Grapevine: Women’s initiative for peace

After leaving the 'Post' in 1989, Rath worked as a freelance writer, taught at the University of Potsdam and was editor of the online journal Partners for Peace.

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March 9, 2017 20:45
Rath Rubinger

FORMER ‘JERUSALEM POST’ editor-in-chief Ari Rath (left) greets legendary photographer David Rubinger at the offices of the ‘Post.’ . (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Canadian Ambassador Deborah Lyons has followed the lead of Slovenian Ambassador Barbara Susnik and moved from a house in Herzliya Pituah to a glorious penthouse apartment in Tel Aviv.

Susnik lives within easy walking distance of the Canadian residence and her office, and she enjoys Tel Aviv much more than Herzliya Pituah.

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If more ambassadors move to Tel Aviv, the next stop may well be Jerusalem. That’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. Lyons opened the residence on International Women’s Day to launch Women Ambassadors support Women Wage Peace; and if peace comes, so will the move to Jerusalem.

The spacious apartment was crowded to capacity with Jewish, Christian and Muslim women, most of them either wearing turquoise garments or turquoise ribbons – turquoise being a politically neutral color that is nonetheless a symbolic color of the Middle East.

Nearly all the women ambassadors and chargés d’affaires were present, including the perpetually busy ambassador of Cyprus, Thessalia Salina Shambos, who seldom has time for anything that does not involve a high-ranking official from her country.

“I dropped off my minister of health at the Sheraton, and told him I would be back at 7:30,” she said. But in fact she stayed a little longer than that, explaining that the vibrant atmosphere reminded her of Cyprus 20 years ago.

■ MANY PEOPLE who had wanted to pay their last respects to Ari Rath, but were unable to attend his funeral in January, will have an opportunity to revive memories of him at a tribute evening on Tuesday, March 14, jointly hosted by the Jerusalem Press Club, the Austrian Cultural Forum, the Austrian Embassy and The Jerusalem Post.

Rath, a former editor in chief of Post and an influential figure in the Israeli and international media as well as in political circles, was born in Austria, came to Mandate Palestine on a Kindertransport as a 13-year-old boy to escape the Nazis, but remained very Austrian in his character and soul, and spent his final years in Austria in his beloved Vienna, where he was a popular figure.

Speakers at the memorial event, which begins at 5 p.m. at the premises of the Jerusalem Press Club, will include Austrian Ambassador Martin Weiss, Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Yaakov Katz, and JPC director Uri Dromi, as well as family members and friends, who will share reminiscences of Rath’s life and accomplishments.

Rath was one of the founders of Kibbutz Hamadia, where he lived for 16 years before becoming a journalist and joining the Post, where in 1979 he was appointed a joint editor-in-chief.

His personal friends included Shimon Peres and Teddy Kollek. Through Peres, he gained access to the inner circle of David Ben-Gurion.

After leaving the Post in 1989, he worked as a freelance writer, taught at the University of Potsdam and was editor of the online journal Partners for Peace.

A longtime passionate advocate for peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians, Rath was a founding member of the Next Century Foundation, a track two group working toward peace and reconciliation.

His tireless efforts toward reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians were also recognized by the London-headquartered International Council for Press and Broadcasting, which awarded him, along with some British and Arab journalists, a prize in the shape of an olive tree. Together with the other recipients of the award, Rath was received in the House of Lords.

His invaluable contribution to Israeli-German-Austrian dialogue earned him several honors from both Germany and Austria.

Over the years, the Austrian government, in appreciation of Rath’s work in conflict resolution and reconciliation, wanted to restore his Austrian citizenship, but he consistently declined until 2005, when he decided to apply to have his citizenship renewed. Ursula Plassnik, who was then foreign minister, during a visit to Israel in May 2005, at a reception held in her honor at which Rath was among the guests, presented him with his Austrian citizenship papers.

■ FORMER REFUSENIKS and Prisoners of Zion Rabbi Yosef Mendelevitch, Yosef Begun and Dan Roginsky, concerned that so little is known in Israel about Stalin’s systematic annihilation of Jewish culture in the Soviet Union by accusing Jewish cultural figures of being agents for the West, then having show trials followed by executions that instilled fear into Soviet Jews, want this chapter in contemporary Jewish history to be part of the Israeli school curriculum, to have it remembered in synagogues on the Sabbath closest to Purim (because Stalin suffered a stroke on Purim 1953 and died four days later), and to have some kind of monument in Israel to the murder, the suffering and the struggle of Soviet Jews until the fall of the Iron Curtain.

The three, together with members of Telfed, the Israel branch of the South African Zionist Federation, are preparing a petition to the Knesset for legislation to be passed to this effect, and to the Chief Rabbinate in the hope that it will instruct synagogues accordingly.

The three former Prisoners of Zion were among several speakers at a symposium organized by the Jerusalem branch of Telfed. All three have a well-developed sense of humor, which in all probability was useful during the long terms they spent in prison. The event was moderated by former Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief Steve Linde, who confessed that he had previously not known much about Stalin getting a stroke on Purim.

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, who had also been invited to the event but was unable to attend, in a video interview said that he was five years old when Stalin died, and he remembered his father saying that Stalin had killed a lot of people, and that the Jews were next in line.

Mendelevitch recalled that he had come home on that day in 1953 when Stalin died and had been astonished that there were no lights on, and that his mother was sitting on the floor crying and repeating, “The sun has gone down. What will we do without Stalin?” Many Jews believed that Stalin had saved them from Hitler.

Mendelevitch, by the way, had his own personal Purim miracle. He was released from prison on Purim.

There was a very touching moment when Roy Scher, chairman of Telfed Jerusalem, spoke of the two bracelets that he wore as a schoolboy in South Africa during the struggle for Soviet Jewry. One bracelet was engraved with Sharansky’s name, and another with the name of Yaakov Suslensky. One day, long after the struggle had been won, a woman came into Scher’s place of business in Jerusalem, and it turned out that her name was Sara Suslensky. Scher did a double take and asked her if she was related to a Yaakov Suslensky. She said that he was her husband, and that they were both living in Israel.

When Scher told her about his bracelet, it was her turn to do a double take. She went home and told her husband, who insisted that they go together to see Scher as soon as possible.

Now widowed and living in Beersheba, Sara Suslensky came to Jerusalem to link bracelets with Scher and to show a model of the Liberty Bell that was given to her husband when he visited America.

Begun also had a memento from America. In May 1988, he had been invited to the White House by then-president Ronald Reagan, who gave him a Prisoner of Zion bracelet engraved with the name Yosef Begun. Reagan had been given the bracelet by a Canadian Jew and had placed it on his desk in the Oval Office so that he could be reminded every day of the plight of Soviet Jewry.

■ FIRST THERE were horse-drawn ambulances; then there were ambulances on wheels; after which came ambucycles to enable paramedics to quickly get to places that were too narrow for an ambulance to enter. And now, believe it or not, there are electric bikes, and the Magen David Adom volunteers who use them are part of a new unit known as Life Riders. The unit is composed of adults and teenagers who have trained as first responders.

The teenagers must be at least 17 years old and have a minimum of two years’ experience in MDA as well as their parents’ permission to be part of the unit. Every member of the Life Rider unit must go through professional training, so that he or she knows almost everything there is to know about riding an electric bike.

The goal is to reach very crowded areas, or areas where ambulances and medicycles (as ambucycles are known in MDA) can’t drive through, said Iftah Levy, a senior official in MDA’s operational wing.

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