Haredi schools begin the school year a couple of weeks ahead of the rest of the country, and accordingly there were many haredi children who on Sunday were attending school for the first time. Crowded into the small desks alongside them at the Dibrot Moshe school in Jerusalem’s Har Nof religious neighborhood were President Reuven Rivlin and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
It is customary in haredi schools to begin the first lesson in the first grade not only with the teaching of the alphabet but also with the first book of the Torah, Genesis. Haredi children have a somewhat unique way of learning the alphabet so that they can read the Torah. Honey is spread on each of the letters and the children lick the honey in order to symbolically taste the sweetness of the Torah. While Rivlin and Barkat participated in the lesson, they didn’t get to taste the honey. In fact, it hasn’t been a particularly sweet year for either of them.
■ THE SHAS-INITIATED demonstration last Friday afternoon against the opening on Shabbat of Yes Planet was not exactly reminiscent of the Friday night demonstrations against the Cinematheque in the days when it was located in Beit Agron on Hillel Street, in a part of town that was not adjacent to any haredi neighborhood.
Nonetheless, the Friday night demonstrations, with some of the leading figures in Jerusalem’s haredi community, were part protest and part entertainment.
They brought out the secular community in droves to defend their right to be nonobservant and to have somewhere to go on Friday nights instead of having to find a way to get to Tel Aviv. There were far fewer cars in those days and far fewer roads on which to drive.
Among the young haredi firebrands more than three decades ago were Meir Porush and Yehuda Meshi-Zahav on the Ashkenazi side of the street, and Nissim Ze’ev on the Sephardi.
Porush and Ze’ev were each subsequently a deputy mayor of Jerusalem before becoming a member of Knesset. Meshi-Zahav was the chief operations officer for the Eda Haredit who knew how to make life miserable for Sabbath desecraters.
The demonstrations were sometimes violent, but nothing would budge either mayor Teddy Kollek or Cinematheque founder Lia van Leer, and 34 years later the Cinematheque continues to screen films on Friday nights and throughout the day on Saturday. Now permanently located in a valley that cannot even be seen from the street and is some distance away from any haredi neighborhood, it provides a good weekend entertainment outlet for the nonobservant and the non-Jewish residents in the capital’s population.
Interviewed on Friday morning on Israel Radio, Ze’ev, who is one of the founders of Shas, said that he has nothing against the secular community, but if they want Friday night entertainment there are plenty of options for them outside Jerusalem.
Although the haredim were in some cases rioting last Friday night, they were in their own neighborhood in Romema near the Geula intersection.
Anyone who paid close attention to the video footage saw that security forces were intent on beating up on Toldot Aharon demonstrators, who stood out in their gold-striped bekishes and fur shtreimels in contrast to their black-suited fellow demonstrators.
There were Toldot Aharon people who were just standing around doing nothing when they were pounced on by security personnel, thrown to the ground and pummeled.
Their expensive shtreimels rolled in the dirt and their goldstriped bekishes, worn specifically on Shabbat, were soiled. There was absolutely no need for such brutality.
Another demonstration on Saturday evening indicated that the pious were not about to be frightened by police employing strongman tactics. Earlier in the week haredi members of Knesset threatened Barkat that the religious factions would leave his coalition if Yes Planet remains open on Shabbat.
Yes Planet is an adjunct to the Sherover Cultural Center in Jerusalem’s Abu Tor neighborhood. Despite objections from Abu Tor residents, Uziel Wexler, a former treasurer of the Jerusalem Municipality and for the past 19 years the chairman of the Sherover Foundation, decided that he knew better what was good for Jerusalem, and bulldozed the project into reality, just as in the days when he was city treasurer, he bulldozed the National Precinct which houses several government ministries into reality.
The National Precinct also houses Cinema City, which was not part of the original plan. Cinema City owners Leon and Moshe Edery want to operate on Shabbat but are prevented from doing so because the premises are on state land. Neither Cinema City nor Yes Planet are located near haredi neighborhoods.
Meanwhile a new coffee shop situated in Jerusalem’s Independence Park opposite the American Consulate has confused secular Jerusalemites with its on-again, off-again, on-again announcements about being open on Shabbat.
The Landwer Coffee company, which initially held the franchise, eventually withdrew after receiving threats from kashrut authorities that kashrut approval would be rescinded if the coffee shop was opened on Shabbat. A sub-franchisee decided to close it on Shabbat and then backed out of the deal altogether. The current franchisee, Moti Sharabi, who according to media reports has nothing to do with Landwer, has named the coffee shop Alma, and has decided that he will be open for business on Shabbat, which more less means that he’s inviting demonstrations in the park.
Some of the nonreligious members of the Jerusalem City Council announced, when it was previously stated that the coffee shop would be open on Shabbat, that they would frequent it. Now, it’s more than likely that they will be part of the secularist counterdemonstration, which in all probability will be led by the Hitorerut faction, which vigorously supported the opening of Cinema City on Shabbat – albeit to no avail.
■ AFTER A number of Tzohar and other rabbis decided to establish an alternative, more lenient conversion court than that of the Chief Rabbinate, the latter retaliated last week by participating in the launching of an alternative to Tzohar under the title of B’Noam, which is headed by Rabbi Yisrael Rani and which aims to show a more pleasant face of the Chief Rabbinate.
Although it claims to not be in competition with Tzohar, it is offering almost identical services, and will accept among its members rabbis who are committed to both the letter and the spirit of the Torah and who are interested in strengthening the status of the Chief Rabbinate.
Speaking at the launch, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef insinuated that the rabbis who were acting against the Chief Rabbinate by opening an alternative conversion court were doing so for personal gain and not in the service of God. Lau went as far to charge them with causing damage to the Torah. With so many wars of the Jews against each other, who needs enemies? ■ IN THE meantime, police have tightened security around the home and synagogue of Tzohar chairman Rabbi David Stav, who doesn’t seem to be the least bit perturbed about his security situation. When asked by reporters why his safety may be at risk, Stav, who is a graduate of Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, and holds the required rabbinical authorization to be a judge in the rabbinical courts, said that he suspected that he is a cause of concern to those who disapprove of him because he is able to argue with them knowledgeably on issues of Jewish law.
■ HE IS not the only one for whom greater security precautions have been taken. Although US Ambassador Dan Shapiro appears to move around Israel with total freedom, and has probably enjoyed far greater diversity of the Israel experience in his few years here than most Israelis get to see in a lifetime, he is always surrounded by bodyguards – more so in recent weeks since he started getting a large number of threats related to the Iran deal.
The senders of these threats have apparently not been told that you don’t kill the messenger. Like any ambassador of any country, Shapiro, in his professional life, has to conform with the policies of his leader. That’s the way it works. Michael Oren, Israel’s immediate past ambassador to the United States, was unable to voice his personal views until he had completed his tour of service and returned to Israel. It was only then that the public learned to what extent he disagreed with the prime minister.
No one, with the possible exception of his wife, Julie Fisher, knows how Shapiro feels one way or the other about the Iran deal, but it’s his job to explain the reasoning of US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. Those who threaten him should remember that he’s not the one who made the deal.
■ WITHOUT WISHING to rain on the parade of Larry Cohler Esses, the Jewish journalist from the United States who became the subject of news in addition to reporting it, due to his recent visit to Iran, he was not the first Jewish journalist to be granted a visa. When the writer of this column embarked on her career while still in her late teens in her native Australia, her editor Manny Oderberg told her to beware of words such as “first,” “only” and “best,” because chances are that someone will always come up with proof to the contrary.
Certainly in an Internet era, where so much information is almost instantly at one’s fingertips, one can usually check whether claims of being the first or the only are correct.
The British publication The Guardian reported that Cohler-Esses was the first journalist from a Jewish pro-Israel publication to gain a journalist’s visa for Iran since 1979. However, Yediot Aharonot’s Orly Azoulay preceded him. While Cohler-Esses, who was born in Iran, had an advantage over Azoulay in that he could converse in Farsi with the many people whom he met, Azoulay’s visit was more sensational in that she was born in Israel, has her place of birth written in her passport and writes for an Israeli newspaper, though she writes for other publications as well. Azoulay has been living in the US for several years and traveled on an American passport. But when she visited Iran in March of this year, the Iranian authorities knew that she was an Israeli, and it didn’t take too much intelligence to discover that she writes for an Israeli daily publication. She was actually treated quite well and given the opportunity to visit Iranian Jewish communities and their synagogues in Tehran and Isfahan. She was part of a delegation organized by The New York Times.
■ THE POWER of the press has helped to avert a diplomatic incident between Ireland and Israel. Though Ireland is critical of Israel’s policies and pro-Palestinian to the extent that Ahmad Abdelrazek serves as the ambassador to Ireland of the “State of Palestine,” there are protocols of diplomatic conduct which are observed where Israel is concerned, regardless of how any host country to an Israel embassy may feel about Israel’s policies.
Thus it seemed like a snub when Boaz Modai and his wife, Nurit, who served as his deputy, were winding up their five-year tenure last week with no invitation forthcoming for a farewell meeting with President Michael Higgins. It is customary in most countries for heads of foreign missions to present their credentials to the head of state and to take their farewell from the head of state at the conclusion of their term. The Israel Embassy in Ireland had notified the Department of Foreign Affairs that Modai was leaving. What should have happened next was an invitation from Higgins to come and have a farewell chat.
Whether the notification from the Israel Embassy was lost in transit or ignored when it arrived, no one knows, or if they do, they’re not going to spill the beans. However once the Irish media, when interviewing Modai on the impressions that he, his wife and their two sons were carrying away with them, learned that he was disappointed not to be invited by Higgins, it made a big splash. Higgins learned of the diplomatic faux pas on the day prior to Modai’s departure and hastily called a meeting with Modai and his wife and gave him a collection of his own poetry as a goodwill gift. The two men discussed common interests as well as the nature of relations between their two countries.
■ PROMISES PROMISES. Regardless of which government is in power, empty promises are made to the public, as for instance the promise that traffic police would be on hand to ensure the smooth flow of traffic in the wake of the commencement of work on the Tel Aviv Light Rail project.
But Israel Radio’s Yitzhak Perry reported early on Sunday morning that traffic congestion was horrendous and that there were no traffic police in sight. He could only surmise with dread what it would be like when the school vacations are over and parents will be escorting first graders on their first day at school.
■ IT COULDN’T have been a better birthday present for former Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball star Tal Brody than to have the Maccabi Tel Aviv boys basketball team beat their much taller and more experienced Lithuanian rivals.
Brody, who will celebrate his 62nd birthday on August 30, accompanied the team to Lithuania. It was not his first trip to Litvak land. He was there in 2013 with members of the Maccabi Tel Aviv team who were playing against Rytas Vilnius. During that visit he, the team veteran Lithuanian basketball players, members of the Lithuanian Basketball Federation, members of the parliament led by Dr. Emanuel Zingeri and Sergejus Jovaisia, Michael Rowsitisian, Israel’s honorary consul, Maccabi Lithuania representatives, Michel Gourary, CEO of Israeli Jewish Congress, and 250 students who were studying tolerance went to the Ponary Forest to participate in a ceremony commemorating the Jews who were victims of a mass massacre perpetrated by the Nazis.
This time he was escorting a younger team which was in Lithuania to take part in a youth basketball tournament aimed at bringing together Lithuanian and Israeli youth to practice, play and socialize. The trophy that the Israelis brought home was a bonus. The two-day tournament was the joint brainchild of Israel’s Ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon together with the Sarunas Marciulionis Basketball Academy.
There were three Lithuanian teams plus the junior Maccabi Tel Aviv team. The event received a lot of publicity beforehand and even more afterward, and of course attracted a lot of interest during the games themselves. The trophies and medals were awarded by Maimon, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, Brody, and former Lithuanian player Sarunas Marciulionis. Maccabi Tel Aviv has a very warm spot for Lithuanian basketball, having more than a decade ago had Sarunus Jasikevicius on its team. Jasikevicius helped Maccabi Tel Aviv to win two Euroleague titles in addition to Israeli championships.
■ ALTHOUGH ISRAEL does not do enough for its own needy citizens, it is often in the front lines of aid donors when disasters befall citizens of other countries. Thus, when many people in Myanmar were injured and rendered homeless by heavy floods and landslides last month, Israel’s Ambassador Daniel Zonshine and his staff were quick to not only offer but to personally deliver food supplies and medications.
They went to hospitals and to camps that had been set up for flood victims and worked in full coordination with the Myanmar ministries of Health and Foreign Affairs, as well as with local authorities and representatives who met with the ambassador and his staff in the affected region.
Zonshine headed the Israel Embassy’s delegation to the hard-hit Thayarwaddy delta area, with a truck loaded with food, medicines, mosquito nets and hygiene packs, and distributed these essentials not only to officials but to individuals who needed them.
The embassy, in coordination with Mashav, Israel’s Agency for International Development, is continuing to help flood victims, who are receiving embassy personnel with open arms.
■ AROUND THE corner from the Prime Minister’s Residence two groups of women are on a hunger strike. One group, Women Wage Peace, sit around in white aquatrimmed T-shirts. They have an awning to protect them from the sun, and they sit on comfortable white plastic chairs. They pass around a microphone and talk from their individual perspectives about why it is more important to negotiate a peace settlement with the Palestinians than to maintain the status quo.
A young woman speaking poor American-accented Hebrew told of how, when she was asked by a passer- by what she was doing, she replied that she was “b’tzom,” which in Hebrew means that she was fasting.
Her interlocutor corrected her and said “Lo, at b’shvitat ra’av,” which means, “No, you’re on a hunger strike.” The young woman remained adamant about tzom, explaining that to fast is a spiritual act, just as peace is a spiritual desire. She wasn’t on a hunger strike, she explained, she was fasting. This earned her spontaneous applause from her audience, some of whom were literally sitting on the edge of their seats as she spoke with such heartfelt conviction.
The other group is much smaller – mothers and grandmothers who are protesting that their children and grandchildren have been taken from them by social workers who believe that the mothers are incapable of properly looking after their progeny.
They all come from low income backgrounds and some live in tents, but they love their children and their children love them.
A somewhat unkempt grandmother who also has an American accent spoke partially in English, partially in fluent Hebrew, and pointed to a poster composed of portraits of children taken from their homes and placed against their wills in youth villages and boarding schools. “Do you know how many pedophiles hang around in these places?” she said.
“Do you know what our kids tell us about people who come into their rooms at night and hurt them? There are good girls who were taken away from their mothers and some pedophiles made them pregnant....”
Representatives of the first group were spotted by Sara Netanyahu, who invited them into her home.
They had a very civil conversation and agreed to disagree, though the demonstrators were highly appreciative of her gesture. But Sara Netanyahu is a practicing child psychologist, and who better than she should mount a campaign to investigate the validity of removing children and placing them in environments in which they are at greater risk than if they had stayed with their mothers.
As a mother, a professional in her field and the wife of the prime minister, there is no one more suited to pick up this ball and to start running with it.
■ TWO SEPARATE yet related events are to take place on Thursday, August 20. At one, to take place in Jerusalem in the morning, Dan Meridor, the former deputy prime minister and former justice minister among other important positions, is to talk about dangerous trends in Israeli society. A native Jerusalemite, Meridor, 68, has witnessed many changes in the country throughout his life, but cannot recall a period in which there was so much hatred, incitement, violence and intolerance of the other. These trends are very disturbing to him, especially when Israeli spokesmen are so busy putting out the message of Israel’s yearning for peace. If there is no peace among ourselves, how can Israel make peace with her neighbors? Maybe the latter might even be easier.
Though no longer in parliament or in government, Meridor, who was also cabinet secretary to both Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, continues to hold influential positions as chairman of the board of directors of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, president of the Israeli Council of Foreign Relations and chairman of the Jerusalem Press Club, under whose auspices he will be speaking at the Konrad Adenauer Conference Center in Mishkenot Sha’ananim.
■ THE SECOND event on the same date is one in which deeds count for more than words. It is an Abrahamic reunion of Israelis and Palestinians from Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Galilee who are going to express their solidarity with the monks and nuns at Tabgha monastery and the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes, who were the first see the painful results of the mid-June arson attack against places holy to Christians.
Participants of different faiths will come together at Tabgha and join in an interfaith prayer session with Benedictine monks. There will be other joint activities throughout the day. Whoever is interested in joining should contact Eliyahu McLean at 058-757-8522 or Sheikh Ghassan Manasra at 054-924-7794. Jerusalemites are advised that a bus will be leaving from Liberty Bell Parking lot at 7:30 a.m.
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