Grapevine: A Jewish melting pot

"To see such a thorny issue resolved, through discussion and compromise, underlines the huge importance of building bridges and connections across the Jewish world."

February 4, 2016 17:29
4 minute read.
Jewish art

Eliahou Eric Bokobza’s latest exhibition at Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People. (photo credit: RON ARDEH)


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 THE MUSEUM of the Jewish People, situated on the campus of Tel Aviv University and known in Hebrew as Beit Hatfutsot, has never made any distinctions between different streams of Judaism or Jews of different ethnic or national backgrounds. Since its inception, the museum has been a Jewish melting pot in which Jewish diversity is woven into a common thread of Jewish identity.

Thus it was no surprise that on the day following the government’s decision to have a section of the Western Wall available to Conservative and Reform Jews to engage in their own style of prayer and enable men and women to pray together, Irina Nevzlin, chair of the museum’s board of directors, issued a statement commending the government’s landmark decision.

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She said, “It is a cause for celebration not only for those who will soon choose to pray at the new area of the Western Wall but also for everyone who cherishes the idea of a Jewish and democratic State of Israel. With this decision, millions of Jews around the world can again feel that they have a place in Jerusalem and a place among the Jewish people.”

She made the point that “To see such a thorny issue resolved, through discussion and compromise, underlines the huge importance of building bridges and connections across the Jewish world. That’s our focus at The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot, so we’re thrilled to also see this outcome at the Western Wall.”

Nevzlin added that credit must go to all those who were involved in the long discussions that led to this happy compromise.

■ IN TEL Aviv this week, hamburger aficionados said “Welcome back” to Burger King, which has made a return to the Holy Land after a six-year absence.

Headquartered in Florida, with franchises in some 80 countries, Burger King is one of the largest fast-food and hamburger chains in the world.


It initially courted the Israeli market in 1993 under the joint ownership of Yair Hasson, Meshulam Riklis and Kamor Motors. Five years later, Riklis and Hasson bought out Kamor Motors for a reported $14.8 million. In 2001, Riklis bought out Hasson and thus became the sole owner of the Israeli franchise.

In 2003, Orgad Holdings, which already held the franchise for Burger Ranch, signed a franchise agreement with the Burger King parent company. After taking over, it converted all 70-plus Burger King restaurants into Burger Ranch.

In June of last year, it was announced that a group of French investors, headed by Tunisian-born French businessman and former president of the European Jewish Congress Pierre Besnainou, who has numerous real-estate and communications investments in Israel and is a partner in the Carmel Winery and Chefa Meals, would relaunch Burger King in Israel.

The first Burger King outlet is located on Ibn Gvirol Street in Tel Aviv, next to Rabin Square. Other outlets planned for the immediate future will open in Dizengoff Center, the Azrieli Mall and Ramat Hahayal in Tel Aviv plus another in Beersheba. The aim is to have at least 50 branches throughout the country within the next five years.

The CEO of the new Burger King chain is Steven Benchimol, who is married to Sarah Besnainou, an entrepreneur whose personal passion is jewelry. An avid collector, she is also the guiding light behind the Etername luxury brand of jewelry, which she founded and is featured in the top fashion and lifestyle magazines of Europe.

■ AT THE forefront of the campaign by the Druse community to acquire more building rights in order to accommodate its growing population is Rafik Halabi, the mayor of Daliat al-Carmel. A former prize-winning journalist who worked for many years with Israel Television before it changed its name to Channel 1, Halabi was the first Druse to work on camera in Hebrew-language television.

Not only that, but he covered the rise of the settlement movement in the West Bank from day one and also covered the Palestinians. Both were initially suspicious of him but gradually began to realize that he was not on anyone’s side, he was simply trying to be a professional journalist who wanted to present both sides of the story and was blessed with the linguistic ability to be able to conduct normal conversations in either Arabic or Hebrew in both Palestinian and Israeli circles. He later became head of the Channel 1 News Division.

Now, together with fellow Druse, Halabi is up in arms about the demolition order in relation to housing units that were built by young Druse without government permits. Familiar with the story of Jewish settlement, Halabi is angry that the government refuses to recognize that the younger Druse population needs housing. The difference between the Jews in the West Bank and the Druse in the Golan Heights, he says, is that the Jews who went to the West Bank built on land that was not necessarily theirs, whereas Druse have lived in the Golan Heights for centuries and the land that they build on is their land. They were simply not granted a building permit.

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