Visiting Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales used to be a professional comedian and therefore knows how to win the hearts of his audience. He certainly won the hearts of Israeli journalists on Monday at a welcome reception hosted by President Reuven Rivlin, when he thanked all the journalists present for conveying to the world the story of the bilateral relationship between Guatemala and Israel, including his visit. Morales mentioned the journalists again in the evening when speaking at the state dinner that Rivlin hosted in his honor.
Among the dignitaries invited to attend the morning reception line are the heads or senior representatives of the various faiths in Israel, the most senior being Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III, who unfailingly attends, unless he happens to be out of the country.
Other representatives are from the Catholic Church, the Bahá’í community and the Muslim spiritual leadership. Sometimes there are also representatives of the Protestant Church and the Druse community, but never a rabbi unless the visiting head of state happens to be from the United States of America.
According to a senior Foreign Ministry representative, invitations are always sent to the chief rabbis’ office and to all government ministers, “but they don’t respond.”
This time there was an additional lacuna.
Flags of the nation of the visiting president are usually suspended in the street leading to the President’s Residence, but there were no Guatemalan flags in sight outside the building.
The hanging of the flags is the responsibility of the Jerusalem Municipality. A municipality official told The Jerusalem Post that the flags are hung in coordination with the Foreign Ministry, and that she would check to see whether the ministry had in fact notified the municipality of the visit of the Guatemalan president. A few minutes later she sent an email explaining that the municipality had been notified late the previous night, and only on Monday morning had begun putting up 180 Guatemalan flags at the entrance to the city and points elsewhere. In fact, in the evening there were flags leading to the President’s Residence as well as at the entrance to the city.
The menu card at state dinners is always bilingual, usually Hebrew and English, but this time it was Spanish and Hebrew. The meal was very tasty, but the waiters and waitresses were for the most part unprofessional, making the all too common mistake so frequently seen at Israeli events. For state dinners and luncheons, there are always outside caterers.
The indoor caterers, who are part of the regular staff, are 100% professional, but they provide only refreshments that are served just before an event, or they bring them to the president’s guests when there is a relatively small meeting. But at the state dinner the waitresses served two people at a table for 10 and then went off and served some other table. Then another waitress would serve two or three people at the first table and she would go off, leaving the rest of the people at that table unattended. That’s a big no-no at any time, but more so at a state dinner where protocol demands that no one at any table starts eating until at least three people have been served. Not everyone is aware of protocol – and they just dig in, but the serving staff should definitely know what the serving order is. Also, despite the fact that women have supposedly broken through the glass ceiling, the waitresses tended to defer to the males at the table, and served them first.
It’s a miracle that Rivlin and Morales were able to eat anything, considering the number of people who approached the head table in order to be photographed with the two presidents.
After the main course, Rivlin walked his guest around the room and introduced him to everyone on a handshake basis, and since Morales was so well disposed to the media, the members of the fourth estate also got to shake his hand.
Morales brought his wife, son and mother to Israel, and told Rivlin that his mother had been dreaming for a very long time of visiting the Holy Land. Earlier in the day, he told Tourism Minister Yariv Levin that it would be wonderful if tens of thousands of Guatemalans who have been dreaming of coming to Jerusalem could realize that dream.
Entertainment at the state dinner was provided by guitar virtuoso, singer and composer Shlomo Idov, who sang one of the most popular of Guatemalan songs, “Luna de Xelaju.”
When it was announced, the members of Morales’ entourage applauded loudly, and even more so after he sang. Guests included Guatemala’s Ambassador-designate Dr. Sara Solas, who is due to present her credentials on December 12.
■ THOUGH STILL a comparatively young man, Slovak journalist and filmmaker Martin Mozer, who is based in Bratislava, is a journalist of the old school in that he tenaciously goes after a story, tracking every lead, no matter how obscure.
One day he came upon a list of 10 boys who were sent from Bratislava via Kindertransport to England. No one whom he contacted in Bratislava had any knowledge of them, so he wrote to Yad Vashem and discovered that some of these boys, now senior citizens, were living in Israel. One happened to be former Post reporter Paul Kohn, who in response to a letter from Mozer wrote that he did not know who organized the Kindertransport from Bratislava on May 31, 1939. (Kohn subsequently discovered that it was Nicholas Winton.) Kohn, who died in 2014, was actually born in Austria to an Austrian father. His mother was from Bratislava, and returned there with him in November 1937. His father joined them after the Anschluss in 1938, and they lived with his grandmother Bertha Freund, whose house was opposite the Jewish hospital.
Although Kohn was unable to help Mozer, someone else on the list, Lipman Kolker, who lived in Karmiel, proved to be a mine of information, not so much about the boys but about someone else, who had been heavily involved in rescue operations but had faded into anonymity. When Mozer interviewed Kolker in Karmiel five years ago, the name Aron Grunhut kept cropping up in the conversation.
Mozer had never heard of him, and when he returned to Bratislava, no one there had heard of him. And yet this same Aron Grunhut had rescued more than 1,300 Jews, using courage and clever, unorthodox means with which to do so.
Grunhut came from a devoutly Orthodox family. He was a successful businessman, and in addition to his various business interests he also worked for the Jewish burial society, was on the board of directors of the Jewish hospital, and was active in several Jewish organizations.
When Winton began organizing railway transports of children out of Czechoslovakia, Grunhut met his representative in Prague and arranged for 10 Jewish children to be included in the list. Among them was one of his sons, Benny. The boys arrived in London in June 1939, and all 10 survived the war.
Meanwhile, Grunhut was busy on other fronts and chartered two river steamboats, the Queen Elizabeth and the Tsar Dusan, which took a total of 1,365 Jewish passengers from Slovakia, Hungary and Austria, and with great difficulty sailed from Bratislava to the Romanian Port of Sulina. They were originally supposed to disembark in Bulgaria and continue their journey by train, but Bulgarian officials would not allow this, and only convincing arguments by Grunhut persuaded the Bulgarians to allow the ships to continue to Romania, where they transferred to a cargo ship, the Noemi Julia, which took them to Haifa. All in all, they had been at sea for 83 days. Somehow, Grunhut was able to arrange for them to legally enter the country, which was then under British Mandate control.
He himself returned to Bratislava, to work in the Jewish Central Office and in the Resistance.
In 1943 he was arrested and imprisoned by the Slovak authorities. His wife and youngest son escaped from Slovakia to Hungary, where Grunhut joined them, following his release from prison. In Hungary the family lived under a false identity, and despite the ever-lurking danger, Grunhut made contact with the Hungarian Resistance and was able to organize a railway transport of Jewish refugees, which he also funded.
In 1944, the Hungarian secret police learned of his activities and attempted to hunt him down. He found a haven with Emanuel Zima, a non-Jewish fireman, who hid him in a cellar.
The family returned to Bratislava after the war but, with the Communist takeover, decided that it was not the place for them and headed for Israel. Nonetheless, Grunhut maintained contact with the remaining Jewish community of Bratislava, and sent both physical and ritual sustenance from Israel to Bratislava’s Jews.
After putting together Grunhut’s story, Mozer made it his business to find some of the people who owed their very existence to Grunhut. One of them is Rabbi Yitzchok Tuvia Weiss, the chief rabbi of the Eda Haredit in Jerusalem. Mozer also discovered Benny Goren-Grunhut, an architect resident in America, who is the only one of Grunhut’s five sons who is still living.
When Mozer first approached him, Goren-Grunhut thought that he was some kind of a crackpot and all but dismissed him.
But Mozer persevered, and the upshot was a traveling exhibition supported by the Slovak government, telling the story of a forgotten Jewish hero.
The exhibition, which began its journey in Bratislava in September 2014, continued on to Budapest in March 2015, and last week opened in Jerusalem’s House of Quality, which was attended by former residents of Bratislava and/or their descendants, including people who had arrived in Haifa on the Noemi Julia.
Slovak Ambassador Peter Hulenyi said that the event seemed like a family reunion. In many respects it was. Goren-Grunhut and members of his immediate family flew in from the United States. Other close family members, some of whom had not been together in 15 years, came in from the UK. And then there were the Israelis.
Mozer noted that Aron Grunhut had not received the recognition that he deserved, and that even though he was receiving it posthumously, it was important to recognize and record what he had done. An extremely emotional Goren-Grunhut called on members of his family to join him at the microphone, identifying them not only by name but as the grandchild or great-grandchild of Aron Grunhut. He was very touched that so many had traveled so far to pay their respects to his father. Among those present was Benjamin Kleinwald, 92, arguably the oldest surviving beneficiary of Grunhut’s courage and generosity of spirit.
■ IF JERUSALEM Mayor Nir Barkat decides not to run for a third term, there may be a surprise contender, in addition to the known wolves baying at the door. Eighth-generation Jerusalemite Vered Kollek, who lives in the United States but who returns to her native city at least three times a year, is seriously considering coming home and restoring the Kollek name to Jerusalem’s City Hall. Her late father was a first cousin to legendary mayor Teddy Kollek.
A film and television producer, scriptwriter, author and public relations executive, Kollek – who went to school at Jerusalem’s famed Gymnasia Rehavia, which was also attended by well-known personalities such as Reuven Rivlin, Dan Meridor, Amoz Oz, Matan Vilnai, Nachman Shai and A.B. Yehoshua – knows most of the who’s who in the capital.
In Israel this week to attend memorial ceremonies for her brother and her aunt, she floated the idea of running for mayor with local journalists Sarah Davidovich and Eti Salansky, as well as with Sima Zino, deputy mayor for senior citizen affairs, who is also a relative of a relative of Kollek, and with Ruth Nissim, the wife of former justice minister Moshe Nissim. All four have been friends of Kollek since her youth, and said that if she was a genuine candidate they would help her to run her campaign.
■ SIX YEARS ago, Jerusalem’s Hazvi Yisrael- Kehillat Komemiyut published a book about its history The information, compiled and written by Shoshana Dolgin Be’er and edited by Robert Binder, had been a labor of love undertaken over a period of several years before the book saw the light of day.
Some months ago, Dolgin-Be’er, noting that the 40th anniversary of the congregation was fast approaching, suggested to current chairman Dr. Kenneth Collins that it would be appropriate to celebrate this occasion. He agreed and arrangements got underway for a gala dinner, which was chaired by members Stuart Forman and Auri Spigelman. The dinner, last Sunday at the Inbal Hotel, was attended by past and present members. Most of the past members had moved away from the neighborhood, but were very happy to see once-familiar faces yet again.
Aside from that, Hazvi Yisrael has three different congregations on three levels of its building, conducting services at different times, which makes it easy for early risers and late risers to join a quorum of worshipers.
Hazvi Yisrael is actually a merger of two congregations, one primarily East European and the other of immigrants from English-speaking countries, mostly Americans, who came with different styles and different traditions, but somehow found a modus vivendi, much credit for which was given to Reuven Asch, who was the congregation’s longest continuous- serving chairman, though Stuart Dove served for roughly the same period of time in three separate nonconsecutive terms.
The event was designed to honor the founders of the congregation, primarily Dr. Hillel Blondheim, 98, who was given a citation, and also recited the grace after meals; and long-serving spiritual leader Rabbi Avigdor Burstein, who is on the verge of retirement, and whose succinct sermons carry a lot of weight in only a few words.
Also honored was the congregation’s beadle Menachem Lewinsky, who was also celebrating his 60th birthday; without him and his wife, Chani, nothing in the synagogue would get done. The dinner committee looked inward to select a speaker and chose Israel Prize laureate Rabbi Prof. Avraham Steinberg, who is an expert on medical ethics and a long-standing member of the congregation.
Commenting that unlike master of ceremonies David Zwebner, who has a South African accent, or other speakers who spoke with American, Scots and British accents, he would speak with an Israeli accent, Steinberg, who was born in Germany and speaks excellent English, actually has neither a German nor an Israeli accent, and it would indeed be difficult to pinpoint his origins just by listening to him speak. His lecture was delivered with keen observation of the human condition, interesting descriptions and riveting information about rabbinic disputes over issues such as time of death – especially with regard to organ transplants, and abortion in cases such as the detection of Tay-Sachs disease in the embryo.
In such instances there is a wide gap between Judaism and Catholicism, Steinberg pointed out. Whereas Catholicism gives priority to the life of the child, in Judaism the life of the mother comes first.
Jewish and general medical ethics can sometimes be at odds with each other, something that Steinberg mentioned in passing without elaborating too much – but perhaps that may be the subject of a future lecture.
■ ONE OF Israel’s most beloved presidents was fifth president Yitzhak Navon, who after completing his term served as education minister and later headed the Authority for Ladino.
There were hundreds of people at his funeral a year ago, but this week the balcony overlooking the graves of Navon and his first wife, Ofira, was empty, and there were few officials.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had been scheduled to attend, announced on Saturday night that he would not attend. Prof.
Arye Naor, who had been cabinet secretary to Menachem Begin during Navon’s presidency, attended with his wife, Supreme Court President Miriam Naor. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog also attended, as did former prime minister Ehud Barak, who sat next to Herzog.
Despite a long friendship with Miriam Eshkol and a tribute to her on his Facebook page, Netanyahu was also absent from her funeral this week, though Sara Netanyahu did attend and placed flowers on the grave in her name and that of the prime minister. She also voiced sorrow that Miriam Eshkol, who had labored so hard for a visitors’ center in memory of her late husband, prime minister Levi Eshkol, who died in office, did not live to participate in the opening, which is scheduled for some time in December. The Naors and Herzog were also present at Miriam Eshkol’s funeral.
■ IT’S A wonder that Paul Israel, executive director of the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, can maintain his equilibrium.
Notwithstanding the geographic distance between Israel and Australia, trade and academic missions are coming to Israel at a steady pace, often back to back, as has more or less happened over the past month. Special itineraries, which include meetings with Israeli specialists in various fields that are of particular interest to members of delegations, have to be organized along with special events and tours, and there’s always a myriad of changes along the way, but the even-tempered Israel takes it all in his stride, always seems to be relaxed and unhurried and never loses his cool. He’s one of those rare individuals who somehow succeeds in not only satisfying everyone but earns heaps of praise in the process. He is yet to be recognized for his tremendous contribution to bilateral relations that go well beyond economic, trade and academic ties. Goodwill is difficult to measure, but it’s something that he exudes, and it becomes contagious.
This past week he was dealing with an AgriFood delegation, led by Peter Schutz, chairman of Food Innovation Australia Ltd., and before the delegation leaves the country, Israel will be welcoming a medical delegation that is scheduled to arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday, led by Prof. Peter Leedman, director of the Harry Perkin Institute of Medical Research in Western Australia.
At the traditional Friday night dinner for the AgriFood group, Schutz, who is not Jewish, said that he and his wife had been to Poland before coming to Israel and had visited Auschwitz, the area of the Warsaw Ghetto and the magnificent Polin Musem, which is dedicated to the history of Jews in Poland, but none of these things could compare to the emotions they felt at Yad Vashem. Other members of the group also said that the visit to Yad Vashem had been an extraordinarily moving experience. Mission members also attended Friday night services at the Great Synagogue and later met with choir master Elli Jaffe at the King David Hotel.
Also present was Prof. Menachem Steiner, rector of the Jerusalem College of Technology, who spoke about the college’s segregated campuses, and said that in the women’s campus, there were 1,400 ultra-Orthodox women studying engineering, and some of them are mothers of eight children.
As far as the mission was concerned, Schutz said that one of Australia’s goals is to be a leader in high-quality and healthy food products.
Israeli innovation in the food industry is something admired by Australians, and they had come to look and to learn.
■ AN ITEM in the Post and other publications about 30-year-old Egyptian heartthrob Karim Kassem noted that his revelation in the course of an interview with Egyptian television host Mona el-Shazly that is mother was Jewish had not sparked any negative reactions. What the popular actor didn’t say was that his mother, Nadia Haroun, who died two years ago, was the deputy head of the Cairo Jewish community and the sister of Magda Haroun, who became head of the community following the death of her good friend, the community’s former leader Carmel Weinstein in April 2013.
Although she did a lot to save the legacy of Cairo’s once vibrant Jewish community, which today barely exists, Weinstein was also a very patriotic Egyptian, so much so that when she died, Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, who was then president of Egypt, issued a statement mourning her loss and declaring: “She was a dedicated Egyptian who worked tirelessly to preserve Egyptian Jewish heritage and valued, above all else, living and dying in her country, Egypt.”
■ KNESSET SPEAKER Yuli Edelstein will lead runners for the first 5 kilometers of the fourth annual Afikim Jerusalem-to-Eilat relay, which leaves at 6 p.m. on Wednesday from the First Station. Every participating runner must raise at least $2,000 in order to join the pack, and the overall goal is $250,000, which will be used to help children at risk.
Female runners are overwhelmingly outnumbered by males, but one female runner, Gila Rockman, is genetically inclined toward running. Her father and both her brothers are runners. Come to think of it, her husband is also a firstname.lastname@example.org