For the first time in many years, former president Shimon Peres did not attend the Ein Gev Music Festival, which has been an annual feature of the intermediate days of Passover since 1943. Instead of going to the Galilee, he opted for the Negev to honor the memory of his mentor, Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, whose greatest wish was to see the Negev flourish. Peres went to Yeroham on Sunday and on Monday continued on to Sde Boker to Ben-Gurion’s hut, where, in the guise of a tour guide, he traveled back in time and shared reminiscences with young people of his many years of working with the prime minister, whose philosophies he continues to espouse.
The former president told them that Ben-Gurion had set an example in leadership by settling in the Negev when it was little more than desert. He would have been proud to see how the state has developed since then, said Peres, who enthused that the Negev in full bloom had ever looked more beautiful.
Peres has an enormous fund of anecdotes about Ben-Gurion, as does Israel’s fifth president Yitzhak Navon, another Ben-Gurion disciple, who will be honored on April 19 by the Mensch International Foundation at the opening of a pictorial exhibition dedicated to the memories of Ilan Ramon and Yonatan Netanyahu and featuring Jewish and Israeli aviators. Navon will be lauded by retired Supreme Court justice Gabriel Bach, a former recipient of the Mensch award. Other speakers at the event at the Einav Cultural Center in Tel Aviv include Eliezer Shkedy, a former commander of the Israel Air Force and more recently a former CEO of El Al; Rona Ramon, the wife of Ilan Ramon; Hungarian Ambassador Andor Nagy; Ron Lustig, the director of the Herzl Museum in Safed; and Steve Geiger, the founder and director of the Mensch International Foundation.
Apropos Peres, less than a week ago, there were good natured jokes about King Shimon when Peres, during a sneak preview of the Games of Thrones exhibition in Tel Aviv, sat on the show’s iron throne, something which Queen Elizabeth II of England had declined to do when she visited the exhibition in Northern Ireland.
■ Getting back to the Ein Gev festival, the absence of Peres did not mean that there was no president present. President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, were there, and the president even got on stage to sing a duet with Ruhama Raz. The Rivlins went to Ein Gev after having experienced their first Seder at the President’s Residence, where guests at the table included their children and grandchildren, as well as three lone soldiers – Hodaya Levi, Shai Daniel Shalom, and Noah Schwarz, who immigrated to Israel from the United States in order to serve in the IDF.
Earlier in the week, Rabbi Yehuda Yabrov was invited to the President’s Residence to meet with Rivlin and Harel Tubi, the director- general of the President’s Residence, for the customary sale of hametz (unleavened products), which Jewish law states cannot be owned by Jews throughout Passover.
The rabbi with whom the sale is negotiated acts as an agent on behalf of the Chief Rabbinate and records the name and address of the “seller” and the place in which items will be stored to remain untouched until Passover has concluded. The details regarding the sale are transferred to the Chief Rabbinate, which sells the nation’s hametz to a non-Jew, revokes the sale after Passover, and retrieves the products. On Thursday evening, Rivlin and his six-year-old grandson, Shai, carried out the traditional ritual of searching by candlelight for hametz while carrying a feather to sweep up any crumbs or pieces of bread that are symbolically left for the purpose of the search.
On Friday night, Rivlin arrived unannounced at Hazvi Yisrael Synagogue in Jerusalem’s Talbiyeh neighborhood, where he has attended services on several occasions since moving into the President’s Residence.
Possibly the only the other president who attended any synagogue in the area with such frequency was Zalman Shazar, though Moshe Katsav, who used to return home to Kiryat Malachi on weekends, was a regular congregant at the synagogue near his home. Rivlin is scheduled to be back at Hazvi Yisrael on the last day of Passover and is also set to read from the Haftarah.
■ In Morocco, at the conclusion of Passover non-Jewish neighbors would come to Jewish homes bringing pitot to signify that the festival was over and that Jews could begin the open-house Mimouna celebrations.
In Israel this year, a non-Jew by the name of Azmi made it possible for soldiers stationed on the Israel-Jordan border to have more than canned army rations on Seder night. It’s a known fact that when Jews almost anywhere in the world are in need of a meal, all they have to do is to get in touch with the nearest Chabad emissary.
More often than not, the meal is gratis, although sometimes diners have to pay a symbolic fee. Either way, those who ask won’t go hungry. While the soldiers were contemplating a miserable Seder night, someone came up with the bright idea that Chabad could provide them with better fare than that which was issued by the IDF.
Modern technology being what it is, it took less than two minutes to discover the identity of the nearest Chabad emissary, Rabbi Shimon Elharar, who heads Chabad operations at the Dead Sea. There was no problem in providing the food, Elharar told the soldier who made the call. The problem was time. There was no way that he could make a delivery and get home in time for candle-lighting. Similarly, he could not ask a Jewish soldier to come and pick up the food, knowing that he would desecrate the Sabbath on the way back to his unit. Aside from that, none of the soldiers could leave their assignment.
There is quite a number of non-Jews living and working in the Dead Sea region.
Azmi, a local Arab, is one of them, and obligingly said he would be pleased to take the food to the soldiers. He duly delivered the Seder provisions with almost no time to spare. During one of the intermediate days of Passover, Elharar happened to meet a soldier at one of the Dead Sea checkpoints and asked him if he had been among those assigned to guard duty on the border on Friday night. The soldier said that he had been, and Elharar, pursuing the subject, asked whether he had enjoyed the Seder.
The soldier’s broad grin spoke volumes. Azmi, Chabad and the IDF – not a bad combination at all.
■ As for the Mimouna celebrations, Sam Ben Chetrit, the chairman of the Jerusalem- based World Federation of Moroccan Jews and world chairman of the Mimouna festivities, has publicly invited Yair Garbuz to enter any of the thousands of North African households in which the door will be open to all this coming Saturday night, April 11.
Artist and author Garbuz was one of the speakers in the left-wing rally in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv a month ago. He made derogatory, racist remarks about people of North African background, calling them kissers of talismans and amulets and idol worshipers who prostrate themselves at the graves of saints. This was bad enough, but when he went on to suggest that they supported the actions of Yigal Amir who assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, and the extremists who shout death to the Arabs, as well as the corrupt people (of North African extraction) who accepted bribes – and that these were the people who were going to run the country, he crossed every red line.
Organizers of the rally were quick to dissociate themselves from Garbuz’s insulting, humiliating and racist remarks. For Ben Chetrit, who is descended from philosophers and who happens to be an intellectual himself with an extraordinarily broad range of knowledge on both Jewish and general subjects, this was a kind of déjà vu.
A similar denigrating volley had been fired by journalist the late Amnon Dankner, who didn’t want to have North African Jews as his brothers. Ben Chetrit challenged him to a debate that was aired on radio, in which he told Dankner that whether he liked it or not, all Jews were brothers.
Ben Chetrit likes to move the Mimouna celebrations around to different cities. This year they are set to be hosted by Lod Mayor Yair Revivo under the slogan of “justice, justice you shall pursue.” Revivo has announced that everyone, regardless of ethnic background or religious affiliation, will be welcome in Lod, where the whole concept of the Mimouna is one of harmony and national unity. On Sunday, April 12, the city of Efrat will host a Mimouna dialogue in which anyone and everyone is welcome to participate. The national Mimouna celebrations will culminate on Sunday evening at the Haifa auditorium, beginning with a reception in the Hecht Park followed by a concert featuring Lior Elmaliach, Shimon Regev and Elohai Laghrissi. Whoever cares to take advantage of the Mimouna open house should remember that the greeting is “tirbechu v’tissadu.”
■ Every secret society becomes the subject of myths and suppositions that can be proved or disproved only by a breakaway member who violates the society’s rule of silence. The Freemasons’ society is one such organization that has cultivated a series of rituals and traditions that according to legend date back to the building of the First Temple in Jerusalem. Many of the symbols and expressions used by the Freemasons have Jewish connotations, which has led anti-Semites to spread tales of some kind of insurgent collusion between Jews and Freemasons.
The Masonic coat of arms of the British lodges from the 17th century were painted by Jacob Judah Leon Templo, a Dutch sage of Sephardi descent, who lived in Amsterdam.
Templo, who in addition to being a great Torah scholar and translator of Psalms, was also an expert on heraldry and a talented artist as well.
A plan that he had drawn of Solomon’s Temple was shown to Charles II of England, and the rest is history. The Masonic lodges, which started in England, spread to other parts of Europe and beyond, and despite the linkage to Jewish rituals, symbols and vocabulary, there were lodges that refused to accept Jews as members.
Jews in English Freemasonry is the topic of a lecture by Prof. Aubrey Newman, emeritus professor of History at Leicester University, which is set to be delivered on Tuesday, April 14, at 5.30 p.m. at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem.
■ Former US senator and Democratic candidate for vice president Joe Lieberman will be the recipient this year of the Bar-Ilan University Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies’ Guardian of Zion award.
This is the 19th year in which the award will be conferred. The Guardian of Zion award honors people dedicated to the perpetuation and strengthening of Jerusalem.
Last year’s honoree was Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Previous recipients have included Israel Museum director James Snyder; the Antiquities Authority and its director, the late Shuka Dorfman; Ambassador Dore Gold; Malcolm Hoenlein, the head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Jerusalem Post senior contributing editor Caroline B. Glick; author Norman Podhoretz; Middle East Forum director Dr. Daniel Pipes; columnist William Safire; film producer Arthur Cohn; columnist Dr. Charles Krauthammer; author Cynthia Ozick; the late editor A.M.
Rosenthal, author Herman Wouk; and Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Elie Wiesel.
The Rennert Center noted the passing earlier this year of Sir Martin Gilbert, who received the Guardian of Zion award in 2000. This year’s award ceremony at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel is set to take place on Thursday, May 21. As is customary on these occasions, the recipient of the award will deliver the Distinguished Rennert Lecture.
Lieberman’s lecture is titled “Is this the best time in Jewish history and how can we make it better?” Now senior counsel at the Kasowitz, Benson, Torres, and Friedman law firm in New York, Lieberman also teaches at Columbia Law School and Yeshiva University in New York. “Senator Lieberman has always been on the track in relation to Israel and the Middle East. He has been described by Washington insiders as someone who without exception and conditions was the No. 1 pro-Israel advocate and leader in Congress,” said Rennert Center director Prof. Joshua Schwartz in announcing that Lieberman will be joining the list of prestigious honorees.
The Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies was established at Bar-Ilan University in 1995 by US Jewish community leaders Ingeborg Hanna and Ira Leon Rennert as an expression of their heartfelt commitment to the preservation and advancement of Jerusalem’s unique heritage. Integrating studies on the history, archaeology, geography, demography, economy and sociology of Jerusalem, the Rennert Center has become the foremost academic center in the international academic community studying aspects of Jerusalem’s past and present.
■ Less than a week after Israel marks the 70th anniversary of VE Day – the defeat of Nazi Germany by the Allied Forces – Germany and Israel will jointly mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The official state ceremony for VE Day to be held at Latrun Armored Corps Museum will take place on May 7 in the presence of diplomatic representatives of more than a dozen countries whose official armies and resistance forces were vital factors in thwarting the plans of Adolf Hitler. According to documentation in the Latrun museum, approximately a million and a half Jews fought within the ranks of the Allied Forces. In addition to Jewish soldiers in the uniforms of the allied armies, thousands of more Jews, in various underground organizations and within the ranks of the partisans, also fought against the Nazis. Some 250,000 Jewish soldiers fell in battle with the foe.
From being the worst enemy of the Jewish people, Germany has transformed itself into one of the best friends of Israel, and arguably is the country that is hosting and witnessing the greatest revival of Jewish life in Europe, with a huge influx of Russian Jews on the one hand and Israelis on the other. While Jews were stripped of citizenship under the Nazi regime, increasing numbers of their descendants who are eligible for German citizenship under German law have applied to become citizens, and many have taken the next step and moved to Germany.
■ In a slightly reverse situation, more than 40 young men and women aged 18 to 26 came from Germany under the auspices of Taglit-Birthright to celebrate Passover in Israel. It’s no secret that Taglit-Birthright exists to strengthen Jewish identity and to bring young assimilated Jews back into the fold. Many of the participants in groups from around the world not only rediscover and embrace their Jewish heritage during their stay in Israel, but also opt to live in Israel and contribute to its development.
Some join the IDF; some get married and raise families of sabra children; and some use their professional skills and talents for the benefit of the nation.
In the case of the group from Germany, some had never been to a Passover Seder before, and it was somehow fitting that their first experience of this centuries-old tradition of transmitting the story of the exodus from Egypt should take place in the Promised Land.
During their 10-day stay in Israel, they visited many landmarks across the country, including places significantly pertinent to ancient and contemporary Jewish history such as Masada and Yad Vashem. Arriving in Israel just ahead of the Passover festival, the young German Jews were able to witness some of the rituals related to its preparations.
One member of the group, Martin Fisher, 26, said: “It is incredible to see how the whole country is getting ready for the holiday, making preparations for their Passover Seder and selling their hametz. I feel lucky to be able to experience this special time together with the Jewish people here in Israel. I am looking forward to sharing my stories with my friends and family when I go back home.”
According to Taglit-Birthright CEO Gidi Mark, “In light of what is happening in Europe today, it is clear to us that the visit of these young Jewish adults from Germany during Passover, the festival of freedom, is especially meaningful. We are confident that their first visit to Israel will result in a lasting bond with the land and people of Israel, marking the end of a successful winter season.”
■ The Jabotinsky Museum in Tel Aviv will be the venue for a symposium marking the 90th anniversary of the Revisionist Movement that was established by Ze’ev Jabotinsky in Paris in April 1925. Resolutions at the founding conference emphasized the movement’s target – a state with a Jewish majority in the ancient Land of Israel on both sides of the Jordan River. The founders were confident that such an ambition could be realized through mass Jewish settlement, the encouragement of private enterprise and the establishment of a Jewish army in Palestine.
The hymn of Betar, the youth organization of the movement, “Two Banks has the Jordan River,” contains the following line: “This is ours and that one too...” The lyrics were written by Jabotinsky, whose followers continue to sing them, albeit in the face of a different reality. The 90th anniversary celebration is scheduled for Sunday, April 26, at 7 p.m. Speakers are set to include Prof. Arye Naor, Dr. Amir Goldstein, and Dr. Kobi Dvir, with Jabotinsky Institute director Yossi Ahimeir as moderator.
■ Quite surprisingly, an ever growing number of Jewish passengers opt to travel on airlines that are the national carriers of Arab countries, but few of those passengers also happen to be Israelis. Among those Israeli passengers is actor and comedian Eli Finish, best known for his parodies of political figures on the satirical television program Eretz Nehederet (“A Wonderful Country). Finish decided to spend the Passover vacation period surfing in Sri Lanka.
There are no flights from Israel to Sri Lanka, and Larnaca, Cyprus, is the nearest departure point to Sri Lanka. Finish boarded a Qatar Airways plane on which he was not only pampered by the cabin crew, but was also upgraded to business class with all the accompanying perks.
■ There is something poignant in the fact that Chaim Topol is receiving the Israel Prize in the 10th year of the death of satirist, playwright, author, screenwriter and film maker Ephraim Kishon. To some extent, Topol owes his career to Kishon.
This in no way belittles Topol’s amazing talent – it’s simply a fact of life that he teamed up with the right man at the right time to make Sallah Shabati, which in part is based on Kishon’s observations while in the Shaar Ha’aliya transit camp soon after his arrival in Israel. The film, which premiered in 1964, was nominated for an Oscar for the best foreign language film. Unfortunately it didn’t win, but it introduced rising star Chaim Topol to the world.
Kishon, whose works were translated into 37 languages, was one of the most widely read satirists around the globe. He was also the recipient of many awards for literature and journalism. But the one he wanted most was the Israel Prize, which eluded him until 2002, when his name finally appeared on the list – not for literature, not for satire, but for lifetime achievement and special contribution to the society and the State of Israel. He was 77 at the time.
Topol, who will turn 80 in September, has had to wait even longer to receive the paramount recognition of his country, and like Kishon, it is not for his roles on stage and in cinema, or for having been a co-founder of Variety Jordan River Village, or for his gift as a portrait artist, but like Kishon, a vague lifetime achievement and special contribution to the society and the State of Israel.
Kishon made the world aware that life in Israel was more than living under constant threat of attack. Yet rather than paint the country through rose-colored glasses that lacked credibility, he made fun of serious day to day situations. People tend to remember things that make them laugh, and this was a subtle means of propaganda for want of a better word. The fact of the matter is that Kishon put the real Israel under everyone’s nose. From Sallah Shabati, Topol went on to Ervinka, then Fiddler on the Roof, playing the role of Tevya the dairyman on stage and screen for more than 40 years in several countries, acting simultaneously as an unofficial cultural ambassador for Israel.
Although he has appeared in many other film and television roles, it was Tevya that earned him the David di Donatello Award for best foreign actor; the Golden Globe Award for best actor, and the Sant Jordi Award for best performance in a foreign film. He was also nominated for the Academy Award for the best actor. But at home, even though his name was a household word, the Israel Prize was not forthcoming until now.