Grapevine: The value of visual history

JERUSALEM POST editor-in-chief Yaakov Katz thought he was going to a regular Thursday afternoon editorial meeting this week.

August 8, 2019 22:22
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN greets UK Ambassador Neil Wigan and his family at the President’s Residence

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN greets UK Ambassador Neil Wigan and his family at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem this week. (photo credit: GPO)

Israeli officials frequently talk about the importance of history, but some of the key institutions of the state have insufficient respect for it. In last Friday’s Maariv there was a feature story about photo journalist and Israel Prize laureate Micha Bar-Am, who today probably has the most important photo archive in the country. His only true rival was his friend and colleague David Rubinger, who died a little over two years ago. Both photographers achieved international status, photographed almost every aspect of life in Israel including many famous personalities, and both kept meticulous archives.

Rubinger cleverly sold his to Yediot Aharonot for a very handsome price, knowing that some of the photos would be used on anniversaries of important occasions or to illustrate feature stories that referred to past politicians and celebrities.

Bar-Am, who is more of an artist in his photographic approach, wanted to sell his archive to either the Israel Museum or the National Library. Neither is prepared to pay his price, though both are interested in receiving the archive as a donation. Considering how much time and effort Bar-Am put into going out on location – sometimes at the risk of his life – photographing, developing and archiving, it’s an insult to ask him to donate his archive. It’s different when a wealthy collector wants to donate part of his collection to a museum, gallery or library. In that case the collector didn’t really work on the collection. He simply amassed items he liked and paid for them but he didn’t create them. Hopefully, one of the generous donors to the Israel Museum, the National Library or some other prestigious institution will realize the value of the archive, and will purchase it from Bar-Am to donate to whatever institution the purchaser sees fit.

■ JERUSALEM POST editor-in-chief Yaakov Katz thought he was going to a regular Thursday afternoon editorial meeting this week. He certainly didn’t expect a surprise party just ahead of Tisha Be’av. But it was, after all, his 40th birthday – an important milestone in anyone’s life – so his colleagues decided to do something modest and presented him with a birthday cake.

■ “MAYBE IT’S Brexit in Jerusalem” quipped one of the diplomats attending the traditional vin d’honneur for new ambassadors at the King David Hotel on Wednesday. Five ambassadors – Dusko Kovacevich of Bosnia Herzegovina, Luciano Ndong of Equatorial Guinea, Neil Wigan of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, Rumiana Bachvarova of Bulgaria, and Kyle O’Sullivan of Ireland had individually presented credentials to President Reuven Rivlin, and then four of them moved on to the hotel for the reception. Kovacevich first went to Yad Vashem to lay a wreath. It was strange that Wigan, who is on his second tour of duty in Israel, should absent himself, especially in view of the fact that of all the countries whose ambassadors presented credentials this week, Britain has the longest and closest relationship with Israel.

Rivlin was in his element with Wigan.

After welcoming him on his return to Israel and expressing the hope that the British Embassy would one day move to Jerusalem, Rivlin said, “I would like to emphasize that I am a great football fan.”

He then quoted the refrain from the anthem of the Liverpool Football Club, “Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart and you’ll never walk alone.”

He told Wigan that when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson came to Israel in one of his previous capacities, the two of them had played football with Arab and Jewish children. “I was the better player.”

Wigan said he could believe it.

Taking his cue from the Liverpool refrain, Rivlin referred to the long mutual history of Britain and Israel, saying, “We will never walk alone. We will always have relations despite differences of opinion. Our strategic cooperation is so important.”

Rivlin added that he had already spoken to Johnson and congratulated him on his election.

Rivlin and Wigan also discussed antisemitism and the need to educate people more about the Holocaust and its aftermath.

Wigan said that there are currently 700 Holocaust projects underway in England.

Wigan, who is married to Yael Banaji, an Israeli, and whose two children are dual-nationals, said that he’d been eager to return to Israel, especially because of family connections.

His Jewish connections do not apply to his wife and her family alone, but also to his grandfather, who was a commander of the British forces that liberated Bergen-Belsen.

“We’re still waiting for the queen,” said Rivlin, to which Wigan responded: “The queen doesn’t travel any more but other members of the royal family are keen to come.”

He noted that Johnson, who had been a kibbutz volunteer in his youth, mentions this frequently and is a great friend of Israel.

Bulgarian Ambassador Bachvarova is no stranger to Israel. In her previous capacity as deputy prime minister, she visited Israel many times, and was responsible for arranging government-to-government contacts.

Rivlin told her that the Jewish people would never forget how the king and the people of Bulgaria had protected the Jewish population during the Second World War.

He recalled his visit to Bulgaria in 2016, when he participated in the inauguration of a monument honoring those who saved Jews.

On the local front, Rivlin said the region is in a delicate situation because no one knows what will happen in Syria, or whether democracy can ever be restored there. But whatever happens, it will impact on the whole of Europe.

Bachvarova said that the fight against terrorism is a common issue for Bulgaria and Israel.

Many documents have been signed between the two countries, she continued, but not much has been implemented.

What she wants to do during her tenure in Israel is “to achieve real practical results.”

The last time that O’Sullivan was in Israel was 30 years ago, when he was just passing through, but even so he has noticed the tremendous change. He very much wanted this posting, and two of his three sons will be going to school in Israel. The eldest is returning to Ireland to complete his university studies.

Rivlin and O’Sullivan devoted the bulk of their conversation to complimenting each other on the democracy and diversity in each other’s countries.

Rivlin, who visited Ireland in 2012 in his capacity of speaker of the Knesset, was also enamored with Ireland’s black beer. O’Sullivan promised to send him some.

Rivlin reminded O’Sullivan that aside from similarities and complicated issues in their two countries, Israel’s sixth president, Chaim Herzog, had been born in Dublin.

In reference to Israel’s most complicated issue, Rivlin said Israel was trying to build confidence with the Palestinians. “But it’s not just up to us. It’s up to them.”

O’Sullivan said: “What you say about co-existence has a certain resonance for us. You can listen to us and we can listen to you.”

■ JUST OVER Three weeks ahead of the commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Poland, descendants of the Jews of Rymanów in southeast Poland will be joined today by local townspeople in an annual two-day Days of Remembrance event there. Jews settled in Rymanów in the late 15th century and lived in relative harmony with their Christian neighbors until the Germans occupied Poland. At the time almost 40% of Rymanów’s population was Jewish. Today, there is one Jew in Rymanów. During the mid 18th-century, the Jews of Rymanów were persecuted on blood libel charges by Christians from a nearby town, but nonetheless, Jewish life continued to flourish, and Rymanów became an important hassidic center. It was the home of the famous Menachem Mendel and his disciple Tzvi Hirsch Kohen, as well as of descendants of Dov Ber, the Magid of Mezeritch, who was a student of the Baal Shem Tov.

When the Germans invaded Rymanów they gave the Jews 24 hours in which to move to the Soviet-occupied area of the east bank of the River San. Only a small number of Jews remained in the city. Many of those who went to the Soviet area were deported in 1940 to the Soviet interior. Those who stayed in Rymanów were deprived of property and subjected to forced labor. On August 1, 1942, all Jewish males ages 14-35 were deported to the Plaszow labor camp where many were killed on August 13, 1942. The rest were deported to the Belzec death camp.

Eleven years ago, Malka Shacham Doron, an Israeli second-generation Holocaust survivor, whose mother, Frida Stary, was from Rymanów, initiated the Rymanów Days of Remembrance with the full cooperation and support of the Rymanów community, which believes in the importance of memorializing the Jewish residents of the city who were murdered in the Holocaust. In 2016, Shacham Doron moved to Rymanów, where she now teaches Israeli culture at the University of Rzeszów.

The annual Days of Remembrance event has brought together descendants of Rymanów’s Jewish and non-Jewish families from different parts of the world.

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