Grapevine: A positive take on dual loyalties

US Ambassador Dan Shapiro announced that he has taken one of his daughters to a Jewish summer camp in Massachusetts.

June 28, 2012 20:52

Dan Shapiro 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)


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US AMBASSADOR Dan Shapiro is a proud Jew and an undisguised Zionist, proving that one can be an American public servant and loyal to one’s coreligionists without compromising one’s values in either case. In a notice in Hebrew on his bilingual Facebook page, Shapiro announced that he has taken one of his daughters to a Jewish summer camp in Massachusetts, where her group leader is an Israeli from Kibbutz Dan.

Shapiro also noted that there are hundreds of Israeli group leaders in similar facilities across America. The message generated a lot of “likes” plus a response from proud father Howard Brodsky, of Haifa, who wrote that his daughter is one of them.

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■ WHAT DOES Naglaa Ali Mahmoud, otherwise known as Umm Ahmed, have in common with the late Sonia Peres? She refuses to take on the role of first lady. Naglaa Ali Mahmoud is the wife of Egypt’s newly elected President Mohamed Morsy, and has made it clear that she will not be moving into the presidential palace but will stay at home to look after her younger son who is completing high school.

Unlike her Westernized predecessors, Suzanne Mubarak and Jihan Sadat, who looked like European fashion plates, Un Ahmed, who spent part of her life in Los Angeles while her husband was studying for his PhD, prefers the traditional Islamic dress code. Suzanne Mubarak was rumored to have a lot of behind-the-scenes influence on her husband’s policies, but like the late Sonia Peres, Um Ahmed does not want to be an adjunct to her husband’s career. She looks like the stereotypical Muslim woman who is seen in the streets of Cairo and prefers a simple existence, as did Sonia Peres who did her own shopping, wore loose-fitting caftan-like dresses and was a hands-on volunteer for charitable causes in which she got down to the nitty gritty, even to the extent of scrubbing toilets.

■ WHEN THE annual Australian Film Festival opened at the Jerusalem Cinamatheque this week, it attracted almost a full house in one of the Cinematheque’s larger auditoria, prompting Australian Ambassador Andrea Faulkner to remark that the large turnout was indicative of the fact that Israelis enjoy Australian films, which enable them to see Australia’s perspective on universal issues.

The film festival is supported by the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange (AICE), which is the brainchild of talented jazz guitarist and businessman Albert Dadon, who was born in Morocco, grew up in Israel and France and now lives in Melbourne, Australia. In addition to being the founder and chairman of AICE, Dadon is also the founder of the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum, which he enlarged last year to include British leaders, as well as also the founder and chairman of the Australian Jazz Awards. He makes a point of coming to Israel for the Australian Film Festival and for the biand tri-national leadership forums, and was naturally at the opening of this year’s festival, which is the ninth since the founding of AICE in 2002.

The Australian Film Festival is held in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa during June and July and, and the Israel Film Festival, which is also sponsored by AICE, has been held in Melbourne and Sydney during August and September. Dadon announced that this year it is being expanded geographically to include Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane, and time-wise it is being extended from five days to 10, which Dadon said was “a real tribute to Israeli cinema.”

He neglected to mention how supportive the Australian Jewish community is of anything Israeli and how many Israelis have elected to live down under but continue to read Israeli publications, watch Israeli television and of course go to Israeli films. Australian film buffs are no less interested in Israeli films than those coming from any other country, including their own.

■ “DEDICATED” IS the best word to describe former US under secretary of state and deputy secretary of the treasury Stuart Eizenstat, who came to Israel twice in a two-week period.

Eizenstat was the keynote speaker at the annual B’nai B’rith journalism award ceremony on Sunday, literally on his way to catching a plane back to the US. However this did not prevent him from delivering an insightful and far-ranging address on the future of the Jews and how global forces are impacting on the Jewish people, Israel and its relationship with the United States. The ultimate message related to the demographic shift in which Israel has become the senior partner in the Jewish population ratio and must therefore take more initiatives toward upgrading Jewish education and culture in the Diaspora and preventing assimilation.

Eizenstat also emphasized that for this to be effective, Jewish education must be made more affordable – otherwise parents will not send their children to Jewish day schools.

He also hinted that because of the high ratio of intermarriage in the United States, greater efforts should be made to welcome non-Jewish spouses into the community in the hope that they will find Judaism attractive and will opt to convert. In many mixed marriages, Jewish traditions are not preserved in the home, with the result that the next generation is likely to be lost to the Jewish community. This shrinkage is dangerous, he pointed out, because nearly seven decades after the Holocaust, Jewish population figures have still not recovered and continue to be considerably lower than before the war.

Eizenstat was introduced by B’nai B’rith executive vice president Daniel Mariaschin, who underscored that Eizenstat is an example of a high-ranking public servant who does not forget his obligations to his own community. As he approached the podium, Eizenstat returned the compliment.

■ A TRADITION established by former Korean Ambassador to Israel Young Sam Ma has been continued by his successor Ambassador Kim Il Soo, who this week hosted a ceremony at his residence in Rishpon to honor American Jewish veterans who served in the Korean War. Korean ambassadors hold such ceremonies in the 16 countries whose troops, under the banner of the United Nations, were engaged in fighting the army of anti-democratic North Korea, but it was not until 2009 that American Jewish veterans of the Korean War were honored in Israel.

Still a fledgling state at the time, Israel did not participate in the war, but sent medical and food supplies and, via Moshe Sharett and Gideon Raphael, contributed enormously if indirectly to the UN resolution that brought about an end to the war.

More than half a century has passed since then and the veterans are getting fewer in number, but for as long as any of them can be traced the tradition will be continued.

Korean ambassadors in all 16 countries plus Israel make a point of telling veterans how much they appreciate the sacrifice of foreign soldiers on their soil – soldiers who came to help people whom they did not know, and who risked, and in too many cases, gave their lives in this noble endeavor. Korean War veterans in Israel were traced through the media and war veterans’ associations in the US and Israel.

Honorees this year were Leonard Wisper, Giron Siman-Tov, Salomon (Shlomo) Sadi and Rudi Meisl. The ceremony was attended by some 120 people, including the families of the honorees, previous honorees and their families and diplomatic and military representatives of the 16 countries whose soldiers fought in the war. Flags of all these countries were prominently displayed.

A surprising statistic that emerges from the Korean War is that there were 4,000 Jewish soldiers among the combatants. Kim spoke of the Korean government’s belief in the supreme value of cherishing the memory of the boundless sacrifices of those Jewish soldiers who contributed so much to the restoration and preservation of freedom and democracy in Korea. Kim emphasized how important it is for the Korean people to express their appreciation to those soldiers who are still living and to the families of those who have already passed on.

Faulkner, who was among the speakers, voiced her pride in the fact that Australian forces participated in the war to protect Korea and the values of freedom and democracy, and also noted the growing cooperation between Australia and Korea as members of the Asia Pacific region.

Speaking on behalf of his comrades, Wisper recalled that one night he was severely injured when his unit was heavily attacked by enemy troops. He remembered lying on the hill and bleeding and praying to God that someone would rescue him. He made a vow that if he survived, he would become more religiously observant. Some Chinese soldiers took him to a bunker where he and three other wounded American soldiers were kept captive. Soon after, a grenade was thrown into the bunker. Wisper grabbed it and threw it back outside just before it detonated, thus saving not only his own life but the lives of the other three Americans. This act of bravery won him recognition from the American government as well as the medal he received from the Korean government.

Wisper kept his pledge and now lives as an Orthodox Jew in the haredi environs of Bnei Brak.

Giron Siman-Tov served in Korea for one year as a driver in the Turkish Brigade. His unit was subsequently attached to the US 25th Infantry Division, at which time he exchanged his uniform for one worn by soldiers in the US Army. He came to Israel in 1968 and lives in Holon. Salomon Sadi arrived in Korea as a part of a Turkish volunteer unit. He recalled that when his commander in Turkey had asked for volunteers for a mission so far from home, he had been the only one to raise his hand. His commander praised him and rebuked the other soldiers, telling them that they should follow his example. Sadi has been living in Israel since 1957 and resides in Or Yehuda.

■ AS CRITICAL as anyone may be of Israel’s tycoons, the fact is that they are constantly donating to worthwhile causes. It’s almost a game of musical chairs as they move around to each other’s houses and occasionally to more public venues for any number of fund raising events in any given week. With minor changes, it’s the same people again and again, giving generously despite being under constant attack.

For instance, just this week, some 100 guests, who were mostly couples, contributed half a million shekels to the Make a Wish Foundation, which tries to grant the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses.

The fundraiser was held at the home of Batya and Idan Ofer, whose family has a tradition of contributing to medical, educational and cultural causes. Batya Ofer is the chair of Make a Wish.

■ CHILDREN WITH life-threatening illnesses are also close to the hearts of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, who, on the day following the luncheon they hosted for Russian President Valdimir Putin, gave their attention to child cancer patients. Under the auspices of Rachashei Lev support center, the children met with the PM and his wife in his office and each received gift packages and a book of Psalms from the couple. The Netanyahus chatted informally with their young guests, who in turn told Netanyahu that they preferred the corridors of the Prime Minister’s Office to those of the hospital.

Netanyahu immediately invited them to tour his office, the Cabinet Room and the Secretariat and, notwithstanding his broken leg, spent time giving them a detailed explanation of everything they saw and a comprehensive run-down of the duties of a prime minister.

For some of the children, it was not their first meeting with Sara Netanyahu. They had met her three weeks earlier when she visited them in the oncology ward at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer.

They were delighted to see her again, and she was equally delighted to see them and promised to keep visiting the hospital, even after the children have recovered. The prime minister invited them to visit him again when they were strong and healthy, and expressed the wish that this would happen very soon.

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