Grapevine: Not the Israel they fought for or dreamed of

The who's who of Israel news.

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February 1, 2018 21:13
A PANEL discussion at the Knesset on Tuesday.

A PANEL discussion at the Knesset on Tuesday featured (from left) JTS Chancellor Prof. Arnold Eisen, Yizhar Hess, MK Isaac Herzog, Rabbi Alan Silverst.ein and Rabbi Mauricio Balter. (photo credit: TWITTER)

Peace activist, author, journalist and former MK Uri Avnery knew national poet Haim Gouri personally from when they both fought in the War of Independence, and having read the other’s writings, the two were aware of each other before that. Avnery was interviewed Wednesday night by Kan 11 news anchor Geula Even. Avnery, who is a month older than Gouri was and whoi shared his political views, remains the flag-bearer of the peace movement. “The Israel of today is not the Israel that we fought for and dreamed of,” he told Even, who is married to former minister Gideon Sa’ar, who will vie for the Likud leadership in the next elections. In the event that he wins and is tasked by the president on the recommendation of other parties to form a government, there still won’t be peace with the Palestinians, because Sa’ar is not in favor of a two-state solution. Avnery said that although he and Gouri dearly love and loved the Land of Israel, they believed that it should be shared “with the other people living here.”

■ AMONG THOSE synagogues that usually have a good Shabbat attendance is Jerusalem’s Kehillat Moreshet Israel, the flagship synagogue of Israel’s Conservative movement.

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On Tuesday night, the eve of Tu Bishvat, it had a bumper attendance, largely comprised of alumni of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. JTS Chancellor Prof. Arnold Eisen came from New York to participate in a prize-giving ceremony, appear on a panel discussion on religious pluralism that took place in the Knesset, and take part in the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel. At the award ceremony, he talked with one of the honorees, Prof. Eli Lederhendler, a professor of American Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The two discussed relations between American Jews and Israel and the contribution of American Jews to Israel. The current crisis in relations notwithstanding, Lederhendler made the point that plaques with names of American Jewish donors can be found in every Israeli university, public library, hospital, Jewish National Fund project and numerous other institutions in Israel. In addition, American Jews come to Israel for all kinds of supplementary courses.

His own contribution to Israel he said was four children and three grandchildren.

Eisen said there were three kinds of American Jews: those who choose to live in Israel, those who choose not to, and those like him who immigrated and then had decided to go back to America. However, he is a frequent visitor to Israel.

In addition to Lederhendler, who was the recipient of the Solomon Schechter award, the other honorees were Rabbi Reuven Hammer, who received the Rabbi Louis Finkelstein award, and Debbie Perla, who received the Salman Z. Schocken Award, which Prof.

Shmuel Glick the director of the JTS Schocken Institute located directly opposite the side entrance to the Prime Minister’s Residence, said was being awarded for the first time and was being presented by Schocken’s granddaughter Racheli Edelman, who heads Schocken Publishing House. Incidentally, the deserted building next door to the Prime Minister’s Residence before it became a music academy and a school for newly religious, was the private Schocken home, as was the JTS Schocken Institute.

There’s a certain irony in the fact that the Prime Minister’s Residence is sandwiched between two former Schocken residences in that Ha’aretz, the paper published by Amos Schocken is arguably the most consistently anti-Benjamin Netanyahu publication in the country, unless one counts Ben Caspit’s column in Maariv. Incidentally, Caspit has just published a book about Netanyahu. But back to the JTS awards: Perla, a lawyer, who lives on Kibbutz Hanaton in Northern Israel, the kibbutz of the Masorti movement, expressed her thanks to the IDF for allowing two of her children who are currently doing their army service, to attend the ceremony.

Hammer, a prolific writer of books and essays, and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post weekend Magazine, has held almost every high position in the Masorti movement in Israel, but was not included amongst the speakers for the evening, which he said was probably a good thing. However he did make a brief acceptance speech in which he recalled the wonderful years that he had spent as a student at JTS in New York where Rabbi Louis Finkelstein had been one of his teachers along with fellow giants such as Mordechai Kaplan and Abraham Joshua Heschel, among others.

Hammer said that he had learned a lot from them as well as from fellow students, five of which, himself included, had made aliya and remain good friends to this day.

He was particularly pleased to be awarded the Finkelstein Prize, he said, because he had not only been Finkelstein’s student, but also his research assistant. When Hammer had begun studying for his third degree and had opted for theology, Finkelstein, who headed the theology classes, was hesitant, because even though the institution was called the Jewish Theological Seminary, it had never given a doctorate in theology. But after rethinking the situation, Finkelstein, agreed to allow Hammer to pursue his chosen course, as a result of which Hammer was the first JTS student to receive a doctorate in theology.

■ ADVANCE COPIES of Ronen Bergman’s 726-page book Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations were sent by Random House to editors of English-language publications in different parts of the world as well as to prominent and prize-winning authors who write on similar themes. Comments such as “astonishing,” “tremendous reporting,” “absolutely revelatory,” “a real live thriller” were among the comments from fellow writers. Bergman, who writes for Yediot Aharonot and The New York Times Magazine on intelligence, national security, terrorism and nuclear issues, is an acknowledged export on Mossad about which he has written extensively.

This, his latest book, took almost eight years of research and was officially launched this week.

Running from the dawn of statehood to the present era, the book includes never-before-reported, behind-the-curtain accounts of key operations, along with hundreds of on-the-record interviews (Bergman met with some 1,000 sources in 20 countries) and thousands of files to which he obtained exclusive access.

Bergman was pleasantly surprised by former Mossad Chief Tamir Pardo who wrote “Bergman’s ability to reach sources inside Western intelligence communities is amazing (and, I must say, also a little disturbing).” Small wonder that he found it to be “the most impressive book” that he had seen on the subject.

Readers who tend to look at Israel through rose-colored glasses, will be shocked to discover not so pleasant chapters in the histories of well-known Israeli figures. Yet for all that, the book, despite being fact and not fiction, is definitely a page-turner.

■ TU BISHVAT, one of those Jewish holidays on which all regular activities are permitted, proved to be yet another reason for Jews and Christian Zionists to get together.

During the two days leading up to Tu Bishvat, the New Year for trees, and incidentally the anniversary date for the establishment of the Knesset, more than 100 Christians from around the globe donated upwards of $10,000 to “plant trees in the Holy Land and be blessed.”

So says Rabbi Tuly Weisz, founder and CEO of Israel365, whose philanthropic fund spearheaded these efforts.

Weisz, together with Jewish and Christian friends planted olive trees in the West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin and in the Jewish section of Hebron.

“Our Christian tree-donors are not only looking to help fulfill biblical prophecy, but to strengthen the Jewish presence throughout the Land of Israel,” said Weisz.

“Christian donors were told that the rabbi would pray for and bless them during the tree-planting ceremonies.

He not only did that, he allowed them to see it for themselves by broadcasting it live on Facebook.

When Evangelical Christians started donating funds to Israel 35 years ago, their money was not always welcomed, their motives were questioned and even today are still questioned in some circles.

But by and large the commitment and contributions of Christian Zionists to Israel’s well-being are now widely accepted. Christian Zionists annually pour hundreds of millions of dollars into Israeli causes and projects including for settlement expansion.

“Tears welled up in my eyes and I bowed my head down in prayer,” said Beth Madras, a Christian Zionist supporter from New York, after seeing her name read at the planting on Facebook. “I love Israel and Jerusalem with all my heart and I pray for the people every day... I will be sure to do this year after year after year....”

■ ON TUESDAY evening in his late-night current-affairs radio program on Kan Reshet Bet, Yaakov Eichler interviewed former Knesset Speakers Szewach Weiss and Dan Tichon. Neither was particularly happy about the current state of affairs in Israel’s legislature.

The usually garrulous Weiss, who is also a former Israel ambassador to his native Poland, decided to maintain diplomatic discretion, and refrained from making any specific criticism, but Tichon had fewer qualms and said that he was ashamed of how the Knesset has deteriorated, and the lack of respect by some legislators for the institution in which they serve.

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