Left of center

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

August 20, 2019 21:25
Left of center

Alice Kreiger . (photo credit: HILLEL SCHENKER)

■ TO ALL intents and purposes, it looked like a networking session during a Peace camp convention. Leading left-wing figures seen mingling in the crowd included Alon Garbuz, the former director of the Tel Aviv Cinematheque; Rachel Afek, who is engaged in a number of human rights projects including Machsom Watch, Yesh Din and bringing Palestinian children to the beach during the summer; Avner Gvaryahu from Breaking the Silence; Yuval Roth who heads The Road to Recovery in which some 1,000 volunteers drive sick Palestinian children from Gaza and West Bank checkpoints to Israeli hospitals for treatment and then drive them back; Hadash MK Ofer Cassif; Eli Philip of Zazim; Meretz activists Mossi Raz and Gaby Lusky; Yesh Din’s Lior Amihai; Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Palestine Israel Journal, Jerusalem Post columnist Gershon Baskin,  the founding co-chairman of  the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information; Shaqued Morag and Brian Reeves of Peace now; along with several Palestinians; and ambassadors and diplomats of lower ranks from various African states including Austria, the Philippines, Sweden, Germany, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom,  France, Sweden, the Netherlands and the European Union.
The occasion for the annual gathering was the birthday of peace activist and supporter of cultural organizations, the incorrigible and irrepressible Alice Krieger, for whom being politically correct is a non-starter. Krieger, who seldom hesitates to speak her mind, is active in several of the above-mentioned organizations as well as in Combatants for Peace, an egalitarian movement of Israelis and Palestinians, who with their Tel Aviv and Tulkarm coordinator Yaniv Belhassen, advocate non-violent means of ending the occupation and implementing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Krieger is also a very social creature who invites diplomats of all ranks to Friday night dinners where they can learn something of Jewish tradition and engage in dialogue with Israeli and Palestinian political, cultural and academic figures.
Over the years, Krieger has worked with and for various Israeli organizations and institutions, and has also represented some of them abroad. When she first came to Israel from her native England many years ago, it was as a starry-eyed Zionist. She is still a Zionist – but no longer starry-eyed. “This is not the State of Israel that I believed in, served and represented,” she said in her birthday speech, adding the fervent hope that the Palestinians will one day have their own state.
Krieger has never divulged her age, quoting Oscar Wilde who said: “One should never trust a woman who tells her real age. A woman who would tell one that would tell one anything.” Therefore, her birthday cake had only one candle.

■ EARLIER THIS month, popular singer Shlomo Artzi celebrated his 50th anniversary as a professional performer. This week, members of his family together with Netanya Mayor Miriam Feirberg-Ikar dedicated a kindergarten in memory of Artzi’s younger sister, well-known author, playwright, journalist and translator Nava Semel who died in December 2017, following a battle with cancer. She was married to former long-time director of the Cameri Theater Noam Semel. Following the dedication ceremony, Stolen Kisses, a musical she had written, was performed at the Arik Einstein Cultural Center, with the participation of May Feingold, Uri Banai and the Moran choir conducted by Naomi Faran. The production was directed by Oded Kotler.

■ THE OLD saying that one can’t see the forest for the trees currently applies to Hong Kong, which is going through a political crisis that is being widely covered by the international media. Hong Kong, which for 150 years was a British colony, is in fact part of China. Although the Basic Law of Hong Kong, which is based on British law, states that for 50 years following the 1997 handover by the British to China, the basic freedoms not available to mainland Chinese citizens will be upheld, the Chinese authorities are gradually attempting to impose Chinese law which will deny the residents of Hong Kong the democratic freedoms under which they have lived for decades. So much media attention is being paid to this crisis that many other important events taking place in Hong Kong are being overlooked or ignored.

One such important event is the international Redress Design Awards for creative solutions for adapting sustainable fashion practices through design methods that include recycling, reconstruction and the elimination of waste through use of alternative fibers. The Grand Finale is scheduled for September 5, and among the finalists are two Israelis. Moriah Ardila and Natalie Tzur are both studying fashion sustainability at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design. Ardila is the winner of the Redress Design People’s Choice Award 2019.

Her Home collection draws inspiration from outdoor living in non-urbanized areas of the world where people are more attuned to nature and its connection to humanity. Damaged camping equipment, such as sleeping bags and tents, form the materials of her designs and are up-cycled into modern clothing items that retain parts of their original functionality.

Tzur’s Unireform collection taps into the prolific but under-utilized source of uniform waste. Reconstructing a variety of garments from the uniforms of different professions, she embraces the history of the piece by preserving the salient and valuable features of the uniform, transforming them into unrecognizable silhouettes to bring renewed life.

Other than for people who are actually in the fashion industry, Redress Design will probably be less exciting or entertaining than Eurovision, but for those who are interested and are seeking new ideas, the final fashion show from which the winners will be chosen will be live streamed from Hong Kong.

■ THE STORY of mainly Yemenite but also other children who were members of families taken to transit camps in the early years of the state, and who disappeared from hospitals where they had been taken by their parents for treatment of mild illnesses, has still not been resolved. Parents were told that relatively healthy children had died, but were seldom shown a grave. In some cases, so-called graves had no bodies. Now there is another horrific story which is coming to light not for the first time, but perhaps in greater detail than in the past.

Under Israeli law, social workers have unbelievable authority to separate infant children from their biological families, particularly in cases where the parents are minors, regardless of whether adult family members are prepared to take responsibility for the welfare of the mother and child.

Some of the draconian adoption laws have been amended, most notably the law that made it a criminal offense for adoptees to publicly state that they had been adopted. The law permits adoptees to apply to see their files once they have turned 18, but according to an in-depth feature in last Friday’s Israel Hayom, the files were censored with important pieces of information edited out, including the disappearance of letters and photos brought to child welfare offices by biological parents and siblings.
Moreover, administrative staff in child welfare offices deliberately lied to adoptees who were trying to locate their biological families. Very few of these stories have a happy ending. Worse still, because of the lies told to adoptees, they can never get past the trauma of possibly being abandoned by their biological mothers even if they had the most loving and supportive adoptive parents. There are numerous cases in which biological parents have come to child welfare offices every year on the birthday of the baby they were forced to give up and have deposited letters and photographs, assuring the infant that they can’t wait for him or her to turn 18 and to begin searching for their roots. Most of these letters were not filed, but were thrown in the trash.
In researching this painful and immoral story, Hagit Ron-Rabinowitz interviewed several adoptees. The story with the happiest ending is that of Sitvanit Atzmon, who when she went to open her file, was told by a social worker that there was no chance that anyone would ever look for her. The social worker told her a pack of lies, and caused the 18-year-old Sitvanit so much anguish that she decided that there was no reason for her to remain in Israel, and after completing her army duty, she migrated to Canada. Sitvanit had been conceived when both her parents were minors. Although her paternal aunt was willing to take responsibility for raising her and giving a home to both her parents, this was unacceptable to the social worker who separated the parents and sent Sitvanit’s mother, Aliza, to some facility for pregnant minor unwed mothers to await the birth.

Aliza barely had time to set eyes on her baby before the infant was taken away from her. She was given papers to sign for what she thought was foster care, but in fact was permission for adoption and her agreement to relinquish all claims to the child. A similar document was given to Sitvanit’s father, Moshe Buzaglo. He too was unaware of what he was signing. It was a pre-cellphone era. In fact, very few people even had ground lines, so Moshe and Aliza lost touch with each other. By chance they met up again in the army and soon after their discharge, Aliza was again pregnant. The couple were not about to lose a second baby, and immediately got married. They had a son and later a daughter, and every year on Sitvanit’s birthday they went to the child welfare offices and left a letter and photographs to be placed in her file so that she would know that she had a family that was waiting to be reunited with her.

Close to Sitvanit’s 18th birthday, Aliza sat down with her two younger children, Hanan and Moran, and told them about Sitvanit. They were thrilled to know that they had an older sister and they too began writing to her just before her birthday. Year after year they waited for her to make contact, but she never did. After 20 years had passed with no sign of Sitvanit, Moran, at her own initiative, hired Anat Kirsch, a private detective who apparently had connections in all the right places. The story doesn’t say how she located Sitvanit, only that she telephoned her to Canada very soon afterward, told her the truth about her background and how her family had been seeking her for years. Sitvanit could hardly believe her ears. “I want to speak to them immediately,” she declared. The date was March 2, 2016. In Israel it was 10:30 p.m. when Moran’s phone rang. Kirsch was at the other end of the line. “Moran, I found her,” she said. “You can talk to her right now.

Four months later, Sitvanit arrived in Israel to meet her siblings and her biological parents. It had taken 40 years for this reunion to happen. She was introduced to her extended family as well, and since then she is in daily contact with her parents, her siblings and other family members. Some of the other stories are much more harrowing, though in one case where a mother and daughter were unsuccessfully looking for each other, the mother died, but the daughter somehow became reunited with her sister, who told her that their mother had never stopped trying to find her and when she knew that she had incurable cancer, had left a long detailed letter for her, convinced that one day her two daughters would find each other.

Here, too, the social workers had lied. There seemed to be some policy of keeping adoptees permanently separated from their biological parents. Today it’s much easier because of DNA testing. There is no longer any need to go to child welfare authorities because genealogical search organizations conduct DNA tests, and presumably one day will exchange  data on who is seeking who without necessarily disclosing the names of the seekers. They will simply make DNA results accessible to each other in the same way that hospital records are made accessible to health clinics – and there will be a little less misery in the world.

■ DOCUMENTARY FILMS have suddenly become the rage. Films screened earlier this year at DocAviv have been shown again at the National Library in Jerusalem and are being screened on a weekly basis at Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv. Coming up on Thursday, August 22, is Ecco Homo, directed by Aharon Trietel, produced by Menachem Trietel, researched by Dr. Eliezer Trietel and scripted by Katia Shepeliavaya and Aharon Trietel. The story has some relationship to the above item, but is different in many ways. Ten years after leaving an Orthodox lifestyle, Arele returns to his family home with the intention of looking for his uncle Eliezer who was kidnapped as an infant. Like Sitvanit mentioned above, Eliezer too ended up in Canada, and when located, is living with a non-Jewish woman. Arele attempts to re-unite the family, whose members want nothing to do with Eliezer because of his marital status. Old grievances emerge in the process. Aharon Trietel will be available after the screening to discuss the film with the audience.

■ OUSTED DIRECTOR-general of the Justice Ministry Emi Palmor and her former boss, former Justice minister Ayelet Shaked, who had a great working relationship even though they were on opposite sides of the political fence, will meet up again today (Wednesday) at the Open University in Ra’anana where they will be members of a panel that will engage in a wide-ranging discussion on the role of elected officials in promoting gender equality, cooperation, democratic values and advanced education in Israel. Other panelists include MKs Merav Michaeli, Tamar Zandberg, Karin Elharar, Aida Touma Sliman, Prof. Yifat Biton, Idit Silman, Pnina Tomano Shata and Orly Froman, along with Noa Rothman and Zainab Abu Swaid. The by-invitation-only event is being sponsored by the partners of the Dov Lautman Forum for Education

Apropos Shaked, she is being assailed on all sides by journalists who purport to want to get her take on statements allegedly attributed to her with regard to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the latter’s legal problems. She has categorically denied making such statements, and has tried to explain why it would be illogical for her to say what has been attributed to her in what she believes is an effort to undermine her. Regardless of whether or not one agrees with her politically, what is happening to her now is as close as one gets to a kangaroo court.

Even those who may be opposed to her politically, if they are honest, cannot help but agree that Shaked is not afraid of the truth, and that in explaining herself, she has a fairly logical and easy-to-understand approach. But the members of the fourth estate don’t really want to hear her explanations, because they would spoil a juicy political story which is wide open for embellishment. They interrupt her all the time in mid-sentence, and even though she has the capacity to continue from where she left off, it’s a very frustrating situation. “You’re not listening to me,” she exclaims in exasperation. But she’s just one of several public figures who fall victim to the agendas of certain prominent media personalities.

■ ALMOST 75 years after the end of the Second World War, people are still finding artifacts and various keepsakes related to the world as it was before the war. Alon Goldman, chairman of the Association of Czestochowa Jews in Israel and vice president of the World Society of Czestochowa Jews and their Descendants, was approached by someone whose relative when finalizing the details of a deceased estate and came across a Jewish themed pendant dating back 100 years. The pendant features a Star of David inside a circle with the word Zion in Hebrew inside the star. The circle is engraved with the Psalmist’s words: “If I forget thee O Jerusalem may my right hand lose its cunning.” The back of the pendant is engraved with the word Czestochowa in Yiddish rather than Hebrew and the date 29 Tamuz, Tet Resh Peh, equivalent to July 15, 1920. Anyone who can shed any light on the origin of the pendant – who made it, who it belonged to or any other detail, is asked to email

■ THE OLD adage is “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But prize-winning author, editor and teacher of literature Haim Be’er goes one further. In a radio interview with Geula Even Saar, Be’er said that one should not judge the personality of the author by the books that he or she writes. As a book editor, he said, he had come across some of the most empathetically written literature by people he considers to be literary giants, but who he would never want to count among his friends because there were so many negative sides to their personalities, in contrast to the characters who appeared in their writings.

■ THE FREQUENT use of the once forbidden four-letter word for fornication, which in some publications is still written with asterisks between the first and last letters, has apparently given veteran broadcaster Yaron London license to utter another vulgarity. In the television talk show that he co-hosts with Geula Even Saar, who gives him tremendous leeway, even though the program is called Geula and London, there was a segment devoted to the 10th anniversary of the suicide of Dudu Topaz, who had in his heyday been one of the most popular figures on Israeli television. Repeating a conversation that he had once had with Topaz on stage in a darkened Habimah Theater, London used the crude Hebrew word for vagina. Even Saar was visibly shocked, so much so that she could only splutter a weak protest. London couldn’t understand why she was upset. “I was quoting verbatim,” he said.

■ LEGISLATORS AND their assistants who returned after their summer vacations to the Knesset in October 2006, when Dalia Itzik was speaker, discovered that their place of work had undergone a massive NIS 2 million face lift which had been supervised by Avi Balashnikov, who had been appointed by Itzik as the Knesset’s first director-general. It was the first time the Knesset had undergone such a massive renovation since its official opening on August 30, 1966. Much of the original cost of constructing the complex where it stands today had been underwritten by James de Rothschild, who died even before the laying of the cornerstone in 1958.

His wife, Dorothy, took over the management of his various trusts, including programs that supported science, art and culture in Israel, and of course his commitment to the Knesset. She also gave considerable financial support to the construction of the Supreme Court.  Earlier this week, it was announced that the Knesset is to be expanded. Current Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein reportedly sees a need to expand the synagogue given the increase in the number of legislators and others who wish to pray there. The overall expansion has been approved by the Jerusalem Municipality, including doubling the floor space.
While expansion of the synagogue makes sense, and expansion in 2006 of the car park also made sense, it’s hard to understand why the floor space of the Knesset needs to double if the number of MKs remains consistent. There are 120 MKs now, and after the September 17 elections, there will still be 120 MKs, so why is it necessary to double the floor space, especially in view of the fact that the Knesset has exceptionally wide public spaces, part of which could easily be enclosed to accommodate additional offices for administrative staff? Exploitation of the public purse seems to be the norm in Israel when the poor, the disabled, the homeless, Holocaust survivors and the severely ill are simply not getting the financial and emotional assistance that could bring a little light into their lives.

■ IT’S NOT all that long ago when Israel was a poor country with poor people. Now, the ratio of billionaires and millionaires to the rest of the population is quite high and getting higher as hi-tech experts who may come from non-affluent backgrounds are making rapid strides in their respective fields of expertise, and are selling out to major global companies for tens of millions of dollars. Many of these old-money and new-money millionaires socialize together, and one of their favorite get-away destinations is Mykonos, where Idan and Batya Ofer recently celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary and re-affirmed their commitment to each other. Several Israeli media folk – especially those who hadn’t been invited – were critical of the lavish celebration, but the much-married Idan Ofer definitely had something to celebrate. His current wife is his fourth, and he has been married to her longer than to most of her predecessors. The couple took up residence in London six years ago, but are on a frequent commute to Israel, where in addition to their business interests, they have a number of philanthropic causes that they support.


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