Grapevine: A friend in need

It’s not every day that one hitches a ride with the president of the state.

December 9, 2014 22:01
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN (R) and Gustavo Antonio Otero Zapata, the new Peruvian ambassador

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN (R) shakes hands with Gustavo Antonio Otero Zapata, the new Peruvian ambassador. (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)

It’s not every day that one hitches a ride with the president of the state.

Among those who attended the funeral in Holon of Esther Liberman, the mother of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, were President Reuven Rivlin and MK David Rotem. The latter had been given a lift to the funeral, but whoever had taken him to Holon was not returning to Jerusalem.

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Rivlin, on becoming aware of Rotem’s predicament on a Friday in which Shabbat comes in very early, offered to take him back in his car – an offer that was greatly appreciated.

Not wishing to take undue advantage of the offer, Rotem said he was happy to go as far as the President’s Residence, but Rivlin wouldn’t hear of it, and took him to where he needed to go.

On Friday evening, Rivlin turned up unexpectedly and unannounced at Hazvi Yisrael synagogue, some five minutes’ walk from his residence. He had prayed there on the High Holy Days and Simhat Torah, and found the congregation to his liking. At the conclusion of the service, he was swamped by congregants who wanted to shake his hand and wish him well.

Though not religious, Rivlin loves going to synagogue and is sufficiently competent to lead the service and read the Torah portion; some members of the synagogue board are seriously considering asking him to do so. While presenting himself as secular, Rivlin – in conversations with several of his visitors and in his most recent speeches – has taken to making strong and frequent references to God.

■ THE DAY before, when accepting the credentials of new diplomats, Rivlin told Czech Ambassador Ivo Schwarz, the former chief of the civilian intelligence service (UZSI) of the Czech Republic, that Israel will never forget the Czech rifles she received during the War of Independence.

Schwarz replied that he had been to Israel several times in his previous capacity, and invariably someone would say something about the Czech rifles. On the other hand, at his first encounter with Czech military forces, he was a given a gun that was an exact copy of the Israeli Uzi.

At his meeting with Peruvian Ambassador Gustavo Antonio Otero Zapata, Rivlin, a keen soccer fan, commented of the Peruvians: “You play very good football.

We talk about football a lot, but you play...” Otero Zapata, who had previously served here 30 years ago as second secretary at the Peruvian Embassy, told Rivlin he was pleased to be shaking hands for the second time with an Israeli president; 30 years ago, it was Yitzhak Navon.

“Navon was the fifth president and I’m the 10th,” replied Rivlin. “He’s a Jerusalemite and I’m a Jerusalemite,” Rivlin continued, but gave Navon credit for having a much longer Jerusalem pedigree than his own.

■ THE MANY stations and facets of people’s lives come together at weddings and funerals. Wedding invitations are often sent to people who may not have been part of the lives of the bride, groom or their parents for many years, but were once significant figures. Likewise, at funerals, there is a basic human need to accompany someone once important to us on their final journey.

Rivlin was among the hundreds of people who crowded into and outside the Ashkenazi funeral parlor at Jerusalem’s Har Hamenuhot at the beginning of the week, to mourn the passing of Naphtali Lau-Lavie – who he described as a loyal son of the people who never forgot his own unique history, the suffering of his people and his own hopes and dreams, in the face of the destruction of European Jewry.

Rivlin related an anecdote that Lau-Lavie had told him in New York. When the latter was spokesman for then-foreign minister Moshe Dayan, he refused, as a Holocaust survivor, to set foot on German soil. But Dayan, who had been invited to make an official visit to Germany, pressured him – and Lau-Lavie reluctantly gave in, but insisted that first and foremost, they go to Bergen-Belsen.

The Germans were not happy about this and did not want a shameful past to intrude on a diplomatic visit. But Lau-Lavie stood firm – as a result of which, so did Dayan. As soon as they landed in Germany, they were taken to Bergen-Belsen, where Dayan laid a wreath on the monument.

Later that night, Dayan, having inspected the camp and seen the photographs of the atrocities, came and sat at the foot of Lau-Lavie’s bed, asking whether it had really been as horrendous as the photographs.

Dayan finally understood the horror of the Holocaust.

Lau-Lavie’s brother, Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, his voice choked with tears, said it was not the first time he had lost a brother; his half-brother, Rabbi Yehoshua Hager-Lau, died nearly three years ago. But this time, Lau felt as if he had been orphaned. His brother Naphtali had been his parent, guide, mentor and protector for more than 70 years.

Lau related how Naphtali had escaped from a death train and made his way back to Buchenwald, crawling on his belly under the barbed wire fence in order to keep his promise to their parents to look after Lulek, the Polish diminutive of Lau’s first name. (By the same token, Naphtali had been Tulek.) Lau said his children and grandchildren were well-aware that were it not for his brother, they would not exist, because Naphtali had ensured he would survive the war.

Several years after their liberation, when both were in Israel, Lau recalled that his brother had brought him his first suit to wear at yeshiva, so he wouldn’t look like a shlump. “I wore that suit when I danced at his wedding,” said Lau, noting the groom had come in IDF uniform from the Sinai battlefields.

Lau also had warm words of praise for his sister-in-law Joan Lau-Lavie, who dedicated her life to Naphtali; and for his nephew Rabbi Benny Lau, who as the spiritual leader of Jerusalem’s Rambam congregation did not think twice about pushing his father in a wheelchair to lessons and prayers.

Benny Lau, speaking of his relationship with his father, said the only time he had ever seen tears in his father’s eyes was just before Naphtali went to New York to serve as Israel’s consul-general. His father had driven him to his army base, where the younger Lau was taking an officers course. As they parted company, he detected the tears. It was not until 15 years later, when reading his father’s autobiography, that he understood Naphtali was remembering his parting from his own father – and comparing it with pride to parting temporarily from a son who was wearing the IDF uniform.

Benny Lau voiced the hope that in the next world, his father would be reunited with his own father, Moshe Chaim, who was murdered in Treblinka; and with his mother, Chaya, who was murdered in Ravensbruck. In this world, earth from Ravensbruck and Treblinka was mingled together with that of Jerusalem on his grave.

■ AGRICULTURE MINISTER Yair Shamir good-naturedly cut short his prepared speech at the 81st birthday celebration of Japan’s Emperor Akihito, hosted by Ambassador Shigeo Matsutomi and his wife, Kaori.

The couple successfully blended Japanese tradition with modernity: the extensive buffet largely offered Japanese cuisine; the impressive Japanese flower arrangements were the work of Kaori Matsutomi herself; there were more Japanese women in the most exquisite of kimonos than has been the case in past years; and there was also a traditional tea ceremony. At the same time, there was an exhibition of Nikon cameras that any press photographer would die for, and various Japanese beers and sake were freely available.

Among the guests was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev, who brought his mother, Freda Freiberg, who is visiting from Australia and is an expert on Japanese films.

(Regev’s original surname was Freiberg.) However, it was not Regev but Harel Locker, director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, who three weeks earlier had led a delegation of high-ranking government officials, business leaders and academics to Japan. There, he delivered an address on behalf the prime minister, following a welcome address by Matsutomi.

Between them, the 30 delegation members represented Israeli expertise in transportation, cyberspace, fuel, medicine, aerospace, hi-tech, nanoscience, nanotechnolology and armaments.

Earlier this year, Netanyahu appointed Locker to upgrade and promote economic ties between Jerusalem and Tokyo. Reading Netanyahu’s speech in the first person, Locker noted the friendship extended to Netanyahu during his visit to Japan earlier this year, and his conviction that there is great untapped potential for further cooperation between the two countries at both the business and government level.

Speaking on his own behalf, Locker said it had been an honor to visit Japan, and that he and his delegation could sense the beginnings of a new and exciting era in bilateral relations. Describing Japan as one of the most innovative, technologically developed countries in the world, Locker said both countries’ economies are complementary, and cooperation is therefore natural.

Shamir noted that this is the 62nd anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and that the bonds between the two peoples extend back to beyond the founding of the State of Israel – to the aftermath of World War I, when Japan took part in the San Remo Conference. It was there that the concept of self-determination for the Jewish people was formally approved.

During World War II, he continued, Japanese vice consul in Lithuania Chiune Sugihara saved the lives of numerous Polish and Lithuanian Jews, by providing them with exit visas to Kobe, Japan.

Today, said Shamir, more than 40,000 descendants of these Jews live around the globe.

Matsutomi spoke of the unifying role the emperor plays in the affairs of the nation, and went on to say what an interesting and exciting life he and his wife have been leading since their arrival in Israel in August. Commenting on the commonalities between Tokyo and Jerusalem, Matsutomi referred to the upcoming December 14 elections in Japan, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be asking the Japanese population to vote him back into office. “About Israel, I don’t have to say anything,” Matsutomi observed, to laughter from the crowd. In any case, a large, blown-up photograph of Abe and Netanyahu hung on a wall in the reception area.

The actual birthday of Emperor Akihito is on December 23, but aware that in most countries, people are away on Christmas holidays on this date, Japanese ambassadors bring forward the celebration to ensure the people they want to invite will be able to attend.

■ IT IS a sad irony that the 20th anniversary of the passing of Lotte Salzberger – who was an Israel Prize laureate, deputy mayor of Jerusalem, co-founder and director of the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare at the Hebrew University, co-founder of Sovlanut (Tolerance) and HaMoked, and a leading member of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, among many other activities – is being commemorated today not in Jerusalem, where she lived, worked, died and is buried, but at the University of Haifa. A symposium on Jerusalem and civil rights, which also coincides with International Human Rights Day, is being held this evening, Wednesday, in Salzberger’s memory.

In 1991, Salzberger was the first recipient of the Emil Grunzweig Award. Grunzweig, a peace activist whose mother was an Auschwitz survivor, was killed by a grenade thrown by right-wing activist Yona Avrushmi during a peace rally in 1983.

Salzberger, a survivor of Ravensbruck, was also an eloquent advocate for coexistence.

In the face of rampant racism in the mid-1980s, she and Michal Zmora- Cohen co-founded Sovlanut; in 1988, she also founded HaMoked, the Center for the Defense of the Individual, a human rights organization which assists Palestinians whose rights have been violated.

Thus it is no surprise that among the speakers this evening is Jerusalem Post columnist Gershon Baskin, co-founder of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information; and Palestinian-Christian lawyer Elias Khoury of Jerusalem, who specializes in property law and has frequently represented Palestinians whose lands were appropriated. Other speakers include Hebrew University Prof.

Naomi Hazan, a former MK, former president of the New Israel Fund and member of Ir Amim, a group monitoring activities in east Jerusalem which threaten to undermine the city’s stability and the equal rights of its residents; MK Rabbi Meir Porush, an eighth-generation Jerusalemite and former long-term deputy mayor of the capital, who served together with Salzberger on the Jerusalem City Council; and HaMoked’s chairman, Prof. Yossi Schwartz of Tel Aviv University.

The moderator will be Prof. Fania-Oz-Salzberger, of the faculty of law and Center for German and European Studies at the University of Haifa. She happens to be Salzberger’s daughter-in-law, though she is more often referred to as the daughter of Amos Oz – aside from being an internationally acclaimed personality in her own right, as an academic and a writer. Her husband, law Prof. Eli Mordechai Salzberger, is a former dean of the University of Haifa’s faculty of law, and was the first Israeli to serve as a steering committee member and later president of the European Association of Law and Economics.

■ COINCIDENTALLY, IN the beginning of the week, one of Lotte Salzberger’s colleagues, Dr. Yisrael Katz, a former labor and social affairs minister who died just over four years ago, was commemorated at the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work – of which he had been the first Israeli dean. Katz was subsequently director- general of the National Insurance Institute, where he served until 1973, before being elected to the Knesset and appointed a minister. In his ministerial capacity, he laid the groundwork for Israel’s welfare policies, and initiated and implemented much of the legislation which benefits IDF veterans and their families, the unemployed and the disabled, among others.

Among the speakers at Sunday’s event was journalist and anti-corruption crusader Arieh Avneri, the author of a book about Katz titled The Social Pioneer (Hehalutz Hahevrati). Other speakers included leading personalities from the social work field.

■ REPORTING IN Ma’ariv Hashavua, a sister publication of the Post, Arik Bender wrote of a meeting between Gila Katsav, a former first lady and the wife of Israel’s eighth president, her brother-in-law Lior Katsav and Israel’s 10th president, Rivlin. The purpose of the meeting was to persuade Rivlin to pardon Moshe Katsav, who is serving a seven-year prison sentence for rape and other sexual offenses. Now that he has completed a third of his sentence, Katsav is entitled to a 24-hour furlough every month, which means he retains connections with his home in Kiryat Malachi.

Rivlin’s hands remain tied unless Katsav – who has consistently denied wrongdoing – admits to having an over-active and aggressive libido, and expresses remorse.

That is unlikely to happen, and Katsav’s only chance under existing circumstances is a record of good behavior, which may influence the parole board to cut him some slack.

■ BAR-ILAN UNIVERSITY President Prof. Daniel Herschkowitz added another string to his bow last week when he was elected president of the newly established Hungarian-Israeli Scientific Society (HISS), formally inaugurated last week at BIU.

Herschkowitz is of Hungarian parentage.

As a former faculty member of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, and more recently a former science and technology minister, he has his finger on the pulse of Israel’s scientific research – not only at BIU, but also at the Technion and Israel’s other institutes of higher learning.

One of HISS’s key objectives is to strengthen ties between Israeli and Hungarian researchers, and better utilize knowledge and resources available in the two countries and the EU. Through scientific, cultural and social programs, members will seek opportunities to exchange ideas, network, promote joint science-education programs and further contribute to the achievements of the two countries.

According to a BIU spokesman, Hungary and Israel have the world’s highest ratio of Nobel laureates per capita.

Hungarian Ambassador Andor Nagy, who attended the HISS launch, referred to the Hungarian phenomenon which changed science and the course of technological development. “Around the first half of the 20th century, an exceptionally gifted intellectual generation and scientific genius was born in Hungary. This could also be called a Jewish phenomenon, because many of these great scientists were Hungarian Jews who played a great role in the knowledge transfer of science and culture into Israel,” he said. These scientists included physicists Eugene Wigner and Edward Teller, mathematician Mihály (Moshe) Fekete and László (Ladislaus) Farkas, who introduced modern physical chemistry to Israel.

In a videotaped message, Prof. László Lovász, president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, said a crucial driving force of success in today’s highly competitive science field is multidisciplinary cooperation between nations, institutions and individual scientists. For this reason, he said, he was pleased to endorse the initiative of the Hungarian Embassy in Tel Aviv to establish HISS.

Victor Weiss, deputy chief scientist at the Science, Technology and Space Ministry, drew attention to the fact that Israel is one of the world’s leading producers of scientific publications and on a per capita basis, ranks in the top 10 in scientific citations, is No. 1 worldwide in scientists per capita, and No. 1 in investment in science – with 4 percent of its GNP invested in science and development.

Marcel Shaton, general manager of the Israel-Europe Research and Development Directorate, said HISS will provide new platforms for research and development cooperation between Israel and Hungary.

As an immigrant country, the Jewish state is one of the strongest knowledge-driven societies in the world, he said, adding that it is largely driven by an entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to take calculated risks. “In Israel, risk is not something which inhibits people, but rather motivates people,” he said. This is largely a result of the army, which has played a significant role in producing hi-tech geniuses and makes additional valuable transfers to society.

Dr. Tristan Azbej, science and technology attaché at the Hungarian Embassy, outlined some of HISS’s planned activities, including the establishment of an alumni organization for Israelis who studied medicine in Hungary.

Herschkowitz spoke of his parents, who were originally from Budapest and Transylvania, survived concentration camps and later immigrated to Israel. “The Nazis tried to eliminate us,” he said, “but today we are closing the circle by establishing this society, whose goal is to enhance, increase and enrich scientific relationships.

The language of science is the language that bridges upon differences between cultures, religions, nations and languages. When we employ this language, not only does science benefit, but the entire world benefits.

“That’s a win-win situation from which we can only gain, and is the way to build the future.”

■ OVER THE next few weeks, political parties will be scrambling to find new spokespersons who can put an effective spin on their plans and policies, and get the message across to the electorate.

Towards this aim, the National Union – an amalgamation of several right-wing, mostly religious movements – has appointed Ezra Gabay as its spokesman.

Gabay will be responsible to the party’s secretary-general, Ofir Sofer.

Gabay started his communications career as the spokesman for Bar-Ilan University’s student union. He later served as a media consultant in a private firm, and within this framework worked closely with Likud MK Moshe Feiglin in raising the issue of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

During the election campaign for the 19th Knesset, he worked with outgoing Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely.

Not all PR people share the beliefs of their clients, and are thus doubly challenged in their efforts to be convincing.

Gabay does not have this problem. “As someone who believes in the greater Israel and the importance of Jewish values, it is a privilege for me to be able to take part in a significant activity on behalf of the National Union,” he said.

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