Someone forgot to look at the calendar when organizing the performance by versatile British actor, comedian, screenwriter and producer John Cleese, who is scheduled for a one-night gig in Israel on September 1, at Tel Aviv’s Charles Bronfman Auditorium. Cleese, 79, has included Israel in his “Last Time to See Me Before I Die” tour.
The date of his performance coincides with the 80th anniversary of the German invasion of Poland and the beginning of the Nazi atrocities that took the lives of millions of Europeans of which six million were Jews. The Nazis, by setting up death camps in Poland, left an indelible stain on Polish soil, which to this day misrepresents the image of Poland. Despite widespread antisemitism, coupled with the fact that there were Poles who not only collaborated with the Nazis but engaged in pogroms against the Jews, it cannot be denied that Jews lived in Poland for nearly a thousand years and contributed greatly to Polish culture, economics and politics. There were also Jewish heroes in the Polish army.
It’s not exactly a night for laughter, though some might say that if second-, third- and fourth-generation Holocaust survivors are in the audience, this is indeed a cause for laughter, because it signifies the triumph of those Jewish families who had been designated as candidates for the Final Solution to the Jewish Question, yet had the resilience to overcome. Aside from that, Jews have several dates on which to remember the Holocaust: the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, VE Day, the 10th day of the Hebrew calendar month of Tevet, the dates on which they or their forebears were rounded up for forced labor or death camps, or the dates on which they were liberated.
The much-married Cleese had been scheduled to come to Israel in 2012 to play a role in Reshef Levi’s film Hunting Elephants but had to back out due to heart trouble.
He is best known in Israel for his part as the bumbling hotel manager in the television series Fawlty Towers, which he wrote with his first wife, Connie Booth. He is equally famous for the Monty Python series, and his talents have brought him numerous awards.
■ IF HIS father had not counseled him on the importance of acquiring an education, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit may well have become a professional soccer player. He was quite good at the game, according to an extensive feature that appeared last Friday in Maariv Hashavua, a sister publication of The Jerusalem Post.
Mandelblit was raised in a secular, staunchly Likud household, but when he decided to live a religious lifestyle, his father did nothing to dissuade him. Much as it would have bothered Mandelblit if his father had opposed this change in his way of life, it bothered him more that his father said nothing. Wisdom, though sometimes enhanced by education, is not a product of education. When Mandelblit tackled his father on the subject of religion, his father, who did not have much schooling, said to him: “You can argue with rational decisions, but you can’t argue with faith. You are my son and I don’t want to lose you. You will go your way, and I will stick to mine, and we will continue to love each other.”
The article was ostensibly about Mandelblit’s father and not about the attorney-general. Had his father’s grave not been desecrated at some time in the past month, it’s doubtful that Mandelblit would have agreed to be interviewed.
■ FOR DIPLOMATS, variety is indeed the spice of life. Canadian Ambassador Deborah Lyons is but one example. Last week she returned from Canada following the Christmas vacation period and, with only a day in which to get past her jet lag, hosted a reception at Racha, the popular Georgian restaurant in Tel Aviv’s Neveh Tzedek for the ballet troupes whose combined talents make up the CanaDanse festival, which is the curtain-raiser for the 30th anniversary of the Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater. The following day she opened her residence in Tel Aviv to diplomats and members of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies for an update on Israel’s security situation by former national security adviser Yaakov Amidror, and a couple of days after that she was at the Wolfson Medical Center to learn more about Save a Child’s Heart. Two of the prominent supporters of SACH are Canadian Israelis Selwyn Adams and Dana Azrieli.
Lyons was particularly excited about CanaDanse, which is the springboard for intensive Canadian cultural activity in Israel. She said at the reception at Racha that CanaDanse was the culmination of a year of wonderful work in partnership with the Dellal Center, and the largest cultural effort that Canada has ever undertaken in Israel. “It reflects our goals and renewed commitment to culture – our heart, our soul and our spirit,” she said, as she extolled culture as a means of communication between individuals and nations. She could not understand how the dancers, who had gone into rehearsal almost immediately after their arrival, could be so upbeat.
The dancers, for their part, had explored several Tel Aviv restaurants, and raved about the food, and the warmth with which they had been welcomed. They also learned an intricate Georgian folk dance from the vivacious and irrepressible Racha proprietor Lili Ben Shalom, who coaxed one of the dancers and then a whole group of them to join her. Super-professionals that they are, they learned the steps and were in perfect sync with Ben Shalom in less than a minute, giving the impression that Georgian dancing is part of their repertoire.
Lyons was full of praise for dancer and choreographer Yair Vardi, who is the director of the Suzanne Dellal Center, and who after going to Canada and looking at a number of leading dance companies in different regions of the country had chosen the acclaimed Ballet BC, Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art and Le Carre des Lombes. “It’s going to be a terrific year in culture,” she forecast.
The CanaDanse project, like so many other cultural events, had been beset by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement pressure, “which the Canadian government opposes,” said Lyons. The pressure was obviously ineffective.
Vardi was thrilled to have three powerful Canadian dance companies in Israel at the same time, and Emily Molnar, the artistic director of Ballet BC who is a critically acclaimed dancer and choreographer, said that it was a privilege and an honor to be in Israel for the first time. “Dance is not just performing together in the studio. It’s not how we dance, but why. Dance is a miracle. We’re all dancers.”
Also present was celebrated Israeli-born Canadian architect and town planner Michael Seelig, who is a longtime dance patron, and who owns a home in Tel Aviv. When he and his wife learned that the dance companies would be in Israel at the same time as he and his wife, they hosted a dinner for them at their home on the previous night.
■ WEDNESDAY IS merger day for Channels 10 and 13. Channel 10 ceases to exist and merges with Channel 13, with most of the familiar faces from Channel 10 News appearing on screen on Channel 13, which is the Reshet channel. It’s a numbers game for Channel 10, which after a previous crisis was available till Tuesday of this week on the remote control as Channel 14, even though it continued to use the Channel 10 logo, which will now be defunct. Part of the Reshet News Company has been sold to Keshet.
The merger, which was only recently approved by the Council of the Second Channel Authority, will bring Yaakov Eilon back to the television screen. In his 57 years, Eilon has had one of the most varied careers in Israeli journalism.
At age 14, he began writing for youth papers. He did his army service at Army Radio. He later spent several years in New York as the correspondent for Yediot Aharonot. He was the co-anchor of Channel 2’s first news broadcast in November 1993. He left Channel 2 in 2000 and in 2002 joined Channel 10, where he spent 10 years and was the most highly paid journalist on the payroll. He returned to Channel 2 as a news anchor for Keshet and later worked as a weekly news anchor for i24 News. His relationship with i24 was short-lived because the program had low ratings and was quickly taken off the air. In January 2015 he joined the Israel Broadcasting Authority as the presenter of Mabat, the prime-time news broadcast. He stayed there for almost two years, working in additional capacities, which also garnered him trips abroad to cover major events. In 2017, with the demise of the IBA, he became an anchor and editor at Walla News and is once again in a prime of place and time position.
■ FOLLOWING THE death of Voice of Israel reporter Ilan Roeh on February 28, 1999, in an armored vehicle in which he was traveling in Lebanon with Brig.-Gen. Erez Gerstein, head of the IDF’s liaison unit, and two soldiers, Imad Abu-Rish and Omar el-Kabetz, the Israel Broadcasting Authority introduced the Ilan Roeh Memorial Prize, which was awarded annually to the IBA’s best reporters. KAN 11, which replaced the IBA as Israel’s public broadcasting network, did not continue with everything that was part and parcel of the IBA, but it did continue with enough for the change to pass almost seamlessly, despite the political turmoil surrounding it and the loss of a fairly large number of jobs. One of the things that KAN 11 did retain was the Ilan Roeh Prize, which for 2018 has been awarded to Roi Yanovsky, the extremely informative and on-the-ball police reporter, who has quite a number of scoops to his credit.
Exactly 19 years to the day following the roadside explosion that killed all four occupants of the armored vehicle, Al-Manar, the television network affiliated with Hezbollah, showed blurred footage of what it claimed to be the bomb attack that took the lives of the four men.
■ MORE RECENTLY, Yediot reporter and feature writer Ronen Bergman was named among prize recipients of America’s 2018 National Jewish Book Awards. Bergman received the Gerrard and Ella Berman Memorial Award for history for his book Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations, which was published by Random House.
Bergman and other winners, including former prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak, will be honored at a gala dinner and awards ceremony that will be held in New York on March 5 at the Bohemian National Hall in Manhattan. Barak won the Kraus Family Autobiography/Memoir Award for My Country, My Life: Fighting for Israel, Searching for Peace, published by St. Martin’s Press. This year’s list of winners is top-heavy with Israelis and also includes Alice Shalvi, Omer Bartov and Maya Arad. Of the five, Shalvi is the only one who was not born in Israel, but she has lived in the country for 70 years. Bartov and Arad live in America.
■ WHILE STILL on the subject of prizes, singer and actor Shuli Rand will receive the Jerusalem Prize for his contribution to Jewish religious culture at the 16th annual Jerusalem Conference, which will take place on February 11-12 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem. Altogether, 70 speakers are listed as participants in panel discussions and to give solo speeches. As was the case last year, the curtain-raiser will be a performance by Yehoram Gaon of his popular concert under the title of “I am a Jerusalemite.”
Gaon who celebrated his 79th birthday on December 28, is still going strong and is as popular as ever, with US Ambassador David Friedman as one of his leading fans.
Most of the leaders of political parties, as well as several other MKs, will be among the speakers, as will Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, whose in-laws are Jerusalemites, and President Reuven Rivlin, who is Jerusalem’s most frequent advocate, and often reminds people that he is a seventh-generation Jerusalemite with ninth-generation Jerusalem grandchildren.
■ APROPOS RIVLIN, last week he visited United Hatzalah’s equipment and logistics center in the Har Tuv industrial zone outside of Beit Shemesh, spoke with management and numerous volunteers who specially came from all over the country to meet with him, was briefed on how the organization works in providing emergency medical services, and toured the center, to see how volunteers are trained and to inspect the various vehicles used by them. He was particularly impressed by the orange ambucycles that can take volunteers to places that are not accessible by car or regular ambulance.
Rivlin was gratified to hear from United Hatzalah president Eli Beer that the organization is representative of the Israeli Hope project in which different sectors of the population integrate with each other and work together for a common cause. Beer said that among Hatzalah’s 5,000 volunteers are Jews, Arabs, Druze, Bedouin, secular and religious, men and women who work together to save lives by providing the fastest emergency medical care available free of charge. United Hatzalah has expanded its activities internationally and now has chapters in the United States, Ukraine, Panama, and Brazil.
“The Talmud teaches us that saving one life is as if a person saved an entire world,” said Rivlin. “You save the lives of children, men and women, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. You are called United Hatzalah. Even before the rescue (hatzala) comes the unity. Only here in your organization can one see a settler from Kiryat Arba, a secular person from Tel Aviv, a Satmar Hassid and a Muslim Arab from east Jerusalem working hand in hand, together, in full partnership and equality. And all of this is being done with one goal in mind – the goal of saving lives.”
■ A MONUMENT in memory of Argentine special prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who was murdered before he could publicly reveal the findings of his investigation into the 1994 bombing of the Buenos Aires Jewish Center, will be inaugurated by the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund on Friday.
The ceremony, marking the fourth anniversary of Nisman’s death, will be held in the Israel-Argentina Friendship Forest in Ben Shemen, adjacent to the memorial built in memory of those killed in the terrorist attacks on the AMIA building and the Israeli Embassy in Argentina.
Among those attending will be Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Argentinean Ambassador Mariano Caucino, KKL-JNF world chairman Daniel Atar, KKL-JNF vice chairman Hernán Felman and AMIA president Agustin Igdal Zba. The event will be held in Hebrew and Spanish with simultaneous translation.
The mystery of Nisman’s death has never been solved. He was shot in the head in a case that was made to look like suicide, but the general consensus is that he was murdered. “He felt a personal, not just a professional, responsibility to defend the Jewish people,” said Judge Sandra Arroyo Salgado, Nisman’s former partner. “He gave his life in the quest for justice for the victims of terrorism.”
A plaque inscribed with the names of the 85 victims murdered in the AMIA Center, plus another plaque with the names of the 29 victims of the bombing at the Israel Embassy, form part of the memorial center established by KKL-JNF in the park that symbolizes the friendship between Israel and Argentina.
■ THE EUROVISION “Dare to Dream” logo is not unlike a Rorschach test in which interpretations of a series of inkblots are used to analyze a person’s character. The logo, created by Israeli branding agencies Awesome Tel Aviv and Studio Adam Feinberg, is angular and comprises three triangles. The explanation behind the design that features three triangles is that the triangle is an ancient and universal symbol found in art, music, nature and cosmology. It represents connection and creativity. As the three triangles join and combine, they become a new single entity reflecting the coming together of the stars of the future who will be competing in Tel Aviv in the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest.
It’s a very plausible explanation and one that certainly pleases Jon Ola Sand, the European Broadcasting Union’s Eurovision executive supervisor. But different people analyze things differently. The real branding challenge was to unobtrusively include additional Israeli symbolism. The Israeli flag is already embedded in the V in Eurovision, which instead of its regular shape has been turned into a heart that frames the flag.
The “Dare to Dream” slogan, which was unveiled at the Foreign Ministry last October in the presence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara and KAN public broadcasting officials, is, of course, part of the Zionist ethos. After all, it was Theodor Herzl who branded Zionism with the slogan “If you will it – it is no dream.”
Now to the logo which was unveiled last week. The Star of David, which appears on the Israeli flag, includes two interlocking triangles which formulate six additional triangles. The Eurovision logo has interlocking gold triangles, with the point of one of the triangles almost entirely covered to create the impression of a five-pointed star as distinct from a six-pointed star, although it doesn’t take much imagination to see the tiny tip of the covered point. But superimposed on the two gold stars is a white star, positioned in such a manner that it almost but not quite conveys the shape of the map of Israel.
Probably most symbolic, but something that can be attributed to the EBU and not to KAN, are the dates of the first semifinals, which fall on the 71st anniversary of the Gregorian calendar date of the proclamation of the State of Israel. The semifinals are on May 14 and 16, and the grand final on May 18. The date of the finals also has some significance as far as Israel is concerned, because 18 in gematria is the numerical equivalent of “hayim,” life, and it could well mean that there will be a repeat of initial Israeli victories (out of its total of four triumphs), when Israel won in two consecutive years – first in 1978 by Izhar Cohen and the Alphabeta singing “A-Ba-Ni-Bi,” and again in 1979 by Gali Atari and Milk and Honey singing “Hallelujah.”
Given the rise of antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiments in the world today, it would be a real feather in Israel’s cap if, on the 40th anniversary of that second win, Israelis would have cause to yet again shout “Hallelujah.”
■ IT WAS not altogether unexpected, but it was somewhat short notice when Rabbi Adam Frank, the leader of the Moreshet Yisrael Synagogue at Jerusalem’s Fuchsberg Center gave notice last week that he would be leaving at the end of the month to pursue opportunities for leadership and activism elsewhere.
Frank has been the spiritual leader of this Conservative congregation for the past 13 years. A notice put out by Fuchsberg executive director Dr. Stephen Arnoff states that members and friends of Moreshet Yisrael can testify to the countless ways in which Frank has enriched the lives of the community throughout his tenure. Arnoff describes Frank as “a deft ritual leader, a powerful speaker, and a caring friend and companion to the pastoral needs of Jews locally and internationally, who models what it means to support vibrant, egalitarian Jewish living in the heart of Jerusalem.”
Arnoff, in lauding Frank, adds that during the transition period in which Moreshet Yisrael became an integral part of the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center campus, Frank spared no effort in planning for change and raising the funds needed to continue uninterrupted ritual operation, care for the sick and the needy in the Moreshet Yisrael community and remaining focused on Moreshet Yisrael core values.
In his own farewell message to the community, Frank described his 13 years with Moreshet Yisrael as “the highlight of my professional work.” The transition period, he wrote, also gave him the opportunity to reflect on his personal transition, though he was glad to have been a part of those who served Moreshet Yisrael and made it “a home in our homeland” for visors and tourists. However, he is at a stage of his career, he explained, whereby ambitions and hopes for other types of social impact are within reach. Those who know him, he continued, are well aware of his dreams to contribute influence in the Jewish world and Israeli society in a range of areas that are beyond the scope of the pulpit.
A special service and kiddush will be held in Frank’s honor on January 26 as a token of appreciation for what he has done for the congregation per se, and to strengthen respect for egalitarian prayer in general.
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