(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
■ THIRTY YEARS after the First Lebanon War, there is still no closure for the
families of Zecharia Baumel, Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz, who were taken
prisoner in June 1982 in the Battle of Sultan Yakoub.
The families have
no knowledge of the fate of these three men who have been missing in action for
so long. The IDF had planned to classify the trio as soldiers who had fallen in
battle but whose burial place was unknown. However, the families successfully
fought the decision following news agency reports that IDF soldiers had been
seen on a tank during a military parade in Damascus. Photographs of the parade
showed someone who bore so striking a resemblance to Baumel that it imbued his
family with fresh hope. This increased when PLO leader Yasser Arafat delivered
half of Baumel’s dog tag in December 1993.
Small wonder that these pieces
of evidence that his son might still be alive spurred Yehuda Baumel to travel
far and wide, including many places in the Arab world, in search of any
information that would help him find his son or at least learn what happened to
him. In his search, the elder Baumel, an American citizen, represented all three
families. He was relentless in his quest until his heart gave out in 2009 and he
But his wife, Miriam Baumel, is continuing to keep her son’s
disappearance in the public consciousness.
At a service this week at
Jerusalem’s Ramban synagogue, where prayers have regularly been recited for all
of the country’s missing soldiers, she told Channel 1 that a succession of
governments had not done enough to find the missing soldiers. Rabbi Benjamin Lau, focusing on the half of the dog tag that Arafat brought, declared that the
other half was floating somewhere in the world and that Israel must do its
utmost to find it and its owner.
■ FOR THOSE who missed out on it at age
13, it’s never too late to celebrate a bar mitzva. Last month, nine Holocaust
survivors who did not have a chance to celebrate their bar and bat mitzvas made
up for lost time at the Heichal Shabbat Synagogue in Ashkelon, with the
participation of children from the Henry Ronson school. One of the men
celebrating said that to stand in the synagogue with his tefillin bound on his
arm and his head while surrounded by Jewish youngsters was the survivors’
greatest triumph over the Nazis.
There was a slight connection to this
celebration this week in Jerusalem, when American actor, director, producer,
screenwriter, fashion designer and wrestling champion David Arquette, who is
halachically Jewish even though he wasn’t raised Jewish, decided to celebrate
his bar mitzva at the Western Wall.
Arquette’s mother, born Olivia Novak,
is the daughter of Polish Holocaust survivors. She is an actress, poet and
theater operator who assimilated in her youth and passed little if any of their
heritage on to her children.
Arquette’s father was a convert to
The 41-year-old Arquette, who is best known for his appearance in
feature films like Scream and Never Been Kissed, arrived in the country last
Friday as part of his travels around the globe to shoot material for a new
reality show that is scheduled to air next year on the Travel Channel. Since his
arrival, he has been tweeting fans about his impressions of Israel, which have
generally been good. His bar mitzva included all the rituals, and he was guided
in what to do by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall and the holy
sites in the Old City. It is not certain whether the bar mitzva was a publicity
stunt to be incorporated into the TV program, or whether, having landed in
Israel, Arquette felt the spark of his Jewish roots.
■ WHEN HE first came
to Jerusalem in 1997 to take up his position as director of the Israel Museum,
James Snyder met with a certain degree of suspicion.
Never mind the
impeccable credentials that went with the impeccable hairstyle, he was a strange
bird who had never previously been to the country and who spoke no
His Hebrew is still not fluent, but he tries hard and injects a
few Hebrew sentences into all his formal speeches. The suspicion has evaporated
and been replaced by love, friendship and admiration – and to cap it off, he
received Honorary Citizenship of the City of Jerusalem last week from Mayor Nir
The ceremony at city hall took place within the framework of the
International Council of the Israel Museum’s annual meeting, with participants
from Israel, the US, Canada, England, Switzerland, Monaco, Italy, France,
Belgium, Spain, Brazil and South Africa crowding into the Jerusalem City Council
chamber to celebrate with Snyder.
As it happened, the occasion coincided
with his 30th wedding anniversary, and in a voice that broke with emotion, he
paid tribute to his wife, Tina, saying that their marriage in a Cleveland
synagogue had changed his life. It was also due to her that he had come to
Israel, he said; had she not agreed, they would have remained in New
One speaker after another – including diplomat Yitzhak Molcho, Bank
of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, and philanthropists Charles Bronfman,
Michael Steinhardt and Lynn Schusterman – praised Snyder for his vision, his
courage, his persistence, his ability as a speaker and fund-raiser, his powers
of persuasion and his style of management.
Confirming what everyone else
had said, Barkat declared that “even when you try to say no to James, you end up
Addressing himself directly to Snyder, the mayor said,
“You’re great at motivating strategic projects. It’s not only what you do, but
the way you do it. You can be very lovey-dovey, but also aggressive like a
bulldog.You have uplifted the Israel Museum into a symbol that the
Jewish World can look on with pride and the whole world can admire. You’re an
asset to the city and the museum.”
Barkat also disclosed that he had
frequently consulted with Snyder on how to improve the capital’s cultural image
and had found him to be not only helpful but inspiring.
There was also a
musical tribute by twin clarinetists Alexander and Daniel Gurfinkel, who as
child prodigies frequently played at Israel Museum events, as well as in
different parts of the world. Now serving in the IDF, the twins showed up in
uniform to play a Gershwin medley in Snyder’s honor.
“I thought I had my
bar mitzva 47 years ago,” quipped Snyder. Then, becoming serious, he said: “For
Tina and me, Jerusalem is our Israel and the Israel Museum is my Israel.” He
declined to take full credit for the revamping of the museum, which has become
one of the most important museums in the world. It was done with the assistance
and cooperation of all the museum staff and the friends of the museum, he
■ EARLIER IN the week, Snyder presided over the museum’s Honorary
Fellowship Awards to Wendy Fisher, David Grossman, Linda and Michael Jesselson,
Barbara and Morton Mandel, Evi Musher Shechter and Lily Safra. British
Ambassador Matthew Gould came to the fellowship ceremony in honor of Fisher, who
chairs the British Friends of the Art Museums in Israel, is a successful
sculptor in her own right and has been selected to exhibit her work in the
Olympic Sculpture Park at the upcoming London Olympics. It was amazing to see
how the Mandels, who over the years have given millions of dollars to numerous
Israeli causes besides the Israel Museum, were almost humbly grateful to see
their names linked with the Wing for Jewish Art and Life, in addition to all the
other museum projects they have supported.
Michael Jesselson, whose late
parents Erica and Ludwig Jesselson were among the museum’s early benefactors,
recalled that former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek had been a visitor in their
home whenever he came to New York, and once took a painting off the wall because
he decided that it belonged in the museum. Grossman, who grew up not far from
the museum when the area was still a barren hilltop, said that he loves to come
to the museum as often as he can because he finds it a place of serenity in
which he can discover his true self.
■ MUSEUMS HAVE certainly featured
prominently in Barkat’s schedule over the past couple of weeks. This included
notifying the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Marvin Hier that all legal
obstacles to continuing the construction of the Museum of Tolerance on the site
of a Muslim cemetery on Hillel Street had been removed. It also included
attending some of the International Council of the Israel Museum events and the
Bible Lands Museum’s 20th anniversary celebration.
celebrations included the opening of the scintillating “Pure Gold” exhibition,
which demonstrates how superb craftsmanship endures the test of time, and
culminated in the Bible Lands Museum’s annual gala dinner in the garden area –
which, according to director Amanda Weiss, will be incorporated into the
museum’s expansion program in the not-too-distant future.
Barkat said that
the first time he had come to the Bible Lands Museum was around a decade ago,
and he had been very impressed. Ever since, he said, he found himself coming
back with ever greater frequency to see its progress and its inspirational and
“The Bible Lands Museum has become my third
home,” he said, adding that it had become a significant stop not only for
tourists, but for students visiting the city. He enthused over the “Golden Mile”
project, in which the museum and the municipality have engaged with Bezalel
students who are studying jewelry design. Referring to the cultural hub in the
immediate vicinity, Barkat spoke of the National Library that will be
constructed through the generous gift of the Rothschild Foundation, and the
construction of a National Museum, which, along with the Israel Museum and the
nearby Bloomfield Science Museum, will form “a critical mass of cultural
anchors.” He also mentioned the intention to bring the light rail to this part
of the city, so as to make all the cultural attractions easily accessible to
both residents and visitors.
Batya Borowski, who founded the museum
together with her late husband Elie Borowski, said it was exciting to have
people who had been supporters from the beginning at this milestone anniversary
dinner. Weiss was thrilled that the museum had become a permanent feature on the
Taglit-Birthright calendar and said she was expecting some 1,500 Birthright
visitors in July.
She also spoke of the museum’s educational program, in
which Jewish, Christian and Muslim children and their parents come together to
learn about a common past and leave their differences outside the door.