■ AS HAPPENS every year, international businessman and philanthropist Lev Leviev, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Commonwealth of Independent States formerly part of the Soviet Union, sent large quantities of Passover food supplies to Chabad emissaries in the CIS to distribute to Jews in these communities.
Joining him this time was Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
Foremost in the supplies they sent were 100 tons of matzot.
■ SOME PEOPLE like a small, intimate Seder, but this is a rare luxury for Avigdor Kahalani, chairman of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers, and some of the IDF’s top brass. Tonight, like every Passover, they will be joining more than 400 lone soldiers who will be celebrating the Seder at the organization’s R&R center in Givat Olga. Kahalani, a former career officer who reached the rank of brigadier general, is one of Israel’s most highly decorated officers. He received the Medal of Distinguished Service for his actions during the Six Day War and the Medal of Valor, the highest decoration in the IDF, following his remarkable display of courage in the Yom Kippur War. He later entered politics serving as deputy mayor of Tel Aviv and subsequently as a Labor MK, after which he broke away from the party. He was one of the founders of the now defunct The Third Way, which joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 1996 coalition in which Kahalani served as internal security minister.
■ WHILE IT’S exciting to be in the Knesset on special occasions, sometimes it’s more interesting to watch Knesset ceremonies on TV, because cameras pan the crowd and zoom in on certain people allowing viewers to see fidgeting and facial expressions that might be lost on them if they were sitting in the Knesset gallery. It was really disgusting to see how many people, including potential ministers and ex-ministers, were busy with their cell phones during President Reuven Rivlin’s speech. It didn’t seem to bother them that television cameras were capturing their inattention and lack of elementary politeness and recording it for posterity. It says a lot about how the 20th Knesset is going to operate.
■ THE CURRENT Knesset reflects a dwindling of Likud princes, but there are 10 second-generation MKs among the 120 members of the 20th Knesset, and two of them happen to be siblings – the son and daughter of former foreign minister David Levy, who was the most popular interviewee of the day, telling reporters that he was proud of his daughter Orly Levy-Abecassis, already a seasoned MK and his son Jackie Levy, a Knesset rookie. Papa Levy noted that Jackie, like his sister, has an impressive resume in areas of social justice.
Pressed by several reporters as to where his sympathies would lie if his son and daughter had to vote against each other given that they are in different parties, Levy Sr.
was unperturbed and reasonably confident that on socioeconomic issues the two would vote the same way, given that they were raised in the same home environment. He would have preferred that none of his 12 children goes into politics but two of them decided to follow in his footsteps – Jackie more so than Orly. He, like his father, was mayor of Beit She’an before becoming an MK.
■ MANY OF the new MKs were asked about what role they would like for themselves.
Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin of the Zionist Union said she would be happy with anything she was given. When an incredulous interviewer asked if she would be happy with a small, nondescript position, Nahmias- Verbin quoted Konstantin Stanislavsky and Hanna Rovina saying: “There are no small roles, only small players. The role is what you make of it”.
■ PERSEVERANCE WAS the name of the game for new Likud MK Abraham Naguise who came to Israel on Operation Moses 30 years ago. He acquired an education in Israel and had tried several times to get into the Knesset. Though not elected in the past he was not disheartened, and was convinced that eventually he would succeed. His faith paid off. Before attending the festive opening session of the Knesset on Tuesday, Naguise went to the Western Wall to give thanks for the fact that he now not only represents the Ethiopian community but the whole of Israel, and he asked for strength to be able to focus on all the social justice issues that must be dealt with.
■ ALTHOU GH KULANU MK Yoav Galant missed out on being IDF chief of staff, there’s something that he and former chief of staff Benny Gantz have in common. Both are sons of Holocaust survivors. Galant’s mother, Fruma Segal-Galant, together with other survivors, arrived in Israel on the legendary ship Exodus.
■ WHAT VETERAN broadcaster MK Zuhair Bahloul of the Zionist Union is going to miss most, he told the Knesset television channel, is being a sportscaster.
He is widely considered to be one of the best soccer broadcasters and commentators in the country, and is willing to keep on doing it gratis on Saturdays if the Knesset’s legal adviser Eyal Yinon gives him the green light.
■ FOLLO WING THE historic visit of Queen Elizabeth II to the set of HBO’s Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland, former president Shimon Peres was invited to Hangar 11 at Tel Aviv Port on Thursday for the Israel launch of the world tour exhibition of the series, prior to the fifth season. Peres posed for photos while seated on the throne. When Queen Elizabeth was invited to sit on the same throne, she declined. She already has one of her own. Also present were British Ambassador Matthew Gould and Ron Eilon, CEO of Yes, which brought the exhibition to Israel. The official opening to the public will be Sunday, April 5, and the 70 original artifacts will be on view until April 9.
■ EFRAT CHIE F Rabbi Shlomo Riskin occasionally throws a bombshell, and he threw more than one when speaking at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue last Saturday night. Aside from comparing US President Barack Obama with Haman, Riskin told his audience that Queen Esther ,who is revered so much in Jewish tradition, was actually on the verge of assimilation when Mordechai pushed her in the other direction.
Riskin pointed out to those who were not familiar with the Bible or who had forgotten some of what they had learned, that Ruth the Moabite, who descended from the incestuous relationship between Lot and his elder daughter, bearing a son called Moab, meaning from the father, was actually more Jewish by choice than Esther, who was Jewish from birth. All this was designed to strengthen his argument that the Chief Rabbinate and Jews in general must be more accepting and welcoming of converts to Judaism and should embrace them rather than create obstacles for them.
Queen Esther had a son, Darius, by King Ahasuerus, but according to Riskin, Darius never owned up to his Jewish lineage, whereas Ruth the Moabite, who followed her mother-in-law Naomi the Israelite back to her people and became a Jew by choice, gave birth to Obed, her son by Boaz, who in turn was the father of Jesse, who was the father of King David, from whom according to Jewish tradition the messiah will be descended.
Riskin said that when he was serving as a rabbi in New York, and a young couple wanted to get married, the parents of one of the parties to the prospective union would sometimes ask him what sort of a family the other party came from. Riskin used to brush such questions aside, observing that the descendants of Queen Esther have forsaken their Jewish identity, whereas a descendant of Ruth will be the messiah.
Continuing to strengthen his argument in favor of conversion, Riskin stated that there are 36 references in the Bible to being kind to the convert, and noted that Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Meir were from families of converts, and that Onkelos, who translated the Bible into Aramaic and is regarded as one of the greatest interpreters of the Bible of all time, was himself a convert.
Riskin regretted that the rabbinate makes so many difficulties for converts when it should be embracing them, especially those with Jewish fathers. While advocating that all conversions should conform with Halacha, Riskin pointed out that Jewish DNA cannot be ignored, and quoted references from a book by Rabbi Haim Amsalem called Zera Yisrael (Jewish seed), in which he gives examples of how patrilineal descent is welcomed in the Torah. Riskin’s advocacy for conversion stems from the high rate of intermarriage in the United States and Europe in which lapsed Jews are married to lapsed Christians. In the US, he said, 72.2 percent of Jews are intermarrying, with exception of the Orthodox, where intermarriage is almost nonexistent.
In Europe, according to Riskin, the ratio is much higher and close to 85%. This poses a severe threat to Jewish continuity, Riskin underscored, and therefore the beauty of Judaism should be shown to non-Jewish partners in these unions in the hope that they will be attracted to Judaism and will consider conversion. In Israel, the situation is even more complex with more than 400,000 people from families from the former Soviet Union considering themselves to be Jewish, but who are not Jewish halachically, even though they are Israeli in every other sense. One of the greatest tragedies, Riskin pointed out, is when people in this category lose their lives in battle when serving in the IDF but cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery. They are Jewish enough to die for the Jewish state, but not Jewish enough for their final resting place to be among other soldiers in the military section of a Jewish cemetery.
■ WHILE THERE is consensus, even among die-hard Yiddishists, that Yiddish will never return to its pre-World War II status, there is an equally strong feeling that despite all the predictions of the doomsayers, Yiddish will remain a living language for at least another hundred years. Certainly, the revival of Yiddish not only in Israel, but in many parts of the world, points in that direction.
One of the places in which Yiddish is enjoying a revival is in Poland, where Yiddish was once the mother tongue of millions. Even under Communist rule there was Yiddish theater in Poland, and when the annual Krakow Jewish Festival was launched towards the end of the 1980s it included Yiddish cabaret.
A subsequent Sholem Aleichem Festival in Warsaw also has Yiddish content, and there are many singers in Poland whose repertoire includes a large Yiddish selection. Two such singers will appear at the International Yiddish Music Festival, which opens at the Suzanne Dellal Center on April 4 and continues through April 6. One is singer-songwriter Kayah, who will be performing in Yiddish and Hebrew, and the other is Norwegian born folksinger Bente Kahan, who lives in Wroclaw, Poland, where she helped to restore the famed 200-year-old White Stork Synagogue, which now serves as a center for Jewish culture and education. Kahan will be interviewed today, Friday, between 1 and 3 p.m. by Liat Regev on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet.
■ FOUR YEARS ago Yoni Eilat released an album in Yiddish under the title Gypsy Soul, which was in fact a Yiddish version of the Hebrew album of the same name that had previously been released by Yardena Arazi.
Her album, of which some 150,000 copies were sold, was considered to be highly successful.
But Eilat’s album was the one on which the Yiddishpiel Ensemble has based its new show, which premieres April 6 at the Arison Hall in Tel Aviv and later in the month will go on tour to Ashdod, Netanya, Jerusalem and Rehovot up to and including April 28. The production examines the similarities and differences between traditional Yiddish and Gypsy musical cultures. What both have in common is the ability to combine melancholy and merriment in the one melody. The play was written by Oren Yaacobi and directed by Yoni Eilat with musical arrangements by Lior Ronen and choreography by Nadav Tzelner. Eilat is also a member of the cast.
■ ON THURSDAY , April 9, familiar Yiddish melodies will be part of the offering by Avraham Burstein’s Klezmer Band, which will set out at 1 p.m. on a musical march from the windmill at Jerusalem’s Yemin Moshe in the direction of the Old City. In previous years, other musicians have brought their instruments and joined the march, which is in the nature of a jam session on the move, attracting people from all walks of life who are only too happy to be part of the Klezmer happening.
■ ON THE following Thursday, April 16, there will be a tribute at Leyvik House in Tel Aviv to writer, poet, folklore researcher editor and teacher of Yiddish language and literature Yitzhak Ganuz, a Holocaust survivor who came to Israel in 1948. A film on Ganuz’s life and works made by Tal Rosenbaum and Eran Karku will be screened, and some of Ganuz’s poems will be read in Hebrew and Yiddish. Due to this event, the regular Yiddish Shmooz that is held on Fridays at Leyvik House will not take place on April 17 ■ AMONG SEVERAL places in which Yiddish is heard on a regular basis are the Arbeter Ring (Workers Circle) and Sholem Aleichem House in Tel Aviv. Several community centers around the country have study courses in Yiddish, and concerts, lectures, plays and other events in Yiddish that take place all over the country are faithfully recorded in a monthly bulletin Vos? Ven? Vu? (What? When? Where?) compiled and distributed by Bella Bryks-Klein. Yiddish in Israel is far from dead or even dormant.
■ THOUGH NOT in Yiddish, but certainly in the category of contemporary Jewish history is Alan Tomlinson’s new film Treblinka’s Last Witness, which tells the story of Samuel Willenberg, now in his nineties, who was one of the leaders of the Treblinka revolt and is the last survivor of the notorious death camp. Willenberg, a Tel Aviv-based artist and sculptor, has written and lectured extensively in different parts of the world on his Treblinka nightmare.
For all that, he is an extremely upbeat personality, with a ready smile and a contagious sense of humor. He also continues with Polish social graces such as kissing ladies’ hands. The film will be screened in Willenberg’s presence at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on Wednesday, April 15 at 7 p.m.