Grapevine: Blue and white at Trump inauguration

A round-up of news from around Israel.

January 24, 2017 21:05
holocaust remembrance day

MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) takes part in a World Jewish Congress photo project for Holocaust Remembrance Day.. (photo credit: WORLD JEWISH CONGRESS)


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Of course, it doesn’t really mean anything, but the two main fashion colors at the Trump inauguration were blue and white, as displayed by the women in the US president’s immediate family; and both Melania Trump and Hillary Clinton wore outfits designed by Ralph Lauren, whose stock almost instantly went soaring.

Lauren, like so many American global fashion icons, was born in New York. His parents were immigrants who hailed from Pinsk, and he happens to be a member of the tribe. His original name is Ralph Lifshitz. He first went to school at the Marsha Stern Talmudic Academy and later studied at City University of New York’s Baruch College, named for Jewish financier and statesman Bernard Baruch.

■ IT WILL be interesting to see if President Donald Trump, during his first year in office, accepts the invitation of President Reuven Rivlin to visit Jerusalem. Presumably, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will be a fairly frequent visitor, as he is Trump’s envoy to the Middle East. At this stage of the game, it’s unknown whether he will stay in one of the capital’s luxury hotels or be a house guest of ambassador-designate David Friedman, who intends to live and work in Jerusalem, regardless of whether the embassy is relocated. His intentions may be one thing, and the orders of the State Department may be another.

It would seem that, unlike his predecessors in office, Trump will not renege on his promise to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. It may just take a little longer than anticipated.

“We are at the very beginning stages of even discussing this subject. It’s a process,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters on Sunday.

■ PEOPLE WITH strong Israel connections were among the participants in the Women’s March on Washington. One of them, Yael Bromberg, who actually lives in Washington, is the daughter of Israeli parents who relocated to the US.

Bromberg speaks Hebrew without an American accent, but her vocabulary proved inadequate to the interview she gave to Aryeh Golan on Sunday morning. Bromberg, who was thrilled with the turnout, was one of the activists who demonstrated against Trump.

In trying to explain the American voting system, which gave Trump the presidency even though Clinton won more votes, and in discussing the reasons for the mass anti-Trump demonstrations across America and around the world, she constantly resorted to English.

Here and there, Golan helped her out with a Hebrew word, but took great care not to use any English expressions himself, even rephrasing questions that she did not understand.

Last week, Israel Radio devoted a lot of attention to Hebrew language week and to Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who was so instrumental in reviving Hebrew as a living language. This may have influenced Golan’s decision not to use any foreign terminology on air.

■ ONE OF the quirks of heads of state and of government is to destroy or ignore laws and projects put in place by their immediate predecessors.

Trump made no secret of the fact that he was going to get rid of Obamacare, and one of his first acts following his inauguration was to set the wheels in motion toward the realization of that pledge.

It happens in Israel, too. In 2012, president Shimon Peres introduced the Medal of Distinction as Israel’s highest civilian honor to be awarded to individuals or organizations that made outstanding contributions to the State of Israel or to humanity. In announcing the establishment of this award, Peres called it the President’s Medal of Distinction. He did not put his name to it, realizing that if he did, its demise would come with his own. But he wanted Israel to have an award on the level of the French Legion of Honor and America’s Medal of Freedom, both of which he himself had been a recipient.

In the two-and-a-half years in which he continued as president after announcing the creation of the award, Peres bestowed it on Henry Kissinger, Judith Feld Carr, the Rashi Foundation, Rabbi Adin Even Yisrael (Steinsaltz), Zubin Mehta, Uri Slonim, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Elie Wiesel, Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman, Lia van Leer, Avi Naor, Rabbi Avraham Elimelech Firer, Avigdor Kahalani, Avner Shalev, Dr. Harry Zvi Tabor, Jack Mahfar, Angela Merkel, Georgio Napolitano, Ruth Dayan, Stef Wertheimer, Kamal Mansour, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and Prof. Reuven Feuerstein.

In 2013, Wiesel was already too ill to travel from New York to the awards ceremony in Jerusalem, so Peres, en route to a state visit to Mexico, stopped off in New York to personally deliver the medal and fasten it around Wiesel’s neck.

Although the award as such and the criteria under which it is conferred are listed on the presidential website, Rivlin, who has been in office since July 2014, has yet to present the Presidential Medal of Distinction. There’s no shortage of potential candidates. One only has to look at organizations such as Save a Child’s Heart, Make a Wish Foundation, ZAKA or United Hatzalah.

As for individuals, the enormity of what Ronald Lauder has done for the Jewish world and for Israel defies imagination. He set up formal and informal centers of Jewish learning for children and adults in Eastern Europe even before the fall of the Soviet Union, thus paving the way for a return to Jewish identity and in many cases to Jewish observance. His leadership of the Jewish National Fund of America has been extraordinary in terms of his handson involvement. He is also a multimillion dollar investor in Israel, thereby providing jobs in various Israeli cities and towns, and he is a most courageous and effective leader of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), from which he is currently leading the “I Remember” campaign in advance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. He has also undertaken diplomatic missions on Israel’s behalf, and he’s done a lot more that doesn’t necessarily get any kind of media coverage.

There’s also Jay Ruderman, who has made a tremendous contribution toward the inclusion of people with handicaps in mainstream society and in the regular workplace.

Among Israelis, there are people such as Avi Rivkind, who established the trauma unit at Hadassah, and Mariuma Ben Yosef, the founder of Ashanti House, who for more than 30 years has provided shelter and occupational and emotional support for runaways and homeless youth at risk.

The lists of deserving people and organizations are endless, and one can only suppose that the reason the Medal of Distinction has not been awarded in nearly three years is that it was something that Peres dreamed up, not Rivlin.

On the other hand Rivlin has continued to preside over or attend award ceremonies that have traditions that are much older than that of the President’s Medal of Distinction. Some of these include the Israel Prize, the Wolf Prize, the Emet Prize, the Dan David Prize, the President’s Prize for Volunteerism, the Jerusalem Unity Prize, the President’s Prize for Scientific Achievement, the Yuri Stern Prize for the Arts and the President’s Award for Excellence given to 120 soldiers every Independence Day – but the President’s Medal of Distinction has thus far been orphaned on Rivlin’s watch.

■ APROPOS PERES, a tribute to him was held in Davos last Friday at the initiative of Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum. Chemi Peres, who is now chairman of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, replaced his father, who had been an annual participant and speaker, and delivered an address to heads of state and leaders of multinational companies, conveying highlights of his father’s vision for the world.

■ DIPLOMATIC REPRESENTATIVES from more than 40 countries will gather in the Yad Vashem synagogue on Thursday for a special Holocaust commemoration, to be addressed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Yad Vashem chairman Shalev and Dr. Haim Gertner, director of the Yad Vashem Archives.

Afterward, the diplomats will be given a guided tour of “Stars Without a Heaven,” an exhibition dedicated to children in the Holocaust.

Yad Vashem’s senior leadership, historians and educational staff will participate in events and ceremonies around the world marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Yad Vashem Council chairman Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau will attend a remembrance event sponsored by the European Union in Belgium. Yad Vashem director-general Dorit Novak will participate in UNESCO’s Annual Day of Commemoration in Paris. Yad Vashem chief historian Prof. Dina Porat and academic adviser Prof. Yehuda Bauer will lecture at various memorial services in London, Brussels, Paris and Vienna. Additionally, Gertner will represent Yad Vashem at a special meeting, sponsored by the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure, in Brussels.

■ IN ANOTHER International Holocaust Remembrance Day event, Arnoud-Jan Bijsterveld will, on Friday, January 27, at Kibbutz Hazorea, present his book House of Memories: Uncovering the Past of a Dutch Jewish Family.

The book focuses on the Polak family that between 1928 and 1941 lived in Tilburg, in the Netherlands, in the house now inhabited by the author.

The house was built by a Jewish couple, Hans and Bertha Polak-Cohen, in 1927-28.

When Bijsterveld, a historian, bought it in 2000, he was entirely unaware of its past, until he learned that it had been lived in by members of the Polak family. Bijsterveld set himself the difficult task of tracing the stories of the individual family members, whose descendants now live in the Netherlands, the United States and Israel. Through eyewitnesses, archives and relatives, he was able to weave the story and write the book. The saddest story is that of Bertram, the son of the original residents of the house, who as a nineyear- old came to live there with his parents and three younger sisters.

Thirteen years later, in 1941, he was ousted from his home, which was sold to a German member of the NSDAP . On December 9, 1941, Bertram and three of his friends attempted to escape to England, were betrayed, arrested, and deported to the prison called “Hotel Orange” and to Amersfoort Police Camp. On August 17, 1942, he was murdered in Auschwitz- Birkenau.

While at Hazorea, Bijsterveld will present copies of the book to three generations of the Polak family. In 2011, 30 family members returned to the house for the first time to honor and commemorate Bertram’s memory by placing a stone there. This triggered a process during which various relatives and other people involved in the history of the period began sharing their memories and in doing so uncovered the entire story of the Polak family. The first printing of the book is in English – the family’s most common language and the language of anticipated future generations – so as to allow the next generations to read it.

■ BECAUSE ANTISEMITISM is on the rise again, and there are increasing reports of antisemitic incidents in the media and disturbing antisemitic posts on Facebook and other social media, it is imperative for people who value freedom and civil rights to remain alert. Various versions of the concept that hatred starts with the Jews but doesn’t end there have been published over the years, but the warning is not sufficiently heeded, as world events have borne out.

The Auschwitz Museum in Poland will join forces with the WJC next week to project thousands of photographs of people holding signs bearing the words “We Remember,” as part of the WJC’s global social media campaign to raise awareness of the Holocaust.

More than 100,000 people from every continent have already taken part in the campaign, which calls on participants to post their photos to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram along with the hashtag #WeRemember.

Projection screens were placed beside Crematorium II on the Birkenau grounds on January 24 and will remain there up to and including January 26, ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27.

According to Robert Singer, WJC CEO, “Antisemitism is more prevalent today than it has been at any time since World War II, and bigotry and discrimination still rear their ugly heads.” Singer’s remarks were made before the barrage of hate mail on social media that was directed at Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who participated in Trump’s inauguration ceremony.

■ NOT TOO many books stay on the best-seller list of The New York Times for eight straight months. One of the exceptions was Exodus by Leon Uris. There are several stories about why Uris wrote this romantic novel about the courage of Holocaust survivors who came to the not-yet-born State of Israel. The state was already 10 years old by the time that Uris published his novel. Two years later, Otto Preminger directed the epic film based on the book, with Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint, Ralph Richardson and Peter Lawford in the lead roles. Together, the book and the film won much support, sympathy and admiration for Israel. Millions of people around the world, especially Jews, believed it was a true story. In fact, it was fiction, with enough romance thrown in to tug at the heart strings.

The true story of the illegal immigrant ship Exodus 1947 and its hapless passengers is conveyed in a documentary that will be screened on Channel 1, on Saturday night, January 28, at 10 p.m. The true story is that the illegal immigrants were forced off the ship by the British Mandate forces and were returned to Germany, where they were again taken off by force and sent to Bergen-Belsen and other camps. The documentary includes testimony by Holocaust survivors who were on the boat and in the camps, and who returned to Israel after the war. Among the survivors who gave testimony was Fruma Segal-Galant, the mother of Housing and Construction Minister Yoav Galant.

■ THE FINALS for the fourth Harry Hurwitz Memorial Best Speakers Competition will be held Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Begin Heritage Center, Jerusalem. Harry Hurwitz, who conceived the center and was its founding executive director, was a splendid orator, and Ann Kirson Swersky, the founding chair of Sia’h Vasig, the Israel Debating Society, believed that the most appropriate way in which to perpetuate his memory would be to hold an annual debating contest among junior high school and high school students from across the country.

The contest is not limited to Hebrew-speakers, and participants can speak in either Hebrew, English or Arabic on subjects of their choice. Aside from anything else, the contest helps to develop leadership potential because a good debater must be convincing, and, generally speaking, to be convincing one has to believe in what one is trying to convey.

■ THE STOR K seems to have targeted The Jerusalem Post in recent weeks. First it was political correspondent Gil Hoffman, whose wife, Maayan, presented him with a gorgeous baby daughter. The couple, who believe in equality, split their bonding time with the infant, with Maayan initially taking maternity leave and then returning to work, while Gil took paternity leave. Then Pini Engel, the personal assistant to the editor-in-chief, took a couple of days off to welcome his son Yishai into the world. And last week, instead of reporting on the Knesset, which is her regular beat, Lahav Harkov reported to the maternity ward at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, where she and her husband, Natan Levine, became first-time parents. Their daughter is currently nameless but will be officially named next month at a ceremony for family and friends. The baby was obviously considerate of mommy, and didn’t make her appearance until just in time for the nightly television news, weighing in at 3.26 kg.

■ COSMETICS QUEEN, former model, actress and singer Pnina Rosenblum makes the distinction between a compliment and sexual harassment. Rosenblum, who at 62 has succeeded in maintaining the face and figure of a woman of 40, says it’s ridiculous for a woman to complain about sexual harassment because someone said something complimentary about her looks or momentarily put his arm around her. There’s a big difference between a quick caress and a man forcing his attentions on a woman, she said, in an interview with Yediot Aharonot.

She finds it particularly galling that there are women who after 10 years or more decide that a particular man had sexually harassed them because he had said that they had luscious lips or nice legs. In those days, would they really have preferred him not to notice?

■ OVER THE past week or so, NGO HonestReporting has scored numerous requested corrections concerning stories that wrongly implied that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital city or center of power and government. Among media outlets that changed their text were The Guardian, Daily Mail, The Independent and Sky News. However, when a request was sent to the Sydney Morning Herald, it was met with a flat refusal to make any correction.

Founded in 1831, the SMH is the oldest continuously published newspaper in Australia.

Presumably, if the Sydney Morning Herald can decide that Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel, then Israeli media outlets can decide that Melbourne is the capital of Australia. After all, Canberra is an artificial capital, selected in 1908 as a compromise between the country’s two largest cities, Melbourne and Sydney, which have consistently remained the two largest cities. Jerusalem, one of the oldest cities in the world, has for centuries been the capital of the Jewish people, who for hundreds of years in exile said in their prayers “Next year in Jerusalem.”

If Netanyahu, who now has the United States on his February travel agenda, manages nonetheless to get to Australia next month, he will presumably, at a press conference attended by a representative of the Sydney Morning Herald, set the record straight.

The question is whether his remarks in this regard will be reported.

■ IT SEEMS that in rejecting an overnight visit to Melbourne and in declining to address students at Mount Scopus College, one of the largest Jewish day schools in the world, which offered to accommodate community leaders and students from other schools, the prime minister has forgotten that the “Netanyahu is good for the Jews” slogan originated in Melbourne, when Chabad mining tycoon Joseph Gutnick bankrolled his successful election campaign way back in 1996 which led to Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister.

■ THERE ARE people standing in line as Netanyahu’s nemesis, and near the front, if not right in front, is Channel 10’s political commentator and investigative reporter Raviv Drucker, who is competing nightly with Channel 2’s Guy Peleg to see which of them can dig more dirt on the prime minister.

Even before releasing the news on Monday night that there were two additional probes against the prime minister, Drucker let loose about him on Friday to a packed hall at the Eretz Israel Museum at a Cathedra-sponsored even. Pondering whether the whole government was corrupt, Drucker compared the people in office today to those who had served under Ben-Gurion.

Conceding that there are those who say that there’s not much difference between one prime minister and the next, and that very little has changed, Drucker cited Ben-Gurion’s passion for books, which prompted many people to buy him books as gifts. Levi Eshkol purchased a government apartment at a huge discount, and Golda Meir celebrated her 75th birthday with the help of two millionaires, one of whom claimed that he and Meir had once had a romance, said Drucker.

Yitzhak Rabin, according to Drucker, used to lecture across America during his time there as Israel’s ambassador and received $90,000 per lecture, but none of Israel’s former leaders, declared Drucker, reached the level of Netanyahu.

■ WHO CHECKS the state comptroller? State Comptroller Josef Shapira sometimes takes his time in publishing reports related to security, or to the corruption of certain people in high places, as did his predecessors. While it is often advisable to err on the side of caution, it’s not a good idea to keep the nation on tenterhooks on matters that are of vital interest to the public.

Wednesday night, Israelis who tune in to Channel 1’s Mabat Sheni will get to see the state comptroller placed under the microscope.

The program is not specifically directed at Shapira but at the role of the state comptroller and the extent to which the comptroller’s own personality influences the comptroller’s efficiency and reports – or, for that matter, who or what influences the comptroller.

The program also examines the manner in which the State Comptroller’s Office works, the smaller number of people working with the comptroller, their specific jobs, and whether their paltry salaries have a negative effect on their motivation.

The most important question from the perspective of the general public is whether the state comptroller has any influence on the attorney-general as to whether to open a criminal investigation in real time based on findings in the State Comptroller’s Report.

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