Grapevine: Overlooking milestone anniversaries

Irrespective of the strong ties that exist at many levels between Israel and Germany, it is rare for Israel to miss an opportunity to remind the Germans of their Nazi past.

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February 12, 2013 21:49
HAIM HURVITZ and his partner Naomi with Beilinson Medical Center CEO Dr. Eyran Halpern.

Haim Hurvitz 370. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Irrespective of the strong ties that exist at many levels between Israel and Germany, it is rare for Israel to miss an opportunity to remind the Germans of their Nazi past. One would have expected that, at the opening of the 26th Jerusalem International Book Fair this week, someone would have recalled that not only is this the jubilee year of the book fair (which was mentioned), but it is also the 80th anniversary of the notorious burning of the books soon after the Nazis came to power.

There was only passing mention of the Holocaust in reference to Sepharad, the book by Spanish author Antonio Muñoz Molina, who is the recipient of this year’s Jerusalem Prize. The Holocaust is one of the subjects dealt with in the book, and was mentioned by President Shimon Peres along with other forms of tyranny. But no one referred to the May 10, 1933 burning of the books which was part of the initial phase in the awful truth of the prophetic words of Heinrich Heine, who more than a century earlier had written that “wherever they burn books, they will ultimately burn people.” Heine’s works were among the burned in Berlin, as were those of Albert Einstein, Lion Feuchtwanger, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freund, Stefan Zweig and many others who were considered to have non-German ideas. Ironically, Germany is always well-represented at the Jerusalem International Book Fair, though this year it seemed that the German presence was less robust than in the past..

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■ ANOTHER 80th anniversary coming up this year is that of the assassination on the Tel Aviv beachfront of Haim Arlozorov, who was the head of the political department of the Jewish Agency. Arlozorov, who had grown up in Germany, was disturbed by what was happening to German Jews under the Nazi regime and returned there to negotiate for the emigration of Jews together with their property. As a result of an agreement that Arlozorov negotiated with officials of the Third Reich, more than 60,000 German Jews were permitted to leave Germany and make a new home for themselves in what was then Palestine.

There was a lot of criticism over the fact that he had negotiated with Nazis, and three Revisionists were charged with planning and executing his murder. The three, who were arrested by British Mandate authorities, vehemently protested their innocence and were eventually acquitted for lack of sufficient evidence. Arlozorov’s killers were never found, but there was much speculation over political and romantic intrigues in which Arlozorov was allegedly involved. In the latter category was his romance with Magda Behrend, who subsequently married Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels. Former French cultural attaché in Israel Tobie Nathan wrote a book on the subject that suggests that Arlozorov’s murder is tied in with his romance with Behrend. The book, which was originally written in French, has now been translated into Hebrew, and Nathan was at the book fair to talk about it.

This year is also the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and there were a couple of forums at the book fair that explored the dichotomous relationship between Poles and Jews and Poles and Israelis. But a more pressing issue – the possible destruction by the leadership of the present-day Warsaw Jewish community of a community center in the Warsaw Ghetto area that survived the destruction of Warsaw – is a form of cultural suicide in that it would erase a vital witness to the most traumatic chapter in contemporary Jewish history. The building in question survived both the Nazis and the Communists, yet it seems unlikely to survive the Jews unless Polish non-Jews succeed in having the building declared a national heritage site.

Who’s going to write that book? ■ ALTHOUGH THE Chinese New Year was a few days ago, the celebrations are continuing as members of the Chinese community in different parts of the world invite friends and neighbors to share in their festivities.

Chinese Ambassador Gao Yanping is no exception and next week will be hosting a Chinese New Year and Spring Festival reception replete with Chinese entertainment and Chinese cuisine.



Many embassies, including those of France, Thailand, Korea and India, have recently been engaged in promoting the cuisine of their countries. Now it’s China, and the delicacies are likely to be quite different from anything on the menu in Chinese restaurants in Israel or most other countries outside China. Master chefs from Chengdu will prepare authentic Sichuan and Chengdu dishes enriched with ginger, garlic and chili peppers to titillate the palate. The event will also appeal to senses other than taste in that it will include Chinese folk songs and dances performed by various Chinese ethnic groups.

Ambassador Gao had a more intimate gathering at her residence at the end of January when she invited former Israeli ambassadors to China to join her in celebrating the Chinese Spring Festival.

Unfortunately, Ora Namir, who fell in love with China and who made a strong impression while she was there, has been in poor health in recent years and was unable to attend. But Zev Suffot, who was Israel’s first ambassador to China, was there along with Moshe Ben-Yaacov, Itzhak Shelef, Yehoyada Haim and Amos Nadai and their spouses. Also present from the Chinese Embassy were Counselor Shi Yong, Counselor Dai Yuming and head of the embassy’s political section Yang Yonghong.

Gao expressed her appreciation to her Israeli colleagues for all they had done to promote bilateral friendship and cooperation and expressed the hope that they would continue to contribute to the development of good relations on many levels between China and Israel. Although all former Israeli ambassadors to China have been engaged in such activities, no one has done more than Suffot, who has been the key mover and shaker in the Council for the Promotion of Israel-China Relations and who published a book, A China Diary, dealing with the establishment of China-Israel diplomatic relations. At Gao’s residence, the Israelis traded anecdotes about their China experiences and spoke movingly about how they had witnessed the rapid development of China during their periods of service there.

Aside from that, visitors to the Ice City at Jerusalem’s old railway station will be able to see the wonderful ice sculptures created with the help of 40 Chinese artists, in addition to which 22 Chinese acrobats, dancers and figure skaters will perform daily from February 20 to April 30.

■ BRINGING FORMER ambassadors to any one country together appears to be a current trend. For their discussion on USIsrael relations, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, currently on their annual mission to Israel, invited former Israeli ambassadors to the US Moshe Arad, Moshe Arens, Danny Ayalon, Sallai Meridor and Itamar Rabinovich. US Ambassador Dan Shapiro was also invited and confirmed that the joint aim of the United States and Israel is to prevent a nuclear Iran.

■ SUPPORT OFTEN comes from the most unexpected sources. Sara Netanyahu’s unfortunate choice of dress for the opening ceremony of the 19th Knesset elicited widespread criticism both in Israel and in the United States. Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, who Netanyahu allegedly regards as her nemesis, came to the first lady’s defense, chiding the media for its chauvinism. Livnat was also critical of the media for focusing on the dress rather than on the many talented women who now grace the Knesset plenum. Shas MK Arye Deri also came to Netanyahu’s defense – and not for the first time. The media was really nasty to her during her husband’s first term as prime minister and at a public event, Deri told her to just cross it all out of her life and to carry on as though nothing was amiss.

Even The Daily Beast was more aghast at the way the media had reacted to the dress than in the poor choice made by the woman who wore it. But the truth of the matter is that it wasn’t quite as inappropriate as it seemed on television or in newspaper photographs. It was, in fact, fully lined with skin-colored fabric. The fact that it looked almost fully transparent was just a faux pas in the design.

■ AMONG THE people whom President Shimon Peres meets quite frequently is Rona Ramon, the widow of Israel’s pioneer astronaut, Ilan Rimon, and the mother of Lt. Assaf Rimon, who had hoped to follow in his father’s footsteps but whose ambitions were cut short when he was killed in a plane crash in September 2009.

Rona Ramon has written a book, Heaven Above Us, based largely on the diaries of her husband and her son. In an emotional meeting with Peres on Monday, Rimon presented the president with the first copy of her book. She said that she and her children see Peres as an extension of their family and that Assaf had also felt this way and had written in his diary how moved he had been to receive his wings and a citation for being an outstanding student from Peres himself. Ramon read out the section from Assaf’s diary in which he had written of his feelings on that day, especially after Peres embraced him. Assaf, who had been very stoic after his father’s death, had allowed himself to weep on that day, not only because he was proud to have earned his wings, but also because he missed his father so much. “Now I can cry,| he wrote in his diary.

Peres, who wrote the preface to the book, told Rona Ramon that her husband and her son were giants who left a unique and illustrious legacy for future generations.

Peres also had a relationship with Ilan Ramon himself. When Peres was prime minister, he persuaded then-president Bill Clinton to include an Israeli astronaut in the US space program.

■ TWELVE YEARS ago, when Michal Belzberg was planning her bat mitzva celebration, there was terrorist attack on what was then Sbarro Pizza in on the corner of King George Street and Jaffa Road in Jerusalem. Fifteen civilians were killed and 130 wounded. Michal and her family were visiting relatives in Canada when they heard the news. Michal told her parents, Marc and Chantal Belzberg, that she didn’t have the heart to celebrate when so many families were suffering. She wanted to donate her bat mitzva money to the surviving victims and their families.

Her parents agreed, not knowing at the time that this would be a turning point in all of their lives. At first they thought that they were just going to help the Sbarro victims. They quickly realized that as much as money was useful, what was needed even more was a willing ear, an understanding heart, a shoulder to cry on and a hand to hold.

They became involved not only with victims from the Sbarro attack and their families but also with victims of other terrorist attacks and their families and with bereaved families of soldiers who fell in battle. In the process, they realized that the pain of loss is a common denominator that transcends differences and unites people of varied backgrounds. This led to the establishment of OneFamily, an outreach organization that attracted volunteers from late teens to senior citizens who give of themselves to help others overcome tragic losses and to resume their lives.

Many of the volunteers are relatives of people killed or injured by terrorists or in battle who, after having been helped by OneFamily, decided to give pay it forward.

Some 300 of them from all over the country congregated at the Begin Heritage Center for an evening of nostalgia and appreciation in which OneFamily publicly recognized what they have done and continue to do to bring light into the homes of families and individuals in their darkest hours. With all the grief-tinged joy and embraces that permeated the evening, one thing that was sadly obvious was that in the overwhelming majority of cases, this kind of selfless giving comes from one particular sector of society – the religious Zionists. There were hardly any secular people in the audience, even though terrorism has affected every sector of society.

What was particularly heartwarming was the presence of so many parents who said that they were drawn into OneFamily by their children, which brought home the realization that they had definitely done something right in raising them.

There were also inspiring testimonies from people who had lost spouses, parents, children and siblings to terrorism and been totally despondent until volunteers from OneFamily had entered their homes and their lives to help them overcome.

This is done through one-on-one contacts as well as fun-filled camps and other activities. For most of the beneficiaries, OneFamily has become part of their extended family. Volunteers said that they had also gained from the experience.

■ WHEN HE was working as a security guard with El Al to help pay his way through university, it never occurred to Yishay Davidi that he might one day hold controlling interest in Israel’s national air carrier. But that was before the days of privatization, when El Al was a government company. Its status changed in June 2004 when stock options were offered to the public. Just under a decade ago there was a transfer of ownership to Knafaim-Arkia Airlines, which is controlled by the Borovich family and Poju Zabludowicz’s Tamares investment company. Davidi’s FIMI is investing $60 million for 42 percent control of the airline’s shares, and at some future stage may acquire additional stock to reach 51% or more of controlling interest. Someone must have told Davidi when he was a boy to aim high.

■ FRIENDS OF the Batsheva Dance Company turned out in force for the opening of the troupe’s new season at its home base, the Suzanne Dallal Center in Tel Aviv, and later attended a reception in the company's studio. Among those present were the company’s artistic director and choreographer, Ohed Neharin, dance lovers Orly Dankner, Shula Recanati, Sara Sela, Rami Mardor, Nava and Roni Dissenchik, Rani Rahav, Roni Somek, Rafi Sadeh and, of course, the dancers. Batsheva executive director Dina Eldor said that the company had enjoyed an extremely successful year in 2012 and that 2013 looks even more promising.

■ TRIBUTES TO former New York mayor Ed Koch in the immediate aftermath of his death were heartfelt and emanated from the highest echelons.

The American Limmud FSU (former Soviet Union) was quick to change the program of its annual summit so that it would include a major segment in Koch’s honor. Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the US, will attend The Summit taking place in Princeton, NJ on March 15-17, where some 600-plus members of the Russian-American Jewish community will participate in a special ceremony in which Koch’s influential role in bringing Russian Jewish immigrants to New York will be remembered. Koch’s family will also be invited to attend. Koch was always very welcoming to the Russian community, said Sandra Kahn, co-founder of Limmud FSU, adding that the Jewish community of New York is forever indebted to him.

■ FINDINGS BY a committee appointed by the Health Ministry to investigate charges made by the family of the late Eli Hurvitz that Sheba Medical Center Tel Hashomer had been derelict in its duty in treating him during his final days have impacted severely on the fundraising of the medical center. Hurvitz, who had been the long-term CEO of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and later its chairman, died of cancer in November 2011. At his funeral, his daughter, Dr. Vered Shalev- Hurvitz, shocked mourners by saying that in his final days, her father had seen the ugly side of the country that he loved so much, waiting for hours to be attended by doctors and suffering humiliation and threats from a heartless nurse.

Shalev-Hurvitz subsequently took her complaints to then-state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss and Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who each mounted investigations into the charges.

The underlying message was that if a man of Eli Hurvitz’s importance and influence suffered at the hands of medical staff in a hospital reputed to be one of the best in the country, how much worse would patients of lesser social standing fare? In an interview in The Marker, the financial supplement of Haaretz, Sheba CEO Prof Zeev Rotstein admitted that the negative publicity that resulted from the inquiry into Hurvitz’s treatment and the charges made at his funeral were the worst nightmare of any hospital director and that Sheba is still recovering from the damage to its image and the loss of donors who withdrew their support in the wake of the publicity surrounding the Hurvitz case.

Given the current pressures of patient overloads in all hospitals in Israel, it is impossible for doctors and nurses to give every patient the attention due to them.

General practitioner Dr. Michael Goldsmith of Jerusalem has a solution, which is to establish a task force of retired medical professionals who are still mentally and physically fit but who had to step down when they reached retirement age. If such a task force existed, doctors and nurses could be brought back to hospitals and health clinics in emergency situations to ensure that all patients are properly diagnosed and receive proper treatment. It should be remembered, said Goldsmith, that these doctors and nurses have years of experience to guide them in their dealings with patients.

■ HURVITZ’S SON, Haim Hurvitz, is among the supporters of Beilinson Hospital and was among a small and select group of business people who formed the nucleus of a new forum of supporters who will come together from time to time to be updated on current affairs in the fields of politics, security, economics, technological breakthroughs and medicine. Hurvitz and his partner, Naomi, were at the launch event at the Meyerhoff Gallery in Tel Aviv. The forum is the brainchild of Friends of Beilinson chairman Pinchas Cohen. Participants at the founding meeting heard Major General (Res) Amos Yadlin, who is the director of the Institute for National Security Studies and a former chief of military intelligence. They also heard from Prof. Ran Kornowski, head of Beilinson’s Interventional Cardiology Institute, about the latest developments in cardiac surgery. Guests were greeted by Cohen and by Beilinson CEO Dr. Eyran Halpern.

■ MORE THAN a decade ago, Bezalel (Buzzy) Gordon was an economics writer for The Jerusalem Post, branching out occasionally to other subjects. Gordon loves to travel and has been to many parts of the world. Now he can continue traveling both virtually and as part of his job. He’s the recently appointed editor of Jewish.Travel, a new online travel magazine published by TotallyJewishTravel Inc., which is set to launch this month. The magazine will be published every two months and will be distributed to TotallyJewishTravel.com’s 14,000 subscribers.

It will also be available as a supplement to digital editions of Anglo-Jewish publications worldwide and via Apple and Android applications. Gordon has been writing about international and specifically Jewish travel for more than 35 years, and is the author of Frommer’s Jerusalem Day by Day. In addition to The Jerusalem Post, his by-line has appeared in USA Today, National Geographic Traveler, The Los Angeles Times and many other publications.

“Jewish.Travel will focus on a rich variety of feature articles and interviews that will give readers stimulating perspectives on global Jewish heritage travel,” said Gordon. Established in 1999, TotallyJewishTravel.

com is a leading portal for Jewish and kosher travel worldwide.

■ PAST AND present members of the Sam Orbaum Jerusalem Scrabble Club should save the date for the club’s 30th anniversary, which will be celebrated on Thursday, April 11 with a dinner at the Olive and Fish Restaurant and again on Tuesday, April 16 when the weekly Tuesday night club session begins half an hour early so that players can raise their glasses in a champagne toast to the late Sam Orbaum, whose passion for Scrabble led to the creation of what is believed to be the largest Scrabble Club in the world, with a consistent attendance of at least 50 people since the club’s launch in a Jerusalem Hotel on April 5, 1983. The most consistent of the players is nonagenarian Sara Shachter, who hardly ever misses a session and, at 97, remains as formidable a player as ever.

Orbaum, a witty and prolific writer who moved to Israel from his native Montreal, had a long battle with cancer and died in 2002 at age 46. But almost until the end he was the energetic and enthusiastic organizer of Scrabble events in Jerusalem and beyond. When he arrived in Israel and discovered that there was no organized Scrabble Club, he arranged for a Scrabble tournament in Tiberias. Shachter was among the players who attended and who subsequently told him that he must form a Scrabble club in Jerusalem. The rest is history.

Players of all ages, creeds and ethnic backgrounds have attended, with teenagers pitting their skills against opponents old enough to be their greatgrandparents.

Players have come up with amazing words and scores, and what is most remarkable is how many of the players in the early years of the club did not count English as their native tongue but could beat the pants off many native English-speakers. Until his untimely death, Orbaum was the features editor of The Jerusalem Post.

greerfc@gmail.com

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