The diversity of living in a pluralistic society can be seen in the calendar of
US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, who marked Tisha Be’av on Sunday at Pardes in
Jerusalem and on Monday night hosted the embassy’s annual Iftar dinner for
members of the Muslim community at his residence in Herzliya Pituah. As
ambassadors go, Shapiro is arguably one of the most active, participating in an
extraordinary number and variety of events. Recently he shared stories with the
70 Teach For America educators taking part in the REALITY Israel Experience
program of teachers who had affected his personal career path, including a
professor at Hebrew University who, when he came to study for a semester,
brought the country to life for him on walking tours around Israel. Shapiro
urged the educators to “follow their passion,” and, told them that while he has
a high-ranking position, his wife has a more important job and deserves a lot of
credit. She is a teacher.
Molly Bryson, originally from Alaska but who
teaches high school social studies in Memphis, TN, sat alongside Shapiro and
said that what he said resonated with her. “It reminded me of the high stakes of
what we do. The youth we are working with could be the people who are running
the world and solving the most complex problems,” she mused.
Now in its
fourth year, REALITY Israel Experience has brought more than 200 Teach For
America educators to Israel as part of a leadership development program designed
to deepen their commitment to education reform and service.
12-day visit, they explored alternative models of education and methods of
approaching complex societal challenges, including how Israeli schools address
issues of co-existence, religion and minority populations. The Charles
Family Foundation together with the Samberg Family Foundation
supports REALITY Israel.
■ With regard to Tisha Be’av, it is doubtful
whether any organization presents as interesting and varied a program to as
widely diverse an audience as Jerusalem’s Beit Avi Chai, which, for the fifth
consecutive year, held a series of discussions related to films that in one way
or another reflected the theme of baseless hatred. The film and ensuing
discussion that proved to be the most popular and drew the loudest and most
sustained applause was Let There Be Light (Vayehi Choshech Vayehi Or), by and
about former haredi singing star Meni Philip, who lost his children and his
career because he became secular. One of 11 siblings in a closely knit and
loving haredi family, he made what was considered a good marriage via a
matchmaker. He was only 19 at the time. He barely knew his bride, other than the
fact that she came from a fine, respectable family. But although he adored his
two children, he was unhappy in his marriage and became so miserable that he was
almost suicidal. Concurrently, he began to lose his faith and to opt for a
secular life style.
When he left the community and following his divorce,
his parents and his wife’s parents did everything possible to keep him away from
his children, fearful that they would follow in his path. Eventually he won the
right to see his children for two hours a week in the home of a haredi family.
He was never allowed to be alone with them. His children missed him terribly,
and he missed them. Half of his siblings followed him into the secular world and
the other half remained haredi. Religious radio stations stopped playing his
recordings and his parents broke contact with him, though not completely with
those of his younger siblings who, like him, had become secular. Philip’s own
apartment became a place for his siblings to crash, and he insisted that they
come to him on Shabbat for cholent and on Passover and Rosh Hashana to celebrate
the holidays, at least foodwise, the way they had at home when they were growing
up. Initially they were afraid that he was trying to turn them back to religion,
he told the audience, but then they realized the importance of the memory of
home and they were more relaxed.
A few years ago, Philip was in a serious
motorcycle accident on a Saturday. Taken to an emergency hospital unit, he was
wheeled down a long corridor and left for a long period of time with various
hospital personnel coming up to him and asking him over and over about previous
illnesses and allergies. He felt terribly alone and thought to himself that he
could no longer go on in this way. Hospital staff had not taken away his mobile
phone so he called one of his siblings, told him what had happened and said that
no matter what it took, he wanted his brother to persuade their father to come
and see him. Soon after, he underwent surgery and then remained in the recovery
room overnight for observation. When he was wheeled into the ward, he saw his
father sitting by his bed. Their connection was renewed, though it’s not what it
Most of the haredi relatives refused to attend his son’s bar
mitzva if Philip was going to attend. He left the choice to his son, but offered
to stay away. The boy preferred for his father to be there, and Philip, who
usually wears jeans and a tee-shirt, came appropriately dressed in a suit and
tie and, of course, a kippa. Unfortunately, his contact with his children is not
as strong as it was because they have chosen to follow the haredi path. Someone
in the audience asked Philip if he had any regrets and he said that he had none
as far as he himself was concerned, but he regretted what it cost his children.
He said that he was aware of other men in the haredi community who had lost
their faith, but who had remained in the community for the sake of their
children. Had he known how his decision would affect his children, he might have
stayed too, he admitted.
He has since become a film maker and he also
sings popular music, but five years ago, seeking some form of closure, he made a
CD of religious songs. It wasn’t exactly closure according to the accompanying
text, which states, “When I find myself riding my motorcycle on the road, the
songs that fill my ears, along with the wind, are prayers and psalms that
accompanied me as I was growing up. I love this music, it moves me, it connects
me in a special way to the world as no other type of music can. It reaches my
soul. And so, a decade after leaving the religious community, with the support
and love of good friends, I have created this beautiful and moving collection.
This is our music, and I hope you let it fill you and touch your
It’s what in Yiddish-speaking circles is referred to as “dos
pintele Yid” (this tiny spark of Jewishness). It makes no difference whether a
Jew is a believer or not – he simply can’t escape his identity.
■ It was
quite a day for Interior Minister Eli Yishai
on Monday. In the morning he was at
Jerusalem’s King David Hotel mingling with millionaires at the fundraising
breakfast for US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, and in the evening he was at
Teddy Stadium for the mega celebration for the conclusion of the sevenyear cycle
of the Daf Yomi, where he had the task of getting the crowd to make way for Shas
spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
■ Activists in the Justice for
campaign never fail to remind high-ranking visitors from
America of the discriminatory nature of Pollard’s continued incarceration. The
activists stage large and small demonstrations outside the hotel of the visitor
or outside the president’s, prime minister’s or foreign minister’s offices in
the hope of gaining the attention of the dignitary to whom they want to convey
their message. The bottom line is always that Jonathan Pollard has been in
prison for far too long and that he is not going to be forgotten and left to
despite his frequently proclaimed pro- Israel
sentiments, was not let off the hook. Quite the opposite. There were reminders
of the Pollard issue in both the Israeli and American media, in addition to
which activists demonstrated outside the King David Hotel, where Romney was
staying. Romney has made no commitment on Pollard, and Jewish donors to his and
Barack Obama’s campaigns have not made their contributions contingent on
■ Among the outstanding soldiers at the Israel
Independence Day ceremony at the President’s Residence was Chaya
, whose parents and three of her siblings were killed in the
suicide bombing of the Sbarro Pizza Parlor in Jerusalem in August 2001. The
intervening years have not been easy for Chaya and her three surviving brothers.
Last October, Channel 10 ran a documentary program on the family to demonstrate
to what extent they had fallen between the cracks due to the insensitivity of
people who are part of the Israeli system. The three surviving brothers, two of
whom were in the army and one who was on the way home from a klezmer concert in
Safed at the time of the tragedy, searched frantically for their family members
in various hospitals. No one from the police or social services helped them.
They were youngsters on their own.
Brother Meir arrived at a hospital to
which one of his sisters had been taken, but because he did not have his ID card
with him to prove his connection to her, he was unable to see her as she lay
dying. It was only after she died a few minutes later that he was asked to
identify the body.
Imagine the trauma that has haunted him ever
Meir, who was barely 19, had to organize the funerals, and the
Jerusalem hevra kadisha initially wanted NIS 20,000 for burying the five bodies,
although funerals in Jerusalem are supposed to be free. They were willing to
give him three plots for free but not five. The money that he paid was
eventually returned to him.
and his older brother, Benzion
who no longer lives in Israel, took care of their younger brother and sisters
and remained in the family home. Social services tried to put the two youngest
into institutional or foster care but there was strong objection and the
siblings managed to remain together.
The girls were subsequently sent to
live with a distant relative in Switzerland, but they were so unhappy that they
returned to Israel to live with another distant relative, but that, too, was an
Meir had married in the meantime and he and his
wife took them in even though they already had young children of their own. The
third brother, Shvuel, has severe psychological problems and has appealed to the
National Insurance Institute for help but has been denied.
After all that
had befallen the family, they were shocked and outraged that the terrorist who
had planned the Sbarro attack and the accomplice who had driven the terrorist
into town were released as part of the deal to bring home Gilad Schalit. Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
wrote to many of the families whose loved ones had
been murdered or injured by terrorists who were being released in the exchange,
but no such letter arrived at the Schijveschuurder home.
When Chaya was
among the 120 outstanding soldiers chosen to be honored on Independence Day, it
seemed as though the family’s fortunes had at last taken a positive
But that was just a temporary aberration.
According to a
Ma’ariv report, the Schijveschuurder
family has now been cheated by the
government in the cruelest and most insensitive fashion. Meir, acting on behalf
of the family, had taken out a loan and purchased a plot of land near the Motza
interchange with the intention of building a visitors’ center in memory of their
parents and siblings as well as in memory of all the victims of the second
intifida. Meir has invested NIS 2 million in the project, and when he ran out of
money to continue, the land was confiscated by the Transport Ministry for the
purpose of widening Route 1. The compensation offered to Meir was NIS 172,000.
That was what it was worth according to a government assessor. Meir was
dumbfounded. He brought in an assessor from the private sector who valued the
land at around NIS 6 million.
The difference between the two sums spurred
Meir to take the matter to the Jerusalem District Court, which he did last week,
but not before trying to secure an appointment with Transport Minister Israel
Katz, whose secretary never got back to him. Ma’ariv attempted to get as
response from the Transport Ministry and failed. It will take a while for the
case to be heard. Not only is there no social justice, but there seems to be a
dearth of social conscience and social morals.
■ As of today, Elana
, 29, officially takes over as managing editor of Jpost.com, the online
edition of The Jerusalem Post. Kirsh has a background in Jewish education,
Hebrew and Middle Eastern studies, and has been working on the Post’s Internet
desk since 2008.
Kirsh was born and raised in Sydney, Australia, and made
aliya in 2006. Since moving from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in 2010, she served as
the news desk manager for the online edition for two years, completed a diploma
in social media management and writes a biweekly column called “Untangling the
“The online arena is undeniably the way forward for the news
industry, and I’m working toward keeping our already popular and respected
website up to date to 2012 standards,” she says. “We’re also putting an emphasis
on developing our other digital assets, including social media platforms and
mobile applications, to get the Israeli and Jewish news that The Jerusalem Post
is known for out to as many readers as possible, when and where they want
■ Some of the many friends that James Larsen made in Israel when he
served as Australian ambassador may have a chance to see him when he arrives
next week with Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr, to whom he now serves as a
senior adviser. Australia has consistently shown bipartisan support for Israel,
including parliamentary endorsement of Israel’s request for a minute of silence
at the opening of the Olympic Games in memory of the 11 Israeli athletes
murdered at the Munich Games in 1972 and Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s recent
pledge of half a million dollars from Australia to a fund established to
preserve the death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. But Carr’s visit will
not be entirely harmonious with this stance. In communications with Israel, Carr
has raised objections to the way Israel treats Palestinian minors who are under
arrest. He is unlikely to keep silent on this matter when he meets with Foreign
Minister Avigdor Liberman
and other Israeli officials.
■ Israelis who
were highly critical of Alex Gilady
, the sole Israeli on the International
Olympic Committee, who, it was believed, had not done enough to persuade his
colleagues to hold a minute’s silence for the victims of the Munich massacre,
Gilady was publicly criticized by Minister of Sport and
Culture Limor Livnat as well as by many of Israel’s broadcast
Last Friday morning, prior to the opening of the games,
Gilady was interviewed on Israel Radio by Arye Golan, who broached the subject
of the IOC’s opposition to the minute’s silence – but Gilady, who had covered
the Munich Olympics for Israel Television, didn’t want to talk about it. At the
opening of the London Olympics, NBC sportscaster Bob Costas
referred to the
massacre as the Israeli team was shown on the television screen. It just so
happens that Gilady is vice president of NBC Sports. Without detracting from
Costa’s own feelings about honoring the memories of the murdered athletes, it’s
hard to believe that there was no input on Gilady’s part.
After all, he’s
■ Following Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov’s visit to
Bulgaria last week, the Bulgarian Minister of Economy, Energy and Tourism Delyan
Dobrev came to Israel this week on a reciprocal two-day visit, which was so
crowded with appointments that he had to reschedule and then cancel a joint
press conference he had planned to give with Meseznikov. But whatever he missed
out on this week can be amended in September, when representatives of the
Bulgarian and Israeli governments are scheduled meet in Jerusalem.
addition, Bulgarian President Rozen Plevneliev
will pay a state visit to Israel
Notwithstanding the recent terrorist attack that claimed the
lives of five Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, tourism between the two countries is
on the rise.
■ Elite models is one of the most prestigious modeling
agencies in the world, and the majority of models accepted by its talent scouts
become international celebrities. Israeli super model Esti Ginzburg
, who was
recently wed, has been selected to judge the Israel Elite Model contest 2012
that will be held at East, a new banqueting facility in Tel Aviv.
Models, which was established in Paris 34 years ago, now has 36 branches
worldwide. The Israeli branch has been operating since 2003 with Shai Avital at
the helm. Several international models will come to Israel to grace the contest,
which will also be attended by leading Israeli models who are signed up with
Elite. Needless to say, Ginzburg is one of them.
Elite signed her up when
she was only 14 years old.
She’s now 22.
■ Although there have
been a lot of divorces in the Strauss (dairy) family, generally speaking
relations between exes remain very civilized, which explains the presence of Dan
and his wife, Ronit Reichman, at the surprise party Adi Strauss threw for
his sister, Irit Koffler, in honor of her milestone 60th birthday.
is the first husband of Koffler’s sister, Ofra Strauss, who was also at the
Koffler used to be married to Leon Koffler, who heads the
SuperPharm chain. Their children, Sean and Elinor, who are studying in New York,
came home for the occasion.
There was no need to look for a suitable
venue for the party; Adi Strauss and his sister, Irit, are the joint owners of
the Yavne Montefiore Restaurant. Aside from various family interests in the
Strauss Group, most of the members of the family are directly or indirectly
involved in the food industry. It stood to reason that the party was held at
Yavne Montefiore, which is one of the better restaurants in Tel Aviv.
Another milestone birthday party was that of television personality Orly Vilnai,
who, together with her significant other, Guy Meroz, hosts a popular morning
show on Channel 10. Vilnai’s main focus as a journalist has been social justice,
which, in the days when she worked for Channel 1, got her into a spot of trouble
with then-director general of the Israel Broadcasting Authority Yosef Barel.
Apparently it’s a tradition at the IBA to crack down on journalists who go
overboard on social issues.
Still young enough not to want to keep her
age a secret, Vilnai celebrated her 40th birthday together with the publication
of her new book, Things that Really Happen, at the Felicia Blumental Music
Center in Tel Aviv. Among the guests were MK Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal,
Noa Ben-Arzi (the granddaughter of Yitzhak Rabin) and her husband, Eldad Rotman,
Minister for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee Silvan Shalom and his
journalist wife Judy Shalom Nir Mozes, lawyer Sasis Gez, and a number of other