Grapevine: A Netanyahu orchid blossoms in Singapore

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February 21, 2017 21:11

A round-up of news from around Israel.




PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (second right) and his wife, Ho Ching, at the presidential palace in Singapore, where an orchid was named after the Netanyahus.. (photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)

Aside from its incredible cleanliness, one of the things for which Singapore is famous is its orchids – and not only its orchids but its ability to enhance the gifts of nature. Almost anywhere one goes in Singapore, one can see exquisite flower arrangements, gardens and sculpted shrubbery.

Of all of its flora, however, Singapore is best known for its orchids, and official visitors are delighted to be honored by having orchids named for them.

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When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, during their visit there this week, attended a dinner at the presidential palace with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his wife, Ho Ching, they were delightfully surprised, when told that an orchid was named for them.

They are not the first Israelis to be accorded this honor. When president Chaim Herzog and his wife, Aura, visited Singapore in November 1986 at the invitation of then-president Wee Kim Wee, they spent more time there than the Netanyahus, and were able to do a little touring of this small but spectacularly beautiful country.

While president Herzog was conducting talks with a view to strengthening economic ties between Israel and Singapore, Aura Herzog was taken to Singapore’s breathtaking Botanical Gardens, where an orchid was given her name.

At the start of the dinner, Netanyahu spoke of the diversity of the two countries and, in Israel’s case, the vast immigrant population from more than 100 countries as well as the “thriving” local Arab population, which he said participates in the national life of the country.

He mentioned that at the opening of the school year, he had spoken in an Arab school in the Galilee to young girls there who want to be doctors and had told them: “This is your country. Study, learn, thrive.”

Netanyahu emphasized that Israel’s culture of diversity and tolerance is the opposite of the cultural intolerance, cultural tyranny and cultural violence that can be seen in many parts of the Middle East and, unfortunately, in other parts of the world.

“We all have a stake in making sure that tolerance, diversity and progress win the day; that modernity wins the day against barbarian medievalism,” he said.

Relating to the winds of change in the Middle East, Netanyahu assured his host that “I am committed to peace, and the people of Israel yearn for peace, all of us. We pray for peace, because we have experienced the cost of war, we lost loved ones. I myself was wounded in battle. Peace is better, infinitely better. And I believe that the key to peace is the abandonment of the goal of liquidating people, accepting them and working out the various conflicts.

“I think there’s an opportunity to do this today, because I sense a great change in the Arab world, in many Arab countries, and I hope to be able to use that newfound attitude toward Israel to help to solve the Palestinian- Israeli conflict as well.” The prime minister added that Israel is making many efforts, albeit unpublicized, in that direction.

■ AN ARTICLE on jet lag that appeared in The New York Times in February 2013, quoting research from June 2012 by AirPlus International, a global corporate card provider, in partnership with Business Travel Market, showed that executives who travel frequently could suffer from “decreases in mental capacity, increased stress levels and decreased productivity.”

The study, which used a tiny device called the Bodyguard to monitor heart rate variations, compared travelers with non-travelers during a 72-hour period. The business travelers showed reduced mental capacity, diminished communication skills, decreased ability to concentrate and engage others, reduced tolerance levels and an increased risk of ill health.

This study corroborated earlier research by Mark Rosekind, the former director of NASA’s fatigue countermeasures program.

According to Rosekind the average executive’s productivity and performance while traveling drops up to 20%, “largely because of insufficient sleep.”

Taking this information into account, even his worse detractors have to acknowledge Netanyahu’s physical and mental stamina and forgive him if he occasionally wears a slightly glazed look. During the month of February, Netanyahu has and will continue to change times zones several times.

It wasn’t so bad when he flew to London at the beginning of the month. On that trip the time difference was only two hours, with Jerusalem ahead. But then last week he went to Washington, where the time difference is seven hours, with Jerusalem once more ahead. This week he flew to Singapore, which is six hours ahead of Jerusalem, and from there to Sydney, which is three hours ahead of Singapore. Assuming that the prime minister takes the most frequented route from Sydney to Tel Aviv, he will fly to Hong Kong, which is three hours behind Sydney, and from there to Tel Aviv, which is six hours behind Hong Kong.

In making calculations of this kind, one also has to take waiting periods in airport lounges into account, and while the prime minister may get a few opportunities to rest between destinations, it’s still a jolt to his metabolism.

So if the ministers in his coalition and his critics in the opposition want to show the nicer sides of their characters, they will cut him a little slack after he comes home, and will give him a week in which to get past the jet lag, before he takes off again next month for China, and once more finds himself in a different time zone. Beijing is six hours ahead of Jerusalem.

■ THE MISTREATMENT of senior citizens living in retirement homes is nothing new, but finally the authorities are getting around to taking preventive measures, thanks to the fact that Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon were both dismayed and disgusted by what they saw and heard this week. Kahlon was so upset that he had images of his mother being abused in such a fashion. The overall situation has been taken up as a cause by various branches of the Israeli media.

In discussing the issue on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet program “It’s All Talk,” Benny Teitelbaum, quoting Shimon Peres, said: “Everyone wants to live longer, but no one wants to grow old.”

■ WHAT’S THE difference between Israel and America? It’s a lot more than size. When an Israeli organization holds a gala dinner, it attracts participants by having a minister of the government or, at the very least, a leader of one of the opposition parties as the guest of honor or emcee as a drawing card. In America, there’s nothing magnetic about politicians. The guest of honor, with rare exceptions, is a member of the entertainment industry.

And so it was last week at the gala Israel Bonds Prime Minister’s Club Dinner at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, where it was announced that Israel Bonds had chalked up more than $40 billion in global sales since its launch in 1951. Despite the fact that the US economy had not yet properly recovered, in 2016 there were record-breaking sales of $1.127b. in the US alone, demonstrating a tremendous vote of confidence in Israel’s economy. The celebrity emcee was Jay Scott Greenspan, better known by his professional name of Jason Alexander, and best known in Israel for his role as George Constanza in Seinfeld. Both Alexander and Jerry Seinfeld have visited Israel.

The dinner also provided an opportunity for participants from across the US to meet with new Israel Bonds president Israel Maimon, who was cabinet secretary to Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, and who officially became president and CEO of Development Corporation for Israel/Israel Bonds on October 14, 2016. During Peres’s tenure as Israel’s president, Maimon was also chairman of the steering committee of the annual international mega conference under the title “Facing Tomorrow.” Participants in these conferences included several heads of state and government.

Also attending the dinner were Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Danny Danon, Consul-General in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg, Consul- General in Florida Lior Haiat, and representatives from the Finance Ministry – director-general Shai Babad and deputy accountant-general Yali Rothenberg.

Honorees at the dinner were: Dr. Sharon Azrieli of Montreal, Jeffrey Beck and Jarrod Beck of Dallas, Bonnie and Chuck Berk of Atlanta, Israel Feldman of Mexico City, Alex Halberstein of Miami, Sharon and David Halpern of Livingston, New Jersey, Sarah and Elie Hirschfeld of New York, Suellen and Larry Kadis of Cleveland, Alan Kantrowitz of Los Angeles, Melanie and René Moreno of Washington, DC, and Curacao, Barry Shrage of Boston, Dr.

Tobi Richman Steinhardt and Rabbi David Steinhardt of Boca Raton, Diana Sager and Dr. Steven Warren of Tampa Bay, Enid and Kalman Wenig of Chicago, and Richard Ziman of Los Angeles.

■ EGGED BUS drivers caused havoc when they went on strike in Jerusalem at the beginning of the year, but now Egged is threatening a national strike in a month’s time, unless its demands for a collective wage agreement are met.

The timing of the proposed strike during the election campaign for the leadership of the Histadrut labor federation is bound to put a feather in the cap of present incumbent Avi Nissenkorn, who is battling Zionist Union MK and former Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich. Nissenkorn has said in interviews that it is untenable that Egged should operate for a year and a half without a collective wage agreement or the government subsidiary to which it is entitled. In the final analysis, of course, Nissenkorn will save the day by either preventing the strike or by bringing it to an end and concluding an agreement, if the strike does eventuate.

For this, he will earn brownie points in the election, just as he did by helping to end the recent El Al strike.

■ IN DECEMBER 2015, cabinet minister and legislator Silvan Shalom tendered his resignation from the Knesset to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein. Shalom’s ambitions to be prime minister and, after that, president of the state were thwarted in more ways than one, and after 23 years as an ardent player in the political arena, he decided to call it quits.

But it’s possible that his family may once again throw its cap into the political ring, if his wife, journalist Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes, decides to yield to pressures from people who are urging her to run for a seat in the Knesset.

Nir-Mozes, who participated in a Shabbat tarbut (culture) meeting in Mevaseret Zion last Saturday morning, said that she was giving serious thought to a stab at politics because so many people were asking her to do so. But she still hasn’t decided, nor is she telling people at this stage which political party she might join. Her first husband, Amiram Nir, from whom she was widowed in November 1988, was a Labor Party man, albeit not an MK. However, he was very close to the upper echelons of the party.

If she does decide to run, she may opt to bypass both Labor and the Likud and throw in her lot with Yesh Atid, which is headed by Yair Lapid. It’s unlikely that she would run with any of the other existing parties.

■ FOR DECADES after World War II, the extensive archives of the International Tracing Service, based in Bad Arolsen, Germany, were sealed from public view. This vital resource contains information on more than nine million Jews targeted for extermination and millions of other victims of Nazism. In 2007, years of advocacy resulted in ratification of an international agreement to open the ITS archive. As the ITS enters its second decade of research accessibility, the number of images available nears 200 million and continues to grow with the ongoing process of replication and categorization.

The unprecedented process of digitization allows not just academics but anyone interested in the perpetrators, survivors and victims of the Holocaust and their families to collect invaluable information about this time period.

On the 10th anniversary of the opening of the archive, Paul A. Shapiro, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s director of international affairs, will reflect on the effort required to open the archive and the moral and legal significance of making the contents of the archive accessible to Holocaust survivors, their families and scholars in the United States and around the world.

Elizabeth Anthony, PhD, who directs the museum’s academic programs utilizing the ITS archives, will address the scholarly uses of the digital ITS collection. Elana Heideman, PhD, executive director of the Israel Forever Foundation, will serve as moderator.

They will participate in a symposium at the Van Leer Institute on Jabotinsky Street in Jerusalem at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, February 22. The title of the symposium is “Seeking Justice: Holocaust History and the Archives of the International Tracing Service.”

Closing remarks will be made by Richard D. Heideman, senior counsel, Heideman, Nudelman & Kalik law firm and former chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Lawyers Committee.

■ WHEN IT was first published in 1982, Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust by Prof. Yaffa Eliach , who died last November, was an instant best-seller, because what it contained was a series of thought-provoking anecdotes about Holocaust survivors. The book was mentioned several times this week at a tribute to Eliach at Yad Vashem, following its receipt of Eliach’s comprehensive shtetl archive.

Her husband, Rabbi Dr. David Eliach, the principal emeritus of the Yeshiva of Flatbush in Brooklyn, said that although she was a brilliant scholar, she had other projects and always had time for her children and grandchildren, to whom she was utterly devoted. Moreover, he discovered after her death that she also regularly sent money to certain poor people and kept a record of such gifts. He had never known of this generosity in her lifetime, though he did he recall one instance in which, as she was going off to do something, she thrust an envelope in his hands with $10,000 in it and told him to deliver it to the parents of a very sick child who might die without specific surgery. She wanted to ensure that this child had a chance to live.

Another speaker noted that Eliach’s deep immersion into Holocaust history was spurred by the fact that she did not want Holocaust history to be based purely on Nazi records.

On her visits to Israel, Eliach would lecture about the Holocaust, and on one such occasion said that the concept of Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust had evolved from her realization that many of the students in one of her classes were either the children or grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, but knew little or nothing of what had befallen their parents and grandparents. So she gave them an assignment to get the testimony of the Holocaust survivor(s) in their families. Some of the students were sure that they would strike a brick wall. Eliach was equally sure that parents and grandparents would open up, if it meant that their child or grandchild would get extra credit – and she was right.

She reviewed the testimonies when they were brought to her and began verifying them, publishing only those that could be verified. She did the follow-ups herself in order to be able to write the stories from the perspective of having spoken personally to those survivors featured in the book.

One of the most powerful stories that Eliach related concerned a rabbi who was in the habit of greeting everyone, Jew and non- Jew alike, when coming across them in the street or in the field. This is the way she wrote it: “Near the city of Danzig lived a well-to-do hassidic rabbi, scion of prominent hassidic dynasties. Dressed in a tailored black suit, wearing a top hat, and carrying a silver walking cane, the rabbi would take his daily morning stroll, accompanied by his tall, handsome son-in-law.

“During his morning walk it was the rabbi’s custom to greet every man, woman, and child whom he met on his way with a warm smile and a cordial ‘Good morning.’ Over the years the rabbi became acquainted with many of his fellow townspeople this way, and would always greet them by their proper title and name.

“Near the outskirts of town, in the fields, he would exchange greetings with Herr Mueller, a Polish Volksdeutsche (ethnic German).

‘Good morning, Herr Mueller!’ therabbi would hasten to greet the man who worked in the fields. ‘Good morning, Herr rabbiner!’ would come the response with a good-natured smile.

“Then the war began. The rabbi’s strolls stopped abruptly. Herr Mueller donned an SS uniform and disappeared from the fields.

The fate of the rabbi was like that of much of the rest of Polish Jewry. He lost his family in the death camp of Treblinka, and, after great suffering, was deported to Auschwitz.

“One day, during a selection at Auschwitz, the rabbi stood on line with hundreds of other Jews awaiting the moment when their fates would be decided, for life or death.

Dressed in a striped camp uniform, head and beard shaven and eyes feverish from starvation and disease, the rabbi looked like a walking skeleton.

“‘Right! Left, left, left!’ The voice in the distance drew nearer. Suddenly the rabbi had a great urge to see the face of the man with the snow-white gloves, small baton, and steely voice who played God and decide who should live and who should die. He lifted his eyes and heard his own voice speaking: “‘Good morning, Herr Mueller!’ “‘Good morning, Herr rabbiner!’ responded a human voice beneath the SS cap adorned with skull and bones. ‘What are you doing here?’ A faint smile appeared on the rabbi’s lips. The baton moved to the right – to life.

The following day, the rabbi was transferred to a safer camp.

“The rabbi, now in his eighties, told me in his gentle voice, ‘This is the power of a good-morning greeting. A man must always greet his fellow man.’” ■ ASKED AT the press conference prior to the opening session of the annual convention in Jerusalem of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations about the rise in antisemitism in America, Malcolm Hoenlein, the organization’s CEO and executive vice president, said that antisemitism is on the rise everywhere.

He does not think that dealing with it should be tied to politics, and was critical of university executives who do not take responsibility for what is happening on campus. Hoenlein clarified that it is not a matter of limiting freedom of speech but of limiting the right to spread hate and violence.

“There is a pandemic disease around the world,” he declared, “and there has to be a policy of zero tolerance.”

Hoenlein went on to say that antisemitism should be powerfully condemned, and that leadership should be held accountable when it is not. But there is a difference between policy on paper and policy on the ground. Many countries have outlawed racism, intolerance and incitement, but that doesn’t stop it from happening.

The big question is whether Jewish attitudes in the Diaspora can be compared to those of the 1930s, when only toward the end of that decade did the realization dawn that it might be too late – and in too many instance, it was.

On Tuesday Hoenlein called for a world conference on antisemitism similar to the international gatherings convened in Brussels in 1970 and 1976 to address the plight of Soviet Jews. This in itself indicates the seriousness of the situation.

■ WHEN ADDRESSING reporters last week following her initial participation in a monthly Security Council meeting on Middle East issues, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said, “I am here to underscore the ironclad support of the United States for Israel. I’m here to emphasize the United States is determined to stand up to the UN’s anti-Israel bias. We will never repeat the terrible mistake of Resolution 2334 and allow one-sided Security Council resolutions to condemn Israel. Instead, we will push for action on the real threats we face in the Middle East.”

Anti-Israel bias at the UN is “long overdue for change,” declared Haley, adding: “The United States will not hesitate to speak out against these biases in defense of our friend and ally Israel.”

Israel Radio’s man at the UN, Benny Avni, reported that afterward an ambassador of one of the Arab countries told him that even Danon is preferable to Haley.

greerfc@gmail.com


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