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 public.

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 Yesh Atid.

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.

Unfortunately, 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.

It certainly 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.

So, 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 help.”

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 Jewish Law.

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 orderly manner.

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 information.

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 institute.

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).

Freedman, who 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.

He 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 memory.

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.

AFTER 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 Jewish organizations.

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.

MANY 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 in particular.

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.

A very 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 Israel.

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.

The event 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 director Prof.

Varda Shoshan-Barmatz, who worked tirelessly to create the new facility.

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 at BGU.

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.

“First, the 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 studied.

“Second, it is a celebration of the relationship between Britain and Israel in science. Both are scientific superpowers with complementary strengths.

“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.”

Klug 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.

greerfc@gmail.com

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