Although Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin had originally been scheduled to represent the government at the Russian National Day reception at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv, in the final analysis it was newly appointed Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver who shared the stage with Russian Federation Ambassador Alexander Shein.
It was the day after the terrorist attack at Sarona Market, and there seemed to be fewer people present than in years gone by, fewer veterans of the Red Army sporting a plethora of medals and ribbons, and certainly fewer Israeli dignitaries of Russian origin.
Israel’s Russians are fairly punctual people, so much so that many of them arrived half an hour before the stated time of the reception. In the past this was not a problem, and guests either chose to line up in the foyer to shake the ambassador’s hand, or simply went straight to the banquet hall. But this time they were kept at bay by three bodyguards, who refused to let guests cross the threshold from the passageway to the foyer leading to the banquet room, because the ambassador had not yet arrived. Even after he did arrive, guests were still not permitted to move forward.
When they finally did get into the foyer, where there was an impressive exhibition of Russian landscapes, only those guests who could read Cyrillic or who had toured Russia were able to identify the places. There were no explanatory signs in Hebrew or English.
Quite early into the reception, Shein, speaking in Russian, noted that the reception was taking place immediately following the visit to Russia by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who joined Russian President Vladimir Putin in celebrating the 25th anniversary of the renewal of diplomatic relations.
Shein also mentioned the fact that during the visit an agreement had been signed whereby former citizens of the Soviet Union living in Israel, especially those who had fought with the Red Army, would receive Russian pensions.
He said that this was a goodwill gesture by the Russian government, in recognition of the fact that more than one million Russians are living in Israel.
The current period of cooperation between Russia and Israel “is the best in our history,” said Shein. Altogether, some 18 agreements have been signed, he added, noting that Russia and Israel have proven that together they can overcome the most difficult of problems.
Shein stressed Russia’s interest in promoting peace in the Middle East, stating that every nation that respects itself puts a priority on national security and economic growth.
He was pleased to greet Russians living in Israel, and he wished the people of Israel a happy Shavuot.
Landver spoke in Hebrew, and although she has been living in Israel since 1979, her Hebrew was still laced by a pronounced Russian accent. When she expressed her pleasure at being able to join in the celebrations of the 25th anniversary, there was little doubt that she was also referring to her joy at once more holding a ministerial portfolio.
Landver emphasized the role of the Red Army in the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps and the establishment of the State of Israel. Moving into the current era, she said: “We have a deep understanding and respect for each other and cooperate in fighting terrorism.”
The Russians living in Israel represent a human bridge between the two countries, said Landver, concluding her address with greetings in Russian. In previous years she remained silent during the playing of the anthems, but this year, she sang “Hatikva.”
There is no shortage of highly trained and talented Russian musicians and singers in Israel, and in previous years several of them entertained at Russian National Day receptions. But this year they were absent, and the only glimpse that guests received of the superb Russian command of the performing arts were a few video clips of the Bolshoi Ballet.
For many years there has been a dispute as to which country was the first to recognize the nascent State of Israel.
Most people think it was the Americans, and indeed on May 14, 1948, 11 minutes after the proclamation of Israel’s independence, US president Harry S. Truman granted Israel de facto recognition, but it was the Soviet Union that on May 17 gave Israel de jure recognition. It took another six months for the US to give Israel de jure recognition.
As for the 25th anniversary of the renewal of relations, this is not quite accurate, because Israel’s relations were with the USSR and not the Russian Federation, which is a successor state to the USSR. The USSR resumed diplomatic relations with Israel in 1991, with Alexander Bovin, the last ambassador of the USSR, presenting his credentials to president Chaim Herzog in December of that year and, a week later, with the fall of Communism, being accredited as ambassador of the Russian Federation.
The 25th anniversary celebrations continued on Tuesday night of this week at the Jerusalem International Convention Center at Channel 9’s annual People of the Year awards given to Russian immigrants or to Israeli-born members of the Russian community who have distinguished themselves in the fields of security, technology, communications, culture, education, sport and Zionist activity. The event, which was broadcast live on Channel 9, demonstrated the impact of Russian aliya on all aspects of Israeli life.
■ INTERVIEWED BY Liat Regev on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet last Friday in connection with Shavuot being the festival in which there is the reading of the Book of Ruth, the most famous convert in Jewish history, Ori Shechter, a lieutenant colonel in the reserves and the director of Shorashim, which was established by the Triguboff Institute and Tzohar in order to help Jews in Israel to prove their Jewish ancestry, said that he first became involved in the mission of establishing people’s halachically Jewish identities when a Russian immigrant platoon commander came to him a few weeks before his wedding and was concerned that it might not take place because he had no documents to prove his Judaism. Fortunately, tyrant though he was, Josef Stalin insisted on documenting every little detail about people living in the Soviet Union, and because of this, the Shorashim researchers were able to discover that the platoon commander’s grandfather had been a hero of the Red Army who was killed in battle. With this information, it was comparatively easy to discover the identity of his wife and the fact that she was Jewish , and after that it was quite simple to prove the platoon commander’s Jewish identity. He was able to have a proper Jewish wedding not only in the knowledge that he was halachically Jewish but also that he was the grandson of a hero of the Red Army.
Shechter also told of a young woman who wanted to get married. Her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor living in Hungary, had only one document – a letter she had received from Raoul Wallenberg authorizing her application for a protective pass. Tzohar gave the document to Yad Vashem, and it transpired that there was a file on the grandmother through which, with a little extra research, it was proven who she was and in which camp she had been a prisoner.
■ TO ISRAELIS and to Jews around the world, June 6 signifies the anniversary of the beginning of the Six Day War.
To Italian Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, 52, it signifies the date this year in which he was installed as the new custos of the Holy Land, succeeding Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa. The custos is responsible for protecting and maintaining the Christian holy sites and for safeguarding, as much as possible in these turbulent times, the Christian presence in the Middle East.
He is also responsible for coordinating the Easter visits each year by thousands of Catholic pilgrims. Patton’s installation was preceded by a colorful procession through Jerusalem’s Old City.
Patton, who was born in Vigo Meano in the diocese of Trent on December 23, 1963, belongs to the Franciscan Province of St. Anthony in Italy. He has a degree in communication sciences from the Pontifical Salesian University in Rome. In addition to his native Italian, he is fluent in English and Spanish.
■ INTERNATIONALLY ACCLAIMED author, storyteller and filmmaker Etgar Keret has been named as the 2015 recipient of the Charles Bronfman Prize in recognition of his work conveying Jewish values across cultures and imparting a humanitarian vision throughout the world.
The prize was established in 2004 by Ellen Bronfman Hauptman and Stephen Bronfman together with their spouses Andrew Hauptam and Claudine Blondin Bronfman in honor of their father and father-in-law, mega philanthropist Charles Bronfman. The prize is awarded to people who share Bronfman’s values and his commitment to young people and their potential as change-makers. Past recipients have been recognized for their significant contributions to a diverse range of causes, including refugee rights, poverty, education, disability rights, the environment, healthcare and workforce development for veterans. The prize is accompanied by a $100,000 award.
Keret, 48, who is best known for his short stories, graphic novels, film and television projects, has been one of Israel’s most popular writers since his first collection of short stories was published in 1992. He is one of the most successful Israeli writers worldwide, with works published in 46 countries and translated into 41 languages, including Farsi. He has also been interviewed, reviewed and published by major newspapers and magazines in the United States and Europe.
Speaking on behalf of the founders of the prize and its international panel of judges, Stephen Bronfman said: “We recognize that humanitarian work is increasingly taking new forms, and this marks the first time the Charles Bronfman Prize has been awarded to an individual who uses storytelling as a medium through which he challenges and inspires the way people think about themselves and the world. Etgar Keret is an important international voice who speaks of the Jewish condition in contemporary terms and demonstrates that writers can play an influential and critical role within society.”
Charles Bronfman had a more elaborate comment, saying, “In a dangerous world, Etgar Keret portrays people who have the capacity to empathize with the other, to hear the other, and to find compassion for the other. He counters dehumanization and inspires his readers with warmth and humor and original thinking. He encourages others to make the world a better place and translates the lessons of the Holocaust to a new generation. Etgar’s ability to innovate and collaborate with others involved in creative endeavors fully embodies the values and spirit of the prize, and I am delighted by his selection.”
In voicing his appreciation, Keret said: “When I write, I try not to preach to my readers but to put them in front of a text presenting an incomplete world, thus turning the reading process itself into a hevruta (fellowship) study.”
It should be noted that various members of the extensive Bronfman family have contributed generously to educational, cultural and social welfare projects in Canada, Israel and the United States and continue to do so. Charles Bronfman is a co-founder of Taglit-Birthright, and his nephew Matthew is the chairman of the international steering committee of Limmud FSU. The Bronfmans not only give generously to Israel but also aid Israel’s economy through heavy investments in Israeli enterprises.
■ AUSTRALIA HAS a 100-year history of involvement with the people of Israel.
Next year it will join in the centenary celebrations of the Battle for Beersheba, in which its soldiers played a valiant role, paving the way for the Balfour Declaration a few days later. Next year will also mark the 70th anniversary of the United Nations resolution for the partition of Palestine, in which Australia was the first country to vote yes. After last Wednesday night’s terrorist attack in Sarona Market, members of the Australian Embassy staff, headed by Ambassador Dave Sharma, showed solidarity with Israel and with Tel Aviv, where the embassy is located, by going to the Max Brenner restaurant for lunch and posting a photo and comment on the embassy’s Facebook page which is headlined Australia in Israel.
The Facebook comment reads: “Last night’s terrorist attack at Sarona Market was felt deeply by the Australian Embassy.
It’s a place we have all spent many happy hours with family and friends, so seeing the tragedy unfold last night was profoundly shocking.
“We came here to have lunch today to show the people of Israel that we feel your pain, mourn your loss, and stand alongside you as you confront such terror.
“Israelis are tough and resilient people, and we see this here at Sarona today.
The mood is sad, but people are determined to continue living their lives and not giving in to terror. We in Australia applaud and admire this resolve. And we are showing our support for this spirit by coming here today.”
The French Embassy on its Facebook page had a stark expression of solidarity, a white-on-black notice that stated “Je suis Tel Aviv.”
Jerusalem-born Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai, who heads the Jerusalem lobby in the Knesset, in an email to Labor Party members, wrote: “We are all Tel Aviv.”
■ ASIDE FROM spontaneous reactions by members of the diplomatic community, a group of ambassadors was taken to Sarona by Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, who has been acting abroad as a quasi foreign minister, and he’s now doing it on the home front as well.
Taking ambassadors to sites of terrorist attacks used to be the task of the Foreign Ministry, but Lapid has now arrogated it to himself.
■ THERE WAS great excitement in Sakhnin on Monday night as Arab and Druse notables from around the country gathered to welcome President Reuven Rivlin to the traditional iftar feast marking the breaking of the fast of Ramadan.
Rivlin enjoys enormous popularity in the Arab and Druse communities, not only because he has made a point of visiting them several times during the two years of his presidency, but also because from the time of his inaugural speech in the Knesset to the present day, he has advocated equality and fraternity for all citizens of Israel, regardless of their faith or ethnic backgrounds.
“You are a sensitive and caring person,” he was told by Sakhnin Mayor Mazen Ghanayem, who spoke out against the terrorist attack in Sarona Market and passionately declared: “We all condemn in the strongest terms all acts of violence.
The distance from Ramallah to Jerusalem is just 15 minutes,” he said as he beseeched Rivlin and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to find the courage and take a historic step from Ramallah to Jerusalem or Jerusalem to Ramallah and work together toward a just and sustainable peace, for which history would reward them.
Arab community leaders are working to promote employment, equal education and peace, said Ghanayem, who deplored the fact that, earlier in the day, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon had announced in the Knesset that the fiveyear economic plan for the Arab community has been postponed. Ghanayem asked Rivlin to continue to work toward bringing the plan to fruition, and Rivlin undertook to do so.
In his own address to Arab and Druse civic and spiritual leaders, Rivlin spoke of how people in Israel had been shocked by the massacre in Orlando, and once again expressed his condolences to the American people for what he termed “a cowardly and criminal act of terrorism.”
Israelis, too, are still in the shadow of the terrorism, said Rivlin, who stressed the need to stand united against terrorists who “are acting in every way possible to undermine the remnants of trust and the fragmented remaining bridges between the two peoples. We must stand together – Jews, Christians and Muslims – against evil which sometimes claims to speak in God's name, and we must insist on fighting for the message of religion as one of choosing life,” said Rivlin. “We must insist that murder and violence are the result of intellectual distortion which has nothing to do with a healthy religion. We cannot be silent and we cannot let those violating religion by committing atrocities in its name to cast a stain on those of faith, or to destroy the fabric of our lives here together. As believers, we must not let our children, Jews and Arabs, grow up with a distorted understanding that religion equals terror and death, that religion means extremism,” he declared.
“We are here together, and we will remain here together, and we should all learn and teach every day how to live a life of kindness and tolerance, a life of equality and fairness, a life that each and every one of us deserves and that we all deserve together,” Rivlin concluded.
Rivlin will reciprocate the iftar invitation by hosting his own iftar dinner later in the month.
■ IT IS morally impossible to celebrate Israeli independence without a few weeks later commemorating the firing on the Altalena. Who could have imagined in their worst nightmares that only three years after the Holocaust, Jews in Israel would be firing at Holocaust survivors who were trying to reach Israel’s shores, even after the captain of the ship on which they sailed to the nascent state had raised the white flag of surrender? Worse still, who would have imagined that Ben-Gurion would give such an order and that Yitzhak Rabin would be in charge of the operation? The Irgun-operated ship, with close to 900 passengers including women and children plus an arsenal of guns, rifles, bazookas and bullets, left Paris in June, 1948, landing initially on June 20 in Kfar Vitkin, where many of the passengers disembarked and were instantly drafted into the army. Ben-Gurion wanted all the weaponry on the ship, and while Menachem Begin, the leader of the Irgun, was prepared to transfer the larger part of the arsenal, he wanted to keep some for Irgun fighters in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Ben-Gurion threatened that unless Begin surrendered to his demands and handed over all the weapons and ammunition, the ship would be fired on.
In the final analysis, that’s what happened.
In the confrontation on the Tel Aviv beach, 16 Irgun fighters and three IDF soldiers were killed. Fearful of a civil war, Begin, who had boarded the ship in Kfar Vitkin before it set sail for Tel Aviv, surrendered in order to stop Jews from killing each other.
In 1998, a memorial to the 16 Irgun fighters and three IDF soldiers was erected in the Nahalat Yitzhak Cemetery in Givatayim. An official state memorial ceremony is held annually for the 19 casualties. This year, it will be held on Thursday of this week, with the participation of Rivlin and Netanyahu.
■ ONE OF the more vibrant characters of Jerusalem for many years was child Holocaust survivor Yael Amishav, a brilliant intellectual, a charming hostess, an amazing cook specializing in French cuisine, a member of the diplomatic community through her first husband, an occasional op-ed contributor to The Jerusalem Post and a political firebrand who once hoped to enter the Knesset on a Likud ticket. What many of her friends did not know was the pain that lurked behind the dazzling smile. Amishav suffered for several years with bone cancer, but shared the information only with the closest members of her family.
To celebrate her life on the first anniversary of her death, her daughters, Yehudit Mosseri and Ariela Kimchi and her sister, Sonia Heitlinger, hosted a dinner in the garden of the apartment she used to rent in Jerusalem’s King David Street, where some 40 relatives and friends came together to share memories of her.
The most moving part of the evening was a video film made by Heitlinger’s daughter Sarah in which she interviewed Amishav during her final illness when she was no longer able to function independently. The interview was mainly about Amishav and Heitlinger’s shared childhood. “We were intertwined until she left Australia at age 21,” said Heitlinger. Even though they were separated geographically for many years, the connection between them remained strong – even beyond death.
■ JUST AHEAD of Shavuot, Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, sat down with members of various departments within the presidential compound and took delight in all the babies born over the two years in which Rivlin has been in office. So far there are well over a dozen, with the most births in the security department.