Grapevine: Mayoral mimouna

On the last day of Passover, President Reuven Rivlin and Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, Rabbi Emeritus of Kehilath Jeshurun of New York were both at Hazvi Yisrael Synagogue in Talbiyeh.

April 12, 2018 17:49
3 minute read.
 President Reuven Rivlin at a Mimouna celebration in Ashkelon, April 2018

President Reuven Rivlin at a Mimouna celebration in Ashkelon, April 2018. (photo credit: MARK NEIMAN)


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IN JOINING the festivities at the home of Kitty and Asher Shetreet, Nir Barkat celebrated Mimouna in his capacity of mayor of Jerusalem for the last time. Next year, while campaigning in the Likud primaries in the hope of getting a seat in the Knesset, he will have to go much further afield and attend Mimouna festivities in different parts of the country in order to make more friends and influence people.

Moshe Lion, who is one of the front-line candidates to succeed Barkat, carried out a family tradition during the intermediate days of Passover, and went with his father to the Western Wall.

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Ofer Berkovitch, another promising candidate, was happy to spend the Passover period with his family and have quality time with his children, but nonetheless was already planning for the months ahead. One of his passions if he succeeds in winning the election is to clean up the city and spread the message of cleanliness and hygiene to all Jerusalem schools. He might also care to focus on the condition of roads and pavements, some of which have so many cracks, uneven patches and potholes that they are downright dangerous. And if he happens to turn his attention to the pavements, he might care to spare a thought for pedestrians who are often forced to dodge bicyclists riding at full speed in both directions. There are many places in the world where cyclists are not permitted to ride on the sidewalk. It would be pleasanter and safer if Jerusalem were one of them, especially as motorcyclists and cars are also taking sidewalk liberties in several neighborhoods.

IT ISN’T often that the president of the State of Israel and the rabbi who converted the daughter of the president of the United States are in the same synagogue at the same time, with each of them actively participating in the service. But on the last day of Passover, President Reuven Rivlin and Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, Rabbi Emeritus of Kehilath Jeshurun of New York were both at Hazvi Yisrael Synagogue in Talbiyeh. Lookstein joins this congregation whenever he comes to Israel and invariably leads part of the service. This time he led the Yizkor prayers. Rivlin who attends on festivals and occasionally on Shabbat read the Haftara. Most of Rivlin’s predecessors when they attended services went to the Great Synagogue. His immediate predecessor Shimon Peres attended Hazvi Yisrael, which is around five minutes walk away from the President’s Residence, and Rivlin is doing the same.

CONGREGANTS AT Hazvi Yisrael were aware that their relatively new American-born rabbi, Yosef Ote, who came to Israel as a child, was a pupil of the late and much revered Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein; had studied at Yeshivat Har Etzion and has university degrees from Bar-Ilan and that he was a combat unit commander in the Givati Brigade of the IDF. But only a few, including those who checked him out on the Internet, were aware that he is also a talented musician. Some of them were enlightened during the intermediate days of Passover when Ote gave a concert in his home and invited members of the congregation.

When he and his wife, Atira, were courting and discussing the kind of home they wanted and the education that they wanted to give to future progeny, he said, he had been insistent that their first piece of furniture be a piano. “Even before a bed?” she had queried. Indeed the piano had priority.

They purchased a 104-year-old German-made grand piano with genuine ivory keys and a beautiful sound. Ote, who comes from a very musical family, played a melody he had composed for his brother’s wedding and which his brother had sung to his bride; he also played the melody that he had composed to his own bride, who is highly talented in her own right. She is an artist and translator and has produced a CD in which she sings with her husband.


She videotaped the whole concert, as did some of their five children, because Ote does not commit his compositions to paper.

They are all in his head, a factor that causes him to improvise whenever he plays, so that every rendition of any of his compositions is just that much different from the others. Ote combines his musical works with Torah, saying that both are part of who he is.

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