Some 15 months ago, world-renowned sex therapist and sitdown comedienne Dr. Ruth Westheimer was interviewed at the annual Jerusalem Post Conference in New York by Steve Linde, who was then the outgoing editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post. This week, Linde, who is now editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Report, was in the audience when Westheimer spoke to a packed hall at Jerusalem’s Beit Avi Chai on Monday. Needless to say, there was a warm reunion with lots of hugs and kisses.
Prior to her conversation with film and television producer Michael Greenspan, Westheimer was lovingly introduced by Beit Avi Chai executive director David Rozenson, at whose Shabbat table she had been an honored guest only two days previously.
Together, they represented the long and the short of it. The diminutive but effervescent Dr. Ruth is just a little over half of Rozenson’s height, but that is actually part of her charm, which has earned her a global following.
People who don’t know her and listen to her for the first time are amazed that this small bundle of energy can talk with wisdom and humor on sensitive subjects, generating peals of laughter with her remarks, but simultaneously providing much food for thought. Not only was she as sprightly and funny as ever, when talking about sexuality in Jewish tradition in her interview with Greenspan after giving a short lecture to the audience, but she also used the occasion to promote her book The Doctor Is In, edited by Ilan Greenfield, who heads Gefen Publishing, and who was sitting in the audience with his wife.
Born in Frankfurt in 1928 as Karola Ruth Siegel, Dr. Ruth lost her whole family in the Holocaust; she was saved by being sent on the Kindertransport to Switzerland. Her next stop: British-controlled Mandatory Palestine, where she joined the Hagana and was trained as a sniper.
After fighting and being wounded in the War of Independence, she migrated to the United States, where she had a hugely successful career and became a lovable media personality.
“Being Jewish helped me in my professional endeavor,” she said.
“For us Jews, sexuality has never been a sin but a mitzva of the married couple.” She noted that in the “Eshet Hayil” (Woman of Valor) psalm recited by religious Jewish men in appreciation of their wives on Friday nights, there is one key line about relationships. “It says there are many women out there, but you [the husband says to his wife], you are the very best of them all. In all of my work, I have never found anything that would be so sexually arousing to a wife as that.”
Dr. Ruth, who is a frequent visitor to Israel, is currently in the country to film a documentary on her life.
“Is this our opportunity to get to know more about you?” Greenspan asked.
“I first said no to the documentary,” Westheimer said. “I said I’m not going to raise any more money at almost 90 years old. I want to make some money. The Hollywood producer promised, and I agreed to talk a little bit about things that I have not talked about before. My husband and my children – and I have the best four grandchildren in the world – I kept them out of my professional life. But now, I said, the time has come for me to talk about having grown up in Frankfurt in an Orthodox Jewish family as an only child.
“After the Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht), my father was taken to a labor camp. He then wrote to my mother and grandmother that I have to join the Kindertransport. So my parents gave me life twice.”
She received warm applause from the audience, a good mix of religious and secular Jerusalemites of all ages, who were given a chance to ask her questions after the interview. Dr.
Ruth pointed out that all the questions had come from women, and she insisted at the end that at least one man ask a question.
She encouraged all members of the audience to be in healthy relationships, whether they be heterosexual or homosexual, and concluded by saying, solemnly, “I don’t want people to be lonely.”
After the event, Dr. Ruth stayed to sign books, including her own book and a beautiful new coffee-table book published by Gefen Publishing, My Jerusalem, in which she is one of several prominent personalities from around the world who contributed articles on what Jerusalem means to them.
■ JUST AS it was the custom of visiting dignitaries to call on Israel’s elder statesman Shimon Peres, even when he was no longer in office, over the past year a new custom has evolved whereby visiting dignitaries pay homage at his grave on Mount Herzl, and at the same time pay tribute to assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. The two men, despite a history of rivalry, worked in close harmony for many years.
Thus, it was no surprise that United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, soon after his arrival in Israel, went to Peres’s grave, on which he placed a special stone that he had brought with him to Israel: “Shimon Peres was a dear friend and one of the most important leaders in the world,” said Guterres.
Chemi Peres, the youngest of the three Peres offspring, but the one who represents the family and who now chairs the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, said to Guterres: “I am sorry that my father is not here today to welcome you on your first visit to Israel since you took office.
He saw you as a close friend, and I am glad that you chose to begin your trip by visiting his grave.”
Guterres, who had met with Israel’s ninth president many times, said that he was one of the important leaders of the world. Guterres recalled one meeting in particular – when he and Peres had met with Nelson Mandela in Lisbon. “For me it was a meeting with two great figures, Nobel Peace Prize laureates, who were active all their lives in promoting peace in the world.”
■ SEPTEMBER APPEARS to be a month of Yiddish consciousness, perhaps because Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, thus beginning a war that led not only to the murder of six million Jews, plus millions of non-Jewish Poles, including gypsies.
In addition to the murder of people, it was also the murder of culture.
Poland was a treasure trove of Yiddish culture. Thankfully, many Yiddish books published in Poland before the war had either been included in the luggage of Polish Jewish émigrés or had been sent in bulk form to other areas of the Jewish world – particularly the United States and Australia.
After the war, there was another attempt, this time by Joseph Stalin, to kill Yiddish culture, by executing some of its creators. On August 12, 1952, Stalin, through his lackeys, murdered Peretz Markish, David Hofstein, Itzik Feffer, Leib Kvitko, David Bergelson, Solomon Lozovsky, Boris Shimelovich, Benjamin Zuskin, Yosef Yusefovich, Leon Talmy, Ilya Vatenberg, Chaika Vatenberg-Ostrovskaya and Emilia Teumin. Solomon Bregman died in prison before the execution on trumped-up charges, and Lina Stern, who was the first female academic in the Russian Academy of Sciences, miraculously escaped the bloodbath when so many of her friends and colleagues were shot dead.
To honor their memories, as well as those of Solomon Mikhoels, whose execution was ordered in 1948, Leyvik House in Tel Aviv, which is one of several organizations in Israel dedicated to the preservation of Yiddish, will host a Yiddish culture evening under the heading “Their Song Remains With Us.” The program will include poetry readings by Rivka Basman Ben-Hayim, Arye Yass and Daniel Galay, plus a presentation by Benjamin Zuskin’s daughter Ella Zuskin Perlman, who will also speak about the fate of the National Jewish Theater in Moscow. The musical side of the program will feature the Israel debut of “Fantasy on Goldfaden” by Moldavian composer Barukh Dovosersky, with Isabella Ordenung on violin, Shaul Schwartz on cello and Sergo Bengelsdorf on piano.
Abraham Goldfaden was yet another prolific Russian Yiddish poet, playwright, stage director and actor whose works have become part and parcel of Yiddish folklore. Fortunately, he came from an earlier era than the above-mentioned poets and was able to achieve an impressive reputation in Romania and the United States, where he was king of Yiddish theater in New York.
The tribute will be held on Thursday, September 7, at 7 p.m. at Leyvik House, 30 Dov Hos Street, Tel Aviv.
■ ON A somewhat lighter note, but still very much with Yiddish, is a nostalgia night of music from the shtetl, this coming Sunday, September 3, at 8 p.m., which will be held at the Yung Yidish headquarters in the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station. Yung Yidish is located on the fifth floor, in the artists’ complex, at studio 5008, most accessible from the Levinsky Street entrance to the station.
The program, which echoes the music of the shtetl and of Jewish life in general in Eastern Europe, features Aleksander Avishai Fisz, Lior Grossman and Eli Preminger, who are performing in Israel just before they take off to Armenia to present Yiddish culture at the foot of Mount Ararat. As usually happens at Yung Yidish events, the evening will be enlivened by a glass or two of hard liquor, and probably some herring and some other traditional Jewish staple. Because so many of the regulars at Yung Yidish are from the former Soviet Union, there will in all probability be a spontaneous outbreak of Russian songs to spice up the Yiddish.
Thursday, September 14, has been reserved by Yung Yidish for the launch of a CD on which Yael Izkovich sings to the poetry of Basman.
The event begins at 7:30 p.m., with a reception followed by Basman talking about how they paired up, and followed by Izkovich singing the songs that are on the CD.
For those who have never been to Yung Yidish, it’s quite an experience, like being in the old-fashioned home of a Yiddish writer and scholar, and events are not held theater style but in a more heimish environment, with people sitting around tables, as they would in someone’s home.
■ IT’S NOT just a matter of “I am my brother’s keeper,” but also “I am my cousins’ keeper.” Both Jews and Muslims regard themselves as descendants of Abraham and therefore should feel responsible for one another. Unfortunately, too often we see the opposite. But Magen David Adom, whose paramedics include people of both faiths as well as Christians and Druse, has decided to focus on the positive aspect of “we are cousins,” and several of its paramedics, in the lead-up to Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice), have been collecting and packaging food products for distribution to needy Muslim families who reside on the Golan Heights in Mas’ada, Majdal Shams, Ein Kuniya and Bukata.
The food drive has been in collaboration with supermarkets and store owners in these towns, and so far well over 200 food packages have been collected, and will enable families in need to celebrate the holiday with more than enough food on the table.
MDA’s Mas’ada station is appreciative of the efforts of all those who have participated in this act of care and kindness, among them the head of the Mas’ada Regional Council, Dr.
Salman Batish, who, together with the residents of the town, who opened their hearts and gave generously, contributed to the success of the project.
This is not the first time MDA employees and volunteers conducted food drives of this kind. Similar operations take place every year leading up to Passover, which inspired the establishment of the Eid al-Adha food drive. Additionally, station employees and volunteers will hand out toys and games to 25 children and teens who reside in the area and are battling cancer.
Shimon Abitbul, deputy manager of the Jordan Region at MDA, has commended the dozens of MDA volunteers scattered in various locations throughout town who collected food products that were packed into 220 packages.
MDA director-general Eli Bin voiced pride in MDA volunteers and also thanked the general public for its massive enlistment and warm hearts. MDA makes great efforts to provide products for a decent holiday dinner for families in need at different holiday times throughout the year.
■ FOR QUITE some time now, the Gidonim Reut High School in Jerusalem, under the leadership of educator Dina Wiener and her husband, Dr. Dani Kahn, has been involved in the mapping project of the Jewish cemetery in Czestochowa, Poland. In the summer of 2016, the high school graduates from Jerusalem completed the project, with the result that more than 4,000 graves have now been mapped, documented, recorded and filmed. A total of 4,526 forgotten names have so far been identified.
The project was conducted not only in the Czestochowa cemetery but also in other cemeteries in Poland. The overall concept was part of the vision of the late Arie Gaiger, who was the first Reut High School principal. In an eight-year period of hard work during the time between their finishing high school and their induction into the army, the Reut High School graduates, braving the heat of summer and the occasional downfall of rain, unhesitatingly embarked on the task of identifying graves. With determination and perseverance, they cleared away leaves and wild undergrowth and turned toppled tombstones back to their upright positions, so that they could read the inscriptions. A popular saying of Kahn became the impetus for continuity: “We will not give up a single gravestone if we can save a memory of a soul in Israel.”
Along the way, the young volunteers and the project leaders have acquired many Polish friends, who have been working with them shoulder to shoulder. In particular, there is Wiesław Paszkowski, his wife and son, who spent years documenting the cemetery and continue to do so even now. Another Polish friend is Krzysztof Straus, who stored the tools required for the work in the garage of his home every year and like clockwork was at the hotel, waiting to greet the Gidonim students when they arrive. Yet another Polish friend is Piotr Pałgan, who guided the Gidonim around Jewish Czestochowa.
And appreciation is also due to Agnieszka Piskiewicz-Aga, an English teacher from Słowackie High School, who was the first in the early years to come with her students to help in the work (Czestochowa High School joined the working group later), who worked under the direction of Małgorzata Kaim; and also the Jacek Malczewski High School of Fine Arts students, who worked under the direction of Anna Maciejowska.
Other high school students who came individually were Wiktoria Morawska and Kasia Buslowska, as did Getto Czestochowskie Dziedzictwo volunteers, who connected with the project last summer, and with whom the Israelis shared many tears when the shared work was concluded.
Little could have been done without the input of Elzbieta Ferenc and her dedicated people from the Adullam foundation, Steven D. Reece and Matzevah Foundation volunteers from the United States. Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich has been a long-standing supporter of the project, as has Czestochowa Mayor Krzysztof Matyjaszczyk, who has always responded to requests for help.
All the information collected from tombstone inscriptions has been processed by Hagai Hellman, a Reut High School graduate, and has been transferred to the new Gidonim website.
■ STILL ON the subject of Czestochowa, one of the largest Holocaust survivor communities in the world existed in Melbourne Australia before they began to die out. There are still a lot of Holocaust survivors in Melbourne, whose native communities and in some cases prominent and even less prominent individuals are honored by the Holocaust Museum in Melbourne, which is currently seeking prewar images of Jewish life in Czestochowa, preferably relating to Jewish families that now live in Melbourne. But the Jewish world is small, and Melbourne Jews have relatives in different countries who may have photos that fit the needs of the museum. What curator Jayne Josem is looking for primarily is outdoor street scenes, but if there are indoor scenes of Czestochowa Jewish families with Melbourne connections, she will be just as pleased to receive them.
■ AND NOW, of course, there will be an Australian connection in relation to the annual Rainbow of Music concert in memory of Malki Roth, the 16-year-old Australian olah who was killed in the Sbarro terrorist attack in August 2001. Proceeds from the concert, which is run by the Malki Foundation, go to families that have children with physical or mental development problems or both, and suffer from severe disabilities. Malki’s youngest sibling was in this condition, but Malki loved her dearly and looked after her wholeheartedly.
This year’s concert, on Tuesday, September 12, will be held at Hamishkan Municipal Music Center in Ra’anana and, with help of Shlomo Katz, Daniel Zamir and the Ramatayim Men’s Choir, will provide the audience with a magical evening of hassidic, Israeli, popular melodies and more.
■ SLOVAKIAN AMBASSADOR Peter Hulenyi is hosting a “Good Idea” Business Forum on Wednesday, September 6, at the Dan Tel Aviv Hotel, where Israeli and Slovakian entrepreneurs will share their good ideas with the aim of coming up with even better good ideas for joint ventures.
■ AT THIS time of the year women are getting their white outfits ready for the High Holy Days, but men are not necessarily as careful about wearing the right color. Mandy Broder, who runs a regular Facebook message under the heading “The Gifted Experience,” in which she posts anecdotes about something in her life that she finds each day, was recently somewhat disturbed in relation to men’s prayer shawls.
Admitting that she doesn’t have the cleanest of houses, she wrote that she is, however, pedantic about laundry, which she likes to fold immediately after it’s dry so as to avoid creasing.
Her pet peeve, she wrote, frustrates her on Shabbat when she goes to synagogue services where the women don’t sit in the gallery but directly behind the men, separated by a screen through which the women can see what’s going on in the men’s section. This gives her a chance to notice all the grimy prayer shawls, even though the shirts of the owners are starched and pristine white. She presumes that in most cases women are responsible for their husbands being cleanly and elegantly attired, but she can’t understand why this concern doesn’t extend to the prayer shawl.
Actually, the answer is simple.
When a man removes his prayer shawl, he carefully puts it into a special bag he has for this purpose. It’s even called a tallit bag. His wife has no physical contact with his prayer shawl, so she doesn’t realize that it’s grimy, and would probably die a thousand deaths if indeed she chanced to find out.