Thousands of haredim – most of them Belzer Hassidim – flocked to Jerusalem over
the past week and a half to celebrate the wedding of Sholom Rokeach, the eldest
grandson of the Belzer Rebbe, to Batya Paneth, the daughter of Rabbi Yehiel Meir
Paneth of Bnei Brak.
The wedding ceremony took place last night in the
courtyard of the magnificent Belz Synagogue, which stands out on the horizon on
the highway approach to the capital. Roads leading to the synagogue were closed
to traffic from 3 p.m. After the ceremony, the sea of black moved in the
direction of the Jerusalem International Convention Center where the wedding
banquet was held.
It is difficult enough at a regular wedding to see the
ceremony under the huppa, but with so many people, even members of the family
would have missed out – but for the many video screens placed in the area around
the synagogue. This enabled the hordes of well-wishers to see the continuation
of what many in hassidic circles consider a post-Holocaust miracle.
Belzer Hassidim, a sect that gave rise to many great Torah scholars, all but
disappeared in the atrocities of the Holocaust – as Belz was occupied by the
Nazis from 1939 to 1944. The previous Belzer Rebbe, Aharon Rokeach, who had a
reputation as a miracle worker, and his half-brother Rabbi Mordechai, managed to
subsist with the help of funds smuggled into Poland by Belzer Hassidim living in
the US, England and what was then Palestine. The two brothers fled from one
ghetto to another, eventually escaping from Poland. A gentile sympathetic to the
plight of the Jews drove them to Hungary in a wagon, disguised as Russian
generals who had been captured and brought to Budapest for questioning. After
eight months in Budapest, the brothers received certificates that enabled them
to go to Palestine, and they left Budapest in January 1944.
invaded Hungary two months later, and began rounding up Jews and deporting them
to Auschwitz. The two brothers were the only members of their families to
survive. Their wives, children, grandchildren and in-laws were all murdered or
perished as a result of the conditions to which they were subjected.
brothers remarried, but only Rabbi Mordechai sired another child. Though 22
years younger than his brother, Rabbi Mordechai died at age 47, when his son
Yissachar Dov was only a year old. Rabbi Aharon cared for the child and groomed
him to be the next Belzer Rebbe. Yissachar Dov was “orphaned” yet again at age
nine when his uncle died. At age 17, the boy married Sarah Hager, the daughter
of the Vizhnitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager. They were childless for
almost a decade until the birth of their only son, Aharon Mordechai Rokeach, the
father of the groom.
The pre-wedding festivities began last Saturday when
the bridegroom was called to the Torah, and the post-wedding festivities will
continue until next week. According to Yeshiva World News, the groom and his
father went to the home of Shas spiritual mentor and former Sephardi chief rabbi
Ovadia Yosef to personally hand-deliver the wedding invitation.
hassidic circles, including Belz, the bridegroom receives a shtreimel (fur hat)
on the day he is called to the Torah. Thus, before going to synagogue, the groom
and his father first went to the home of the Belzer Rebbe, who presented the
groom with a fine shtreimel and placed it on his head.
Hassidim are known to be very musical, as the groom proved to be at his bar
mitzva five years ago. But the favorite Belz composer, conductor and musical
arranger is Rabbi Yosef Moshe Kahana, who composed 22 new melodies for the
■ IT’S A strange thing with journalists.
give themselves license to invade the privacy of everyone else – including
people who are not public figures – when it comes to their own lives, they will
go to extraordinary lengths to protect themselves from fellow scribes, and most
importantly from the paparazzi.
This was the case last Thursday, when
Israel Television’s hard-hitting current affairs interviewer Geula Even wed
Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar in a private ceremony conducted by Western Wall
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz.
The 60 or so invitees, comprising relatives and
close friends, were sworn to secrecy about both the date and the
Few things remain secret for long in Israel, and at more or less
the last minute, noninvited members of the fourth estate got wind of what was
happening – though some were led on a wild goose chase before finally
discovering the north Tel Aviv venue.
This happened to be the villa of
leading political campaign strategist Tal Silberstein, who has been an adviser
to both Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert.
Even and Sa’ar have been conducting a
sizzling romance for the past six months and took up residence together in Tel
Aviv some time before the nuptials. At one stage, they were contemplating a
Jerusalem wedding at the Western Wall, but when word got out that they were
exploring such a possibility, they promptly decided on another
Paparazzi arriving at the villa were denied entry by a security
guard, and risked life and limb climbing on a tree in an attempt to photograph
the newlyweds. The branches, in fact, could not hold the combined
Even, when interviewing people on television, is blunt, merciless
and often resorts to accusatory tactics, as if she were judge and jury. Yet she
took every possible precaution to keep her wedding under wraps. Sa’ar’s two
daughters from his former marriage, and Even’s two daughters and son from hers,
were in attendance for the ceremony that made them step-siblings to each
The newlyweds, who did not take time out for a honeymoon, may have
further cause for celebration by the end of this year, when their family may be
extended even further.
Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes, who is married to Minister
Silvan Shalom, speaking on a panel show on Channel 2, congratulated the couple
and said she was glad that yet another minister now had a celebrity journalist
as his wife. Sa’ar’s wedding brings the count to three: Finance Minister Yair
Lapid, a former journalist himself, is married to journalist and author Lihi
■ FOR THE fourth consecutive year, women will be swimming across
Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), in a swimathon to raise funds for Sadnat
Shiluv b’Emuna. This unique school for mentally challenged youngsters works to
educate and integrate special-needs children and young adults within the local
community of Gush Etzion. The swimathon, a fund-raiser initiated by Vivienne
Glaser, attracts participants from a broad age group, from teenagers to those in
their 90s. Several of them have placed online announcements about their
participation, asking Internet surfers to sponsor them and thus help them to
Every swimmer is asked to raise at least NIS 2,000, and
several manage to raise a lot more.
The event is a fun challenge which
generates competition and friendship, but most importantly demonstrates concern
for the less fortunate. Glaser hit on the idea when she saw what Sadna does for
her son Elchi, who has been attending the school since its inception 13 years
ago. “The happy smile he wears all day is shared by his schoolmates,” says
Glaser, who is also the coordinator of the swimathon.
Funds collected at
this year’s swimathon on Thursday, May 23, will go toward the expansion of the
Sadna’s Holistic Animal Therapy Center and petting zoo, which will be available
for both Sadna residents and the neighboring communities. The center provides
employment for Sadna alumni, in addition to tools to enable them to integrate
into the community at large. Elchi Glaser, now 22, works with the animals and is
pleased to be able to continue to live in a warm and nurturing
The swimathon attracts not only enthusiastic swimmers but
also their families and friends, who cheer them on. It starts with the trip up
to the Kinneret, includes dinner and evening fun, and ends with a closing
ceremony for the swimmers and their supporters.
Anyone who would like to
be there as a swimmer or sponsor should contact Vivienne Glaser at:
050-747-7530, vivienne@ swim4sadna.org, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Registration for
the swim is NIS 350, and each swimmer is responsible for bringing in NIS
■ GUESTS AT weddings, bar mitzvas and funerals are often surprised
by the number of famous people who are friends of the honoree or to whom the
honoree is related, and are amazed that they have never met these people before.
Much the same happened at Jerusalem’s Ohel Itzhak Synagogue, the oldest Sephardi
synagogue built outside the Old City, at the memorial tribute to Carmen
Weinstein, the president of the Jewish community of Cairo who died last month.
At the synagogue, which was built by her great grandfather Itzhak Itzhaki in
1882, relatives representing some of the most veteran Sephardi families of
Jerusalem mixed with numerous Israeli diplomats who Weinstein had befriended –
from the arrival of the first Israeli mission in Cairo in 1980, to those serving
in Egypt today.
Among them were Nitza Ben-Elissar, the widow of Israel’s
first ambassador to Egypt, Efraim Douek, who was the fourth ambassador; Zvi
Mazel and his wife Michelle, who were members of the first mission, with Mazel
returning in 1996 as the sixth ambassador; later ambassadors Gideon Ben-Ami,
Yitzhak Levanon and present incumbent Yaakov Amichai, who all came along with
diplomats of lower rank; and Profs. Emanuel Marx and Gabriel Rosenbaum, past and
present directors respectively of the Israel Academic Center in Cairo, run by
the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.
Among the relatives
present were Yoav Ginai, head of the programs division at the Israel
Broadcasting Authority’s Channel 1, along with his mother Miriam, an extremely
knowledgeable 12th-generation Jerusalemite who revealed some of the family’s
history to whoever wanted to listen.
Memorial plaques for her two
grandfathers adorned the wall, one of whom was Nissim Binyamin Ohana, who was
born in Algeria to Jerusalem parents – emissaries there who returned when Ohana
was five years old. He subsequently became chief rabbi of Cairo, and his
Jerusalem-based children and grandchildren used to travel to Egypt each year to
spend Passover with him. Ohana returned to Jerusalem in 1946 and was
subsequently chief rabbi of Haifa.
Another relative was eminent legal
expert Prof. Ruth Gavison, who took her son Doron to Cairo soon after his bar
mitzva at the Ohel Itzhak Synagogue – and of course they had spent a lot of time
on the Cairo trip with Weinstein.
Yet another relative was Dr. Nahman
Oron, one of the people who makes sure that the synagogue continues to function
on a daily basis. The closest relative to the deceased was her sister Glorice,
who came from Switzerland for the occasion.
The number of people who
wanted to share their impressions of Weinstein testified to the high esteem in
which she was held.
She was both a proud Egyptian and a proud Jewess, and
was even described by one of the speakers as an “authentic Zionist.” Weinstein
was a highly educated synthesis of East-West culture with a Sabra personality,
in that she was hard on the outside and sweet on the inside. Several speakers
noted her marvelous sense of humor, and all spoke of her fierce determination to
preserve what was left of Cairo’s Jewish heritage. She had maintained her
relationships with Israeli diplomats after their terms in Egypt were over, and
had called to wish them well on Jewish holidays, met with them on her annual
visits to Jerusalem and entertained them when they visited Cairo.
though there is a new president of Cairo’s dwindling Jewish community, she
cannot match the tenacity and pedigree of Weinstein, who in the Egyptian-Jewish
sense was the “Last of the Mohicans.”
■ FORMER CHIEF of protocol at the
Foreign Ministry Yitzhak Eldan, like many retired diplomats, continues to keep
his finger in the diplomatic pie. He is the founding president of the
Ambassadors’ Club of Israel and also teaches diplomacy to “young ambassadors” at
the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
Eldan believes that diplomacy
should be a compulsory subject in the final two years of high school education.
With increasing student exchanges between countries, it is essential that all
seniors in Israeli high schools know how to defend Israel against verbal
attacks, and how to state their country’s case when traveling abroad, he says.
Towards this end, Eldan took an 11-member group of 12thgrade students from the
Herzog High School in Kfar Saba on a four-day visit to Prague. The visit was
coordinated with the Foreign Ministry, the Education Ministry and Ambassador to
the Czech Republic Yaakov Levy.
The group met with radio and print media
representatives; toured the Czech parliament, sat in on a session and met with
legislators; met with the director of the Public Diplomacy Department at the
Foreign Affairs Ministry; and subsequently met with members of their peer group
at the International School of Prague, where they made a
The young Israelis also visited places of specific Jewish
interest, such as Terezin and the Old-New Synagogue.
On the first day of
their visit, Levy invited them for coffee and cake at his residence, where he
spoke to them about Israel-Czech relations – which go back to before the
establishment of the state – and then participated with them in an intensive
The big surprise at the reception was the presence of
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who had just returned from a visit
■ THE TELEVISION contest Dancing with the Stars, which is
based on British series Strictly Come Dancing, partners celebrities with
professional dancers for competition in various dancing styles – and takes on a
whole new meaning with regard to the Hebrew University.
The show, which
has been exported to more than 40 countries including Israel, proves that with
determination and a good teacher, even someone with two left feet can learn the
intricacies of the waltz, the tango, the foxtrot, the samba, the salsa and the
rumba. Hebrew University president Menahem Ben-Sasson has not yet appeared on
the show to demonstrate his fancy footwork, but he is figuratively – if not
literally – dancing with the stars.
This was the case in the first week
of May, when Ben-Sasson was in Toronto to present Academy Award-winning actor
Morgan Freeman with the Jake Eberts Key of Knowledge Award at a gala reception
hosted by the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University.
The award was in
recognition of Freeman’s dedication to combating racism and promoting knowledge
and education worldwide.
The gala event at the Toronto Center for the
Arts was attended by more than 700 guests, and raised $2 million for the
Institute of Medical Research Israel-Canada, one of the leading facilities for
scientific cooperation between the two countries. Through IMRIC, Israeli and
Canadian scientists are working together to find solutions and better treatments
for diseases such as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and heart and brain
Among those present were Dr. Amir Amedi, renowned IMRIC brain
scientist, and Dr. Josephine Ojiambo, Kenya’s Ambassador to the UN and a Hebrew
University alumna. The award was named in honor of the late award-winning film
producer Jake Eberts, who produced many feature films such as Chariots of Fire,
Gandhi, Driving Miss Daisy and Dances with Wolves, as well as documentaries
including Prisoner of Paradise, Journey to Mecca and Oceans. His final project,
Jerusalem, is an Imax 3D production due for worldwide release later this
Next month, Ben-Sasson will present an honorary doctorate to
legendary singer and actress Barbra Streisand, who like Freeman is dedicated to
the promotion of education and human and civil rights. Streisand has a 30-year
history with the university, having established the Emanuel Streisand Building
for Jewish Studies on the university’s Mount Scopus campus in memory of her
father in 1984. Streisand, who has supported many pro-Israel events in the US,
will be in Israel both to honor President Shimon Peres on his 90th birthday and
to perform in Tel Aviv.
■ IT MAY have been purely coincidental, but at
the sumptuous reception for Cameroon’s National Day, hosted by Diplomatic Corps
dean and long-term Ambassador of Cameroon Henri Etoundi Essomba and his wife
Esther at their residence in Kfar Shmaryahu, the playing of the national anthems
of Cameroon and Israel featured Streisand singing “Hatikva.”
mid-October of this year, Essomba will celebrate the 15th anniversary of the
presentation of his credentials to president Ezer Weizman, who took up his
position as head of state 20 years ago this month. Throughout the years, until
this week, the government had never sent a female minister to represent it at
the Cameroon National Day festivities.
On Monday night, Essomba was
particularly pleased to welcome Health Minister Yael German, who is well-known
to the residents of Kfar Shmaryahu and Herzliya Pituah as the former mayor of
Herzliya, in which capacity she attended many diplomatic functions and hosted
members of the diplomatic community at municipal functions.
speaking extemporaneously, recalled what German had done for the development of
Herzliya. “We are welcoming not only a minister but a leader, and we are very
proud,” he said, also congratulating the government of which German is a member
for making the resumption of the peace process one of its priorities. In wishing
the government success in promoting this objective, Essomba said: “Without
peace, nothing is possible.”
Referring to bilateral relations between
Cameroon and the State of Israel, Essomba said that they go back to the 1960s.
Israel was among the first countries to support Cameroon when it gained
independence from France in January 1960, he recalled.
did not mention the 13-year period from 1973-1986 when Cameroon was one of
several African states that severed diplomatic ties with Israel. In August 1986,
Peres, then prime minister, traveled to Yaounde to meet with Cameroon’s
President Paul Biya. After two days of talks, they announced the restoration of
diplomatic relations in a joint statement.
At the time, Biya predicted
that other African states would follow Cameroon in restoring relations – and he
Cooperation between Cameroon and Israel has been based largely
on agriculture and health. Essomba said that he would like to see greater
cooperation on health issues, and with German as health minister, he was
confident this would occur. He also called on Israel’s business community to
invest more in Cameroon, pointing out that economic growth in his country rose
by 4.2 percent in 2012, and that the economic growth forecast for 2013 is 6% –
indicating that such investment is a secure risk.
German, who was
extremely appreciative of Essomba’s remarks, noted that Israel attaches great
importance to relations with Africa in general – and particularly with Cameroon,
which she said is one of the most stable countries in West Africa. Israeli
experts have worked in Cameroon to assist with irrigation and water management
issues, she said, and each year 100 trainees from Cameroon come to Israel to
study under the auspices of Mashav, Israel’s Agency for International
Development Cooperation. Mashav also sends experts to Cameroon on a regular
German also thanked Cameroon for supporting Israel at the
■ DIAMONDS MAY be a girl’s best friend, but Nathalie Mimoun, a
prominent figure in Netanya’s diamond industry, is prepared to temporarily turn
her back on all that glitter in favor of a career in the French
She is one of at least two Israelis who are also French
nationals and are running for election in the eighth constituency of the French
French expatriates were permitted to elect a representative
for the first time last year, and surprisingly, French expatriates from eight
Mediterranean states – Israel, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Malta, Cyprus, the Vatican
and San Marino – elected an Israeli, Daphna Poznanski-Benhamou, a lawyer living
in Tel Aviv. What was truly amazing about Poznanski- Benhamou’s victory was the
fact that only 8% of some 80,000 bi-national Israelis eligible to vote exercised
their democratic right – meaning that most of her votes came from outside
Israel. Poznanski-Benhamou’s triumph was short-lived, however. Irregularities in
her campaign funding resulted in the nullification of the election by the
Constitutional Council of France.
Mimoun, who dresses with style and
looks as if she just walked out of the pages of Vogue, was in Jerusalem last
week to meet with potential voters. Many of them know her through her voluntary
work as a counselor and troubleshooter with the French Consulate, where over the
years she has helped solve the problems of many French immigrants.
chose to have her campaign meeting at the Matsart Gallery, which is just around
the corner from the French Consulate.
The gallery’s extensive collection
includes a number of internationally acclaimed artists, who though not born in
France, rose to fame in Paris – among them Marc Chagall and Moise Kisling. The
choice of venue was deliberate, said Mimoun, in that most French people know of
Israel only in terms of conflict – and she wanted them to know Israel as a place
Because of her volunteer work at the consulate, Mimoun
believes that she is best suited to represent the interests of French citizens
living abroad. She understands their concerns and also wants to fight for their
rights. Some of the laws related to French citizens living abroad are unfair,
she said, citing higher taxes on assets than those paid by residents of France,
as well as lower pensions based on salaries earned while they were living in
France. The first voting round is on May 26 and the second on June 9.
WHO WOULD have a imagined a Shavuot celebration in Britain’s House of Lords? But
last week, on the eve of the festival, Lord Adrian Palmer, Lord Stanley Fink –
who inter alia is vice president of the Jewish Leadership Council, and is
director of the Oxford Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies – Baroness Julia
Neuberger and Lord Parry Mitchell entertained their peers with the traditional
cheesecake and a lecture on Shavuot’s essence. It was the third time in House of
Lords history that Jewish peers had shared something of their religious
traditions with fellows of other faiths. There are several Jewish peers among
the vice presidents of the JLC, and they previously held two successful Peer
teas during Purim.
Neuberger observed that the Jewish community can take
pride in what its members have done in public life as well as the coming
together on Jewish festivals, which unites peers regardless of political and