If he hasn’t done so already, Ehud Olmert would do well to get a copy of the interview which famed attorney Dan Avi-Yitzhak gave to Israel Radio on Wednesday.
Speaking to Benny Teitelbaum, who also happens to have a law degree, Avi-Yitzhak – who is now retired and was one of Israel’s leading criminal lawyers, representing Arye Deri and Ofer Nimrodi among others – found several flaws in the way Olmert’s case had been conducted, and said there were a number of important questions that remained unanswered.
If Olmert’s appeal to the Supreme Court is accepted, the points made by Avi-Yitzhak will be of major significance with regard to both the harshness of the sentence imposed on Olmert, and the character-assassinating terminology used by Judge David Rozen when passing the sentence. Retired judges and lawyers who were interviewed on radio and television as well as in the press, while in favor of equal justice being meted out to all regardless of social status, for the most part had reservations about the language used by Rozen, which they said could have been more moderate – implying that you don’t hit a man when he’s down.
If Olmert fails in his appeal and goes to prison on September 1, it will be a harrowing birthday gift. He turns 69 on September 30.
■ JUST AHEAD of the honorary degrees conferment ceremony that took place on Thursday at Tel Aviv University, within the framework of the annual meeting of TAU’s board of governors, Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma on Wednesday hosted a reception at his Herzliya Pituah residence in honor of Prof.
Paul Zimmet, one of two Australians who were awarded honorary doctorates.
The other was Millie Phillips, a self-made businesswoman and generous philanthropist from Australia who in 2011, through the Millie Phillips Jewish Education Fund, made A$4 million available for scholarships and education programs so that all Jewish children in Australia could develop their Jewish identities and embrace their Jewish heritage. Though not religious, she is a great believer in the Jewish day school movement as a partial means of insurance against assimilation and intermarriage.
She has also contributed to student aid and fellowships at TAU through the Australian Friends of Tel Aviv University, and has established a scholarship fund at Sydney’s Macquarie University for students who want to come to Israel to study archeology, biblical Hebrew and early Judaism.
Among those who congregated on the ambassador’s patio were many of the top brass of TAU, plus several of Zimmet’s relatives and a number of colleagues from both Israel and Australia who had attended the World Diabetes Congress in Melbourne last December.
Also present was former ambassador to Australia Yuval Rotem, who Zimmet lauded as the best of all the ambassadors sent by Israel to Australia. He also noted the extent to which Australia treasures the Jewish state, sending high-caliber diplomats to represent the southernmost continent in Israel.
Although Zimmet is a world-renowned, multiple-award-winning expert on diabetes and has worked in consultation with Israeli colleagues for many years, during which he paid more than 40 visits to Israel, the honorary doctorate from TAU was the first time he had been honored by Israel, something he said made him feel very proud. His parents, he said, had arrived in Australia as refugees in the 1930s, and Australia was his home – “but Israel is my second home.”
Zimmet revealed that Sharma, before studying law, had spent a year studying medicine – as did John Gandel, who went into business and became one of the wealthiest Jews in Australia and a significant donor to TAU. The annual John Gandel Symposium on the Middle East this coming Sunday morning will feature IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz as the keynote speaker, followed by a panel discussion with former defense minister Shaul Mofaz; Sima Shine, head of the strategic division of the Strategic Affairs Ministry; and Dr.
Liora Hendelman-Baavur of TAU’s Department of Middle Eastern and African History; with Prof. Meir Litvak, director of the Alliance Center for Iranian Studies, as moderator.
Sharma noted that in addition to being “a phenomenal expert in his field,” Zimmet is also a pillar of the Jewish community in Australia, an educator and an advocate who raises awareness. TAU president Joseph Klafter spoke of the warm and strong relationship that TAU has with Australia, and noted that a large number of campus facilities were financed by the country’s Jewish community.
The Zimmet family, he said, represented a rare combination of science and philanthropy.
Indeed, Zimmet’s wife, Vivien, is a member of the TAU board of governors and president of the Friends of TAU in Melbourne.
In remarking on Zimmet’s expertise in diabetes, Klafter said that his own diabetes (of which he had previously been unaware) had been diagnosed by him.
■ ONE OF the former hit parade songs that have stood the test of time is “What a Difference a Day Makes,” written 80 years ago and made popular by songstress Dinah Washington.
The refrain continues from the title, “24 little hours…” When Pope Francis comes to Israel, it won’t be for much longer than that.
In fact, he will be here for only 28 hours, and in the hustle and bustle of getting him from one place to the next in his jam-packed itinerary, he’s not likely to take much notice of the scenery as he passes by. Perhaps the only real opportunities he will have to absorb something of his surroundings will be at the residence of the papal nuncio, possibly at Notre Dame, where he will meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, during Mass at Gethsemane and in the room of the Last Supper.
Yet the expense and logistics in preparation for his visit are mind-boggling, and Israel is yet again fooling itself into believing – as it has done with previous papal visits – that the pope’s visit will generate a huge upsurge of Catholic tourism. In 2013, declared by the Tourism Ministry to be a record year, only 3.5 million visitors came to Israel, compared to the 17.8 million who went to Greece, more than 48 million to Italy, and in excess of 60.6 million to Spain.
Although Pope Francis won’t have many opportunities to take in the sights, one of his close friends from Argentina who will be in Israel several days ahead of him will be able to see it all. Rabbi Abraham Skorka, who co-authored a book with the pope – an ecumenical dialogue under the title On Heaven and Earth – and anchored a television show with the pope when he was still known as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, will be talking to the media ahead of the visit to convey the pope’s message of peace.
The two have been close friends for more than 20 years. Skorka is the rector of Seminario Rabinico Latino Americano in Buenos Aires; the pope, who grew up with Jewish friends and was an outspoken and courageous combatant against anti-Semitism, used to visit Skorka’s congregation on Rosh Hashana to deliver greetings for the new year. The two remain in regular contact via email.
Among the Israeli rabbis who have met the pope is David Rosen, who is the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Department of Interreligious Affairs, and is the first Israeli rabbi and the first Orthodox rabbi to be made a papal knight. The honor, conferred on him at a solemn yet festive ceremony at Notre Dame in November 2005, in recognition of his contribution to Jewish-Catholic reconciliation, was during Pope Benedict XVI’s first year in the Vatican.
■ IF AN organization can receive the Israel Prize, there is no reason why it should not receive an honorary doctorate, which is one of the reasons that Emunah, the National-Religious women’s organization that maintains a network of schools and youth villages in a family-style environment, is among the recipients of honorary doctorates to be awarded on Tuesday, May 20, during the annual meeting of Bar-Ilan University’s board of trustees.
Among the other recipients are actor Chaim Topol, who has made the leap from Tevye the dairyman to “Dr. Topol, I presume.”
Other honorees are Nobel Prize laureates in chemistry, Profs. Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel; Rabbi Prof. Moshe David Tendler, an expert in medical ethics; philanthropist Ariel Kor, an Israeli residing in Singapore; Canadian Jewish community leader Johanne Sternthal; and businessman and philanthropist Levy Yitzhak Rahmani, for his contribution to Israel’s economy and the study of Hassidism.
■ THE FOUNDATION for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, headed by Monika Krawczyk, is dedicated to the preservation of Jewish synagogues, cemeteries and other physical remains of Jewish community life in Poland, and has many such completed projects to its credit. The most recent dedication ceremony took place last week in Glogow Malopolski, with Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich officiating; the ceremony was organized by the foundation in cooperation with the town’s municipal office.
The old Jewish cemetery in Glogow Malopolski was established in 1712 on today’s Sienkiewicza Street. The names of many streets in Poland were changed in the immediate post-war era, and some were changed again in the post-Communist era. In the 1930s, the use of the cemetery as a burial site ceased, and after the war a park was established on its grounds. Most of the tombstones were not preserved. Between 2012 and 2013 a wall was built around the cemetery grounds, and the area was cleaned up during the process. An ohel (sanctuary) was erected over the graves of the tzaddikim (holy men) of Glogow. The work in the former cemetery was sponsored by the descendants of Glogow Jews – Uri and Cochava Rubin of Israel, and other family members in England and the US – and carried out by the foundation.
■ ONE OF the problems with which Robert Binder and Robin Stamler of the Encore Educational Theater Company have had to grapple in producing Lionel Bart’s musical, Oliver!, which opens on May 20 at the Hirsch Theatre in Jerusalem, is the stereotypical anti-Semitic portrayal of Fagin (often referred to as “Fagin the Jew,” or worse) in Charles Dickens’s novel Oliver Twist.
The book has inspired more than a century of anti-Semitic imagery, which persisted even after the Holocaust, as seen in David Lean’s 1948 screen adaptation of the book, says Binder, who recalls that in it the portrayal of Fagin (by Alec Guinness, one of the most famous actors of his day), which was based on the original illustrations of the first edition, led to the film being censored for some time in the US and banned to this day in Israel.”
But Dickens was not as anti-Semitic as the book suggests, declares Binder, explaining that at the age of 26, the author wrote Oliver Twist in the form of a newspaper serialization that was published over the years 1837 to 1839. England’s Jewish community was disturbed by the hostile portrayal of Jews by one the best-known social reformers of the day, but took some time to respond. In 1854, a Jewish Chronicle editorial asked why “Jews alone should be excluded from the ‘sympathizing heart’ of this great author and powerful friend of the oppressed.” Dickens rejected any claim of anti-Semitism, arguing that “it unfortunately was true of the time to which that story refers, that that class of criminal almost invariably was a Jew,” although there does not seem to be any basis for this claim in available records, Binder adds. Dickens had even interviewed Ikey Solomon, a wellknown Jewish criminal of the day who dealt in stolen goods, as a real-life model for Fagin.
What the Jewish Chronicle was unable to achieve was successfully brought about by Eliza Davis, a Jewish woman whose husband had purchased Dickens’ home, Tavistock House, in 1860. Dickens developed a good relationship with the Davis family, and in 1863, Eliza Davis set out through private correspondence to persuade Dickens that his portrayal of Jews “encouraged a vile prejudice against the despised Hebrew,” and asked if he could “justify himself or atone for a great wrong on a whole though scattered nation.”
Although initially defensive, Dickens was eventually persuaded by her arguments. The episodes of Oliver Twist were in the process of being printed in book form, and Dickens halted the publication to make changes. Thirty chapters had already been printed and remained unaltered, but in the final 15 chapters, Dickens removed 180 references (although not all) to “the Jew.” Dickens then went much further, and in his next work, Our Mutual Friend, he included a set of Jewish characters who were portrayed in a very sympathetic light, including Mr. Riah, a gentle and upright old Jew who acts to block the cruel behavior of his master, a Christian moneylender. Jews were described in glowing terms, and gave voice to the injustice of the anti-Semitism of the day. Eliza Davis wrote to Dickens full of praise for his efforts, and later presented him with an inscribed Hebrew Bible.
The connection with the Jewish community did not end there. In 1881, Tavistock House was bought by Jew’s College, the London- based rabbinical seminary, and for some years the room that had been Dickens’s library served as the beit midrash (Torah study hall) for rabbinical students.
The prologue that has been added to Encore’s production of Oliver! features an imaginary meeting between Dickens and Eliza Davis, based on their correspondence. The role of Mrs. Davis will be played by Jerusalem resident Judith Litoff, who happens to be the greatgreat- great-great granddaughter of Eliza Davis.
Litoff is a distinguished musician and founder of the Israel Children’s Opera Workshop.
■ THE ACCENTS of both speakers will be British, even though one of them has spent more than two-thirds of his life in Israel. Retired diplomat Yehuda Avner, author of the bestseller The Prime Ministers, which has been made into both a documentary and a feature film, will appear with Colin Shindler, who was the first professor of Jewish studies in the UK, and is the author of several books related to Israel.
The two will discuss “The Bumpy Road to Israel’s Statehood” as the third lecture in the series “From Balfour to Ben-Gurion,” sponsored by the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association. Topics set to come up in their discussion include immigration under the British Mandate; the disparate underground groups and political conflicts during the sinking of the Altalena; the emergence of the IDF; the military struggle with Arab and British forces; the critical period leading up to the UN’s November 1947 vote on the partition of Palestine; and the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel.