It was in the cards that at least one of the three sons of Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi and former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, Yisrael Meir Lau, would one day follow in his father’s footsteps.
In fact, all three did follow in one way or another, in that Lau’s eldest son, Moshe Chaim, named for his paternal grandfather who had been deported to Treblinka and was the last chief rabbi of the city of Piotrokw Trybunalski, is the chief rabbi of Netanya, a position held by Lau early in his career.
Another son, Tzvi Yehuda, is the rabbi of north Tel Aviv, and the newly-elected Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Baruch was the first chief rabbi of Shoham before becoming chief rabbi of Modi’in.
In addition to being the next link in the chain of a multi-generation dynasty of rabbis on his father’s side, Rabbi David Lau, on his mother’s side, is the grandson of the former and much beloved chief rabbi of Tel Aviv Yitzhak Yedidya Frankel, the centenary of whose birth is being commemorated this year. Yisrael Meir Lau was elected chief rabbi in 1993, 20 years prior to the election of his son, who had he not made a career in the rabbinate, was being courted by basketball enthusiasts to join a basketball team.
David Lau had a double reason for celebrating this week, since he also attended the brit mila of his new grandson. Although Lau was generally perceived as a haredi candidate, it cannot be said that he’s not a Zionist, even though he does not believe in coercing haredi boys to serve in the army.
Lau served in the IDF and is a major (res.) in the Intelligence Corps. Lau was born in Tel Aviv, was raised in a Zionist home, spent part of his youth in Netanya, and was the first rabbi to serve in both Shoham and Modi’in – neither of which are haredi communities – so he really knows how to interact with all sectors of society.
Among the many people who called to congratulate him was Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who stressed the importance of national unity. Always the respectful son, the new chief rabbi told the prime minister that his father was standing alongside him, and that perhaps Netanyahu should be congratulating him as well. Netanyahu has a very close relationship with the senior Lau, who officiated at his wedding and at the circumcision ceremonies of his sons Yair and Avner, and of his first grandson, Shmuel Roth, born to his daughter Noa and her husband, Daniel.
The senior Lau told Netanyahu that if he had been privileged to officiate at his wedding and the circumcision ceremonies of his sons, he hoped that his own son David would have the privilege of officiating at the marriages of Yair and Avner and that both he and the prime minister would derive great joy from their progeny.
David Lau’s seven children enjoy a more extended rabbinical pedigree than he and his seven siblings, in that Lau’s wife, Tzipporah, is the daughter of Rabbi Yitzhak Ralbag, a former member of the Chief Rabbinate Council and a former chairman of the Jerusalem Rabbinate Council, and Hadassah Ralbag, a well-known figure in secular as well as religious social circles.
The youngest chief rabbi in the nation’s history, David Lau, 47, is media savvy and like his father regularly appears on radio and television.
He also has a website on which he answers halachic questions. He is a cousin to Rabbi Benny Lau, the well known Jerusalem-based educator, who also appears frequently on radio and television. Benny Lau is the son of Naftali Lau-Lavie, a former journalist and spokesman for the Defense Ministry; adviser to Moshe Dayan; Israel consul-general in New York; vice chairman of the executive of the World Jewish Restitution Organization; and former head of the United Jewish Appeal’s Israel office.
The two brothers, who were liberated from Buchenwald by the Americans, and who lost all of their immediate family in the Holocaust, are not only living symbols of survival, but living monuments to the dynasty from which they are descended.
■ IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING the announcement of the election results, President Shimon Peres spoke individually to the two new chief rabbis, and after congratulating them, expressed his confidence that together they would be a peaceful and unifying influence.
Peres is on excellent terms with both of their fathers – Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef – and it is still possible that Peres himself may be succeeded by the senior Lau, an Israel Prize laureate, who in 2006 was being touted as future president of Israel, even though he was not an official candidate.
In recent months his name has cropped up again for the office. The race for the presidency is due to begin soon, given that Peres will complete his seven year term of office next July.
■ THE NEW Sephardi chief rabbi, like the Ashkenazi chief rabbi, is the son of a former chief rabbi, who like the former Ashkenazi chief rabbi, is also Israel Prize laureate.
Like his father Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who was a Talmudic genius as a youth, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef was also a young Talmudic genius, and again like his father is considered to be a great halachic authority.
Unlike his younger Ashkenazi counterpart, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, 61, did not serve in the IDF, but has authored 40 books on Halacha – the first when he was only 18 years old.
While Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is widely regarded as the greatest halachic authority of his generation, his pedigree is not quite as illustrious as that of the Lau family. Born in Baghdad in 1920, he moved with his family to Jerusalem when he was four years old, and as an adolescent studied at the famous Porat Yosef Yeshiva where his scholarly abilities quickly came to the fore to the extent that he was included in the class of Rabbi Ezra Attiya, who was the rosh yeshiva.
At one stage, the young student stopped coming to class and his concerned teacher went to his home to learn the reason for his absence. The Yosef family lived in abject poverty.
His father ran a small grocery store, and needed his son to help out. This did not sit well with Rabbi Attiya, who the following morning showed up in the grocery store to replace the boy and sent him back to the yeshiva to continue with his studies. He had told the lad that he had found a replacement for him who would work without pay, but did not tell him initially who the replacement would be. Yosef’s father discovered the identity of the new helper when he came to open the store.
Like Yisrael Meir Lau, Ovadia Yosef fathered eight children, but whereas Lau and his wife, Chaya, had more girls than boys, Yosef and his late wife, Margalit, had more boys than girls, and likewise all their sons became rabbis, though Yitzhak, the fourth of their children, is acknowledged as having the greatest scholastic capacity.
However, had Ovadia Yosef’s first child, Adina Bar-Shalom, whose father and husband each deprived her of formal secular education despite the fact that she had a brilliant mind, been born a boy, it is quite likely she would be Sephardi chief rabbi today.
Bar-Shalom did eventually pursue secular studies and opened a haredi college that also teaches secular subjects, in addition to sitting on the boards of both secular and religious educational and economic institutions and organizations. She has also visited Ramallah to learn more about the Palestinians by meeting and talking to them.
■ THE PASSING this week of Tamar Kollek, the widow of Jerusalem’s legendary mayor Teddy Kollek, and the mother of filmmaker Amos Kollek and artist Osnat Kollek, truly marks the end of a pioneering era.
Tamar Kollek, the daughter of Alice (nee Pappenheim) and Rabbi Dr.
Zachahrias Schwartz, was born in Vienna in 1917 and graduated cum laude from the Vienna Gymnasium.
She was a member of the Blau Weiss Zionist youth movement where she met a young man by the name of Theodor Kollek who swept her off her feet. They were married for 70 years. They came to British Mandate- ruled Palestine in 1936 and were among the founders of Kibbutz Ein Gev.
Tamar personified in every sense of the word the Hebrew expression “ezer kenegdo,” for which the English equivalent of helpmate is inadequate.
She was the calming influence in the family. Whereas Teddy, who managed to overcome so many obstacles in nation-building and in the development of his beloved Jerusalem, was known to have a short fuse, Tamar was always calm and serene, providing him and their children with a rock solid family foundation.
She was active in various voluntary organizations, but ILAN, the foundation for handicapped children, was closest to her heart, and she served as its chairwoman for 25 years, helping to establish institutions and homes for children who were severely disabled. She also served as president of the coalition of voluntary organizations in Jerusalem.
She accompanied her husband to many public events, and though she was by his side, she somehow succeeded in remaining in the background, so as to be a comfort to him by her presence, but not intruding on his glory. She was an extremely modest and reserved person, but one who was always ready to serve the needs of the community.
Her funeral will take place at 1 p.m. today at Mount Herzl, where she will be laid to rest alongside her husband in the section reserved for the great people of the nation.
■ TREE-PLANTING ceremonies conducted by the Keren Kayemet LeIsrael- Jewish National Fund are much more meaningful than many people realize. Long before real estate agents were urging foreign investors to have a foothold in Israel, the KKLJNF was providing them with the opportunity by getting them to plant trees during their visits here.
KKL-JNF has been associated with the Maccabiah Games since 1934, and has made it possible for numerous athletes and their supporters to plant trees in groves and forests around the country, thus in a manner of speaking has helped them to put down roots in Israel.
This time around, world and local leaders of KKL-JNF and JNF USA, as well as representatives from the Maccabiah Committee of 18 in Los Angeles, and families of Maccabiah participants, got together this past Tuesday to plant trees in the Nachshon Forest near Jerusalem.
“I landed in Israel yesterday, and so far, the greatest quote I’ve heard is from my grandson, who said that the best part of being at the Maccabiah is meeting Jews from so many places around the world,” said Stanley Chesley, president of JNF USA, a frequent visitor to Israel. This trip, however, Chesley had a very person reason to come, since his grandson is a member of the American soccer team at the Maccabiah, and Chesley proudly announced that it was his grandson who scored the winning goal against Venezuela.
“It’s becoming a family tradition” he said, “because at the last Maccabiah, my granddaughter Liza was on the girl’s junior soccer team, and they won the silver medal.”
■ JAPANESE AMBASSADOR Hideo Sato is not only fluent in Hebrew, which he speaks with no trace of a Japanese accent, but also is fairly knowledgeable about Judaism and the symbols of the State of Israel.
While accompanying Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his entourage during their visit to Israel this week, Sato had some waiting time at the President’s Residence, and took the opportunity to explain to one of the senior members of the entourage the background story of the huge silver hanukkia dominating one of the corners of the room
■ WHEN SHE was invited to a party this week at the home of Dorraine and Barry Weiss, Australian filmmaker Monique Schwartz – who now lives in Jerusalem with her partner, Benzion Tidhar – did not realize that it was a surprise party to mark her milestone birthday. The amazing thing was that so many of the invitees, who had mostly been invited via email, had seen Schwartz at one time or another in the month leading up to the party, yet no one disclosed the secret, proving perhaps that if you’re not a politician or working for some branch of national security, there are no leaks.
Guests were asked to arrive up to a half-hour before the festivities, so that they wouldn’t bump into Schwartz in the elevator and spill the beans. Anyone who couldn’t make it ahead of time was asked to delay his arrival so that Schwartz could be suitably surprised.
She arrived bearing a gift for the hosts, and could not believe that no one had told her.