SHIMON PERES has made Israeli history as the oldest person in almost 60 years of statehood to be elected to the presidency. He is, in all probability, one of the very few people in the world to take up office at his age. But he wasn't the only member of his family to make history on the day of his inauguration. Ari, his two-month-old great-grandson, briefly stole the show from the man of the moment by letting out a lusty yell in the middle of the address by Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, who was comparing Peres with Simon the Hasmonean, whom she referred to as Shimon the First. She had just conferred on Peres the title of Shimon the Second when Ari's wailing penetrated from the gallery to the plenum, and his mother, Mika, had no option but to take him outside. Itzik looked momentarily annoyed, but quickly recovered her equilibrium. "And there goes Shimon the Third," she quipped, as everyone broke into laughter.
But Mika has also made history. As far as anyone is aware, she was the first woman to bare her breast in the Knesset to feed her baby. Other mothers may have breast-fed their infants in the building by draping a scarf or diaper from their shoulders to their waists so that no one could see the source of the baby's nourishment. Ari's mother had no such qualms and did what comes naturally.
THE INVASION of Jerusalem and destruction of the Second Temple, our sages tell us, was the punishment for baseless hatred. Thus it was fitting on the evening prior to Tisha Be'av to see a demonstration of unconditional love. The venue was the Jerusalem home of Donna Bendheim. The event was a shower for a bride whose name was never revealed and to whose wedding none of the guests, to the best of their knowledge, had been invited. Nonetheless, the gifts at the bridal shower included a refrigerator, a self-cleaning stove and a microwave oven.
During the day and throughout the evening, the electronic media had been preoccupied with the second anniversary of the evacuation of Gush Katif, or more specifically Neveh Dekalim. Even Vice Premier Haim Ramon conceded that there were serious problems with the mishandling of evacuees (for whom permanent housing should have been ready a long time ago). In many parts of the country, especially Jerusalem, orange T-shirts, wristbands, headbands, backpacks and even flags were vivid reminders of the pain and suffering still being endured by former residents of Gush Katif, many of whom have developed illnesses they never had before, and too many of whom are still unemployed. Several once-happy and productive families have broken up as a result of such tensions.
Part of this misery has been alleviated by the Gush Katif bridal shower project. This time it was Bendheim's turn to host the event. She had been willingly roped in by her daughter Efrat Zering, who explained to the guests that organizing the bridal showers was easy and heart-warming. The project derived from a similar one started by one of her teachers, who had initiated showers for orphan brides. The bride for whom this shower was arranged was not an orphan, but her family is in dire economic straits. Many people who were unable to attend sent gifts with friends and acquaintances. One of the guests, Bernice Fogel, who together with her daughter Elisheva helped organize the event, came with several boxes, and the pile in the entrance to the Bendheim house kept growing. A lot of people had given money, explained Donna Bendheim, and that had enabled the purchase of essential electrical appliances.
There are three levels of giving charity, noted lecturer Rabbanit Aviva Feiner, one of the educators at the Tomer Devorah Seminary for Advanced Jewish Studies for Women. One is when someone holds out his hand and you put something in it and, hopefully, you'll get a thank-you. Another is giving in secret by leaving food or clothing by the door, ringing the bell and disappearing before the door is opened. Later there is a certain satisfaction in seeing someone wearing the clothing you left. And then there's the third way of giving - to someone whom you don't know. "There's no feedback; you won't see the bride on her wedding day, and yet it feels so good." The reason, she continued, is because when a bride and groom get married, it's like rebuilding part of destroyed Jerusalem, and in fact the marriage service contains the words "the sounds of rejoicing and happiness will once again be heard in the hills of Jerusalem."
Although many people who participate in the Gush Katif showers would like to see the bride, they understand that it might be embarrassing for her to accept so many, sometimes very expensive gifts from total strangers.
"Sometimes there's a bigger value in preparing the bride than being there," Feiner said.