Grapevine: 'Mais oui'

Israel celebrates 100 years since the signing of the Balfour Declaration.

October 31, 2017 20:37
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. (photo credit: JERUSALEM REPORT ARCHIVES)

Now that the centenary of the Battle of Beersheba is behind us, the focus is on the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. Several Balfour events have already been held, and many more are in the pipeline, especially on the actual date of November 2, but there is some interesting information on the Internet that indicates that the French were ahead of Britain in endorsing Jewish aspirations in the Holy Land.

Neville Teller, on the website of Eurasia Views, writes: “What is not generally known is that Britain’s Balfour Declaration was preceded – and may have been kick-started – by a letter from the head of France’s foreign office, Jules Cambon, issued on the authority of French prime minister Alexandre Ribot.”

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The letter, dated June 4, 1917, addressed to Nahum Sokolov, the secretary- general of the World Zionist Organization, stated: “You kindly explained to me your project to develop Jewish colonization in Palestine.

You believe that, given favorable circumstances, and with the independence of the Holy Places assured, it would be an act of justice and reparation to help in the rebirth, under the protection of the Allied Powers, of Jewish nationality in the land from which the people of Israel were exiled so many centuries ago.

“The French government, which entered the current war to defend a people unjustly attacked, and which continues the struggle to ensure the victory of right over might, can feel nothing but sympathy for your cause, the success of which is linked to that of the Allies.

“I am happy to give you such an assurance.”

■ IN ADDITION to Balfour Declaration events that have been held recently, many more are on the actual anniversary and beyond. Among those on November 2 is a Tel Aviv University lecture series to be held at 2 p.m. at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, 12 Klausner Street, Tel Aviv. Prof. Israel Gershoni of TAU’s department of Middle Eastern and African history will discuss the historical impact of the Balfour Declaration on the Palestinian-Arab-Israeli conflict; and Hagit Katik, a PhD student at the Zvi Yavetz School of Historical Studies, will speak on “A Bible and a Mandate: How the British saw Palestine.”

■ IN THE evening of the same date in Jerusalem, Lord Leslie Turnberg, author of Beyond the Balfour Declaration, will have a conversation on the subject with former Canadian ambassador Vivian Bercovici in the Weizmann Hall of the Jewish Agency compound. The venue was deliberately chosen because of Weizmann’s influence on Balfour.

■ IN ZICHRON Ya’acov, Hitachdut Olei Britannia, the British Immigrants’ Association, is hosting a “Salute to the Balfour Centenary” in a lively entertainment program which features internationally acclaimed Israeli opera singer Goni Knaani. Her repertoire for the evening will not be opera but will evoke nostalgia through favorite Israeli songs dating back from 100 years ago to the present time, with the audience invited to sing along.

The moderator will be actor and singer Simon Shoket. Following a cheese and wine reception, there will be live and recorded videos as well as a webcast that will include messages from various British personalities, such as former chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and Lord Jacob Rothschild, whose great uncle was the recipient of the letter that has become known as the Balfour Declaration.

For further details call Esther Miler, 054-957-4306.

■ ON NOVEMBER 7, the Knesset will hold a special Balfour centenary session, and on November 8, the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association will hold its annual Balfour Dinner at the Tel Aviv Hilton with Lord Rothschild and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.

■ SOME 400 guests last week crowded onto the patio of the residence of Austrian Ambassador Martin Weiss and his wife, Susi, in celebration of Austria’s National Day.

Missing was one of Austria’s favorite emigrant sons, eminent photographer David Rubinger, who passed away in March this year. For more than half a century, Rubinger had been a regular guest at events hosted by a succession of Austrian ambassadors.

So was former Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief Ari Rath, until he decided to return to his native Vienna.

Rath died in January this year in Austria, but was brought back to Israel for burial. Weiss was happily surprised to welcome Likud MK Yehudah Glick, who had married off his son the previous day.

During the afternoon prior to the reception, Weiss and his wife were worried that wind might mar their celebration. A fierce wind almost blew away their tables, but it stopped at precisely 6 p.m. and all was well.

The menu comprised authentic Austrian cuisine schnitzel; apple strudel; Linzer Torte, Kaiserschmarren, and so on, which were washed down with Austrian wines and beer from Salzburg, which is the ambassador’s hometown. He was particularly pleased to be able to provide Stiegl Beer for his guests. The beer had a special connotation for his Jewish guests, given that the company has been in business since 1492.

In welcoming Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who is also strategic affairs minister and public diplomacy minister, Weiss said: “With that kind of portfolio, I can imagine just how busy your schedule must be on every single day. And I suppose that attending national day receptions is probably not on the top of your priority list.”

Weiss has never been afraid to tackle subjects that he labels “the elephant sitting in the middle of the room.” On this occasion the elephant happened to be the recent Austrian elections. “The leader of the largest party in the future Austrian Parliament – and therefore most probably our next federal chancellor – is my current boss, Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz,” he said.

“Much has been made of his youth since he is just 31 years old. But let me tell you: When I was spokesman of the Austrian Foreign Service and he became my minister in 2013, he was just 27 years of age. So by that account, he actually is an old man by now!”

While it is known that five political parties will be represented in the future Austrian Parliament, said Weiss, what is not known is just what the future Austrian Parliament and the future Austrian government will look like. Yet before the completion of negotiations between the political parties and the formation of a new government, there are many concerned questions: Will it be pro- or anti-Europe, anti-foreigners, anti-Muslim? Will it stand strong against antisemitism, as Austrian governments have done in the past? And perhaps most important from an Israeli standpoint, what will this mean for the future of Austria-Israel relations?

Weiss was as reassuring as possible under the circumstances. “All of the latest Austrian polls have shown that in these times of heightened insecurity, support for the European Union is on the increase. Seventy-five percent of all Austrians see our place inside the European Union; not one of the parties represented in the future Austrian Parliament is advocating an ‘Auxit.’ Nor is a single Austrian party demanding that we should leave the eurozone. I believe that any future Austrian government understands what these polls mean.”

A similar picture emerges in the fight against antisemitism, he said.

Quoting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Weiss said: “Austria has done much in recent years to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and to fight against antisemitism.”

All such efforts, Weiss declared, have been supported by every opposition party. Weiss did not try to hide the fact that, notwithstanding government policy, there are places in Austria where antisemitism exists. He wished he could say differently, he said.

He isn’t worried about the future of Austria-Israel relations, which he said have come a long way.

“Austria is today facing up to its own historic responsibility in the Shoah and does not try to hide behind the all too convenient ‘We ourselves were victims of the Nazis’ argument any longer,” he said. Over the past year and a half, said Weiss, he had welcomed the entire Austrian government as well as numerous members of Parliament, because Austrian politicians visit Israel on a regular basis. Bilateral trade relations go from one high to another, said Weiss.

Trade relations go from one high to another, increasing by double-digit figures. The same is true for tourism numbers: “We record double-digit growth rates from one year to the next – as well as for our cultural relations: they are thriving.” Over 340 cultural events have generated a public interest of some 70,000 visitors.

It wasn’t only Salzburg beer that made Weiss think of home. His favorite soccer team is naturally Red Bull Salzburg, which he said had been pretty good over the years – “but something had been missing.”

That something was Munas Dabbur, who used to play for Maccabi Tel Aviv and who still plays for the Israel national soccer team. When Maccabi Tel Aviv let Dabbur go in 2016, he was signed by Salzburg. This year alone, he has scored 11 goals for Salzburg, and he is the top scorer of the Austrian soccer league, said Weiss, observing wryly that no matter what he, the ambassador, can say or do, “no one can contribute to Austrian-Israeli bilateral relations more than the right foot of Munas Dabbur – except for maybe his left foot.”

Erdan was in good spirits, and in addition to saying all the right things politically, congratulating Kurz on his election victory, he said how much he enjoyed skiing in Austria, where he did his best skiing ever.

Afterward, Erdan tweeted that it had been an honor to represent Israel at the Austrian National Day reception and to congratulate Kurz, “a strong friend of Israel, on his election as [Austria’s next] chancellor.”

■ COMMUNICATIONS MINISTER Ayoub Kara has called for a regional peace conference that includes all the countries in the region that are interested in doing away with extremism and fundamentalism.

Kara, who was representing the government at the 94th anniversary celebration of the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey at a reception hosted by Turkish Ambassador Kemal Okem and his wife, said that Turkey could play a very important role in coordinating such a project.

“We all have the same enemy,” said Kara.

The birth of the Republic of Turkey was an important event in the history of the 20th century, Kara continued.

It brought a new, strong economy to the Turkish people and a desire for peace. While relations between Israel and Turkey have had their ups and downs, he said, the two countries don’t have to agree on everything, but should conduct a meaningful dialogue based on trust, respect, understanding and appreciation. He noted that Turkey and Israel are working together to improve the quality of life in third-world countries. He also emphasized the humanitarian aid that Turkey is giving to the people of Gaza, adding that Turkey and Israel have been known to help each other in times of trouble.

Since his arrival in Israel just under a year ago, Okem has been engaging himself in a broad spectrum of Israeli society in order to enhance bilateral contacts and cooperation, he said.

Although Turkey and Israel have had their ups and downs, he acknowledged, economic relations between the two countries have remained strong, with bilateral trade rising from $2.6 billion in 2010 to $4.3b.

last year and peaking to $5.5b. in the interim period. This past May an economic cooperation agreement was signed between the Federation of Israel Chambers of Commerce and the Turkish Exporters Assembly.

Turkish Airlines, he said, transports one million passengers a year from Ben-Gurion Airport, and there are 100 scheduled flights per year between Israel and Turkey. The number of Israeli tourists who visit Turkey is in excess of 300,000.

Okem also spoke of the “centuries- old friendship between the Turkish and Jewish peoples” and said that cultural relations between the two countries could benefit from such relationships.

Prior to mentioning Turkey’s support for peace in the region, Okem referred to the centenary celebrations of the Battle of Beersheba, in which his countrymen were defeated by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, but made the point that a unique friendship had grown out of a tragedy that occurred 100 years ago, and that the centennial program included separate memorial services for Australian, New Zealand and Turkish soldiers who had died in battle.

Turkey will support a just peace with secure and recognized borders between Israel and the Palestinians, said Okem, but stipulated that “both sides bear responsibility to make this happen.”

Guests were entertained by a group of wonderful young Circassian dancers from Kafr Kana. The gracefulness and the nimble footwork of the dancers had people gasping in admiration and applauding with gusto.

The one almost sad aspect of an otherwise very pleasant evening was the fact that Leila Tovi, who has been with the Turkish Embassy for 25 years, is retiring. On announcing this, Okem said that she had given excellent service to both the Turkish Embassy and to Israel.

At the beginning of the formalities, an English translation of the Republic Day address of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was read out.

Toward the tail end, when speaking of peace, Erdogan said “Today, the gate of hope for all the oppressed people and victims in the world is Turkey.

This is the main reason why we are the targets of the bloody terrorist organizations.”

■ AMONG VISITORS to Israel last week were Italian-born Rabbi Benny Zipppel, director of Chabad in Salt Lake City, Utah, and his Canadian- born wife, Sharonne, who’ve been living in the essentially-Mormon capital for 25 years.

Speaking last Thursday night at the Landau family home in Jerusalem’s Talbiyeh neighborhood, Zippel said that in 1992, when he and his wife were first considering their options as Chabad emissaries of the Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, they had several choices which didn’t pan out, and the people at Chabad headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn were getting a little impatient with them and proposed yet another option – Utah.

Neither Zippel nor his wife had ever heard of Utah, but after learning of the challenges there, they decided that they would go if they could get a blessing from the rebbe. But the rebbe was busy, and the time for them to leave was fast approaching. They had already booked their flight tickets.

On the night before they were due to leave, they got a call to come and receive the rebbe’s blessing.

The rebbe collapsed the following day with an illness from which he never recovered and died two years later. Zippel took this as a special sign that his future lay in Utah, where the total Jewish community numbers less than 6,000. The only Orthodox congregation had folded in 1930 after a 15-year stint. The Conservative and Reform congregations also had survival problems and eventually joined forces in 1972 to create the Congregation Kol Ami. But what attracted the Zippels was the fact that Utah has more than 100 of the best possible residential facilities for treating troubled youth, mostly teenagers.

An extraordinarily large number of such youth come from Jewish families who can no longer deal with them or shelter them from the world.

Their backgrounds range from ultra-Orthodox to completely secular.

The most promising solution for turning such youngsters into productive citizens is Utah. But Zippel wanted to make sure that these young people would also get some Jewish content in their lives, and came to arrangements with various institutions whereby he could operate a program for these young Jews and also invite them to his home for Shabbat and Jewish holidays. It was important to him to let them know that there was someone who cared for them outside of their institutional environment.

The name of the program is H.E.A.R.T., which stands for Hebrew Education for At-Risk Teens. One of his “graduates,” now a qualified social counselor living in Jerusalem, was present and testified to the importance of Zippel’s work. Some of the youngsters, when they first meet Zippel, are certain that an Orthodox rabbi would not want to know them.

But Zippel assures them that he is not there to judge them, and that he is convinced that each of them has a beautiful soul. He always tells them that the choice as to whether to join his program is entirely theirs and no one is forcing them. Most eventually join. While in Jerusalem, the Zippels had a reunion with seven young people who had been successfully treated in Utah, and had been part of H.E.A.R.T.

The Zippels established a proper Jewish infrastructure in Utah, in addition to the work of H.E.A.R.T.

Zippel stressed that all the youngsters who are brought to Utah are hurting. “We have to learn to listen to them,” he said, but made the point that there are so many stigmas to overcome. The Zippels have six children whom they homeschooled till eighth grade, and then sent to schools outside of Utah. One of their married children, Avremi, and his wife, Sheina, who are also emissaries in Utah, are the program directors at the Chabad House.

■ WHEN HE’S not talking about food, culinary journalist, author and television personality Gil Hovav lectures on the unifying contribution that his great-grandfather Eliezer Ben-Yehuda made to the Zionist enterprise. Though Jews in Israel and the Diaspora have different political ideologies and different ways of expressing their Judaism, what unites them is Hebrew as a modern, living language.

It was Ben-Yehuda who not only took the language out of mothballs but also invented new words – not all of which took hold. For instance his suggestion for telephone was sah-rahok, which in its closest literal translation means long-distance conversation.

But “telephone” is still one of those foreign words that have found a seemingly permanent niche in the Hebrew language.

Hovav will be speaking about his great-grandfather, and about the correct grammar and pronunciation of Hebrew, at the Khan Theater on Thursday evening, November 2, within the framework of the Khan’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Also appearing on the program will be singer Rona Kenan and actors Yehoyachin Friedlander and Ariel Wolf.

■ THE OFFICIAL memorial ceremonies marking the 22nd anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin will be held at the President’s Residence at 12 noon on Wednesday, and at 3 p.m. President Reuven Rivlin will lay a wreath on Rabin’s tomb on Mount Herzl, and also mark the 17th anniversary of the death of Rabin’s wife, Leah. Rivlin will also deliver a memorial address, as will Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

A Knesset plenum session in memory of Rabin will be held at 5 p.m. Also on Wednesday, at 12:30 p.m., there will be a documentary on Rabin’s assassination, which will be screened at the OU Center in Jerusalem, 22 Keren Hayesod Street.

■ ON SATURDAY night, November 4, there will be a mega-gathering in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv under the auspices of Officers for the Security of Israel and Darkenu. The theme of the gathering is “Yes to Peace, No to Violence.”

Organizers say that they will call for the strengthening of democracy and the weakening of those who are guilty of incitement. Other voices inviting the public to the same event are asking people to come and prove that there is Jewish unity.

■ AT TEL Aviv University on Sunday, November 5, at 12 noon, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and Prof. Dan Lior will discuss Rabin’s personal and national legacy. The event will be held in the auditorium of the Cymbalista Center on the TAU campus.

■ IN JERUSALEM this coming Saturday night, November 4, fans and followers of Shlomo Carlebach, known as “the Singing Rabbi,” will gather at the Jerusalem International Convention Center for the annual memorial concert. Carlebach died on October 20, 1994. His melodies are sung in synagogues around the world, and he is perhaps even more popular today, than he was in his lifetime.

Among the singers will be several who toured with Carlebach in their youth, including Yehudah Katz and Chaim-Dovid Saracik. As children, the Solomon brothers frequently sang with Carlebach when he was in Israel. Other singers on the program include Aharon Razel, Israel Nachman, Yaron Bar, Udi Davidi, Yedidya Meir and Chizki Sofer.

Many of today’s young singers in Israel and abroad try to emulate Carlebach’s style. Sofer fits into that category. His voice is amazingly similar, and, like Carlebach, he often begins by whistling to the strains of his guitar before he actually starts to sing.

Also on the program is the Lehava Orchestra. As often happens at events of this kind, singer-guitarists with a Carlebach repertoire, who happen to be in the audience, spontaneously get up on stage and add to the nostalgic yet lively atmosphere.

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