Grapevine: When the spirit moves you...

Former Defense Minister MK Amir Peretz is to be honored by Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin in recognition of his determination, against serious opposition, to acquire the Iron Dome missile defense system.

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November 20, 2012 22:42
Amir Peretz greets supporters

Amir Peretz greets supporters311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))

In December 2001, Jerusalem Post columnist Barbara Sofer wrote in her regular column about the formation of a group of female performers who had found a great way in which to raise their spirits and those of other women. What she wrote then was, “Last summer, the careworn women of the Gush Etzion were seeking a Joseph-like solution to the tough question of how to face the combination of bleak current events with no discernible solution and maintain optimism.

Seven members of the community had already been killed. Even close relatives made excuses for not traveling to the Gush to celebrate bar mitzva parties or make shiva calls.

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Cars traveling on the once picturesque tunnel roads had become moving targets for snipers. A new gemah, a free-lending society, was offering bullet-proof vests. Each new government plan felt more like a clinical trial than an inspired solution kept in a drawer for just this problem. The old arguments between Right and Left that used to liven up Shabbat dinners had succumbed to gloominess.

“That extra dimension of Jewish womanhood – the need to be a fountain of optimism even in dark times – ruled out slumping into downheartedness. Busy though they were with large families and challenging careers, they decided to do something about it.

“The women of Gush Etzion started by sending out emails on the Efrat internal list suggesting different activities like bringing a circus to town, game days, or screening old episodes of Wagon Train. Then Sharon Katz, a magazine editor and mother of five, suggested putting on an all-women production of Joseph [and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat].

She was joined by Toby Klein Greenwald, editor-in-chief of wholeFamily.com, a mother of six with a lot of drama experience from American summer camps, and by Arlene Chertoff, a professional choreographer and assistant director and a mother of three. Any girl or woman who wanted to act or sing could join the huge cast. There were several caveats. Because these were women who observed stringent rules of modesty, they would perform before audiences of only women. No performance would be cancelled because of a terrorist attack. Not even the September 11 show was called off, although it was preceded by the reading of psalms, and followed by a public singing of Ani Ma’amin, (“I believe”), our somber Jewish hymn of faith.

The few scheduled summer performances stretched through the winter to sold-out audiences, arriving by bullet-proof buses along beleaguered roads and by more conventional conveyances. But the play went way beyond community therapy. It was simply sensational, a great night at the theater with the elation and catharsis that good theater brings. ‘Joseph,’ a ketuba artist and mother of six by day, and her 11 siblings infused the story with so much effervescence and conviviality that one had to wonder how the original story would have been different if it had focused on 12 daughters.

The happiest surprise was that the acting and singing were superior to much of the socalled professional productions at city theaters and much-touted festivals. Nor did the show bear the slightest resemblance to the stiff and over-serious plays parents endure at schools and youth movement celebrations, or in that new ubiquitous genre of “religious theater.”

Although most of the staff members lacked professional resumes, they brought along experience of the arts from countries where school and informal educational systems afforded a more laid back setting. They could dance, they could sing and they could act.”

This week, the Raise Your Spirits Theater presented a 10th-anniversary premiere of another of their productions – Esther, with a multi-talented cast playing to a packed house in the attractive Gush Etzion Community Center, where facilities include a fully equipped theater. Sofer, who has written about Raise Your Spirits several times over the past decade, was sitting in the front row to receive a special honor from Greenwald in appreciation of having put the ensemble on the English-speaking map. A similar honor was accorded to Hebrew language author, editor and journalist Dr. Hatuya Deutsch.

Alluding to the almost déjà vu atmosphere in the country, Greenwald said: “The situation is what it is, and we’re still here.”

Sofer would have liked to have been there for the whole of the brilliant performance as she has been at other performances, but she had to be at Hadassah Hospital before midnight – not because she is the Israel director of public relations of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, but because she was having serious surgery first thing the next morning and she had to check in the night before.

There were people in the audience from Ra’anana, Modi’in, Rehovot, Efrat, Jerusalem and Ramat Beit Shemesh, among other places. For them, solidarity is more than a word; it’s personal commitment through action.

■ SOLIDARITY DEMONSTRATIONS with Israel have been taking place all over the world. One of the first Jewish communities to start organizing such demonstrations was the Australian Jewish community under the auspices of the Zionist Federation of Australia, whose president, Philip Chester, has commended the Australian Union of Jewish Students, the Australian Zionist Youth Council and the Zionist Councils of New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and West Australia as well as his own ZFA staff, along with Israel emissaries stationed throughout Australia, for organizing rallies in all four states at very short notice. The rallies, which took place simultaneously last Sunday, attracted more than 4,000 people, nearly all of whom wore red in a “Code Red – Stop the Rockets” campaign. There was also a rally in Canberra, the Australian Capital Territory, which was coordinated with the Israeli Embassy.

The largest demonstration, with an attendance of around 1,800 people, was in Melbourne, where speakers included Jewish and non-Jewish politicians along with leaders of the Jewish community. The rallies received wide media coverage throughout Australia and abroad. Meanwhile, the Australian Embassy in Israel has contacted Australians registered with the embassy in an effort to ascertain the number of Australian citizens who may currently be in Gaza or who may be intending to travel to Gaza in the near future, and asked those who intend to travel to Gaza to notify the embassy in advance. The embassy has also conveyed a travel warning against travel to the Gaza Strip, stating that the ability of the Australian government to provide consular services in the area is very limited.

■ FORMER DEFENSE Minister MK Amir Peretz is to be honored by Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin in recognition of his determination, against serious opposition, to acquire the Iron Dome missile defense system. The Iron Dome batteries have saved countless lives, says Vaknin, and Peretz is to be commended for his refusal to bow to pressure. It’s possible that Peretz, as a resident of Sderot, had a better understanding than some of his political colleagues in the center of the country of the psychological as well as the life-protecting nature of the Iron Dome. Peretz, who was widely mocked for looking through binoculars while the caps were still on, was vindicated on Facebook last week when he received kudos for his far-reaching vision.

■ WHILE FOREIGN ministers and other dignitaries have been flocking to Israel, at least one head of state decided to defer or possibly cancel his visit, depending on whether hostilities continue indefinitely or whether a cease-fire is achieved. Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who was due to begin a four-day visit on Sunday, opted out due to the tense situation in the area. As his term expires in March 2013, it is difficult to tell at this stage whether the visit will be rescheduled.

The Czechs were early supporters of Israel in the nascent days of the state, providing training for pilots plus military equipment.

The Czechs are still on Israel’s side. A notice on the Czech Foreign Ministry’s website reads: “The Czech Republic fully recognizes Israel’s right to self-defense against missiles attacks from militant organizations in the Gaza Strip, while it considers it important to avoid civilian casualties.” Meetings which had been organized between Klaus and President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and other senior ministers, as well as with governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer, all had to be scrapped, as did several meetings organized by the Israel Czech Chamber of Commerce between a Czech business delegation and Israeli counterparts of its members. Moreover, staff from Peres’s office had to call and un-invite all the invitees to a state dinner that Peres was hosting for Klaus on Monday.

■ INCLUDED IN the growing list of international dignitaries coming to the region was UK Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt, who came on a three-day visit to Israel and the disputed Palestinian territories.

His schedule includes meetings with senior Israelis, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, and members of the Palestinian leadership, including President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, to discuss how to bring the current conflict to a speedy conclusion.

On Monday, Burt visited Kiryat Malachi to see first-hand the frightening impact of the rocket that hit a residential building last week and killed three Israeli civilians. He spent time with one of the bereaved families, met Mayor Moti Malka and was briefed on the ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza. On Tuesday, Burt was briefed by the United Nations and a range of international NGOs on the humanitarian situation inside the Gaza Strip.

Burt said he was “gravely concerned about the current crisis, particularly the loss of civilian life on both sides,” especially after having seen “the terrible toll and suffering” that has been inflicted on families and communities across Israel. Coming here has given me a sense of what life is like for people under attack, and the appalling devastation that rocket attacks bring. The people in villages, towns and cities across Israel have the right to live without the constant fear of rocket attacks.”

Even before his meeting with Abbas, with whom he discussed his concerns for the suffering of the civilian population in Gaza, Burt declared: “The UK calls on Hamas, who bear principal responsibility for starting this round of violence, to stop the rocket attacks. Doing so would bring the violence most quickly to an end. But there are also responsibilities on Israel and, as the number of casualties in Gaza increases, we continue to urge Israel to do all it can to de-escalate the situation, to minimize civilian casualties, and to give mediation efforts a chance to succeed. The prime minister has spoken to the Egyptian president and the foreign secretary has spoken to the Egyptian foreign minister to offer our full support for their efforts to mediate a cease-fire. A terrible price is being paid by civilians on both sides and we want an end to the violence as quickly as possible. It reinforces my belief in the urgency of working towards a comprehensive Middle East settlement.”

■ EXACTLY A month after arriving in Israel for the Hadassah centennial celebrations, Marcie Nathan, the president of Hadassah, the Women’s Organization of America, was back again this week to meet with Beersheba Mayor Rubik Danilovich and to hear from him what Hadassah can do to support the city with which her organization has had a very long relationship. Hadassah women, especially their leaders, have a reputation for being intrepid, and during the Second Lebanon War brought a large mission to Israel which toured all the northern danger zones and personally experienced some of the alarming situations to which Israel’s northern residents were subjected. Now, many Hadassah members from across the US who were in Israel last month want to do as Nathan has done and are seriously considering putting together a mission to travel to Ashkelon and Ashdod. One of the great things about Hadassah women is that they not only give money to upgrade Israel’s medical services and its education, but they also come in person to study the situation firsthand and to boost morale.

■ WRITING IN The Christian Science Monitor under the headline “Rupert Murdoch’s Jewish Problem and his Egyptian One,” Dan Murphy relates to the messages and musings of public figures on their Twitter accounts.

The story was quickly picked up and distributed on websites around the world.

“One of the pleasures of following Rupert Murdoch’s account on Twitter is that the brief notes left there seem to have been written by the man himself,” writes Murphy.

“Unlike hundreds of political and celebrity twitter feeds that maintain only the thinnest pretenses of being written by their supposed owner (either that or Senator Lindsey Graham is one of the greatest multi-taskers of all time), you’re really getting Mr. Murdoch, unfiltered.

“Unlike say, with Israel’s ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, whose Twitter account last night deleted a tweet in which the ambassador had said Israel was willing to sit down with Hamas if rocket fire stopped from Gaza, explaining: ‘The earlier tweet about my CNN interview was sent erroneously by a staffer.’ “No, Murdoch is Murdoch, which is what makes two tweets of his from last night so interesting. The first: ‘Can’t Obama stop his friends in Egypt shelling Israel?’ And the second: ‘Why Is Jewish owned press so consistently anti-Israel in every crisis?’” Murphy finds the second quote from Murdoch to be equally troubling and illuminating.

“He seems to believe that the owners of media outlets should require their reporting to conform to their owners’ political preferences and world-views, rather than reflect observed reality. It’s fair to assume that’s what happens at his sprawling press holdings, particularly his US-based flag-ship Fox News.

That’s the illuminating part. The troubling part is his apparent belief that Jewishness should be synonymous with support for the current Israeli government, even for Jewish- Americans. It’s long been an anti-Semitic trope in US and European life that Jews are not truly loyal to the countries of their birth and citizenship, that for them Israel comes first. Such false claims are rightly pushed back on. Then there’s the frequently made anti- Semitic claim that the “Jews control the media,” usually made within various conspiracy theories.

“Imagine if Murdoch’s sentence was turned around, but used the same logic: What if he had asked: ‘Why is Jewish owned press so consistently pro-Israel in every crisis?’ That statement would rightly be decried as anti- Semitic. Murdoch apologized, sort of, writing “Jewish owned press’ have been sternly criticized, suggesting link to Jewish reporters.

Don’t see this, but apologize unreservedly.

“There is of course a lively debate among Jewish-Americans, and Jews in Israel, about the rightness and wrongness of Israeli government behavior,” Murphy continues. “In the pages of The Jerusalem Post you will find an editorial-line closer to Mr. Murdoch’s heart, and in the pages of Haaretz a general approach that he would disprove of.

“But no matter. Murdoch forthrightly speaks his mind and that’s refreshing and unusual. It’s a useful data-point to consider when consuming news produced by his employees.”

■ FOREIGN MEDIA who have swarmed to the South of the country and to Gaza are so busy covering the effects of rocket fire from Gaza and Israeli retaliation in Gaza that they are missing out on another very important story, which is the freedom with which Israel’s Arab communities can go about their everyday lives. Often clearly recognizable in their traditional attire, Arabs travel undisturbed on public transport, sit in coffee shops in areas that are predominantly Jewish, continue to work as doctors, lawyers, university lecturers, construction workers and garbage collectors as well as a myriad of other professions shoulder-to-shoulder with Jewish colleagues and congregate in public parks on sunny days.

Is this the apartheid with which Israel is so frequently charged? No way.

It is doubtful that any other country with a minority that has ethnic and blood ties to people across the border would. in a time of conflict, be as liberal as Israel has been with that minority.

Hopefully this is part of the image that 19 French imams with moderate views carried home with them after visiting Israel last week. The imams also had a taste of what people in the South of Israel are experiencing.

On Thursday evening, they were guests of honor at a reception hosted at his residence in Jaffa by French Ambassador Christophe Bigot. A report of the event by Hadrien Gosset- Bernheim in Le Nouvel Observatreur notes that everyone was traumatized by the sound of the red alert siren that sounded the alarm just before a rocket fell into the sea some 700 meters away. The reception was disrupted for several minutes and, when it resumed, all those in attendance found it difficult to recapture the mood that had preceded the alarm and the subsequent explosion.

■ EARLIER IN the day, the imams had been in Haifa for the Annual Assembly of the Council of Religious Leaders in Israel, which took place in the inviting environs of the Baha’i Gardens . The assembly was opened by President Shimon Peres. The imams who had already met with Peres privately, participated in the proceedings, speaking out against terrorism and extremism. After reviewing the situation in the South, Peres said, “There is no nation that loves peace and hates bloodshed as much as Israel. Our enemies are not the people of Gaza, our enemies are not the Muslim people. Our enemies are the terrorists who operate without reason and without thought.”

Peres emphasized that while Israel’s hand is outstretched for peace, the country will simultaneously do whatever is necessary to protect her citizens. “The world is beginning to understand that we are operating with responsibility and we do not take human life lightly. I don’t know any country that would show restraint for as long as Israel did during the attacks on the South,” he said.

Peres called on religious leaders of all faiths to unite in opposition to bloodshed and to work together for peace. “Religious leaders have an important role in stopping terror in the name of religion,” he said. “We should unite in our call against terror and against bloodshed, alongside a respect for the value of human life. We must work together, to call for reason and to guarantee the lives of all our children. That will be a real, religious and humanitarian contribution.”

Among those attending the assembly, in addition to Baha’i World Center secretarygeneral Dr. Albert Lincoln, were Chief Rabbis Shlomo Moshe Amar and Yona Metzger, Imam Mohammad Kiwan, Archbishop Aris Shirbenian, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa Custos, Greek Patriarch Theophilos III, Archbishop Elias Chacour and Latin Patriarch Fouad Tawl.

In the course of their stay in Israel, the imams, led by Hassen Chalgoumi, imam of the Drancy Mosque near Paris, also visited Yad Vashem and placed a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance. What they had seen at Yad Vashem, said Chalgoumi, strengthened their conviction of the need to combat Islamic fundamentalism and Holocaust denial.

■ ALTHOUGH IT may be a drop in the ocean given the cost of warfare, the visits by an ongoing stream of political dignitaries from abroad also represents a ridiculous waste of money. Protocol demands that a visiting minister or head of state be assigned an interpreter who speaks the language of the visitor’s home country as well as Hebrew, and translates for the dignitaries of the visiting and the host countries. That is understandable when people do not have language skills. But today, most world leaders are quite fluent in English, and an interpreter is both a waste of money and a waste of time.

Case in point was the visit of German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who, at his meeting with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, delivered his statement to the media in English, as did Liberman, proving that his proficiency in the language has come a long way since he first took office. However, an interpreter was on hand if necessary.

The following day, she accompanied Westerwelle to his meetings with Peres and Netanyahu and more or less sat twiddling her thumbs because there was absolutely no need for her services. Sometimes in their public addresses, leaders do speak their own languages, even though on a tete-a-tete basis they may speak English.

■ IN THE wake of Operation Pillar of Defense and the media coverage of events in the South, Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein ordered the establishment of a special ministry operations center to work in coordination with the National Information Directorate, the Foreign Ministry and the IDF Spokesperson’s Office. The operation center is focusing on coordinating public diplomacy efforts by enlisting a reservoir of 25,000 activists who have been trained by the ministry for public diplomacy to transmit messages in Israel and around the world.

The center is liaising with Diaspora communities and Jewish organizations around the world in order to both assist them and benefit from their assistance vis-à-vis public diplomacy activity in their languages and local environments. The ministry is thereby encouraging and initiating public diplomacy campaigns in numerous countries and via the Internet to bring a more accurate picture of events to the world. The Internet campaign includes messages, photographs, video clips and additional materials in various languages.

“We are here in order to expose the unbearable reality of the residents in the South and the necessity for military action against Hamas and other terrorist organizations,” said Edelstein.

greerfc@gmail.com


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