Grapevine: A tribute to Leonard Cohen

The late singer is honored.

February 20, 2018 21:11
Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Canadian Ambassador Deborah Lyons has missed her vocation. She’s a born actress. Whether she is delivering a comic speech or one in more serious vein, her oratory, passion and sense of drama come shining through. She has phenomenal stage presence, clear enunciation and good body language. She totally captivated the audience last Friday when delivering a memorial address about Leonard Cohen at Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People.

The museum has put up a soundproof tent in the lobby in which a video tribute to Cohen is being screened. Because Cohen was a Canadian who brought much pride to his country, the Canadian Embassy worked hand in glove with the museum to organize an appropriate tribute event based on his final disc, You Want It Darker, which was released on October 21, 2016, just 19 days before his death. Cohen’s swan song, it was the crowning glory of his long career and critically acclaimed as a masterpiece. In fact, in January of this year, it won him his first solo Grammy, which unfortunately was a posthumous award.

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Museum CEO Dan Tadmor, noting that the museum is this year celebrating its 40th anniversary, said that he hoped to open a more extensive Leonard Cohen exhibition, such as the one previously shown in honor of Bob Dylan. Tadmor said that it is important to feature major Jewish artists and their creativity, to show what they have contributed to the world.

Visitors to Beit Hatfutsot can also see the fantastic “Heroes” exhibition, which was designed in comic book style primarily for children to make them aware of prominent Jews in different categories of achievement, but adults, too, will find it highly enjoyable, and will have great fun guessing the identities of some of the lesser-known characters before reading their names.

But back to Cohen: The tribute to him came under the title of “Hineni,” the word that first appears in the Bible when Abraham responds to the call to sacrifice his son Isaac. Altogether, it appears in the Bible 250 times, said Tadmor, and in his final disc Cohen declared: “I’m ready, my Lord,” which is tantamount to saying “Hineni.”

Albeit in English, Cohen, in his lyrics, also quoted extensively from the kaddish prayer recited for the dead, indicating that he knew that the end was near.

Lyons said that while preparing her speech “I fell in love again.” She had excused herself from her guests the previous evening and had gone upstairs to her den to work on the speech and to listen to Cohen’s recordings.

She began singing and dancing to the music, causing her guests to wonder what was going on.

Speaking of Cohen as a poet, novelist, musician and philosopher, whose work is full of beauty and pain, Lyons said: “He taught us so much about life.” Nothing escaped his reach, she added, commenting that it all came from Montreal, the wide open spaces of Canada and his Jewish upbringing. She also mentioned the time he’d spent in Greece, his singing for Israeli soldiers during the 1973 Yom Kippur War and his five-year vow of silence when practicing Zen Buddhism. “His songs contain vulnerability, passion and wisdom,” she said. “He understood human frailty and the endless seeking for human connection and connection to God. Who else could have encouraged us to dance till the end of love?” Quoting extensively from other lyrics of Cohen’s songs, she said that Cohen was a great Canadian, a national treasure and a cultural icon. “But if we had to share him, it would be with the State of Israel.”

Delighted with the results of the embassy’s cooperation with the museum, she is now in the process of planning another museum event of a different nature.

The tribute also included a special “Hallelujah” concert by trio Ari Gorali, Sivan Talmor, who was the principal singer, and Gal Nisman.

Talmor, who sounds like a hybrid of Joan Baez and Mary Travers, the female component in the folksong trio Peter, Paul and Mary, said that Cohen had come to Israel from Greece, a couple of weeks before the Yom Kippur War, and had met up with singer Oshik Levy.

When the war broke out, Levy asked Cohen to join him and some other singers in singing for the soldiers. Cohen said he’d rather volunteer to work on a kibbutz which must be shorthanded, as the men had been called up to fight. In the final analysis Levy persuaded him to sing, and, together with Mordechai Arnon, Ilana Rovina and Matti Caspi, they toured army bases and outlying units, giving eight performances a day. At night, because there was no spotlight, the soldiers turned on their torches and shone them in the direction of the singers.

■ AMONG THE people attending the tribute was Cohen’s cousin Linda Levy, who came with her husband, John. Her great-grandfather Lithuanian-born Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Cohen, the first chief rabbi of Montreal, and Cohen’s great-grandfather Lazarus, who had preceded him to Canada, were brothers.

Cohen’s grandfather Lyon Cohen was a wealthy businessman and philanthropist who co-founded Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, of which he was president, and the first English-language Jewish newspaper in Canada, the Canadian Jewish Times.

He was also the first president of the Canadian Jewish Congress.

Leonard’s father, Nathan, was the owner of a large clothing store and died when Leonard was nine. His mother, Masha, was the daughter of Lithuanian-born Rabbi Solomon Klonnitsky-Kline, who settled in Montreal in 1927. Before making their home in Jerusalem, the Levys lived for many years in Hawaii, and would love to introduce Hawaiian culture to Israel.

Also at the event and sitting in the front row was Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis, whose wife, Adi, is the director of the Israeli Friends of Beit Hatfutsot; chairwoman of the Friends Hanna Pri- Zan; chairman of the Friends of Tel Aviv University Amnon Dick and his wife, Nava; honorary consul of New Zealand Gad Propper and his wife, Etti, who is a board member of the Israeli Friends of Beit Hatfutsot; Avraham and Ruti Assaf, Dalia Preshker, and music man Yoav Kutner.

■ FORMER US ambassador Dan Shapiro was invited earlier this month to return to his “old old stomping grounds,” the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to testify at a hearing on Israel, the Palestinians, and the Trump administration’s peace plan. The invitation was issued by committee chairman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Florida) and Rep. Ted Deutch (Florida). Shapiro, who currently lives in Ra’anana, was thrilled to catch up with old friends, colleagues and acquaintances.

■ CURRENT US Ambassador David Friedman was the guest of honor at the annual New Year reception hosted by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat for members of the capital’s Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities as well as for members of the diplomatic corps. A few consuls showed up but hardly any ambassadors. Among the ambassadors who did attend were Myanmar’s U Maung Maung Lynn and Korea’s Ambassador- designate Choi Yong Hwan.

Friedman, who earlier in the week wore his kippa to the Yehoram Gaon concert that was part of the Jerusalem Conference, came bareheaded to Jerusalem City Hall. As ambassador, he said, he had accompanied many non-Jews to Jerusalem, and they had looked on the city with awe and inspiration.

“The powerful and positive influence of Jerusalem is beyond debate,” he said. “Opening up the city to people of all faiths is one of Israel’s greatest accomplishments.”

Noting the importance of Jerusalem to people of different faiths, Friedman stated: “To say that Jerusalem is in my prayers is literally the truth.” Religiously observant, he pointed out the reference to Jerusalem in daily prayers. “The US is the country of my citizenship,” he said, “but Israel is the nation of my faith – where history began and continues.”

Moving on to the America-Israel alliance, Friedman said: “Support for Israel is at the core of who we are as Americans. We truly have an unbreakable bond. A strong and secure Israel is a strategic American interest.”

What he said toward the end of his address elicited an angry response from an Arab sitting in the council chambers. The man was so irate that he had to be removed. What Friedman said was: “We are doing everything we can to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem by the end of next year, if not sooner.”

Muhammad Masri, the chairman of the Beit Hanina Community Council, chose to ignore this hot potato, and instead, speaking in beautiful Hebrew instead of Arabic, expressed condolences to the families of the victims of the Florida shooting and good wishes for a speedy recovery to the wounded.

“We all love Jerusalem,” he said “even those of us who are not religious.” Hinting that the media is responsible for giving Jerusalem a negative image, Masri said that when he goes to prayers on Fridays, he always sees a lot of photographers anxiously waiting to shoot an incident. “But we live with love and peace. The photographers are just looking for headlines.”

Echoing something that was frequently voiced by president Shimon Peres, Masri said that every hospital has “joint teams of Jews, Muslims and Christians among the physicians and nursing staff, and the same harmonious diversity can be seen among the patients.” It would be wonderful if this harmonious and cooperative aura could spread beyond the hospitals, he said.

“We all travel the same roads and we are all working toward peace,” said Jerusalem Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Aryeh Stern. “Jerusalem is in the DNA of all of us, and there should be no discrimination based on differences of faith.”

Greek Patriarch Theophilos III had been listed as the Christian speaker, but there was a change after the invitations were dispatched, and the Christian speaker was Dr. Jürgen Bühler, the president of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

Bühler congratulated Barkat on his leadership and the economic and cultural development of the city. Despite Jerusalem’s versatility, he said, it retains its Jewish character.

Of his own faith, he said that the Evangelical community is now the second- or third-largest in the Christian world with more than 700 million adherents.

Barkat, at the start of his address, which was largely devoted to religious freedom and the growth of tourism, reeled off a long list of guest groups, to which someone in the audience piped up: “Also the unemployed.”

Barkat laughed, but good-naturedly added “also the unemployed.”

While not ignoring the conflicts in the capital, Barkat, underscoring the sanctity of Jerusalem, especially in the Old City, said that in 1 there are more churches, synagogues and mosques, standing close to each other and operating in harmony, than anywhere else in the world.

■ FOLLOWING THE fiasco surrounding the initial refusal by the US Embassy to grant a visa to Israeli singer Amir Benayoun, despite various high-ranking Israeli officials going to bat for him, he eventually received a visa after stating that he didn’t really want to go to America anyway, and had agreed only because of the importance of performing at the UN on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

But it was probably more humiliating for another Israeli singer, Corinne Allal, when she and her band were not permitted to enter the United States, according to a report in last Friday’s Yediot Aharonot. It can be presumed, after all the publicity given to the Benayoun case, that Allal and her band all had visas, but they were nonetheless detained by US Customs and Border Protection officials, who, according to the report, questioned them for “more than ten hours” at the airport in New York, after which they were denied entry into the US and had to return to Israel on the first available flight.

According to the report, the Israel Consulate in New York tried to intervene on Allal’s behalf – but to no avail.

■ A LARGE delegation from the Philippines, headed by Department of Tourism Secretary Wanda Corazon Teo, participated in the 24th International Mediterranean Tourism Market (IMTM) held recently at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds. In addition to her delegation, there were 12 Philippine tour operators and hotel representatives According to Philippines Ambassador Neal Imperial, “Israeli tourist arrivals to the Philippines grew by 98%, from a mere 8,776 in 2014 to 17,446 in 2017. Israel continues to be a valued market for Philippine tourism,” he said.

Teo also met with Tourism Minister Yariv Levin and discussed ways to further promote two-way tourism. She told him that Israel is a growing tourism market for the Philippines in the Middle East, and that her department has been participating in IMTM since 2016.

She also hosted a gala Philippine Tourism Night in the Ballroom of the Tel Aviv Hilton which was attended by members of the diplomatic corps, Israeli travel and tour operators, businessmen, PR/media outfits and representatives of the local Filipino community.

Guests were wowed by the performance of the prizewinning Sindaw artists, with their rendition of authentic Filipino music, and the traditional dance by members of the Association of Igorot Migrant Workers in Israel.

■ THE OFFICIAL reason for dropping Aviv Geffen from the official launch of the nation’s 70th anniversary celebrations was that his song was unsuitable. Geffen has been reported as saying that it was for political reasons. Given the fact that Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev is in charge of the festivities, it would be safe to assume that the antiestablishment Geffen was correct in his assessment.

Milestone anniversaries are obviously associated with history, and in Geffen’s case, his family has certainly contributed in many ways to the history of the country. Geffen is the great-grandson of Shmuel Dayan, who was a member of the First Knesset. His great-uncle was Moshe Dayan, and other relatives include Uzi Dayan, former head of the National Security Council and currently chairman of the Mifal Hapayis national lottery; Yael Dayan, writer and former MK; the late Assi Dayan, a brilliant actor, writer and filmmaker; and the late Udi Dayan, a sculptor; who are or were all first cousins to Geffen’s father, Yonatan, controversial author, poet, playwright, songwriter, journalist, satirist and performer. In his younger years, Yonatan Geffen was also an officer in the Paratroop Brigade.

With Aviv Geffen’s progeny, it means that five generations of his family have lived in Israel and three of those five generations have achieved international fame. Surely that should count for something when the state is celebrating its 70th anniversary.

■ IN RECENT months, President Reuven Rivlin has come in for a lot of kudos, and so has his wife, Nechama, who is frequently interviewed and quoted. When the Rivlins hosted volunteers from Eran, the emotional- first-aid hotline, Eran’s CEO, David Koren, and chairman, Giora Bar Dea, made a point of addressing Nechama Rivlin as “first lady.”

■ AS IS often the case, there were references during the Eran meeting to President Rivlin’s popularity and leadership, prompting Rivlin to tell a story about Israel’s second president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, who would frequently take a stroll through the streets of Rehavia.

In those days security surrounding top-ranking leaders was not nearly as tight as it is today. One day, Ben-Zvi was accompanied by a single bodyguard who walked several paces behind him. During his walk, Ben-Zvi was stopped by a man who asked if he could direct him to a particular street, a block or two away. Ben-Zvi gave him precise instructions about where to turn right or left. The man was profuse in his thanks and went on his way.

However, the security guard was not happy and went after the man yelling: “You’ve got a real cheek. Do you realize that you asked the president of Israel for directions to get to the street that you are looking for?” The man was dumbfounded, then almost hysterically apologetic. He rushed back to Ben-Zvi, blurting out that he was sorry not to have recognized the president, when he asked him for directions.

Ben-Zvi smiled and said: “That’s perfectly all right. It’s the task of a president to steer his people in the right direction.”

■ AND ONE last item related to Rivlin.

During his recent visit to Greece, he completely endeared himself to everyone with whom he came into contact, according to Ambassador to Greece Irit Ben-Abba, who is frequently heard on the Friday afternoon radio programs of Grecophile Yaron Enosh. Rivlin came for International Holocaust Remembrance Day and captivated people with his personality, said Ben-Abba, who also spoke of how moving it was to attend the ceremony of the laying of the cornerstone for the Holocaust museum in Thessaloniki.

Holocaust remembrance is a big thing in Greece, she said, because not only Greek Jews, but Greeks per se, suffered so greatly at the hands of the Nazis.

■ ONE OF the most respected of Holocaust historians, Prof. Yehuda Bauer, was among several experts on the Holocaust participating in a radio program hosted by Yitzhak Noy, in which the key topic was how to ensure remembrance of the Holocaust.

Bauer emphasized the importance of commemorating the Holocaust in its broadest aspects. While Jews were the most hardhit victims, he said, they were not the only victims.

As for complicity in betraying fellow Jews, Bauer noted that Jews are like groups of people anywhere else in the world. There are good ones and bad ones. In the current dispute between Poland, Israel and the Jewish world over who did what during the Holocaust, a battle of emotion-ridden semantics has distorted truth on both sides. Every Holocaust research center has significant data on kapos who were assigned by the Nazis to supervise forced labor camps or to be in charge of administrative duties in the ghettos. Some of these kapos, who were mostly Jews, did everything in their power to make life easier for fellow Jews and to help them escape. Others simply did as they were ordered; and some, who could not live with the idea that they were somehow responsible for the suffering and even deaths of fellow Jews, committed suicide. And there were also kapos for whom self-preservation was the prime consideration. Whether we like it or not, the latter were traitors but not perpetrators.

They cooperated with the Nazis even to the extent of betraying fellow Jews, but the perpetrators were the Nazis themselves.

There is no denying that there were violently antisemitic Poles before, during and after the Holocaust. But there were and are Poles who took and take great risks in befriending and defending Jews. Among them was Pope John Paul II, who during the Holocaust helped Jews to survive, even at a time when the Church was virulently antisemitic – and he wasn’t the only Catholic priest with a conscience.

■ ISRAELIS CAN be very brutal in their treatment of anyone suspected of underhand activities, but also very forgiving once such persons have either been exonerated or, after being indicted and imprisoned, have served their sentences and thereby paid their debt to society.

Thus, Ofer Nimrodi, the CEO and a member of the board of directors of The Israel Land Development Company (Hachsharat Hayishuv) will be among several people who will be feted at the launch of Tel Aviv University’s Institute of the Arts of Law, where courses will be taught in arbitration, mediation, negotiation and business leadership.

Nimrodi is an alumnus of the TAU Law School, from which he graduated cum laude and did his articles with the late justice Miriam Ben-Porat, who was a member of the Supreme Court.

A former editor-in-chef and part owner of Maariv, Nimrodi, during that period in the late 1990s, was sentenced to eight months in prison for illegal wiretapping and subsequently to 25 months in prison for obstruction of justice. Following his release in 2002, he was immediately welcomed back into the business world and to the social circles in which he had previously mixed.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Former prime minister Ehud Olmert, even while on trial, when in prison and after completing his sentence on charges of corruption, was treated with great courtesy and affection by friends and acquaintances. Arye Deri, after serving time and waiting out a period demanded by law, went back to being a government minister.

Likewise, lawyer Dori Klagsbald, who was sentenced to 15 months in prison, a NIS 10,000 fine, and had his driver’s license revoked after causing the deaths of a young woman and her five-year-old son by violently striking her car while it stood at a red light, went back to practicing law and being a prominent figure on the social circuit after serving time.

Curiously, Nimrodi received a more severe sentence for a crime far less serious than killing two people and injuring others. Regardless of the extent to which Nimrodi has rehabilitated himself and what he has contributed to society, it seems a little strange for a law school to give a platform to an ex-con.

Then again, considering that the new facility is under the patronage of the Israel Land Development Company, Nimrodi’s inclusion in the launch comes as no surprise.

After all, money is the best of mediators.

■ ITALIAN AMBASSADOR Gianluigi Benedetti visited Bar-Ilan University last week and was briefed by its president, Prof. Arie Zaban, on its plans for the next decade, particularly with respect to the establishment of multidisciplinary centers designed to impact upon our everyday lives. Zaban noted the strong potential for expanding cooperation with Italian institutions of higher education.

Having learned earlier in the week that Bar-Ilan physicist Prof. Shlomo Havlin will receive the 2018 Israel Prize in Physics, Benedetti asked to personally congratulate him.

In May 2017 Benedetti’s predecessor, Francesco Maria Talo, awarded one of his country’s highest civilian honors, the Order of the Star of Italy, to Havlin.

Accompanying Benedetti on his visit were embassy officials, including Scientific Attaché Prof. Stefano Boccaletti, a senior researcher at the CNR Institute for Complex Systems in Italy and an honorary professor of physics at Bar-Ilan. Boccaletti, who has served in Israel for the past decade, will soon return to Italy.

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