Grapevine: New man at the Israel Museum

AMONG THE Jewish jokes that are frequently revived is the one about the illiterate immigrant to America who applied for a job as a beadle in a synagogue

January 10, 2017 21:53
YAFFA YARKONI performs in 1981.

YAFFA YARKONI performs in 1981.. (photo credit: SA’AR YA’ACOV/GPO)


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When referred to in the media, lawyer Yitzhak Molho is usually mentioned in connection with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But this time it’s in connection with his role as chairman of the board of directors of the Israel Museum, which unanimously elected Eran Neuman as the Anne and Jerome Fisher director of the museum.

Neuman, who is winding up his position as director of the David Azrieli School of Architecture at Tel Aviv University, will have a hard act to follow. For those who can remember 20 years back, when James Snyder, a relative unknown in Israel, with practically no Hebrew at his command, came from New York to breathe new life into the museum, there was a lot of resentment.

But the erudite, creative and personable Snyder soon won the hearts and minds of his greatest opponents, and has continued to do so over the years. He also oversaw the restructuring and expansion of the museum, which made it more modern and more user-friendly. Although he is returning to the US, he is not leaving the museum altogether and will be the first to fill the specially created role of international president, working with and for the international Friends of the Israel Museum, which means that he will be seen in Israel at least two or three times a year.

Though an Israeli with a most impressive CV, Neuman does have a lot of experience in the US, having studied at the University of California and participating in international conferences at Princeton and Harvard universities. Neuman is internationally recognized for his expertise in the field of postwar architecture, in particular the exploration of the impact of new technologies on architectural design, and also on architectural creativity in buildings that commemorate the Holocaust. He is also the author and co-author of several books.

He takes up his new post at the beginning of February.

■ AMONG THE Jewish jokes that are frequently revived is the one about the illiterate immigrant to America who applied for a job as a beadle in a synagogue. Everything went well during the interview till the end, when he was asked to sign an employment contract. When he confessed that he couldn’t read or write, he was told that a beadle had to be literate. Eventually, he found a job in a grocery store, worked hard, and even though his salary was meager, he was able to put away a little and save. The day came when he was able to buy his own grocery store, and in the course of time it expanded to two and three stores, and before long he owned a chain of grocery stores. He then became a real estate developer, and his affluence increased enormously.

One day, when he was concluding a particularly big deal and as usual placed a thumbprint on all the places that he had to sign, the other party to the contract said to him: “Look how far you’ve come without the ability to read and write. Imagine how much further you would have gone if you could read and write.” The developer didn’t need to think about what might have been.

He already knew. “I would have been a beadle in a synagogue,” he said.

In a sense, another man in real estate in Israel could tell a similar tale. While David Zwebner, a grandfather, who made aliya from South Africa in 1966, is far from being illiterate, he never got around to doing his BA till now.

Zwebner is technically an eighth-generation Jerusalemite, whose grandfather was a member of the First Knesset. His late father, Rabbi Isaac Zwebner, served for many years as the chief rabbi of Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).

Soon after arriving in Israel, David Zwebner formed a rock band. Five years after his arrival, he began working with Anglo Saxon real estate, stayed for two years, then volunteered for the IDF, where he continues to serve in the reserves.

Today he manages several companies, including A.D. Galilean Estates, of which he is one of the founders, Commstock, a wealth management company, of which he is the founding CEO, Recycling Ltd., a company that he founded that recycles precious metals; TrackData and Ashkelon Properties.

In fact, though he lives in Jerusalem, he also owns a holiday house in Ashkelon, a kind of proof that he puts his money where his mouth is. In addition to all that, he is a qualified tour guide and sits on several boards in Ashkelon, Jerusalem and the Galilee.

From time to time he also reads the Torah or leads the service at Hazvi Yisrael Congregation in Jerusalem, of which he is a former president.

Now he’s busy writing the thesis for his BA and studying at Ashkelon College, where his mentor suggested that with his South African background, combined with the history of the Afridar neighborhood, which really gave rise to modern Ashkelon and Zwebner’s involvement with Telfed, the organization of immigrants from South Africa, he could produce a most informative thesis about the South African contribution to Ashkelon’s development. Zwebner is exploring whether any of the founders of Afridar were also part of the South African Mahal, volunteers during the War of Independence.

An acquaintance, when hearing of his latest venture, wondered aloud what his fate would have been had he embarked on his BA in 1966 or in 1975. He may not have been a beadle in a synagogue, but he might not have achieved what he has been able to do to date.

■ REGARDLESS OF how close Ari Harrow, the prime minister’s former bureau chief and key adviser, was or is to Netanyahu, he surely committed an illegal act by retaining the recording of Netanyahu’s conversation with Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon Mozes. The recording should have been handed over to the prime minister when Harrow left office. Most of the media are so engrossed in whether Netanyahu will be indicted that they are overlooking this aspect of the case.

Aside from this, the public should question the media’s and the police’s obsessions with Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who have each been under the microscope for well over a decade, without the police finding sufficient proof to warrant a conviction. It’s not good for any country for its leaders to be almost constantly in the eye of the storm of corruption, especially when the evidence is inadequate, time after time.

Apropos the other Arnon – Arnon Milchan, who has been so generous with his gift-giving to the Netanyahu family, perhaps the police would do well to explore which other people in high places have been the recipients of his generosity. The Netanyahus are surely not alone.

Among the many past and present Netanyahu associates who were interviewed on radio and television was Yoaz Hendel, his former director of communications and public diplomacy, who admitted that nothing surprises him any more and said that there are many behind-the-scenes meetings and conversations between public adversaries of which the public is not aware. He also said that he had never witnessed delivery of boxes of cigars or bottles of champagne to the Netanyahus.

Meanwhile, Likud MK David Amsalem has become one of Netanyahu’s chief defenders, taking a severe bashing from electronic media journalists who purportedly interview him, or more accurately interrogate him in the most accusatory of tones, and don’t allow him to finish a sentence, but keep raising their voices and giving him a lot of flack, particularly when he dares to strike back. The job of a journalist is to report – not to be judge and jury.

■ ELECTRONIC MEDIA journalists were also pretty tough with government ministers who failed to attend the funerals of terrorist victims Sec.-Lt. Erez Orbach, Sec.-Lt. Shira Tzur, Lt. Shir Hajaj and Lt.

Yael Yekutiel, who were killed in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem on Sunday.

Tami Shelach, who chairs the IDF Widows and Orphans Organization, and lost her husband Lt.-Col. Ehud Shelach, a combat squadron commander, in the 1973Yom Kippur War, is herself a veteran of the IDF Paratroops Brigade. She told Israel Radio that the presence of a member of the government or a member of Knesset at funerals is of inestimable importance to many families who have lost loved ones to terrorism or in military operations. There are some exceptions – families who want their grief to be private, to be shared only with relatives and close friends, without any media coverage and without the presence of ministers or legislators – but there are few such families.

Radio talk shows with phone-ins by the public were inundated by angry callers who were disgusted by the apparent lack of interest by public figures and elected officials.

Yad Lebanim chairman Eli Ben-Shem, who lost his son, Lt. Kobi Ben-Shem, in 1997, when two military helicopters crashed over the She’ar Yashuv moshav in the Upper Galilee, killing 73 soldiers who were en route to a military outpost in southern Lebanon, warned that if some ordinance is not issued with regard to the attendance of ministers at funerals of soldiers, bereaved families will come out in a mega protest demonstration.

■ THE TENURE of President Reuven Rivlin has been marked with tragedy, paying condolence calls to families of fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism. Last week, in the midst of preparations for his state visit to Georgia, Rivlin visited the family of Lian Nasser, the 18-year-old woman who was killed in the terrorist attack in Istanbul during the Christmas weekend. Usually, Rivlin pays condolence calls without his wife, but this time she accompanied him to the village of Tira to assure the residents of the pain that is felt when Arab citizens of Israel, no less than Jewish citizens, become of the victims of senseless terrorist attacks.

Rivlin, who returned to Israel Tuesday night from Georgia, where he was feted by Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili, will in coming days visit the families of the four soldiers who were killed in the terrorist attack on the day of his departure from Israel. At his official welcome in Georgia, Rivlin said that while Israel mourns its victims, it will never bow to terrorism.

■ IT MAY have something to do with the fact that Menachem Begin was one of the thousands of Jewish soldiers in Anders’ Army or the fact that Begin was a Polish citizen at the time that he arrived in the Land of Israel, or that Begin had studied law at the University of Warsaw – whatever the reason, presidents and prime ministers of Poland who come to Israel usually visit the Begin Heritage Center, and current President Andrzej Duda is no exception.

Duda is scheduled, in the course of his state visit next week, to open the exhibition “Jews in the Polish Army” and to attend the premier screening of the film Remembering them all...? directed by Yuval Haimovich-Zuser.

This will not be the first time that an exhibition of Jews in the Polish army has been shown at the Begin Center. The late president Lech Kaczynski, when he came to Israel in September 2006, also opened a similar exhibition and spoke eloquently – and without notes – of the contribution of Jewish soldiers to Poland’s defense.

In March of last year, Duda opened a museum, in the village of Markowa, in southeastern Poland, dedicated to Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust and which was named in honor of the Polish Ulma family, who were shot there by the Nazi occupiers for sheltering Jews.

Duda said then that many people come to Poland to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau and to look at other evidence of sick hate. He is glad that there are other places which mark the goodness of Polish nationals.

■ WHAT HAS been will be again; what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. The wisdom of the Book of Ecclesiastes continues to prevail, especially in the world of fashion. Former fashion designer and fashion writer Siona Dror met up with a friend of her youth, Udi Rosenwein, an independent curator who organizes shows at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, and like old friends who haven’t seen each other in a while usually do, they asked each other about what each was doing. Dror and Rosenwein were members of the Hebrew University dance troupe more than 40 years ago.

Though semi-retired, Dror has never abandoned her passion for fashion, even though some two decades have passed since she last designed a collection. As distinct from most other fashion designers, Dror was disinclined to produce futuristic avant-garde creations. She preferred to live in the nostalgic past, in the era in which women wore flattering, romantic garments that revealed very little flesh, were beautifully shaped and left much to the imagination as to the curves beneath the clothes.

Dror, in her personal mode of dress, was always a walking advertisement for nostalgia, taking much of her inspiration from the Doctor Zhivago-era of Russia and from the traditions of Japan.

She wrote about style for Maariv and for AT, the women’s magazine. In 1970, she produced a six-page cover story for AT on maternity clothes that she had personally designed, and instantly received orders from several major retail outlets. A collection of faux fur jackets that she designed in 1972 was so eye-catching that it gave legitimacy to very authentic-looking fake fur, which was previously scorned by Israeli fashionistas who insisted on the real thing, which was so much more costly, especially at a time of severe economic austerity.

Twenty years ago, Dror designed her biggest collection, which was shown at Ein Kerem in Jerusalem and at the famed Horace Richter Gallery in Jaffa. Eight of the creations from that collection feature in a display at the Tel Aviv Opera House in the TAPAC complex as a small sample of Dror’s work. But what a sample it is.

Several of her friends who attended the opening this week recalled Dror wearing an outfit that could be subtitled “slightly less than 50 shades of gray.” The all-gray finely striped, high-necked jacket, with bow fastening, was worn over a semi-full maxi skirt of unpressed pleats falling gracefully to just above the ankle, and finished with a deep frill over a hemline of white broderie anglaise. A sense of heightened drama is added with a long violet-hued satin sash tied in a bow at the waist and hanging down to the beginning of the frill.

But what really caught everyone’s eye was a burnt orange kimono jacket worn over a black tube skirt. Though created so long ago, it was as modern as tomorrow. In fact, all eight designs could easily be mistaken for current vogue, because today’s top designer trends bear a striking similarity. To give added value to that impression, Dror had two models wearing two additional outfits from the collection, and these, too, could easily pass for the latest styles.

One of the models was thrilled to see a photograph of herself in an old photo album and what she was wearing that night. The album was available to anyone who wanted to thumb through it.

But even the most successful of projects is prone to an Achilles’s heel. One of the guests at the opening, curious about Dror’s mix of textures, touched one of the mannequins, accidentally dislodging it, and it fell over, causing a domino effect in which all the mannequins fell. Heads were dislodged, wigs were in disarray on the floor and shoes fell off. But with a little help from her friends, Dror was able to restore the display to its former glory, with the exception of replacing the shoes on the feet of the models. That was too much of a challenge, given the circumstances.

■ ONE OF the sad things about the impending demise of the Israel Broadcasting Authority is that the wonderful nostalgia programs that it produced over the years will probably remain in the archives of the yet-to-be-launched Israel Broadcasting Corporation, perhaps never to be seen again. At the IBA, the senior generation passed on its know-how and enthusiasm to the next generation, so that names that had once been household words were not confined to the dust of history but were revived on a frequent basis – and not only in the midnight-to-dawn loop. How many of the young people who have already signed employment contracts with IBC and who are part of the millennium generation will have even heard of people who, before the turn of the century, contributed to national culture, politics, security, sports achievements and more? Last Saturday evening, Channel 1 screened the 2007 tribute by the Tel Aviv Municipality in conjunction with Israel Broadcasting Authority to Israel Prize laureate Yaffa Yarkoni, who though known as the songstress of the soldiers, particularly in wartime, was also the first Israeli singer to sing children’s songs written by Naomi Shemer. The tribute was Yarkoni’s last appearance on television. Maya Nehmad, one of Yarkoni’s great-grandchildren, sang on the program, to Yarkoni’s undisguised delight. The program was rescreened in conjunction with the fifth anniversary of her passing, which had been just a little over a week after her 87th birthday.

In 2000, Yarkoni was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and her condition worsened in 2007. Despite her loss of memory in relation to recent events and her inability to recognize many people, from her front seat in the audience alongside Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai she sang all the songs that were sung in her honor, particularly the children’s songs, which she sang with great enthusiasm, clapping her hands in time to the music.

Yarkoni’s first recording, which had the song “Einayim Yerukot” (Green Eyes) on one side, was among the most popular of the 1,400-plus songs that she recorded over the years. The song was an instant hit. One day, Yarkoni went to Café Nussbaum, which was then the center of Tel Aviv’s arts and entertainment world, and asked to hear the recording, saying that she was the singer. The owner refused, saying that she was already the fifth person to make that claim that day.

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