Grapevine: Remembering Revital

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July 18, 2017 22:28




Avi Balashnikov and Nir Birkat

Avi Balashnikov is embraced by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat at a ceremony on the first anniversary of the death of Balashnikov’s wife, Revital Yahalomi-Balashnikov.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

THERE IS still a question mark hovering over the political future of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. Last week, Avi Balashnikov, the chairman of Jerusalem Capital Studios voiced the wish that Barkat would remain mayor “for another hundred years,” but said that if he happened to become prime minister “we won’t be angry and we all stand behind you.”

In actual fact, Balashnikov was not speaking in his official capacity, nor was he addressing Barkat in his. They were among more than 150 people who had congregated at Jerusalem’s Denmark School to honor former teacher Revital Yahalomi-Balashnikov on the first anniversary of her death. His voice breaking occasionally with tears, Avi Balashnikov, who had been an adviser and held other high-ranking positions with a series of government ministers and Knesset candidates from various political parties, said that his late wife Revital had never supported any of his political activities, but that she had supported Barkat from the very beginning, “because she believed in him. She believed in what he was doing.”

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Barkat and his wife Beverly, who are close friends of the Balashnikov family, said that he had actually met Revital before he met her husband. He had been a rookie local politician and she had come to one of his parlor meetings. After listening to him outline his vision, she said to him, “I can help you.” To someone just starting out in politics those words were magic, said Barkat.

Revital was true to her word. She did help him.

A woman of many talents and facets, Barkat said of her: “Whatever she did, she gave of herself totally. You have to be a very special person to be able to do that.”

He was referring specifically to the Parents’ Patrol of the inner city of Jerusalem, which on Thursday nights is a key target for the youth of the capital. If they are not careful, young people there can get caught up in sexual exploitation, and drug and alcohol abuse. She was able to talk easily to strangers and could always detect a potentially hazardous situation, said Barkat.

A member of the Parents’ Patrol, introduced only as Josh, who spoke in American- accented Hebrew, said that he had often patrolled the city with Revital, who seemed to know everyone and was familiar with all the alleyways. It was great to work with her, he said, because she was completely unafraid and spoke to everyone at eye level.

Aside from Avi Baslashnikov, the first speaker of the evening was Prof. Moshe Ben Asher, the president of the Hebrew Language Academy, who was greatly admired by Revital, who, according to her husband, was extremely pedantic about the proper use of language – not only in Hebrew, but also in English, German and Arabic – all languages in which she was fluent. Balashnikov recalled that she often argued with MK Ahmad Tibi about the use of classical Arabic. Avi Balashnikov has frequently been called upon to lecture in Israel and abroad, and on the occasions that he took his wife with him, she later presented him with a list of all the mistakes he had made in grammar or pronunciation in Hebrew or English.

Revital was also a stickler for punctuality, but Ben Asher said that this time, in view of the number of people who came and kept coming, she would have overlooked the fact that the event started more than half an hour after the designated time.

Ben Asher said that over the years he taught thousands of students, but could remember very few. Of those he did remember, Revital stood out as a lover of Hebrew grammar and vocabulary, and later as a teacher who was aware of all that was happening around her. She was always fighting for her students to get better results. If a student failed to pass an exam, she argued with the authorities to give that student another chance and when she succeeded, the student passed with flying colors.

Aside from reminiscing about Revital Balashnikov on the first anniversary of her death, her family and friends sought to memorialize her through things that were important to her. The Parents’ Patrol was renamed the Revital Balashnikov Parents’ Patrol. A Hebrew language library in her name was established at the Denmark School and a scholarship fund to enable students from economically underprivileged families to go on heritage tours to Poland was also established. The first 12 scholarships were distributed that night.

Revital thought that it was extremely important for students to go to Poland to learn more about the Holocaust and about their heritage as Jews, said Balashnikov, and every year, when student trips to Poland were being organized, his wife would come home and instruct him to write a check, so that some the youngsters who might otherwise miss out could go.

The first year of bereavement is always the hardest, especially for the children, said Balashnikov. Yet despite their grief, his four children Hilla, Hadas, Lihi and Eran had achieved the best scholastic results ever, knowing that their mother in heaven would be proud of their results.

■ ANOTHER mother sorely missed, but still living, in a comatose state is Yaffa (Yeffi) Glick. In Yiddish, Glick means luck or happiness, but in a comprehensive and candid interview in last Friday’s edition of Yediot Aharonot, MK Yehuda Glick revealed just how much bad luck had visited the family, which incredibly remains united, religiously observant and optimistic.

Glick’s wife last month suffered a stroke that caused severe damage to her brain. Glick found her collapsed on the floor of their home and rushed her to hospital, where she has remained unconscious ever since, although occasionally her eyelids flutter and her mouth moves. Either Glick or one or more of their children are constantly at her bedside hoping against hope for a miracle.

■ NOT EVERY minister is willing to represent the government and people of Israel at the national day receptions of foreign diplomatic missions in Israel. It’s supposed to work on a roster system, whereby if a minister is assigned and can’t for whatever reason fulfill the obligation, it is his or her responsibility to find a replacement minister. Thus the ever-willing Communications Minister Ayoub Kara is among the most frequently seen ministers at such events. It was therefore no surprise to see him at the Bastille Day celebration at the French residence.

In the years in which he was president and before that a minister, Shimon Peres made it business to attend Bastille Day receptions and did so even after he was no longer president. Then it was just a neighborly visit, because the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation is just down the road from the French residence in Jaffa. Indeed, French Ambassador Helen le Gal, in her address at the Bastille Day reception that she hosted last Thursday, referred to the long and special relationship that Peres had with France for which he had great affection.

Speaking in a mix of Hebrew, French and English, and not necessarily saying the same in one language as she did in another, Le Gal noted what was then the upcoming meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and French President Emmanuel Macron and predicted that this would lead to fresh impetus in the bilateral relationship in which there is already close cooperation in many fields.

Noting that Israel will celebrate its 70th anniversary next year, Le Gal said that France’s salute to these celebrations would be by way of an avalanche of French cultural events in Israel. She also reiterated France’s support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the hope that through dialogue, there would two states existing side by side in peace and harmony in the near future.

Kara said that French culture had always been a source of inspiration. As far as cooperation is concerned, he spoke of France and Israel being “in the same boat” in the fight against terrorism. “We must cooperate more closely for the protection of our citizens” he said in English and Hebrew, as he spoke of the growing threat sponsored by Iran and Hezbollah, and the increasing violence in the region. Saying that he was proud of the achievements of the start-up nation, Kara also noted bilateral co-operation in scientific research and innovation and said that there was still a great deal of potential that should be realized in the near future.

“The challenges are great,” he said, “but so are the opportunities.”

Even though that the diplomatic community had been invited to the opening that night of the Jerusalem Film festival, the ambassadors of Germany, Kenya, Liberia, Slovenia, Rwanda, Belgium, Spain, Sweden and Ireland opted for the French reception, despite the extreme humidity, which they would not have experienced in Jerusalem’s cool night breezes. Also seen mingling on the lawn were Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai and best-selling author A.B. Yehoshua.

Israel has a great affinity for both France and the United States, and the Israeli media tends to give extensive coverage to the national days of each. Just prior to Bastille Day, Le Gal was interviewed by Israel Hayom’s Erez Linn, to whom she said, “We completely understand the Jewish French people who want to come and live in Israel.”

In the same interview she said that President Macron shares the view of former Prime Minister Manuel Valls that “France without Jews is not France.” She reminded Linn that Jews are part of French history and that France under Napoleon had been the first country in Europe to recognize the status of the Jews. Le Gal was also interviewed twice on Kan Radio – once entirely in French by Emanuelle Adda and Caroll Azoulay; and once on Kan Culture in French and Hebrew by Goel Pinto, whom she told that culture and philosophy are part of the French DNA.

France was also honored by celebrity chef Haim Cohen, who added French delicacies such as brioche, terrine, fish in bouillabaisse sauce and éclairs to his menu for a whole week and invited Le Gal to come and sample them.

On the day after her reception, on the actual date of Bastille Day, Le Gal tweeted “terror again in the Old City of #Jerusalem.

My thoughts and France’s solidarity.”

■ EVER SINCE Friday, Israelis following news broadcasts on radio, television or on line have learned the names of two young Druse policemen – Staff Sgts. Maj. Hail Stawi, 30, and Kamil Shnaan, 22 – who were killed by terrorists on Friday while on duty at Al-Aksa Mosque.

Politicians from different parties went to their funerals, without having known them or their families. The president and the prime minister issued statements about their loyalty and bravery. The media featured front-page photos of them and various dignitaries talked about blood ties and life ties.

Actually the relationship started centuries ago with Jethro and Moses. Yet for all the military sacrifices of the Druse community, the promises made to them are not kept. Druse spiritual leader Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif, who was interviewed this week on Kan Reshet Bet, said that the government is turning young Druse families into criminals because it is not providing them with land that was promised, so Druse are building homes illegally on state land because there isn’t sufficient room in Druse villages.

There have been land agreements between the government and the Druse, but such agreements were never implemented. Streets haven’t been paved, and there are other communal needs that the government simply ignores. The Druse are not afraid to speak their minds. Rafik Halabi, the mayor of Daliat al-Carmel and former prize-winning television reporter, wrote on his Facebook that he was disappointed by the lack of proper response of the Arab leadership to terrorists shooting out of al-Aksa.

■ JUST AS Ladino is only a part of Sephardi culture, so Yiddish is only a part of Ashkenazi culture. There was a time when Yiddish was outlawed by David Ben Gurion, who revived it from time to when traveling abroad to schnor, but in Israel it was a no-no. That may be the reason why Yiddish was for so long the key thrust in the preservation of Ashkenazi culture.

However, after Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev went on an all-out campaign to promote Sephardi culture, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett established the Biton Committee for the advancement of Mizrahi culture in the education system, some of the well-known Yiddishists began to fly the banner for Ashkenazi culture. They wrote to Bennett to express their frustrations and to ask for equal treatment. Unfortunately, just as there is gender inequality, there is also cultural inequality, and needless to say, no effort was made by the Education Ministry in that direction.

So the proponents for Ashkenazi culture established Forum 21 to explore Ashkenazi identity; to preserve the Ashkenazi legacy; to fight those who seek to delegitimize Ashkenazi culture; and to combat those who distort Ashkenazi culture in the media and elsewhere. In the forefront of the battle to hoist the Ashkenazi flag is composer and pianist Daniel Galay, who also happens to be the director of Leyvik House in Tel Aviv, which for years has been hosting Ashkenazi events.

The upcoming meeting of Forum 21 is on Thursday, July 20 at 6 p.m. at Leyvik House, 30 Dov Hoss St., Tel Aviv.

■ HER FAVORITE enemy: Despite the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, on a person-to-person level there are many friendships or close acquaintanceships born out of admiration of one for the qualities of the other.

Former MK Yael Dayan has more than once described Hanan Ashrawi as “my favorite enemy.” The erudite Ashrawi, a long-time spokesperson for the Palestinians, has several times been elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council. She rose to prominence in 1988 after participating in a television show in which she debated an Israeli. Before that she was a relatively anonymous professor of English Literature at Bir Zeit University.

There are many Israelis who share Dayan’s admiration for Ashrawi as a brilliant spokesperson and as a courageous woman, but any relationship between Dayan and Ashrawi cannot equal that of Dayan’s mother, Ruth Dayan, and Raymonda Tawil, the motherin- law of Yasser Arafat. Their relationship goes back all the way to the immediate aftermath of the Six Day War. Even though Dayan lives in Tel Aviv and Tawil in Malta, they remain friends – and enemies.

■ ALTHOUGH Israel’s only female prime minister, Golda Meir, had asked that nothing be named after her, her wish was not heeded and among the places that bear her name are streets in Holon, Haifa and Herzliya; the Golda Meir Boulevard in Jerusalem; the Golda Meir International Training Center on Mount Carmel; and TAPAC, the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center.

But all that doesn’t satisfy Meir’s grandsons Shaul Rahabi and Gideon Meir, who think their grandmother deserves the same kind of recognition as has been accorded to David Ben Gurion, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Levi Eshkol, in whose memories there are edifices in which their respective contributions to the state are well documented. Yet there is no museum or center documenting what Golda did for equality, justice, women’s rights and more.

During her term as Israel’s minister of labor, she was instrumental in establishing the National Insurance Institute. In 1957, as foreign minister, she established Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation (MASHAV), which strives to share with the developing world Israel’s experience, know-how and technologies with the aim of promoting sustainable development, social equity and the empowerment of women.

The year 2018, in addition to marking Israel’s 70th anniversary, will also mark the 120th anniversary of Golda’s birth and the 40th anniversary of her death.

During her term as Israel’s minister of labor, she was instrumental in establishing the National Insurance Institute, promoting equality and the rights of women. In 1957, as foreign minister, she established Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, which shares Israel’s experience, know-how and technologies with the developing world with the aim of promoting sustainable development, social equity and the empowerment of women.

The Golda Meir Institute for Leadership and Society, (GMILS), a recently established NGO, came into being to commemorate the anniversaries of Gold Meir’s birth and death, and to establish the Golda Meir Center, which will provide an important look at her life and achievements. In preserving her heritage, the center will provide insight into an important era in the history of the State of Israel and how it became a model for social justice and equality.

The Golda Meir Center will strive to promote women’s leadership in society, economy, culture and politics; encourage research and discourse of the leadership of women in politics; encourage research and discourse of the welfare state: economic and social equality, workers’ rights, affordable living, housing and more; encourage research and discourse of Israel’s quest for peace and security; diplomacy, international relations and the strengthening of relations with Diaspora Jewry.

■ ALTHOUGH THE hue and cry deriving from suspicions of corruption related to Israel’s German submarine purchase may have died down by the time President Reuven Rivlin goes to Germany on September 5, it is unlikely that the German media will desist from questioning him about it.

■ ALUMNI OF the Prime Minister’s Office may find that life is not so hectic after they leave – but nonetheless there is life. Vered Swid, who previously headed the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women, which is part of the Prime Minister’s Office, is continuing her work on a private basis. She is moving around the country teaching women’s leadership courses to women in different communities, teaching them initially how to balance career and family responsibilities, and moving forward from there. She’s established an Ethiopian Women’s Leadership Group, and says that some of the women in the group are potential legislators who really have what it takes.

■ MORE THAN 100 athletes aged 6 to 60 crowded onto Haifa’s Leonardo Beach last Thursday. All were wearing a karate gi, the white training suit in which martial arts students practice their skills. All were participants in the Martial Arts Festival and all are practitioners of Budo for Peace, which uses the principles of traditional martial arts (restraint, determination, respect) for bringing together and bridging populations in Israel.

At the start of the event, the participants enjoyed traditional Japanese drumming, after which there were brief addresses by the chairman and founder of the Budo for Peace, Association Danny Hakim, former Israel ambassador to Japan Eli Cohen, Japanese ambassador to Israel, Koji Tomita and Nir Shaul, head of the sports department in the Haifa Municipality.

“It was not for nothing that we came to hold the training in Haifa,” said Hakim. “Haifa, which is a model of co-existence, is a wonderful mixed city for the three faiths, and in practice upholds what our association wants to promote throughout the country – respect, values, partnerships, restraint and patience.”

Afterward, Cohen, who is as close to being a Samurai as a non-Japanese can be, presented an amazing performance with a special and valuable sword, that he has been carrying for many years. A founding member of Budo for Peace, Cohen said that he met Hakim at the Maccabiah event exactly 40 years ago. Then the two arrived as athletes from different teams. Hakim won the bronze medal with the Australian team (and since then made aliya) and Cohen won a gold medal for the Israeli team.

The relationship between the two has passed the test of time, and 14 years ago they decided to use the skills and knowledge they had accumulated over the years in Japanese martial arts to promote peaceful and cooperative activities between people of different faiths, nationalities and ethnic backgrounds.

Next, all the guests went to the beach, where passer-by, swimmers and Maccabiah athletes came together and began mass training under sensei Rubin Arkia, a black belt and senior instructor in Budo.

■ POLITICALLY THEY’RE at odds, but Bayit Yehudi MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On and Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie are in perfect accord over the need to establish a national plan to eradicate prostitution and rehabilitate sex workers. If a bill to this effect is passed, it will all but eliminate the world’s oldest profession – at least as far as Israel is concerned. Although the intentions of the MKs are good, not all the practitioners of the profession in question are pleased with what may become the new status quo.

Not all prostitutes are the victims of pimps who make their lives miserable. Some are totally independent, as was the case with one that called a radio station and said that if the bill is passed, she will be deprived of an income. She said that there were others in her sorority in the same quandary. What she didn’t say is that there are more than enough incidents of rape and pedophilia even when men can go to a prostitute. Once this option is no longer available, the libido might become hyper and the incidence of rape may soar.

greerfc@gmail.com


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