan Neril and Dr. Yael Shemesh of Bar-Ilan University.
Folk musician Yona Schnitzer will round out the evening.
Refreshments will be vegan, and carnivores attending will discover that vegan food can be quite tasty.
■ TRYING TO cram as much as possible into his itinerary during the final three months of his presidency, President Shimon Peres still has a number of commitments at home and abroad, including scheduled visits to Norway and the United States, Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies, Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars, several Independence Day functions and a few other important events. He can’t really relax even during the Passover holiday week. As he has done for many years, he opened the Ein Gev Music Festival on Wednesday night, which was a real nostalgia- fest in that it was largely dedicated to the songs of Naomi Shemer and marked the 10th anniversary of her death. Then on Thursday, Peres was off to the Negev to feed the animals in the Kibbutz Revivim zoo.
Established as an agricultural research station in 1943, Revivim became a communal settlement in 1948 soon after the declaration of independence. A kibbutznik in his youth, Peres has a particular fondness for feeding baby animals, and does so almost every time he visits a kibbutz anywhere in the country.
■ AMONG THE many art-lovers who visited the Ariel Sharon Park – previously the Hiriya landfill garbage dump – to view the monumental and internationally renowned exhibit “Trash People” was American Ambassador Dan Shapiro, who brought his family to see the amazing sculptures by German artist H.A. Schult, who has successfully turned waste into art. Crushed soft-drink cans, electronic waste, tin-foil pans, glass, old newspapers, cardboard boxes – in fact anything and everything that people throw into a wastebasket or a garbage can is used to make something that people around the world admire. This is recycling at its peak, with more than a thousand life-size trash figures dominating the Tel Aviv skyline after having previously popped up in places such as the Swiss Alps, the Great Wall of China, Red Square in Moscow, La Defense in Paris, the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt and the Piazza del Popolo in Rome, to name a few. The exhibition is intended as a critical commentary on human consumption. It is the artist’s way of telling the world that it is surrounded by garbage, but the creativity behind the commentary is a form of enticement. The exhibition will remain on view till April 26.
Last week, Shapiro shopped for Passover products not near his residence in Herzliya Pituah, nor his embassy in Tel Aviv, but in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda Market, where he also taped holiday greetings to the people of Israel. Next week, Shapiro and his wife, Julie Fisher, will be staying home for at least one night when they host a farewell reception in honor of the Embassy’s Counselor for Press and Cultural Affairs Hilary Olsin-Windecker, who is winding up her tour of duty.
■ JEWISH AGENCY chairman Natan Sharansky, mindful of a fresh wave of anti-Semitism in his hometown of Donetsk in Ukraine, has issued a call to Jews living there not to think twice about packing their bags and moving to Israel. In the most recent anti-Semitic measure, Jews have been instructed by the authorities to register their religion and property and to keep the authorities informed of their movements.
It is only a matter of time before rabid anti-Semites, knowing where to find the Jews, will come and attack them and will either seize or destroy their property.
Donetsk, formerly called Stalino, was almost entirely destroyed by the Nazi invasion. Its prewar total population of 507,000 was diminished to 175,000. Today the population of Ukraine’s fifth-largest city is in the range of a million people, of whom slightly more than 5,000 are Jews.
Over the years there have been several anti-Semitic incidents in Donetsk, including the vandalizing of a Holocaust monument.
■ WHILE HOLOCAUST Remembrance Day in Israel traditionally takes place a week before Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars and Independence Day, in Brazil, where it is combined with a commemoration ceremony for Brazil’s fallen soldiers in the Second World War, it takes place just before Passover. Thus on Sunday of this week, the Jewish Federation of Rio de Janeiro held a solemn ceremony at the Monument to the Fallen Brazilian Soldiers of World War II, honoring not only the known fallen but the unknown soldiers as well. The ceremony included Remembrance Day for Martyrs and Heroes of the Holocaust. Attending the event were representatives of Brazil’s Armed Forces, as well as officers and members of Brazilian and Allied Veterans Associations from France, Poland, USA and the Royal British Legion, and of course Holocaust survivors.
Presiding over the ceremony was Gen. Francisco Carlos Modesto, military commander of the East, who together with World War II veteran Lt. Israel Rosenthal placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Six candles were lit in memory of the six million heroes and martyrs of the Holocaust. In addition to Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans, the candle-lighters included German Consul General Harald Klein, Honorary Israel Consul Osias Wurman and Deacon Nelson Augusto, who represented the cardinal of Rio de Janeiro, Orani Joao Tempesta.
In his address to the gathering, Modesto focused on the 1.5 million Jewish children who had lost their lives in the Holocaust, saying that they never even had time to dream.
If the universal hope for a world of equality and fraternity is to be realized, he said, it is the duty of every generation to teach the one that comes after it not to forget the past.
This was a common responsibility of everyone, he said, in order to ensure that such atrocities as were perpetrated during the Holocaust should not recur.
■ AND ON the subject of Holocaust, Prof. Muhammad S. Dajani, an enlightened educator from al-Quds University, recently took 27 of his students to Auschwitz-Birkenau, in the belief that the best way to understand the pain and grief of the other is to visit the scene of the other’s great calamity. From that particular perspective, he was perfectly correct.
Several of the students broke down and wept when they saw the crematoriums and the exhibits of hair taken from Auschwitz prisoners, shoes that ranged from pieces of cardboard held together with string to handmade elegant boots, and suitcases that still bore the names of the people who carried them into Auschwitz but did not survive to carry them out.
Dajani knew that he was doing something that would spark controversy, but did not anticipate the extraordinary censure that he and the students received on their return to the Palestinian Authority. He was branded a traitor, and false reports circulated that the trip had been paid for by Jews who wanted to brainwash the Palestinian students.
In fact, the trip was paid for by the German government, and was organized by the Center for Reconciliation Studies at Friedrich Schiller University. The Arab world in general, and Palestinians in particular, tend to downplay the magnitude of the Holocaust and even to deny it, saying in many instances that the Jews have used the Holocaust as a vehicle for gaining international sympathy and appropriating Palestinian land. Al-Quds University was quick to issue a statement asserting that neither Dajani nor the students traveling with him represented the university.
Perhaps the university should take a lesson from the Parents Circle Families Forum, in which families of Israelis killed by Palestinians and Palestinians killed by Israelis have learned to overcome mutual suspicions and hostilities. Through understanding the grief of the other at the loss of loved ones, these people have found a bridge to peace and harmony among themselves – a bridge that they hope to share with others.
■ IT’S USUALLY on Independence Day that a lone soldier who left his or her family abroad to come to serve in the IDF gets a surprise from the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers or the Jewish Agency or both, who bring the soldier’s parent(s) to Israel. They come to witness a ceremony at the president’s official residence, in which 120 outstanding soldiers receive citations and scholarships. But this year it happened at the IDF Seder for lone soldiers. Chief of Staff Benny Gantz looked on benignly when Isca Rausmussen from Australia burst into tears, as her father whom the association had flown in, swept her into an embrace.
■ IT’S DOUBTFUL whether the lone soldiers Seder, which catered to somewhere in the range of 450 people, cost anywhere near what Russian- British billionaire and Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich forked out for 106 rooms at the Bereshit hotel in the desert resort area of Mitzpe Ramon.
Abramovich, his partner, fashion designer Dasha Zhukova, and their children Aaron and Leah, along with some other relatives, arrived on Abramovich’s private plane on Monday. Most of their guests had arrived on Sunday and were waiting to greet them. Aside from the multi-choice luxury menu that Abramovich had ordered, he also had five cantors conducting the Seder in Hebrew, Russian and English to make sure that everyone present understood what was going on.