David Rozenson took on the Beit Avi Chai mantle two-and-a-half years ago.
(photo credit: MAOZ VAYSTOOCH)
■ THE POPULARITY of Beit Avi Chai on Shavuot night is legendary, partly because it offers lectures in both Hebrew and English and because it provides refreshments.
Another possible reason is that for secular people who may balk at going to a lecture in a synagogue, Beit Avi Chai is a welcome alternative.
Shavuot lectures in most places did not start till 11 p.m., but by 10 a large crowd had already gathered outside Beit Avi Chai, knowing from previous experience that anyone who didn’t arrive early was likely to miss out. To be denied entry is disappointing for anyone, but more so for people who have walked from far-away neighborhoods.
Beit Avi Chai frequently has seating problems but none as massive as on Shavuot night.
Executive director Dr. David Rozenson, who is an extremely pleasant individual, politely informed people at the end of a somewhat provocative lecture by Dr. Aviva Zorenberg – about Ruth the Moabite, from whom the Messiah will be descended – that the place was filling up and what they had to do if they wanted to participate in the next lecture. The program card stated that entry was conditional on available space, and despite the fact that there were two or three or more available seats left at certain lectures, security guards at the building entrance and indoor attendants to lecture halls refused to let people in.
As the writer of this column was exiting, people outside were begging to be allowed in, even if only to hear the a cappella concert in the courtyard. They were refused and gruffly told that the courtyard was also full. This was curious, as there was still plenty of room in the courtyard. Even those people who were able to get into the building and had come to hear Rabbi Benny Lau were disappointed because a back injury prevented his participation.
Given that space at Beit Avi Chai is a recurring problem, Rozenson might give some thought next year to the possibility of using neighboring premises. Heichal Shlomo, just a few buildings down the street, was closed as was Mizrahi World headquarters.
Both have ample premises for lectures. Perhaps a collaborative effort between Beit Avi Chai and one or both of these facilities would resolve accommodation frustrations.
After all, no one was denied a place in Sinai when the Torah was handed down.
Why should they be denied access to Torah-inspired lectures in Jerusalem on Shavuot?
■ IN MAY, it was announced that Taube Philanthropies had donated $15 million for the enhancement of the Hebrew Union College campus in Jerusalem. As far as is known, this is the largest single donation made to a facility of this kind in Israel, although larger contributions have been made to Yad Vashem by Sheldon and Miriam Adelson. The groundbreaking ceremony for the enhancement process will take place at Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion on King David Street on June 29 at 6 p.m. in honor of Tad Taube, the founder and chairman of Taube Philanthropies, after which the campus will be known as The Taube Family Campus.
Improvements will include a new entrance to the campus to be designed by internationally renowned architect Moshe Safdie, who designed the adjacent David Citadel Hotel and the Mamilla Mall. There will also be a new piazza that will be an impressive public space for religious ceremonies and cultural and social events. In addition, the interior of the first building on the campus, which was designed by internationally acclaimed architect Heinrich Heinz Rau in 1963, will be renovated and updated.
■ FOLLOWING THE recent shooting in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in which 50 people were killed, Israel Radio’s Liat Regev interviewed Dr. Jerry Levinson, the founder of the Open House for Pride and Tolerance, the haven for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, asking him how there could still be so much hatred and intolerance for non-heterosexuals. Even though acceptance of the other has come a long way in the 20 years since the Open House was established, said Levinson, there are still people with homophobic mind-sets who cannot accept the fact that members of the gay community can and do contribute to society.
Levinson cited two extreme cases of homophobia in Israel: the Bar Noar gay club murder in 2009, when Nir Katz, 26, and Liz Triboshi, 16, were killed and 16 other young people wounded; and the killing at the Jerusalem Gay Pride March last year of teenager Shira Banki, who was not gay but was marching on behalf of gay rights.
Levinson called on everyone who is appalled by the hatred directed at LGBT individuals and communities to join in the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade on July 21. Chen Arieli, the co-chair of the Tel Aviv headquartered LGBT national movement, who is currently in New York, told Regev that aside from the horror of attacks on LGBT clubs, there is additional trauma for some of the families who were unaware of the sexual orientation of their offspring and discover it via the media only after a tragic incident such as that in Orlando.