As a law student, lawyer, Knesset speaker and in his current role as president, Reuven Rivlin has met every president of the Supreme Court, from Shimon Agranat onward. This week he had a chance to see them all – if not in the flesh, at least in the portrait gallery of the Supreme Court, when taken on a tour by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut.
Rivlin, who has met literally scores of judges during appointment ceremonies at the President’s Residence, told current Supreme Court judges that he had come to show his respect and appreciation for the court and its role in the pursuit of truth and justice.
Coincidentally, he happened to be there on the same day that the police recommendation that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted for corruption was made public. Broadcasters were almost hysterical in their taste for blood. With due respect for the court system, judges are only human and have been exposed to accusatory media reports and comments on allegations against Netanyahu for well over a year. In the event that he is indicted, how can he possibly be given a fair trial?
■ LITHUANIA DOES not escape from its cruel role in the Holocaust. Even when celebrating the 100th anniversary of his country’s restoration of independence, Lithuanian Ambassador Edminas Bagdonas, who was praised by Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely for his role in enhancing relations between Israel and Lithuania, could not refrain from talking about “the black pages” which he said were the darkest in Lithuania’s history.
He also spoke of Lithuania’s Jews who fought for Lithuania’s freedom and independence. Among them was Shimshon Rosenbaum, a Zionist activist, who was vice minister of foreign affairs and a member the Lithuanian delegation that negotiated the peace treaty with Soviet Russia. Rosenbaum subsequently settled in Israel and is buried in Tel Aviv. Bagdonas makes a practice of visiting his grave on the anniversary of his death and, in accordance with the Jewish custom, places a stone on the tomb.
In referring to what Lithuanians did to their Jewish neighbors during the Holocaust, Bagdonas said: “We don’t forget what was done during the Holocaust on Lithuanian soil. It was the most horrifying, appalling and shameful period in our history. We Lithuanians acknowledge our responsibility for collaborating with the Nazis.”
On the more positive side, he noted that 891 Lithuanians have been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations, but deeply regretted that 200,000 Lithuanian Jews were victims of the Holocaust. He would have preferred 200,000 righteous, “so that we could at least look in the eyes of our Jewish brethren,” he said.
He also stated that Lithuania is looking forward to the visit later this year by Israel’s prime minister, but did not mention him by name. For the occasion, in the vast auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum, Bagdonas wore traditional Lithuanian costume to bring his guests closer to his country.
Hotovely spoke of the glorious Jewish past of Lithuania, whose capital was once known as the Jerusalem of the North, and said that the yeshiva movement had its start in Lithuania, where Jews were “intellectually rich.” She noted that present-day Lithuania is doing a lot to preserve Jewish memory and to fight antisemitism. She is pleased that Lithuania will be joining the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development this year.
Aware that this week’s celebration was one of a series of events, she complained that they were all in Tel Aviv, and suggested that at least one be held in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, and that the embassy should also move to Jerusalem. A brilliant accordion performance was provided by one of Lithuania’s most dynamic musicians, Martynas Levickis, who wowed the audience. It was his first visit to Israel, but judging by the reception he received, it won’t be the last.
■ DEPUTY MINISTER and former ambassador to the US Michael Oren is in high demand as a speaker these days, possibly more so since it was announced that he’s a possible candidate for the chairmanship of the Jewish Agency, whose outgoing chairman, Natan Sharansky, at the beginning of this week celebrated the 32nd anniversary of his release from a Soviet prison and his arrival in Israel.
Oren will be addressing young professionals in the 20s and 30s age group who are associated with the Tel Aviv Arts Council. The venue is one of the trendiest places in Tel Aviv these days – the Brown Boutique Hotel lounge. The event has been advertised as “a culturally social boozy creative evening,” and will take place on Sunday, February 25.
■ INTERNATIONAL BUSINESSMAN, philanthropist and chairman of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress (EAJC) Aaron Frenkel has been elected vice president of the World Jewish Congress.
WJC president Ron Lauder, in congratulating Frenkel on his appointment, said “Aaron is passionate in his commitment to Israel and the Jewish people.”
Frenkel responded that he is honored to serve as vice president of the organization representing global Jewry. “It is both a privilege and obligation, given the numerous challenges facing the Jewish nation both in Israel and the Diaspora. I am grateful to the WJC president and members of the board for their faith in me,” he said.
Frenkel participated in the recent meeting between a WJC delegation and Pope Francis to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. During the tenure of president Shimon Peres, Frenkel served as chairman of the “Facing Tomorrow” Presidential Conference.
Beyond his official duties at the WJC and EAJC, which represents Jewish communities in eastern and central Europe, the Balkans and all Asian territory that was formerly under Soviet rule, Frenkel also serves as president of Limmud FSU, a nonprofit organization that works to convey and expand Jewish knowledge and identity among young Russian-speaking Jews around the world.
Born in 1957 and raised in Bnei Brak, Frenkel is a global businessman and project developer. Since the late 1980s, he has been the owner of Loyd’s group of companies, which deals with investments in property and real estate, civil aviation and aerospace industries, energy and hi-tech. In the 1990s, he was actively involved in facilitating Jewish emigration from the former Soviet Union to Israel. Aside from his business activities, Frenkel has also participated in numerous public initiatives in Israel and around the world. He also received a number of prestigious awards: the French Legion of Honor from Nicolas Sarkozy; the Order of Grimaldi medal of honor from Prince Albert II in Monaco; and Mecenate of Russia from the president of the Russian Federation.
In addition to his numerous public roles, including honorary consul of the Republic of Croatia in Jerusalem, president of the Jewish community in Monaco, and more, Frenkel was last December conferred with the title Yakir Keren Hayesod.
■ IN A previous political era, the education minister and the culture minister were one and the same person. If that had still been the case, with the possibility that the dual portfolio would be carried by Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, it is doubtful that David Grossman, despite his popularity at home and abroad, would have been named as the recipient of the Israel Prize for Literature.
Regev’s influence in the cancellation of the Israel Embassy’s participation in the Israel Film Festival in Paris, simply because the films chosen for the festival included prizewinning Foxtrot, has, according to Gideon Kutz, the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation representative in Paris, caused damage to Israel’s image in France, which does not appreciate this kind of censorship.
Happily, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, while acknowledging the strong political differences between himself and Grossman, also acknowledges that Grossman is a superb writer.
This was not the first time that Grossman had been considered for the Israel Prize. In 2015 he was one of six people who withdrew their candidacy for the Israel Prize because Prime Minister Netanyahu had vetoed two of the adjudicators, who were highly respected in their individual fields.
Long before he became an internationally known, prizewinning writer, Grossman was a bookworm, and as a child was already reading the works of his favorite author, Avraham Shlonsky. The National Library published a photograph of the 11-year-old Grossman taking pleasure in what he was reading.
■ DURING HIS recent visit to the United States, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales happened to mention that he would like to attend a Jewish Sabbath meal. Chabad’s Jewish Latin Center was quick to jump on the bandwagon, and immediately organized a Friday night dinner in Manhattan, attended by some 200 guests, among them US Ambassador to Guatemala Luis E. Arreaga and Consul-General Dani Dayan.
Guatemala was one of a handful of countries that, following formal recognition by the United States of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, announced that it would also move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The dinner was a means of expressing appreciation to him.
When he received the invitation, Dayan tweeted: “As the son of a former ambassador of Israel to Guatemala and as Israel’s consul-general in New York, I will be honored to participate and thank President Jimmy Morales.” He certainly had his chance to do just that, because in the seating arrangements, he was placed next to Morales at the table.