Grapevine: The Lau dynasty

The wife of Poland's president attends the opening of the new Polish Institute in Tel Aviv; the German ambassador hosts a reception to celebrate reunification.

October 23, 2007 18:40
Grapevine: The Lau dynasty

grapes 88. (photo credit: )


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MEMBERS OF the Lau family have inadvertently become some sort of a broadcasting hegemony on matters of religion. Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a former Ashkenazi chief rabbi well known for his powers of oratory, has long been a favorite on Israel Radio, Israel Television and Radio Kol Hai, and not only on religiously-oriented programs or issues. His son, Rabbi David Lau, who is the chief rabbi of Modi'in, appears in a weekly Friday call-in or fax-in program called "Ask the Rabbi" on Israel Television, in which he provides humane solutions to halachic problems; and his nephew, Rabbi Benny Lau, the head of Beit Morasha and of the Ramban Congregation in Jerusalem, comes on to the television screen immediately after his cousin to discuss the Torah portion of the week. Benny Lau, who reverted to the family's original name, is the son of journalist, diplomat and a former leading figure in the World Jewish Restitution Organization, Naphtali Lavie, and is in high demand as a speaker both from the podium and on the air waves. The Laus are descended from a long line of rabbis. Rabbi Moshe Haim Lau, the grandfather of the two younger Laus, was the rabbi in Pietrekov, Poland, and was killed by the Nazis. His sons, Naphtali and Yisrael Meir, were the only members of the immediate family to survive the Holocaust. ALSO FROM Pitrekov and a child Holocaust survivor is Rena Quint of Jerusalem, who spent time in several concentration camps, including Bergen-Belsen. Quint has been invited to attend the opening next Sunday of the new exhibition building at the Bergen-Belsen Memorial. She is due to leave for Germany this week. It will be the first time that she will set foot on German soil since the war. Quint, who is a volunteer guide at Yad Vashem and who has told her own story to scores of visiting groups from abroad, has led student groups to Poland, but has always been reluctant to go to Germany. What prompted her to go on this occasion was the thought that she might meet someone who knew her as a child or who knew her family. Quint's parents and siblings were murdered in the Holocaust, her name was changed on several occasions, and she had difficulty in proving her true identity after the war. It took many years before she was able to obtain her birth certificate, those of her brothers and the marriage certificate of her parents. Although she has been blessed with four children, more than 20 grandchildren and two great grandchildren, she has never quite come to terms with her past and is hoping to find a common thread with other Bergen-Belsen survivors who will be attending Sunday's ceremony. FORMER KNESSET Speaker, former Yad Vashem chairman and former ambassador to Poland Szewach Weiss, who currently spends less time in Israel than in Poland where he heads the chair for Jewish studies at the University of Warsaw, is frequently called upon by representatives of the Israeli media to comment on events in Poland. The Polish elections caused him to be in greater demand than usual over the past week. Weiss is also often asked about his strong attachment to his native Poland in view of the fact that there are still outbreaks of anti-Semitism, and that he spent so many years in Israel from his adolescence until his appointment as ambassador. He never felt completely at home in Israel, he admits. Weiss points to the Polish roots of modern Israel's founding fathers, the number of Jewish Nobel Prize laureates of Polish background, but perhaps most importantly, the honor and dignity which he is accorded in Poland. ONLY DAYS before the defeat of her brother-in-law, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, at the polls, Maria Kaczynska, the wife of Polish President Lech Kaczynski came to Israel for the gala opening of the Polish Institute in its new location at Asia House in Tel Aviv. Though warm, spontaneous and outgoing, Kaczynska refused to discuss politics - at least those on her home turf. She was much more interested in discussing Polish-Israel relations and the elimination of stereotyped images on both sides. She also spoke of the enormous contribution made by Jews to Polish culture and other aspects of Polish life, and reeled off the names of a string of Jewish writers whose works are extremely popular in Poland. It was very important for people to understand each other's cultures, she said, and added that she would like to see an Israel Institute established in Poland. She had met several people both in Poland and in Israel who support this idea, she said, as she congratulated Elisabeth Frister, who heads the Polish Institute in Tel Aviv, on the remarkable job that she has done. While concurring with almost everything that Kaczynska said, Arthur Avnon, the deputy director-general for cultural and scientific affairs at Israel's Foreign Ministry, made it clear that there would be no Israel cultural institute in Poland, because he said, Israel does not maintain cultural institutes in any other country. However, he said, the Foreign Ministry pays a lot of attention to the enhancement of cultural relations with other countries, and this is done through its embassies abroad. In this context, he praised the work of the Israel Embassy in Warsaw. "Poland is one of the most important countries for Israel in Europe," he said. As far as the Polish Institute in Tel Aviv was concerned, Avnon said that it was very important to both countries "because it symbolizes the strength of our relations. The two countries need it in the light of our history and generations of symbiotic relationship." Without the Polish Institute, he said, there was a danger that centuries of good relations between Poles and Jews would be forgotten, and only what happened during the Second World War would be remembered. "We must fight against the stereotyped images of Jews in the eyes of Poles and Poles in the eyes of Jews," he said. Without ignoring the past, he said, it was important to build a mutually beneficial future. Kaczynska's entourage included Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, undersecretary of state for community relations and social affairs in the Polish president's Chancellery. Junczyk-Ziomecka was besieged by journalists who wanted to know about the Museum of the History of Polish Jews that is being constructed in the vicinity of the Warsaw Ghetto, and for which ground was broken this past June. The museum is due to open in two years, she said, and it will be not just a monument but a meeting place for people from all over Europe. "Whoever comes to Poland will see this tribute to a thousand years of Jewish life in Poland. Jews did not only suffer, they also contributed to politics and culture in Poland, in other parts of Europe, America and elsewhere in the world. Israel's founders were from Poland," she said, echoing remarks frequently uttered by Szewach Weiss. Although Kaczynska came to Israel primarily for the gala opening of the relocated Polish Institute, now in its seventh year, she also visited with Polish nuns in the Old City of Jerusalem and in Bethlehem, where she is the patron of an orphanage run by the nuns. In the absence of Sonia Peres from Beit Hanassi, Kaczynska met with Aliza Olmert, the prime minister's wife, who speaks Polish and who like Kaczynska is deeply interested in culture and in child welfare. Although Kaczynska expressed delight at seeing so many people of Polish origin at the opening of the Polish Institute, she might have been less enthusiastic had she witnessed the display of bad manners on the part of a sector of the huge crowd. Even the most casual observer could tell the difference between those who were raised in a cosmopolitan milieu and those who came from the shtetl. Unfortunately, organizers had miscalculated on the numbers, and although waitresses moved around with trays of finger food, there was only one buffet table which some people attacked like vultures, completely clearing the platters so that not even a lettuce leaf was left. One of the regulars at Polish events, who asked to remain nameless, said that he was so embarrassed that he didn't know which way to turn. It wasn't just the food that they were grabbing, but also the free literature and markers. For all that, the event was a great success, and the Institute with its many books, newspapers, magazines, CDs, films and videos in Polish, Hebrew and English provides a wonderful opportunity for Poles and Israelis to get together, and for Israelis to learn about Polish Jewish history and contemporary Poland through the various courses offered by the Institute. IT SEEMS to be the season for cultural institutes and their contribution to diplomacy. The French Institute moved to new premises on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard earlier this year and had a magnificent opening, accompanied by a series of cultural events. The opening of the Polish Institute in its new venue was also accompanied by a series of cultural events, and according to Robert Rehak, the Czech cultural attache, the Czechs are opening a cultural institute in early 2008. Rehak said that they're aiming for January. IN THE universal game of "What if...," President Shimon Peres recently wondered aloud about how the course of Israel's history might have been different if the failed 1934 attempt to reach an agreement between David Ben Gurion and Ze'ev Jabotinsky had succeeded, thus creating peace within the Zionist movement. Peres voiced the question to members of the Jabotinsky Institute, who presented him with a new Jabotinsky anthology based entirely on the events of 1934, the year after the murder of Mapai leader Chaim Arlosoroff. At one stage, it was thought that two Revisionists were responsible, and Revisionist leader Jabotinsky had worked tirelessly for their release from British captivity. The mystery as to who killed Arlosoroff as he was walking on the beach in Tel Aviv has never been solved. This is the ninth volume of the writings of Jabotinsky, and it was presented to Peres by Jabotinsky's grandchildren Dr. Karni Jabotsinky-Rubin and Ze'ev Jabotinsky, who was named after his grandfather. Peres told them that in his youth, he had been told that the two greatest orators in the world were Trotsky and Jabotinsky. He was interested to know how the writings had been preserved, explaining that Ben Gurion had carbon-copied everything he wrote because, like Nelson, he believed that the recording of history was no less important than the making of history. Peres was also interested in the style of language of the book and asked the editor, Dr. Moshe Halevi, whether he had made many changes to make the text more contemporary. Peres was quite surprised when Jabotinsky Institute director Yossi Ahimeir told him that some 7,000 of Jabotinsky's letters and essays are preserved in the institute's archives. ORDINARILY, GERMAN Ambassador Dr. Harald Kindermann would have prepared an informative speech to mark the 17th anniversary of German reunification. However, one of the guests at his residence on the night of the festivities was Saarland Prime Minister Peter Muller, and courtesy demanded that he deliver the keynote speech. But it was Kindermann who welcomed guests to his beautiful Herzliya residence, and noted that he reads The Jerusalem Post every morning. Saarland is one of 16 federal states in the Federal Republic of Germany, and some of the food and drink served in the ambassador's garden was specially brought from there to Israel. Zaarland is on the French border and, according to Muller, it combines the best elements of both countries. "We work like Germans and live like French," he said, as he extolled the charms of Saarland. "Each German prime minister says that his state is the best, but I'm the one that's telling you the truth. We have good food and good drink." In a more serious vein, Muller explained that Saarland symbolizes reconciliations. France and Germany were once enemies, he explained, and today they are friends. He wished for something similar to happen in the Middle East, especially between Israel and the Palestinians. Whereas Muller spoke in German, Ya'akov Edry, Israel's minister for immigrant absorption and the development of the Negev and Galilee, opted to speak in Hebrew, declaring that "someone has to speak Hebrew." In fact, a German official who preceded Muller spoke some Hebrew as well. Edry always chooses to speak Hebrew when representing the government, though he has been known to drop a few words in French. He said the special relationship between Israel and Germany had evolved against the backdrop of a dramatic and difficult history. Although it created great controversy at the time, both countries decided to embark on diplomatic relations without ignoring the tragic events of the past and the inhuman treatment of the Jewish people at the hands of the Germans, Edry recalled. Germany has established a free and democratic republic that confronts its past but is committed to the security and integrity of Israel, the minister said. Germany is very much aware of the dangers posed by Iran, he said, adding that Israel appreciated the position taken by Chancellor Angela Merkel in this regard. Merkel, he said, had reiterated on more than one occasion that good relations with Israel are intrinsic to Germany's foreign policy. Moreover, Merkel has not hesitated to condemn Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his denial of the Holocaust. Germany's commitment to Israel, added Edry, transcends all political party lines. MUCH OF the Who's Who in Tel Aviv gathered at the Council for a Beautiful Israel to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Yad B'Yad, the nationwide organization founded in 1982 by Shelly Hoshen to ensure that children from dysfunctional families would have a "warm home" to come to after school to do their homework and to get a hot meal. For some of the children, it was and is their only meal of the day. Social Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog, to whom the premises where the celebration was held are very familiar, considering that the Council for a Beautiful Israel was founded by his mother, Aura Herzog, praised Hoshen for her life's work and her unstinting devotion to the welfare of Israel's children. The occasion was also used to welcome incoming chairman of the Friends of Yad B'Yad, attorney David Gilat. Today there are 20 "warm homes" operating in Israel and two in the United States. Each of the homes cares for some 30 children aged between four and seven. THE ATTENDANCE for the Daniel Pearl Memorial Concert at the Kol HaNeshama Synagogue in Jerusalem left something to be desired, but the performance by the Alei Gefen choir conducted by Eli Gefen was simply superb. The homage to Daniel Pearl, an American investigative journalist who was kidnapped and executed in Pakistan in 2002, was largely arranged by veteran broadcaster Freda Keet, who for the past several years has been engaged in outreach work on Israel's behalf, mainly with the Christian Evangelical world. Kol HaNeshama spiritual leader, Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, recalled how he eagerly listened to Keet's broadcasts of the news on Israel Radio during his early years as an immigrant. He also noted that since Pearl's final words before he was murdered were an affirmation of his Judaism in that he declared himself to be a Jew, it was extremely appropriate that the memorial be held on the day of the Torah reading of Lech Lecha, which contains the first mention of a Jew in the Bible. Gefen was presented with a huge bouquet of flowers at the end of the magnificent concert. He plucked several roses from the bouquet, handing one to each of the soloists, and then presented what remained of the bouquet to Keet.

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