GRAPEVINE: A day of remembrance

News from around Israel.

January 26, 2016 20:50
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN hosts special needs children on Tu Bishvat at his official residence.

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN hosts special needs children on Tu Bishvat at his official residence.. (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)

Among the speakers at the United Nations International Day of Holocaust Commemoration, to be held Wednesday morning in the General Assembly Hall in New York, is Czech-born Martha Wise, who lives in Jerusalem’s Ramot neighborhood.

Wise (nee Weiss) and two of her sisters, Eva and Judith, were deported to Auschwitz- Birkenau. Judith, who was only six years old, did not survive. When Eva and Martha were liberated by the Russians in 1945, they looked like skeletons. The two sisters had been among the children on whom the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele had performed his outrageous experiments.

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After the war, they were reunited with their parents and siblings, and the family migrated to Melbourne, Australia.

Martha and her husband, Harold Wise, moved to Israel 18 years ago to be with their children and grandchildren. Four generations of the family now live in Israel.

Martha Wise, who is a voluntary guide at Yad Vashem and has shared her story with many audiences outside of Yad Vashem, never imagined when she was a child in Auschwitz that there would be a Jewish state and that her grandchildren would serve in its army. She was invited to give testimony at the UN by Israel’s envoy to the UN, Danny Danon.

Many Israelis wear a hai talisman around their necks, but for Martha Wise, who also wears one, it has special meaning, not only from a personal perspective but from a general Jewish perspective, in that it signifies that the nation of Israel lives.

The theme for this year’s commemoration is “The Holocaust and Human Dignity,” linking Holocaust remembrance with the founding of the United Nations and reaffirming faith in the dignity and worth of every person, as highlighted in the United Nations Charter, as well as the right to live free from discrimination and with equal protection under the law, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Cristina Gallach, undersecretary-general for communications and public information, will host the memorial ceremony, and speakers will include: Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general; Mogens Lykketoft, president of the General Assembly; Danon; Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN; and Felix Klein, special representative for relations with Jewish organizations of the Federal Republic of Germany. In addition, Szabolcs Takács, chairman of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, will make a statement.

Barbara Winton will open a video tribute to her father, Sir Nicholas Winton, who rescued 669 children from the Holocaust on the Czech Kindertransport; and Beate Klarsfeld, co-founder of the Beate Klarsfeld Foundation, will deliver the keynote address.

In addition to Wise, personal testimony will be delivered by Haim Roet, another survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, as well as Zoni Weisz, a Sinto (Roma) survivor of the Holocaust. It should be remembered that while Jews were the major victims of the Holocaust, tens of thousands of gypsies, or Roma as they are known throughout Europe, were also murdered. Of the 250,000 Roma  murdered by the Nazis, some 20,000 were killed in Auschwitz alone.

■ FRENCH AMBASSADOR Patrick Maisonnave will be among the speakers at the annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony for senior foreign diplomats held at the Massuah International Institute for Holocaust Studies, which is located on Kibbutz Tel Yitzhak. He will be the only diplomat among the speakers, but several other ambassadors have indicated their attendance.

Among the other speakers will be Construction Minister Yoav Galant, whose mother, Fruma, was a Holocaust survivor who came to Israel on board the legendary ship Exodus after traveling backwards and forwards across Europe as a refugee. British boats surrounded the ship, and buffeted it backwards and forwards, causing damage to the ship and fear and injury among the passengers, who were overwhelmingly Holocaust survivors. Many were children who had been rescued from churches, monasteries and Christian families who had hidden them during the war. Fruma Galant will also be present at the ceremony.

The Foreign Ministry will be represented by Chief of Protocol Meron Reuben.

■ IN APRIL 1961, Gideon Hausner, who was then attorney-general and chief prosecutor at the Eichmann trial, mesmerized the court with his opening address in which he said: “When I stand before you judges of Israel, to lead the prosecution of Adolf Eichmann, I do not stand alone. With me here are six million accusers, but they cannot rise to their feet and point their finger at the man in the dock with the cry ‘J’Accuse!’ on their lips, for they are now only ashes – ashes piled high on the hills of Auschwitz and the fields of Treblinka and strewn in the forests of Poland. Their graves are scattered throughout Europe. Their blood cries out, but their voice is stilled. Therefore will I be their spokesman. In their name will I unfold this terrible indictment.”

Hausner’s son Amos and daughter Tami Raveh followed him into the legal profession.

Amos Hausner was among the speakers at the UN special outreach program marking the 50th anniversary of the Eichmann trial. His sister will be among the speakers attending a ceremony at the President’s Residence on Wednesday marking the 55th anniversary year of the Eichmann trial.

President Reuven Rivlin was among the speakers at the UN Holocaust remembrance ceremony last year, and will speak at the ceremony that he is hosting this year. Other speakers will include poet and journalist Haim Gouri, who covered the Eichmann trial for the now defunct Lamerhav, and Hausner’s great granddaughter Nina Barosh.

Among those expected to attend are Auschwitz survivor Mickey Goldman-Gilad, who was Eichmann’s interrogator after he was brought to Israel from Argentina, and former government minister Rafi Eitan, who headed the Mossad operation that led to Eichmann’s capture. Eitan is better known as the Israeli intelligence operator who handled Jonathan Pollard.

■ COMMEMORATIONS CAN be postponed, wars cannot. War erupts with unexpected suddenness, and its survivors can be liberated with equal suddenness. In response to weather forecasts, the American Center Jerusalem, which is the cultural and dialogue arm of the US Embassy, postponed its Holocaust remembrance function which it had planned to hold in conjunction with the Ben-Zvi Institute on January 26.

Because it is generally believed that all Holocaust victims originated from Europe, the program was supposed to focus on the question as to whether Tunisia was to be included in Hitler’s Final Solution to the Jewish Question. Scheduled speakers were professors Haim Saadoun of the Documentation Center at the Open University and Noam Stillman, the founding director of the Schusterman Center for Judaic and Israel Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

Their comments were to come after a documentary film on the Nazi occupation of North Africa. But because the outlook for the weather for Jerusalem this week was somewhat off-putting, the event has been deferred until such time as the forecasts are more favorable.

■ YOU CAN’T keep a good man down, goes the old adage, and among other people it applies to Shimon Peres, 92, who at the beginning of this week was hospitalized for the second time in 10 days at Sheba Medical Center after tests indicated an irregular heartbeat. Peres surprised everyone when he showed up on Monday at the farewell for Sheba director-general Prof. Zeev Rotstein, who is taking up his position as director-general at Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem. The ever-elegant Peres disdained a hospital gown and came fully dressed in suit and tie but sporting a pulse oximeter on one of his fingers.

Hospitals in Israel are the only places in which there is genuine peace, he said. Jews and Arabs can be found in the same ward as patients and among the medical staff as physicians and nurses, and no one knows who’s who and no one suspects anyone else of nefarious activity.

■ AT THE beginning of the week, veteran Israel Radio broadcaster Aryeh Golan read out a news item about new legislation relating to the media in which all senior management and public broadcasters, including boards of directors, will lose their jobs, and the Finance Ministry will have the responsibility for choosing their successors.

Golan said that, familiar as it seems, he was not talking about Israel but about Poland, where the new right-wing government has just passed legislation that will give the ruling Law and Justice Party editorial and financial control over public broadcasting.

Golan, who was in the forefront of the struggle to save the Israel Broadcasting Authority from its upcoming demise, was, as a native son of Poland, interested in what is happening to public broadcasting under the new regime in the country of his birth.

Last week, at a conference on Public Broadcasting Reforms organized by the Jerusalem Center for Ethics, the consensus, with one exception, was that the Israel Broadcasting Corporation, which is scheduled to go into operation on April 1, following the March 31 closure of the IBA, will not become a reality.

This was contradicted by Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel, who was once the minister responsible for the IBA and who currently chairs the Knesset Economics Committee.

Cabel, who is genuinely interested in preserving public broadcasting, but who voted in favor of the legislation to create the IBC in place of the IBA, said that problems relating to the radio had been more or less resolved, but there were still problems regarding the television. He was adamant that the IBC will become operational on April 1.

Golan lambasted the legislation, saying that it was stupid, and that in the reforms that had previously been agreed to by all the unions concerned, even to the extent of previously unheard of mass dismissals of 42.7 percent of staff with union consent, the reforms had been swept aside by former communications minister Gilad Erdan, who, without properly investigating the situation, had declared immediately after his appointment that he was getting rid of the IBA. “He wanted to create a revolution,” said Golan derisively.

The new legislation calls for at least 25 percent of the existing staff to be retained, but acting CEO Ehud Koblentz has kept his cards close to his chest, and with the possible exception of those who are actually concerned, no one knows who is staying, and who will find themselves jobless within the next two months. One person who knows that he will continue to broadcast is Ya’akov Eilon, who a year ago, after having previously been the news presenter at channels 10 and 2, joined Channel 1, which is currently advertising that he will be covering the US elections. Several hundred people have resigned or taken early retirement since the passing of the new public broadcasting law last year.

Because all the real estate assets of the IBA had to be sold, new premises had to be found for the IBC. As nothing suitable could be found in Jerusalem, even though the law stipulates that public broadcasting must be headquartered in Jerusalem, Ophir Akunis, who until last September was the minister responsible for the IBA, suggested Modi’in as a temporary resort.

“We all know how quickly temporary becomes permanent in Israel,” said Golan, who acknowledged that the only positive development was that Modi’in had been scrapped and that the radio was remaining in Jerusalem and going back to the studios on Helene Hamalka Street, from where it had broadcast before moving to Romema more than 40 years ago. The Helene Hamalka Street property belongs to the Ethiopian Church, which is asking for NIS 30,000 per month in key money rental.

“If that’s the revolution, we’re back at first base,” thundered Golan, who also defended Channel 1 as having much better programs than all the reality shows on commercial television, which he characterized as “fillers between commercials.”

There has been little discussion about the IBA’s administrative staff, but whether they stay or go, they will have to vacate the stately and historic Shaare Zedek building on Jaffa Road, which is due to become a boutique hotel. The Mount Zion Hotel was also a hospital in a previous incarnation.

■ IF JERUSALEM Mayor Nir Barkat had been running for a Knesset seat last week, he might have scored a large number of Arab votes. Contrary to various newspaper reports that suggest that Barkat has a poor relationship with Jerusalem’s Arab community, he was showered with compliments last week by Arab community leaders at the annual New Year reception that he hosts for religious and lay leaders of the three monotheistic faiths as well as members of the diplomatic community. There was a very large Arab contingent – both men and women – among the guests, and as Barkat stood in the doorway of the council chamber prior to the formal proceedings, he was embraced again and again by Arab representatives, several of whom asked him to pose for photos with them. He also came in for a goodly share of compliments from Jews and Christians.

Prominent among the diplomats were Russian Ambassador Alexander Shein, whose country owns part of the Russian Compound adjacent to Jerusalem’s City Hall, and Nestor Alejandro Rosa, the ambassador of Uruguay, who was among the speakers, and who spoke of his country’s strong connections with Israel since the pre-state period when Uruguay was a member of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine and, on November 29, 1947, was one of the 33 countries that voted in favor of the UN resolution on the partition of Palestine, and subsequently was among the first countries to recognize Israel and establish diplomatic relations.

■ ALMOST EVERY visitor to the home of Isi and Naomi Leibler in Jerusalem asks to take a look at Leibler’s extensive Judaica library, which is believed to be one of the largest and most unique libraries of its kind in the world. Sometimes Leibler, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and, before making aliya, a longtime leader of Australian Jewry, gives the visitor a guided tour. But if the visitor is a scholar, especially in one or more fields of Jewish studies, Leibler will allow him or her to peruse the bookshelves alone. Sometimes such people get so immersed in the contents of the bookshelves that they forget to return to the living room. Over the years, Leibler has amassed some 40,000 books on numerous Jewish topics.

None of his four children nor any of his adult grandchildren are particularly interested in taking over the collection, nor does any of them wish to build or buy a second apartment in which to house it. Leibler was fortunate in being able to acquire the penthouse next door to the one in which he lives to house the books and to accommodate his immediate relatives when they stay overnight or longer.

He readily admits that he hasn’t read all the books, because no one could get through 40,000 books in a lifetime, but he certainly knows every title and exactly where to find any book in the collection within a minute or two.

Keen that the collection should go to a source where it will be appreciated and of value, Leibler, who has a long association with Bar-Ilan University, and who is in line for an honorary doctorate during the upcoming spring meeting of the university’s board of trustees, decided that Bar-Ilan would be the best repository for his collection. He and his wife visited the university to announce the bequest and were welcomed by BIU president Rabbi Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz, rector Prof. Miri Faust, director-general Menachem Greenblum, Faculty of Jewish Studies dean Prof.

Elie Assis, International Friends chairman Vera Muravitz, library system director Dr.

Rochelle Kedar, and others.

When conceding that he had not read all the books, Leibler said that he was nonetheless familiar with all of them and where they are. “If you’d wake me up in the middle of the night and ask me where there’s a book about 16th-century Marranos, I can tell you which room it’s in and on which shelf it lies,” he said.

The Leiblers, along with other prominent members of Australian Jewry, were present at BIU 16 years ago when an honorary doctorate was conferred on then-Australian prime minister John Howard, who disclosed that he first visited Israel in 1964, long before entering public life, and on that occasion stayed at the YMCA in Jerusalem.

He returned 24 years later as leader of the opposition and moved across to the road to the King David Hotel. He came for the third time not only as prime minister but as the leader of a nation that has had strong and close ties with the State of Israel since its foundation in 1948.

In actual fact the ties with this country go back to the First World War, when Australian forces stationed in the South played a leading role in the conquest of the Ottoman forces in the October 1917 Battle of Beersheba. Australian troops were again stationed in this part of the world during the Second World War and are currently part of the peacekeeping and observer forces.

In 1947, Australia was the first country to vote in favor of the partition of Palestine and in 1949 was among the first countries to subsequently recognize the nascent State of Israel and establish diplomatic relations.

Australians and Israelis got together in Tel Aviv on Tuesday to celebrate Australia Day.

When Leibler receives his honorary doctorate in the spring, another honoree will be the Bnei Akiva religious-Zionist youth movement, whose Australian branch was headed by Leibler in his youth. He was also in the forefront of the global movement of the struggle for Soviet Jewry and occupied senior roles in the World Jewish Congress.

Naomi Leibler is a past president of World Emunah, the women’s religious-Zionist movement, whose Australian branch was founded by her mother-in-law, Rachel Leibler, who died last year at age 103.

■ EVEN BEFORE she presents her credentials next week, Moldova’s recently arrived ambassador designate, Gabriela Moraru, participated in a ceremony at the Foreign Ministry in which Moran Mano, the deputy head of Mano Maritime Ltd., which was founded by his father, Moshe Mano, was appointed honorary consul of Moldova.

Moran Mano is among the younger generation of honorary consuls, whereas Moshe Mano is a member of the older generation of honorary consuls and has served for many years as the honorary consul for Russia in Haifa. The ceremony was conducted by Meron Reuben, the Foreign Ministry’s chief of protocol. Also presenting their credentials next week will be the new ambassadors of the Netherlands, Austria, Costa Rica and Vietnam.

■ AMONG THE people coming to Israel next week for the 11th Ilan Ramon International Space Conference is a senior delegation of the Italian Space Agency, headed by its president, Prof. Roberto Batiston, and including Italian astronaut Capt.

Samantha Cristoforetti, who logged the longest-ever single space flight by a woman – 199 days and 16 hours – and the longest uninterrupted space flight of a European astronaut. The delegation will be welcomed at a reception to be hosted by Italian Ambassador Francesca Maria Talo and his wife.

One of her country’s first female combat pilots, Cristoforetti has studied in Italy, the United States, Germany, France and Russia, and is fluent in Italian, English, German, French and Russian.

In Israel, El Al made history last week by having the first team of women pilots, Smadar Schechter and Meirav Schwartz, in the cockpit, or as a couple of feminists on the Post staff stated, it is now the henpit.

The two flew from Israel to Larnaca in Cyprus. El Al currently employs three women pilots and is training a fourth cadet, but this was the first time that the controls were entirely on the distaff side. It’s sad to think that, with rare exceptions, there’s been so little progress since the days of Amy Johnson, who in 1930 was the first woman to fly from England to Australia, or Amelia Earhart, who in 1932 was the first woman to make a solo flight across the Atlantic.

■ NUMEROUS EVENTS scheduled for Tu Bishvat were canceled or deferred because of the weather, but it was decided not to disappoint the 20 second- and third-grade special needs children from the Ohel Asher school in Elad who had been looking forward to planting a tree with Rivlin in his garden. It was too wet and cold for the youngsters to remain outside, so the planting ceremony was held inside with large pot plant containers, which the children were told would be later transferred to the garden.

Each of the children presented Rivlin with a basket of fruit, and in the grandfatherly persona that he easily adopts with small children, Rivlin told them about the festival and how, in the lands of their exile, Jews tried to obtain fruits from Israel to have for Tu Bishvat, in order to express their yearning for and identification with Israel as they ate the fruit of the Holy Land.

David, a 10-year-old, speaking on behalf of his fellow students, thanked the president and compared man to a tree, saying that the more one invests in a tree, the sweeter its fruit, and the more that is invested in children, the more they will grow into better adults.

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