Grapevine May 1, 2019: Heroines and heroes

A round up of news from around Israel.

By
May 1, 2019 04:03
A photo illustration shows the applications Facebook and Instagram on the screen of an iPhone

A photo illustration shows the applications Facebook and Instagram on the screen of an iPhone. (photo credit: ANTONIO BRONIC/ REUTERS)

On its Facebook page, the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv features portraits and thumbnail biographies of heroines of the Warsaw Ghetto. The details are in Polish, Hebrew and English, with the names accompanying the portraits of the women written in Hebrew and Polish. They include: Cywia Lubetkin, who coordinated the actions of female liaison officers; Pnina Grynszpan-Frymer, a member of the Jewish Combat Organization, who later joined the Polish underground; Chana Hagar Grauman, a member of Hashomer Hatzair Youth Movement and the Jewish Combat Organization; Hela Rufeisen-Schuppe, a member of the Akiva Zionist Youth Movement, who was captured by the Germans and sent to Bergen-Belsen, migrating to Israel after the war; and Tosia Altman, a member of Hashomer Hatzair and an activist in the Jewish underground, who was among the initiators of the Jewish Combat Organization. The embassy has named those who fought in the uprising as “Heroes of two flags.”
 
■ AMONG THE numerous events for Holocaust Remembrance Day is the screening on Wednesday, May 1, of Who Will Write Our History at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem. The film tells the story of the famed Ringelblum archives, better known as Oyneg Shabes, in which a group of dedicated journalists, scholars and community leaders documented day-to-day activities in the Warsaw Ghetto. The film was shown to a packed audience at Tel Aviv University last December, and will also be screened on Thursday, May 2, at 6 p.m., at Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People, in Tel Aviv, where a post-screening discussion will be led by Prof. Dina Porat, one of Israel’s leading authorities on Holocaust history.
 
On Thursday morning at 9:45 a.m., Yiddishpiel will present its annual Holocaust memorial ceremony at the Jerusalem Theater. This is one of the few ceremonies conducted largely in Yiddish, the most common language among the Ashkenazim of prewar Europe. Many Holocaust memorial ceremonies conclude with the partisans’ song that was written in the Vilna Ghetto in 1943 by Hirsch Glick and set to the music of a Cossack marching song written by Dmitri and Daniel Pokrass, who as it happened were also Jewish. The lyrics of the song were written in Yiddish and in Israel have been translated into Hebrew, the language in which it is most frequently sung. Yet in Hebrew it lacks the poignancy and determination that comes across in the Yiddish, in which it will be sung at the Jerusalem Theater.
 
■ MUCH MORE emphasis will be placed this year on North African Jewish communities whose members were also directly or indirectly victims of the Nazis. Until recent years, Jews of North African background who lost loved ones in the Holocaust, or who were themselves survivors of the Holocaust, had difficulty in getting anyone to believe them. The Holocaust was considered to be a purely European tragedy. But in Iraq there was a pro-Nazi government, headed by Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, which, with the urging of the German Embassy in Iraq, pursued a policy of antisemitism, which at the beginning of June 1941 increased in violence, resulting in bloody riots known as the Farhud, in which 180 Jews were killed and more than a thousand wounded. It was equivalent to what in Europe was known as a pogrom. The Iraqi Jewish community was one of the oldest of Diaspora Jewish communities, with a history that reached back 2,000 years.
 
As bad as things were in Iraq, they were even worse in Libya, which was an Italian colony. Until the Second World War, the Jews were treated relatively well, but then Mussolini joined forces with Hitler, and the harsh laws discriminating against Jews in Italy were also introduced in Libya, where Jews could no longer send their children to Italian schools. Jews were barred from state employment, as well as from skilled professions. Their passports were stamped with their religious identity, synagogues were destroyed, people were dispossessed, several synagogues were destroyed, and many Jews were deported to Bergen-Belsen.
In subsequent years, when Libyan Jews tried to talk about this, no one believed them. It was not until Israeli-born novelist Yossi Sucary wrote the book Benghazi-Bergen-Belsen, based on stories that he had heard from his Libyan-born mother and grandmother, that people began to sit up and take notice. The book was translated into English and received favorable reviews, but what was most meaningful to Sucary, during a book launch tour in America, was when he was a approached by an elderly woman who told him that she was ill and in the twilight of her days, but now she could die in peace, because people would believe what she had suffered in Bergen-Belsen.
 
■ SOMEWHAT RELATED to this was a discussion on “Movements in the Middle East Post 1948” hosted at Beit Hatfutsot by British philanthropists Charles and Ariella Zeloof, who are each of North African background, as were the overwhelming majority of invitees, who also included people from India. Several of those present were attired in ethnic or semi-ethnic garb, including outgoing Indian Ambassador Pavan Kapoor and his wife, Aradhana, who will return to Delhi later this month.
 
The focus of the discussion was on population exchanges in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. Discussants were author and journalist Matti Friedman, Lynn Julius, author of Uprooted, which relates to Jews uprooted from the Arab world in which they had lived for centuries, and Dr. Khinvraj Jangid from Delhi’s Jindal University.
 
Though vastly different in size in terms of both territory and population, what Israel and India have in common is that both were ruled by the British, whose departure from each at around the same time spelled an end to empire and colonialism, enabling both India and Israel to gain their independence. However, India was then split under the two-nation theory that Muslims and Hindus could not live together, because of the differences in their religions, civilizations and heritage. The Muslims moved to what became the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. This resulted in mass population transfers on both sides.
 
Kapoor said that some 40 million people crossed from each side to the other and experienced the trauma of mass violence and killings. “It was the largest forced migration in humankind,” he said. But both sides decided that their first priority was to settle the refugees; and, compared to other countries, this was relatively easy because, despite the differences between Muslims and Hindus, they ate the same food, wore the same clothes and spoke the same language, so there was a sense of familiarity, which helped people to settle and assimilate, he said, noting that two prime ministers and one deputy prime minister were refugees.
 
In his own family there had been refugees first in 1941, after Burma had separated from India, and then in 1947, when India was again split.
 
Jews don’t like to think of themselves as refugees, said Friedman, so the Zionist narrative came up with words like “halutz” (pioneer), because they were not running away, and “oleh,” because it means going up. Even though Jews were fleeing from persecution, they didn’t want to think of themselves as victims, he said, so these two words were very powerful. Friedman also noted that in 1948 many Palestinian Arabs lost their homes and were displaced.
 
Jangid said that much migration history was common to both Israel and India, and essentially in both cases “there was a big balagan – a huge chaos.” He attributed the big change in India during the 1940s to growing nationalism.
 
Julius said that her mother’s family, which had lived in quite affluent circumstances in Iraq, left with only one suitcase, and instead of going west, went east to India, living for 18 months in Bombay. After the Second World War, they returned briefly to Iraq. Her father, who had studied in England, had returned to Iraq to marry her mother, and when Jews were forced out of Iraq soon afterward, her parents went to England. They left with nothing and had to rebuild their lives, she said.
 
■ IN JANUARY of this year, Dr. Nathan Cherny, the director of Cancer Pain and Palliative Care Service, at Shaare Zedek Medical Center was named in the Australia Day 2019 Honors List among people who were to be conferred with the Order of Australia in recognition of their significant contributions in different fields. The internationally reputed Cherny, who left Australia almost 30 years ago, had planned to return to the land of his birth for the conferment ceremony and to simultaneously catch up with relatives and friends. But things didn’t quite go according to plan, and in the final analysis a special ceremony was held at the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv attended by members of Cherny’s immediate family and some of his Australian relatives who made the journey from Down Under.
 
Australian Ambassador Chris Cannan tweeted afterward that he had been honored to present Cherny with his insignia as Member within the Order of Australia for his significant service to medicine and to education in palliative care and oncology.
 
It’s a busy time for the Australian envoy, who this week hosted the annual ANZAC Day commemoration at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Jerusalem. The event was attended not only by diplomats and defense attachés of countries whose armies had fought against those of Turkey and Germany in the First World War, but also diplomats and defense attachés of Turkey and Germany, who are always among the participants, and who join in laying wreaths at the cenotaph. This is a continuing sign that while history cannot and should not be ignored, peace can be made and friendships fostered among former enemies, and that tribute should be paid to valiant soldiers in all armies who lay down their lives in service to their respective countries.
 
Although ANZAC Day was initially instituted to honor the memories of close to 12,000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers who were killed in the ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign, it has since come to commemorate all those who have fallen in war and paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to their countries, and to symbolize “the cherished freedoms of our countries,” said Cannan.
Among the ANZAC heroes, Cannan singled out Russian-born Lt.-Col. Elazar Margolin, who played an instrumental role in the evacuation of Gallipoli, and who was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. He later served in Europe, after which he joined the Jewish Legion. He returned to Australia in 1921, and died in 1944. In 1949, his remains were transferred to Rehovot, to be buried alongside his parents. Among those who paid tribute to him then was Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.
 
Cannan said that Margolin embodied the ANZAC characteristics of resilience, leadership, mateship, courage, sacrifice, self-reliance and reckless valor in a good cause. He added that there are 1,200 ANZAC soldiers buried in Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries across Israel and the Palestinian territories.
 
Cannan is now devoting attention to the upcoming Australian federal election taking place on Saturday, May 18. Voting facilities will be available at the Australian Embassy from Tuesday, May 7, till Friday, May 17. Registered eligible voters must provide a photo ID to gain access to the embassy for this purpose. Full details are available on the websites of the Australian Embassy and the Australian Electoral Commission.
 
■ EVERY PASSOVER and Sukkot, irrepressible venture capitalist and OurCrowd founder Jon Medved hosts a festive breakfast for accredited investors, who are introduced to some of the companies supported by OurCrowd, especially the newer and more innovative start-ups.
 
In the past, representatives of these companies used to give a TED talk, but this year Medved decided that it would be more interesting to get into conversation with them, which was actually a good idea because he could ask probing questions on behalf of the investors from Israel and abroad, who filled the ballroom at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem. Thus, he spoke to health entrepreneur Dr. Morris Lester, who is investing in technologies that truly make a difference by helping people to lead not only longer lives but better quality lives; Eran Ben-Shmuel of Juganu, which helps countries and large retail environments to reduce electricity consumption by as much as 83% through LED lighting, using an encapsulated chip to imitate the sun; Igal Raichelgauz of Cortica, whose revolutionary visual intelligence helps self-driving vehicles to recognize anything or anyone that may be in the way; Doron Nevo of MultiVu, which specializes in 3-D imaging and data protection; Ken Fox of Pairser, which enables information to be safely moved in a company’s network; and Jordan Feder of MedAware, which aims to prevent prescription error.
 
As a special treat, the entertainment was by Yonina, a well-known popular singing duo, in fact a husband and wife couple, Yoni and Nina Tokayer, who met during their national service at Livnot in Safed. Livnot exists to give participants, largely those from abroad, not only an Israeli experience but an Israeli Jewish experience. Nina Tokayer happens to be Medved’s daughter, and as they sang, the serial entrepreneur, standing near the back of the ballroom, was just a proud dad whose face was wreathed in an emotional smile.
 
■ EVEN THOUGH the US Embassy has been in Jerusalem for almost a year, US Ambassador David Friedman continues to live in the official US residence in Herzliya Pituah, though during the intermediate days of Passover, he, his son and his grandson were among the members of the priestly tribe who blessed the thousands of their coreligionists who had congregated at the Western Wall. But they spent the first and last days of the festival at the nearby Sharon Hotel in Herzliya Pituah, which is within easy walking distance of the residence, and where Joey Freudmann organized a Passover program that was essentially for English-speakers. Freudmann has been doing this in various hotels for the past 20 years, and this was the 11th successive year in which he opted for the Sharon.
 
The program included a variety of activities, lectures, musical entertainment and movies, from early morning till after midnight. There was also a scholar in residence, Rabbi Dr. Nachum Amsel of the Destiny Foundation, and there were daily synagogue services that were attended not only by hotel guests but by residents of the area, including Friedman and his family. As the services included the blessing by the priests, the Friedman family members were quite busy exuding goodwill, and also made congregants happy by staying around for the kiddush.
 
■ FEW OF the people who attend the annual Guardian of Zion award dinner organized by Bar-Ilan University’s Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies were surprised that this year’s laureate will be human rights activist, former Soviet dissident, Prisoner of Zion, former political leader, minister, deputy prime minister, Jewish Agency chairman and author Natan Sharansky. If anything, people wonder why it took so long before it was his turn. After all, he received the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1986, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from president George W. Bush in 2006. But better late than never.
 
Sharansky will also deliver the Distinguished Rennert Lecture on Tuesday, June 11, in conjunction with the award ceremony. His topic will be: “How to make sure that Jerusalem unites us as Israelis and as Jews and does not divide us.”
 
In announcing Sharansky as this year’s honoree, Rennert Center director Prof. Joshua Schwartz said: “Natan Sharansky is a voice for freedom, a champion of liberty and democracy, living a life of courage and conviction.”
 
Currently faced with a resurgent tide of antisemitism all over the world, which affects Jews regardless of their differing ideologies, Sharansky, in advocating unity in order to fight this hate-fueled racism said: “Both antisemitism on the Left, which delegitimizes the nation-state of the Jewish people but speaks about love of Jews, and antisemitism on the Right, which hates Jews but speaks about love for the Jewish state, are our enemies. Our struggle against this antisemitism can be effective only if our Left is ready to fight antisemitism on the Left, and our Right is ready to fight it on the Right.”
 
The Rennert Center was established in 1995 by US Jewish community leaders Ingeborg Hanna and Ira Leon Rennert as an expression of their ongoing commitment to the preservation and advancement of Jerusalem’s unique heritage. Integrating studies on the history, archaeology, geography, demography, economy and sociology of Jerusalem, the center has become one of the foremost centers in the international academic community for the study of the multilayered aspects of Jerusalem’s past and present.
 
The Donetsk-born Sharansky, who was among the leaders in the struggle for the freedom of Soviet Jewry and a prominent figure and spokesman in the human rights movement, was arrested on trumped-up charges of high treason, espionage and anti-Soviet activity, after applying to immigrate to Israel. He was tried in a Soviet court and sentenced to 13 years in prison. He served nine years in prison, and was released following massive public campaigns, led by his wife, Avital, and political leaders in the West.
 
He came to Israel on the day of his release, and soon after established the Zionist Forum to assist in the absorption of Soviet immigrants. He also founded the Yisrael B’Aliyah party to accelerate the integration of Russian Jews. He served in four Israeli governments. He is the author of Fear No Evil, The Case for Democracy and Defending Identity and is the recipient of several high honors, including the Israel Prize in recognition of his contribution to immigration and the ingathering of exiles. Between 2009 and 2018, he served as chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency and worked to strengthen the connection between the Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora.
 
■ THERE WILL be a very brief vacuum in the top spot of the British Embassy after Ambassador David Quarrey leaves this month. His successor, Neil Wigan, a former ambassador to Somalia and Congo, will take up his appointment in June. This will be the second time around for Wigan, who from August 2002 to January 2006 was head of the political department at the embassy in Tel Aviv. He subsequently headed the Middle East and North Africa Group in London. Wigan, who made many friends in Israel during his previous posting here, has always wanted to return. For his wife, Yael Banaji, who is an Israeli, his posting will mean a homecoming. The Wigans have two children.
 
■ THE OUTGOING chairman of the Foreign Press Association in Israel, Joe Federman, who is The Associated Press bureau chief, quipped at the FPA’s annual general meeting this week that he is competing with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as this was his third consecutive term as chairman and his fifth overall. There may yet be a sixth or a seventh, as Federman remains on the newly elected board. His successor as chairman is CNN bureau chief Andrew Carey.
 
Those attending the meeting also bade farewell to FPA executive secretary Glenys Sugarman, who is retiring after almost 20 years of dealing with the manifold problems faced by foreign journalists in Israel, as well as in their efforts to cover events in Gaza, Ramallah, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and other areas in the region. Prior to taking on the role of executive secretary, Sugarman was herself a journalist for 28 years.
 
The popular Sugarman, who usually greets people with a broad grin on her face, can be quite formidable when defending journalistic interests. “Military officers and members of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) recoil in fear,” said Federman. “They don’t want to mess with her. Nothing intimidates her.”
 
While accepting of Sugarman’s retirement, the FPA does not want to lose her and, to ensure that she stays around one way or another, conferred honorary membership on her. Sugarman said that it’s been a great run, and that she had appreciated working with so many different journalists. “Some people can be difficult,” she acknowledged, adding: “I can be impossible.” But in a more serious vein, she said that it is important to keep the FPA strong because “journalists are not the flavor of the month. We never have been, and definitely not now.”
 
Echoing the sentiment, Federman said: “The media is under fire like never before. Sometimes we feel as if we are a support group.”
Indeed, the media constantly encounter inexplicable bureaucratic snags, humiliating strip searches, difficulties in acquiring accreditation and obstacles to entering and exiting Gaza. So despite being rivals, individual journalists need each other’s help and experience.
 
■ THE ANNUAL festive Passover concert in Jerusalem, featuring Colin Schachat, Netanel Hershtik and Yaakov Stark, was attended by people from many parts of the country, especially by South African expats and tourists, because Schachat is of South African background, as is orchestral arranger Raymond Goldstein. However, the person who received the loudest and most sustained applause, almost befitting a rock star, was Hershtik, who has served as chief cantor at New York’s famous Hampton Synagogue, whose rabbi and some members were also in the audience. Somewhat embarrassed, Hershtik explained to those who did not know that he’s a Jerusalemite. As a boy, he frequently sang with his father at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue.


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