There are many great people in our midst, but we are not always aware of the height and breadth of their greatness because we see them in a certain framework.
It is only when they die or are chosen for some prestigious award that we become privy to the broader aspects of their biographies.
Over the past two or three weeks Israel has lost at least three giants: Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail, who was an ardent researcher into the fate of the 10 lost tribes of Israel and who most famously was instrumental in bringing the Bnei Menashe from India to Israel; retired deputy Supreme Court justice Mishael Cheshin, known for his firm commitment to justice and the rule of law as well as for his mastery of the Hebrew language; and, most recently, journalist and documentary filmmaker Moti Kirschenbaum.
Of the three, Kirschenbaum received the most media attention, partially because he had such a varied career and so much achievement to his credit, and partially because the media deals more generously and emotionally with one of its own.
Kirschenbaum left his mark on television, radio, print journalism and theater, excelling in all in both managerial and nonmanagerial positions.
Moreover to quote Zionist Union MK Amir Peretz, he triumphed over advancing age, and in his mid-seventies was full of boundless energy, coming up with new ideas every day for the nightly current affairs program that he and fellow journalist Yaron London hosted on Channel 10.
Israel Radio’s veteran newsman Arye Golan noted that even though Kirschenbaum was a proud leftist, he did not allow his political views to cloud his judgment when he was head of Mabat News and later when he served as director-general of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
Following the announcement of Kirschenbaum’s death, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev were among the many public figures who issued statements praising Kirschenbaum and expressing shock at his passing. Netanyahu described him as a tough but fair interviewer.
This assessment did not prevent Netanyahu from trying to get rid of him when Kirschenbaum was IBA director-general.
Writing in Haaretz, Amit Schejter, who was director of legal affairs and international relations at the IBA when Kirschenbaum was director- general and who is now head of the communication studies department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, stated that Kirschenbaum had resisted all attempts at government interference and had transformed a state-controlled monopoly into a public broadcaster operating in a competitive environment.
According to Schejter “ousting Kirschenbam and privatizing the IBA were high priorities for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he first assumed power in 1996.
Kirschenbaum’s presence was a major thorn in Netanyahu’s side, yet this larger-than-life man was determined to remain in office until his five-year contract expired – and he did.”
A year ago, just after Kirschenbaum’s 75th birthday, Channel 2’s Erez Tal took Kirschenbaum on a trip down memory lane, beginning with the house in which he was raised in Kfar Saba and stopping at milestone destinations in his life where old friends were waiting to greet him. It was in a sense a prophetic journey because it gave some people the chance to say goodbye, even though they were not aware at the time that they were doing so.
Golan and others who had worked with Kirschenbaum imagined that even in the next world, he was looking down and laughing as, together with Yossi Banai and Shaike Ophir, he created a new satirical show, Lo min Hashamayim (Not from Heaven).
■ APROPOS NETANYAHU, some of the things for which he is blamed are not of his doing and not in accordance with his orders, but carried out at their own initiative by the people working with and around him. One example relates to the depositories of the Netanyahu family’s garbage.
The Prime Minister’s Residence is the only freestanding house in Smolenskin Street, if one doesn’t take into account the former Rubin Academy of Music which was originally the Schocken family home and which is now in a sorry state of neglect and partially used as a storage area and for other purposes by the prime minister’s security personnel.
The other three buildings in the street are apartment blocks.
There are three large green dumpsters in the street. One is for the use of the residents in the three apartment blocks. And the other two are padlocked to each other via a chain circling an electric light pole diagonally across the road from the Prime Minister’s Residence.
The natural inclination of disgruntled neighbors is to blame Netanyahu, but it’s highly unlikely that he knows anything about this, just as he is probably unaware of the extent to which the young border policewomen who are stationed in his street annoy his neighbors.
The Border Police guards spend most of the day sitting on white plastic chairs or wooden folding chairs placed on the narrow sidewalk.
When not flirting with security personnel, the young women are often busy talking to family and friends on their cellphones, their legs stretched out so that the passing pedestrians have to walk in the road.
The guards receive their meals while on duty and leave their disposable utensils on the fence or over the fence in the garden.
Sometimes they deny people the right to walk through the street to connect with Balfour Road on the corner or with Aza Road around the corner. “The street is closed,” they declare, even when the prime minister is not at home. They demand to see the ID cards of people who have lived in the street for decades.
This is not Netanyahu’s fault, and there is no reason that he should even know what’s going on outside his front gate. After all, he never sets foot in the street. He always leaves in one of the vehicles in his large motorcade. But he cannot help but be aware of the extent to which he is stopping traffic at all hours of the day and night and of that fact that sirens blaring sometime between midnight and dawn will frighten both babies and senior citizens.
■ THERE WAS so much media hype before, during and after the wedding of supermodel Bar Refaeli to businessman Adi Ezra that strangers might have thought that it was the only show in town.
One journalist from the Hebrew media, who delights in exposing the feet of clay of national icons, did a very cynical number on Refaeli, noting that Nobel Prize laureate Ada Yonath, who had really done something worthwhile, had received far less media coverage than Refaeli’s wedding.
The paparazzi who tried in vain to get some good candid shots of the wedding at the Mount Carmel hotel came up with a few blurred photos of arrivals at the wedding, and several newspapers that would ordinarily refuse to publish photographs of such poor quality cast aside their values for what they termed “the wedding of the year.”
But there were a few more important events that night, such as one marking the 65th anniversary of the Mossad and one marking the 66th anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. The former was attended by Netanyahu, and the latter by President Reuven Rivlin. On the following day the two met for a tête à tête, which was their first in two-and-a-half months.
■ HISTORY IS often blurred.
According to various records, the Mossad was founded in 1949 by Reuven Shiloah, who was its first director. (His wife, Betty, worked for several years for The Jerusalem Post before moving on to the Foreign Ministry.) That would make the Mossad 66 years old, but as anniversaries are often celebrated over a period of a year, it’s not worth quibbling over.
Netanyahu attended the event together with Intelligence Minister Israel Katz and Mossad chief Tamir Pardo. Even in a transparent Internet age in which so much information is literally at one’s fingertips, the bulk of the Mossad’s activities remain shrouded in secrecy.
One of the revelations at the 65th anniversary festivities was that 40 percent of the Mossad’s employees today are women and, of these, 24% hold key positions. Anyone who taps into the Mossad website will discover that, in tandem with their normal family lives, which to many of them are more precious than to people who are not risking their lives several times a year, Mossad employees have an acute sense of mission and a belief that what they are doing can impact on Israel’s existence. The preferred age for recruits is between 22 and 32.
Those attending the event received a special stamp issued by Israel’s Philatelic Service. Netanyahu personally gave the stamp to two legendary agents, Marcel Ninio and Robert Dassa, who operated in Cairo long before the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt and paid a heavy price.
In his address Netanyahu said that the fundamental problems of the Middle East cannot be solved. Today the enemy is twofold: the Shi’ite radical Islam led by Iran and its proxies and the Sunni radical Islam led by Islamic State. Although they are fighting each other, said Netanyahu, it is an accepted norm that Israel has no place in the Islamic world as they see it. Even though their alliances may change, rise and fall, and rise again to spread their tentacles in different directions, Israel is caught on the inside. There is one certain rule, Netanyahu asserted. “No one makes a pact with the weak.”
The real defense of Israel, he continued, is vested in the power of the State of Israel. In a changing world Israel must be a major power, not just a regional power, he insisted.
This will deepen and enhance Israel’s ability to leverage relations with various elements both inside and outside the region. Referring to one of the new fields in our changing world, Netanyahu focused on cyber and was proud to classify Israel as “a cyber superpower.”
In combating Israel’s adversaries the Mossad has played an irreplaceable, vital and central role, said Netanyahu.
Pardo said that, based on its long experience, the Mossad has been able to adapt to new threats in all sectors of its responsibility for national security.
■ ASIDE FROM Rivlin, some of the dignitaries at the Chinese reception at the Tel Aviv Hilton included MK and former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, who spent a long time in conversation with Belarus Ambassador Vladimir Skvortsov, with whom he spoke in Russian; Moshe Arens, an earlier former foreign minister who was involved in the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and China; Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, in an open-necked shirt; Foreign Ministry deputy director- general for Asia and the Pacific Mark Sofer; plus a number of ambassadors from European, African, Asian and Pacific countries.
Weinstein almost literally fell into the arms of Japanese Ambassador Shigeo Matsutomi and his wife, Kaori, and Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma, who wore a check sport shirt and no tie, was having a long and earnest discussion with Jordanian Ambassador Walid Obeidat.
Several European invitees had also been invited to the farewell reception for Slovenian Ambassador Alenka Suhadolnik and, familiar with the heavy Thursday night traffic between Tel Aviv and Herzliya Pituah, opted to attend the reception closest to home, which also afforded them the opportunity to take their leave from a colleague who had been very active on the diplomatic circuit.
Before expressing their congratulations to Chinese Ambassador Zhan Yongxin, who is his country’s seventh ambassador to Israel, guests circled the lobby leading to the ballroom to inspect a photo exhibition that was largely devoted to the “70th anniversary, on September 3, of the victory of the Chinese people’s war of resistance against Japanese aggression and the anti-Fascist war.”
This was also emphasized in Zhan’s address and also in an op-ed authored by him and published the following day in the Post. However, diplomacy being what it is, and conscious of the fact that the Japanese ambassador was present among the guests, whenever he referred to the aggression he omitted the word “Japanese.”
In common with his most recent predecessors, Zhan is enormously proud of China’s economic growth and noted that, in the first half of this year, China’s economic growth had increased by 7%.
Turning to the relationship between China and Israel, Zhan said that it was sound and steady, with a strengthening of political mutual trust and expanding economic and trade links.
Underscoring the potential of greater economic cooperation between the two countries, Zhan said that while Israel is a world-renowned innovation country, China has outstanding manufacturing power and an immense domestic market, which makes the two economies highly complementary.
To illustrate the healthy bilateral trade relations, Zhan said that the volume of bilateral trade had increased by 5.7% in the first half of this year, reaching $5.6 billion.
He forecast that another record high would be reached by the end of the year and was confident that the trade volumes would double over the next decade. China is now Israel’s largest trading partner in Asia, he said. He also made the point that both China and Israel are prospective founding members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which will function as an important platform for further cooperation in regional development.
The people of the two countries are also drawing closer with an increasing inflow of Chinese tourists to Israel and growing numbers of Israelis who are learning the Chinese language and Chinese culture and customs, Zhan observed.
Both Zhan and Rivlin noted that China provided a haven for 25,000 Jews who fled Nazi Europe. Conversely, said Zhan, during the revolution, construction and reform periods of China, there were numerous Jewish friends who provided precious help and had contributed hugely to China’s causes. He specifically mentioned doctors Jakob Rosenfeld, Richard Frey and Hans Kurt-Miller, who saved countless lives in China during the people’s war of resistance.
Rivlin said that Israel can never forget the shelter that the Chinese people gave to thousands of Jews who fled from Nazi Europe. A similar sentiment was expressed by Netanyahu in a short film that was screened for the occasion.
Rivlin also said that China has an important voice on the international stage, especially in the Middle East, a region that he said suffers from war and ongoing hostility. At every turn fundamentalism and extremism seek to light the fires of hatred between different communities and peoples, Rivlin declared, adding: “We must stand firm and united in the face of these threats.”
The Chinese, in fact most Asian countries, are keen to share their culture, and China in particular presents a kaleidoscope of culture which at this year’s event included the famous face-changing Chinese opera, dancing, traditional music on a unique stringed instrument, a riveting Chinese tea ceremony and of course Chinese martial arts, which are so full of grace.
Rivlin had a front row seat where nothing obstructed his view, but MK Tzipi Livni, a late arrival, managed to distract him momentarily when she pushed through the security men stationed by his chair in order to exchange a few words with him and Zhan. During the performance Rivlin’s face alternately registered expressions of awe and delight.
■ FORTUNATELY, THE Chinese Embassy wanted Rivlin at its reception rather than a government minister.
The Foreign Ministry is finding it increasingly difficult to get ministers to agree to represent the government at bilateral diplomatic events.
The exception is Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay, who is not a member of Knesset and who is quite happy to attend national day events hosted by heads of foreign diplomatic missions stationed in Israel.
But it’s not only diplomatic events that ministers tend to evade; it’s also memorial events for leaders of our nation and for soldiers who died in Israel’s wars. Following the lack of ministerial presence at memorial ceremonies for soldiers of the Yom Kippur War, Regev, who also chairs the interministerial committee for symbols and ceremonies, has announced her intention to turn memorial ceremonies for soldiers who died in war into state ceremonies in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, thereby mandating ministerial attendance. It should be remembered that Regev is a former IDF spokeswoman and as such has a very soft spot for fallen soldiers.
■ VETERAN POLITICIAN Meir Sheetrit, whose long political career began as the very young mayor of Yavne and then progressed to the Knesset and the government, in which he held several senior ministerial portfolios, is now a candidate for an internal directorship in Bank Discount, according to an announcement by the Bank of Israel.
Sheetrit, who was a candidate in the last presidential election, in which he was defeated by Rivlin, did not stand for reelection to the present Knesset.
As a former MK Sheetrit already receives a monthly pension in the range of NIS 40,000 and will receive up to NIS 123,000 per annum as a member of the board of directors of the bank, plus up to NIS 3,600 for each meeting that he attends.
Aside from that, his wife, Ruth, runs a highly successful advertising and public relations firm.
The family is still represented in the Knesset. Sheetrit is a brother-in-law to Yesh Atid MK Meir Cohen. Sheetrit has kept his hand in state affairs by acting as an intermediary between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
■ IT’S THAT time of year again when, despite sweltering temperatures, fashion houses are showing their fall/ winter collections. Castro and Golbary already set the ball rolling with individual mega shows. But there’s also a group showing of well-established designers and brand names, along with the creations of upcoming designers. The show, under the auspices of Gindi TLV Fashion Week, will be held at the new TLV Fashion Mall from October 18 to 21 and will feature 36 Israeli fashion designers, some of whom will also present a glimpse of spring/summer trends for 2016.
Household names among the designers include Gideon and Karin Oberson, Dorin Frankfurt, Tovele and Naomi Hassin, Dorit Bar-On and Yaron Minkowski. The Fashion Mall, whose entrepreneurs believe it will become a tourist attraction for fashionistas, is located in the heart of Tel Aviv between Hashmonaim and Carlebach streets, and for the foreseeable future will be the largest fashion mall in Israel, with 250 stores, including the flagship stores of leading trademarks.
Moti Reif, who is Israel’s foremost producer and director of fashion shows, says that each of the designers participating in TLV Fashion Week is a source of pride to Israel.
In the 1970s and 1980s Israel used to hold super-glamorous Israel fashion weeks twice a year, with buyers of top department stores and boutiques from around the world converging on Tel Aviv, Jerusalem or Eilat. These fashion weeks, which were organized and marketed by the Israel Export Institute, fell by the wayside for a number of years and were revived a couple of years back by two competing organizations, one of which is Gindi TLV Fashion Week.
The aim is to give Israeli designers an additional opportunity for a breakthrough to global markets, especially the more important ones, says Gindi co-CEO Uri Levy, who is also appreciative of the fact that the venture has the support of the Israel Export Institute and the Manufacturers Association
■ THE CURRENT era is apparently one of great change. It can be seen on the skylines of cities and towns throughout Israel. It can be seen in items that not so long ago were considered innovative and are now on the way to becoming obsolete. It can be seen in the items on restaurant menus and the foods served at Shabbat and Jewish holiday tables. But most of all it can be seen in people disappearing from our consciousness through death or retirement.
Aside from the daily farewells of many employees of the IBA, for whom today is their last working day there and in some cases their last day in the workforce in general, there are also changes in Israel’s cinematheque network. Earlier this year, her many friends and admirers bid a sad farewell to Jerusalem Cinematheque founder Lia Van Leer, who almost until the day of her death, despite failing health, continued to be the live wire and the spirit behind the place, which has gone through several staff changes over the past two years.
Wednesday at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, patrons and staff will be saying good-bye to controversial, outspoken, ultra-left-wing director Yair Garbuz, who is leaving after 42 years at the helm. The Tel Aviv Municipality has yet to appoint a replacement.
Whoever gets the job, says Garbuz, should be given the same freedom of expression that he enjoyed over the years, and in selecting films for screening should give freedom of expression to all sides of the political and religious spectrum.