Grapevine: Honoring two great leaders

President Peres, escorted by Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler and senior adviser Yoram Dori, displayed keen interest in the photographs.

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November 14, 2013 21:07
President Shimon Peres and Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler

President Shimon Peres and Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler. (photo credit: Nathan Roi)

 
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Veterinarian Yoni Peres, the youngest of the three offspring of President Shimon Peres and his late wife, Sonia, is not as well-known to the general public as his older siblings, Zvia Walden and Chemi Peres. But this week he represented his family at Jerusalem’s First Station complex for the opening on Wednesday of a photo exhibition originally mounted in the birthplaces of Shimon Peres, in honor of his 90th birthday, and Menachem Begin, on the 100th anniversary of his birth. President Peres himself visited the exhibition on Thursday.

President Peres, escorted by Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler and senior adviser Yoram Dori, displayed keen interest in the photographs.

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“It’s a very exciting and educational exhibit,” he said.

The photos range through seven generations of the Peres family and three generations of the Begin family. Yoni Peres said it gave him goosebumps to see this visual evidence of his family’s roots. The exhibition, organized by Limmud FSU – a program aimed at bringing informal Jewish education to Russian-speaking Jews in different parts of the world, but primarily in the former Soviet Union – almost instantly attracted tourists at the First Station, an attraction that is extremely popular with Jerusalem residents and visitors alike.

Chesler said it was unthinkable not to bring an exhibition honoring two great men who had such a profound influence on the destiny of the nation, to the nation’s capital.

Limmud FSU steering committee chairman Matthew Bronfman, who had attended the original openings, described going to the Former Soviet Union for the purpose as “an incredible journey.” He also voiced “great pride” in the effect Limmud has had on Russian-speaking Jews.

Herzl Makov, director of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, said that together, Peres and Begin represent the story of the Jewish people in the 20th century, starting in two small shtetls and ending in Jerusalem. Despite their political differences, both Begin and Peres are role models for future generations, said Makov.



Yoni Peres made a similar comment, saying the exhibition shows two sides of the political map, and said it was appropriate to be shown in Jerusalem – where Jews and Arabs, religious and secular live in peace.

Despite their differences, he said, speaking of his father and Begin, both had one goal – to live in peace with their neighbors, and to minimize friction as much as possible.

“Combining these two political figures is a wonderful idea,” he said.

Prize-winning Gesher actress Helena Yarolova, who is a member of the Limmud international steering committee, said looking at the exhibition made her feel like family, as she – like Peres and Begin – came to Israel from a place that was part of the former Soviet Union. “We are joined together by a fine thread,” she said, noting that “Israel is our home, but we must not forget where we came from.”

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat also derived a sense of family from the exhibition, commenting that Peres and Begin both come across not only as political leaders but as family men. “They came here and became leaders of our country, and we owe them a lot,” he said. In fact, Barkat found the history in the photographs so intriguing that it prompted him to google the background and learn more.

There are several photographs depicting Peres and Begin together, when Begin was prime minister and Peres the leader of the opposition. There is also a picture of the president’s birth certificate, in which the nationality of both his parents is listed as Jewish.

Impressive as the exhibition is, it contains one glaring omission. In a photograph taken at Camp David in 1978, when Begin was concentrating on a chess game with Zbigniew Brzezinski, then the US national security adviser, the person dominating the photograph and sitting alongside Begin was the late Simcha Dinitz, who was then Israel’s ambassador to the US – but his name is not mentioned in the caption.

■ AT THE ceremony this week marking the formal appointment of Karnit Flug as the ninth governor of the Bank of Israel, the person other than Flug who received the most handshakes was one of her predecessors, Dr.

Moshe Mandelbaum.

Mandelbaum was the fourth governor of the central bank, serving in the role from the beginning of 1982 to 1986, having previously served as deputy governor from September 1981. Before that, he held senior posts in the Industry and Trade Ministry, including that of director-general, as well as deputy chairman of the Industrial Development Bank Ltd., and chairman of the Company for Foreign Trade Risks Insurance.

It was interesting to see the expressions of pride and admiration on the face of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who initially had reservations about Flug, as she was delivering her address. Whereas Peres, Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid all read their speeches, Flug, speaking without notes and for a longer period than the three men combined, spoke unhesitatingly about the broad range of economic challenges facing Israel.

Flug has already been snapped up for several major conferences, and her gift for oratory, coupled with her logical and progressive thinking, will undoubtedly attract even more invitations to speak at important events.

She is the first woman to hold the position of governor of the central bank, so her appointment is in the nature of an historic breakthrough.

■ ONE DOESN’T have to grow up in Israel to be appointed manager of a bank operating here. Case-in-point is Neil Corney, who was recently appointed CEO of Citi Israel.

Corney, 46, was born in London, educated at two Jewish day schools in Britain and earned his degree in economics at Manchester University. He has been living in Israel since 1990.

Corney is the son of well-known British editor and journalist Hyam Corney, who was deputy editor of London’s Jewish Chronicle prior to his retirement 11 years ago, when he relocated to Netanya – where he continues to reside.

■ HAVING WITNESSED the popularity of former British chief rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks when he spoke to an audience of more than 1,000 people at the Jerusalem International Book Fair this past February, the board of the capital’s Great Synagogue should have been aware there was a strong likelihood of even greater numbers flocking to hear him speak there this week.

The synagogue, one of the largest in Jerusalem, was packed to the extent that it is on Kol Nidre night, and the congregation’s chairman of the board Asher Schapiro kept asking people to take their seats – because there were some 500 other people outside who were close to rioting since they couldn’t get in. Indeed, the queue stretched for nearly an entire block of King George Avenue; people had come in from as far afield as Netanya and Herzliya Pituah. For all that, no provision had been made for the overflow audience, with no closed-circuit television set up elsewhere on the premises.

Sacks, who had arrived well in advance of the announced starting time, took the opportunity to view the synagogue’s multimedia exhibit dedicated to the late Maurice and Vivienne Wohl. Sacks had known the Wohls well, and said they had been great people leading humble lives, giving most generously to numerous causes and treating all people, regardless of status, in the same manner.

Some people in the audience objected to the former chief rabbi’s emphasis on universalism – but this, no less than his Jewish approach, led him to call for a moment’s silence prior to his address, so he could offer a special prayer for the devastated population of the Philippines.

Sacks wants to bring an understanding of Judaism to the world. “Jews have come out of exile; now let’s bring Judaism out of exile,” he said. One of the great challenges he has taken upon himself and hopes will be emulated in many quarters is to find a way to reconcile secular and religious Jews, and to heal what he called a cerebral lesion.

Schapiro offered him the Great Synagogue as a platform whenever he wants it. Sacks promised to return, and said he would specially speak to the 500 people who missed out on this occasion.

■ JUST AS one man’s meat is another man’s poison, one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. Civil engineer and amateur historian Jack Beris will ruffle a few feathers at the upcoming debate organized by the Jerusalem Fund for Alyn, when he takes the iconoclastic viewpoint that the heroes of the Hanukka story were terrorists rather than freedom fighters. The question as to the Maccabees’ true identity is posed in the title of the event: “The Maccabees – Terrorists or Freedom Fighters?” Other panelists are unlikely to agree with Beris – but one never knows. They include Rabbi Raymond Apple, chief rabbi emeritus of the Sydney Great Synagogue; lawyer Ted Belman, the Israpundit blogger; author and journalist Danny Gavron; Peta Jones Pellach, director of educational activities at the Elijah Interfaith Institute; and author and columnist Gil Troy, a history professor at McGill University.

Just to make the event more interesting and diverse, the moderator is Rabbi Naamah Kelman, dean of Hebrew Union College.

It should be noted that Apple is an Orthodox rabbi and Kelman a Reform rabbi. That does not mean their views differ on everything, and it will be interesting to hear if they concur with regard to the Maccabees.

The date is Monday, November 25; the venue is the auditorium at Alyn Orthopedic Hospital and Rehabilitation Center.

■ IT’S WONDERFUL when diplomats from different countries take up a local cause.

Few causes if any are more worthy than saving the life of a child. As such, many diplomats serving in Israel have become directly or indirectly involved with Save a Child’s Heart, the cross-borders project in which Israeli pediatric cardiology specialists work around the clock to enable children from anywhere in the world to have their flawed hearts repaired, so they can live normal, active lives and go on to become productive adults.

Among the diplomats who have aligned themselves with SACH is British Ambassador Matthew Gould, who also works to bring comfort and cheer to Holocaust survivors and holds an open house for mentally challenged adults and children. This week, he and his wife, Celia, hosted a reception at the British Residence in Ramat Gan to launch a project known as “The Heart of the Matter.”

Co-sponsored by USAID and the EU’s Partnership for Peace program, the project brings together Palestinians and Israelis, both by providing cardiac care to Palestinian children and by running training programs for physicians from the Palestinian Authority.

More than 1,500 Palestinian children have undergone open-heart surgery since SACH’s founding in 1995.

Gould, an avid SACH supporter, says the project occupies a unique place in Israel and for all those who love Israel, “because Save a Child’s Heart is, quite simply, everything that’s best about Israel. It’s about medical excellence, about an extraordinary generosity of spirit, about a determination to help all those who need it, regardless of their background. It is tikkun olam in action.”

Among those attending the event were: EU delegation in Israel head Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen; SACH chairman Yoram Cohen; Dr. Yitzhak Berlovitz, director of Holon’s Wolfson Medical Center, where SACH is headquartered; USAID West Bank and Gaza mission director R. David Harden; USAID West Bank and Gaza Office of Democracy and Governance director Brad Bessire; Regional Cooperation Minister Silvan Shalom, who noted that his ministry supports SACH; and singer and actress Mira Awad, SACH’s goodwill ambassador, who also performed at the event. Palestinian doctors and nurses from the West Bank who came to take part in the joint Israeli-Palestinian medical conference, as part of the Heart of the Matter program, were also present.

Conspicuous in his absence was SACH executive director Simon Fisher, who had a very good reason – the birth of his third daughter, whose arrival into the world naturally took place at Wolfson Medical Center.

■ MOST PEOPLE who are passionate about a cause work not for the sake of a reward, but for the cause itself. However, a little recognition never goes astray, and thus Moshik Theumim, Sami Sagol and Moti Orenstein, founders of Mifalot: Sport for Education Development and Peace, were thrilled to receive a citation from Mary Davis, managing director of the Special Olympics.

The citation was in recognition of what Mifalot has done to integrate youngsters with mental and physical disabilities into mainstream football. The award ceremony at the Tel Aviv Hilton coincided with the signing of a cooperation agreement between the Special Olympics and Mifalot.

Also present at the ceremony was former minister Haim Ramon, who represents the group that owns the Hapoel Tel Aviv Football Club; Danny Benaim, chairman of Special Olympics Israel; Reuven Estrahan, CEO of Special Olympics Israel; and Mifalot CEO Orenstein.

Mifalot, which since its establishment in 1997 has reached more than 30,000 Jewish and non-Jewish youngsters through more than 400 projects, has won several social entrepreneur awards for its success in affecting social change – not only on behalf of children and adults with disabilities, but also people living in peripheral communities.

greerfc@gmail.com

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