Grapevine: A Succot tradition

A man of the people regardless of his high office, Navon wanted to give the public a chance to visit the president of the state without the pomp and ceremony which creates a wedge between them.

October 18, 2016 19:36
JEFFREY MARK listens to a guest at the opening of his interior design store in Jerusalem.

JEFFREY MARK listens to a guest at the opening of his interior design store in Jerusalem.. (photo credit: REBECCA KOLWALSKY)

On Monday night Channel 1 screened a memorial tribute to Israel’s fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, in which it also showed archive footage that indicated that it was Navon who initiated the President’s Open House on Succot.

A man of the people regardless of his high office, Navon wanted to give the public a chance to visit the president of the state without the pomp and ceremony which creates a wedge between them.

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Navon’s initiative was carried on by his successors Chaim Herzog, Ezer Weizman, Moshe Katsav, Shimon Peres and now Reuven Rivlin, who will hold Open House on Wednesday.

Hopefully, the children who last Thursday helped Rivlin decorate a small succa in the grounds of the presidential compound will find it still standing if they visit Wednesday – but it’s not very likely. In past years children from different schools came to help the president decorate the succa. This time, it was a smaller group made up of progeny of some of the employees of the President’s Residence. None of the children were tall enough to reach the ceiling and handed their decorations to the president to hang, while their parents, cameras in hand, kept pleading “Smile, smile.”

No Jewish holiday is more associated with Jerusalem than Succot, which is one of the pilgrimage festivals, said Rivlin, as he invited everyone in Israel to come to his succa on April 19, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Up to and including the period of Katsav’s presidency, the succa remained intact with the decorations of the children, while the president stood in the succa for several hours greeting a passing parade of the Israeli mosaic, as well as tourists and non-Jews. The format changed under Peres. There was a symbolic succa decorated with the help of children and dismantled soon afterward.

Unlike his predecessors, Peres was not on hand to greet each visitor individually, but made a couple of stage appearances during the morning to welcome visitors who were treated to exhibits and entertainment.

Rivlin has followed suit.

The theme of this year’s exhibition is “Blue and White: Made in Israel.”

There will also be placards relating to the history of Israel’s industry.

Ironically, the last video message that former president Peres posted on social media last month, only hours before suffering the stroke that led to his death, was a pre-Rosh Hashana message in which he urged Israelis to buy blue and white.

In the text accompanying the clip on his Facebook page, Peres wrote of his pride in Israel’s wonderful fruits, industry and hi-tech accomplishments, and recommended that Israelis buy Israeli products not only out of patriotism but simply because they’re better. Noting the large number of foreign companies investing in Israel, Peres attributed their motives to the outstanding reputation that Israeli products have on world markets.

■ APROPOS PERES, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan recalled last week that diplomatic relations between Israel and Spain were established on January 17, 1986, by thenprime ministers Shimon Peres and Felipe González. Erdan was speaking at Tel Aviv City Hall at the Spanish National Day celebrations hosted by Spanish Ambassador Fernando Carderera and his wife, Victoria, within the context of yearlong celebrations in Spain and Israel, marking 30 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

According to Carderera, cultural events in Israel will culminate with a Goya exhibition at the Israel Museum, which will receive a loan of 10 Goya paintings from the Prado Museum in Madrid. Carderera characterized the exhibition as “the most important in Israel.” Although Carderera didn’t say so, it is also by way of a swan song for Israel Museum director James Snyder in his present role. Snyder is returning to New York, where he will step into a newly created position – that of international president of the Israel Museum responsible for its worldwide activities.

Moving back in history to the pre-Inquisition period, Erdan noted that some of Judaism’s most eminent sages, such as Maimonides, Shlomo Ibn Gvirol and Avraham Ibn Ezra had lived and flourished in Spain.

The expulsion of the Jews in 1492 ended a glorious period, he said, but many of those who were expelled safeguarded their Sephardi culture and the language of Ladino, spoken by Spanish Jews and preserved to this day.

Erdan referred to the decision taken last year by the Spanish parliament to restore Spanish citizenship to the descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain, and called this “a significant step in righting a historical wrong.”

Erdan also commended Spain’s efforts to promote peace in the Middle East, recalling that peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians began at the Madrid Conference in 1991. Among the Israelis attending the conference was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was then deputy foreign minister.

More recently, Spain has stood up in opposition to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activities against Israel and has intensified its cooperation with Israel through political dialogue, counterterrorism, cyber and innovation. Spanish companies have opened, or plan to open, innovation centers in Israel, Erdan said.

Spain is a popular tourist destination for Israelis, with approximately 350,000 Israelis among its visitors each year, said Erdan.

One of the indications of the importance that Spain attaches to its relations with Israel, said Carderera, was the presence of King Felipe VI at the funeral of Shimon Peres.

Because he confined himself to only brief remarks, Carderera did not mention the fact that the king had initially come to Israel in April 2011 while he was still the crown prince. At that time he came to celebrate the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The visit followed that of Peres to Spain two months earlier.

Navon was present at the state dinner hosted by Peres for Felipe and his wife, Letizia, and in an impromptu speech addressed them in Spanish.

In June last year when Carderera called a press conference to announce Spain’s decision to restore citizenship to people who can prove descent from the Jews expelled from Spain at the end of the 15th century, he was asked if Navon – who was fluent in Spanish and who headed the National Authority for Ladino – would be exempt from some of the conditions should he care to apply for Spanish citizenship.

“If president Navon asks, we’ll be glad to grant him citizenship; he is a special case,” Carderera responded.

“I consider Navon a Spaniard even without citizenship. He is my president.”

In fact a series of Spanish ambassadors invited Navon to Spanish National Day receptions long after he was out of office.

Although the reception at Tel Aviv’s City Hall ended on a high note, it did not begin that way. In addition to the people on the embassy’s guest list, invitations were also issued by the Tel Aviv Municipality, primarily to senior citizens who utilize the premises for dancing once a week. Many of them were lined up outside the building long before the doors were opened. Diplomats and other dignitaries were permitted to enter as soon as they arrived. Among the invitees on the Spanish list was Miri Shafir-Navon, the widow of Israel’s fifth president, who died in November last year. A modest and unpretentious person, Shafir-Navon stood in line with other senior citizens.

People who recognized her urged her to move to the VIP gate, where, to her great embarrassment, she was kept waiting for almost 20 minutes because the official at the gate didn’t know who she was, even though other people present vouched for her.

The overall attendance was huge, taking up the whole of the spacious entrance lobby of the building, causing Carderera to say “Wow!” before addressing the crowd. The Tel Aviv Municipality had not provided sufficient seating, and there was a mad rush for chairs, with guests dragging them out from any place to which they had access. People sat on the stage on sound boxes and on tables.

An elderly lame man, leaning heavily on a walking stick, walked around and around looking vainly for a seat, as did a white-haired woman who also walked with the help of a cane.

None of the younger people who had grabbed seats surrendered them to people who needed them more.

But all’s well that ends well. The entertainment was provided by Cinco, an amazing Spanish flamenco music and dance group headed by virtuoso violinist, drummer, singer and dancer Tania Vinokur, whose obvious enjoyment in what they were doing was contagious and gleaned frequent applause throughout the performance. At the end of the evening, guests received a fine souvenir from the Spanish Trucco fashion company, which is one of several Spanish fashion brands available in Israel.

■ IN KEEPING with a tradition started by his predecessor Matthew Gould, British Ambassador David Quarrey and his spouse, Aldo Henriquez, put up a succa in the garden of the ambassador’s residence with the help of members and friends of Akim, the Israel Association for the Rehabilitation of the Mentally Retarded. Several events for various sectors of the Israeli public are being held at the residence during the Succot period, and literally hundreds of people will pass through the ambassador’s succa.

What distinguishes this succa from others is that the décor includes a Union Jack. But perhaps more important, the ambassador, who is not Jewish, is demonstrating respect for a Jewish religious festival in the Jewish homeland.

■ ALL COUNTRIES that have diplomatic relations with Israel are keen to boost trade relations, because increases in bilateral trade not only contribute to the economies of the countries concerned but help to reduce unemployment by creating more job opportunities. Despite the geographic distance between the Philippines and Israel, trade authorities in both countries believe that the potential for boosting trade exists.

With this in mind, officials of the Philippine Embassy in Tel Aviv met last week with officers of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce to discuss areas in which trade between the two countries could be increased. Philippine Ambassador Neal Imperial focused on traditional export winners (fruits and high-end furniture) and business and investment opportunities in the services sector. “Israeli companies can benefit from the 24/7 operations guaranteed by Philippine BPOs [Business Process Outsourcing],” said Imperial, in highlighting the information technology-business process management industry of the Philippines.

FICC president Uriel Lynn welcomed the possibility of entering the services sector of the Philippines in addition to the traditional trade focus on merchandise.

A methodical way to increase Israel’s imports from the Philippines is by conducting a study of Israel’s needs and identifying the different products with which the Philippines has competitive advantage, Lynn recommended.

“The Israeli market is looking for suppliers of organic products, kosher produce, high-end furniture, textile and apparel. I think of the Philippine BPO and ICT [information and communications technology] sector as “pearl in a shell,” to which awareness among Israeli businessmen should be created,” said Ze’ev Lavie, FICC director for international relations.

Lynn assured embassy officials of the full support of the FICC in organizing meetings for Philippine business delegations visiting Israel.

The meeting with the FICC follows earlier meetings between embassy representatives and the Israel-Asia Chamber of Commerce, the Haifa Rotary Club and Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce – all indicators of how keen the embassy is to upgrade trade relations.

■ SOME OF his New York clients who had either moved to Israel or had purchased a holiday home in Israel wanted the interior of their Israel abode designed and furnished by Jeffrey Mark of Cedarhurst, New York, with the result that Mark found himself on a frequent commute, before he and his family decided to come on aliya. He obviously brought his business with him and set up a store in Jerusalem’s King David Street, which is synonymous with history, elegance and the good life.

But here comes the old story of not judging a book by its cover, in more ways than one. From the outside the narrow storefront gives the impression of very limited room inside.

But take a few steps over the threshold, and it’s like open sesame. That’s what happened last Saturday night when Mark decided to have a glamorous New York-style official opening for his enterprise. There were more than 100 people of all ages and diverse economic means among the invitees, and several of those present had specially come from out of town.

One of the first things that greeted them was a sushi bar replete with a Japanese chef in full regalia making fresh batches of sushi at an amazing speed. Young women in black outfits with the JMark white logo circulated with trays of other goodies, and further inside but away from the outside looking in was a very large table built on two sides of a pillar, with a selection of alcoholic beverages and soft drinks. Guests also received black-and-white tote bags filled with cookies, fruit and drink.

The interior has a large groundfloor room not visible from the street, plus three upstairs rooms, all beautifully furnished and accessorized as if part of someone’s home.

At first glance, it all oozed luxury, but Mark assured his guests that not everything was as expensive as it looked, and instanced attractive gift items under NIS 50 and others under NIS 200 which looked as if they should cost a lot more. Of course, there were items that Mark himself said were “ridiculously expensive,” such as a handmade pillow selling for more than NIS 1,000 – but there are people who don’t mind paying that kind of money for something they consider to be unique.

On the other hand, Mark is acutely aware that not everyone who wants to have a beautiful home has a budget for expensive furniture and furnishings, and he also had such people in mind when setting up his Jerusalem enterprise. “I wanted to make it affordable,” he said, and instanced an eye-catching armchair which is somewhat on the expensive side when covered with leather, but much more reasonably priced when covered with fabric, and depending on the particular fabric, the price could continue to come down. Some of the fabrics are actually Mark’s own design and custom made for him.

■ FOR WHAT is believed to be the first time in Israel, a rabbinical ordination ceremony included a diverse, multi-denominational group of religious and secular men and women.

They constitute the pioneer group of Beit Midrash for Israeli Rabbis, an initiative of the Shalom Hartman Institute and Hamidrasha at Oranim.

The gala ordination ceremony last month at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem was just in advance of the High Holy Days in the spirit of Jewish unity, compassion and forgiveness, which the holy days symbolize.

The Beit Midrash for Israeli Rabbis conducts a unique, egalitarian program for training pluralistic Israeli spiritual community leaders, whose inclusive vision aims to catalyze a process of spiritual rejuvenation for emerging Israeli Jewish communities.

The Beit Midrash, which was established two years ago, brings together voices representing the diversity of the Israeli-Jewish experience to define a new Israeli rabbinical leadership model. Participants and faculty alike believe that Israeli Judaism should be open and inclusive, and that Jewish leaders must be representative of that awareness.

Program participants studied classic and contemporary texts in an effort to develop a new, meta-denominational language of Jewish identity that draws from Israel’s rich and varied cultural heritage.

The curriculum addressed some of the most compelling challenges facing Israeli society, including sacred time (Shabbat, holy days, and life-cycle ceremonies), God and theology, family, mitzva, Halacha and civil law, and personal, community, and national morals.

Several of the graduates already hold leadership positions and have been serving Jewish communities and organizations in Israel for years.

They represent Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, secular, and unaffiliated communities, and include native Israelis from cities, settlements, and kibbutzim across the country, as well as immigrants from North America, the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.

The program is jointly managed by a diverse group of rabbis and scholars: Rabbi Dr. Shraga Bar-On of the Hartman Institute, who lives in the settlement of Beit Horon; Rabba Tamar Elad-Appelbaum, founder of Zion: An Eretz Yisraeli Community in Jerusalem; Rabbi Dani Segal, the Orthodox rabbi of Alon; and Rabbi Shay Zarchi of a “secular” congregation in the Jezreel Valley. Dr. Biti Roi of the Hartman Institute, an Orthodox Jerusalemite, served as an academic adviser.

Hartman Institute president Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman said the program’s task is to offer a new, maximalist vision of Judaism that will compete for the future of Israel and which will help transform all of Jewish Israel from spectators to players.

Dr. Moti Zeira, CEO of Hamidrasha at Oranim, said that Oranim has led numerous training programs for spiritual leadership, yet realized over the last few years that an entirely new model of spiritual leadership that is pluralistic, egalitarian, humanistic, relevant for our times and designated an “Israeli rabbinate” was a “leap of faith” it felt ready to take.

“We are convinced that, as Israeli rabbis/rabbas, our graduates will create a strong foundation of Israeli- Jewish spiritual leadership committed to Jewish sources, social responsibility, solidarity, justice, camaraderie, human rights and mutual responsibility,” Zeira said.

The newly ordained rabbis include: Bar-On, director of the Shalom Hartman Institute department for Israeli leadership, a Hartman research fellow, and teacher of Talmud at Shalem College; Elad-Appelbaum, vice president of the Masorti Rabbinical Assembly; Rabba Devorah Evron, director of the Elga Stulman Institute at Hamidrasha at Oranim; Rabbi Esteban Gottfried, co-founder and director of Beit Tefilah Israeli in Tel Aviv, who was initially ordained as a rabbi at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem; Rabba Avital Campbell Hochstein, a scholar and teacher of Talmud, and for more than 20 years a student, teacher and research fellow at Hartman; Rabbi Rani Jaeger, co-founder and chairman of Beit Tefilah Israeli, a Shalom Hartman Institute research fellow and a member of the Be’eri Initiative for Pluralistic Jewish Education leadership; Rabba Ruth Kara-Ivanov Kaniel, a Shalom Hartman Institute research fellow and a postdoctoral fellow and lecturer at Ben-Gurion University and at Tel Aviv Institute for Contemporary Psychoanalysis; Rabbi Uri Kroizer, coordinator of education and community for the Piyut and Prayer website, and initiator and prayer leader at Kabbalat Shabbat services in Jerusalem’s public squares and at Zion; Rabba Noga Brenner Samia, deputy director of BINA – the Jewish Movement for Social Change – and a teacher at the Secular Yeshiva in Tel Aviv; Rabbi Shalom Zaude Sharon, who came alone from Ethiopia at the age of nine, serves as the rabbi of Congregation Kedoshei Yisrael in Kiryat Gat and is the author of From Sinai to Ethiopia, a book seeking to reconcile rabbinic Jewish practice with Ethiopian traditional practice; Segal, the community rabbi of Alon and a founding member of Ein Prat Academy of Leadership; Rabbi Shlomo Zacharow, chairman of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel law committee and a faculty member of the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem; Zarchi, one of the founders of Nigun Halev Congregation in Nahalal and a founder and educational director of the Beit Midrash for Israeli Rabbis and one of the founders of Hamidrasha at Oranim; Rabba Hadas Ron Zariz is spiritual leader of the Jewish renewal community in Kibbutz Yifat and a founding member of Hamidrasha at Oranim, where she serves as co-director and instructor; and Rabbi Mishael Zion, the community scholar and rabbi of Bronfman Fellowships and a faculty member at the Mandel Leadership Institute in Jerusalem, who was originally ordained by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York.

■ MANY OF us may have dramatic moments in our lives that we remember either clearly or vaguely but don’t necessarily follow up with the other people in the drama.

Nicole Chodorowski waited 16 years to come face-to-face with the soldier who saved her from abduction.

A moving report in Yediot Aharonot this week recaps the story of Chodorowski, who at age three 16 years ago was with her mother in the mall in Beersheba. Like many toddlers, she temporarily broke free of her mother’s grasp, and in the crowd her mother lost eye contact with her. A mentally deranged woman spotted the child, grabbed her by the hand and forced her to board a bus to Tel Aviv. Once there, the woman began begging for money from passers- by, one of whom happened to be a woman soldier by the name of Moriah Baranes.

Something about the situation caused Baranes to be suspicious of the beggar, who claimed to be the sister of the little girl and said that their mother was waiting for them downstairs.

Baranes told the woman that she would give her money, but first she wanted to see the mother. The kidnapper decided that she didn’t want any handout from Baranes, but Baranes persisted. The kidnapper lifted the little girl and began to run. Baranes chased after her, yelling “Kidnap!” Realizing that she would caught if she kept running with the child in her arms, the kidnapper dumped her, and Chodorowski was returned to her mother.

Now a combat soldier herself and serving with the military police at a checkpoint, Chodorowski recently shared her story with some of her comrades in arms and said she would love to meet Baranes. The IDF decided to help her trace her rescuer, and in a relatively short time there was an emotional meeting between the two. The irony of it all is that Baranes, now married and a mother herself, lives very close to the checkpoint, and probably passed by Chodorowski on several occasions without knowing who she was.

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