Grapevine: The true pursuit of justice

A round-up of news from around Israel.

EZRA GORODESKY (left) with David Geffen (photo credit: STEVE LINDE)
EZRA GORODESKY (left) with David Geffen
(photo credit: STEVE LINDE)
The case against Roman Zadorov, who in 2006 was convicted of killing schoolgirl Tair Rada and has spent the past 12 years in prison, has again leapt into the headlines of the Israeli media as new forensic tests suggest that Zadorov’s conviction is a miscarriage of justice. Before and during his trial, there were many questionable issues, and several people – including forensic experts and the dead girl’s mother – did not believe that Zadorov was guilty.
The case brings to mind that of the late Amos Baranes, who like Zadorov confessed under duress to having committed murder and later retracted his confession. Although Baranes also spent a long period in prison for allegedly killing a girl soldier, he was lucky because Haim Cohn, the judge who sentenced him, later had doubts after receiving information from Ezra Goldberg, a retired policeman, who was convinced that Baranes was innocent. Cohn was a man of outstanding integrity. He visited Baranes in prison, researched all the details of the case again, and reached the conclusion that Baranes was not guilty. Cohn proposed that Baranes ask for a presidential pardon, but Baranes refused, saying that to do so would be tantamount to admitting to a crime that he did not commit. So Cohn asked then-president Chaim Herzog to pardon Baranes, and Herzog, a lawyer by profession, acceded to the request. Following his release, Baranes was given a new trial, after having been refused three times. Eventually justice Dalia Dorner agreed to his request. Cohn died a month later, but not before thanking Dorner for helping to put right an injustice. Baranes was subsequently acquitted.
Coincidence is a strange thing. The new evidence that has come to light thanks to modern technology should be enough to enable Zadorov to receive a new trial. But the State Prosecutor’s Office is so far disinclined to move in that direction. Time-wise, the Zadorov issue surfaced in the same month as two major legal conferences and an appointment ceremony for new rabbinic court judges. In addition, retired Supreme Court justice Prof. Yoram Danziger, who wrote the minority opinion in the case against Zadorov, and who called for an acquittal, said in an address to the Friends of Tel Aviv University that the new DNA findings point to sufficient reasonable doubt to warrant a retrial.
At all of the above events and at the appointment ceremonies of civil court and military court judges earlier in the year, speakers emphasized the need to pursue justice without fear or favor, and to respect the dignity of all those who come before the courts.
This message will surely come up again on Wednesday at yet another legal conference at which many of the participants were at the earlier conferences in Eilat or Jerusalem or both. The Wednesday conference at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya is by way of a memorial tribute to Supreme Court justice Mishael Cheshin, who died three years ago. In addition to papers by leading figures from law faculties in Israel’s various institutes of higher learning, there will also be addresses by former presidents of the Supreme Court, including Aharon Barak and Asher Grunis as well as by Elyakim Rubinstein, who was a vice president of the Supreme Court.
Cheshin, like Cohn, was a man of great integrity, and had he not succumbed to cancer, he would surely be among those advocating for a new trial for Zadorov, especially in view of recent media revelations that point to severe flaws in the police investigation and in the conduct of the State Prosecutor’s Office.
■ MOST OF the guests attending the 80th birthday party for Rabbi David Geffen at Anna Ticho House in Jerusalem brought gifts of different kinds, but arguably the best gift was one on the Internet by way of an article by Nicolas Mancall-Bitel that was published in Taste magazine and headlined “How Heinz and Coca-Cola Made America More Kosher.” Geffen, who is a historian, had written many times in The Jerusalem Post and other publications about his grandfather Rabbi Tobias Geffen insisting on being made privy to the secret formula for Coca-Cola in order to determine whether it was kosher. Thanks to him, observant Jews around the world can indulge in “the pause that refreshes.” It was one thing for Geffen to write the story, but quite another for someone else to do so – especially someone writing for a food magazine.
The birthday party was hosted by Geffen’s three children, Avi, Elissa and Jeremy-Tuvia, who have provided Geffen and his wife, Rita, with eight grandchildren aged from 29 to 6. The Geffens have been married for 56 years. They first came to Israel as students in 1963 and rode on a motorbike all over what was then a somewhat smaller terrain.
Geffen, who was ordained as a rabbi in 1965, served as a chaplain in United States Army from 1965 to 1967, mainly at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, eventually reaching the rank of captain. While working on his PhD at Columbia, he did part-time rabbinical work at Congregation Beth Shalom in Wilmington, Delaware. In 1970, he became full-time rabbi of Beth Shalom, serving from 1970 to 1977, when he and his family moved to Israel, where he held several jobs while researching his book American Heritage Haggadah (1992). While in Israel, he also served in the reserves of the Israel Defense Forces.
Returning to the United States in 1992, he served as rabbi at Temple Israel in Scranton, Pennsylvania, from 1993 to 2004, after which he returned to Israel, making aliyah for the second time. He was involved with the Masorti Movement (Conservative Judaism in Israel), the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative rabbis, the Jewish Federation of Delaware, and the Zionist Organization of America. He has written numerous books and hundreds of academic papers and articles that were published in newspapers and periodicals.
He first saw his wife on a railway platform in 1961. He didn’t know who she was but was impressed by her beauty. Approximately a year later they were introduced at the wedding of mutual friends and soon after the Geffens celebrated their own wedding, even though Rita never wanted to be a rabbi’s wife. Yet for all that, she said, she would not have wanted to share the past 56 years with anyone else.
In a delightful family video made by his grandson, Geffen received greetings from three generations of relatives scattered around the United States. Some of the nostalgic images dating from his childhood to his wedding to the childhood of his children and the births of his grandchildren brought tears to Geffen’s eyes as he watched. The video started with a three-line description of the guest of honor: “Looks 38, Feels 24, Acts 18.”
One of Geffen’s great friends for close to four decades is well-known American-born collector Ezra Gorodesky, who has given much of his unique and assorted collections to Israeli institutes of higher learning. Geffen was born on November 1, and Gorodesky on November 8. This year, he will celebrate his 90th birthday. The two generally celebrate their birthdays together, and last Friday’s party was no exception. There was a birthday cake with candles for each. Gorodesky is one of the very few immigrants from the US who voluntarily gave up American citizenship, not because he had to, as is the case with immigrants who become legislators or diplomats, but because he believed that once he was in the Jewish homeland, he no longer needed the citizenship of another country.
Geffen had prepared a long speech, which he decided to cut down because Shabbat was coming in early, but the one anecdote he told elicited a roar of laughter. In 1980, when Geffen worked in the public relations department of Shaare Zedek Medical Center, a decision was taken to honor Prime Minister Menachem Begin in connection with the medical center’s new wing. The ceremony took place at the Knesset, and everyone in the PR department was on hand.
While still waiting for the event to begin, Geffen was called aside by the head of the department, who told him to go the security area where Begin was waiting together with Max Stern, the chairman of the Shaare Zedek Board of Directors. At a signal, Geffen was to lead them to their seats at the dinner table.
Geffen felt somewhat embarrassed. Although he had combed his hair in advance, it tended to be unruly. He approached Begin and introduced himself and told him about the history of the Geffen family and their aliyah, till such time as he was supposed to escort Begin to his chair. As they were walking, Begin whispered to him: “Mr. Geffen, I think you need a haircut.”
■ A WONDERFUL coffee-table book has just come off the press. Under My Window is an amazing photo essay of the demographic diversity of Jerusalem’s Old City. The photographer, who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is Jerusalem-born Michal Ronnen-Safdie. If the double-barreled surname seems familiar, it is because her late father was Meir Ronnen, the longtime art editor, political cartoonist and prolific book reviewer of the Post, who died in August 2009, and her husband is internationally renowned Haifa-born architect Moshe Safdie. She is a famous photographer in her own right.
The Safdies own an apartment in the Old City, which is where they stay when they come to visit or to take a look at progress on one of the Israel projects on which Safdie is working. With a background in sociology and anthropology, Michal covers a very wide range of subjects in her photography.
Traveling around the world with her husband, she has captured the extraordinary beauty of nature along with the many facets of the human experience. As far as Jerusalem is concerned, Orthodox and secular Jews, Muslims, Christians, males, females, adults and children are all within the focus of the lens of her camera. It’s much more than the visual highlighting of tradition. It’s also the striking composition.
The Safdie apartment, high on a hill and balanced on the border of the Muslim and Jewish Quarters, overlooks the Western Wall precinct, the Dome of the Rock, and al-Aqsa Mosque to the east; the Muslim Quarter skyline of Mount Scopus to the north; and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Christian Quarter to the west.
Seldom without a camera, almost as though it were yet another extremity of her body, Michal often sees split-second images that escape the less penetrating eye. The photographed results arouse awe and admiration.
Of course, she spends a lot of time in the nooks and alleys of the Old City as well as the open spaces, but just looking out of her window she also sees much of what others fail to notice.
The cover of the book offers a long shot across the plaza leading to the Western Wall, where space is shared by a group of hassidic Jews and some traditionally garbed Arab women. The study in contrasts is enhanced by shadow silhouettes of the actual images. The shadows, devoid of visual diversity, suggest that regardless of their differences, all human beings are cut from the same cloth.
■ THE RESURGENCE of fascism and neo-Nazism in Europe is causing many governments and academics to examine the political histories of their respective countries in order to prevent Europe from become the Fourth Reich. Alessandra Mussolini, the granddaughter of Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, has followed her grandfather into politics and is currently a member of the European Parliament. This month she posted a tweet in which she threatened to sue anyone who bad-mouthed Benito.
Italy’s Jewish community did not take kindly to the tweet, but one member, actor and musician Enrico Fink, who lives in Florence, decided to answer her directly with an open letter on his Facebook page accompanied by a photograph of his own grandfather.
Fink wrote: “I read on your profile your intention to sue whoever offends your grandfather’s memory. I understand you very well: your grandfather was killed, you couldn’t know him, and you’re sorry; and you want to defend his memory. It’s understandable, and even right I’d say in some measure. I allow myself to give you that because in this we are similar: my grandfather was killed, too. I couldn’t meet him. I’m sorry, too. I want to defend his memory, too. Only the person responsible for my grandfather’s death is yours.
“My grandfather and 10 members of my father’s family, elderly and children, had been arrested by Italian police, under orders signed by your grandfather, imprisoned in Fossoli, then delivered to the Nazis and shipped to Auschwitz, from where they never came back.
“So you’ll understand that while respecting your legitimate opinions, I can’t have any other idea than this: Your grandfather was a criminal, a disgrace to mankind. And despite being against the death penalty, I can’t but be happy that he met the end, too late, that he did.
“If you think of suing, I will be happy to explain myself better in court: but I think you well know that I have good arguments, and I have as many of them as you would like to hear.”
Against the backdrop of Italy’s collusion with the Nazi regime, the conference “Fascism and the Defense of Race, from 1938 Racial Laws to the Present” will be held in the Rabin Building of the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus on November 4-5 in the presence of Italian Ambassador Gianluigi Benedetti.
An interesting curiosity is the number of speakers from Israel and the United States with distinctly Italian names. What looks as if it may be one of the more interesting addresses is that by Aristotle Kallis (who actually has a Greek name) and who teaches at Keele University in England, who will discuss how Fascism and antisemitism both became “mainstream.”
■ WHILE ON the subject of the Holocaust, visitors to Sweden can see an outstanding photographic exhibition by celebrated Swedish photographer Mikael Jansson, whose work has appeared in top-of-the-line magazines in Britain, France, Italy and the US. Aware that time is running out for Holocaust survivors and that within a decade there will be hardly anyone who can tell the story firsthand, Jansson traveled all over Sweden to look for survivors who would tell their stories.
The result is 97 stark black-and-white portraits of survivors who told him their stories as he photographed them. Many had not previously spoken of their Holocaust experiences, not even to their families, but were conscious that this was a last opportunity to contribute to information about one of the most infamous periods in history. In interviews that he gave afterward to the Swedish media, Jansson said that there were times that he could not stop the tears from welling up in his eyes.
All 97 subjects are survivors of Nazi concentration and death camps. Most were not born in Sweden, but settled there after the war. The exhibition is on view at Gallery 5 of the Kulturhuset Stadsteatern in Stockholm, which is the largest culture center in Scandinavia.
■ AMONG THE most widely admired and respected members of the Joint List in the Knesset is Aida Touma-Sliman, who heads the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality. She is the first Arab lawmaker to head a permanent Knesset committee. Unlike Haneen Zoabi, Touma-Sliman does not provoke or insult. She makes her point clearly and logically, without any histrionics.
Interviewed on Election Day on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, Touma-Sliman said that the media are mistaken when they equate Arab leadership with the Joint List in the Knesset. The true Arab leadership will comprise the people who are voted into office in the municipal elections, she said. They are the ones who will be responsible for curbing Arab violence. She also noted that changes are taking place in Arab society and that the younger generation wants to do things differently. She warned that Israel must not make the mistake of perpetuating old attitudes and strategies, because they won’t work.
■  TRAGEDIES OFTEN have unexpected results. The last thing that murderer and rabid antisemite Robert Bowers intended was to heal the rifts between different segments of the Jewish world. But in attacking worshipers in a Pittsburgh synagogue last Saturday, he brought together Jews of all stripes in the realization that it could just as easily have been their synagogue or their community center that was infiltrated by a Jew hater.
Some of the reactions to the carnage, including a video of a Chabad envoy outside the synagogue, were published on the website of Yeshiva World News soon after Shabbat on Saturday night, New York time.
While Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau resisted recognizing the scene of the massacre as a synagogue, he had no trouble recognizing the Conservative congregants as Jews.
Agudath Israel of America did recognize the site as a synagogue, and people from all streams of Judaism as well as many non-Jews recognized the fact that it was a hate crime targeted at Jews. Around the world, many Jewish communities held services and ceremonies in solidarity with the Tree of Life congregation and Pittsburgh Jewish community.
Israel Radio’s Aryeh Golan, in commenting on the global reaction of unity, said: “Let’s hope that this outpouring of solidarity does not dissipate when American Conservative and Reform Jews come to pray at the Western Wall.”
■ PRESIDENT OF the Israel Diamond Exchange Yoram Dvash, who is also a vice president of the World Federation of Diamond Bourses, did something quite rare for an Israeli or for any ambitious person for that matter. Dvash had the opportunity to become president of WFDB. But when the role was offered to him at a meeting of the WFDB in Germany last March, he declined in deference to sitting president Ernie Blom, who was then given another two years at the helm. Dvash said that he preferred to give his attention to the Israel Diamond Exchange. However, at a meeting of the World Diamond Council in Mumbai this month, Dvash was asked to head a new international committee of the WFDB to formulate and mobilize new strategies for the global advancement of the diamond industry.
According to Dvash, the Israel Diamond Exchange in Ramat Gan is undergoing radical reforms based on technological developments that were conceived in Israel. The Israel Diamond Exchange is also known for its ethical business practices.
Dvash led a relatively large delegation to Mumbai. Among those who accompanied him were Eran Zini, CEO, Israel Diamond Exchange; Boaz Moldawsky, chairman of the Diamond Institute; Shmuel Eini, legal adviser to the Diamond Exchange; Meir Wertheim, legal adviser to the Law Committee of the WFDB; and Shevi Fogel, chairman of the Etgar Exchange.
■ THOUGH FREQUENTLY emphasizing that he is the president of all the citizens of Israel, it seems that President Reuven Rivlin is primarily the president of the readers of Yediot Aharonot, which publishes items related to the president and his wife that are not made available to other media. On municipal Election Day Rivlin published an article in Yediot Aharonot in which he urged the public to go out and vote and explained how votes can influence change. That article should have been published in every daily paper, but it wasn’t. Reshet Bet mentioned it in an early morning review of daily newspapers, but only in passing.
On the day prior to the election Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, officially launched the olive harvest by raking olives from the garden of the presidential compound together with schoolchildren, olive farmers, and proprietors of olive presses. One of the trees is a hybrid of olives and figs.
Among those who joined the Rivlins in what has long been an olive harvest tradition were Jamal Madlaj, chairman of the committee for olive oil from Kfar Kanna; Dr. Adi Naali, head of the Olive Board of the Plants Production and Marketing Board; and 13-year-old Nir Pinkas from Karmei Yosef, representing the seventh generation of farmers from his family in this country, who told Rivlin of his family history and his dream to take his part in it. “I’m dying to get my tractor license already,” he said. The olives that were picked will be processed into the president’s olive oil, which will be presented as a gift to visitors to the President’s Residence.
Rivlin told the olive pickers who had come to join him that the harvesting of olives is akin to the challenges facing Israeli society: “To get oil from the olive, picking the fruit is not enough. You need to press and break the olive until the oil comes out. Challenges and effort get the best out of us. To see the harvest, crossing all boundaries, fills me with hope that the fraternity and partnership that we so need in Israeli society does exist.”
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