The mooted visit to Israel by US President Donald Trump has caused the Foreign Ministry’s Protocol Department to change its protocol and bring forward the date on which US Ambassador-designate David Friedman will present his credentials. Friedman had been scheduled to do so in mid-June, but the visit, reportedly in three weeks’ time, prompted the department to bring the date forward by one month, so that the ambassador of Israel’s greatest ally would be able to greet his chief in his full official capacity.
This is an unusual step, as there have been other heads of state who visited Israel while their appointed ambassadors were still waiting to present their credentials, and in such cases, the ambassadors-designate were given special exemptions to carry out their ambassadorial duties during the visit.
Also presenting their credentials on the same date as Friedman will be the ambassadors- designate of Thailand and Spain. There will be several similar ceremonies over the next three or four months, as at least 15 new ambassadors are expected to arrive in the country before the summer is over.
Meanwhile, Jerusalemites are bracing themselves for a day of hardship during the brief stay of the president, when as is always the case, major traffic arteries will be sealed off, and in all likelihood there will also be places where pedestrians will not be permitted to walk. This would put a bit of a damper on Jerusalem Day celebrations, but the citizens of the capital are used to being the victims of political interests.
Trump would be the seventh US president to visit Jerusalem. The others were: Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
■ IN HIS lifetime, president Shimon Peres was honored by two major institutions which bore his name. One was the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation and the other was the Peres Academic Center in Rehovot, which in 2013 made international headlines as one of the venues for Peres’s 90th birthday celebrations.
Clinton, who had come to Israel to join Peres in celebrating his milestone birthday, was the keynote speaker at PAC, and a scandal erupted when it was learned that Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL) had picked up the $500,000 fee that Clinton was charging. The money was raised the previous year through KKL projects and the help of PAC supporters from around the world. The fee was not designated for Clinton personally but for the William J. Clinton Foundation, which is dedicated to global health and wellness, sustainable growth, equal opportunities for women and climate change.
Following intensive media attention to where KKL funds were being distributed, it distanced itself from the event, and the fee was ultimately paid by supporters of the Peres Center for Peace.
Even though it removed itself from the scandal, the KKL still wanted to do something to honor Peres, and in the end came up with something that had a much more permanent ring to it than a speech by a former president of the United States. On Thursday of last week, representatives of KKL of the Netherlands, which had contributed a considerable sum toward the creation of an artificial lake in Dimona, participated in naming it the Shimon Peres Lake.
Few things could be more appropriate, given that the lake is situated in the Ben-Gurion Park, and Ben-Gurion remained Peres’s mentor until the latter’s dying day. Peres spoke endlessly about Ben-Gurion, as did the founding prime minister’s other loyal disciple, fifth president Yitzhak Navon. It is a matter of interest that both Navon and Peres became presidents of the state and remained firm friends, until Navon’s death in November 2015.
When Peres died in September last year, there was a rush to perpetuate his name on any number of projects. Dimona Mayor Benny Biton immediately wanted to name the lake after him, and Transportation Minister Israel Katz announced that he was seriously thinking of renaming the Ayalon expressway after Peres. The latter has not yet happened, and may not, but there will be streets named for Peres, just as there have been for his predecessors.
Chaim Herzog was shortchanged because there were already streets named for his late father, Chief rabbi Isaac Halevy Herzog. It would have been too confusing to the public to have more than one Herzog Street in any city, so Jerusalem has a Sixth President Street in the relatively new neighborhood at the entrance to the city. This is also appropriate because the neighborhood was built on the former site of the Foreign Ministry, and Herzog, among his other attributes, was a diplomat who served as Israel’s permanent representative at the United Nations.
Ezer Weizman was also shortchanged as far as street naming is concerned, because almost every city in Israel has a street named after his uncle Chaim Weizmann, who was Israel’s first president, and who while living in England impressed Arthur Balfour with his passionate presentation of the need for the Jews to return to their ancestral homeland.
At the inauguration ceremony for the Peres Lake in Dimona, Amnon Ben Ami, the director-general of KKL, recalled the love that Peres had for the Negev, which he visited frequently. He supported its development and in general supported the people living in peripheral communities.
Ben Ami and Biton each spoke of future development of the area around the lake, which will include a promenade, shops and restaurants, which will transform Dimona into a tourist attraction. The Dutch branch of KKL has already taken upon itself to be involved in this development process.
Representing the Peres family at the inauguration was Peres’s daughter, Tsvia Walden, who was amazed at the extent to which Dimona has flourished, especially as it was a place so dear to her father’s heart.
“My father loved Dimona and its residents and liked to come and visit at every opportunity, because Dimona is a place where dreams are realized,” she said.
In the minds of the public, Dimona and Peres have an association of a different kind – a textile factory that was the camouflage for Israel’s nuclear reactor. The nuclear facility was created at Peres’s initiative, and in October 2016 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the Nuclear Research Center in the Negev would be renamed for Peres in recognition of his contribution to national security.
■ IT’S DIFFICULT to measure anyone’s suffering, especially when such suffering is not only physical but emotional and psychological. But if one can stand back and look at the victims of the Holocaust, the ones who arguably suffered the most were the mischlinge – the products of mixed marriages or simply of cohabitation between Jews and non-Jews. The only relationship to anything Jewish that most German mischlinge had was their genes. They did not identify in any way with anything Jewish, and until the Nazis came to power – and even afterward – lived their lives, more often than not, as good and loyal Germans. Some even served in Hitler’s army, and in isolated cases even rose to officer status, such as field marshal Erhard Milch, who was instrumental in establishing the Luftwaffe.
All this emerges in Roger Greenwald’s riveting monodrama The Mitzvah, in which he switches roles and accents and even attire in the blink of an eye. A cunningly tailored jacket begins as a uniform of the SS, but when unbuttoned, becomes an ordinary suit jacket.
The son of German Jewish Holocaust survivors, Greenwald, an American actor, last week brought his one-man play to the Hebrew University, where unfortunately it did not attract a full house, and where there were very few young people. The overwhelming majority of the members of the audience were in the 65-plus age group.
Aside from Greenwald’s admirable talent as a performer, the play prompts serious thought about people being punished for something with which they did not remotely identify, although ironically, in teaching this lesson of history in which the acting was interspersed with a PowerPoint presentation, Greenwald showed the poster that was used for the ideal Aryan – who, as it happened, was a mischling by the name of Werner Goldberg.
Greenwald’s father was clever enough and lucky enough to move to the Philippines in 1933, when the Nazis came to power, and managed to bring Greenwald’s grandmother there in 1938.
Greenwald’s mother’s family was not so fortunate. They fled to Amsterdam, hoping to go from there to America, but failed to get a visa. In 1943, they were deported to Poland. An aunt met her death in Sobibor. Greenwald’s mother was sent to Auschwitz, and another aunt – Annie, who is still living and, according to Greenwald, completely with it at age 103 – is a survivor of Bergen-Belsen. He consulted with her when writing the play, but said that it was his mother, who died in 2001, who inspired him. It was his mother’s history that had a profound influence on him, he declared. In 1933, he said, there were more than a million German citizens who were partially Jewish.
■ PLAGIARISM IS said to be one of the highest forms of flattery, but it’s not regarded as such when someone steals the story of your family and turns it into a best-selling book. That’s what allegedly happened to Judy Maltz, currently the Jewish world reporter for Haaretz, who early in her journalistic career was an economics reporter for The Jerusalem Post.
While teaching journalism at Penn State University, Maltz decided that she wanted to venture into filmmaking. Because the journalism department and the film department were close to each other, she approached her colleague in the film department, who suggested that she come up with a theme for a film.
Maltz had been living with the theme all her life. Her grandparents, her father and other members of her family had been hidden and saved during the Holocaust by a Catholic woman, Francisca Halamajowa, whom the family had befriended before the war in the town of Sokal in the East Galician region of Poland.
By November 1942, two-thirds of Sokal’s Jewish community of a little over 6,000 souls had been deported to death camps. By the end of the war, there were only 30 Jewish survivors from Sokal, including 15 people, most of them members of Maltz’s family, who had been hidden by Halamajowa in various places in her home, almost under the very noses of the Nazis.
For 20 months the Maltz family was hidden in the pig sty, where Maltz’s grandfather Moshe painstakingly wrote a diary in Yiddish, which was subsequently translated into English. During the war, it was obvious that Halamajowa would not share her secret, even with members of her own family, who sometimes wondered at the quantities of food she prepared, but never dared to ask why. The secret remained with her after the war. It was only years later, when her granddaughters who went to live in America were advised to contact the Maltz family, did they discover that their grandmother had been a heroine, one of the righteous gentiles of the Second World War.
When Maltz was making her film, she persuaded Halamajowa’s granddaughters to join those members of her family still living, who at Maltz’s urging had finally agreed to return to Poland to see to what extent they could remember that traumatic period in their lives. Her father had been most reluctant, but finally yielded to persuasion.
The end result was a prizewinning film that goes by the name of No. 4 Street of Our Lady, which was first screened in 2009 and has since been shown in many parts of the world. The film was co-directed with Barbara Bird and Richie Sherman, who are both professors of film at Penn University (Bird retired in 2014), and who together with Maltz have filed a suit against Penguin Canada and writer Jenny Witterick, who allegedly lifted whole sections from the film for a book published under the title My Mother’s Secret.
Maltz’s parents now live in Jerusalem, where her mother is a member of Amit, and was responsible for a series of film showings. What could be more natural in the week of Holocaust remembrance that she should show her own daughter’s documentary? Attendance was high to overflowing. Maltz really deserves to be rewarded by the Polish government.
Maltz’s film focuses on one righteous Catholic Polish woman who risked her life and the lives of her family in order to save the lives of 15 Jews. She was not the only one. There were in fact thousands like her whose stories can for the most part be found at Yad Vashem. There is good and bad in every society. Halamajowa was one of the prime examples of the good in Polish society.
■ MANY EVENTS before, during and after Holocaust Remembrance Day focused on Elie Wiesel, who died last year. Wiesel was one of the living symbols of someone who had risen from the ashes with a mission to ensure that the world would not forget, and in many parts of the world, particularly the US and Israel, there was a desire in remembering the Holocaust to simultaneously pay tribute to Wiesel.
In addition, the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, which was founded by Wiesel and his wife, Marion, after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, declared that it will continue its work, and last month announced that Micah Latty, class of 2017 from Bethel University, is the first-place winner of the 2016 Elie Wiesel Foundation Prize in Ethics Essay Contest. The foundation was partnered in the contest by LRN, an ethics and compliance firm dedicated to inspiring principled performance.
Latty, a philosophy and computer science major, considered the role of silence in a divisive America in his winning essay, “Welcoming Silence.” An excerpt from his writing reads: “We live in a culture filled with tensions and conflicts, old and new. In order for us to have any hope of flourishing together, we must learn to exercise hospitality toward one another, allowing those who are ‘other’ to be other in our presence. Fundamental to this practice of hospitality in the face of division and distrust is the simple willingness to allow for silences – welcoming silences, in which the voice of the other can dwell in all its irreducible strangeness.”
Runners-up in the contest include: Dana Kiel of the University of Denver, Luiza Lodder of Pennsylvania State University, Devon Flanagan of Boston University and Eliah Medina of University of Houston-Clear Lake. The winning essays can be found on the Foundation’s website: http://www.eliewieselfoundation.org/2016prizewinners.aspx.
The annual contest was founded in 1989 by Elie and Marion Wiesel, and has attracted thousands of young people who have written essays for consideration. Prior to his death, Elie Wiesel personally judged the 2016 contest and hand-selected the winners. The Elie Wiesel Foundation and LRN are continuing the Prize in Ethics in his memory.
“The 2016 winners of the Prize in Ethics exemplify Prof. Wiesel’s indelible exhortation ‘to think higher and feel deeper.’ We couldn’t be more proud of the students, their winning essays and their commitment to considering the ethical implications in their own lives, asking deep questions about the world around them and taking stands on issues that matter to them but affect all of us,” said Dov Seidman, CEO of LRN.
Last week, the Wiesels’ son, Elisha, lit a torch at the March of the Living, and speaking of his father said: “My father never forgot. The things he saw stayed with him all the days of his life. He lived to speak of them to me and to my children. My father was a witness. He was a witness to the worst atrocity that man has ever unleashed on fellow man. And he was a witness who believed that to acknowledge the suffering of another – and to have them feel less alone – was an imperative for every human being. He spoke for victims around the world: Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur. The thought that genocides could occur in the wake of the Holocaust haunted him....”
■ SEVERAL WELL-KNOWN radio personalities are descendants of Holocaust survivors.Aryeh Golan was born in Poland to Holocaust survivors and came to Israel when he was 10 years old. Yoav Krakovsky and Golan, whose original name was Skornik, had a discussion on Krakovsky’s radio program “Hamiznon” about names and lost relatives.
When Krakovsky first began working in the radio, he received no credit for his reports. Later, when it was decided that he would be credited, he had to decide on a Hebrew surname, as was fashionable at the time, but ultimately decided to stay with Krakovsky. Nearly everyone in the Krakovsky and Heller families perished, and Krakovsky and his brother have long been searching for some clue as to what exactly happened to them. They don’t even know all their names, although they did come across someone by the name of Beker, who works for Polish Radio and is a relative.
Krakovsky said that even though he was born in Tel Aviv, whenever he goes to Poland, he searches for something and he doesn’t quite know what. Golan, who has a closer affinity with Poland and who speaks the language, said that every time he goes, he opens the phone book to see if there are any listings for Skornik or Goldlust, which was his mother’s maiden name – but so far, he’s drawn a blank.
Yet another Israel Radio broadcaster, Benny Teitelbaum, who never knew his maternal grandfather, Jonas Eckstein, was persuaded by his mother, Tova Teitelbaum, to join her in researching his grandfather’s heroic wartime exploits. Many of the people who survived the war, thanks to Eckstein, came to Israel and told the Teitelbaums that they owed their lives to Jonas. Benny and Tova later wrote a book based on that research, and on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Benny played snippets from the interviews as well as a recording of his mother, who is a short story writer, who said that her father had told her that one day, she would write his story.
Jonas, who had a certain degree of immunity as someone appointed by the Nazis to deliver food to the camps, built two bunkers in his home in Bratislava, known to Jews as Pressburg, where he hid Jews on the run and fed them. Eventually, his immunity ran out, and he was sent to Theresienstadt. Following liberation after the war, one of the beneficiaries of Eckstein’s altruism told Eckstein’s daughter and grandson that Eckstein’s generosity of spirit continued to dominate his personality. In the train home from Theresienstadt to Pressburg, Jonas kept alighting at every station where clusters of people who were obviously Jewish refugees were gathered. “Whoever is going to Pressburg has a place in my home,” he called.
■ SOMEONE ELSE with a strong Holocaust connection is former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, whose mother survived Bergen-Belsen. Fruma Galant, the mother of Construction Minister Yoav Galant, who almost became chief of staff, was also a Holocaust survivor, as was the father of Gantz’s predecessor as chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi.
Gantz, who was among the former commanders and chiefs of staff who attended the Independence Day ceremony at the President’s Residence on Tuesday, will spend a lot of time there over the coming month. Gantz accepted President Reuven Rivlin’s invitation to chair the committee that will examine nominations for the President’s Prize for Volunteerism, which will be awarded next month.
At the opening meeting of the committee last week, Rivlin said that volunteerism is one of the most important features of society, because it is the opposite of indifference. The spirit of volunteerism is stronger than cynicism and indifference, he said, pointing out that in the pre-state period, the development of the state-in-the-making was largely reliant on volunteerism.
Gantz said that in the two years that had elapsed since he completed his term as chief of staff, he had been exposed to many facets of Israeli society in which people are willing and eager to give of themselves. He was also impressed by the fact that it is the President’s Residence which provides a platform for this particular aspect of inherent Israeli solidarity.