Grapevine October 6, 2019: NIF at 40

After eight years of hard work, the Reut School in Jerusalem has completed the mapping of the Gidonim Project in the Jewish cemetery in Czestochowa, Poland.

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October 5, 2019 19:14
Grapevine October 6, 2019: NIF at 40

‘JOSHUA FIGHTING Amalek,’ print from the Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible illustrations at St. George’s Court.. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Despite frequent attacks on its integrity, and charges from right-wing American and Israeli institutions and organizations claiming that it is anti-Zionist or anti-Israeli, the New Israel Fund is still going strong and is currently celebrating its 40th anniversary. In a congratulatory Rosh Hashanah message published in Haaretz by members of its council, readers are informed that the NIF has spent hundreds of millions of shekels in strengthening civil society, safeguarding the fundamentals of democracy, and promoting the values of equality in all strata of Israeli society.

Among the signatories are Prof. Hanoch Guttfreund, an eminent physicist, former president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and current academic director and curator of the Albert Einstein archives; psycholinguist Prof. Zvia Walden of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Beit Berl Academic College, who is the daughter of former prime minister and president of Israel Shimon Peres; author and former director general of the Youth Aliyah Department of the Jewish Agency Eli Amir; singer, actress and songwriter Mira Awad who has represented Israel in the Eurovision contest; Avi Primor, a former Israel ambassador to the European Union and to Germany, a former vice president of Tel Aviv University, a former president of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, and former head of the Center for European studies at IDC Herzliya; biologist and Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry Prof. Aaron Ciechanover; and Prof. Shimon Shamir, former Israel ambassador to Egypt and Jordan, and professor emeritus of Middle East histry at Tel Aviv University. They are but a few of the luminaries represented in the list.

None of them can be regarded as being anti-Israel or anti-Zionist. They may not agree with the policies of the current regime, and may speak or write against them, but being politically opposed does not make anyone a traitor. All of the above have at various times defended Israel at international forums, and no one has the right to question their loyalty to the state or to accuse them of being self-hating Jews – although Awad is not Jewish, he is nonetheless a proud Israeli. Likewise, NIF members in the US, Canada, UK, Switzerland and Australia are not anti-Israel. They would just like to see a more democratic Israel with all citizens, including minorities, benefiting from equal rights.

■ ONE OF the first marathon runs in human history is recorded in the Bible at the beginning of the Book of Samuel, which relates to the end of the war between the Israelites and the Philistines. As the Bible tells it, a man from the area of Benjamin ran from the battlefield of Eben Ezer, which today is Rosh Ha’ayin, and ran all the way to Shiloh, which is located in the Binyamin Region. Shiloh is the city of the Tabernacle, and therefore has a special meaning even for runners who are not religious. Avshalom Kor, who for years has been the moderator at Israel’s International Bible Quiz, offered his services as moderator, presenter announcer – call it what you will – at the international Bible marathon on October 18. Kor likes to be in the forefront of international events.

■ AN INCREASE in Jewish demography in certain parts of the world, most notably Israel, has not allayed the fears of Jewish leaders that the growing rift between Israel and Diaspora Jewry will, within a generation or two, evolve into near-total alienation. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are various projects in which Israeli and Diaspora youth can participate together, such as mapping Jewish cemeteries in Europe in places where there are few or no living Jews. There is no reason why Israeli and Diaspora youth cannot join forces to undertake such a project. To anyone who asks why we should bother, the answer is simple: Gravestones are part of history. Even brief details can provide missing links for tracing living descendants in other parts of the world. But it also gives those participating in such projects a sense of common purpose.

After eight years of hard work, the Reut School in Jerusalem has completed the mapping of the Gidonim Project in the Jewish cemetery in Czestochowa, Poland. Every summer, led by teachers Dina Weiner and Danny Kahn, a delegation of new participants and veteran alumni went to Poland to clean up the cemetery and to remove debris from the gravestones so that all the inscriptions can be read and recorded.

Not all the inscriptions are still legible, but relatives looking for those that are can now find them through the website of Czestochowa Jews and their descendants. During the mapping process, there were two graves without any identifying details, between two mass graves – one of partisans and another of victims of an attack on a train. According to Alon Goldman, the chairman of the Association of Czestochowa Jews in Israel and vice president of the Association of Czestochowa Jews and their Descendants, the mystery of the unidentified graves has been solved. In the photo collection of Lew Kusznir, there are photos of members of the Czestochowa Jewish community taken in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. When perusing these photographs, Goldnan found one of a group of people standing by the grave of the six partisans, in front of which was one of the unidentified graves with the inscription in Polish “Chaim Joseph Altman 42, Uszer Szmulewicz 50 and Rafal Szmulewicz 10 murdered by the Hitlerites, June 26, 1943. May they rest in peace – Family.”

The first post-war mapping of the cemetery was done by Poles in 1970. Historian Wieslaw Paszkowski of the documentation center of the Czestochowa Museum studied the history of the cemetery, and in some cases the ancestry of names on the gravestones. In reading Paszkowski’s findings, Goldman came across the above mentioned names with the notation that Moshe Pepper (Feffer), the brother-in-law of Chaim Altman and Halina Lustinger, the daughter of Uszer Szmulewicz, were living in Israel. If they are still alive or if they have any descendants, Goldman would dearly love to have them get in touch with him.

■ THE UPCOMING Sukkot holiday period is filled with concerts, art exhibitions and story-telling events all over the country. It’s also the winding up of the bar mitzvah year of Musicians of Tomorrow, the admirable projects in which talented youngsters living in peripheral areas in the North of the country come together under the guidance of Dr. Anna Rosnovsky, who retired from the position of first violinist with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to take up this project, which was founded in 2006 by world-renowned violinist Maxim Vengerov. It is quite amazing how the students find Rosnovsky or she finds them. Some of them come from families too poor to purchase a musical instrument.

Through the goodwill and generosity of supporters of Musicians of Tomorrow, instruments are found for them. Rosnovsky is aided by other top-notch musicians who do not want to see talent go to waste. An important sign of the talent that is being saved and nurtured is in the fact that Musicians of Tomorrow has performed throughout Israel, including at the President’s Residence, and at festivals in Canada, Austria, Hungary and England. Before dedicating herself to Musicians of Tomorrow, Rosnovsky, who migrated to Israel from the Soviet Union in 1974, taught at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, and is very proud of the fact that some of her students are now integrated into the IPO. Some of her current students will perform on Thursday, October 17, at the Herzliya home of Evelyn and Howard Ross, who have been supporters of the young musicians from the very beginning. Evelyn Ross was one of the famous British 35, who helped to get Jews out of Soviet Russia. Rosnovsky was one such person and they’ve been firm friends ever since.

■ CONTROVERSIAL TIBERIAS Mayor Ron Kobi, whose anti-haredi (ultra-Orthodox) attitude and provocations outweigh those of Avigdor Liberman and Yair Lapid combined, may not be in office for much longer. Secular to the core, with no respect for religious values or those who abide by them, Kobi, in August of this year ordered the instant removal of a Shomer Shabbat (Sabbath-observant) sign from a store on the Tiberias boardwalk. As a result, a scuffle developed between Kobi and his people, and a number of haredim who were present. Police intervened, and ordered Kobi and his retinue to leave. Kobi refused declaring that he would continue his boardwalk tour.

“It’s my city, I’m the mayor, and you can’t tell me whether to go or to stay,” he shouted. On another occasion he deliberately disrupted a haredi concert. The aggressive Kobi boasted that he would use his influence in the Knesset with his Secular Right Party, which was duly registered. Not only did it fail to cross the threshold, but the joke in Tiberias is that the only people who voted for him were members of his family – and not all of them at that. The total number of votes that he scored was somewhere in the range of 1,500. Kobi is so violently opposed to Interior Minister Arye Deri, that during his election campaign for the Knesset, he paid a visit to Bnei Brak, with which he obviously has no connection, in order to make an anti-Deri speech.

Kobi is in the habit of sharing his actions live on Facebook, and did so again on this occasion as he delivered a diatribe against Deri and other haredi politicians. In the beginning, the crowd that gathered around him began to sing in order to drown out his voice, but not everyone present was in favor of peaceful opposition or defense, and with the first signs violence, police interceded and Kobi fled the scene. He subsequently visited Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market, where he berated haredi shoppers, and after that went to the Western Wall where he created more strife, despite the efforts of Rabbi Aharon Baumel, the Admor of Berdichev, to protect him, because “God loves all Jews.”

On Wednesday of last week, Kobi received another blow to his ego. Although the Interior Ministry had given him an extension on several efforts to pass the city’s budget, he had been unable to do so. By law, the budget should have been passed by June 30. The final extension was to September 30, after which Kobi was summoned to a hearing before the Interior Ministry removes him from office, disbands the council and oversees the running of Tiberias until such time as a new mayor is elected. Kobi as usual, blamed Deri and the haredim for his predicament.

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