Grapevine: The spice of life in Israel

No one can say there is no variety in the life of a president.

By
December 30, 2014 21:48
Reuven Rivlin

President Rivlin meets Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

 
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No one can say there is no variety in the life of a president.

This past Tuesday morning, President Reuven Rivlin attended a conference on incorporating haredim into the workforce, and immediately afterward returned to his residence to address Christian spiritual and lay leaders. The common denominator was indeed religion – but beliefs and practices were wide apart. At the Christian reception, guests were charmed by singer Mary Manasa, and those in the front rows formed a spontaneous choir and sang Christmas carols with her.

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■ WHOEVER IS looking for Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky this week won’t find him in Jerusalem. Sharansky is in Warwick in the UK, where he is participating in the Limmud conference with Palestinian rights activist Bassem Eid and veteran South African journalist Benjamin Pogrund, who was deeply involved in the anti-apartheid campaign and a friend of Nelson Mandela.

On Tuesday, the trio participated in a panel discussion on whether democracy and peace can go hand in hand. Later that day, Sharansky was joined by fellow former Prisoner of Zion Yosef Mendelevich in paying tribute to the memory of British Soviet Jewry activist Michael Sherbourne, who coined the term “refusenik.” Sherbourne, who died this past June at the age of 97, was a London-based teacher of Russian language and an ardent human rights activist. In a pre-social media era, he was an important channel of communication between Soviet Jewry and the free world.

This morning, Sharansky is scheduled to deliver a lecture on the topic, “Can Israel be Europe’s future?” ■ THE ONLY thing sadder than an orphan is a parent who has to bury a child. Aside from children who lost a mother or father in a terrorist attack, there were three orphans who lost both parents among the 50 youngsters who this week came together in Jerusalem for their bar and bat mitzva celebrations, which culminated with a ceremony at the President’s Residence.

There were also children who had lost siblings, and children who had themselves been injured in terrorist attacks. Among the adults, who comprised both parents and volunteers who work with and for the Organization of Israel’s Terror Victims, were people wearing leg braces or walking with the aid of crutches.

Terror makes no distinction between adults, children, nationalities, ethnic origins or religious beliefs; it strikes indiscriminately.

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We all know this and when we read of a terrorist attack in a newspaper or see video footage of one on TV, we may shudder, but then we go on to the next thing. It’s not that easy in a room full of people who in one way or another, have been victims of terrorism; and whose scars, whether physical or mental, will in many instances never fade.

Of the three complete orphans, one was Yigal Faizkov – whose parents, Oleg and Ludmila, were killed in the terrorist attack on the Hilton in Taba in October 2004.

Yigal’s grandparents are raising him and his older brother, the 19-year-old Daniel.

Another was Michelle Levine – whose parents, Eitan and Rima, were killed in a shooting attack near the Shoket intersection in February 2004. Michelle was their only daughter, and was adopted by her aunt.

And then there was Nadav Wollensky – whose parents, Abraham-Isaac (Avi) and Avital Yocheved, were killed in a shooting attack on the Ramallah-Nablus road in August 2002. Nadav has an older brother, the 15-year-old Yigal, who was also injured in the attack.

Popular singer Moshe Peretz was so moved by Orel Mamistalov, who told of having lost her father, Yosef, to a suicide bomber when she was only 18-monthsold, that instead of singing what he had originally intended with a playback, he sang unaccompanied – a song he had specially composed about a mother’s love for her son. He later sang another song with playback, accompanied by one of the youth, Mor Kakun – who was loudly applauded by the audience not only because she was one of their own, but because she has a marvelous voice and in all probability, a great musical future.

■ YEARS OF foot-dragging in the peace process have not impacted negatively on the eternal optimism of Israel’s ninth president Shimon Peres, who continues to believe that peace between Israel and the Arab world is possible and will one day be achieved. When asked about his optimism, Peres often says that the final destiny of both an optimist and a pessimist is the same, so why should he bother being a pessimist if he can get more pleasure from life by being an optimist? Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid apparently shares Peres’s spirit of optimism, though not necessarily where peace is concerned.

When welcoming Eshkol Regional Council head Haim Yellin to his Knesset list, Lapid said at the tail end of the greeting: “Immediately after the elections, we’ll continue where we left off – at full speed.

Everything is ready; everything is on the table. We’ll restart it all.” That kind of confidence spells optimism with a capital O.

Any organization or institution that holds a function at the Peres Center for Peace can also join the optimists club.

Chances are high that if event is taking place at the center, Peres can be persuaded to give the opening address. That’s what happened this week at the police innovation conference, at which Peres and outgoing Israel Police chief Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino were the keynote speakers.

Danino first took Peres on a tour of an exhibit highlighting the latest technologies used in detecting and preventing other crimes. Peres could not resist trying parts of it out – there’s a small boy in every grown man.

Peres opened the conference by expressing full confidence in the police force, and said the breadth and sophistication of corruption had surprised everyone and could prove to be a source of despair for Israel’s citizens. Nonetheless, he urged police to continue with the battle. “You stand on the front lines of justice as the defenders of democracy,” he said. “Continue to stand at the gates and fight corruption, because that is the true test of not giving favor to anyone.”

Danino also referred to the safeguarding of democracy, but noted that in addition, the police have the responsibility of protecting the safety of every individual in Israel. Of particular concern, he said, is the safety of Jerusalem’s residents. The Jerusalem police force has been boosted by 1,000 additional policemen and women, he noted, and at least 400 more are needed.

The situation continues to be explosive and sensitive, he cautioned, and no one should misread what appears to be a relatively quiet period.

■ EL AL CEO David Maimon surprised judoka Gili Cohen, when he presented her with her own personal Hanukka miracle in the company’s “Nes Hanukka” campaign. El Al asked relatives of people scheduled to fly abroad on the airline during the holiday to write in and say why such passengers were entitled to a miracle.

Cohen’s mother wrote: “Gili is a 23-yearold judoka who has been practicing the sport since she was four years old. She has been an Israeli champion for three consecutive years, and is ranked No. 7 in the world; she won a bronze medal in the most recent European championships.

“Gili is a modest athlete, but determined, clever and talented. She is working hard in order to get to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016, and it looks as if she might make it. She trains diligently, and is currently completing a round of competitions, after which she will return to Israel; three days later, she will fly to New York to meet her brother Eyal, who is a college student there. They haven’t seen each other since August, and as her mother, I would also be happy for a Hanukka miracle.

“I’m waiting for her to return from a month of training so that the two of us can fly to New York. We’re both on the same flight, but she’s more important.”

The letter was one of thousands received, but Maimon was particularly moved and came to personally meet mother and daughter in the King David Lounge at Ben-Gurion Airport, where he presented the Cohens with their miracle – which included round-trip flight, shopping vouchers, hotel accommodation, spa treatments and more. They were one of eight lucky winners.

■ IT’S HARD to tell at the moment how the Deri drama will play out in the end.

There are Arye Deri’s detractors, who believe his resignation was a publicity stunt and he will play hard to get for a few days, before reluctantly accepting the vote of confidence of the Shas Rabbinical Council. But people close to Deri say he was genuinely hurt by the recently released video, and that he really does not want to drag the memory of party spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef into the mud.

One doesn’t have to be a handwriting expert to note Deri’s mood changes in his letter of resignation – in which he was originally upbeat in his resolve, but became increasingly despondent as the letter continued. His handwriting also shows him to be generous and far less egotistical than many people think.

What political pundits seem to have forgotten is that at the start of his political career, Deri was like a favored son in the Yosef household. There was genuine affection between him and Ovadia Yosef, who stood by him during his trial. Even if Deri was aware there were recordings in which he was being criticized by the great rabbi, to actually hear that criticism in the voice of his mentor must have been like a wound in his heart.

The question is: What will happen to Shas if Deri doesn’t accede to the wishes of the rabbis? And if he doesn’t, what will happen to the newly founded Shas status of women advisory council – headed by Deri’s wife, Yaffa; and Ovadia Yosef’s daughter, Israel Prize laureate Adina Bar-Shalom, who has moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and even sacrificed her intention to run for Knesset in order to demonstrate loyalty to Shas? Following the announcement of a women’s advisory team, Bar-Shalom decided that if she was going to be active in Shas, she may as well live in Jerusalem. Contrary to expectations, she did not move to Har Nof’s Hakablan Street, where her late father had lived and the Deri family resides. Instead, she has taken up residence in Beit Hakerem, which in some parts is likewise a haredi neighborhood.

She is married to Rabbi Ezra Bar-Shalom, a former rabbinic judge in Tel Aviv.

Having set up a college for haredi girls in Jerusalem, Bar-Shalom was for many years on a frequent commute between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and was able to move to the capital only after her husband reached retirement age.

Even if Deri does take up the Shas leadership again, it will be interesting to see whether the Bar-Shalom/Deri alliance will continue after the Knesset elections. Both Deri’s people and those of Eli Yishai are trading insults and accusations that are bound to negatively impact both Shas and Yishai’s new party, Yachad Ha’am Itanu.

While their leaders are doing what they can to prevent a civil war among loyal Shas followers and those who have followed Yishai away from Shas, it is difficult to imagine the Shas women’s council will remain intact if the party fails to pass the voting threshold, or if it ends up with only one or two Knesset seats.

Then again, Yishai being the key suspect in the release of the aforementioned recording of Ovadia Yosef may work in Deri’s favor, with a huge Shas turnout on Election Day – especially in view of the latest developments.

But no one should try to preempt what may happen. There are so many changes on the political horizon every day that only a fool would try to forecast what Israelis will wake up to on March 18.

■ FORMER LEGISLATOR Einat Wilf, who last week was the guest speaker at a British- style afternoon tea hosted by the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association at the Sharon Hotel Herzliya, voiced regret that in the war of words, the Jewish state has not yet been able to emulate the victories achieved in armed conflict.

The event was the last in the three-year tenure of chairman Alan Webber. As of January 1, the new chairman is eminent physician Prof. Alex Deutsch, whose wife, Gloria, is a regular contributor to the weekend edition of The Jerusalem Post.

Meanwhile, Webber remains on the IBCA board and is in charge of the November 2017 centenary celebration of the Balfour Declaration.

Wilf’s audience was charmed both by her and her adorable four-year-old son, Yonatan, who is used to sitting quietly through his mother’s lectures. Even people on the Right of the political spectrum could not help but admire the Jerusalem- born-and-raised Wilf’s eloquence, her ability to speak unhesitatingly in English for the better part of an hour without notes or teleprompter, and her direct responses to questions. Several audience members declared her to be a great loss to Israeli politics, and said that even if she isn’t running for the Knesset this time around, they hope she will run in the next election.

■ WHILE MORE than one male MK has fathered 12 children, the highest number of children brought into the world by a female MK were those of Anastasia Michaeli, a former fashion model and TV personality who was the first female MK to give birth while in office. She gave birth to her eighth child during her Knesset tenure.

Two of the women currently running for Knesset are also mothers of large broods, but unlikely to have more children – though one never knows until there’s a slight bulge in the abdominal region. The two, who are running for election on the Bayit Yehudi list, are Sara Eliash, a mother of 10 and grandmother of more than 30; and Yehudit Sheilat, 59, a mother of nine.

Both women are highly educated professionals and community activists, in addition to running their large households.

Another religiously observant woman who is joining the race is Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Rachel Azaria, who is joining Moshe Kahlon’s Koolanu party. Azaria is somewhat younger than Eliash and Sheilat, and her brood is therefore not yet as large, but she still has several child-bearing years ahead of her.

It will not be Azaria’s first experience working with a member of the Kahlon family. Moshe Kahlon’s brother Kobi, who is a senior deputy mayor of Jerusalem, has taken a leave of absence to help out with his brother’s election campaign – so Azaria will be dealing with two Kahlons over the coming three months.

■ YOU KNOW it’s election time when strident Likud MK Miri Regev visits south Tel Aviv and crouches down in front of the camera for warm, eye-level contact with an African child – who is presumably the offspring of one of African migrants who have sought refuge in Israel, and whose presence Regev so vociferously opposes when she’s in the Knesset.

■ FELLOW LIKUDNIK, Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat – who is bowing out of politics, along with several other ministers and MKs – had one of her final moments of glory this week at the Israel Olympic Committee Awards, in which achievements were recognized and scholarships distributed. American-Israeli sprinter Donald Sanford, who was named Sportsman of the Year alongside judoka Yarden Gerbi, who was named the Sportswoman of the Year, could not contain his emotions, and his choked-up reaction was contagious.

■ YET ANOTHER Likudnik, Silvan Shalom – the minister for infrastructure, energy and water; regional cooperation; and Negev and Galilee development– has been honored by the settlement movement in Judea and Samaria for all the support he has given in his various ministerial roles, and for his willingness to lend an attentive ear to settlement representatives. Signatories to the honor were the following council heads: Yossi Abrahami, Givat Ze’ev; David Elhiani, Jordan Valley; Yigal Lahav, Karnei Shomron; Yochai Damari, Hebron Hills; Yaakov Guterman, Modi’in Ilit; Ezra Garshi, Emanuel; Mordechai Dahman, Megilot; Hananel Dorani, Kedumim; Asaf Mintzer, Elkana; Chen Filipovitz, Har Adar; Benny Kashriel, Ma’aleh Adumim; Malachi Levinger, Kiryat Arba; Shlomo Lalush, Ma’aleh Ephraim; Shlomi Langer, Oranit; Gershon Messika, Samaria; Eli Shviro, Ariel; Avi Naim, Beit Aryeh; Davidi Pearl, Gush Etzion; Shlomo Katan, Alfei Menashe; Oded Revivi, Efrat; Avi Roeh, Mateh Binyamin; Meir Rubinstein, Betar Illit; and Shai Elon, Beit El. Also included were former chairman of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip Pinchas Wallerstein; and Ze’ev Haber and Moshe Yogev, secretary- general and treasurer respectively of Amana.

■ EVERYONE LIKES some share in glory.

Thus, when Israel Radio’s political reporter Yoav Krakovsky announced that Walla Editor-in-Chief Yinon Magal had joined Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi, Krakovsky could not help but note that he and Magal, together with Yair Weintraub and Benny Teitelbaum, had been together in a training course provided by the Israel Broadcasting Authority; and that Magal was a former presenter of Mabat News on Channel 1.

■ IN ALMOST every election, there are those who question the source of funding for various election campaigns. Labor MK Miki Rosenthal decided to run a modest NIS 40,000 campaign, which he is paying for out of his own pocket; he’s not soliciting donations because he is wary of who might decide to give him money. He believes an amendment should be introduced to the election law so that it is mandatory for every candidate to indicate his or her relationship to campaign donors.

■ ONE OF the last of the Likud princes to enter the political arena, Naftaly Naor is the son of former cabinet secretary Arye Naor and of Supreme Court Justice Miriam Naor, who will very shortly become the second female president of the Supreme Court, with the upcoming retirement of present incumbent Asher D.

Grunis. Naor, who is hoping to become a Likud MK, is the grandson of Esther Raziel Naor, who was an active member of the Irgun, and twice arrested by the British Mandate authorities. Following the establishment of the state, she was elected to the first Knesset and served in seven Knessets altogether, for a total of 25 years.

Interviewed on Channel 1, Naor said that while he was very proud of his parents, he did not perceive himself as a prince. Those days are passé, he said; today, an MK must go out in the field and get to know the people they represent.

■ SOMETIMES CUPID is standing right beside us, and we don’t even see him until after his arrow has hit the mark. Jerusalem Post Managing Editor David Brinn did not set out to be a matchmaker when he asked nighttime graphic artist Eitan Lessing if he would be willing to temporarily move over to design the paper’s weekly French edition during a colleague’s maternity leave. When Lessing moved downstairs, Cupid moved with him.

At that time the managing editor of the French edition was Sarah Lalou, and she and Lessing got to know each other well – “real well,” in Brinn’s words – so much so that they turned the temporary arrangement into a permanent relationship. This was sealed by a rabbi at the beginning of the week, when the couple celebrated their wedding at Kibbutz Ramat Rahel on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

During the three months ensconced in the cozy offices of the French department, Lessing managed to learn enough French to propose, and Lalou said, “Oui.”

■ NOVELIST AND translator Michelle Mazel, who is a member of Israel’s community of retired diplomats and their spouses, was talking to someone about Georgia. The conversation was in Hebrew and the other woman kept referring to Gruzia, which was what Georgia used to be called in Hebrew. That is, until a particular Georgian ambassador objected and said the name of his country was Georgia, and he wanted it to be known as such in Hebrew, just as it is in other languages.

Some people do not adapt quickly to change and Mazel’s interlocutor was one of them. Mazel kept correcting her during the conversation, but to no avail. The other woman simply could not understand that Gruzia and Georgia are one and the same, with the difference that the word Gruzia is now taboo.

After their conversation, Mazel bumped into another woman, who Mazel was under the impression would appreciate the story, and she told her about the first woman’s ignorance. To this, the second woman replied: “How stupid. Everyone knows that Georgia is in the United States!”

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