GRAPEVINE: Bench marks

THE RECEPTION at the Japanese residence was essentially a getting-to-know-you affair.

By
September 23, 2014 21:10
Matthew Gould

BRITISH AMBASSADOR Matthew Gould swims proudly for the flag in the Sea of Galilee.. (photo credit: BRITISH EMBASSY IN ISRAEL)

 
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Usually, when a president of the Supreme Court is appointed, it goes almost without saying that the deputy president will be the next in line. But in the case of Miriam Naor, who will become president following the retirement in January of Asher D. Grunis, her deputy to be Elyakim Rubinstein will not be able to succeed her, because he happens to be four months her senior, and they both have to retire at age 70, which will be in three years’ time.

■ WITHOUT ANY insult intended, it is easy to understand why Israel has a tradition of starting everything at what is widely considered to be Middle Eastern mean time – namely later than the stated hour. Many of the country’s founding fathers were from Poland where it is also customary to be late, regardless of attempts at punctuality.

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One of the outstanding examples of lateness is the official opening of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, to which both President Reuven Rivlin and former president Shimon Peres have been invited.

The museum, which has been in various stages of development for the past 19 years, is about a decade behind completion time. However in all probability, it will be a useful vehicle for Poland in attracting Jewish visitors whose roots missions will no longer be linked solely to death camps, and to towns and villages long bereft of Jews, where there are few signs of Jewish life that once pulsated there.

Exhibitions at the museum will show more positive historical aspects, and may serve to diminish an inherent Jewish notion that Poland was, is and will be anti-Semitic. Of course there were rabid anti-Semites there who displayed unconscionable cruelty towards Jews, but Poles outnumber the individuals from any other country that have been recognized by Yad Vashem – Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority as Righteous Among the Nations. They represent well over a quarter of all those who have been recognized as having risked their lives to save Jews.

In the 12th to 16th centuries Poland was the most tolerant of all European countries towards Jews. Even while the Catholic Church persecuted Jews, there were several Polish princes who were ready to protect them and to grant them privileges. Jewish contributions to Poland’s economy and culture are well documented.

Jews served in the Sejm, Poland’s parliament, and at least one, Warsaw-born Yitzhak Gruenbaum, served in the Sejm from 1919-33, as well as in the Knesset to become Israel’s first interior minister.



■ TO SOME people the announcement last week by outgoing Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar that he was taking a break may have come as less of a surprise than to others. In his speech, he said that he had been contemplating the move for some time, but stayed on in the Knesset to help Rivlin a become president. Earlier this month, when Rivlin was for the first time receiving the credentials of new ambassadors, and having a tête-à-tête with each, he introduced Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, whom he lauded as a having a great past, present and future. It’s possible that Rivlin knows something that others don’t, and that Hanegbi who returned to Likud from Kadima may indeed be a future Likud prime minister if and when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decides not to run. Netanyahu will celebrate his 65th birthday on October 21. Hanegbi will turn 58 in February, so he still has time.

Rivlin who is careful in the extent to which he makes statements that could be interpreted as political, said after the political earthquake set in motion by Sa’ar, that the interior minister was a man of action committed to the well-being of the people of Israel. Describing Sa’ar as “a true leader,” Rivlin said that he was sorry that the announcement had come at a time when Israel faces so many unresolved challenges.

In making the announcement about his break from politics, Sa’ar had said: “There is life beyond politics. Politics is not a career it’s a mission to serve one’s people.”

In that respect, he has something in common with Peres who frequently stated: “The sign of a true leader is not to rule, but to serve.”

The peripatetic Peres left last week for the United States to attend the annual conference of the Clinton Global Initiative and the Atlantic Council will be back in the US in the last week of October where he will present an address at New York’s Colgate University followed by an onstage interview with ABC News journalist Bob Woodruff.

■ ON THURSDAY of last week French Prime Minister Manuel Valls came to the celebrated Great Synagogue of Paris – La Victoire to wish the Jewish community a shana tova, and to denounce racism, xenophobia and the new anti-Semitism. Wearing a kippa on his head, Valls, whose wife, Anne Gravoin, is Jewish, endorsed Israel’s right to exist and told some 1,000 French Jews to remain in France and fight anti-Semitism. He assured his audience that the government is taking firm steps in this direction.

Joël Mergui, president of the Consistoire – the umbrella organization for French Jews – declared that they must remain alert to the dangers of anti-Semitism, and deplored the lack of the awakening of consciences in the French population following terrorist attacks and the murder of Jews in Toulouse and Brussels.

■ INSOFAR AS the 2012 Toulouse massacre is concerned, earlier in the week, Samuel Sandler, the head of the Versailles Jewish community, at a ceremony in the Rabbinical School of Paris donated a Torah Scroll in memory of his son Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30; his grandsons Aryeh and Gabriel, ages six and three, and his eight-yearold cousin Miriam Monsonego who had all been shot point blank by a jihadist terrorist. Haïm Korsia, chief rabbi of France and Michel Gugenheim, chief rabbi of Paris as well as several government officials, Jewish community leaders and the head of the Muslim community in Versailles were present at the dedication ceremony.

The Torah mantle had in a sense been rescued by Sandler’s father Robert, who half-a-century ago saw it displayed in a shop specializing in Christian ritual objects and literature.

He had been drawn into the store like a magnet, mesmerized by this lone symbol of Jewish tradition. When he asked about the Torah mantle, he was told that some unknown individual had brought it into the store before the Second World War and asked for it to be embroidered. But the person never returned to claim it. Sandler realized that the owner must have been a victim of the Holocaust and decided to ensure that it would be used for its intended purpose. In making the presentation, the son said that he had never imagined that the Torah mantle rescued from one horrendous Jewish tragedy would be used to commemorate another.

■ HERE IN Israel a memorial library for four-year-old Daniel Tragerman will be established at Nahal Oz at the initiative of Moshe Triwaks who put the idea to the The Book Publishers Association of Israel, whose members numbering some 50 publishers unanimously accepted the idea and agreed to donate books. The offer was then made to the kibbutz directorate that was already seeking a way to memorialize the child victim of mortar fire, even though his parents have decided that they and their remaining children can no longer live at Nahal Oz. The library will be inaugurated some time in the near future.

■ FOR MANY of their guests, it was almost like a game of diplomatic musical chairs as they moved between the residences of Indian Ambassador Jaideep Sarkar, US Ambassador Dan Shapiro and Japan’s new Ambassador Shigeo Matsutomi who all live within easy walking distance in Herzliya Pituah, but who each had receptions on Thursday of last week. A very limited number of people were invited to all three, but many of those invited to the American residence were invited to the Japanese residence, and basically it was a matter of having to decide which to go to first. The American reception was the earlier one with some 300 people milling on the lawn and enjoying the ocean breeze. It was a very pluralistic affair with Jews, Christians, Muslims, Bahai’s and possibly other faiths as well, even though the purpose was to say happy new year. Seen among the guests were Yossi Beilin, Dore Gold, former deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon, Rabbi Levi Weinman-Kelman, Tiberias Mayor Yossi Ben-David, who was in a close huddle with MK Elazar Stern and former communications minister Moshe Kahlon who may well become the Netanyahu nemesis.

Also present was Gilad Sharon, who spent much of the evening standing alone at a tall round table and quizzically surveying the crowd.

It’s one of those stories of location, location, location. Had he been home on the farm, people would have flocked to him in droves, but many simply didn’t recognize him. After all his ultra-slim physique is nothing like those of his parents or his brother Omri, so unless people actually know who he is, they can’t place him outside of his regular environment.

Earlier in the week, Sharon was in Belarus where he attended the opening of a photo exhibition in memory of his father prime minister Ariel Sharon and spoke to participants in Limmud FSU, firstly about the history of his paternal side of the family and how it was that his grandparents Samuel and Vera decided to come to the Land of Israel. He mentioned their connections with the families of former prime ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin who likewise had roots in Belarus. Turning to Israel- Diaspora relations, Sharon stressed their importance, as well as the importance of Jewish education as means of combating assimilation. But the most important Zionist work he emphasized was and is immigration to Israel.

Shapiro and his wife, Julie Fisher, greeted nearly all their guests individually.

At least one person, who came after Shapiro had delivered his speech, was in and out in less than five minutes.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall and the holy sites, arrived just after the conclusion, went looking for him to convey the season’s greetings, then turned around and left.

■ THE STAGE at the American residence had been dominated by a harpist and violinist who played loud enough for everyone to hear, but sufficiently low key, so as not to drown out conversation. Shapiro, his wife and two of their daughters Merav and Shira came out on stage together and one of the girls sang a Rosh Hashana song. Shapiro then spoke of how the past year has drawn the US and Israel even closer together through greater security cooperation and political consultation as well as trade and information exchanges. He cited the Iron Dome missile defense system as one of the most celebrated examples of close cooperation between the two countries.

He was particularly pleased that among the guests were people from the South who, he said, had endured a particularly distressing summer under the onslaught of rockets that Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza had fired indiscriminately.

He commended his guests from southern communities for showing admirable resilience in the face of terrifying circumstances, and reiterated America’s policy stating: “No nation can accept premeditated violence against its citizens – not from rockets and not from underground tunnels. The United States strongly supports Israel’s right to defend its citizens and we strengthen Israel’s hand in doing so.”

Jews are always looking for historic coincidences and connections. Shapiro is no exception, and the one he gave is connected to the US national anthem written by Francis Scott Key almost exactly 200 years on September 14, 1814, after British troops had bombarded and destroyed several American cities. On September 13, 1814, the British bombarded Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor. Key, then a young Washington lawyer, watched the battle, and when at dawn he saw that the American flag was still flying, he wrote the words of The Star Spangled Banner. It just so happened that the date was Rosh Hashana eve.

Shapiro voiced the wish that “perhaps today, Rosh Hashana can be the dawn’s early light that follows the darkness of the most recent conflict in Gaza...”

■ THE RECEPTION at the Japanese residence was essentially a getting-to-know-you affair, although the new ambassador is no stranger to Israel, having previously served as the deputy director-general and director- general for the Middle East and Africa of Japan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry in which capacities he had visited the country on several occasions.

Curiously, one of his guests, Nissim Ben-Shitrit, who is director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, was the envoy to Japan when Matsutomi was director-general, so it was an interesting change of roles. During the month in which he and his wife, Kaori, a former television anchor, have been in Israel, he said, they have experienced many pleasant surprises, and find life to be pleasant and comfortable.

Matsutomi’s immediate predecessor Hideo Sato had left during Operation Protective Edge and had therefore not had a farewell party. Matsutomi read out a letter from Sato in which he said how much he and his wife, Hideko, had enjoyed their time in Israel. Most ambassadors enjoy their time in Israel, but Sato probably more so because he is a fluent Hebrew speaker and had no need for a translator.

He also reads Hebrew fluently and could therefore familiarize himself with the Hebrew media.

Sato wrote in his message: “What was the most regrettable to me, the situation was so compelling that I had to leave the country I love without enough opportunities to directly convey my sense of deep gratitude to all my friends. We will never forget your heart-warming friendship, deep considerations and hospitality accorded to us and I hope that you will provide the same assistance to my successor, for further enhancing the Israel-Japan relationship.”

Matsutomi left no doubt that he and his wife will work very diligently in that direction. But it’s doubtful that anyone will realize quite how hard they work because they are a fun-loving, vivacious and charismatic couple.

Kaori Matsutomi is also an ikebana artist and was responsible for one of the glorious flower arrangements in the house in which she used a lot of green to convey the idea of freshness and newness because her husband is a new ambassador. Matsutomi, listing the number of high ranking visits between the two countries, said that he did not want to lose the momentum that these visits have achieved, not just in terms of enhancing the political dialogue and boosting trade relations but also in promoting Japanese culture. One of the best examples of this will be Japan Culture Week taking place in Jerusalem from October 19-25 at venues that include the First Station, the German Colony, the Railway Park, the Cinematheque and the Israel Museum. The event is being held in cooperation with various Jerusalem institutions and organizations, the first and foremost of which is the municipality with Mayor Nir Barkat in the forefront. The comprehensive Japan Culture Week will include music, culinary art, saké, a tea ceremony, calligraphy, ikebana, films, martial arts and lectures on tourism.

Matsutomi warmed the hearts of feminists among his guests when he said that because Japan’s population is shrinking, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to bring more women into leadership roles with an initial target of 30 percent, not so much out of feminist sympathies as out of a social and economic need, the ambassador explained. This is an important aspect of so called “Abenomics,” he added.

When Abe reshuffled his cabinet this month, five of the 19 ministers were women. This month, he hosted the World Assembly for Women in Tokyo.

Japan has been a prominent donor nation in the effort to prepare the Palestinians for statehood once the conflict with Israel is resolved. Matsutomi said that Abe had asked him to compare notes with Israel on regional assessment so as to find a way of working together to enhance peace and stability in the region.

“That is exactly what I intend to achieve,” he declared, as if to underscore the main purpose of his mission in Israel.

■ COINCIDENTALLY, SOON after the results of the Scottish referendum were made public, with the news that the UK was still united, British Ambassador Matthew Gould was able to celebrate by participating for the third consecutive year in the annual Sea of Galilee swim. The first time that he joined other swimmers, he opted for the long route of 3.5 km. that he completed in an impressive two hours and 45 minutes. He sheepishly admitted having overslept last year, as a result of which he had to take the shorter route and subsequently presented certificates to veteran swimmers at the official ceremony.

This year, he once again took the long route and after catching his breath said: “Swimming the Kinneret with thousands of others is both a joy and a challenge for me. I’m delighted I could take part again in this quintessentially Israeli tradition. Doing this swim each year has become an annual tradition for me, and a highlight of my time in Israel.”

Thus it would not surprise anyone if after completing his term here he returns each year to swim again in the Galilee, and to maintain his many personal contacts. This year after emerging triumphantly from the water, Gould was photographed against the backdrop of a Union Jack towel. A couple of months after he first came to Israel, her attended the annual Balfour dinner hosted by the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association sporting a Union Jack kippa.

■ THE APPLE doesn’t fall too far from the tree in the Collins family.

Jerusalem Post columnist and editor of the paper’s International edition, Liat Collins celebrated the bar mitzva of her son Yossi Collins who acquitted himself very well when reading both the Torah and haftarah at the Rimonim Synagogue in the capital’s San Simon neighborhood last Saturday and delivered an address in which he thanked his mother for editing, proving to have inherited her sense of humor.

The synagogue was packed to overflowing due to the fact that many of the bar mitzva boy’s relatives flew in from England and Canada for the occasion. At the kiddush that followed his mother made a speech, in which she said that Yossi had been named in honor of her maternal grandfather, Joe Cornbleet, father of her mother Yehudit, with whom she had been very close, and that she was glad to see the grandchild- grandfather bond repeated in Yossi’s relations with her own father, Chaim Collins, who works in the Post’s archive department. Then came the bonus of a guided tour of the adjacent San Simon Park where Israel Broadcasting Authority news broadcaster Arieh O’Sullivan, who is also a trained tour guide and a former defense reporter for The Jerusalem Post, told participants about the April 1948 Battle of San Simon. He spoke of its impact on the contiguity of Jerusalem and on future military campaigns, with the guiding principle of he who perseveres will win. On the following night when Liat hosted a reception at the Hebrew University’s Maison de France, the event proved to be not only a bar mitzva celebration but a reunion between past and present staff of the Post, some of whom had not seen each other for years and were delighted to have the opportunity to catch up.

greerfc@gmail.com

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