Health Minister Yael German has a reputation for getting things done. It was
during her long term as Herzliya mayor that the city’s Ensemble Theater came
into being at the turn of the century, and after moving from a tent to the
Herzliya Performing Arts Center, finally found its own home in 2008. From the
beginning it operated at a deficit, and other management problems led to several
changes in managerial positions.
Despite all of the issues, German
continued to support the Ensemble Theater because she recognized the necessity
for a permanent cultural outlet of this kind, both for the performers and the
But after 14 years at the helm, after having previously served
for five years on the city council, German – who had run for office on a Meretz
ticket – switched horses from local to national politics and decided to join
Careerwise, it was certainly an important decision for a woman
who had already reached retirement age but wasn’t ready to retire. German, who
will turn 66 in August, actually scored a promotion.
Yehonatan Yasur, her successor in the Mayor’s Office, doesn’t have the same
cultural perspective as she does. Earlier this month, he summoned Ensemble
Theater executive director Oded Kotler and told him he was closing the theater
because the deficit was too high, and the municipality was no longer prepared to
finance a perpetually losing proposition.
Yasur didn’t give Kotler a few
month’s notice so that the Ensemble Theater could fulfill its commitments for
the season. The ax fell swiftly, so much so that the premiere of the company’s
new production was brought forward to allow the actors could perform it in front
of an audience at least once. What was amazing was that Yasur took such a
drastic step only six months prior to municipal elections.
won’t win him friends or influence people to vote for him, with the possible
exception of those members of the electorate who oppose theater in any shape or
form. In fact, there have already been demonstrations against what is considered
to be a barbaric decision, given that nearly all cultural institutions in Israel
are running on deficits. The general feeling is that if German was still mayor,
this could not have happened.
But German is now involved in decisions of
national interest. As health minister, she has already taken immediate action
with regard to phasing out mandatory fluoridation of water, and has now made NIS
300,000 available to Wolfson Medical Center in Holon for the purchase of new
beds for inpatients.
This came about because her like party leader, Yair
Lapid, German connects with her constituents via Facebook.
One person who
had been hospitalized in Wolfson’s Orthopedic Department wrote on German’s
Facebook page that although the medical staff were polite and had provided
excellent treatment, his bed was uncomfortable. Despite the fact that she’s
still learning the ropes and meeting the various “who’s who” in Israel’s health
establishment, German treated the message with the seriousness it deserved,
realizing that other patients were probably equally uncomfortable.
taking advantage of Facebook, she wrote that she was authorizing NIS 300,000 to
Wolfson for the purchase of new beds.
In a direct reply to the person who
had alerted her to the bed situation, German wrote – on Facebook of course – “As
a citizen of Israel, you are undoubtedly aware of the lack of resources with
which we in the health system have to contend. Having said that, it is important
that healthcare teams as well as leading figures in the health system should
know that their work is appreciated, and therefore I have decided to
THE PUBLICATION in 1976 of Alex Haley’s gripping novel, Roots:
The Saga of an American Family, had a powerful global effect, in that a
generated a huge interest in genealogy.
Suddenly people everywhere became
interested in exploring their own roots and learning their pedigrees. The need
to research family background was particularly prevalent among the generation of
Jews of Eastern European descent who never knew their grandparents, whose lives
had been snuffed out by the Nazis.
There was no grave to visit, other
than a mass grave in which hundreds and even thousands of Jews were buried, but
not all their identities were known. If there were no live witnesses to their
deaths, how could anyone be sure whether their parents, grandparents, siblings,
spouses or children were indeed buried in a specific mass grave? Jewish
genealogy is well recorded in the Bible, but contemporary Jewish genealogy may
have had its beginnings in the immediate aftermath of World War II, when people
began looking for lost relatives who may have survived. Some are still looking,
and some found each other 50 to 60 years after the war. Genealogical societies
were formed in some countries including Israel, and in January 2004, prominent
Jewish genealogical experts from a dozen countries established the International
Institute for Jewish Genealogy in Jerusalem. Two months later, the institute
merged with the Paul Jacobi Center, which was the repository for numerous Jewish
family monographs. The two are housed at the National Library on the Givat Ram
campus of the Hebrew University.
Last Thursday, the institute’s research
room was packed to capacity to mark the completion of online indexing of the
genealogical researches of the late Shmuel Gorr, an immigrant from Australia who
had devoted his life to genealogical research and had been an active member of
the Jerusalem Genealogical Society; and German-born Chava Agmon, who is a
descendant of Rabbi Yosef Karo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch – the Code of
When Agmon began researching her family tree, she knew almost
nothing about her family background, and was absolutely clueless when it came to
genealogical research. Upon her marriage to South African immigrant Hugo Agmon,
the first head of the Israel Air Force Flight School, her mother gave her a pile
of documents, which contained some indication that she came from highly
respected stock but didn’t present the information about the family in an
Logic told Agmon that if she wanted to find out more, she
should at least start with a telephone directory.
In 1959, she found a
cousin in America, who referred her to two Karo relatives who had studied at the
same university in Berlin before the war, but then went their separate ways.
Herbert Karo went to Brazil after Hitler came to power, and Heinz, a doctor,
came to what was then Palestine.
Agmon wrote to Herbert and remained in
regular contact with him until his death in 1991. She found Heinz listed in the
Tel Aviv phone book. Through Herbert and Heinz, she amassed an enormous amount
of information, plus many more contacts within various branches of the family
tree – some no longer Jewish.
One of her relatives also gave her the
chronicles of the Karo family going back to the 12th century. Agmon’s insatiable
curiosity and persistence considerably enhanced her volume of
However, it got to the stage where she felt she could no
longer handle it alone, and she decided to give the information to the
Gorr, for his part, died suddenly at the beginning of
September 1988 and left a large body of research, much of it handwritten. He had
been working with various individuals in Israel and abroad, in addition to which
he contributed articles on genealogy and Jewish family names to a number of
publications. His sister, Reeva (Gwen) Gorr, knew that only another genealogist,
preferably one who had worked with her brother, could sort out the mess. So she
called on another Australian-born genealogist, Chaim (Keith) Freedman, who
happens to be a direct descendant of the Vilna Gaon and who bears an
extraordinary likeness to him (with the difference that the Vilna Gaon had a
straggly beard, whereas Freedman’s is neatly trimmed).
writes and lectures widely, is the author of a book about the descendants of the
Vilna Gaon, Eliyahu’s Branches. Freedman, who said that Gorr had taught him a
lot, dutifully travelled every few weeks from his home in Petah Tikva to
Jerusalem to sort out and order his teacher’s research. When he had completed
the task, both he and Gorr’s sister searched for several years for a suitable
place to permanently house the material. Eventually, after the International
Institute for Jewish Genealogy had been headquartered at the National Library,
they decided it was the perfect place. Another incentive was the fact that
retired diplomat Dr. Neville Lamdan, the founding director of the institute, had
worked with Reeva Gorr at the Foreign Ministry for many years and the two had a
friendship that went back some four decades.
Freedman believes that
Shmuel Gorr, who spent so many hours each week researching material at the
National Library, would have been pleased with their choice. “Shmuel loved and
lived genealogy,” said Freedman. “He made connections everywhere. He had clients
all over the world. He was known for his longdistance phone calls, and he always
wanted to know people’s Hebrew names. He didn’t just collect names.
wanted to perpetuate the memories of the people.”
Lamdan, who met Shmuel
Gorr in the early 1980s, recalled that he had told him about a great uncle of
his, Rabbi Shmuel Yosef Mandel, who had been buried on the Mount of Olives
during World War I. Gorr, who spent a lot of time researching tombstone
inscriptions on the Mount Olives and is buried there himself, called Lamdan five
years later to tell him that he had come across a register of an old age home in
Jerusalem, had seen Mandel’s name and as a result found out exactly where he was
buried. Lamdan could not believe that someone would remember a casual request
after so many years, but Freedman said that Gorr had a phenomenal
Although Freedman had sorted out Gorr’s research, it still had to
be indexed, and this was a long, painstaking and costly process that required
the services of a professional of a different kind. Reeva Gorr bore the expense
as a tribute to her brother.
Sallyann Amdur Sack-Pikus, chairwoman of the
International Institute for Jewish Genealogy and Paul Jacobi Center, met Gorr on
her first visit to Israel in 1981 and developed an instant friendship with him.
She arranged for him to come to the US to be the scholar-in-residence of the
Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Washington, of which she was the founding
president. Then, in 1984, she arranged for him to be one of the keynote speakers
at the first International Conference on Jewish Genealogy.
One of the
reasons that Gorr was interested in Hebrew names was because they often provided
a basis for another name that seemingly bore no relationship to the original.
Gorr loved to tell the story of how Shem Tov, a typical Sephardi name, became
Binem, a typical Eastern European Yiddish name. When Shem Tov was expelled from
Spain, he went to France, and just as people living in Israel today have changed
names like Goldberg to Har Zahav, Silver to Caspi and Schwartz to Shchori, Shem
Tov changed his name to Bon Nom. After a few years, he moved to Germany, where
he kept his French name, but the pronunciation changed to Bunem with the
addition of a German umlaut. After a while, he got fed up with Germany and in
the nomadic habit of the Jews of his time, relocated to the Galician part of
Poland. There, Yiddish was not as refined as it was in Lithuania and the
pronunciation of the first vowel in his name changed in sound, from the last of
the five vowels to the third – so that his name became Binem.
ALMOST 20 years of planning, consultations, design and construction, the Museum
of the History of Polish Jews will open to the public this coming Friday, April
19 (the Gregorian calendar date of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising), in a ceremony to
be hosted by Poland’s President Bronislaw Komorowski. The land for the museum
was donated by deceased president Lech Kaczynski, when he was mayor of Warsaw.
Designed by Finnish architect Rainer Mahlamäki, the multi-million dollar museum
was largely financed through the efforts and personal contributions of
Polishborn Holocaust survivor Sigmund Rolat, who spent the war years in his
native Czestochowa and later made his fortune in America.
The museum is
destined to become one of Warsaw’s major tourist attractions in that it is not a
specifically Jewish museum, but more of an historical documentation of the
symbiotic relationship between Jews and Poles.
Ironically, when Jews all
but disappeared from the Polish scene during the Communist era, Poles began to
yearn for Jewish contributions to their culture. Even during the most anti-
Semitic post-war periods, there were books about Jews and by Jewish authors in
Polish bookstores. Jewish periodicals were published and the Yiddish State
Theater situated near the Nozyk Synagogue continued to attract large audiences
of mainly non- Jews. Most of the players were also non-Jews who had been trained
by celebrated actor and director Szymon Szurmiej, a former Polish
parliamentarian who has been active in international as well as Poland-based
With the revival of Jewish life in Poland and
annual Jewish festivals in Krakow and Warsaw – plus various Jewish religious and
cultural events in other Polish cities, coupled with cultural exchanges between
Poland and Israel – Poles are becoming increasingly aware of the country’s
Jewish heritage, which spans centuries of history.
Poland’s Chief Rabbi
Michael Schudrich affixed the mezuza on the museum last Sunday.
FOREIGN dignitaries who visit Israel put down roots – literally, not
metaphorically. Case in point is Colorado Gov. John Wright Hickenlooper, who
last Friday, together with Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund world
chairman Efi Stenzler, planted a tree in Jerusalem’s Amidav Forest at the foot
of the Yad Kennedy monument.
As has been the case with other visiting
dignitaries, Hickenlooper planted the tree immediately following his visit to
Yad Vashem, where in seeing the archives he learned of family trees of a
different kind that were eradicated during the Holocaust. As a former mayor of
Denver, Hickenlooper said he was familiar with the complexities of tree
planting, and added that although he had hoped to plant a million trees during
his term as mayor, he had fallen short of his intentions and had succeeded in
planting only 240,000 trees. When he heard that KKL-JNF has planted 240 million
trees, he was suitably impressed, and said: “The best time to plant a tree was
20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”
After learning about what
KKL-JNF does beyond tree planting, Hickenlooper said there is no doubt that the
organization’s activities impact every aspect of life in Israel. Stenzler noted
that tree planting symbolizes the connection and rootedness to the soil and
ground. Each and every planting by an important figure, such as Hickenlooper,
strengthens and deepens the relationship with Israel in general and with KKL-JNF
INDEPENDENCE DAY is similar to Mimouna. People have so
many invitations to so many places that they don’t know where to go first. With
this in mind, organizers of an Independence Day Ball that took place last week
at Beit Hatfutsot: The Museum of the Jewish People figured that since almost
every festival in Israel is seldom if ever confined to its proper chronological
time zone, they could just as easily extend Independence Day and bring it
forward by five days.
In addition to celebrating the 65th anniversary of
the State of Israel, merrymakers also celebrated the 35th anniversary of Beit
Hatfutsot. The event was organized by Gideon Hamburger, chairman of the Israel
Friends of Beit Hatfutsot; Irit Admoni Perlman, the Israel Friends director; and
events producer Moti Reif, who is also a member of Israel Friends.
special guest was the recently crowned Miss Israel Yityish “Titi” Eynaw, who
with her statuesque beauty, towered over must of the guests, just as she did at
the State Dinner for US President Barack Obama, when nearly everyone present had
to look up to her. Perlman announced that Eynaw had agreed had to be the
ambassador for the Israel Friends in her various travels as Miss
Among the 300 guests were Beit Hatfutsot CEO Dan Tadmor,
chairwoman of the Beit Hatfutsot board of directors Irina Nevzlin; her father,
Leonid Nevzlin, who is chairman of the museum’s board of governors; public
relations duo Hila and Rani Rahav; actress Gilat Ankori; her husband,
documentary filmmaker and widely sought-after master of ceremonies Michael
Greenspan; Lithuanian Ambassador Darius Degutis and his wife, Nida; lawyer Dan
Lahat and his wife, Ronit; Master Chef Tom Franz; and television personality
Erez Tal and his wife, Gili Levy. Guests enjoyed themselves so much that Perlman
announced it was the start of a new tradition, adding that it was obvious that
the best place in which to mark the independence of the State of Israel was Beit
Hatfutsot, which tells the ongoing story of the Jewish people.
was sponsored by Harel Insurance, the Nadav Foundation and the Sagi Group.
Proceeds were earmarked for the cost of hosting IDF soldiers and officers, as
well as at-risk youth who benefit from guided tours, special programs and
educational workshops at Beit Hatfutsot.
BRITISH AMBASSADOR Matthew
Gould attended the dedication last week at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev of
the Aaron Klug Integrated Center for Biomolecular Structure and Function. Also
in attendance were members of Klug’s family and scientists from different parts
of the world.
Named for Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Sir Aaron Klug, an
outstanding structural biologist who pioneered the crystallography of biological
assemblies and was the founder of threedimensional electron microscopy, the
center will become part of the National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev
(NIBN) at BGU.
“The Klug Integrated Center for Biomolecular Structure and
Function will be a center of excellence for structural biology studies and thus
a focal attraction for scientists in Israel and around the world,” said NIBN
Varda Shoshan-Barmatz, who worked tirelessly to create the
Sir Klug contributed substantially to the development of
BGU, and he is former director of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of
Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK.
“I was blessed to work closely with
Prof. Klug for many years. His leadership determined the direction and progress
at NIBN. Moreover, he has made a major contribution to the entire culture of
research at BGU,” said Prof. Moti Herskowitz, vice president and dean of R&D
Prof. Raymond A. Dwek of Oxford University, who introduced Gould,
noted that both Gould and Klug had publicly expressed the same values of
scientific collaboration and academic freedom.
Gould, who recently
received an honorary doctorate from BGU, explained why he was delighted to be at
this dedication. “Any ambassador would be delighted to pay tribute to Prof. Klug
and to be at an event that sets in stone the link between Britain and Israel. It
is a particular pleasure to be here for three reasons.
opening of the center ties together two of my favorite universities – BGU, where
I got a doctorate without working for it – and Cambridge University and
specifically Peterhouse, which is Prof. Klug’s college and where I studied.
Trinity College, which is also Prof. Klug’s, is where my wife
“Second, it is a celebration of the relationship between Britain
and Israel in science. Both are scientific superpowers with complementary
“Third, because it pays tribute to Prof. Klug. He is
universally known as kind, fair and decent. He is a world-class scientist
without the ego to match. He has shown us what science can achieve and should be
doing – to unlock nature’s secrets to provide pathways to healing.”
was awarded the 1982 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the interactions
of proteins with nucleic acids and on the elucidation of the structures of large
biological molecules and assemblies, including simple viruses and chromatin, by
X-ray diffraction and electron microscopy, as well as for the development of new
methods for their study. The basic principle of his method of 3-D image
reconstruction in electron microscopy from a series of 2-D tilted images later
formed the basis of the CT scanner.