Grapevine: Lightning strikes twice

Ehud Barak is making a political comeback.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak arives before delivering a statement in Tel Aviv, Israel June 26, 2019 (photo credit: CORINNA KERN/REUTERS)
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak arives before delivering a statement in Tel Aviv, Israel June 26, 2019
(photo credit: CORINNA KERN/REUTERS)
Among the popular fallacies with which we grow up is that lightning does not strike twice in the same place. In a sense, that’s true, in that when it strikes, the effect is not 100% identical to the time before. Thus, when Ehud Barak, whose surname translates as lightning, made his political comeback last week after having retired from politics some years ago, he was obviously striking again. Whether one loves or hates Barak, the general consensus is that he’s not a fool. Barak picked what is known as the cucumber season, in that it’s a generally bland time for news, to hold the press conference for his new movement, which he said will evolve into a party. Since Wednesday evening, his name has cropped up again and again in radio and television news broadcasts and in current affairs programs. In effect, he has saved the cost of an advertising campaign, and it doesn’t much matter what people say about him, other than the fact that they’re talking about him.
■ FINLAND TAKES up its presidency of the Council of the European Union on Monday, July 1, and during its six-month tenure will seek a pledge from EU member states to reduce greenhouse emissions to zero by 2050. Several countries have already signed on to this undertaking, but there are some East European countries that oppose the target date and want more time. To celebrate her country’s accession to the presidency of the council, Finland’s Ambassador to Israel Kirsikka Lehto-Asikainen will host a reception and a concert by the Amaya Trio, which was founded in 2011 by Israeli pianist Batia Murvitz and two Finnish musicians – violinist Lea Tuuri and cellist Lauri Rantamoijanen. Lehto-Asikainen is her country’s third consecutive female ambassador to Israel.
■ WITH THE exception of Hollywood on-screen heroes such as Clint Eastwood, time somehow strips heroes of their glory. A prime example is the famous David Rubinger photo of three young paratroopers at the Western Wall, a photograph that has become the icon of the 1967 Six Day War. The three soldiers, Zion Karasenti, Yitzhak Yifat and Haim Oshri, who are now well into the third age, have for years been called to re-enact the pose.
Heroes of the audacious July 4, 1976, rescue mission of Israelis held captive in Entebbe, Uganda, following the hijacking in Athens of an Air France Airbus, are also still being feted at home and abroad.
Earlier this month, three of the former IDF commandos who were engaged in Operation Entebbe – Amir Ofer, Amnon Peled and Gadi Ilan, who likewise are no longer spring chickens, were in the United States to meet with members of Chicago’s Jewish community at the Highland Park home of Lisa and Jeff Aronin, who are supporters of Friends of the IDF. All present were thrilled to hear first-hand accounts of that heroic episode in Israel’s history.
Of the 106 hostages hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, 102 were saved. From among the commandos, Yoni Netanyahu, the older brother of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was killed, and Surin Hershko was seriously wounded and has since spent his life in a wheelchair.
Some people are interested in meeting the heroes, others in meeting the hostages. Among the more articulate and most frequently interviewed hostages is Sara Guter Davidson, who with her husband, Uzi Davidson, an IDF combat pilot at the time, and their sons, Benny and Ron, were on the fateful flight from Tel Aviv to Paris. They had not been told that there would be a stop-over in Athens, from where the plane was diverted. Last week, Sara, now in her eighties, was again interviewed on one of the Israeli radio stations, recalling how Israelis were separated from other passengers.
It was an extremely stressful period, especially when the hijackers started calling Israelis into separate, smaller rooms. For Sara it was doubly traumatic, because it reminded her of Nazi selections. She knew that this was the way in which her grandparents, aunts and uncles had been murdered in Treblinka.
When the hijackers asked everyone to surrender their documents, Uzi remembered that he had a special permit for immediate clearance in case of a security emergency in Israel. The document identified him as a fighter pilot. Fearful of what might happen to him if the hijackers discovered this, Uzi and Sara tore the document to pieces and then swallowed them all. Conditions in Entebbe deteriorated daily, and Sara had to control her fears and emotions for the sake of her sons.
The deadline for meeting the demands of the hijackers to release 53 high-risk security prisoners was fast approaching, and most of the hijacked Israelis were convinced that Israel would not accede, and that the distance between Tel Aviv and Entebbe was too far for an attempted rescue mission. They were convinced that they would die.
Despondent, they sat around with their heads bent toward their chests.
Sara recalled hearing a shot and thinking it would soon be her turn. She looked up and saw a soldier in camouflage fatigues. “We’ve come to take you home,” he said in Hebrew.
Prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and defense minister Shimon Peres were on hand to welcome the hostages as they disembarked in Israel.
Uzi’s father had been a member of the committee of relatives of the hostages who had met with Rabin, and had said to him that in the past when Palestinian prisoners were released in exchange for Israeli hostages, the hostages had been returned in coffins. “I don’t want my family to be returned in coffins,” the senior Davidson had said.
That sentence resonated with Rabin, and when he met the Davidson family on the tarmac he said, “I have regards from your father.” That meeting led to a close friendship between the Rabin and Davidson families right up to Rabin’s assassination in November 1995.
■ DEPENDING ON who one asks, being Jewish is belonging to a certain religion, a certain culture or to a nation. For some Jews, only one of these definitions applies. For others, perhaps two, and for Jews who chose to return to their ancestral homeland, all three definitions apply. Those who came from the former Soviet Union were deprived of their religious identities due to the Soviet crackdown on religious practice in general. A large proportion of Soviet Jews regained their national spirit and something of their religious heritage following the Six Day War, and after that, their sense of nationhood, migrating in their multitudes to Israel, to the extent that more than a million people from the former Soviet Union rebuilt their lives in the Jewish homeland, serving in the Israel Defense Forces, contributing to the economy, culture, political discourse, sport, entrepreneurship and innovation. Despite the suppression of religion, which to a significant extent was also reflected in the diminishing of Jewish culture in the Soviet Union, there were those who preserved the Yiddish language and who during the Second World War wrote extensively in Yiddish about the conditions to which they were subjected.
Many of these writings were poems that were set to music but after the war were banned by Soviet authorities. Fortunately, they were not destroyed, and came to light again following the fall of Communist Party rule.
A selection of these songs can be heard on Sunday, July 7, from 7 p.m. at Beit Shalom Aleichem, 2 Berkowitz Street, Tel Aviv, in a program titled “Yiddish Glory: Lost and Found Songs of Soviet Jews During World War II.”
They will sung by Psoy Korlenko, who gravitates between Moscow and New York, and a lecture about them will be delivered in English by Anna Shternshis of the University of Toronto. The songs were discovered and collected by Moisei Beregovsky and other academics of the Kiev Cabinet for Jewish Culture. The lyrics tell the story of the hardships of life for Soviet citizens, especially Jews, during the Nazi occupation.
■ AT THE beginning of last week, the Thai Embassy hosted the Thailand-Israel business forum at the Sheraton Hotel in Tel Aviv, which seems to be a favorite with ambassadors from Asian countries, several of whom have held their national day receptions and business forums there. This is not the first time that this venue was selected by Thai Ambassador Penprapa Vongkovit. The Thai delegation was headed by Kalin Sarasin, chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce and Thailand’s Board of Trade. Among the speakers was Uriel Lynn, president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, which engages in the diplomacy of economics with its affiliates around the globe.
A panel discussion on Israeli business experiences in Thailand was headed by Joseph Gillor, honorary consul-general of Thailand in Haifa and chairman of the Israel-Thai Chamber of Commerce, and Matan Vilna’i, chairman of the Israel-Asia Chamber of Commerce and Israel’s former ambassador to China. Among the specialties at the Sheraton are kosher Asian food festivals. A Thai food festival was held in conjunction with the business forum and an Indian food festival is coming up next week.
■ EXPERIENCES WITH banks are not always positive, especially when one is charged outrageous interest on loans, or even worse, triple-digit fees for depositing foreign currency in cash which will be at the bank’s disposal, and on which it will earn money. But on the other side of the coin are social goodwill activities by banks, such as special credit cards and credit terms for women who have been the victims of sexual assault and other forms of violence. High-powered women in banking, finance and justice meet regularly to discuss financial issues related to victims of violence and sexual abuse. The most recent meeting held at Bank Hapoalim headquarters in Tel Aviv included, among others, Israel Securities Authority chair Anat Guetta, supervisor of banks Hedva Bar, Justice Ministry director-general Emi Palmor, Bank Hapoalim deputy director-general Yael Dromi, and retired judge Ayala Procaccia. It would seem that talking about glass ceilings where women are concerned is practically passé.