ON THE day that Likud MK Nomi Blumenthal was sentenced to eight months incarceration, the "mafia" turned out in force at the City Tower Hotel in Ramat Gan, the scene of Blumenthal's crime of election bribery. No, they were not there on a mission of revenge. These were the Kosher Nostra who had come to make freilech at the Yiddishpiel Purimshpiel.
When Yiddishists tell you that something sounds better or smells sweeter in Yiddish, it goes beyond language. Purim is a time when everyone is supposed to get dressed up, but not everyone is inclined to do so. To ensure that all present would get into the party spirit, the Friends of Yiddishpiel organized a fancy dress kiosk in which they gave out various kinds of headgear, masks, sparkling boas and other decorative items.
Nearly everyone took advantage of their generosity. Yiddishpiel founder and director Shmuel Atzmon came in his godfather gear - low slung hat, dark glasses, tuxedo and bow tie.
Actor Gadi Yagil, whose Yiddish repertoire is largely comedy, made sure to get himself photographed with Israel's fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, who even though he's Sephardi and head of the Ladino Authority, speaks a beautiful Yiddish. Yagil later brought the house down when he appeared as a remarkably realistic Amir Peretz and announced: "Since English doesn't come easily, I'll speak in Yiddish."
One of the highlights of the evening was a Yiddish medley performed by a singing group of the Black Hebrews from Dimona. Yagil's reaction: "Now we can do 'Porgy and Bess' in Yiddish." Atzmon said that people had asked him why he came dressed as a gangster. His reply: "If you want to promote Yiddish in this world, you have to be a gangster."
But life will be a little easier for Yiddish theater in the not-too-distant future. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Hulda'i announced that the new Ohel Shem Theater would open next year, which means that during its Tel Aviv season, Yiddishpiel will no longer be confined to the cramped quarters of the ZOA auditorium where it usually performs.
Both Atzmon and Hulda'i paid tribute to former Tel Aviv mayor Shlomo Lahat, who encouraged and aided the creation of Yiddishpiel, and has been an ardent supporter ever since.
FOR YIDDISHISTS who missed the Yiddishpiel Purimshpiel, or who couldn't afford the cost of participation, there was another opportunity the following evening in Jerusalem. Yung Yiddish founder, the irrepressible, iconoclastic, multi-faceted and multi-lingual Mendy Cahan, presented his particular take on the Purim story, distorting it in a sophisticated fashion, giving it a whole new meaning and punctuating his Yiddish with side comments in Hebrew, French and English. Pianist and singer Paulina Belilovsky delighted everyone and persuaded the audience to join her in singing cabaret-style renditions of Yiddish songs. Her act was followed by a slightly different interpretation of Yiddish cabaret by Ruth Levin, beloved by Yiddish audiences around the world.
Yung Yiddish secretary Rachel Corkidi, in addition to laying out the usual refreshments, replete with alcoholic beverages, also prepared colorful Purim gift packages of chocolates, candies, nuts, masks and miniature flashlights which were presented to each and every member of the audience. The intimacy of the Yung Yiddish premises, the homey atmosphere and the request but noninsistence for payment imbues it with an extended family feeling, enhanced both on and off stage by Cahan and Corkidi, who know all the regulars by name, embrace them warmly when they arrive and address them individually during the performance. It's a tiny piece of shtetl Europe in the Romema neighborhood of Jerusalem..
PURIM HUMOR is not limited to the stage. In the household of author, journalist, lecturer and currently Israel Director of Public Relations and Communications for Hadassah, Barbara Sofer and her husband, Dr. Gerald Schroeder, a former professor of nuclear physics at MIT, former member of the US atomic Energy Commission and author of Genesis and the Big Bang, The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom, and The Hidden Face of God, Purim is a time when a large dose of humor is injected into the most serious of subjects. Thus, at the annual Purim feast hosted by the couple and some of their five children, Schroeder came out with comments such as: "Everything I know about life, I know from Noah's Ark. One, don't miss the boat; two, we're all in the same boat; three, Noah's Ark was built by amateurs, the Titanic was built by professionals."
NOT EVERYONE spends much time around a Purim table. Case in point: Shabtai Herman, who - together with a three-piece band and some of his 12 children and 15 grandchildren, all of whom have been blessed with a talent for music - went touring Jerusalem on Purim to bring cheer into many households. His children and grandchildren are a Jewish version of the famous von Trapp family, whose story was the basis for The Sound of Music.
Herman's homemade choir, including his youngest son who is 5 years old, livens up many a gathering. Aside from singing, confides the proud father and grandfather, "they're all terrific students and wonderful soccer players."
n LED BY the New Israel Fund, a coalition of organizations engaged on a daily basis in the fight against racism in Israel last week brought a proclamation to Beit Hanassi and asked President Moshe Katsav to be the first signatory.
The proclamation condemns all forms of racial, ethnic, religious and sectarian discrimination and also opposes the distortion of religious values to promote racist ideologies.
While Katsav was willing to sign the proclamation, members of the coalition had a hard time convincing him that racism and discrimination are rampant in Israel.
Katsav conceded that while there were undoubtedly racist incidents, there was no official policy sanctioning racism.
When members of the delegation pointed out that people of North African and Ethiopian backgrounds were held back from educational and work opportunities, Katsav found this difficult to digest.
One of the delegates told him that there was plenty of evidence to support her contention that universities were discriminating against non-Ashkenazi students.
One delegate - a young woman with a master's degree in political science who is currently completing a law degree - asked Katsav, "Have you ever felt any discrimination?"
Katsav's reply was in the negative - not at school, not in the army, not in the workplace, not in the Knesset, not in the government - and certainly not in his present role.
n SIX DECADES after the Holocaust, new information keeps coming to light, especially with regard to righteous gentiles. Italian Ambassador Sandro de Bernardin, accompanied by Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev, called on President Katsav last week to present him with a recently published book on the Italian Righteous among the Nations, who risked their lives during WWII to save Jews. Some 400 Italians were involved in these rescue operations.
n JERUSALEM CONDUCTOR, composer and choirmaster Elli Jaffe has conducted philharmonic and symphony orchestras in concert halls around the world, but never has he participated in so meaningful a concert as "Never Again," produced in mid-January in Mexico by Orly Beigel, a second-generation Holocaust survivor.
Beigel, who has wide-ranging and important connections in the international arts world, assembled a bevy of first class musicians to put together a concert commemorating the liberation. "Everyone wanted to be part of that concert," Jaffe recalled last week at a reception he held in his home in honor of Beigel. "It was the crowning point of my career."
Beigel is related to Mexican Jewish millionaire and philanthropist Marcus Katz, who helped fund the concert, and who was a friend of Jaffe's parents. Katz's son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren live in the same apartment block as Jaffe in Jerusalem. The middle generation is friendly with Jaffe and his wife, Jacqueline, and the children of both families are also friendly with each other. Thus it was inevitable that Jaffe and Beigel, who is one of Mexico's leading impresarios, should eventually meet. It was an instant click, tempered with mutual respect and affection. Thus, when Beigel was looking for a conductor for the concert, Jaffe was the natural choice.
Among the performing artists were Philip Glass, Ute Lemper, Shlomo Mintz, Giora Feidman and Denyce Graves. The 110-piece orchestra was made up of the best musicians in Latin America.
Beigel came to Israel to donate a large chunk of the concert's proceeds to Yad Vashem's center for Holocaust education. Jaffe accompanied her to Yad Vashem, and when they toured the Holocaust History Museum, Beigel stopped for a long time in front of an enlarged photograph of Bergen Belsen, where her late mother had been an inmate. Jaffe, whose late father, a chaplain in the British Army, had entered Bergen Belsen with the liberating forces, had seen the photograph on previous occasions, but had never really looked at it. This time he did, and among the many figures he found his father, the late Maurice Jaffe, who went on to become the guiding spirit behind the construction of the Jerusalem Great Synagogue
THERE'S ALWAYS at least one member of the Herzog family in attendance at the St Patrick's Day celebrations hosted by the Irish Ambassador. This year was no exception. Aura Herzog, widow of Israel's sixth president, Irishborn Chaim Herzog, maintained the family tradition of joining in the festivities marking Ireland's national day hosted by Irish Ambassador Michael Forbes. This was his first St Patrick's reception since taking up
his post in Israel.
Although the dominant color in the attire of the guests at the embassy residence in Herzliya Pituah was green in keeping with tradition, some of the guests might have been surprised to learn that Ireland's official color, like that of Israel, is actually blue - as represented on the presidential and state emblems.
Among the attendees was US Ambassador Richard Jones, sporting a conversation-piece tie whose pattern featured an Irish stout glass. This went well with the continuous flow from an ontap draft Guinness dispenser, where Ra'anan Gissin, the prime minister's media adviser, was seen raising a glass of the black stuff with Israel Ireland Friendship League Chairman Malcolm Gafson. Toasting each other with "L'haim" and "Slainte," they exchanged forecasts on the outcome of the upcoming general election. While similar concerns were presumably on the mind of his boss, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev focused his own attention on the plentiful supply of delicious Irish smoked salmon. The Black Velvet band provided a background of traditional Irish music that contributed to the Celtic flavor of the occasion, playing loud enough to be heard, but soft enough for people to be able to hear each other talk. n IT WOULDN'T be Naw-Ruz, the Baha'i New Year, if former prime minister Shimon Peres weren't there. Peres makes it a point to attend every Baha'i event to which he is invited. In calling him to the podium at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem which had been exquisitely decorated by Baha'i volunteers, Albert Lincoln, the secretarygeneral of the Baha'i International Community said that Peres was living proof that one can celebrate the new year on different dates and in different company without growing old. Lincoln had earlier outlined the Baha'i Development Project in the Western Galilee, for which some formalities have yet to be completed before it can get underway. Lincoln was hopeful that the relevant government ministries would cooperate in this endeavor and do away with all the red tape by the end of 2006.
Paralleling the suffering of members of the Baha'i faith in Iran with that of the Jews of Germany and Austria on Kristallnacht,
Lincoln spoke of the humiliation, injustice and persecution they suffer to the extent that hate-mongering media stories claim that the Baha'i gather on holy days to drink alcohol and sacrifice the life of a Muslim child. Peres told him that Israel's heart was with the Baha'i in Iran. Peres characterized Baha'i as "the most open society I can think of. There is nothing humane that is foreign to you. It's a religion without discrimination, without hate."
Peres expressed his pleasure that the Baha'i were helping to develop the Galilee. Acre Mayor Shimon Lankri, in whose city the Baha'i have another important shrine, in addition to their fabled gardens in Haifa, sent greetings from Acre to the five million Baha'i followers around the world. He also praised Baha'i for their contribution to the beautification of the country.
THE TERRORIST attack nearly three years ago on Mike's Place, a popular live music bar and an oasis of harmony on the Tel Aviv beachfront, left three people dead and dozens injured, including Jack Baxter, an American investigative journalist and documentary film-maker. Baxter had originally come to Israel to do a film on jailed Fatah-Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti. But Baxter discovered that someone else was already doing that film. He looked around for another suitable subject, but nothing excited him. With his money rapidly running out, he came across Mike's Place, a magnet for Englishspeakers. He saw Israelis and Palestinians mingling socially in an environment in which talk of politics and religion was taboo. He decided to do a documentary on Mike's Place. Because his budget was so low, he needed a cameraman who would work for minimal pay. He was introduced to Joshua Fauden, an American-born Israeli who had studied film-making in Prague - and the project was on its way. Baxter was one of the people seriously injured in the bombing on that fateful night in the pre-dawn hours between April 30 and May 1, 2003. From his hospital bed, he instructed Fauden to keep on documenting everything that he saw and heard. The result was the prize-winning film Blues by the Beach that was screened this week in Jerusalem by the Mideast Press Club to an audience that included Israeli and Palestinian journalists, foreign correspondents stationed in Israel and journalism and communications students from Europe, the United States and the Middle East.
Baxter, the film's producer, who still walks with the aid of a cane, and Fauden, the film's director, were in attendance. Baxter said that to him Mike's Place represented a free and open society - "the best that there is in Israel."
He was not sorry, he said, that he had not made a political statement through the film. He paid tribute to Fauden, "who in the midst of the carnage, had had the courage to pick up the camera and keep filming."
Baxter described the finished product as "a real-life representation of the tragedy before, during and after the suicide bombing."
Fauden had a tough time in the editing room, pruning more than 80 hours of footage into a coherent 75-minute documentary. What was important to him, he said, was to show the physical and psychological consequences of the bombing. There was no particular message that he wanted to convey through the film. "Not manipulating your audience, but giving them space to think is more important than the message," he said.
SOCIALITE AND society photographer Sara Davidovitch has a problem arriving on time. Even though she had invited guests to an 11 a.m. circumcision ceremony and feast to honor the birth of her third grandson, Yonatan Malka, she did not arrive till almost 11:15. Her husband, Matityahu, who is much more punctual, was deliberately late on this occasion because he was the sandak (godfather). The reasoning behind this is simple: The Malka family is Sephardic and follows revered Sephardic customs. The two previous godfathers to the infant's older brothers had been renowned kabbalists - the late Rabbi Yitzhak Kadourie and Rabbi David Batzri, who, because they arrived after all the invitees, remained as pure as they had been earlier in the day when they emerged from their mikve (ritual bath) immersions. Investment broker Matityahu Davidovitch had been warned by his daughter, Karin, the baby's mother, not to touch anyone after his own immersion, because to do so would bring bad luck to the baby. The easiest way to avoid human contact was to remain in the car until the ceremony, when Yosef Oren, the mohel, handed him the child.
Guests included prominent Sephardi and Ashkenazi rabbis, as well as leading political, business and social figures from around the country, such as internationally known matchmaker Helena Amram and Yael Ze'evi, the widow of murdered government minister Rehavam Ze'evi, whose killers had been apprehended by Israeli forces two days earlier. There were also many security people, colleagues of the baby's father, Shai Malka, who has been a member of the Prime Minister's security detail since the days when he assured the safety of Yitzhak Rabin, who attended his wedding.
The actual circumcision ceremony took place in the hotel synagogue, in which the sections for men and women had been curtained off. The non-religious women kept opening the curtain, and the religious promptly stood up to close it. There were no verbal arguments on the subject - just a tugging of the curtain backwards and forwards. On his father's side, the baby was fawned over by four generations - his older siblings, his parents, his grandparents, Aliza and Amram Malka, and his great grandparents, Eisha and Shalom Elmaliach.
THREE NEW ambassadors are due to present their credentials to President Katsav today. They are first-time ambassador Larissa Miculet of Moldova, Prof. Kessie Raymond Koudou of the Ivory Coast and Dr. Harold Kindermann of Germany. Miculet's 18-year-old son, Eugeniu, a student at the Wilbraham & Monson Academy in Massachusetts - where he is a member of the Student Senate and captain of the Varsity Swimming Team - specially came to Israel for the occasion, and during his stay here, has been documenting all his experiences to share with his friends at school.
Miculet and Kindermann share legal backgrounds. She was previously head of the Prosecutor-General's office in Moldova, while he, prior to joining Germany's Foreign Office in 1992, was a law lecturer at the University of Giessen and a lawyer at the Federal Ministry of Judiciary. Most recently he served as his country's ambassador in Sofia, Bulgaria, and before that in Riad. There has been no German ambassador in Israel for almost half a year. The completion of the term of Rudolf Dressler more or less coincided with the German elections, during which time Foreign Office appointments were suspended. Koudou, who was recently his country's ambassador to France, has a long and illustrious career of public service in many different fields.