THE PLAZA leading to the Yad Vashem exhibition, "Spots of Light - To Be a Woman in the Holocaust," was packed last Friday with first-, second- and third-generation Holocaust survivors.
Some of those who came to the opening were also featured in the impressive multi-media exhibition inside, and later posed against enlarged images of themselves taken more than six decades ago.
Celebrated author Ruth Bondy, a survivor of Terezin and Auschwitz who has written and lectured extensively on the Shoah, recalled how difficult it was for women to retain their femininity when there was no soap or water.
She related how when she had come to Auschwitz, she had asked the Nazi woman who tattooed the number on her arm to make the tattoo small and aesthetic. She paid for this favor with the sweater that she was wearing.
As for life in Auschwitz, "although we had nothing to eat," she said, "we exchanged recipes and wrote them down in pencil on scraps of paper."
Surprisingly, several such scraps along with small notebooks filled with recipes were preserved, and form part of the exhibition. Some of the women wrote about the imaginary meals they prepared to stave off their hunger.
Most of the women featured in the exhibition did not survive the war. Among those who were murdered was Regina Jonas, Berlin's first female rabbi.
Lisa Bereson, who did survive but never learned her daughter's fate, wrote in a letter in 1968: "In the less than 1 percent hope that my daughter is alive and in the event that she will visit Yad Vashem, I hope that she will see my name." Hope was what sustained both the women who perished and those who emerged from the hell.
Israel Radio's Benny Hendel, who was master of ceremonies at exhibit's opening, read a poignant prayer written in Hebrew in Auschwitz by Toby Terkeltaub, a religious woman from Munkacz in Hungary. The prayer, written on toilet paper, was entrusted during the death march to her friend Aliza Klein, who survived and kept it for posterity.
It reads: "We want to rejoice, but we are unable. We need to believe, and the one thing we have that no one can take from us is memory. Only that can give us hope for a better and brighter future, something we can think about without bowing our heads. If God delivered our forefathers from Egypt, he will also redeem us from this bitter slavery and return us to the land of our fathers."
The prayer was made public for the first time at the exhibition. It could not have been a more appropriate time or a more appropriate place or a more appropriate occasion - Pessah, Yad Vashem and a tribute to the three million women and girls murdered in the Holocaust, as well as to those who survived.
AT THE Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, founder and director Harry Hurwitz, who was Begin's adviser on Diaspora affairs, is gearing up for the 30th anniversary on May 17 of the political revolution that swept Begin into power and enabled him to create the first Likud-led government in the history of the state.
The 18th government of Israel was inaugurated on June 20, 1977 and comprised Menachem Begin (prime minister), Yigal Yadin (deputy prime minister), Meir Amit, (minister of transportation and communications), Aharon Abuhazeira (religious affairs), Zevulun Hammer (education and culture), Yigael Hurwitz (trade and industry), Ezer Weizman (defense), Simcha Erlich (finance), Gideon Patt, (construction and housing), Eliezer Shustak (health), Yisrael Katz (labor and welfare), Ariel Sharon (agriculture), Shmuel Tamir (justice), Moshe Dayan (foreign affairs), David Levy (immigrant absorption) and Yosef Burg (interior). The cabinet secretary was Arye Naor, who now teaches at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba.
Approximately half of the members of this first Likud-led government have died, and none of the surviving members is currently a member of Knesset. However, one of the young Likud MKs at the time was Ehud Olmert, who after holding a series of ministerial portfolios became prime minister last year. An interesting piece of trivia taken from Olmert's biographical data reveals that in 1979, six years after he became an MK and eight years after completing his military service, he joined the IDF as a volunteer, completed an officers' course while serving as an MK, and volunteered for reserve duty in Lebanon.
Getting back to the 18th government, its members - in keeping with tradition - were photographed with Israel's fourth president, Ephraim Katzir, whose May 16 birthday fell a day before the revolution. Katzir will be 91 this year.
BACK IN 1967, perfumer Judith Muller earned herself an international reputation by presenting her exotic Israeli perfumes in distinctive Roman glass bottles that for quite some time were her signature form of packaging. Some of these original bottles are now being offered for sale on eBay, and at reasonable prices, too.
Muller, who spends most of her time these days in Hungary, may be returning to Israel if negotiations that she is conducting for the creation of a signature perfume for supermodel Bar Rafaeli become more than just a pleasing aroma.
Several supermodels have lent their names to fragrances, housewares, et al - and it is entirely fitting that if a new perfume bearing the signature of Bar Rafaeli hits the stands, it should carry the line "Made in Israel."
A COMBINED group of Yisrael Hatzair and Amit took over the Magic Nirvana Hotel on the Dead Sea for the duration of Pessah.
But apparently the hotel management was not satisfied with a full house - namely 840 paying guests - and charged the guests of the guests a NIS 45 entrance fee if they came by to say hello.
Hotel staff members were rostered at the entrance to prevent non-residents from entering the premises.
For many of the visitors, some of whom had no trouble gaining access to other hotels in the area, it was not only frustrating, but a ridiculously embarrassing situation.
Those people who were willing to pay the NIS 45 - and that sometimes included parents with as many as five children in tow - were not allowed to enter to do so, nor would the staffer standing outside accept the payment.
The system was that the resident guest, whom the visitor had come to see, was summoned to the door and then went to the reception desk to pay the entry fee on his or her credit card. When the visitors attempted to repay their hosts, the offers were in most cases waived aside, which made some of the visitors feel uncomfortable. Those who had also come for lunch were asked to fork out NIS 220 each, quite a hefty load for a large family - and some families, already tired after driving for two or three hours along traffic-congested highways, simply left in anger.
"This is not very good PR for the hotel," one visitor told the doorman.
"I know," was the reply, "but we've got our orders. The deal for resident guests was all inclusive - so we can't let anyone else in unless they pay an entry fee."
Still, Jerusalemite Ruby Davidman, who has been organizing Sabbath and Jewish holiday group accommodations and activities for years, was thrilled with the attendance, especially the large number of families and couples who came from America.
"They found it cheaper to come here for the week than to stay in the States," he said.
Organizers of the Pessah get-away laid on an almost constant and varied entertainment program to ensure that guests would not be bored. Among the entertainers was harpist Shoshana Harari, who not only played to a rapt audience, but also brought several harps with her that she passed around and encouraged people to strum. She also demonstrated the amazing versatility of the harp, which can be used to produce a large variety of ethnic musical sounds simply by twisting one of the levers that hold the strings in place.
GUESTS AT the Magic Nirvana included one of the world's true gentlemen, Cyril Newman, formerly of Toronto.
Sensitive to the needs of widows who are looking for platonic relationships, Newman has quite a "harem" of ladies whom he takes to dinner or a concert and whom he phones regularly to ensure they know that someone cares.
But it's not only the widows that he cares about. He also cares about the uprooted families of Gush Katif and continues to wear an orange bracelet, which he says he will not remove until all these families are settled in permanent housing and have a reasonable income.
He also worries about their spiritual needs, in response to which his children - Judith, Haviva and Zel - celebrated his 85th birthday last month by bringing in a pre-fabricated, fully furbished synagogue to serve those former residents of Gush Katif who have relocated to Ariel. Early in the morning, there was a bare of plot of land. By the afternoon, the synagogue was standing and in the evening it was the venue for a sumptuous birthday dinner.
THE NEW synagogue is not the only good thing that has happened to Ariel in recent weeks.
The Costa Rican City of Heredia, slightly north of San Jose, invited Mayor Ron Nachman to come and speak to the community about Ariel's Smart City project, after which Heredia signed a cooperation agreement with Ariel, and thus became the first overseas city to officially grant recognition to an Israeli city beyond the Green Line.
Manuel Zumbado, who heads the Heredia City Council, said he plans to have digital cameras in every corner in Heredia, to control traffic and also to prevent crime. An intranet, Internet by telephone, and many other features are part of the project.
Ariel introduced its Smart City network in 2003, facilitating major improvements in municipal services, formal and informal education, community services and cultural activities, and in the business sector. The system connects household to all the information networks and community networks of the city through one access portal using Internet and intranet technology.
Next year, when Israel celebrates its 60th anniversary, Ariel will celebrate its 30th, and at the same time Nachman can celebrate breaking the record set by Teddy Kollek as Israel's longest-serving mayor in office. In a sense, he has already done that, given that he was one of the people who in 1978 led the first the first 40 families who pitched tents on the barren hill that they subsequently named Ariel.
A fourth-generation sabra, Nachman retained his leadership position and was elected chairman of the town council in 1979, following the first town council elections in 1978. As Ariel changed its status, so did Nachman, going from chairman to mayor.
FORMER NATIONAL security adviser Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland doesn't pull his punches and is not backward in coming forward to criticize the government.
A case in point was last Saturday night when, in the course of an address to a gathering sponsored by the Shurat Hadin Israel Law Center, he declared that "unilateral withdrawal from Gaza was a big mistake."
His mostly right-wing audience was happy to hear him say: "I hope that the government of Israel does not repeat that mistake in the West Bank," but most unhappy when in another context he referred to the "occupied" West Bank. When taken to task by one of the members of the huge crowd, Eiland made the point that the expression had previously been used by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon.
SINCE LEAVING the Knesset, former public security minister and Likud MK Uzi Landau has become a man with a mission. Last year he launched Wonderful Country, a local project similar to birthright, but directed at Israelis of all stripes with the target of giving them a better understanding of both biblical and Zionist history.
Wonderful Country takes groups of Israelis across the length and breadth of the country to explain to them what happened there in both ancient and modern times. Landau believes most Israelis are not sufficiently familiar with the nation's history and he brings together secular and religious Jews, old and young, to become more acquainted with their common heritage and each other.
He was gratified during the intermediate days of Pessah when passengers filled 50 buses to the Golan to learn first-hand from military heroes Brig.-Gen. (res.) Avigdor Kahalani and Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Peled about their exploits during the Yom Kippur War. Aside from learning about Israel's military operations on the Golan, many of the participants learned for the first time about the large number of ancient synagogues there, remnants of which date back to the fifth, fourth and third centuries CE. All the guides on Wonderful Country tours, whether religious or not, must carry a Bible as a source of reference. And Eyal Kitzis and Tal Friedman have written a zany guidebook.
INDIA'S FORMER ambassador to Israel, Raminder Jassal, who is now deputy chief of his country's mission in Washington, continues to maintain contact with his many friends in Israel, and just before Pessah, flew in for a brief visit to touch base beyond the e-mail. Jassal currently heads the Indian team engaged in talks designed to finalize the bilateral civil nuclear agreement that will establish conditions for future nuclear trade between India and the United States.
CONTROVERSIAL PHILANTHROPIST Arkadi Gaydamak, whose deep pockets seem to have no limit, was honored twice in the port city of Ashdod within a matter of days.
The first time around it was by the Ger Hassidim and the second by the World Federation of Moroccan Jews.
Gaydamak was approached by MK Ya'akov Litzman, a disciple of the Gerrer Rebbe, Rabbi Ya'acov Aryeh Alter, to help build a hospital in Ashdod. He pledged NIS 500,000 as a first payment, and indicated that more funding would be forthcoming. The pledge was made at a festive ceremony attended by Mayor Zvi Zilker.
The project, which has been on the books for a couple of decades, has been taken up by the Gerrer Hassidim, who are well represented in Ashdod. At the ceremony they plied Gaydamak with many compliments.
Gaydamak was back in Ashdod on Monday night for the Mimouna festivities, where he was honored by the World Federation of Moroccan Jews for what he had done for people of the North and the South during the Second Lebanon War and in response to the threat of Kassam rockets. Many of the recipients of Gaydamak's largesse were people of Moroccan background.
ANYONE INTERESTED in the upcoming Labor elections or in why Israel should have a female president can hear MK Colette Avital present her views today, Wednesday, at the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth luncheon at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv. Avital is both a Labor MK and a candidate for president.
FORMER MK Geula Cohen spends a large measure of her time in keeping alive the memory and the writings of right-wing political activist, poet and essayist Uri Zvi Greenberg. In 1957, Greenberg was awarded the Israel Prize for his contribution to Hebrew literature. Cohen brings together a broad assortment of public figures to participate in the annual marathon readings of Greenberg's poetry. In the early years of this enterprise, one of the participants included a young writer by the name of Azmi Bishara, the Balad MK who is now in the news.
YIDDISH BOOK lovers who don't know where to find Yiddish books long out of print will have the opportunity to handle some of these volumes if they care to join Yung Yiddish founder and Yiddish book collector and preserver Mendy Cahan in shelving 30,000 Yiddish books at the Yung Yiddish Annex in the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, studio 50008. The next shelving day is Thursday, April 19 from 3 - 8 p.m.
Cahan will be delighted to welcome volunteers. For further details, call (03) 687-4433.
IT'S A time for baby girls at The Jerusalem Post. During the Pessah holiday season, the wives of three staffers had babies - all of them girls. Night editor Ehud Zion Waldoks's wife, Tanya, gave birth on March 26 to a baby weighing 3.59 kg.
Military reporter Yaakov Katz and business reporter Matthew Krieger were both at Hadassah's Ein Kerem over the weekend. Katz's wife, Chaya, gave birth Friday morning to a 3.6-kg. baby. Krieger's wife, Yael, had a 3.4-kg. baby on Saturday.