GRAPEVINE:Israel in great shape

Yadlin noted the importance of Israel’s good relations with both the US and Russia and hailed the development that Israel and the United States see eye to eye on almost every issue.

January 2, 2018 21:19
GRAPEVINE:Israel in great shape

INSS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Amos Yadlin (left) presents a copy of the think tank’s annual assessment of the region to President Reuven Rivlin yesterday at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)

Israel is in better shape than at any time over the last 70 years, according to a strategic assessment by the Institute for National Security Studies. Members of the Institute, including recently knighted, Czech-born chairman of the INSS board of directors Sir Frank Lowy, a Holocaust survivor who fought in the War of Independence and who is one of the wealthiest people in Australia, met on Monday with President Reuven Rivlin to present him with their assessment for 2017-2018.

In making the presentation, INSS executive director and former head of Military Intelligence Amos Yadlin said that despite the challenges that the country is currently confronting, the State of Israel is today stronger than at any time in the past 70 years. It is stronger militarily, economically and technologically, and enjoys stability, he said, adding that, for some time, there has also been relative quiet on the borders.

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Nonetheless, this was not cause for Israel to rest on its laurels, he stipulated, listing Iran’s progressive nuclear capability as the No. 1 challenge.

Yadlin noted the importance of Israel’s good relations with both the US and Russia and hailed the development that Israel and the United States see eye to eye on almost every issue, and that US policy vis-à-vis Israel is “very positive.”

With regard to Russia, Yadlin characterized Russia as “the big winner” and said that Russia brought Iran and Hezbollah to Syria, and that President Vladimir Putin “has made Russia great again.”

It was gratifying to see that a number of the researchers in this highly respected think tank are women, among them Sima Shein, who served as head of the Mossad’s research desk, the highest intelligence position ever held by a woman. Shein has also served in various posts on the National Security Council and was head of the Iran desk in the Strategic Affairs Ministry. In 2015, she was one of the beacon-lighters at the opening of Independence Day ceremonies on Mount Herzl.

■ DURING THE recent Spanish crisis with regard to Catalonia, Henrique Zimmerman, who reports for Spanish television, was not only reporting news but making news – and not for the first time. Zimmerman, who was widely regarded by local media as the expert on Spanish politics, was interviewed left, right and center. Aside from anything to do with Spain, but simply from a professional standpoint, he has a knack for getting scoops and for getting interviews with people who most other journalists are unable to pin down.

Now he’s making news again but in nothing that is currently related to Spain. He has decided to support Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay, but has not yet said whether he will be running for the Knesset in the next election. There is a kind of distant Spanish connection, in that Gabbay is of Moroccan parentage, and many of the Jews exiled from Spain and Portugal in the 15th and 16th centuries went to Morocco.

■ WHILE ON the subject of Morocco, it was well represented this week, along with other North African countries at the Kan 11 premiere of Ron Chachlili’s new series Hatsarfokaim. The series deals with the huge French aliya over the past decade and the fact that because so many of the French immigrants are of Moroccan or other North African extraction, they are treated in much the same way as North African immigrants were treated in the 1950s.

Chachlili said that he wept throughout the shooting of the series. “I sat opposite Eli Alalouf, with whom I have absolutely no political connection, and I saw my father, my uncle and another uncle and all the Mizrahi mothers and fathers who conceived this series, which was born out of the understanding that not much in Israel has changed. French immigrants are still thought of as loudmouthed, barbarian, impertinent, right-wing, nationalistic, rich and, of course Mizrahi.” Chachlili’s message to those whose attitude to French immigrants is based on irrelevant bias, was “Shame on you!” Despite the rain, there was a sizable turnout for the premiere, which was screened at the Suzanne Della Center in Tel Aviv. Among the familiar faces were those of Kobi Oz, Uri Gavriel, Rina Matzliah, Chen Almaliach, Amnon Levy, Ben-Dror Yemini, Daniel Ben-Simon, Rafi Amzaleg and Merav Batito.

■ CULTURE AND Sport Minister Miri Regev’s admission that she has not read Chekhov pales in comparison to her support of the insulting remarks made by Army Radio broadcaster Irit Linor about Rivlin.

Regev, in an Israel Radio Reshet Bet interview this week, criticized Rivlin for what she said was interference in politics.

While it is true that the president is supposed to be aloof from politics, everything in Israel has political connotations, and it is impossible for any president to turn a blind eye to what is happening in the country and refrain from commenting on it. Like his predecessors, Rivlin has been careful in relating to specific situations and not to any one political party or another.

Someone should have made it clear that Regev understands that culture and civilized behavior should go hand in hand. A culture minister who endorses vulgarities is not doing a service to the office or the country that she represents.

■ APROPOS CULTURE, Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, will this Thursday evening attend the book launch by celebrated Jerusalem- born author Haim Be’er of his latest work, Kesher Le’ehad, which is an illustrated anthology of half a century of Be’er’s writings about Jerusalem. In addition to authoring several books, and editing those of other writers, Be’er has worked as a newspaper columnist and has also taught literature at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The launch will be held at the Konrad Adenauer Center in Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim.

■ READERS FLUENT in Hebrew who are fans of both Be’er and Shai Agnon, and who want to hear from Be’er about Agnon, who in 1966 was Israel’s first Nobel Prize laureate, can on Monday night, January 8, hear Be’er in conversation with Agnon expert Rabbi Jeffrey Saks, based on the 100th anniversary of the publication of Agnon’s In Mr. Lublin’s Store. The tale is set in World War I era Leipzig in Germany and takes the reader into the dilemmas of that period in matters related to exile, Zionism, assimilation and faith, Germans and Jews, and the influences of the past on the present. The discussion will branch out to Jews and books in general.

The venue is the most natural place for such a discussion after Agnon House, which may not be easy for non-Jerusalemites to find, because it is far from the center of town. However, Tmol Shilshom, the veteran restaurant-cum-library cum-cultural center in the heart of Jerusalem’s Nahalat Shiva neighborhood, at 5 Yoel Solomon Street, which is named for one of Agnon’s best-known works, is much easier to get to, especially as there is a light rail stop nearby.

■ YIDDISH THEATER and music lovers can this Thursday visit the Yung Yidish headquarters in Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station, which is even more atmospheric in its ambience than Jerusalem’s Tmol Shilshom. Founded by singer, actor, dancer and teacher Mendy Cahan, Yung Yidish has attracted not only a senior citizens audience of Yiddishists, but much younger audiences of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are interested in expanding their knowledge and appreciation of Jewish culture, which in many cases was denied them in their cities of birth. Yiddish is quietly being revitalized, and increasing numbers of people, including non-Jews, are learning it in order to read Yiddish literature in the original rather than in translation.

Visitors to Yung Yidish will find a mind-boggling assortment of Yiddish books and newspapers – some of them nearly a century old. Aside from that, there are regular performances, mostly on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The upcoming Yiddish concert features Cahan, Swiss soprano Maria Gessler, pianist David Serebryanik, whom Gessler first met on the set of Madam Butterfly, and Russian pianist Evelina Vorontsova, who lives in Amsterdam and is currently visiting Israel. The concert will include both popular Yiddish songs, as well as rare ones that all but disappeared during the Holocaust and have been rescued over the years by Yung Yidish performers.

As for Yiddish Theater, the new Yiddishpiel production The Actor, starring Yaakov Bodo and Israel Treistman, is playing on Wednesday at Tzavta in Tel Aviv; at Deona Ashdod on Thursday; at the Jerusalem Theater on Sunday, January 7; on Monday at Heichal Tarbut, Upper Nazareth; on Tuesday at the Tzafon Theater in Kiryat Haim; on Wednesday at Hatarbut Theater in Netanya; on Thursday of next week at the Performing Arts Center Beersheba; and on Sunday it’s back to Tzavta in Tel Aviv. Several more performances will take place in Tel Aviv, Bat Yam, Kiryat Motzkin, Holon, Haifa, Petah Tikva, Givatayim, Rishon Lezion and Rehovot.

The above is not only proof of the popularity of Yiddish theater in Israel but of the stamina of 86-yearold Bodo, who is on stage nearly every night of the week and is traveling all over the country in the process.

■ THE MISTREATMENT in the early years of the state of non-Ashkenazi, non-Western immigrants is one of the blots on the history of the State of Israel. Playwright, poet, lyricist, translator and television program host Dan Almagor is a walking encyclopedia of the history of Israeli culture, from Yemenites to Hassidim, not to mention translations of Shakespeare. He revealed in a musical the shameful treatment to which Yemenite immigrants were subjected, long before their children were allegedly kidnapped and given out for adoption, and the parents told that they had died.

Of course, the graves were never found, and only recently has a specially appointed Knesset committee discovered that many of the stories about the disappearing Yemenite infants were actually true. It can even identify the influential American who allegedly organized the disappearances and subsequent adoptions.

Almagor’s father was an agronomist in Rehovot, and the family, which to its credit had no racist hang-ups, befriended Yemenite families in the area. Ashkenazi farmers did not take their Yemenite employees into their homes, said Almagor in a Kan 11 interview this week. They housed them in the barn together with the animals, and in every way possible treated them as inferiors instead of respecting their ability to read upside down and back to front.

Almagor, knowing that the Yemenites kept their humiliations to themselves and made no public complaint, decided that it was nonetheless important to commit this ugly chapter in the nation’s history to posterity, and wrote a musical around the story. The program was supposed to be screened on what was then Israel Television, and in Yemenite households around the country, people were glued to the screen waiting for the program to start. At the last minute, a court order arrived with instructions to switch the program to a late-night slot, at which time fewer people would be likely to see it.

The order was sought by a prominent lawyer whose forebears had been among the farmers of Rehovot.

He knew that he could not bury the story in the sands of history, but that he could do something that would minimize the damage that it could cause.

The main singer in the musical was 1978 Eurovision prizewinner Izhar Cohen, who is of Yemenite descent, and who said that he was angry because he had never heard these terrible stories before. A song from the show was performed on an Independence Day program in 1990, infuriating people on the Right as well as descendants of the farmers, who did not appreciate Almagor’s tarnishing of the images of their ancestors.

Almagor has always been shocked and ashamed by what he perceives as deeply rooted racism against Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews. He is also ashamed when he learns of any mistreatment of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers. A poem that he wrote about this and read publicly following the outbreak of the First Intifada brought him death threats and the torching of his car.

■ IN ADVANCE of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Tel Aviv Cinematheque will on Sunday, January, 14, screen a musical documentary about one of the most beloved of Yiddish poets and lyricists, Mordechai Gebirtig, under the title of Fare Thee Well My Krakow.

The film about the poet, composer and carpenter was created by Piotr Szalsza and released last year on the 70th anniversary of Gebirtig’s death.

Even before the Nazis overran Europe, there were cruel pogroms in many parts of Poland, in response to which Gebirtig wrote the heartrending song “Es Brent” (It’s Burning), which is traditionally sung at Holocaust memorial events, including those at Yad Vashem, where the rendition is usually in Hebrew and loses some of its poignancy.

Though best known for his compositions, Gebirtig was also a Yiddish theater actor and a political activist, and was a member of both the Bund and the Polish Socialist Party. Jewish Poland, as it was before the Second World War, is strongly reflected in his poetry.

■ SZALSZA ALSO directed a film about Israel Philharmonic Orchestra founder Bronislaw Huberman.

Gebirtig was born in Krakow, and Huberman in Czestochowa, which is less than an hour’s train travel time away from Krakow. On Sunday, January 7, the film on Huberman will be screened at the Hecht Arts Center on the campus of the University of Haifa, where Szalsza will be in attendance to interact with the audience following the screening. Titled Bronsilaw Huberman, or the Unification of Europe and the Violin, the film is not only about Huberman’s spectacular career as a violin virtuoso but also Huberman the politician, social activist, writer, teacher, sponsor of the arts, philanthropist and citizen of the world, who after the Nazi rise to power in Germany managed to bring some of the best Jewish musicians in Europe to Tel Aviv, where he not only contributed to the culture of the state-in-the-making but saved the lives of great contributors to the world of music.

■ THIS WEEK, prizewinning broadcaster Carmela Menashe celebrated the 30th anniversary of her career as a military reporter. Today it’s quite common for women to report on military affairs, but when Menashe switched from being a police reporter to a military reporter, it was rare. In fact, the only other female reporter covering military affairs was Tali Zelinger (now Tali Lipkin-Shahak), who was appointed military correspondent by Hannah Zemer, who was the editor of Davar, which at the time was a sister publication of The Jerusalem Post, as both were then owned by the Histadrut. Davar was founded in 1925 and ceased publication in May 1996. It was relaunched by the Histadrut as an online publication in 2016, and is now called Davar Rishon.

Menashe was one of the Independence Day beacon-lighters in 2014.

She began her journalistic career at Army Radio, as was the case with so many well-known Israeli journalists.

She later went to Israel Radio, where over time she covered a number of beats and was handling the police beat when she was appointed as the station’s military correspondent, paving the way for other female reporters to cover police and the Palestinian territories.

As military reporter, Menashe also reported on irregularities and injustices and quickly became the “wailing wall” of families of soldiers who had been hazed by colleagues or who had suffered intolerable treatment by commanding officers.

Despite the fact that she often made life unpleasant for the top brass of the IDF, they respect her, and in a Reshet Bet program last Friday, a large part of which anchorwoman Liat Regev devoted to Menashe, senior officers sent messages of congratulations plus the wish that she continue to work with them and against them when necessary.

Menashe has won many prizes in recognition of her work, including the prestigious Emet Prize in 2010.

■ ANOTHER VETERAN reporter who went from the now defunct Israel Broadcasting Authority to Kan is Rubi Hammerschlag, who has been reporting from the North for the past 20 years. To celebrate the anniversary Hammerschlag held a photo exhibition at the Hagoshrim and Nature Hotel, at which he showed 25 photographs that he had taken with his smartphone.

Almost everyone who owns a smartphone takes photos – some people just from time to time, and others, who are compulsive photographers albeit not professionals, do so daily. In an interview with Kan political reporter and commentator Yoav Krakowski, Hammerschlag explained that he is certainly not a professional photographer, but while out on assignments, he thought that certain things that captured his eye might be interesting to other people, and so he photographed them.

Among the people who came to the opening of the exhibition were Giora Salz, head of the Upper Galilee Regional Council; Ilan Or, head of the Yesod Hama’aleh Regional Council; Yigal Buzaglo, deputy mayor of Kiryat Shmona; Eli Malka, head of the Golan Heights Regional Council; and hotel manager Dudu Oz, in addition to photographers, journalists and television crews who live and work in the North of the country. In his own work, Hammerschlag has been all over the country in every season and has captured some truly breathtaking scenery in the camera of his smartphone.

■ ONE LAST item related to the electronic media: Despite its fragile position and predictions that it may have to close down, Channel 10 will host the second annual Docuprime at the Givatayim Theater on Sunday, January 14, and is inviting everyone and anyone in the movie and television industries to come to participate in the daylong event, the highlight of which will be an intimate conversation between Rafi Reshef and President Rivlin.

In his much younger days, Rivlin, who is a spontaneous wisecracker, used to frequently appear on a comedy show on Israel Television, so his appearance on this occasion is not solely in the capacity of head of state.

Some of the other people on the program include Israel Aharoni, Amnon Levy, Ilana Dayan, Orly Vilnai, Tal Freedman, Raviv Drucker and Zvi Yehezkeli, as well as several influential personalities whose faces are not seen on screen.

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