When changes are made to the minimum wage or the salaries paid to public servants, someone invariably brings up the story of Israel’s second president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, who did all in his power to keep his salary modest.
Instead of welcoming his desire to be as minimal a financial burden on the state as possible, the legislators and the Finance Ministry decided that since he was the highest-ranking civil servant, he should have the highest salary. Ben-Zvi found this very disconcerting.
The story came to light again last Friday, when Yehoram Gaon repeated it in his weekly current affairs program on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet station. For several years Ben-Zvi successfully defended his principles against a rise in salary, explaining that the country was going through a period of economic austerity and tens of thousands of new immigrants were living in tent cities. Under those circumstances, he said, it would be immoral of him to accept a raise.
As a result of his campaigning to keep his salary low, his chauffeur was earning 40 percent more than the president. Meanwhile, by the first half of the 1960s, the economy had improved and most of the immigrants were housed in apartments rather than tents. While Ben-Zvi was on a visit to Africa, the Knesset decided to triple his salary and factor it into the national budget, so that any objections he might raise could no longer be taken into consideration.
Ben-Zvi was most unhappy with the salary that had been forced on him, and in a letter dated December 31, 1962, addressed to Israel Gouri, then head of the Knesset Finance Committee, Ben-Zvi wrote: “Since taking office I have been perturbed by the galloping rise in the standard of living, which I regard as a threat to our economic independence. It is my opinion that as long as we’re faced by the double challenge of bringing Jews to Israel and facing the security threats we have, we must not raise the standard of living. Therefore, I have been resisting the efforts to raise my salary, hoping to present a model for imitation, and I’ve explained this both officially and in personal meetings with you.
“This year, sadly, the Knesset took advantage of my trip to Africa to raise my salary and legislate it into the budget. You recently explained the considerations, and I no longer feel I can resist them. However, I wish to inform you that I will use no more than half of the sum for my personal needs, and will donate the rest to a trust which will fund the preparation of ancient documents for use by researchers.”
This was, of course, the genesis of what we now know as Yad Ben-Zvi.
Current President Reuven Rivlin is also fairly modest in his needs, but like Ben-Zvi will receive a raise whether he wants it or not.
The president is the most highly paid civil servant, and given his range of duties and the fact that he works much more than an eighthour day, is definitely entitled to a high salary. In December he will still be earning a monthly salary of NIS 55,160, but in January it will go up to NIS 56,550.
The next-highest paid civil servant is the president of the Supreme Court, whose January salary will be NIS 55,220; followed by the prime minister, who despite his responsibilities and time spent on the job will be getting only NIS 47,300 in January. The state comptroller is next line with NIS 42,438, and MKs will receive NIS 40,350.
There’s a reason beyond politics that those in power want to hang on to their seats. Not only do they receive nice salaries, but they also receive sizable pensions when no longer in office. Pension expenditure on former MKs in 2015 will total NIS 71 million.
Indeed, until he was stripped of his pension rights in 2011, Azmi Bishara, who resigned from Knesset in 2007 while under police investigation on suspicion of passing information to the enemy during wartime, was receiving NIS 7,228 per month – double the minimum wage – after serving in the Knesset for a total of 11 years.
There are many people in Israel who have not received a raise during the same period of time, and who are earning much less.
■ SITUATION VACANT. The Jerusalem Foundation is looking for a candidate to replace diplomat Mark Sofer, who was president of the foundation for just under three years and has now returned to the Foreign Ministry. Sofer replaced Ruth Cheshin, who in 1966 co-founded the foundation with Teddy Kollek and who for more than 40 years, oversaw literally thousands of projects which the foundation initiated.
In the advertisement placed in Israeli media, job requirements include: knowledge of donors abroad and ability to raise funds in Israel and abroad; ability to manage social/business relations with Diaspora Jewry and foundation representatives abroad; experience managing and leading staff; and English at native-speaker level.
The ad also lists the skills required: ability to develop economic/social initiatives; excellent personal and professional relations and presentation ability; and ability to negotiate and maintain relations with government and municipal officials.
In addition, applicants should be aware this is a long-term position lasting from five to 10 years, requiring numerous trips abroad.
What the advertisement doesn’t say is the president also sits on the boards of many organizations, for which the Jerusalem Foundation has raised funds or with which it has a close involvement. Cheshin sat on so many boards that it was a miracle she had any time for herself.
Since its inception, the Jerusalem Foundation has completed more than 4,000 projects, from small neighborhood parks to city landmarks such as the Israel Museum, the Bloomfield Science Museum, the Tower of David Museum, Mishkenot Sha’ananim, the Jerusalem Cinematheque, the Jerusalem Theater and Teddy Park, as well as numerous educational, cultural and social projects.
None of this would have been possible without the vision of Kollek, whose achievements were recalled last week in Stuttgart, Germany, where the Jerusalem Foundation held a festive charity event that also celebrated 50 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany.
The proceeds from the event, which was opened by Winfried Kretschmann, prime minister of Baden-Wurttemberg, went towards Arab-Jewish educational projects in Jerusalem. Of course, the underlying message was strengthened in the face of the massacre that had taken place in a Har Nof synagogue two days earlier.
“The sad events make drastically clear how important the work of the Jerusalem Foundation is.
Together, we have to do everything to support peaceful interaction in Israel, even if hatred and violence may cause setbacks time and again,” said Kretschmann.
■ A FEW days prior to this event, Avi Primor, formerly a highly successful ambassador to Germany and now president emeritus of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, was also in Germany – where he addressed the plenary chamber of the German parliament on the country’s National Day of Remembrance.
Primor made special mention of Germany’s culture of commemoration, saying the Germans have become role models in researching and commemorating the past, driven by a national conscience over atrocities committed by German nationals. While many European countries have monuments to victims of the Holocaust, according to Primor, Germany is the only country that creates memorials designed to remind it of the most shameful period in its history.
“I am willing to stand with a country such as today’s Germany in grieving for the past – and in sharing the responsibility for the configuration of the future,” declared Primor.
■ OF THE four rabbis murdered by terrorists in Jerusalem last week, Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg held both British and Israeli nationality.
Thus, when British MP Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office, visited Israel this week, he paid a condolence call to Goldberg’s family, and wearing a black kippa, also visited the synagogue in which the terrorist attack had taken place. Maude was accompanied by British Ambassador Matthew Gould.
■ IN OTHER British-Israel news, Barry Grossman – who is UK Trade & Investment director, equivalent to commercial attache at the British Embassy – has the distinction of having worked under seven ambassadors.
In recognition of his service in promoting bilateral trade and investment, Grossman has been awarded the UKTI’s Chief Executive’s Outstanding Achievement Award, presented at a ceremony in London.
Grossman and his team have assisted many Israeli companies in setting up business in the UK.
The citation reads: “Barry is someone who embodies the UKTI vision and values. His team strategy has ensured that UKTI Israel exceeded all their targets; he is responsible for UKTI’s excellent reputation among our stakeholders both internally and externally, being held in very high esteem by everyone who has had dealings with him.”
■ TOMORROW, THURSDAY, marks the 41st Hebrew calendar anniversary of the passing of founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion. As always, there will be a graveside memorial service in Sde Boker with the participation of President Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, members of the Ben-Gurion family and of course, ninth president Shimon Peres.
It is possible that fifth president Yitzhak Navon, who like Peres was a disciple of Ben-Gurion’s, will also be there. If that happens, it will be one of the rare occasions when three of Israel’s four living presidents will be in the one place at the same time.
The fourth living president, Moshe Katsav, is still in prison.
Rivlin and Peres will also be at the same place, though not necessarily at the same time, on Thursday, December 11 – when both will be among the speakers at The Jerusalem Post’s annual diplomatic conference, which this year is being held in Israel’s capital. Three days later, Peres will be on his way to Holland on a fund-raising speaking engagement on behalf of a Dutch charitable conglomerate that contributes to various Israeli institutions and projects.
■ APROPOS PERES, he seems to have forgotten he is no longer in office. While it was appropriate for him to pay condolence calls on the families of murdered rabbis, it was most inappropriate for his public relations team to put out a media release two days ahead of the visit – not only announcing that it would take place, but also that at the conclusion of the condolence calls, Peres would deliver a statement to the media. There is an essential difference between the media seeking him out and him seeking out the media, especially in Jerusalem – where he does not reside, and where a sitting president holds office.
Peres came with an interfaith delegation to spell out the message of religious tolerance. He did so last year in a media-hyped gathering at the Vatican, but since then the world has become less – rather than more – peaceful.
■ READERS WHO are not familiar with the Facebook page of Post Editor- in-Chief Steve Linde will not have seen the delightfully funny video that was made in Linde’s absence by the paper’s Op-Ed Editor Seth Frantzman and Arts and Entertainment Editor Shawn Rodgers.
After completing speaking engagements in Australia and the US, Linde came home very briefly and then was off again, this time to South Africa for a combination of business and pleasure, blending speaking engagements with reunions with family, friends and his former Hebrew teacher from boyhood. Linde had not been to Durban in 30 years, and it was a highly charged emotional experience meeting people who had not only known him in his youth, but had also known his parents and grandparents. He met them in the synagogue and in homes of relatives, at his speaking engagements and at the Beth Shalom Retirement Home for Senior Citizens.
One of the residents subsequently sent him an email reminding him that he had attended her daughter’s birthday party as a young boy, and that she particularly remembered him because he had been the only one of the invited children to thank her for the invitation. For the record, he’s still very polite.
As for the video (available at www.
youtube.com/watch?v=JY5ZIAxt- Br0), it was a wonderful in-house spoof targeted at the longest absence Linde has had from his desk. That’s the way the cookie crumbles, when international speaking engagements are back-to-back – and Linde happens to be in high demand. The spoof exaggerated his absence, with Frantzman interviewing members of staff and asking if they had ever heard of Linde, did they know who he was, did they know what happened to him, etc. etc. Everyone played along beautifully and when the production premiered at an editorial meeting this week, no one laughed harder than Linde himself.
■ AMONG THE present and ex-officio of World WIZO and WIZO Israel who this week welcomed President Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, to WIZO Jerusalem’s shelter for battered women was Orna Barbivai, the first woman major-general in the IDF – who retired only two months ago after 34 years in the army. Barbivai, who had always been aware of the social gaps in Israeli society, joined WIZO to try to do something to remedy this situation and is now chairwoman of WIZO Israel’s fund-raising campaign.
Also in the welcoming group was Raya Jaglom, who served as World WIZO president for 26 years and in all probability is currently the most veteran WIZO member in Israel, having joined the organization several years before the establishment of the state. In fact, the compound in which the shelter is located dates back to 1945, when it was opened as a WIZO babies home. Jaglom, 95 and still elegant, is one of the very few WIZO women today who can boast of having had a close relationship with Rebecca Sieff, one of the three founders of WIZO.
The Rivlins were introduced to the welcoming circle by Gila Oshrat, chairwoman of WIZO Israel.
Although perturbed by the stories they heard from two of the women staying at the shelter, the Rivlins had a great time with the children of the women. It’s not every little boy who can boast of having Israel’s president say, “Give me five,” and slapping his hand.
■ THE IDF may currently be without a female brigadier-general, but the air force has its first female deputy squadron commander, whose position is somewhat more sensitive than the one Barbivai had as head of the manpower division; therefore, she can only be identified as Maj.
Gal. A transport pilot, she will be the Nachshon pilot commander at the Nevatim air base in the Negev.
In addition to being a pilot, she’s also a flight school instructor, and most recently was deputy squadron commander in Kings of the Air.
Gal has been with the Israel Air Force for 11 years, having joined the pilots course in 2003; she will take up her new position in the summer of 2015. Now, all we’re waiting for is a lady admiral.
■ NOTHING SEEMS to daunt Lia van Leer, the grand lady of the Jerusalem Cinematheque. Rain and wind not withstanding, the 90-yearold Van Leer was in the audience on Monday night for the evening of cinema and dialogue organized by the Association of Rape Crisis Centers, on the eve of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Nothing starts on time in Jerusalem, and the dialogue preceding the highly disturbing film That Lovely Girl – which graphically depicts an incestuous father-daughter relationship – was scheduled to begin at 8:30 p.m.; at that time, most of the seats in the auditorium were still empty.
However, by 8:45 the auditorium was almost full.
There were also a few men in attendance, but not nearly enough, as several speakers remarked. Aside from the need for men and women to work together towards the deescalation of violence, the most important message that emerged from the event was the need for women to stop being afraid of reporting to authorities they were sexually assaulted.
Meretz MK Michal Rozin, a former executive director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers, drew attention to the publicity given over the past week to a female judge who was allegedly sexually assaulted by a police officer, but is reportedly afraid to file a complaint even though she told some of her friends of the incident.
As result, said Rozin, society is once again pointing the finger at the victim. In Israel, the victim is nearly always blamed, she said, because victims of sexual assault are not asked the right questions.
■ FORMER SENATOR from Connecticut Joe Lieberman, who was the Democratic party nominee for vice president of the US, has joined the Be a Mensch Foundation.
Established in 2011 by Dr. Moshe Kaplan, the foundation’s advisory board includes three Nobel Prize laureates, Profs. Dan Shechtman, Aaron Ciechanover and Robert Aumann, along with Tova Ben- Dov, president of World WIZO; Tal Brody; Prof. Yedidia Stern of the Israel Democracy Institute; Dr.
Daniel Gordis of Shalem College; Racheli Fraenkel; and others.
Be a Mensch, a nonprofit, was founded with the purpose of spreading the basic values of mutual respect, integrity, concern and tolerance, in order to foster unity in Israeli society. The foundation advocates the use of the Yiddish term mensch as part of the daily jargon, in describing an individual whose behavior is in keeping with the above-mentioned values.
The vision of Be a Mensch is to strengthen national unity among the different sectors of Israeli society, through mutual respect and understanding.
■ EVERY WRITER knows the bitter pill of rejection. Some of the world’s bestsellers were rejected by a dozen or more publishers, before eventually being accepted and leading to fame and fortune for their writers.
Novelist Michelle Mazel, who has the good fortune to be a polyglot who can write in English and Hebrew as well as French, her mother tongue, has had a busy literary year.
In February, her book Dancing with the Ambassador, a non-fiction account of her life as the wife of ambassador Zvi Mazel, was published in Hebrew. In September, thriller Le Kabyle de Jerusalem (The Kabyle from Jerusalem) was published in French; in late October, La Maison du Pacha – an updated version of an earlier book, Wife to the Ambassador, initially published more than 10 years ago – was also published in French, with a recommendation by her very own live-in ambassador.
Mazel visits her native city whenever she can, and has just returned from Paris, where she presented the last two books at the Bnai B’rith Paris Salon du Livre. While she was there, an electronic version of Wife to the Ambassador became available at E-vrit. Another thriller in French, The Sheikh from Hebron, is scheduled for release in spring 2015.
The correct congratulatory message in the face of all this is, “Write on!” ■ THE MOSHAV Band is an Israeli- American Jewish rock band founded in 1995 by lead singer Yehuda Solomon and Duvid Swirsky, childhood friends who grew up in Moshav Modi’in, known as the Shlomo Carlebach moshav. Carlebach founded it together with some of his followers from the House of Love and Prayer, and the music heard there most frequently is that which Carlebach composed.
After five successful years in Israel and on tour, the Moshav Band moved to Los Angeles, where it has a large following and from where it is easier to move across America for gigs. Over the years some members of the band have changed, but its popularity remains constant.
Yehuda Solomon is the son of Ben-Zion Solomon, who performed with the original Diaspora Yeshiva Band, is one of the founders of the moshav and frequently performs at Carlebach concerts.
The whole Solomon family is very musical. Following more than a million views of the video of the Moshav Band’s last single, “World on Fire” featuring Matisyahu, the boys are back with a spiritual record, dubbed Shabbat Vol. 1, influenced by the many Shabbatot they spent with their beloved Reb Shlomo. The album is already on sale and contains 15 tracks of some of the most beautiful Hebrew/Jewish melodies to date.
“This record is very special to us.
It brings us back to our childhood on the moshav and reconnects us to those very special Shabbatot with Reb Shlomo, in the small synagogue packed with family and friends singing and dancing late into Friday night,” said Yehuda Solomon.
“Duvid and I recorded this CD at our home studio here in Los Angeles, and tried to give it a very raw vibe – kind of like we’re all just hanging out again and jamming on the moshav.”
Swirsky, who produced and arranged the record, with some of the songs being original and others traditional, said, “For me, Shabbat is the smell of my mother’s cooking.
Shabbat is sneaking outside the back gate of the Moshav. Shabbat is music. Shabbat is home. Shabbat is roots. Shabbat is open. Shabbat is no judgment.”
The Moshav Band was initially discovered by a group of American students traveling in Israel, who after hearing it raised money to bring the group to America for a college tour in the late 1990s. It was obvious from campus reactions that the band would relocate to Los Angeles, where its fanbase has continued to grow. The deluxe version of New Sun Rising will be released on December 16, and features “World on Fire.”