Grapevine: The US envoy and the B’nai B’rith awards

IT WAS a full house at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem for the conferring of the annual B’nai B’rith World Center Awards for Excellence in Israel-Diaspora Reportage.

November 1, 2011 22:47
David Brinn and former SC justice Gavriel Bach

David Brinn and former Supreme Court justice Gavriel Bach. (photo credit: Brian Negrin)

■ IT WAS a full house at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem for the conferring of the annual B’nai B’rith World Center Awards for Excellence in Israel-Diaspora Reportage. While all three recipients – Bambi Sheleg, in recognition of Diaspora reportage on comparisons and contrasts between Israeli and American Jewry; film director Meni Elias, who retraced the steps of Ethiopian immigrants who walked across the desert to come to Israel; and a life achievement award to 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Noah Klieger, who keeps alive the memory of Auschwitz and all other death camps – were indeed deserving, what drew the huge attendance was Hebrew-speaking US Ambassador Dan Shapiro.

Shapiro started off in Hebrew and then switched to English, reaffirming America’s “unshakable” commitment to Israel’s security, and declaring that the US security relationship with Israel “is broader, deeper and more intense than ever before.”

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In that context he spoke of both countries confronting terrorism and battling the Iranian nuclear program. Shapiro also touched on B’nai B’rith’s long relationship with the US State Department that dates back to 1870. At the reception afterwards, Shapiro was introduced to Israel Radio broadcaster Elihu Ben- Onn, who anchors a weekly three-hour program, The Israel Connection, in which he conducts telephone interviews with people around the world who have some connection with Israel. Ben-Onn said that he would love to have Shapiro on his program. Shapiro was not averse, but said that since it was a phonein show from abroad, he would wait a few months until he had reason to be back in the US and would then speak to Ben-Onn from there. This prompted Ben- Onn to tell him of a caller from Gaza who wanted to be on the show. Ben-Onn apologized and said that he only speaks to people from outside Israel. To which the caller responded: “What, Gaza isn’t outside Israel?”

■ IF ISRAELIS were interested in knowing more about Palestinians, they should have been at the Al-Hambra Palace on east Jerusalem’s Salah a-Din Street last Thursday for the premiere screening of the Palestinian version of Jerusalem Calling. Five years ago, the Israel Broadcasting Authority celebrated the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel Radio, taking its date from the 1936 inauguration of the Palestine Broadcasting Service, and put on an amazing show at what used to be the Palace Hotel and is in the process of becoming the Waldorf Astoria. Imad Muna, the owner of the Educational Bookshop on the same street, who organizes numerous cultural events aimed at bringing Palestinians, Israelis and other people interested in peaceful coexistence and Palestinian statehood together, was the prime mover and shaker behind the more recent event. The film, directed by Raid Duzdar, was prepared initially for a Palestinian audience, and the dialogue is in Arabic with English subtitles.

■ YUNG YIDISH founder Mendy Cahan frequently peppers his Yiddish patter with French, English and Hebrew, depending on who is in his audience.

Some of his regular performers also add a few words in Russian for those members of the audience who are from the old country, and many of those who do come from the former Soviet Union are reaching for their heritage through Yiddish rather than through religious observance. This Thursday, another language will be added to the Yung Yidish repertoire when German actress Anja Giselle Schueler pays tribute to German-Jewish poet, playwright and novelist Else Lasker-Schueler, who after a tempestuous Bohemian lifestyle in Berlin, fled to Jerusalem to escape the Nazis.

She arrived in the holy city in 1937, continued to write in German, and died at age 76 in January 1945. She is buried on the Mount of Olives. The Nazis stripped Lasker-Schueler of her citizenship, but her poetry, especially her love poems, was so powerful that it remained in the consciousness of Germany’s literati.

For as long as she can remember, Anja Giselle Schueler, who at 28 is young enough to be the great-great-granddaughter of Else Lasker-Schueler, has identified with her namesake and has done much to preserve her memory. The performance is a onetime recital. It will take place in the Tel Aviv premises of the Yung Yidish Living Museum on the fifth floor of the Central Bus Station at 8.30 p.m.

■ When Australian Ambassador Andrea Faulkner and recently arrived Korean Ambassador Kim Il Soo planned a cross-cultural concert that took place last Saturday night at the Einav Cultural Center in Tel Aviv, they could not know that on the same night thousands would gather in Rabin Square, almost next door, for the revival of Social Justice protest demonstrations. The area was cordoned off, and access by car was difficult.

As a result approximately a third of the invitees did not attend. This was a pity because they missed an amazing fusion of east-west culture by the Chiri Jazz trio in which jazz drummer Simon Barker and trumpeter Scott Tinkler joined with Korean pansori singer Bae Il Dong in a truly memorable performance. Pansori singers train their voices against the sound of waterfalls. Faulkner said that the trio was being hosted by Australian embassies in Egypt, Jordan, Cyprus, Turkey and Lebanon and possibly other embassies in the region to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Australian and Korean bilateral relations. Guests attending the Israeli event were served Korean food and Australian wines.

■ IT’S NOT every day that one hears “The Last Post” being played on a shofar. All those attending the opening ceremony of the 94th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Beersheba in the Park of the Australian Soldier experienced this unique and inspiring rendition by wind instrumentalist Rafi Davidov, who is also a talented trumpeter.

Playing a very long shofar, Davidov put his heart and soul into the performance, proving that sounds emanating from a shofar can be much more moving than those of a bugle.

In recent years, October 31 has become an important date on the Australian calendar, at least in this part of the world, where it commemorates the Battle of Beersheba in which members of the Australian and New Zealand Light Horse Regiment triumphed over Turkish forces. Since 2008, when the Australian Pratt Foundation, in conjunction with the Beersheba Foundation and the Beersheba Municipality, created the Park of the Australian Soldier, an annual Battle of Beersheba memorial ceremony has taken place in the park and in the nearby Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and adjacent Turkish Monument. In view of the tensions in the relationship between Israel and Turkey, many people attending the event were surprised to see that a front-row seat had been reserved for a representative of the Turkish Embassy. They were even more surprised to see that Turkish Chargé d’Affaires Dogan Ferhart Isik had brought several diplomatic staff with him.

Isik commended the people of Beersheba for the respect that they have shown to Kamel Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, by creating the square in his name and for organizing an event in memory of Turkey’s fallen soldiers. This attitude was a continuation of the centuries-old cooperation between the Turkish and Jewish peoples, he said.

“The Turkish and ANZAC soldiers that fought here 94 years ago, similar to their brothers-in-arms in Gallipoli, make up the basis for the deep friendship Turkey, Australia and New Zealand developed. Here in Beersheba we bow before the memory of our martyrs who sacrificed their lives to defend their countries and their freedom. Our responsibility to their memories obligates us to work for dialogue, understanding and peace in the region,” said Isik. “The valiant Turkish soldiers died defending the Ottoman state, which relied on the principles of justice, peace, tolerance and coexistence at a time when Jews and Muslims alike were persecuted in other places simply because they belonged to a different religion,” Isik continued.

Looking back at the legacy stemming from the heritage of the Ottoman Empire and the memories of many different eras when the Middle East was a world center of learning, trade and culture, Isik affirmed Turkey’s belief in the capability of the people of the region to achieve peace, rule of law, democracy and respect for human rights, “as these are values that are at the core of any sustainable future.”

■ THE HAPPY smiles and the social chitchat belied the true purpose of the festive dinner hosted at the Dan Hotel, Tel Aviv, by the Israel-Czech Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Czech Ambassador Tomas Pojar in honor of Miroslav Singer, governor of the Czech National Bank. The reason for the gathering was to encourage Israeli investment in the Czech Republic. Among the guests was Governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer, who certainly had a common language with Singer, who said that his country was very pleased that it had taken the decision not to adopt the euro as its official currency, as a result of which it could boast a stable economy. Israel has contributed to this, he quipped, remarking that on his way from the airport he had noticed a large number of Czech-manufactured Skoda cars.

Singer said that cooperation between Israel and the Czech Republic goes back a long way. Notwithstanding Czech reservations about the euro, Fischer was confident that it is here to stay. With regard to the global economic crisis, he said that Europeans understand that they must do something drastic in order to turn the situation around.

Osem chairman and Honorary President of the ICCCI Dan Propper waxed nostalgic about the company in the North Bohemia town of Teplitz, some 75 kilometers from Prague, that his grandfather had founded 150 years ago. The initial family enterprise was only 1.5 km. from the Tivol plant owned by Osem in the Czech Republic and from the place where Propper’s grandfather is buried.

When the mayor of Teplitz learned of the Propper family’s connection to his town, he decided to name a street after Propper’s grandfather. Some of the people attending the dinner met again a few days later at Pojar’s residence in Herzliya Pituah, where he hosted the Czech National Day celebrations.

■ DANISH JEWS did almost nothing to save themselves from the Nazis, Rabbi Bent Dov Lexner, chief rabbi of Denmark, told a gathering of The Friends of Denmark which had assembled at the Beit Ariela Library in Tel Aviv to commemorate the heroic rescue of Danish Jews in October 1943. The amazing part of the story, said Lexner, is that the Danish people were the ones who took the risk and saved nearly all of Denmark’s Jewish population.

If he were giving points for the operation, he would put the Danish people at the top of the totem pole and the Jewish community at the bottom, he intimated. The Danish people not only carried out the mission but initiated it, whereas the Jews initiated nothing.

It was because of this extraordinary and spontaneous act that Denmark is the only country in which all the members of its underground were recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous among the Nations, said Lexner, who is particularly appreciative of this Danish display of altruism because his parents were among those who were rescued and taken to Sweden.

■ NOTWITHSTANDING the fact that he is 84 years old, former Supreme Court Justice Gavriel Bach did not require a single sheet of notes or any other kind of reminder when he ascended the podium at Jerusalem’s Kehilat Moreshet Avraham in the East Talpiot neighborhood last week to share some of his experiences at the trial of Adolf Eichmann upon the completion of its 50th anniversary year.

Bach was the assistant state attorney in 1960 when Eichmann was captured by the Mossad and brought to Israel to stand trial for war crimes committed during the Holocaust while he was transportation administrator of the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem. This was a position that put Eichmann in charge of all the trains deporting Jews to the death camps.

Bach held the 150-member audience entranced with riveting recollections of his encounters with Eichmann. With just the right touches of humor, insight and modesty, Bach, who retired from the Supreme Court in 1997, recalled in fluent English specific cases that came across his desk as one of the three main prosecutors in the trial, which resulted in Eichmann’s execution, the only time Israel has implemented the death sentence. Bach spoke of attempts made to stop the deportations of Jews. Various European government officials had appealed to Eichmann on behalf of specific Jews, one the widow of an Italian war hero who by chance was visiting family in Poland when deportation orders came through. Another was a scientific expert in radar who one of Eichmann’s colleagues wanted to be saved so he could learn from him about the technology involved. In all instances, Bach recalled, Eichmann had refused to make exceptions.

Bach, whose lecture was co-sponsored by The Jerusalem Post, was introduced by the paper’s managing editor, David Brinn, who said that as both a representative of the Post and a veteran member of the thriving Jerusalem Masorti congregation, he felt doubly proud to be presenting the Israeli legend to the audience. Bach told Brinn before the lecture that he has been a longtime reader of the Post, and that what prevents him from currently reading it on a daily basis is that despite being well into retirement, he’s often just too busy.

■ MANY ORGANIZATIONS choose Jerusalem’s Ramada Hotel for their venue because the hotel’s architects were clever enough to design a banquet room that can be expanded to hold more than a thousand people. Among the organizations that hold their major functions at the Ramada is AMIT, which this year received added attention and plenty of extras at no extra cost by courtesy of Harvey Douglen, who is the representative of the hotel’s owners.

No, it wasn’t the competition from new hotels and new hotel managements that spurred him. It was simply that his wife, Renee, was one of the two honorees, and like any good husband, he wanted everything to be just perfect for her. The other honoree was David Schwartz, who for many years has been the AMIT auditor.

■ EMMY AWARD winning television talk show host and decorated former US naval officer Montel Williams hosted close to 100 Americans and Canadian lone soldiers serving in the IDF at a festive Saturday night soiree at the Inbal Hotel, Jerusalem. The soldiers, who are all affiliated with the Lone Soldier Center, were treated to a sumptuous meal including a mouthwatering dessert spread, music and dancing, as well as a relaxing fun-filled poker game, anchored by Williams, whose additional claim to fame is as a world-class poker player.

Because he spent 22 years in the military, said Williams, he makes a point of spending time with the troops wherever he goes in the world, and identifies strongly with lone soldiers.

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