‘What do you see in that picture?” asks Dov Kalmanovitz as I enter his smartly functional CPA office in Givat Shaul. The painting in question depicts the biblical crossing of the Red Sea. “Triumph over great odds, people overcoming adversity together,” I proffer.
Kalmanovitz has a different take. “There’s Moses standing on the cliff overlooking the Red Sea, with his back to us. You can’t see his face. For me that’s the most important thing. It doesn’t matter who you are – Dov Kalmanovitz, Bibi [Netanyahu] or your wife. The important thing is what you take from someone or an event, not who says or does something. The face, the identity of the person, doesn’t matter.”
In 54-year-old Kalmanovitz’s case, the facial aspect is an important – and obvious – one. Just over 22 years ago he became the first civilian victim of the first intifada when a Molotov cocktail was thrown into his car. He sustained burns to 75 percent of his body, including his face, and his doctors gave him no hope of surviving.
“The doctors take your age and the extent of the burns and, if the combination exceeds 100, that means you’re not going to live,” explains Kalmanovitz. “I was 31 at the time and had 75 percent burns. You can do the math.”
But survive he did. And while he hovered between life and death, he vowed that if he survived, he would do something for the common good. That he was true to his word will be evident – for the seventh year in succession – on Sunday (8 p.m.) when 3,000 people fill every seat in the house at the International Convention Center (Binyenei Ha’uma) auditorium for the Remembering, Singing and Telling “alternative” Remembrance Day event.
It is an event that Kalmanovitz has led from day one, and it is that pure leadership role he sees in the painting in his office. “We don’t have to learn to be Moses. We have to be ourselves but always to lead.”
However, even that isn’t enough. “You also have to be true to yourself,” Kalmanovitz continues. “Many political leaders were not genuine about their intent and had no truth or morals behind them, and they lost the belief of their followers.”
Some of our current leaders will be on board at Sunday’s event, in person or through electronic means. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat will be at the ICC, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is sending a videoed message, as is Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar.
During the interview Kalmanovitz answered umpteen phone calls connected to the logistics of Remembering, Singing and Telling, including arranging for a cameraman to take care of Saar’s video slot at the event.
Kalmanovitz says his event, as opposed to the official state ceremonies, emphasizes the “togetherness” aspect of the day and of remembrance and mourning in general. Each year’s event has a different theme. A couple of years ago the focus was on Druse victims and their families of wars and acts of terror. “The Druse have their own Remembrance Day events, which are attended by all sorts of high-ranking officials from the government and the army, but we invited Druse to take part in our event, and we put the spotlight on them.”
This year’s theme is bereaved families who have lost more than one member. One of the families to be noted this year is the family of New York-born Dr. David Applebaum, who established the network of Terem Emergency Medical Centers and was killed in the terrorist bombing of Café Hillel on Emek Refaim in September 2003. His daughter Naava, who was due to get married the next day, was also killed in the attack.
For Kalmanovitz, the Applebaum double tragedy epitomizes his own positive philosophy. “There are lots of victims of terror who get stuck in their own misfortune and difficult circumstances. They are filled with anger and frustration. But I believe you have to move forward. Naava Applebaum’s sister, Shaina, will be at the Remembrance Day event next week. When she got married, she used Naava’s wedding dress as part of the canopy for her own huppa.”
The catalyst for Remembering, Singing and Telling came from unexpected quarters. “I was at a hotel with my family on Pessah 2004, and there was a show in the evening at which a singer sang a song about a little girl,” Kalmanovitz recalls. “I was very moved by the song, and after the show I told the singer it would make a good song for a Remembrance Day event.”
As Kalmanovitz had had his fill of the staple state and other official events, the seed for his own alternative slot had already been subconsciously planted. The singer said he would help if and when the event became a reality. As time was very short – there was just a week and a half before Remembrance Day that year – Kalmanovitz shifted into high gear and got in touch with the manager of ZOA House in Tel Aviv.
“At the time I was the accountant for ZOA,” he explains. “I managed to get a 250-seat hall in the building at a cut-rate price, as the building was closed on Remembrance Day anyway.”
The hotel singer duly performed and corralled some other musicians for the occasion. “We squeezed 350 people into the hall, and there were another 50 locked out,” says Kalmanovitz.
The following year was an entirely different story. Realizing there was
a demand for this sort of event, Kalmanovitz went for a much grander
venue. “I got help from Omanut La’am – even though they weren’t
entirely convinced the plan would succeed – and the next year we filled
the ICC. Don’t forget, state ceremonies are free. People buy tickets
for our event.”
The Remembering, Singing and Telling format is
based on victims and members of bereaved families telling their story,
relevant video clips, and the performance of appropriate songs with a
singer on the stage and the entire audience joining in. This year’s
artistic line-up includes Yehoram Gaon, Shlomi Shabat, David De’or and
haredi singer Yishai Lapidot.
“The event’s togetherness theme
encompasses religious and secular, Jews and non-Jews, young and old,
and I think the list of performers reflects that,” says Kalmanovitz. “I
believe when we all join forces, the sky’s the limit.”