In Jewish tradition, Elul, the month preceding the High Holy Days, is a period
of introspection and self accountability. It is a month in which Jews are
expected to make amends for flaws in their behavior, to do their utmost to
respect others and to make a sincere effort to make the world a better place for
At the very dawn of Elul, which began on Saturday, Shas mentor
and former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef denounced state courts as “evil”
and was equally dismissive of the secular school system. Two days later, the
presidential council of all the universities of Israel, several of which are
headed by religiously observant Jews, filed a petition with the High Court to
annul the status of Ariel University, which recently had its status elevated
from being a college. In filing the petition, they did not take into account
Israel’s demographic growth, which will require more universities, nor did they
take into account the fact that hundreds of Israeli students who were rejected
by Israeli universities went abroad to study and often did so well that they
decided not to return home, with the result that the very universities that had
not accepted them as students made tempting offers for them to become faculty
staff and researchers.
Ariel University, despite its location in the West
Bank, has a number of professors on its staff whose politics are left-wing but
whose academic inclinations lean neither to the Left nor the Right. In a recent
interview with Ha’aretz, some of them said how pleasantly surprised they had
been to discover that Ariel is a regular university with a diverse student
population that includes 600 West Bank and east Jerusalem Arabs who might
otherwise be denied a university education.
Among the many
interpretations of the meaning of “Elul” is that it is an acronym for the verse
from Song of Songs, “Ani l’dodi vedodi Li” – “I am by beloved’s and my beloved
is mine.” While, strictly speaking, this applies to the relationship between God
and the Jewish people, on a more general level it applies to the relationship
between one human being and another as well as between colleagues. Perhaps the
university heads will think twice and retract their petition.
Rabbi Yosef, it is strange that a man so learned should choose to bad-mouth the
courts in advance of this week’s Torah reading which is Shoftim (Judges) and
where the message is clearly different from the one that he spelled
■ ON THE subject of judges, the Israeli legal system can be very
accommodating, as mentioned previously in this column when it comes to allowing
convicted felons to participate in family celebrations.
Ze’ev Rosenstein and Shlomo Ben-Izri were all permitted to leave prison for
their sons’ weddings.
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Katsav and Ben-Izri did not pose any danger to
society, but former crime boss Rosenstein is a different story. Yet he was
permitted to attend the marriage ceremony, though not the celebration
afterwards, which was held at a different venue.
Dudi Appel, who, after having been convicted on three counts of bribery, this
week began serving a three-and-a-half year sentence at Maasiyahu Prison, was
given a few days deferment so that he could celebrate the wedding of his
daughter without any limitations.
Among the guests at the Leonardo City
Tower Hotel in Ramat Gan was former Maasiyahu inmate Arye Deri, who has yet to
announce whether he is running for mayor of Jerusalem in the upcoming election.
Also present were Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who has been under police
investigation for well over a decade with no charges leveled against him;
National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin.
Dressed in a suit and a black kippa and carrying a large black duffle bag and a
broad-brimmed black hat, which he will probably don for Sabbath services, Appel
arrived at Maasiyahu on Monday without any fanfare and showing no signs of
One can only guess that Deri had told him that things
are not so bad at Maasiyahu and that, in the right frame of mind, all things can
■ CONDUCTOR, COMPOSER and pianist Gil Shohat and broadcaster
Oren Nahari are joining forces to teach music appreciation and history to
Jerusalem schoolchildren. The partnership between Shohat and Nahari will
continue next year in a series of five meetings with adult audiences who will
benefit from lectures and concerts with the Jerusalem Symphony
This year, together with the JSO, they will meet on a monthly
basis with high school students who will listen to musical works that will be
explained by Shohat, who also has a thespian streak and is a delightful
raconteur. Nahari will talk to the students about the historical period in which
the music was written. The foreign news editor and anchor at Israel Radio and an
occasional foreign news reporter and commentator on Channel 1, in addition to
co-anchoring “Globus” with Dudu Vitztum, Nahari is known for his remarkable
range of knowledge on a huge variety of subjects.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir
Barkat, who became involved in municipal activities through his interest in
education, has been eager to introduce innovation to the capital’s education
system, and this is but one example. The JSO, which is celebrating its 75th
anniversary, is equally enamored with this innovative approach, which represents
a slight diversion from the brilliant pre-concert lectures introduced by Leon
Botstein during his period as the JSO’s musical director. While Botstein
lectured in English, Nahari will lecture in Hebrew.
The concert lecture
series will include history, politics and ideology.
The JSO is the
orchestra of the Israel Broadcasting Authority – but Nahari will not be
■ IT’S A bit like the weather. Everyone talks about it, but
there’s not much that anyone can do about it. The subject, of course, is
violence and the extent to which pulling out a knife or a gun, gang-beating a
helpless individual and motorists running down innocent pedestrians is becoming
an accepted norm. Public figures, along with the ordinary man and woman in the
street, express shock or outrage, but until something happens in their own
family or their own apartment block, violence is just another conversation
Not so with an organization that calls itself The Mensch
Foundation and exhorts all and sundry to “Be a Mensch.” The founders include
Yechezkel Stelzer, an expert on youth at risk and a former adviser to the
Ministry for Social Welfare; Moshe Kaplan , a psychoimmunologist dedicated to a
healthy mind and a healthy body; Tal Brody, Israel Prize laureate, goodwill
ambassador and former basketball star; Shoshana Jaskol, a veteran of
not-for-profit organizations; and Stephen D. Donthik, a consultant for
Established in 2010 at Kaplan’s initiative, The Mensch
Foundation works toward bringing Israeli society together and infusing it with
positive values with the aim of making it responsible, just, considerate and
The foundation works with partners across the social,
political and religious spectrum to reach as broad an audience as possible with
a variety of programs that involve dialogue and treating everyone with
■ OF COURSE The Mensch Foundation is not alone in combating
Elem, which is headed by Nava Barak, is intensely involved with
youth at risk; Hadassah, Amit, Emunah, Naamat and WIZO youth villages have long
been catering to youth at risk, as have various other organizations. The mind
boggles when contemplating how much more violence there would be if these youth
villages did not exist.
Speaking this week at an Emunah seminar on
violence, Rabbi Chanoch Yeres, the director of psychological services in the
Binyamin Region, and guidance counselor Rafi Rotman both said that parents do
not know how to cope with their children and have to be taught. Because parents
are not always sufficiently involved in their children’s lives, youths come to
feel neglected and rejected and become violent, sometimes taking out their anger
on themselves and sometimes joining gangs of other youngsters who feel rejected
and taking out their combined anger on hapless victims.
Yeres quoted from
a survey taken two years ago by the Ministry for Internal Security, in which
three-quarters of the respondents said that they feel that there is more
violence in Israel than in any other country and 90 percent said that there was
more violence in 2010 than there had been 10 to 15 years earlier. The survey
also indicated a 40% increase in juvenile crime and a 30%t increase in the
number of teenagers sent to prison.
Yeres and Rothman explained that
teaching parents how to set limits was not good enough. Anything being done to
reduce violence and to improve relationships between youngsters and their
parents and/or teachers must be done together with the youngsters so that they
will not be confused by changing behavioral patterns.
Israel Radio, Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On issued a warning against the
atmosphere of hatred for the other, which, she said, is seen on the sports
field, in the street and in the synagogue. She urged the Education Ministry to
put more emphasis on universal values and less emphasis on visits by groups of
school children to Hebron, where they ostensibly go on heritage tours but where
they also witness the humiliation of Palestinians.
■ IN THE days when
president Chaim Herzog used to distribute prizes on behalf of the Council for a
Beautiful Israel, his wife, Aura, was also on the dais, not in her capacity as
the wife of the president but as the founding and long-serving president of CBI.
It was at her initiative that the organization was formed in 1968, long before
there was a Ministry for Environmental Protection. The Knesset voted CBI into
existence to serve as a non-profit organization to advance environmental
education, promote local environmental action, initiate green urban projects and
conduct national environmental campaigns and competitions to encourage the
beautification of factory plants, hotels and urban areas.
housing in Israel was most unaesthetic, and it bothered Herzog to see such a
lack of beauty – especially among poor people who needed something attractive to
add cheer to their lives. She suggested to some of the residents of a dismal
apartment block in Jerusalem that they could brighten its appearance with a few
flower pots. Indeed, window boxes filled with flowers made an enormous
difference, and Herzog quickly realized that from the seed of this idea,
something big could grow.
The influence of CBI on urban aesthetics defies
description. In previous years, CBI has distributed several prizes in different
categories, but this year has confined itself to only one prize, which will be
given by President Shimon Peres to Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund,
which is celebrating its 110th anniversary. The most important of the prizes
distributed annually by CBI is the Magshim Israel Yafa Award in recognition of
the fulfillment of CBI’s vision. In many respects the JNF parallels the
objectives of CBI, but with projects that are generally on a much larger scale
than those of CBI itself or the various companies, organizations and
institutions with which CBI associates itself.
Many JNF stalwarts from
abroad will be flying to Israel for the August 29 ceremony, which, in addition
to addresses by Peres, CBI chairman Avraham Katz Oz and JNF chairman JNF Efi
Stenzler, will feature a documentary film showing some of the JNF’s many
achievements in which Jews from around the world have had a share, either by
putting coins into a blue box, inscribing themselves and their loved ones in the
JNF Golden Book, buying trees, dedicating forests or working on other JNF
Stenzler has recently been traveling in Europe to join in
various JNF events to celebrate the organization’s 110th anniversary.
THE JNF knows how to combine pleasure with business, and is in a sense pleasure
oriented, taking into account the number of parks that it has established with
pleasant walkways and picnic facilities. Earlier this month, it even hosted a
Swiss Independence Day picnic for members of Israel’s Swiss community and Swiss
visitors who gathered at a recreation spot near Sataf Springs in the Judean
hills. The venue was chosen because its development had been a gift of the Swiss
Friends of KKL-JNF.
Rabbi Marcel Marcus, who was the rabbi of Bern before
he relocated to Israel, observed that 63 years ago, Switzerland had more people
and more trees than Israel did. Today, he said, it still has more trees, but
KKL-JNF is working toward changing that.
The picnic was the brainchild of
Jariv Sultan, who is the KKL-JNF emissary to Switzerland. Among the participants
was lawyer Sandra Vogel, who had arrived as an immigrant only two months
previously and who had come to the picnic at the invitation of former Hashomer
Hatza’ir emissary to Switzerland Liad Levy, with whom she had gone to nursery
school in Zurich. Several of the Swiss visitors were pleasantly surprised to be
celebrating their national holiday in an Israeli forest.
■ WHETHER ONE
has been to India or not, almost everyone has some item of Indian apparel in
their closet – often one of those incredibly inexpensive scarves from Goa which
cost little enough in Israel and considerably less in Goa itself. Some of us
have saris, sandals or Indian tunics. Israel abounds with stores that sell
Indian clothing, accessories and eye-catching jewelry. While there have been a
couple of high-class Indian fashion shows in Israel organized by the wives of
Indian diamond dealers living in Israel, along with restaurateur Reena
Pushkarna, who is a walking advertisement for traditional fashions, there has
never been a large representative group exhibition of Indian apparel in Israel.
That’s about to change.
An exhibition hosted by the Indian Embassy in
conjunction with the Apparel Export Promotion Council of India has organized a
two-day fashion show of 30 Indian apparel manufacturers at the Tel Aviv
Fairgrounds, which will be opened on September 5 by Kiran Dhingra, the
director-general of India’s Ministry of Textiles.
■ MORE THAN 50% of the
problems of rookie soldiers could be easily solved if the powers-that-be at IDF
induction centers would only read and listen, says veteran prize-winning Israel
Radio military reporter Carmela Menashe, whose intervention has helped to
extricate many young soldiers from their miseries. According to Menashe, the IDF
would be much more efficient if the talents of potential soldiers were taken
into account instead of being ignored.
Too many soldiers are assigned to
units and tasks for which they are not suited, she says. Many talented soldiers
with leadership abilities are sent to units where their skills are neither
needed nor recognized, and conversely, soldiers with attention deficits and
learning disabilities are assigned to tasks that require intense concentration
and a high level of education.
Inductees with health problems, emotional
and psychological disturbances and learning disabilities come armed with letters
from physicians, psychologists and teachers, but this documentation is often
ignored and the soldier is subsequently punished for not adhering to
Menashe cited the case of a lookout observer who had to spend
four hours a day glued to a computer screen. The young woman has both attention
deficit and learning disability problems. Her father appealed again and again on
her behalf, but the army turned a deaf ear and a blind eye.
the father brought the case to Menashe who followed up on it, went to the right
people in high places and succeeded in having the soldier transferred to a more
suitable position. The soldier’s father came on air to say that without
Menashe’s intervention, it could never have happened.
Over the years
Menashe has become an unofficial ombudswoman who not only receives complaints
about the sufferings of young soldiers in the IDF but who actually does
something about them. Although it’s a pleasant stroke for the ego to be so
frequently acknowledged as a miracle worker, Menashe would prefer to see a
situation in which her services in this regard would not be required.
WHEN CHINESE and Israeli dignitaries get together they often talk about the
similarities of the two ancient peoples with ancient cultures which have
weathered the vicissitudes of time while others have faded into oblivion.
Something else that Jews and Chinese have in common is the old adage about two
Jews having three opinions.
At the opening at Jerusalem’s House of
Quality of the “Jewish Refugees and Shanghai” exhibition, there were huge
discrepancies between the written material and what was said by individual
speakers about the number of Jewish refugees who found a hospitable haven in
Shanghai before and during World War Two. That being said, it was fascinating to
see how strangers who were a little short-tempered with each other in the heat
of a crowded, un-air-conditioned room in which there insufficient seating,
suddenly became friends when the speeches were over and they could go to view
the modest but extremely interesting and thoughtfully presented exhibition that
had been put together by Chen Jian, the curator at the Shanghai Jewish Refugees
Museum located in Shanghai’s restored Ohel Moshe Synagogue.
individual stories on posters that featured one, two or three photos plus
biographical notes in English and Chinese. Former refugees peered at the boards
to see if there was anyone they recognized and then instinctively turned to
those around them to ask if they recognized anyone in the photos. The atmosphere
suddenly become one of excited exchanges and reminiscences based on the common
denominator of a background in Shanghai.
One of the highlights for
members of the Chinese delegation that came to Israel was to return home with a
little more material for the museum. It has not always been easy to trace former
refugees and to find documents and photographs. Miriam Hausman, who was born in
Shanghai and whose father was a refugee who worked there as doctor, presented
the delegation with her father’s diary and other papers. Nina Admoni presented
to the delegation part of the passport that had allowed her Polish family to
travel across Europe to Shanghai..
During the war years, 500 Jewish
babies were born in Shanghai.
Among the refugees was Michael Blumenthal,
who used to deliver bread in Shanghai and entered the US in 1947 as a refugee
and received citizenship.
He later became secretary of the US
■ IT HAS become a tradition for the Castro mega show to open
the new fashion show season, and the company’s co-CEOs, Eti and Gabi Roter, were
no less excited than if it had been their first show. With 60 models and a
hugely varied collection for men and women, not to mention the venue of the
largest facility at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds plus a gourmet breakfast, it’s
hardly surprising that the whole affair cost somewhere in the range of NIS 1
million. Unless they’re shooting a film, a fashion catalogue or a commercial,
Israel’s celebs usually get out of bed at around noon, but when it comes to
Castro they all want to see and be seen, which is why most arrive on time for an
early morning show.
Conscious of all the paparazzi hovering in the area,
they want to be there long before the photographers get ready to shoot the show,
in the hope that they will appear in the gossip pages of a print media or online
publication – or maybe both. Castro has progressed to the extent that, whereas
it once had only one presenter, it now has four: international screen actress
and model Gal Gadot, international model Liraz Dror, Jonathan Wagman and Arik
The collection was reminiscent of the 90s with big collars, less
clingy silhouettes, longer hem-lines and a lot of color amid the traditional
fall/winter blacks, browns, greys and greens. The range of choices reflected the
concepts of a 16-member design team.
Among the more familiar faces in the
audience were those of architect Ilan Pivco; veteran fashion designer Raziella
Gershon; socialite Batsheva Bublil; singer and recent first-time mother Efrat
Gosh; celebrity chef Israel Aharoni; businessman Roni Mena who brought – or
perhaps was brought by – his daughter, Yuli; head of the Shenkar fashion
department Leah Peretz and multi-faceted designer Yuval Caspin. Although Castro
is a mass-production company, it is interesting to see how many boutique
designers attend its showings.
Aside from a display of camaraderie, it
says a lot about what Castro has to offer.
■ WHAT’S in a name? Plenty, if
it sparks the right associations. For instance one of the people who was this
week appointed a judge in the Jerusalem District Court was Moshe Bar-Am. In
Jerusalem, near Menorah Park (the “Horse Park”) on King George Avenue, there is
a square named for Bar-Am, who nearly 40 years ago was minister for labor and
The square is located right next to the old Knesset building,
which later became the Ministry of Tourism and is now occupied by the Chief
Bar-Am’s, son Uzi, occupied the main office in the building
during his stint as minister of tourism. However, it was not the name of Moshe
Bar-Am that caught the ear of President Shimon Peres. It was the name of Yaakov
Perski, who was appointed to the Beersheba District Court, that excited his
interest. Perski was the president’s original surname before he took flight and
became a falcon (Peres) – even though he’s a dove.
■ OVER THE past week,
the whole world has been listening to Elvis Presley, whether voluntarily or
Last week marked the beginning of a week-long Presley
resurgence on the 35th anniversary of his death, and DJs played every song he
Night owls who listen to radio in the wee hours got
Presley in large doses, while daytime listeners got him in somewhat smaller
On the local scene, Israel Radio paid tribute to actor, comedian
and mime artist Shaike Ophir, who was arguably Israel’s greatest performing
Born in Jerusalem to a family that had lived there since the
mid 19th-century, Ophir, who died of lung cancer 25 years ago, was a successful
actor in the United States and might have even stayed there but for two
One was when he discovered that his agent, who was also his
employer in a night club, was holding back on offers because he wanted the
talented Ophir for himself. The other was that Israelis who left the country
permanently were labeled “yordim,” a derogatory term that literally means “going
down,” as distinct from “olim,” people who rise up spiritually by moving to the
Holy Land. He didn’t want to be known as a yored, so he came home.
comedy skits, though recorded well over quarter of a century ago, remain
relevant and funny, especially the Hamlet lesson done in Arabic
Ophir not only mimicked the Arabic accent but spoke Arabic
fluently and, toward the end of his life, hosted a television show in which he
taught Arabic and Arab customs. Although the equivalent of the Israeli Oscar is
called the Ophir Award, Yonatan Gat, who co-anchored the two-hour memorial
tribute on Reshet Bet, said that not enough has been done to maintain Ophir’s
legacy. Much more should have been done to perpetuate the memory of an artist of
Ophir’s stature, he said.
■ FOR MONTHS, her friends kept nagging Ruthie
Blum, a former senior editor with The Jerusalem Post and currently a columnist
with Israel Today about the book she was writing. They don’t have to nag
anymore. The book, To Hell in a Handbasket – Carter, Obama and the Arab Spring,
published last month, has already won a few accolades and is available on Amazon
in hardcover, softcover and on Kindle.
The official Israel launch of the
book will be on Sunday, September 2 at the Great Synagogue in
■ IT WOULD be interesting to work out the extent to which
entertainers engage in monetary self-deprivation by giving their services gratis
to any number of worthwhile causes. For instance, Marina Maximilian-Blumin, who
was approached to perform for the patients at the Beit Levenstein Rehabilitation
Center, instantly agreed. Stell Pinhasov had been to a concert where
Maximilian-Blumin was performing with Gil Shohat and had been so impressed that
after the show she impulsively approached Maximilian- Blumin and popped her
Maximilian-Blumin came to Beit Levenstein with her keyboard,
which she played while she sang to patients, staff and relatives of both, who
congregated on the lawns to listen to her and applauded wildly. A little
happiness is not only good for the soul, but occasionally does wondrous things
for the body too.
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