Grapevine: Proclaim liberty throughout the land

Soloveichik, who was the speaker on Monday night at Jerusalem’s Beit Avi Chai at the Israel launch of the book, credited Holbreich with having conceived the book over a sushi dinner some years ago.

August 15, 2019 23:25
Grapevine: Proclaim liberty throughout the land

SVIKA PICK (left) receives honorary citizenship of Jerusalem from Mayor Moshe Lion. (photo credit: JACK LEVY)

It’s a given that if your surname is Soloveichik, you have to be a brilliant scholar. Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, a scion of that famous family, is not only brilliant but witty and funny. He simultaneously teaches Bible and American history, and punctuates the lesson with the one-liners that are the bread and butter of stand-up comedy. A celebrated author, essayist and public speaker, who has frequently addressed audiences in Israel, Soloveichik is director of the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University and rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel (also called The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue) in Manhattan.

Together with Rabbi Dr. Stuart Halpern, Dr. Matthew Holbreich and Dr. Jonathan Silver, Soloveichik coedited Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land: The Hebrew Bible in the United States – A Sourcebook, published by The Toby Press.

Soloveichik, who was the speaker on Monday night at Jerusalem’s Beit Avi Chai at the Israel launch of the book, credited Holbreich with having conceived the book over a sushi dinner some years ago.

The event was sold out well in advance and most members of the full-house audience were Modern Orthodox American expats.

Outside of the building an earnest young woman was handing out “very important” leaflets to passers-by. The text urged members of the public to petition Mayor Moshe Lion to remove the interfaith tent that is located at the First Station – not the First Station of the Cross, but the first railway line that once led from Jerusalem to Damascus. The petition in a sense ran counter to Soloveichik’s message.

In his address, Soloveichik referred to the Bible-believing Christian Zionists, who are such great supporters of Israel.

On the humorous side, before he actually got under way, Soloveichik, in noting the sprinkling of British expats in the audience, suggested that the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, was viewed as the British Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe).

He also described celebrated baseballer Yogi Berra, well known for his malapropisms, as America’s greatest and most unique philosopher, who when told that the mayor of Dublin was Jewish, responded: “The mayor of Dublin is Jewish? Only in America.”
Soloveichik spoke of various presidents of the United States and of how they were influenced by the Hebrew Bible and how they applied biblical imagery to their words and deeds.

His favorite, he said, was America’s second president, John Adams, who engaged in a correspondence with American Jewish newspaper editor, politician, diplomat and playwright Mordecai Manuel Noah, who was a Zionist way ahead of Theodor Herzl. Noah’s dream was to establish a temporary homeland, free of oppression and discrimination, for the Jews in America, while they were arranging to continue on to Jerusalem. He wanted to call the temporary homeland Ararat.

Adams was very well disposed toward the Jews and considered them to have influenced the affairs of mankind more than any other ancient or modern nation.

In his reference to George Washington, who advocated freedom of religion to members of all faiths, Soloveichik quipped that representatives of each faith wrote a letter of appreciation to Washington, but because the Jews could not agree among themselves, they wrote three letters. Washington read and replied to all three, but the best known is to Moses Seixas, the warden of Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. Washington did not visit the synagogue when he visited Newport in 1790 to acknowledge the state’s ratification of the Constitution, so synagogue members were unable to say that George Washington slept here, said Soloveichik, to a ripple of chuckles from the audience.

Moving on to Abraham Lincoln, Soloveichik said that Lincoln’s wife had stated that he told her a day before he was assassinated that he would like to visit the Holy Land.

Fast-forward to Harry S. Truman, who while in the army had met up again with Eddie Jacobson, whom he had previously known in Kansas, and who helped him run the army canteen. Together, they had turned it into an extremely profitable enterprise. Back on civvy street, they opened a haberdashery business, which turned out to be a failure, but they remained friends.

Influenced by US secretary of state George Marshall, Truman initially was opposed to the creation of a Jewish state. He had also been offended by the American Jewish leadership, and when Chaim Weizmann came to seek his help, Truman initially refused to see him. Eventually, Jacobson was sent to the White House to plead the Zionist cause. He struck a chord by referring to Andrew Jackson, who had been Truman’s boyhood hero, and remained such to the extent that there was a small statue of him in the oval office. Jacobson said to him: “Harry, you’ve got your hero, but I also have a hero. His name is Chaim Weizmann.” He then proceeded to tell him about Weizmann, who, though ill, had traveled the long distance to see him. Truman was silent while giving the matter thought for what to Jacobson seemed an eternity – and then he agreed, defying Marshall and everyone else in the State Department. He continued to do so even when Marshall threatened not to vote for him in the next election.

After the proclamation of the establishment of the State of Israel, Weizmann, who happened to be in New York at the time, wanted to visit Truman to express his nation’s appreciation, but he had no suitable gift to take with him. So he turned to Rabbi Louis Finkelstein, the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, which ran the Jewish Museum, and asked for a menorah. Finkelstein didn’t have a suitable menorah to give him, and instead suggested that he take a small Torah scroll that had been written in honor of Finkelstein’s grandson’s bar mitzvah. Weizmann duly presented the scroll in its blue velvet cover to Truman, who said “I’ve always wanted one of these.” Truman, who had been raised and educated on the Old Testament, actually meant it, because when Finkelstein tried to get it back by diplomatically telling Truman that in the museum it would be displayed and seen by hundreds of people, Truman replied that he wanted to house it in the Truman Library, where it would be seen by thousands of people.

Finkelstein tried another strategy, explaining that it was essential for the Torah to be regularly scrolled, and suggested that the Jewish Museum was in a position to do that. Truman’s response was that he would get someone to scroll. To this day, according to Soloveichik, someone comes periodically to scroll the Torah.

In November 1953, a few months after he was no longer president, Truman was taken by Jacobson to JTS to meet a group of Jewish dignitaries. Jacobson introduced Truman as the man who helped to create the State of Israel. To which Truman retorted: “What do you mean helped to create the State of Israel. I am Cyrus.”

Soloveichik used the quote several times to explain the influence of the Hebrew Bible on Truman.

Cyrus the Great, the Persian king who overthrew the Babylonian Empire, has the last word in the Book of Chronicles, which is the last book of the Bible. He says: “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build a Temple for Him in Jerusalem which is in Judah.”

Soloveichik found it fascinating that the Hebrew Bible should end with such a prophetic utterance by a non-Jew.
More recently, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared US President Donald Trump to Cyrus.

■ CASTIGATED IN several quarters for his impetuous, politically incorrect style of language, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s retort was that he did not purport to be Hannah Bavli. For those who may be unaware, Hannah Bavli was Israel’s equivalent to Emily Post and Miss Manners. Her name became synonymous with etiquette and good manners. Smotrich, who speaks at breakneck speed, eventually apologized after a long meeting with Netanyahu, but chances are high that his mouth will run away with him again. In an interview on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, Likud MK David Bitan described Smotrich as “problematic.”

■ THE FIFTH annual Docu.Text Documentary Film Festival at the National Library in Jerusalem will take place from August 18 to 22 with dozens of indoor and outdoor screenings, including the Israeli premiere of Moynihan at 2 p.m. on August 18.
The screening will be followed by a discussion between the film’s director Toby Perl Freilich and Brig.-Gen. (res.) Mike Herzog, the older brother of Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog, who is usually the more public face of the Herzog family, though Mike Herzog is also a well-known public speaker and a former peace negotiator. He has also held important positions in the offices of the prime minister and the defense minister.

Moynihan was the US ambassador to the United Nations at the same time that Chaim Herzog (Mike’s father) was Israel’s permanent representative to the UN. Moynihan was an American-born Irish Catholic intellectual, and Herzog was an Irish-born Israeli intellectual. The two men formed a close friendship, and each spoke out against the notorious 1975 UN resolution equating Zionism with racism. Even after leaving the UN, both worked arduously to have the resolution rescinded. This eventually occurred.

■ AT THE changing of the guard at the President’s Residence Wednesday evening, Col. Ala Abu Rokan will succeed Brig.-Gen. Boaz Hershkowitz, who has completed three years of service as President Reuven Rivlin’s military adjutant. Abu Rokan is the second member of the Druze community to serve in this position. The first, Brig.-Gen. (res.) Hassan Hassan, was appointed by Shimon Peres, and stayed on for two years with Rivlin. Hassan is currently involved in efforts to amend the Nation-State Law. It is believed in some circles that Abu Rokan, who will likewise be promoted to the rank of Brig.-Gen., was appointed as military adjutant as proof of the equality of Druze citizens. IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi is expected to attend the ceremony, as are several military top brass.

■ RIVLIN ON Monday met with Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer at Facebook, and the first woman to sit on its board of directors. Sandberg, whose husband, Dave Goldberg, died suddenly in 2015 while the couple were on vacation in Mexico, subsequently wrote Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy, which deals with how difficult experiences can be turned into opportunities for growth.


The Harvard graduate, who has been recognized time and again as one of the most powerful women in the world, thought that it was important to present the book to Rivlin, whose wife, Nechama, died in June following a lung transplant.

After their meeting Sandberg and Rivlin each wrote on their respective Facebook accounts of their positive impressions of each other.

In addition to presenting Rivlin with a signed copy of her book, Sandberg gave the president a set of virtual reality goggles, which he will no doubt share with his grandchildren.

On her Facebook post, Sandberg wrote: “Honored to meet with Israeli President Reuven ‘Ruvi’ Rivlin in Jerusalem. I admire him for standing up for diversity and kindness across the country. His wife, Nechama, did the same before she passed away in June, dedicating her time to supporting children through the arts and a wonderful community garden. We both know what it’s like to lose someone you love – and to honor their memory by trying to do good in their name. Thank you, President Rivlin, for a special meeting and for working to bring people in this beautiful country together.”

In his Facebook post, Rivlin wrote of Sandberg: “She is a woman who is a real inspiration to researchers, businesspeople and public officials. Her ability to break barriers and influence has been harnessed again and again for the benefit of letting women’s voices be heard. We are pleased that young women and men today are growing up in a world in which there are more and more figures to emulate Sheryl Sandberg – successful women who are not afraid to share with us the many difficulties on the way to the top of the world.”

THE PRESIDENT tries on a set of virtual reality goggles given to him by Sheryl Sandberg. (MARK NEYMAN / GPO)

In the course of her current visit to Israel, Sandberg will inaugurate a playground in the Rothschild Boulevard Tel Aviv premises of Facebook Israel, to be used for start-up programs in product management, marketing management and technology in four-month cycles, with mentoring by key personalities from Israel’s venture capital companies.

She is also holding meetings with the Israeli branch of Lean In, the movement based on her best-selling book, which now has branches in 170 countries and deals with the advancement of women in the job market. She is also scheduled to have a closed-door meeting with Facebook employees, as well as with media editors and prominent Israeli figures.

Although Facebook is currently facing some very severe problems, these are unlikely to have too great an effect on its influence or its solvency.

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN with Sheryl Sandberg. (Mark Neyman/GPO)
■ MEDICAL TECHNOLOGY entrepreneur and former IAF fighter pilot Dr. Kobi Richter and his wife, Dr. Yehudit Richter, a former IAF officer, last week celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at their home in Arsuf. Kobi Richter is also a member of the Democratic Union and a founding member of Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party. If the Democratic Union scores 12 seats or more in the upcoming September elections, Richter could add MK to his CV.

Barak and his wife, Nili Priel, were among the 150 guests who joined the Richters in their celebration. Also present at last week’s festivities were Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and his wife, Revital.

This was actually the second time that the Richters were celebrating the jubilee of their marriage. They previously traveled to Siberia, where they participated in a ceremony of repledging their marriage vows to each other. This was filmed and shown to the guests at the second celebration in Israel.

■ ALMOST EVERY year when the victories of Australian and New Zealand soldiers who won battles in Beersheba and the Tzemah Railway Station on the Kinneret are recalled and reenacted, attempts are made to include a descendant of at least one aboriginal soldier. Although Australian Aboriginals have been shamefully and shabbily treated for decades since the white man first set foot on the southernmost continent, many sought to improve their lives through education, athletic prowess and as brave soldiers. They fought as part of the ANZAC contingents in the British Army in the First World War, including in the two above-mentioned ANZAC triumphs. Finally, they are getting the recognition they deserve.

On the morning of Wednesday, September 25, there will be a commemoration ceremony at the historic Tzemah Railway Station for the Aboriginal troopers of World War I, especially those who, together with their horses, fell in battle and paid the supreme sacrifice.

More than 1,500 male Aborigines enlisted for service in World War I. Many of them served with great distinction, particularly those who fought in Light Horse regiments. The 20th reinforcement contingent of the 11th Light Horse Regiment was made up almost entirely of Aboriginals and became known as the Queensland Black Watch.

These men, who had no voting rights, and who were given no respect in Australia, were treated as equals on the battlefield, and also received equal pay from the military authorities. This was where they could finally show their mettle.

Among those who are expected to attend the ceremony are Australian Ambassador Chris Cannan; head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council Idan Greenbaum; OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Nadav Padan; director of the Australian Light Horse Association Barry Rogers; and Mark Pollard, who is the grandson of Aboriginal Light Horseman Jack Pollard, who fought in the Battle for Tzemah.

One of the staunchest champions for the constitutional rights of indigenous Australian people is Melbourne lawyer Mark Leibler, who is the cochairman of Reconciliation Australia and who was present in February 2008, when then-prime minister Kevin Rudd apologized to the Aborigines, including the “Stolen Generation,” who comprised some 100,000 mostly mixed-blood aborigines who were forcibly removed from their families between 1910 and 1970. It is staggering to believe that such suffering was still being inflicted on Aboriginal families less than half a century ago. Rudd apologized for breaking up families and for the indignity and degradation inflicted on a proud people. Rudd also returned the most sacred of Aboriginal territory to the Aboriginal people. Leibler, who is the younger brother of Jerusalem Post columnist Isi Leibler, though in the forefront of the fight for Aboriginal rights, is not the only member of Australia’s Jewish community who is deeply involved in this issue. There are many other prominent figures.

Other than basic morality, one of the reasons for Jewish involvement is perhaps by way of reciprocity for an Aboriginal protest to the German Consulate in Melbourne in the immediate aftermath of Kristallnacht, when Nazis in Germany destroyed many Jewish places of business and vandalized synagogues. William Cooper led a delegation of the Australian Aboriginal League to the German Consulate to hand over a petition protesting the cruel persecution of the Jewish people.

In April 2009, Cooper’s grandson Alfred Turner and 12 members of the extended Cooper family from the Yorta Yorta tribe came to Israel and planted five of 70 trees in William Cooper’s memory in the Australia-Israel Friendship Forest. The visit and the tree planting were organized by the Israel Embassy in Canberra and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund.

■ JERUSALEM MAYOR Lion added an extra dimension to the annual International Arts and Crafts Fair, which opened at Hutzot Hayotzer on Monday, by saluting Israeli performing artists, including veterans such as Svika Pick in recognition of the songs that he sang as well as those he composed for other singers. Lion made him an honorary citizen of Jerusalem.

Aware that a whole generation has grown up on Pick’s songs, Lion wished the singer/musician/composer a full recovery from the ill health with which he had been beset, and a return to his musical career, saying Pick is among the pantheon of Israeli performing artists and has also earned fame abroad.

Pick said he was very proud to be conferred with honorary citizenship of Jerusalem, and he was also delighted that the International Arts and Crafts Fair has seen fit to honor veteran performing artists.

Pick, who fell ill during a flight in April 2018, was rushed to the hospital, and has been out of commission ever since, though in recent months his condition has steadily improved. However, in October last year he failed to pick up a life achievement award conferred on him by the Union of Israeli Performing Artists. His appearance in Jerusalem on Monday was hailed as a near miracle.

■ NOW THAT the word is out that retired deputy president of the Supreme Court Elyakim Rubinstein, 72, is considering running for the role of Israel’s 11th president, the other two key contenders, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Labor Party leader Amir Peretz, may have to look to their laurels.

Most but not all presidents of Israel were members of Knesset before being appointed or elected to the presidency. The exceptions were Weizmann, Israel’s first president, and Ephraim Katzir, Israel’s fourth president. Only three of Israel’s 10 presidents were actually born in Israel: Yitzhak Navon, Ezer Weizman and the present incumbent, Rivlin.

Rubinstein’s advantage over Ukrainian-born Edelstein and Moroccan-born Peretz is that he was born in Tel Aviv. His involvement in Israel’s history, diplomacy and judiciary will also outshine the achievements of his two potential rivals. Over the years, Rubinstein has been legal adviser to the Defense Ministry and to the Foreign Ministry; a member of the Israel delegation to the peace talks with Egypt; assistant director-general of the Foreign Ministry in charge of normalization of relations with Egypt; deputy chief of mission, Israel Embassy, Washington; chairman of the Israel delegation to the Madrid peace talks; chairman of the Israel delegation to the peace talks with Jordan; judge in the Jerusalem District Court; attorney-general; and vice president of the Supreme Court.

Shimon Peres, who was Israel’s ninth president, used to say that the secret of Jewish survival and accomplishment is that Jews are not satisfied; they always want more. If Rubinstein indeed opts to run for president, he will fall into that category.

Rubinstein, Edelstein and Peretz will be among the many speakers at the National Economic Conference on September 2 at the InterContinental David Tel Aviv hotel. The conference is organized by Calcalist, the financial supplement of Yediot Aharonot. Other political figures listed include Ayelet Shaked, Avigdor Liberman, Barak, and Gabi Ashkenazi. The name conspicuously absent from the list is that of Netanyahu.

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