President Reuven Rivlin last Thursday morning introduced some 200 children from southern communities to Israel’s first lady who he referred to as “Savta [‘Grandma’] Nechama.”
Both the interior and exterior of the President’s Residence had been converted to a giant playground with large, blown-up installations with trampoline flooring, tombolas, slot machines, miniature golf, basketball hoops, art and crafts workshops and more, plus loads of refreshments not all of which were exactly healthful. The latter included sugared soft drinks, pancakes in chocolate sauce, cotton candy, mini pizzas and cookies as well as health giving fruits and vegetables. Many of the little girls were less interested in food than in having their nails painted by obliging ladies seated at a trestle table with bottles of different shades of nail lacquer.
When Rivlin came out to greet the children, he was accompanied by his wife Nechama and two of his grandchildren, the younger of which clutched his grandfather’s hand as if he would never let go.
The first lady held the president’s other hand.
Before going outside to address the youngsters, Rivlin spoke to the media who plied him with political questions.
“He doesn’t talk politics any more” interjected his wife in a sharp tone.
Rivlin chose to ignore the admonition and said that it has not been an easy time for Israel as a whole, nor for him personally as he went from house to house comforting mourners. The previous day he had visited Kfar Aza where only a few of the residents remained.
Asked whether he could honestly say that the people of the South could live in security if they do return home, Rivlin replied that only the days ahead can tell whether Hamas will cease to threaten Israelis living across the border.
He relies 100 percent on the government in consultation with all the security authorities to make the correct decision, and to decide on permanent regulations for future preparedness, he said.
“We must be prepared on civil and state levels” he insisted, adding that no individual should be forced under the circumstances existing before and during Operation Protective Edge to have to decide and fend for himself. “The state must take responsibility for housing, security and economic emergencies.”
As far as the cease-fire is concerned, he was of the opinion that any threats being made by Hamas are more hot air than substance, and are being voiced in an effort to gain as much leeway as it can out of the chaos.
In response to a question as to whether he intended to make contact with US President Barack Obama, Rivlin said that he had written to him to express appreciation for American support and for the efforts by Secretary of State John Kerry to avoid further bloodshed, but during the crisis thought it more important for contacts to be maintained by the prime minister, rather than the president.
America is Israel’s best friend, declared Rivlin, and this is something that should not be forgotten even when there are differences of opinion.
Then, together with his wife and grandchildren he went outside where he was hailed by cheers from the waiting youngsters who quickly clustered around him.
“Shalom to all you wonderful children.
I know that you are on your way home soon,” he said, adding that he had been to the places where they live.
Nechama Rivlin put her arm around his shoulder as he spoke, and was then introduced by him.
“This is Savta Nechama who welcomes you with love.”
Plunging into the crowd, with eager children pushing to hold his hand or hang on to his coat tails, he strode like a pied piper through grounds, inspecting all the temporary installations and posing for photos.
He then returned to presidential business while the first lady interacted with the children, reading poems and stories to them.
At the start she reintroduced herself saying: “I’m Savta Nechama and I’m also the wife of the president.”
She then went on to a read a poem by Yehuda Amichai, and let the children choose the stories from a pile of books she had brought with her. It was obvious that she had plenty of practice in story telling at home, and that Thursday’s event was just an expansion of what she does with her grandchildren.
Rivlin reemerged from his office some time later to join his wife, seeming to enjoy every minute. In recent days he has met with the head of the International Red Cross and with the prime minister. Tuesday he welcomed a planeload of American immigrants, who despite the security situation, decided to live in Israel.
■ WHOEVER DID not want Maj.-Gen.
(res.) Yoav Galant as chief of staff, may yet discover that he is possibly next in line for the position, or better still, may be the next defense minister. Of all the talking heads in television studios, Galant has been singled out by TV critics as the best informed and the most charismatic. He seems to have his finger on the pulse of everything going on in Gaza as well as in the defense establishment. Politicians are presumably taking note.
■ JUST HOW random is a random sample? Yediot Aharonot last Friday published the findings of a survey on TV coverage of Operation Protective Edge taken by Mina Tzemach, the guru of Israel’s public opinion polls – who if one wants to be honest, has been wrong on more than one occasion.
The survey conducted among 500 adults covered only channels 2 and 10.
Channel 1 was barely mentioned, because of its alleged low ratings. This doesn’t quite jive with the upsurge in ratings recorded and reported by the Israel Broadcasting Authority. However, the 500 respondents chosen agreed with TV critics with regard to Galant, and ranked him well above veteran commentators such as Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, Amos Yadlin and Danny Rothschild.
Although the overwhelming majority of news presenters are female, it seems that in war time, the public wants to hear an authoritative male voice. Thus Channel 2’s Danny Kushmaro was head and shoulders above his female rivals with a 26% rating. Colleague Yonit Levi was in second with 20%, and surprisingly Dana Weiss whose intelligence, logic, passion, empathy and authority can all come to the fore in a single broadcast was in fifth place with 11%, trailing after Tamar Ish Shalom and Oshrat Kotler and just ahead of Tali Moreno.
Channel 2’s veteran military reporter Roni Daniel, despite his rough and gruff manner scored a 47% ranking compared to Channel 10’s Alon Ben-David, to whom professional critics gave their preference.
Both came to commercial television from Channel 1 where military analyst and reporter Amir Bar-Shalom holds sway and can certainly give them a run for their money.
■ AFTER CONDUCTING a failed campaign against Communications Minister Gilad Erdan for following through on his plan to close down the IBA, Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet began to interview him frequently and in a balanced and professional manner.
This did not provoke a change of heart on Erdan’s part, especially after the Knesset had already voted in favor of his bill. The ax really started to fall this week when the IBA’s liquidator replaced director-general Yoni Ben-Menachem with Yona Wiesenthal who will act as editor-in-chief until a new public broadcasting entity is created. Whether he will continue in that capacity in the new broadcasting network remains to be seen.
It will be interesting to learn whether Ben-Menachem will be permitted to continue with his radio show in the interim or whether he will seek another media outlet.
■ THE HUGE turn-out for the opening on Monday of Jerusalem’s annual Hutzot Hayotzer arts and crafts festival was indicative of how much Israelis have been craving for the opportunity to come out in their multitudes and have a good time. Those who could not afford the price of a ticket to the fair, jammed against the fence that divides Teddy Park from Hutzot Hayotzer, and were able to see a little of what was going on and to hear some of the music.
Because the festival covers such a huge expanse, there were several concerts held simultaneously, with the largest in the Sultan’s Pool, where Mayor Nir Barkat welcomed the enthusiastic crowd, including a large representation of the Golani Brigade, had come to hear Shlomi Shabat. The performance was in fact a tribute to the brigade from whose ranks 13 soldiers died during Operation Protective Edge said Barkat, who sent condolences to bereaved families.
Then to the cheers and applause of the crowd, he asked the flag waving soldiers present to stand up “so that we can salute you.”
If there was anything to mar the event, it was the over zealous attitude of employees of the Protect security agency who refused to allow many of the ticket holders to the concert, including disabled IDF veterans, from entering the Sultan’s Pool for reasons that “came from above.”
The situation was saved to some degree by foreign relations coordinator Libi Bergstein, who for years had worked with Jerusalem mayors Teddy Kollek and Ehud Olmert. Bergstein dealt with any complaints that came to her by taking all the details of the frustrated ticket holders, offering them an alternative night for another concert and giving them her phone number as a point of reference in the fair’s production team. When she discovered another entrance where latecomers could get in, she telephoned the ticket holders or sent them a text message. Last month, representatives of the same security agency had denied relatives of the three murdered yeshiva boys entrance to the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem where a memorial service was being held.
Despite Israel’s seeming isolation in the world, representatives from more than 30 countries are participating in the fair, and on the Israeli side, the creativity, especially in jewelry and handbags is simply astounding. Excluding the concert areas, the largest concentrations of people could be found at the ethnic food fair, which was all kosher with meat and dairy on separate sides, offering Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Spanish, American, Druse and other Middle Eastern delicacies. This was one area of the fair where vendors were doing a roaring trade.
■ THE APPLE didn’t fall far from the tree.
The late Paula Mozes was known for her many hands-on charitable endeavors and her ability to mingle comfortably with all sectors of society. She was as much at ease with the local Ramat Gan garbage collector as she was with socialites who patronized the stores in Tel Aviv’s Kikar Hamedina.
Her daughter, Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes, has in this respect followed in her mother’s footsteps. The wife of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom, she is quite a personality in her own right and works as a print, radio and TV journalist.
She is and has been involved in many social welfare projects, such as the rehabilitation of drug addicts and providing food for the poor. During Operation Protective Edge, she not only visited southern communities and soldiers in area hospitals, but also arranged events that would relieve tension and bring a smile.
One of her good friends in the communications industry is Lucy Aharish, an Israeli Arab, who is a key English and Arabic language reporter and presenter for i24news, who does not hesitate to ask tough questions of both Israelis and Palestinians. Aharish was interviewed by Shalom Nir-Mozes last Friday on her radio show on Kol Israel, and losing patience with her as well when Shalom Nir-Mozes said she wanted to meet women from Gaza to find out why they don’t resist Hamas.
“You can’t expect a woman from Gaza to think as you do,” said Aharish. “She didn’t grow up in the environment in which you were raised.... She didn’t have the same education. She doesn’t have the same values.”
■ ANOTHER PROMINENT Israeli Arab is Prof. Ahmed Eid, head of the Department of General Surgery at Hadassah Medical Center on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus, who operated on Chen Schwartz, the soldier who was seriously wounded by a motor cyclist in a drive-by shooting while waiting on a bus stop in the Shmuel Hanavi neighborhood in the capital.
There is no doubt that Eid saved his life.
Hospitals throughout Israel are the hub of coexistence, with many Arab doctors and nurses, not to mention Arab patients who lie side-by-side with Jews in hospital wards, or sit alongside them in waiting rooms. It’s just a shame that the resultant camaraderie seldom reaches beyond the hospital doors.
■ ETHNIC EMPATHY can sometimes be very costly, especially when one spits in the well from which one drinks. It is understandable that the sympathies of many Israeli Arabs are with the Palestinians, just as Jews sympathize with the travails of fellow Jews. However when the State of Israel through its various institutions enables the production of a film by an Israeli-Arab film maker, and that film when completed is presented as a Palestinian film, the subsidizers have the right to ask for a refund of their money. That’s what’s happening in the case of Suha Arraf who received in excess of a million shekels from various Israeli institutions including the Israel Film Fund towards the production of her movie Villa Touma.
When she submitted the film to the Venice Film Festival, she listed it as a Palestinian, sparking the ire of Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat who demanded that Arraf return the money, even though the credits on the film list the Israeli funders.
■ THERE WAS barely room to move last Thursday at the inauguration of the Jerusalem branch of the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin, one of four that function in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Beersheba.
American born St.-Sgt. Michael Levin was 22-years-old when killed by a Hezbollah sniper on August 1, 2006. He is buried in the military cemetery on Mount Herzl. He was one of five lone soldiers who paid the supreme sacrifice in the 2006 Second Lebanon War. His parents Mark and Harriet Levin come to Israel each year for the memorial service on the anniversary of his death and are active promoters and supporters of the centers named in his memory.
Tziki Aud, a former Jewish Agency official who used to deal with lone soldiers, and who is the senior adviser to the centers, recalled that when Michael Levin used to speak to him about the need for such a facility, he really didn’t understand what the young man was talking about. Even later, after the establishment five years ago of the center, when Jerusalem Great Synagogue chairman Asher Schapiro offered to host monthly Shabbat dinners for lone soldiers, Aud was of the opinion that at best 25 would show up.
The average attendance is between 200 abd 250 and will probably be considerably increased by some of the 109 young men and women who arrived this week from the United States to serve in the IDF.
Former US ambassador Michael Oren who is on the board of the Lone Soldiers Center recalled that when he was a lone soldier 40 years ago, there was no provision for lone soldiers, and when on weekend leave, he used to roam the streets of Jerusalem on Friday afternoons looking for an open store where he could buy food. Oren said that when he visited lone soldiers wounded in the Second Lebanon War, he was usually the only visitor they had. This year, when he visited wounded lone soldiers of which 20 had been hospitalized, there was a line of visitors halfway down the hall.
The masses who had attended the funerals of lone soldiers St.-Sgt. Max Steinberg, Sgt. Nissim Sean Carmeli and St.-Sgt. Jordan Bensemhoun were indicative of the greater awareness and deep appreciation on the part of the Israeli public of lone soldiers who risk everything and sometimes give everything, who suffered and sacrificed during the previous month and who embody the best of the Zionist movement said Oren who had delivered the eulogy at Steinberg’s funeral.
Josh Flaster, the director and one of the founders of the Lone Soldiers Center knew Michael Levin, and believes he would have been proud of what has been achieved. For lone soldiers, the center represents community and family, he said. Similar sentiments were expressed by Jerusalem area coordinator Jared White.
Speaking on behalf of his family, Mark Levin said that the establishment of the Jerusalem branch was the culmination of a dream that Michael had when he was in uniform, “but we’re not done yet” said the late soldier’s father.
The next target is for the Lone Soldiers Center to acquire its own building with 50-100 beds, so that lone soldiers will really have a place to call home.
■ NOT FOR the first time has Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat imposed his own agenda on residents in different areas of the capital who were opposed to his plans for their part of the city. One example is the artists and artisans fair on downtown Shatz Street, where residents have repeatedly raised objections to the noise and the fact that the street they live on is virtually taken over every Friday. Another is the Friday afternoon concerts on Ben-Yehuda Street, which so far this summer have been curtailed because of the security situation, but in previous years caused disturbances to residents in a 2 km. radius due to the volume of the music. This was particularly disconcerting to people who actually live on Ben-Yehuda and King George streets. Barkat is aggravating the residents of Har Nof, one of the capital’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, because he wants to build a college at its entrance.
Community leaders as well as haredi members of the Jerusalem Municipal Council are united in their opposition to the plan, and made this clear to Barkat and his senior deputy, Yaakov Kahlon.
Yet despite all their objections, the plan was approved. Among the potential contenders for the running of the college are Adina Bar-Shalom, the daughter of the late Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and Bar-Ilan University.
■ IT IS becoming increasingly common for organizations, institutions and individuals to include the Hebrew calendar date in their correspondence and official documents. The Hebrew calendar date was observed by the late prime minister Menachem Begin long before it became fashionable or mandatory to do so. Officially he was born on August 16, 1913, which in that year coincided with Shabbat Nahamu, which was last weekend and always immediately after Tisha Be’av, and he always celebrated his birthday on that Shabbat. Not only his family, but many other admirers beyond, raised a toast on Saturday to the 101st anniversary of his birth. Of more than 20 people who at various stages were ministers in the first Begin led government, only four are still living: Gideon Patt, Moshe Nissim, David Levy, and Aharon Abuhatzira.