Grapevine: Remembering and reassessing

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November 22, 2016 19:47

POLISH PRIME Minister Beata Szydlo, who arrived in Israel on Monday evening, with a group of ministers from her government, had dinner with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.




Beata Szydlo

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, greet Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, who had dinner with them at their residence in Jerusalem on Monday night.. (photo credit:GPO)

 ■ TEL AVIV University, in conjunction with Yad Vashem, will this coming Thursday pay tribute to the memory of Elie Wiesel, widely referred to as the “conscience of humanity” for drawing world attention to the sufferings of victims of the Holocaust (of which he was one himself), persecution in the Soviet Union and all other places of repression, oppression and genocide. Wiesel, who died in July, was the voice of morality and human rights through his lectures and writings.

At 2:30 p.m. the film First Person will be screened at TAU’s Cymbalista Center for Jewish Heritage, and books authored by Wiesel will be on sale. At 4 p.m. Rabbi Menachem Hacohen will open an exhibition under the title of “The Legacy of Elie Wiesel,” and from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. a series of speakers will discuss what Wiesel gave to the world and how this should be preserved. Among the speakers will be Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who is himself a Holocaust survivor and chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, and Dr. Yoel Rappel, who is the founder and director of the Elie Wiesel archive at Boston University.

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■ POLISH PRIME Minister Beata Szydlo, who arrived in Israel on Monday evening, with a group of ministers from her government, had dinner soon afterward with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, at the Prime Minister’s Residence. They were joined by Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski.

Prior to the start of the government to government meeting at the David Citadel Hotel on Tuesday morning, Szydlo and some of her entourage attended mass at the Franciscan church in the Old City; and following the meeting, the signing of agreements, the making of statements to the media, and eating lunch, they went to Yad Vashem, and from there went on tour of the Old City, visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall. Altogether, the Polish prime minister spent over 26 hours in Israel before returning to Warsaw. It’s amazing what can be achieved in a single day.

Polish ambassador Jacek Chodorowicz, who accompanied his prime minister’s entourage, and has been to Yad Vashem on several occasions, had a more poignant Holocaust history experience on Sunday when he attended the funeral of Pnina Greenspan Frimer, 95, one of the last of the fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt, who managed to escape through the sewers to the forests. Chodorowicz, who is himself a native of Warsaw, makes a point of attending the funerals of Holocaust heroes. Earlier this year, he attended the funeral of Samuel Willenberg, a hero of the Treblinka Revolt, who died in February at age 93. Among the mourners at Greenspan Frimer’s funeral was her granddaughter, who came in army uniform and serves in a unit dedicated to combating terrorism.

■ LAST WEEK, in the course of a lecture that he gave at Tel Aviv University’s The Ambassador’s Forum, Chodorowicz was asked by a young political science student about Poland’s views on Turkey’s attempts to gain accession to the European Union. Chodorowicz confessed to being somewhat embarrassed because the student was unaware that the person sitting next to her was Greek Ambassador Konstantinos Bikas. Greece and Turkey are not exactly bosom buddies, but Bikas grinned and said that he would discuss that at another time, leaving the coast clear for Chodorowicz to say that Poland had initially supported Turkey’s inclusion.

■ LITHUANIAN AND Israeli diplomats, academics, and government officials, together with representatives of Litvak organizations in Israel, the American Jewish Committee, the World Jewish Congress and the Tel Aviv Municipality, will congregate on Thursday at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation to discuss Lithuania and Israel – Past, Present and Future. Among the Lithuanians will be Lithuanian Ambassador Edminas Bagdonas, Ronaldas Racinkas, executive director of the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania; Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community; and several other Lithuanian dignitaries. Among the topics tabled for discussion is the reinstatement of Lithuanian citizenship to Lithuanian expatriates living in Israel.

■ TO MARK the 16th anniversary of the death of his wife, Anni, to whom he was married for more than half a century, veteran photojournalist and Israel Prize laureate David Rubinger, 92, who has documented the history of modern Israel, posted a poignant message to her on his Facebook page. “Anni, it is 16 years today since you left us. I met you, a Holocaust survivor from the Riga Ghetto, 70 years ago in the Stutthof extermination camp. You had lost your father and brother.

“If you had not left us, you could look around you today in joy. Two children, five grandchildren, five great-grandchildren – all fabulous. Wow!!! You could say to yourself in wonder, ‘I created all this....’”

Vienna-born David Rubinger was a soldier in the British Army when he met Anni, who happened to be his first cousin. Like so many Jewish soldiers living in what was then Palestine, he offered to marry her fictitiously so that she could enter the country legally. The British Mandate authorities were turning other Holocaust survivors away and deporting them to Cyprus. The fictitious marriage became a long-term fact, until Anni’s death in November 2000.

She had been David’s helper and his most honest critic. It was she who decided that his iconic photograph of three soldiers at the Western Wall was the best out of all the photographs he had shot of the reunification of Jerusalem. Rubinger had chosen something else, but Anni had the more historically sensitive eye.

■ AT A time when there is increasing discussion about recognizing and honoring Jews who saved other Jews during the Holocaust, a sterling example of one such man can be seen this week at the Jerusalem House of Quality. Aron Grunhut was a Slovak goose liver merchant from Bratislava who in 1939 organized a mass escape to the Land of Israel, and thereby was able to save more than 1,300 people who might otherwise have perished in the Holocaust. In order to obtain permission for them to enter British Mandate-ruled Palestine legally, he undertook some clandestine activity at the behest of the former British consul to Bratislava, and risked his own life doing so. But getting permits for his passengers was worth the effort. He also participated in the rescue of Jewish children from Bratislava who were evacuated by train to London and survived the war in England.

During the Holocaust period, Grunhut joined the Jewish resistance movement and hid fellow Slovaks, both Jews and non-Jews, who were targets for the cruelest forms of persecution, saving them from deportation and providing them with material and financial assistance. The irony was that although he employed very unorthodox methods to rescue Jews from certain death, even to the extent of making deals with certain Nazi officers, the Jewish community leadership did not trust him, and even tried to have him arrested.

After the war he migrated to Israel and became a guardian of the cultural heritage of the Slovak Jewish community. The Slovak Embassy, Slovak National Museum, Museum of Jewish Culture, Jerusalem House of Quality and members of his family have organized an exhibition dedicated to Grunhut. Relatives and friends of survivors who sailed to Haifa on the cargo ship Noemi Julia will be among those attending the opening, together with Slovak Ambassador Peter Hulenyi, on Thursday at 6 p.m. Grunhut died in 1974.

■ THE PROBLEMS of Israelis who are affiliated work-wise with public broadcasting are being taken up by colleagues abroad. Howard A. Rodman, the president of the Writers Guild of America West, a union of 8,000 television, film and digital media writers, has written to Netanyahu to express solidarity with the Scriptwriters Guild of Israel in its fight to preserve public broadcasting.

Rodman notes that SGI has fought for many years for the creation of a free and independent public broadcaster, and that the Israel Broadcasting Corporation, which Netanyahu is trying to dismantle, is the result of a law passed by the government only last year. “This action threatens free speech and the livelihoods of those who tell Israel’s stories,” he writes, adding that WGAW joins SGI’s call to end the campaign to eliminate the public broadcaster. “A democratic society requires a media free from government censorship,” writes Rodman, whose closing sentence states: “Writers around the world are watching, and we will do everything we can to support our Israeli brothers and sisters.”

Noble though the letter may seem, it begs the question whether Rodman is aware of the whole story, which includes Netanyahu’s declaration that he wants to rehabilitate the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which is a public broadcaster. Admittedly, there have been numerous attempts by both left- and rightwing administrations to politicize the IBA, but these attempts have by and large not succeeded, and have been directed more at management than at actual broadcasters.

■ APROPOS PUBLIC Broadcasting, the IBA is recruiting new/old talent with amazing energy and enthusiasm, considering that its future as an entity is on the line. Quite a number of celebrities, mostly entertainers, have also become program hosts. The latest to join the lineup of performers hosting late night shows on radio is singer Yehudit Ravitz, who, beginning this week, will host a Wednesday night show from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Radio 88 FM. Other star performers who have presented programs include Kobi Aflalo, Alon Oleartchik, Shlomo Idov, Shlomo Gronich, Riki Gal, Si Heyman, Yaniv D’Or, Baruch Friedland, Etti Ankri, Maor Cohen, Ninet Tayeb, Rona Kenan, Eran Zur and Sharon Moldovi.

■ MANY ICONIC figures disappear from universal and even national consciousness after their demise. Not so Shimon Peres, who simply will not go away, possibly because of the broad range of his influence on so much that happened and is still happening in Israel. Last week he featured strongly in a riveting documentary and intriguing history lesson about David Ben-Gurion that was shown on Channel 1. This week, he will be one of the interviewees in a revived four-episode special of the Friday night talk show of the 1980s Siba Lamesiba, hosted by Rivka Michaeli, who in an interview with Yediot Aharonot last weekend said that Peres had cooperated magnificently, even though it was a long and tiring day. But she had noticed that his voice was very weak.

Actually his voice had been weak for years, even when he was president. It was so weak that in the course of an interview in his office, a recording device on the coffee table in front of him failed to pick up much of what he said. Most of the time, in appearances before the public, he spoke through a microphone, so few people realized how weak his voice was.

On December 5 he will be the subject of an Animix exhibition in Migdal Ha’emek curated by Animix art director Nissim Hizkiyahu. Peres, in his many public service roles over the years, was a frequent subject for cartoonists, who interpreted the ups and downs in his career and sometimes mocked his fantasies, which in the course of time became realties, as scientists took up the challenges of his fertile brain. The exhibition at the Migdal Ha’emek community center will be on view December 5-7.

Peres’s name will continue to crop up in matters related to Israel’s defense industries, the nuclear facility in Dimona, nanotechnology, brain research, innovation and much more. Meanwhile, various dignitaries from abroad continue to visit the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, and organizations and institutions continue to hold events there. Any publicity that such events receive will include the venue, thereby keeping the Peres name in the public eye.

There is little doubt that in the coming year or two, a Peres street or freeway will be dedicated in his memory, as is the case with all former presidents, though there was a problem with president Chaim Herzog, because there were already streets and facilities named for his father, who had been Israel’s first chief rabbi. So the street in Jerusalem, in the neighborhood built on land formerly occupied by the Foreign Ministry, is called Sixth President Street rather than Herzog Street. There was a similar problem with Israel’s seventh president, Ezer Weizman, because there were already streets named for his uncle Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s first president.

The Peres interview with Michaeli, which was the last that he gave other than that which he gave to his son Chemi on the day of his collapse, will be aired this coming Friday night.

■ THERE IS likely to be a lot of humor bantered around the table when President Reuven Rivlin hosts a state dinner next Monday night for Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, who used to be a television comedian appearing with brother Sammy. An Evangelical Christian, Morales holds degrees in business administration and theology. Rivlin is known for his sharp sense of humor and his one-line cracks, and before becoming speaker of the Knesset participated in television programs in which he wisecracked his way. If the two presidents allow themselves to be totally informal and to compete for the laughter of the guests, it should be a great fun night for everyone.

There is an especially warm place for Guatemala in Israel’s history, and it is no coincidence that Morales will be in Israel on the 69th anniversary of the passing of the United Nations resolution on the partition of Palestine. Dr. Jorge García-Granados, who was his country’s ambassador to the United Nations and a member of the United Nations Special Committee for Palestine, which looked into the possibility and wisdom of territorial partition, was the first member of UNSCOP to vote in favor of partition, thus paving the way for the creation of the State of Israel. Following the partition vote in the UN General Assembly, on November 29, 1947, Guatemala was the first Latin American country to recognize Israel, and in 1956 was the first country to open an embassy in Jerusalem, with García-Granados as the first ambassador.

Bowing to Arab oil pressure, Guatemala, which was one of the last embassies to move out of Jerusalem, announced in September 1980 that it was transferring its embassy to Tel Aviv. Even though the embassy moved from Jerusalem, there is a Guatemala Street in the capital.

Guatemala is the first Central American country to have a Holocaust museum, which will be officially opened in early 2017. Meanwhile it is hosting temporary exhibitions, the first of which, by Israeli artist Mira Maylor, was opened last week and attended by Ambassador Moshe Bachar.

■ IT’S NOT unusual for luxury hotels to have more than one major function at any given time, but it’s not easy when the same person has to oversee both, as was the case with Sheldon Ritz, director of operations at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Last Friday night he had to oversee a dinner attended by Canadian Ambassador-designate Deborah Lyons and the 120-member Canadian economic mission to Israel headed by Toronto Mayor John Tory and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre; and at the same time, in another room, a dinner for the Australian Cyber Trade Delegation led by Philip Dalidakis, Victorian minister for innovation, trade & small business.

All the Australians, including expats who were present, were from the State of Victoria, which last week strengthened its position as a cybersecurity hub by signing two Memoranda of Understanding with Tel Aviv University’s Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center, which will work in partnership and share resources with Victoria’s new Oceania Cybersecurity Center.

Among the Israeli guests were former national security adviser Yaakov Amidror, who was the guest speaker, and Middle East expert and Channel 2 commentator Ehud Yaari. Both were in Australia earlier in the month to participate in the Australia-Israel Strategic Dialogue, and were also the guests of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. On Friday night Amidror and his wife, Dorith, were also celebrating the birth of their sixth grandchild.

All trade missions and other delegations whose Israel itineraries are arranged by the Israel-Australia Chamber of Commerce spend their last Friday night in the country in Jerusalem and attend services either at the Western Wall or the Jerusalem Great Synagogue, even though the majority of participants are not Jewish. The Friday night dinner is a traditional one, with kiddush and ritual hand-washing, and an explanation by a rabbi or a religiously observant Jew as to the meaning of Shabbat.

Amidror was there in a dual capacity. As an observant Jew, he explained the intricacies of Shabbat and how religious Jews desist not only from driving their cars but also from using their phones. He also devoted a few remarks to the history and development of the Mishna. Later he talked about cybersecurity, Israel’s leadership in this field, and the three main threats confronting Israel. He is very much in favor of Israel cooperating with Australia on cybersecurity, saying: “If the good guys don’t cooperate, the bad guys will win.” The three immediate threats to Israel, he said, are Iran, the radical NGOs in the region and the rocket buildup and capability of Hezbollah and Hamas.

Dalidakis happens to be Yaari’s nephew, or more accurately the nephew of Yaari’s Australian wife, Dagmar Strauss.

■ FROM TIME to time The Jerusalem Post publishes articles supplied by The Media Line news agency, whose reporters cover most of the region. TML president and CEO Felice Friedson was in Washington, DC, earlier this month to receive an award from America Abroad Media (AAM), presented to her by Atlantic Media chairman David Bradley, in recognition of her work with the late Steven Joel Sotloff, the second American journalist brutally murdered by Islamic State in 2014.

Accepting the award along with Sotloff’s parents, co-honorees Art and Shirley Sotloff, Friedson told the guests assembled at the Andrew Mellon Auditorium how Sotloff, frustrated by the seeming lack of interest in the West about what was fomenting in Syria and other parts of the Middle East, refused to be deterred. Friedson, who mentored Sotloff, was one of the last Americans to speak to the young journalist before he crossed into Syria via the Turkish border and was abducted by Islamic State. He was held captive for a year before he was horrifically murdered.

Also honored at the event were the Saudi entertainer Nasser al-Qasabi for his courageous parodies of Islamic State; Saad Mohseni, an owner of Afghanistan’s TOLO television, which lost seven employees killed by the Taliban; Rep. Ed Royce (R-California) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-New York) for their work in furthering America’s broadcast presence in the Middle East; and the television series Homeland, which was represented by executive producer Howard Gordon, producer Chip Johannessen and actress Miranda Otto. AAM founder Aaron Lobel praised the honorees for their ongoing promotion of the free exchange of ideas, fostering critical thinking and empowering self-governing of citizens worldwide. The organization’s work exemplifies the power of media to inform and educate citizens in real time about critical social and public policy issues.

■ CHICAGO MAYOR Rahm Emanuel, who served in the White House under both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, has joined other big-city mayors who, in defiance of President-elect Donald Trump’s intention to deport illegal immigrants, have declared that their bailiwicks will remain “sanctuary cities.” At a media conference last week, Emanuel, surrounded by immigration activists, legislators and business leaders, pledged to all those who were nervous after the November 8 elections that they would be safe and secure in Chicago. In May 2010, Emanuel, who was then White House chief of staff, brought his family to Jerusalem to celebrate the bar mitzva of his son, Zach, at the Western Wall.

■ IT MAY be just as well that Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is casting his cap at the Knesset instead of making another run for city hall. Word is out on the street that Barkat’s nemesis Yossi Havilio, a former legal adviser to the municipality, is thinking of running for the Jerusalem Municipal Council.

■ TWO FORMER chiefs of staff, one of whom was also a defense minister, met last week with a large delegation of leaders and supporters of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces from across the US. Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi were warmly received by the 70-plus IDF National Leadership Mission, comprising representatives of 15 chapters. Mission members toured strategic IDF bases to get a behind-the-scenes look into the operations of the IDF, and also presented Ya’alon with an award in recognition of his tireless efforts for the State of Israel.

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