■ Even moderates among the Orthodox sector of the population do not want to see any part of the Western Wall area allocated to mixed congregations of men and women. Some moderates, to preserve their liberal integrity, will say that in a democracy Conservative and Reform Jews should not suffer discrimination, and should be allowed to have their own area of worship at the Wall. But many who are not necessarily observant but classify themselves as nonobservant Orthodox or, as President Reuven Rivlin likes to call himself, secular Orthodox, would rather not have a mixed-gender facility, though Rivlin has definitely softened his tone in recent months.
Despite the objection to mixed gender, every Kol Nidre night, without exception, congregants from synagogues in all directions make their way to the intersection of Keren Hayesod and Agron streets in Jerusalem, where members of United Synagogue Youth, who are on pilgrimage tours from the United States, sit in a huge circle in the middle of the road and sing songs from the High Holy Day services as well as other liturgical and patriotic Israeli songs.
Many of the male onlookers Friday night were wearing their white kittels (a kind of frock coat worn in Ashkenazi circles by bridegrooms, at the Seder, on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and at one’s burial).
Generally speaking, the kittel is worn by Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews. So what were these people doing at a mixed gathering of Conservative youth joining in the singing, clapping their hands and tapping their feet? Rivlin, by the way, attended the Minha and Ma’ariv services at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue, but for Kol Nidre, both he and US Ambassador David Friedman attended services at Hazvi Yisrael Synagogue in Talbiyeh, where each can frequently be seen among the congregants.
Contrary to his pledge when approved as ambassador that he would not allow his personal feelings to get in the way of US foreign policy, Friedman has had a couple of lapses to date, which have been welcomed in the National Religious camp, but not necessarily by the US State Department. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended services at the Yad Tamar congregation, which is just around the corner from his private residence in Jerusalem and within easy walking distance of his official residence.
■ YOM KIPPUR has long been known as the bike-riding festival for youth, but bikes are not the only wheels in the street. At around 9:30 p.m. on Kol Nidre night, there was a sound like a helicopter, but there was nothing overhead to indicate the presence of a helicopter.
And then the source of the noise appeared and almost knocked over Rabbi Avraham Feder, emeritus spiritual leader of the Masorti synagogue, and his wife, Tzipora, who were walking home to their apartment in Talbiyeh. Out of nowhere a young boy came whizzing down Keren Hayesod Street on a skateboard and almost ran them down.
■ THE GREAT Synagogue did not sell all of its permanent seats this year, and wisely put out slips of paper with large print in Hebrew and English stating that the seat was unoccupied. This considerably eased the problem of visitors sitting in other people’s paid-for seats, but not entirely. There were a still a few embarrassing incidents, especially in the case of a woman who had sat in a paid seat and refused to budge when the person who had paid for the seat showed her proof.
Fortunately, there were a couple of empty seats in the row, and other people moved to allow the woman to sit as close as possible to the seat that was rightfully hers.
The Great Synagogue choir, which did such a superb job during Rosh Hashana, outdid itself, even when energetic choir master Elli Jaffe was not standing between the singers and the ark but, rather, on the bima, from where he gave an excellent reading of the Torah portion and also led the Mussaf prayers.
Jaffe is an all-round musician who is an instrumentalist, composer, conductor and singer. He also knows how to play with his powerful voice. He is a graduate of both the Hebrew University and the Rubin Academy of Music, where he majored in conducting, theory and percussion. In 1977 he also studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where in 1978 he was awarded the Ernest Reed Prize for conducting. He has conducted all of Israel’s major orchestras as well as several major orchestras in Europe and the United States, among them the London Royal Philharmonic, the Liege Philharmonic, the Baltimore Symphony, and the Prague Symphony Orchestra. In addition to conducting the Great Synagogue choir, with which he has toured abroad on several occasions, Jaffe is the artistic director of the Jerusalem School of Cantorial Art. To help other conductors of liturgical music, he has published a detailed and voluminous set of instructions that contains the entire annual cycle of Hebrew liturgy.
■ During the services, there were four generations of the Jaffe family in attendance.
His mother, Ella Jaffe, who has a front-row center seat in the women’s gallery, like her son, spent much of Yom Kippur on her feet, taking pride in his musical accomplishment, although she is critical of the fact that when conducting orchestra recitals outside of Israel, Jaffe continues to maintain his policy of Jewish pride and not only wears his kippa but has his ritual fringes hanging over his trousers, regardless of the fact that he’s wearing a formal tailcoat. This outward observance of Judaism has cost him a few performances because he refused to tuck in the “strings,” but his Judaism is more important to him than his career, aside from which there is sufficient diversity in what he does to guarantee him work all year round.
His twin brother, Zalli, an international lawyer, is vice president of the Jerusalem Great Synagogue, and also has a wonderful singing voice, but quips that someone in the family has to earn the money to put food on the table. When the brothers get together for a jam session, it’s pure delight.
The Jaffe twins and their older brother have a particular attachment to the Great Synagogue, whose construction was supervised by their father, the late Dr. Maurice Abraham Jaffe, who was born in Manchester 100 years ago this year.
The senior Jaffe was a chaplain in the British Army in World War II, and subsequently served as chaplain to the British Armed Forces in Europe. He immigrated to Israel in 1948, and in 1949 was appointed director of overseas relations of World Mizrachi. Three years later, in 1952, he became executive director of the Heichal Shlomo building committee.
Heichal Shlomo, which was once the seat of the Chief Rabbinate, is today a museum. In its early days it also served as a synagogue, and even now houses the small but exquisitely decorated 18th-century Italian-style Renanim Synagogue, For more than 300 years it served a community in Padua, but as the congregation dwindled and no one was left to maintain the synagogue, it was transferred to Heichal Shlomo, which had been built in 1958 to serve as the headquarters of the Chief Rabbinate and as a spiritual center. In its time, it was one of the most grandiose buildings in the area.
Three years earlier, British philanthropist Sir Isaac Wolfson had established a charity foundation that basically awarded grants to support and encourage excellence in the fields of science and medicine, health, education, the arts and humanities. But he extended its resources in order to finance the construction of Heichal Shlomo, which was named in memory of his father, a cabinet maker who had migrated from Poland to Scotland. The site for the building had been purchased in 1948 by chief rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog. It is difficult to believe that not so long ago, much of this elegant street was a wilderness.
The synagogue within Heichal Shlomo soon proved to be too small for the burgeoning local population, which swelled to much greater proportions during the festivals when Jewish tourists chose to come to Israel. In addition, there was a need to build a great spiritual house of worship in the eternal capital of the Jewish people. The adjacent vacant lot was just perfect for that purpose, and it was generally decided to build it in memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
Maurice Jaffe had no problem in persuading Wolfson to finance the lion’s share of the construction costs.
The Great Synagogue was inaugurated in 1982. With its large plaza and entrance foyer, its stained-glass windows and its plush seats for 850 men and 550 women, the Great Synagogue truly lives up to its name, but for the past 17 years it has been second in size to the Belz Great Synagogue, which is closer to the entrance to the city and can house up to 6,000 worshipers. The essential difference is that the Belz synagogue is in a haredi neighborhood, and most non-haredi people would not feel comfortable attending a service there, because they would not be dressed like the other congregants, and would stand out like a sore thumb. In the men’s section of the Great Synagogue, the style of attire ranges from jeans to kapotes.
The Great Synagogue also houses a beautiful but small Sephardi synagogue on the ground floor and a Chabad synagogue in the basement.
Heichal Shlomo, where the Renanim Synagogue continues to have a regular congregation and which also houses the Wolfson Museum of Jewish Art, with its unique collection of Jewish ceremonial art and its educational facilities, is in the nature of a community center. The building includes an upstairs 500-seat auditorium in which lectures, seminars and musical and theatrical performances are held.
For many years, the Yeshurun Synagogue, which dates back to 1936, was the only synagogue in the stretch of road that includes King George Avenue and Keren Hayesod. Now there are some half dozen synagogues along or directly off the street, plus at least a dozen more within a 3-km. radius.
■ TEL AVIV Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, is almost invariably interviewed on radio and/or television just before any major Jewish holiday. This year was no exception.
Lau recalled that 44 years ago, Yom Kippur was also on a Sabbath It was the day on which the war broke out.
He remembered going the following day to Ichilov Hospital, where 47 seriously wounded soldiers were being treated. In one case the soldier’s brain was still working well, but the rest of his body was a mess.
The soldier’s brother, who had also been called up, had been killed on the first day of the war, and the parents were in a quandary. On the one hand they had to sit shiva for their dead son, and on the other they had a son who was fighting for his life. They asked Lau what to do, and he told them to sit shiva during the day, but to change their clothes at night and visit the wounded son who, despite his injuries, was alert, and if he would see torn clothes he would realize that his brother had been killed. He was in no condition to cope with that kind of information, so the parents sat and mourned by day and put on fresh clothes and a bright face at night.
■ ANOTHER MEMBER of the Lau family, Rabbi Benny Lau, is a rising media star. In frequent demand on radio and television due to his nonjudgmental nature and his genuine efforts to make Judaism inclusive for all, he always appears in partnership with a professional broadcaster, or an author, singer or educator, and is addressed as “Rav Benny,” to distinguish him from his cousin Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau. Though a member of the Orthodox camp, Benny Lau has no problem sharing a platform or a microphone with women or with secular personalities.
■ SHAS CONTINUES in its efforts to thwart the plans of Rabbi Haim Amsalem, who wants to build a synagogue opposite the apartment complex that contains the apartment that was home to the late Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Amsalem is an ex-Shasnik who broke away because he was unhappy with the running of the operation. But breaking away is a big no-no in Shas – and something that is not easily forgiven, if at all, and therefore even though Amsalem has received the green light from city authorities to go ahead with his plan, Shas people are putting obstacles in his way. There’s no “Love thy neighbor” spirit there.
■ IT’S NO secret that the US State Department is not particularly well disposed toward Jews or to Israel.
In fact, all things considered, it’s a miracle that Israel enjoys the bipartisan support of Congress. Writing last week in The New York Times, former US diplomat Dennis Ross, who played a leading role in US involvement in the Middle East, tackled anti-Jewish prejudice. The article, which was reprinted on the front page of the Times’ international edition on the morning before Yom Kippur, used as a hook an article shared on the first day of Rosh Hashana on her Twitter account by former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson.
Ross took umbrage with the sentence: “America’s Jews are driving America’s wars: Shouldn’t they recuse themselves when dealing with the Middle East?” He remembered that in 1990, when he was the head of the State Department’s policy planning staff, he was visited by a diplomatic security investigator who was doing a background check on someone who had listed Ross as a reference. “This person was being considered for a senior position in the George H. W. Bush administration, not one directly involved with the Middle East.” At one point, the investigator asked Ross a routine question. “Was this person loyal to the United States?” Ross answered in the affirmative – “Without a doubt.” But the follow- up question was “if this person had to choose between America’s interests and Israel’s, whose interests would he put first? “Why would you ask that question?” Ross asked him. “Because he is Jewish,” was the answer.
■ DEFENSE MINISTER Avigdor Liberman seems to have a better grasp of history in its non-distorted form than his government colleague Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev. Whereas Regev was roundly criticized for turning a state event into a political statement in celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Jewish resettlement in the West Bank, Liberman was quite happy to honor the memory of Israel’s ninth president, Shimon Peres, who could hardly be described as a right-wing politician, considering his long association with the Labor Party and the Socialist International.
The settlement movement did not have its genesis under a rightwing administration, though admittedly, many of its pioneers identified with the political Right.
But Regev, in her role as head of the Ministerial Committee on Symbols and Ceremonies, preferred to exclude opposition leader Isaac Herzog from among the speech makers, despite the fact that 50 years ago, his father had been the first military governor of Jerusalem.
Her snub of Herzog sparked anger on the Left. If she hasn’t read Chekhov, that’s bad enough, but to ignore a vital aspect of Zionist history and its political repercussions in the world is inexcusable.
In the same week, less than 24 hours later, Liberman, by contrast, paid warm tribute to Peres, and acknowledged his contribution to Israel’s defense, which overrides political differences. On the first Gregorian calendar anniversary of Peres’s death, Liberman presided over the renaming of the procurement building at the Defense Ministry, which was previously known as Building 22. It is now called Shimon Peres House, and this was where Peres had his office during his terms as director-general of the ministry and later as defense minister and prime minister. In an official ceremony last Thursday, the sign over the entrance to the building was unveiled. On the ground floor, together with his portrait and a sculptured bust, is a photo exhibition of some of the highlights of his career. A permanent, more comprehensive exhibition is in the process of being compiled and will be erected shortly. In addition to Liberman and members of the Peres family, others present included Deputy Defense Minister Eli Dahan, Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen.
Gadi Eisenkot and Defense Ministry director-general Udi Adam.
Liberman said at the dedication ceremony: “Only a year has passed since Shimon Peres left us, but it is clear to everyone that he is still with us – we see all of the signs that he left for us. It is clear to see everywhere, through the years of effort that he put in. Shimon Peres was undoubtedly one of the people who contributed the most to Israel’s security, as director-general of the Defense Ministry at the age of 29, as defense minister, prime minister and as president. His contribution is still evident to this day, and Israel’s security has been based, throughout the years, on the strong foundations that he laid. I am sure that this building, which from today bears his name, will be a living testament for many years to come, and will always remind us that security requires daring, investment, initiative and vision.”
■ THE 33rd Haifa International Film Festival, traditionally held throughout Sukkot, opens on Thursday, October 5, and continues to October 14 under the artistic direction of Pnina Blayer. Among the 280 screenings of films from around the world, 70 will be Israeli productions. Most of the films being screened have won awards.
Among the many awards related to the festival itself is the Tobias Szpancer Award for the best film in the category of “Between Israeli and Jewish Identity.” The festival, through its many genres, offers something for everyone in terms of both feature films and documentaries as well as productions for television.
In the latter category, those television viewers who sit up all night to watch productions featuring celebrity chefs who work in the United States will love Peter Stein’s documentary about Jacques Pépin, the master chef, who 55 years ago came from his native France to America, intending to stay for just a year to broaden his cooking experience and culinary taste in a multicultural society. In the end, he stayed for 55 years, and is best known to TV fans for the many cooking shows he did with fellow celebrity chef and close friend Julia Child. In actual fact, over the years, the genial Pépin, with the oh so French accent, has done 14 different TV cooking shows and has written close to 30 cookbooks. He is credited with having revolutionized American cuisine.
The film, titled Jacques Pépin: The Art of Craft, traces his life from boyhood onward. It will be shown at 12 noon on Wednesday, October 11, at the Haifa Cinematheque.
The screening will be followed by a discussion and tasting event, with delicacies prepared by some of Israel’s leading gourmet chefs. The discussion on the art of cooking will be led by food critic Hila Alpert.