Grapevine: Choosing mamaloshen

Though officially banned in the early years of the state, Yiddish is gaining in popularity, with Yiddishpiel performances.

May 30, 2013 21:19
Sassi Keshet.

Sassi Keshet Yidish Theater director 370 370. (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)

For the past 15 years or so, Yiddish has been an elective subject for the high school bagrut (matriculation).

This year, some 500 youngsters chose to include Yiddish in their bagrut studies, and some of them will continue with it in their university studies.

Though officially banned in the early years of the state, Yiddish is gaining in popularity, with Yiddishpiel performances attracting larger audiences.

Countless immigrants from the former Soviet Union are also gaining an introduction to Yiddish via Yiddishpiel, or through attending musical performances and Yiddish classes at YUNG YiDiSH, in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

These classes are taught by YUNG YiDiSH founder Mendy Cahan and Russian-born folk singer Polina Belilovsky, whose specialty is singing Edith Piaf favorites in Yiddish – though her repertoire is much more extensive.

Belilovsky and Cahan usually appear in YUNG YiDiSH’s Tel Aviv branch at the central bus station on Thursday nights, and at the organization’s Jerusalem premises in the Romema neighborhood on Saturday nights.

However, on Thursday, June 13, there will be a special concert in Jerusalem by a relatively new ensemble, Di Tsaytmashin (The Time Machine), which performs 17th-century Yiddish songs culled from a rare book, Joy of the Soul. The group is comprised of singer Avishai Fisz, Barry Moskovitch (theorbo), Ayala Seidelman (cello) , Adi Silberberg (recorder), Daniel Hoffman (violin), and Oren Fried (percussion).

■ KNOWN INITIALLY as a highly talented musician, Nansi Brandes is also a hilariously funny standup comedian, who drops spontaneous one-liners on almost any and every subject. He proved this ability when he emceed a benefit night at the Leonardo Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Beit Frankforter, established in 1981 in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood by Rabbi Zechariah and Leah Frankforter as a center for Holocaust survivors and elderly people in need. Now, it functions as a meeting and activity center for all senior citizens, and has a permanent nucleus of seniors who get up very early every morning to make sandwiches that are distributed in schools to children from economically deprived families.

The event was organized by society photographers Sara Davidovich and Eti Salansky, who between them know everyone who’s anyone in Jerusalem and beyond. Davidovich, who is of Romanian background, is also on close terms with the who’s who of the Romanian Jewish community in Israel, of which Brandes is a prominent figure.

Although he was cracking people up for most of the night, Brandes took his task very seriously, especially during the auction of works of art and artifacts donated by former MK Shmuel Flatto-Sharon and his wife Klara; artist Dudu Gerstein; collector Nissim Cohen; and Yossi Kaduri, the grandson of the famous kabbalist.

Although Brandes tried hard, selling the works of art was not easy, and in the end, the majority were purchased by Yossi and Yardena Ovadia, who are keen supporters of Beit Frankforter – though the main supporters are Yoel and Claude Frankforter, who are continuing the work of their parents.

As a sales incentive, which actually worked in a couple of cases, anyone buying a painting could also receive an on-the-spot blessing from Rabbanit Bruria Zvuluni, who is reputed to have supernatural powers, as is her brother, Rabbi Yaakov Ifergan, who is known as the “Rentgen” (X-ray) for his amazing ability to diagnose people’s problems at first glance.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who is very familiar with the work of Beit Frankforter, praised it and its legendary director Sima Zini – who on Jerusalem Day was named a “Worthy of Jerusalem.”

Among the others present were former chief of protocol of the Foreign Ministry Yitzhak Eldan, who now works for Yardena Ovadia on a Gateway to Africa project; international jurist Etya Simcha; education and tourism personality Mimi Knafu; personal physician to the Netanyahu family Dr. Zvi Berkowitz; Channel 10 chairman Avi Balashnikov; Jerusalem City Council members Laura Wharton, who holds the Senior Citizens portfolio, and Tzipi Mor, who holds the Tourism portfolio; deputy minister for pensioner affairs in the previous government Leah Ness; and Nitzan Chen, director of the Government Press Office. The event was enhanced by a superb meal prepared by Jerusalem’s master chef Shalom Kadosh.

■ OSTENSIBLY IN Mitzpe Ramon this week to launch a new bike trail, President Shimon Peres also took the opportunity to tour the new visitors center and get a close look at an emotionally moving exhibition on the life of Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, and his son, Assaf.

Ilan Ramon was a fighter pilot in the Israel Air Force, and in 1981, was the youngest pilot in the operation that destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor before it could be completed. In 1997 he was selected to train for a space mission, and from July 1998 to the beginning of 2003, trained at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. He was a member of the illfated crew on the Columbia space shuttle, and perished with the rest of the crew when the Columbia disintegrated during reentry on February 1, 2003.

In September 2009, his 21-year-old son Assaf was killed when the F-16 fighter bomber that he was piloting malfunctioned and crashed.

Peres was escorted through the exhibition by Rona Ramon, the astronaut’s widow, who since his death has contributed to a warm and firm relationship between NASA and the Israel Space Agency.

The exhibition includes several of the personal effects of both father and son.

Peres had a close connection with Ilan Ramon, even before Ramon went to America. It was Peres who in 1995 persuaded then-US president Bill Clinton to include an Israeli astronaut in America’s space program.

Clinton will be in Israel in mid-June to join Peres in celebrating his 90th birthday, and to deliver the keynote address at a gala fund-raiser of the Peres Academic Center in Rehovot, which was established in 2006. Proceeds from the event will go toward scholarships. A musical interlude in Rehovot will be provided by David D’or, who will sing “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha. No song could be more appropriate for Peres.

■ WHILE PERES was in Mitzpe Ramon, his daughter, Tzvia Walden, and her husband, Dr. Rafi Walden, were in the president’s hometown of Vishneyva, Belarus. There, Limmud FSU and local authorities have joined forces to celebrate the birthday of the city’s most famous and respected native son, and Limmud FSU is holding a three-day festival with some 500 people aged 20-40, most of them members of the Jewish community of Belarus.

■ ONE OF the sterling characteristics of the national presidents of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, is that they make a point of being in Israel when important things are happening. They have been here during wartime, during the intifada – during good times and bad.

Thus, when it was announced that there would be a national drill in preparation for a large-scale chemical warfare attack, Marcie Natan, the current president, was on-hand at Hadassah University Medical Center on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus to participate in the exercise. In fact, the hospital has long been alert to such an emergency, but this time the drill was conducted to check the extent of the hospital’s preparedness and its ability to treat dozens of injured in a short timespan. All of the medical procedures were carried out with the use of special equipment and the medical staff wore special protective clothing.

Around 115 “injured patients” played by soldiers and inflatable dummies were treated for assorted injuries during the drill, which included admitting the “injured” to specially constructed decontamination stations.

Health Minister Yael German and Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan joined Natan and Dr. Osnat Levtzion-Korach, director of Hadassah Mount Scopus, who provided them with explanations at the various drill sites. Natan said afterwards that she was both proud and extremely impressed. The drill also gave Hadassah Mount Scopus, which has many Arab patients, a huge amount of international exposure. The drill was covered by TV teams and reporters from around the globe, including China, Taiwan, Japan, Australia, Spain, Germany, France, Russia, the US, two Arab channels and AP.

■ INTERVIEWED BY Channel 2, Alison Copus, vice president of marketing for the popular travel website TripAdvisor, came to Israel for the Jerusalem International Tourism Summit, and did a lot of research for her site in the course of her visit. Israeli hotels get high marks on TripAdvisor, and following a personal tour of the Israel Museum by director James Snyder, Copus ranked it as “five out of five,” describing it as absolutely wonderful. “You’d be a fool not to come to the Israel Museum if you come to Jerusalem,” she said. She also had very positive things to say about Yad Vashem.

■ IT ISN’T only Peres who could make a fortune for the state if he charged every person who wanted to be photographed with him NIS 10.

The same goes for integrated resorts icon and ultra-generous philanthropist Sheldon Adelson, who after receiving an award at the Jerusalem International Tourism Summit on Tuesday, moved into a room behind the stage that was quickly crowded with media people as well as a few people in the tourism business. Adelson, perched on a bar stool, with a paper cup of coffee in his hand, patiently sat through poses with hordes of hangers- on who wanted to be photographed with him or to exchange a few words of conversation, hoping in some cases that his special brand of magic would rub off on them.

Adelson, who with his wife, Miriam, has given tens of millions of dollars to Taglit-Birthright to enable ever-increasing numbers of young Jewish men and women to get some kind of hands-on concept of the Israel experience, would have made a pretty penny for Birthright, had he insisted that money be donated for each photograph. He seemed to be getting a bit tired of having to force a smile for every photo. Eventually, his wife and his Israel representative Dan Raviv shepherded him away from the crowd.

Adelson was asked by a Channel 2 reporter to comment on the roasting he had been given by US President Barack Obama, who when speaking at the White House Correspondents Dinner, at which he poked fun at himself, also poked fun at Adelson for supporting Obama’s rival Mitt Romney to the tune of $100 million. “Did you know that Sheldon Adelson spent $100 million of his own money last year on negative ads? You’ve got to really dislike me to spend that kind of money. I mean, that’s Oprah money… Sheldon would have been better off offering me $100 million to drop out of the race,” said Obama. In Jerusalem, Adelson replied: “I’m not so cheap. Only $100 million? I would have made it $1 billion.”

Next week, the Adelsons, together with Prof. Elie Wiesel and Dr.

Mehmet Oz, will be honored at a gala dinner in New York – set to be an annual event – where they will receive the inaugural Champion of Jewish Values International Award.

Proceeds from the dinner will go towards Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center. It will be hosted by Kevin Bermeister, founder of the Jerusalem Development Fund and governor of This World: The Values Network; and David Sterling, chairman of Sterling & Sterling, Inc. and treasurer of American Friends of Rambam, with addresses by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, executive director of This World: The Values Network; and Rafi Beyar, CEO and director of Rambam Medical Center.

■ HAD THEIR famous son accompanied them to Israel, it is doubtful that George and Peggy DiCaprio would have enjoyed their private visit to the extent that they did. Touring in relative anonymity, the father and stepmother of Leonardo DiCaprio – who stars in The Great Gatsby, currently being screened in movie theaters throughout Israel – the senior DiCaprios were free of the paparazzi who chased their son during his visit here in November 2010, when he was still romancing Bar Refaeli. At that time, he came with his biological mother Irmelin, and he and his entourage were barraged by photographers wherever they went.

This time, George and Peggy DiCaprio toured undisturbed, but the one thing they did do in front of the cameras was plant a tree in the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund’s US Freedom Forest adjoining Yad Kennedy, named for the assassinated US president. It transpired that George DiCaprio had been one of Kennedy’s close associates, and is currently producing a documentary film on Kennedy’s life. In November of this year, America will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination.

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