Grapevine July 3, 2019: Changing norms

A roundup of news from around Israel.

July 3, 2019 19:13
Grapevine July 3, 2019: Changing norms

Governor of New York Andrew Mark Cuomo at the Western Wall Friday June 27 2019 . (photo credit: THE WESTERN WALL HERITAGE FOUNDATION)

It seems to be comeback time in Israeli politics, though former MK Nitzan Horowitz, the recently elected chairman of Meretz, was accepted in a more civilized fashion and with greater warmth than former prime minister Ehud Barak, whose main goal is to decapitate the political career of Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he has been bad-mouthing for quite some time. If the media are not well disposed toward Netanyahu, they are even less inclined to sing the praises of Barak.

If elections happen to take place in September, barring all attempts to prevent another round at the polling booth, the ratio of gay legislators is likely to increase. Presuming that those who got in through the last election will be able to retain their places on the Knesset lists, there’s a strong likelihood that Horowitz, following his victory in the party leadership race, will also head the Meretz list for the Knesset, and will thereby increase the number of gay MKs from five to six – an all-time record.

The first openly gay MK was Uzi Even, who became a legislator in 2002, but it was widely known that one of the MKs who joined the Knesset in 1974 and maintained his position for a decade was likewise gay. However, he never came out of the closet, and there is no point to outing him now. Another newcomer to the Knesset in 1974 was Marcia Freedman, who fought for gay rights, and was outed as a lesbian by the LGBT publication PinkNews.

Former MKs Merav Ben-Ari of Kulanu and Michal Biran of the Zionist Union were openly lesbian, and served as legislators prior to last April’s elections.

As far as is known, there are currently no lesbians among the current crop of legislators but there are gays in the Left, Right and Center: Justice Minister and Likud MK Amir Ohana, Labor MK Itzik Shmuli and Blue and White MKs Eitan Ginzburg, Idan Roll and Yorai Lahav Hertzanu.

■ WHEREAS NOT so long ago, straights were wary of standing up for the rights of the LGBT community, and many were even openly opposed to anyone who was gay, today it’s the other way around, and LGBT rights come within the umbrella category of human rights and are staunchly defended by politicians, diplomats, academics and ordinary people.

Among the more recent to publicly stand at the side of his LGBT friends and colleagues is singer Yehoram Gaon, who, according to a report in Haaretz, canceled his appearance at the opening of the Modesty and Jewish Family Values Month organized by the Ra’anana Religious Council in response to Ra’anana’s first gay pride parade. Gaon had been scheduled to appear at the July 7 opening, but on learning the reason that it was being held, he decided to cancel. This was a blow to the council, which had widely advertised Gaon’s appearance and was left with little time to find a replacement.

Ra’anana characterizes itself as pluralistic, religious council chairman Arye Friedman told Haaretz, and in a pluralistic society, everyone is entitled to express their views, including the religious council.

■ IF THE political and as yet unnamed bloc formed by Barak and joined by Noa Rothman actually becomes a registered party and competes in the September elections, there is a strong chance that Rothman, who is the granddaughter of assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, will become a member of Knesset, thus making the Rabin family the second to have three generations of legislators. Rothman’s mother, Dalia Rabin, was a deputy defense minister. The only other family that can claim triple-generation membership in the Knesset is the Dayan family. Shmuel Dayan was elected to the first Knesset. His son Moshe later became defense minister and foreign minister, and Moshe’s daughter, Yael, chaired the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women.

Although three-generation legislators are rare, two-generation legislators are not. Among them are Menachem and Bennie Begin, Yitzhak and Yair Shamir; Ariel and Omri Sharon, Mordechai and Ehud Olmert; Yosef and Avraham Burg, Haim and Isaac Herzog, Tommy and Yair Lapid and Haim and Omer Bar Lev. David Levy had the singular distinction of having not one but two of his offspring – Orly and Jackie – follow in his footsteps, although not yet reaching his level of success. He is the only politician in Israel to have three times served as foreign minister, a remarkable achievement for a Moroccan immigrant in a society of Ashkenazi elite.

■ ALTHOUGH IT would seem from some of the distorted news about Israel that appears in the global media that the country is embroiled in an ongoing war, visitors are pleasantly surprised to discover that there is much to enjoy in Israel and much to praise. The distorted image works both ways. A non-Jewish Australian couple who were in Jerusalem for a couple of days last week included Bethlehem in their touring and were surprised to see so many top-tier homes. Based on media reports, they had expected to find abject poverty everywhere among the Palestinians, and they were astonished to see so much affluence. Their guide told them that unemployment was in the range of 38%, but they saw little evidence of this.

On the other hand, although they have many Jewish friends who had told them about Israel, they were nonetheless influenced by what they had seen on television and what they had read in the print media, and like so many others found Israel to be somewhat different from the erroneous impressions they had formed. It’s a matter of either hearing a different narrative or subscribing to seeing is believing.

When Hod Ben Zvi, the Israel representative of the Universal Peace Federation, went to Japan to address the Women’s Federation for World Peace, he spoke of the humanitarian work that is being done in Israel on behalf of wounded Syrians, especially by nurses and physicians at the Ziv Medical Center in Safed. This resonated so strongly with his audience that Haruko Morita, head of the organization’s external relations department, came to Israel with a handsome donation for the medical center. Accompanied by Adi Sasaki, president of the Israel branch of WFWP, she visited the Ziv Medical Center and presented the gift to director Dr. Salman Zarka, who was most appreciative because the cost of treating the Syrians is quite high and is not being sufficiently supported by the government.

■ ISRAEL AS a state may be only 71 years old, but some of its institutions of higher learning are older. The Hebrew University, which was founded in 1918, was formally opened in 1925. The laying of the first cornerstone of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology was in April 1912, at the initiative of Chaim Weizmann, Martin Buber and Berthold Feivel. Its first student enrollment was in 1924.

Among the 1,843 students who graduated from the Technion last week was Hagai Kiri, 21, who received his degree in mechanical engineering. In view of the numbers, that’s no big deal. Except in his case it is, because he’s a fourth-generation Technion graduate. His great-grandfather, Moshe Dambo, was in the second class of engineering students and earned his degree 88 years ago. Hagai’s grandfather Yosef Dambo completed his degree in civil engineering, while Hagai’s father, Uri, who is also a Technion alumnus, studied mechanics and earned his B.Sc in Mechanical Engineering and M.Sc in Material Engineering from the Technion. Hagai's mother Yael Kiri Dembo  is also a Technion graduate and holds a B.Sc and M.Sc in Chemical Engineering.  

It was almost a given, under the circumstances, that Hagai  would follow in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather and enroll at the Technion. Hagai will now continue his studies for a master’s degree.

At the graduation ceremony, Technion president Peretz Lavie said that Technion graduates have an entry card to great dreams and their realization.

■ FOLLOWING HIS lightning visit to Israel last week, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday that as a result of his solidarity trip, 17 Israeli entities will work with six New York State agencies and other partners to bolster innovation and economic ties between the state of New York and Israel. Cuomo – who took a diverse business delegation with him to Israel as well as his three daughters, Cara, Mariah and Michaela, for whose expenses he paid personally – said that a series of agreements between New York and Israeli entities had been signed in the fields of healthcare, UAV drones, transportation, energy, cybersecurity and financial technology.

While in Israel, Cuomo met with President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, visited Yad Vashem, toured the Old City of Jerusalem, visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall, tested a driverless car at Mobileye, where he was feted by the company’s founder and CEO, Amnon Shashua, and also conducted a panel discussion on the potential win-win situation that will emerge from increased cooperation in hi-tech and innovation between the state of New York and Israel.

At the panel discussion, which preceded a series of roundtable workshops at the King David Hotel, Cuomo quipped that he had wanted to join the board of the Technion, but had been rejected because he was lacking in technical skills and know-how.

Following his visit to Yad Vashem, Cuomo said: “We must continue to tell their story to ensure it is never repeated, and we will stand strong and united and fight hatred in all its forms.”

Although he had previously visited the Western Wall in March 2017, Cuomo thought it important to do so again in the company of his daughters, for whom this was their first Israel experience. Together with members of the delegation that included Consul-General in New York Dani Dayan, they went on a guided tour of the Western Wall Tunnels and the new excavations of the Western Wall with Mordechai (Suli) Eliav, the director of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, who imparted information about the history of the site and its importance as a focus of Jewish yearning throughout the generations. Cuomo, who has Jewish relatives, said that his deep connection with the Jewish people has passed from generation to generation, and that his father was a true friend for all Jews.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites, recited a chapter of Psalms with Cuomo, who signed the Western Wall guest book for the second time, near his previous entry where he wrote: “I come to wish peace and solidarity to all my friends.”

■ SOME OF the people who last week attended the reception hosted by Rivlin to mark the 40th anniversary of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt might have wondered at the presence of former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, whom Rivlin publicly acknowledged. Abbott was actually in the country, along with former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, to attend the two-day Shurat Hadin Law & War Conference at the Dan Jerusalem hotel. Both men are strong supporters of Israel, and Abbott has more than once declared that Australia should move its embassy to Jerusalem. In December last year, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison formally recognized west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, adding that he looks forward to moving the embassy to west Jerusalem when this would be practical. Abbott forecast that this would be sooner rather than later, and set 2020 as the target year.

■ CUOMO WAS not the only American dignitary who visited the Western Wall last week. Former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who came to Israel with her husband, Michael, was one of the key attractions at the Israel Hayom Forum on US-Israel Relations, which was held last Thursday at the Davidson Center in Jerusalem. Among the other speakers were Rivlin, Netanyahu, US special envoy Jason Greenblatt and US Ambassador David Friedman. Other than Israel Hayom itself and religious digital publications, the forum got minimal or no coverage.

There is still widespread belief in Israel that the freebie paper was established by Sheldon Adelson to boost Netanyahu’s image. Even though there has been a certain cooling off in their relationship, the paper is still regarded as a platform for Netanyahu. Then there’s the snob value element in that a freebie tabloid is usually associated with the kind of advertising rags distributed at supermarkets. The fact that Israel Hayom has some really top-notch journalists is neither here nor there with rival print media, but it does get play on Israel’s electronic media.

When Netanyahu, accompanied by his wife, Sara, entered the site of the forum, she was kissed by both Haley and Friedman. Earlier the day, when Nikki and Michael Haley came to the Prime Minister’s Residence for lunch, entering from the front gate on Smolenskin Street, Nikki Haley embraced both the Netanyahus.

At the Western Wall, Haley wore a hat out of respect, just as non-Jewish male dignitaries who visit the wall don a kippah. She placed a note in one of the crevices and put both her hands with palms flat against the Wall.

■ IN SKIMMING through Israel Hayom on Friday morning, veteran radio broadcaster Shalom Kital made a Freudian slip and referred to Nikki Haley as the former Israel ambassador. Instantly correcting himself, Kital said that her defense of Israel during her term at the United Nations was such that many Israelis mistakenly thought that she was the representative of Israel rather than of the US. People were lining up to shake Haley’s hand at the forum. Rivlin met her there, and gave her the warmest welcome.

■ MUCH WAS made in the Hebrew media of two of the pilots who graduated last Thursday from the IAF pilot’s course. One was the first-ever Druze pilot in Israel, and the other was the grandson of the late prime minister Ariel Sharon. In the case of the latter, who for security reasons was simply referred to as R, Yediot Aharonot had a delightful anecdote. When he was a little boy, R was taken by his grandfather to Hatzerim to watch the pilots’ graduation ceremony. The base commander at the time was Yohanan Locker, who went on to become head of the IAF’s Air Division and later deputy chief of the IAF. Locker playfully placed his cap on the head of the cute little boy. When R completed his pilot’s course, he invited Locker to the graduation ceremony and gave him back his cap, because now R has one of his own. This time, Locker planted a kiss on his cheek.

■ ANYONE WHO missed out on last week’s benefit concert for the residents of Moshav Mevo Modi’im, which was devastated by fire, can rest assured that there will be several such concerts in the future, with the most meaningful in all probability taking place in mid-November to mark the 25th anniversary of the death of the founder of the moshav, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, whose private home there had been kept intact by the residents for whenever members of his family were able to visit. That home, too, was destroyed, though surprisingly many of his books remained untouched by the flames. All proceeds from last week’s concert went to the moshav residents, who are determined to rebuild their homes. In some cases where married children of the original residents had also made their homes on the moshav, three and even four homes of one family were destroyed.

Many of the singers at benefit concerts for the moshav residents used to sing at concerts held within the moshav, and some even started their careers there. Among the singers and musicians who appeared pro bono last week were Yehudah Katz, Shlomo Katz, Benny Landau, Yitzhak Meir, Aryeh Naftali, the Solomon Brothers, Chaim Dovid Saracik, the Portnoy Brothers, Ishay Ribo, Aharon Razel, Dvir Spiegel and Akiva, with Yedidya Meir as master of ceremonies.

■ PEOPLE WHO may not have seen each other in a long time tend to meet up at weddings and funerals, but now, with longevity as a norm rather than an exception, people are celebrating anniversaries of their bar mitzvahs in tandem with milestone birthdays. Thus, some of his former colleagues from The Jerusalem Post showed up at Kol Haneshama congregation in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood last Saturday to wish former restaurant reviewer and tourism writer Haim Shapiro well on his 80th birthday. Among them were Esther Hecht, former chief copy editor Ilan Chaim and Jon Immanuel.

Kol Haneshama is a kind of extended family congregation in which everyone knows everyone, and everyone is there for everyone. The service is egalitarian and very musical. Women as well as men are called to the Torah, individually and in groups. Thus the congregation’s choral group Shira Shebalev (song in the heart), of which Shapiro is a member, came together to be called up to the Torah. The Shapiro family was subsequently called up, and at the end of the musically uplifting service Shapiro joined the choral group to lead the congregation in its final musical prayer.

Prior to that, he read the haftarah that he had originally read in Florida 67 years earlier and also delivered the sermon, based on both the Torah reading of Korah and the haftarah. The haftarah, which is about the anointing of King Saul by the Prophet Samuel, is one that Shapiro has read many times over the years, but last week a line in the text in which Samuel says that he has grown old resonated with Shapiro for the first time. But he was actually more focused on Samuel’s anticorruption soliloquy.

In congratulating Shapiro, Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, who founded the congregation in 1985, and who since last year is president of Rabbis for Human Rights, recalled that before the congregation got under way, he had placed a very small advertisement in In Jerusalem, the Post’s local supplement, to see how much interest there would be in forming a new congregation. The first person to call him was Shapiro. Other than the fact that they are among the founders of the congregation, something else they have in common is that both are the sons of Conservative rabbis.

Although the service at Kol Haneshama is abridged in comparison to the Orthodox service, it contains additions such as, in the Amida prayer, the names of the four matriarchs, without whom there would not be a Jewish people; and in all prayers in which God is asked to bless the Jewish people, there is the added phrase “and all the people of the universe.”

During the years in which he wrote restaurant reviews, Shapiro often expressed his disdain for dishes containing canned mushrooms. Remembering this, former broadcaster Idele Ross, who is currently a print media journalist and blogger, contributed a fresh mushroom salad to the kiddush.

After leaving the Post, Shapiro went back to school and earned himself an arts degree from the Hebrew University, a qualification that has since enabled him to work at the Israel Museum, where he is in his element.

■ CHILDREN ARE a blessing, and two or three or more at a time are a multiple blessing. Pedestrians throughout Israel cannot help but be aware of the number of twin baby carriages that are being wheeled on pavements and along the aisles of supermarkets by parents all over the country, in addition to taking up space on public transport. Admittedly, in some cases the carriages are simply a convenience, when two children have been born within 18 months of each other or less. But more often than not, they actually do contain sets of twins.

Prof. Gil Klinger, director of the department of neonatology and neonatal intensive care at Schneider Children’s Medical Center for Israel, who has been on board since the hospital’s inception in 1992, and is a world-acclaimed expert on the treatment of premature babies, close to 1,000 of which are treated at Schneider’s annually, has never seen so many sets of premature twins in one fell swoop as is presently the case. The hospital is currently treating 12 pairs of preemie twins.

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