Prior to US Secretary of State John Kerry’s arrival at the President’s Residence on Tuesday, presidential staff were busy sweeping and vacuuming the red carpets and picking up the leaves in the area of the pergola under which all guests pass as they enter the main reception hall.
Even before President Reuven Rivlin went outside to wait for his guest, one of several cats that prowl through the grounds of the presidential compound had settled on the main red carpet.
Jerusalem is famous for its cat community, and several cats have made themselves at home inside and outside the building in the presidential compound. It’s very difficult, even in up-market neighborhoods, to get rid of the cats, but the compensating factor is that where there are cats, there’s an absence of rats.
The cat was not the only four-legged creature to greet the US secretary of state during his visit this week. When Kerry met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, they were joined by the prime minister’s dog, Kaya.
■ PRIZE-WINNING Yiddish poet Rivka Basman Ben-Haim was present on Wednesday at both Yiddish Now sessions at Kisufim, the Jerusalem Conference of Jewish Writers and Poets.
The first session was conducted almost entirely in Yiddish, where the seven-member panel – including moderator Mendy Cahan, the founder of Yung Yidish – originated from six different countries, though most have been living for many years in Israel. Cahan is originally from Belgium; Basman grew up in Lithuania; Moyshe Lemster was born in Lipkan, Bessarabia, which today is part of Moldova, but which used to be governed by Romania; Gilles Rozier is French and writes in both French and Yiddish; Daniel Galay, who heads Leyvik House in Tel Aviv, is originally from Argentina; and Velvl Chernin and Dov-Ber Kerler were both born in Moscow and speak Yiddish with heavy Russian accents.
Kerler, who is the son of the famous Yiddish poet and dissident Yosef Kerler, used to live in Israel, is a graduate of the Hebrew University, writes under the pen name of Boris Karloff, and is now a professor of Yiddish literature and language in the US. All of the above are well known in international Yiddish circles and are frequently invited to conferences and special Yiddish events all over the world.
Basman, a spry 90-year-old Holocaust survivor who has been living in Israel since 1947, and was described as the matriarch of Yiddish poets, said that she had once seen a share market advertisement for a somewhat shaky investment, in which the text read: “This share is like Yiddish. It’s always dying but never dead.”
■ EXPERTS IN public relations warn against sharing a platform with children or dogs, because they will upstage the star and steal the show. In the case of the eight-and-ahalf- months-old son of Mendy and Hemda Cahan, this was not quite true, although he certainly was an attention-getter.
On stage at Yung Yidish in Tel Aviv with his father almost since the time he was born, Yomi (an acronym for his full triple-barreled proper name) is accustomed to audiences and therefore doesn’t fidget and cry like other children his age, and he remained fully awake throughout. He was extraordinarily well behaved at both Yiddish sessions at Kisufim.
He was also proclaimed a symbol for Yiddish continuity. After all, if he grows up in Yung Yidish, Yiddish will be part of his DNA.
■ THE YIDDISH poets and writers got together again on Thursday night at Leyvik House in Tel Aviv, where Chernin was the recipient of the prestigious Rubinlicht Award for Contemporary Yiddish Poetry; and next month on December 25, most of them will come together again at Leyvik House for the 100th anniversary of the death of beloved Yiddish writer Y.L. Peretz. A few days later, on December 29, Basman will add to her considerable collection of prizes when she receives the National Authority for Yiddish Award at a ceremony to be held at the Einav Center in Tel Aviv, in the presence of Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev.
■ SINCE HIS arrival on his first-ever visit to Israel, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has made an extremely favorable impression on everyone with whom he has met. His easy manner and broad grin have endeared him to almost everyone, though there was a slight fracas when he visited Yad Vashem. Initially unwilling to don a kippa, he was finally persuaded, but did everything in his power to evade being photographed in it.
Someone from the Greek Embassy later explained unofficially that it wasn’t that Tsipras was averse to wearing a kippa, but it was an unfortunate fact that the last thing he needed when he returned home was to have his rivals call him the Zionist prime minister.
Posting details of their meeting on his Facebook page, Netanyahu wrote: “This was a positive meeting, and I am sure that we will deepen our friendship even more in the coming years.”
Netanyahu added that Israel and Greece are widening cooperation in energy, research, technology, culture, education, youth exchanges, political dialogue and diplomacy, counterterrorism, public security, maritime transport and tourism.
National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, who had an almost unprecedented two-hour meeting with the Greek prime minister, told Israel Radio’s Aryeh Golan that he was the most amiable and pleasant prime minister that he had ever met.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, after his meeting with Tsipras, wrote on his Facebook page: “It’s no wonder that Time magazine listed the prime minister of Greece as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. I just concluded a riveting meeting with him about the financial challenges confronting Greece as well as the security challenges facing Israel, and I’m pleased that the cooperation between the two countries continues to increase.”
As for Rivlin, he was pleased as punch to meet a fellow democrat from the country that gave democracy to the world. In fact, he was so thrilled that after posing for the customary pre-discussion photos, he leaned forward in the midst of a discussion on democracy to once more shake the Greek prime minister’s hand.
■ RELATIONS WITH Argentina are also likely to improve. Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page on Wednesday that he had called the president-elect of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, to congratulate him on his election victory and told him that he expected that Israel’s relations with Argentina will become closer. Macri assured Netanyahu that relations between Argentina and Israel will now change for the better and that there will be wider cooperation. Netanyahu invited Macri to visit Israel.
■ ANYONE WHOSE radio is opened to a news-oriented station 24/7 cannot help but be amazed at the number of non-Israeli people living abroad who speak fluent Hebrew.
Almost every time there is an event of major international interest anywhere in the world, there is some local person who can be interviewed in Hebrew.
When Eliezer Ben-Yehuda revived the spoken Hebrew language just over 130 years ago, it is doubtful that he thought that it would catch on so quickly and so intensively in Diaspora communities. It may have entered his mind in 1904 when he became co-founder and president of the Va’ad Halashon, which in 1920 subsequently became the Academy of the Hebrew Language, but it was difficult enough promoting Hebrew in the Land of Israel without worrying about an overriding common language for Jews of the Diaspora, many of whom spoke either Yiddish or Ladino.
Although there were Jewish day schools in the Diaspora before the advent of the State of Israel, they did not really begin to flourish till afterward, and in pre-state times paid far less attention to Hebrew than they do today.
In some parts of the world, such as the United States, there are academic organizations and institutions that preserve and promote the Hebrew language. One such institution is the Council for Hebrew Language and Culture in North America, which this month honored Prof. Avraham Holtz, a resident of New York, with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the founding conference of the National Association of Hebrew Teachers, in Newark, New Jersey.
Holtz was recognized for his invaluable contribution to the study, advancement, and dissemination of the Hebrew Language worldwide. He has influenced generations of students throughout his decades of teaching at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Even though most instruction at JTS was given in English, Holtz taught his courses in Hebrew, demonstrating to a new generation how Hebrew could work as an educational medium in the classroom.
Holtz himself was living proof that being born and raised in America was not a bar to achieving free intellectual expression in Hebrew. Academy of the Hebrew Language president Prof. Moshe Bar-Asher was also present at the conference to hear the keynote presentation by Prof. Vardit Ringvald of the Hebrew School in Middlebury College, a private liberal arts college in Vermont that dates back to 1800. Bar-Asher also contributed to the Israeli input in professional sessions and pedagogic workshops on the teaching of Hebrew.
The mission of the Council for Hebrew Language and Culture in North America is to empower and promote the Hebrew language and Israeli culture in North America through conferences, special events and other initiatives related to Hebrew culture.
■ THE TERRORIST attack that resulted in the death of Ezra Schwartz from Sharon, Massachusetts, who was studying at Yeshivat Ashreinu, has hit closer to home with regard to the 60 students attending the Tiferet midrasha in Ramat Beit Shemesh for their gap year.
The murder was a difficult blow for them, says Rabbi Elie Mayer, the dean of the Tiferet midrasha.
Hit particularly hard emotionally were Leah Feder and Atara Saltzman, Tiferet students who had been classmates of Schwartz at the Maimonides Jewish Day School in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Two other Tiferet students, Melanie Afriat and Rebecca Hagler, even though they had not known Schwartz personally, wanted something positive in his memory to create a little light in such darkness. It was important to them to do something in the spirit of the kindness and dedication to Israel’s soldiers that Schwartz personified.
Now, in Jewish tradition it is customary to recite a scriptural verse symbolizing the name of the deceased. The verse should begin with the first letter of the person’s name and end with the last. Taking this a step further, the students decided to create a kippa that incorporates what they call “Ezra’s verse.”
Taken from Isaiah 33:10, it states: “Now I will rise, said Hashem; now I will be exalted; now I will lift Myself up.” Rashi’s comments: “Because of the many evils the enemy perpetrated against My people, I will no longer restrain Myself; now I will rise, be raised and be exalted.”
Their idea is to crochet these kippot and to sell them to yeshiva and high school students in Schwartz’s memory and to use the proceeds toward providing for the soldiers, just as Schwartz had done at the Pina Hama (Warm Corner) just before he was murdered.
Afriat and Hagler started a campaign on gofundme.com and in less than two days raised in excess of $4,000. Their initiative has gone viral. Anyone who wants to be part of the Ezra Kippa project can check out the details via the website https://www.gofundme.com/htbqeatw?rcid=09a4b65fa5194c- 8bae9d74f1dfc13ddc
■ EACH YEAR, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem hosts an ecumenical Hanukka-Christmas reception with kosher food to ensure that everyone present can partake of the refreshments. This year, there’s a fairly wide gap between Hanukka and Christmas, so out of respect for his Jewish friends and colleagues, Dr. Jürgen Bühler, the executive director of the ICEJ, is hosting the reception during the actual Hanukka festival.
But before that the ICEJ is holding a symposium in Europe as part of its concerns about the EU directive for the labeling of products from disputed territories, something that Bühler says will “undermine economic coexistence” between Palestinians and Israelis and “harm those working towards peace.”
For this reason the ICEJ is holding a symposium on the labeling law in Brussels on December 2 in cooperation with members of the European Parliament and representatives from dozens of ICEJ branches throughout Europe. It will call upon members of the European Parliament to take a different approach toward finding a solution between the conflict parties and to foster economic cooperation, stability and peace between Israelis and Palestinians in the area.
“This labeling law will only divide Israelis and Palestinians further,” said Bühler.
“Coexistence is better achieved by establishing factories and business partnerships in areas where Palestinians and Israelis live side by side. This highly politicized directive will only end up hurting those it claims to help,” Bühler continued. “All the evidence indicates that the businesses being targeted employ tens of thousands of Palestinians and contribute to the well-being of all those living in the affected areas, both Jews and Arabs alike.”
“What’s more, it’s a one-sided law that unjustly singles out Israel and violates the rules of the World Trade Organization. Why is the EU unwilling to issue similar directives for goods originating in northern Cyprus or the Western Sahara, territories illegally occupied by Turkey and Morocco? It’s a double standard,” declared German-born Bühler, underscoring that it reminds many Israelis of the discriminatory laws passed in Germany in the 1930s.
“If the EU really wants to promote peace, they should stop penalizing those Israelis and Palestinians who are working together to make a living. Instead, they should provide greater incentives for them to forge deeper bonds of cooperation, without using labeling laws which could further the anti-Israeli propaganda that is sweeping Europe.”
The symposium in Brussels will be hosted by Hannu Takkula, a Finnish politician and member of the European Parliament with the Center Party of Finland, and Bastiaan (Bas) Belder, a Dutch politician and member of the European Parliament with the SGP, who is also part of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group and sits on the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Bühler will be one of the keynote speakers at the symposium. The ICEJ represents millions of Christians, churches and denominations, seeking to demonstrate friendship to Israel and to be a reconciling influence between Jews, Christians and Arabs.
■ THE POLISH Embassy, in conjunction with the Israel-Poland Friendship Association, also hosts an annual Hanukka celebration, which in previous years was held at the home of the ambassador; but this year, on the night of the lighting of the fourth candle, Wednesday, December 9, it will host a concert at the Arison Hall in Tel Aviv, featuring Liran Saporta and Svika Pick.
While it is generally known that Pick was born in Poland, what is not as widely known is that he is also one of Poland’s honorary consuls in Israel and is a frequent guest at receptions hosted by Polish Ambassador Jacek Chodorowicz and by the Polish Institute.
Pick will be singing several of his own compositions.
It is doubtful whether he will sing anything in Polish. By the way, the traditional Hanukka doughnuts, which started appearing in Israeli stores almost a month ago, originate from Poland, where they are called paczki.