One can’t help wondering whether President Reuven Rivlin’s iftar dinner this year will be a flop. The president and SodaStream are hosting iftar dinners on the same night, and SodaStream is expecting some 2,500 Jewish, Muslim and Christian guests, including Palestinians, at its plant in Rahat, where it provides employment for some 2,000 people of different faiths and nationalities, and where Israelis and Palestinians work side by side, proving that coexistence is possible.
“It’s time for resolution with our Palestinian neighbors. This can actually work,” says SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum. “My intention by hosting this huge and important event is to show the leaders on both sides – and the world – that we can work together, we can live together, and together we can manage the future rather than the conflict.”
SodaStream moved to Idan Hanegev Industrial Park in the largely Bedouin city of Rahat in the Negev in 2015, and was recently acquired by Pepsico for $3.2 billion.
Rivlin always invites ambassadors who are of the Muslim faith, mayors of Arab towns and villages, leading Arab businesspeople and Muslim religious leaders to the iftar dinner that he hosts. More recently, he has also invited representatives of companies that have a significant number of Arabs among their employees.
Birnbaum’s guest list, though considerably larger, is similar, and includes SodaStream employees from both factory and headquarters as well as executives from around the globe, CEOs of global companies based in Israel, the mayor of Rahat, and prominent Muslim clergy.
Peace and harmony are the themes for the evening, and these two precious values will also be reflected in the culinary delights prepared by chefs Moshe Segev and Jalal Salem of the (Segev and Toto restaurants in Tel Aviv). There will also be interfaith performances in Hebrew and Arabic by Ketreyah, Hitam Agashei and Bat ella.
■ APROPOS RIVLIN, who is arguably the most zealous advocate for Jerusalem, where he and many of his forebears were born, last week he was on another track and singing the praises of Tel Aviv. He had little option – he was sharing space on the stage with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai at the Europe Day reception, in addition to which Rivlin also happens to be an honorary citizen of Tel Aviv.
■ ON THE premise that every cloud has a silver lining, any reader of an Israeli newspaper or digital news service who had never previously heard of Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski certainly knows who he is now.
Magierowski, a former journalist and astute newsman, was assaulted by a disgruntled Israeli near his embassy in Tel Aviv last week. The Israeli, Arik Lederman, had gone to the Polish Embassy to make inquiries about property that had belonged to his family in Poland. According to Lederman, he had been rudely denied entry by a security guard who had also muttered an antisemitic slur. When Lederman came out into the street, the driver of a car honked at him, and noting that it had a diplomatic license plate, Lederman, who was already angry, banged on the roof, opened the door and spat twice at the passenger sitting inside the vehicle. Magierowski, who is a quick thinker, immediately photographed him, and then complained to Foreign Ministry Chief of Protocol Meron Reuben. He also notified his superiors in Warsaw, and the incident – which could have simply died a natural death, especially as Lederman claims to have been unaware of the rank of the passenger in the car – became an international incident.
Magierowski has been reported as saying that nobody in the embassy would make antisemitic remarks. He may not be aware of what stereotyped tough cookies his security guards are. They really have no concept of how to win friends and influence people.
Moreover, Magierowski has met enough Holocaust survivors and their families to know that in many cases Poland and the Polish people are not the flavors of the month. Had he asked the man why he was so angry, he might have been able to at least resolve the problem. But then, of course, his name would not have run like wildfire through the Israeli media.
■ ALTHOUGH MANY immigrants from English-speaking countries have made distinguished careers for themselves in Israel, very few come to public attention. The Anglos, as they are generally known, are a silent minority whose influence can best be seen in social welfare organizations, to which they individually and collectively contribute enormous sums of money, and for which many work voluntarily in administrative and hands-on capacities.
This was brought home on two consecutive days last week, when the Jerusalem Friends of Aleh held a fund-raiser screening at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center of the impressive Hungarian post-Holocaust film 1945, which demonstrates the best of human dignity and the worst of human indignity; and when the English Speaking Residents Association held a 40th anniversary gathering at Kibbutz Shefayim. At both events, immigrants from English-speaking countries – many of whom have been in Israel for decades, but nonetheless mix in Anglo circles – were overwhelmingly the majority. The screening was sold out, and the ESRA event was attended by some 500 people.
At the Aleh event, Yoni Lipschitz, the father of six children, two of whom have special needs, told of how Aleh had influenced the decision by him and his wife, Candice, to leave South Africa with their family to live in Israel.
Like all parents, they had dreams for their children even before they were born. Lipschitz became a father to Dinah when he was only 22 years old. The dreams the young parents had for their daughter could not materialize. Now 20, she was a special needs child, with a rare disease, who will have special needs for the rest of her life. When Kayla, 17, was born, her parents learned that she had the same disease as Dinah, though not in as severe a form. Fortunately, the other four Lipschitz children were spared. Though active leaders in the community, the parents devoted a lot of their time to caring for their special needs daughters, who were unable to function independently, while simultaneously trying to achieve a balance with giving attention to their other children.
Three years ago, when Yoni was coming to Israel to attend a conference, he suggested to his wife that she come with him, because she really needed a break.
They discovered Aleh by chance, saw how well Aleh works with children and adults with special needs, and almost immediately decided to come on aliyah so that their daughters could have the best possible therapeutic care and realize whatever potential they had.
Almost immediately after the family arrived in Israel, Dinah and Kayla were taken to Aleh. Kayla was very much overweight and confined to a wheelchair. The parents were told to take the wheelchair home. They protested that Kayla would be unable to move without it. But the Aleh therapists were adamant. Kayla has lost weight, her health has improved, and she doesn’t need the wheelchair. Dinah can eat independently – something she couldn’t do before.
Candice and Yoni now work to raise awareness of children with disabilities and what can be done to make them more self-reliant.
British historian Dr. Charles Landau, who specially came to Israel to provide background detail to the film, said that he had done so because he had been disabled as a child, but was now past that problem, and because “Aleh produces miracles every single day.”
■ AT THE ESRA celebration, the morning session featured celebrated journalist, author and commentator Melanie Phillips and Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Yaakov Katz, with Steve Linde, editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Report, as moderator. Each arrived separately and none of them could immediately find the correct entrance nor could many of the ESRA members from around the country. Phillips was on the verge of turning back in the direction of Tel Aviv when Brenda Katten, ESRA past president and currently head of its public relations committee, caught up with her by mobile phone and gave her directions.
Numerous issues relating to antisemitism, Israel’s security, the rift between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, assimilation and the political situation in Israel were raised during the onstage conversation between the three members of the Fourth Estate, and during question time from the audience, one man pointed out that because the haredi birthrate is so much higher than that of the rest of the country, in a few years haredim will be the majority. The questioner was curious as to who will defend the country if haredim continue to evade military service.
The morning program also included a tribute to ESRA founder Merle Guttmann with an ESRAvision interview conducted by Renee Singer. ESRAvision is an English-language community video program which is available on YouTube and on the ESRAvision site on the Internet with a listing of when each program was made and how many views it has had.
In the interview Guttmann spoke of ESRA’s initial grassroots meeting, which attracted 250 residents from Herzliya. She started the organization, she said, because she wanted to enrich the lives of English-speakers so that they would stay in Israel, knowing what was going on in the country and contributing to it. ESRA has not only aided the integration of English-speakers but also that of immigrants from the former Soviet Union and from Ethiopia.
In the afternoon best-selling Israeli writer A. B. Yehoshua, who comes from a multigenerational Sephardi Jerusalem family, spoke of the problematic definitions of who is a Jew, and found it amazing that the issue, which has been debated for more than 3,000 years, remains unresolved.
It wasn’t so complex prior to the establishment of the State of Israel, he recalled. If someone said they were Jewish, the tendency was to believe them. But after the establishment of the state, the definition entitling a Jew to instant citizenship was at odds with the halachic definition, which states that the child of a Jewish mother is a Jew.
Without specifically splitting hairs over whether Jews are a religion, a race or a nation, Yehoshua noted that a Jew doesn’t have to speak Hebrew, doesn’t have to live in Israel or even to believe in God in order to be halachicly Jewish. He just has to be the child of a Jewish mother. But the definition of a Jew under Israel’s Law of Return is quite different. He doesn’t need to have a Jewish mother or even a Jewish father, so long as he has a Jewish grandparent and declares that he does not adhere to another religion.
That’s not the only definition that troubles Yehoshua. The definition of Zionism, he said, has become a weapon between Right and Left in the battle of ideas and political parties. Zionism in itself is not an ideology, he said, but a platform of contradicting ideologies. “Pulling out of Gaza did not make us less Zionist,” he said, “and when we put up settlements, it doesn’t make us more Zionist.”
Never one to bow to political correctness, Yehoshua stressed that prior to the Second World War, Zionism was not very popular, and that most of the people who came to Israel did not do so out of Zionist ideology and the desire to contribute to the building of a country, but because of antisemitism. “Many of them did not love Eretz Israel. They hated it.”
His lecture was followed by Beatles music and spirited dancing in the aisles.
■ FOR SEVERAL years, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem was headquartered in premises that once served as the Embassy of the Ivory Coast. The lease expired toward the end of last year, forcing ICEJ to look for other premises. There was nothing on the market resembling its former abode, so it temporarily moved into premises in the Talpiot Industrial Zone, and is now looking to purchase a building for its permanent home, or a large enough plot of land on which to build a multipurpose structure to suit its needs.
Its current premises in the Talpiot industrial zone were not suitable for its annual pre-Jerusalem Day party, which, by the way, is always kosher and is usually held in conjunction with its annual international leadership conference, attended by 65 international directors and staff from 30 nations. Because the ICEJ enjoys an excellent relationship of cooperation with the Jewish Agency, ICEJ president Jürgen Bühler and vice president David Parsons asked the agency whether ICEJ could use the facilities of Kiryat Moriah, the agency’s campus for students from abroad, and of course were given a favorable response.
Over the years, the ICEJ has helped to bring more than 145,000 new immigrants to Israel, including 60,000 prior to the fall of the Soviet Union. It has also brought many Ethiopian immigrants to Israel, most recently on the night before the Jerusalem Day reception, when ICEJ took the international leaders to the airport to welcome 57 new immigrants from Ethiopia, who were being reunited with relatives whom in some cases they had not seen in more than a decade. It was an emotional experience all round, and it gave the international directors of the ICEJ a renewed sense of purpose.
■ ELECTIONS TO the European Parliament, which are being held this week, could impact negatively on Israel, despite guarantees at the Europe Day reception last week by Ambassador Emanuele Giaufret, head of the European Union Delegation in Israel, that Europe will remain an important partner for Israel and remains committed to Israel’s security.
Giaufret will be among the speakers on Thursday, May 30, at a roundtable on “The European Parliament Election Results: Possible Significance for Europe and Israel.” Co-sponsored by Mitvim – the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, the European Union and the School of Political Science, Government and International Affairs at Tel Aviv University, the roundtable will be held in the Naftali Building at TAU on Thursday morning, May 30.
Speakers will include Dr. Maya Sion-Tzidkiyahu, co-president of the Israeli Association for the Study of European Integration; Omer Gendler of the Open University; Noga Arbel of the Foreign Ministry; Ariel Shafransky, director of the Foreign Ministry’s Department for Multilateral European Organizations; Eran Etzion, former head of the Foreign Ministry’s Policy Planning Division and deputy head of the National Security Council; and Dr. Nimrod Goren, head of Mitvim.
■ FOR MANY weeks now, music lovers have been looking forward to the Pinchas Zukerman concert at the Jerusalem Theater on May 27. When the Tel Aviv-born violin and viola virtuoso, who came into the world almost exactly two months after the proclamation of the State of Israel, returns home from New York or Ottawa, where he spends most of his time when he’s not touring the world, he usually performs in Tel Aviv. But the concert he is giving is not the only reason that he is coming to Jerusalem.
On the day prior to the concert, he will be conferred with an honorary degree at the annual meeting of the international board of governors of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. There are two other honorees: celebrated author David Grossman and composer Betty Olivero.
At the festive concert, music lovers will get not one great Zukerman, but two. Zukerman’s daughter Arianna, whose magnificent soprano voice has won her fame in her own right, will also appear on the program, which includes works by Bach, Offenbach, Mozart and Vivaldi.
■ RADIO LISTENERS may have caught comedian Tuvia Tsafir advertising the current Yiddishpiel production Gevalt, in which he has a line saying it sounds better in Yiddish. That may be debatable, but it’s often funnier, as is proved by Yael Yekel, who has recorded a Yiddish parody of Netta Barzilai’s “Toy,” which in Yiddish has become “Goy.”
Last Friday, the day before the Eurovision Grand Final, Yekel was interviewed on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet by Liat Regev, who roared with laughter after she heard the Yiddish version of the song. Yekel’s version is about a Jewish girl who falls in love with a non-Jewish man and the qualms she has about the relationship.
Like many actors who have joined the Yiddishpiel Theater, Yekel wanted to understand the language in which she was performing, and studied Yiddish at Tel Aviv University. She wrote the lyrics for “Goy” together with Dr. Yaniv Goldberg, who teaches Yiddish at Bar-Ilan University. She recorded the song on YouTube, and it went viral with close to half a million hits. Not only that, but she’s been invited to lecture in and on Yiddish in Israel and overseas. A generation of young Ashkenazi adults now wants to go back to roots.
Numerous Jews in the Soviet Union maintained their Jewish identities through Yiddish songs and literature. Many of the Yiddish performances recorded on YouTube are by Soviet-born artists, some of them still living in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
■ THE ISRAELI media is rife with negative stories about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, often portraying him as an utterly egotistical individual whose concerns are only for himself and his family. But anyone who heard his Saturday night telephone conversation with Kobi Marimi just before the start of the Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final could not help but be aware of the warmth in Netanyahu’s voice when he told him: “Millions are watching you. Know that an entire nation is with you. It is important that you believe in yourself, Kobi. Do the best that you can; this is what you expect from yourself, and this is what we expect from you. We all embrace and adopt you. I will also be watching you. Good luck, to you and to our country.”
It would have been even more heartwarming if Netanyahu had said what a fantastic job KAN had done in making Eurovision 2019 such a resounding success. The threat to cut its budget looms ever closer now that more ministers will be appointed. Aside from the additional ministerial salaries, each minister will require a minimal staff of four people, and in some cases several more – and none will be working as volunteers, which means that the money for their salaries will come from elsewhere, such as the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation.
Marimi gave a great performance, even though representatives of most other countries in the final scored higher. It is difficult to believe that scores are devoid of politics. With due respect to Tamara Todevska, the singer from North Macedonia, who briefly was among the top three on the scoreboard and finally finished eighth, she has a good voice, but there was nothing memorable about her song. However, in an era of inclusion and integration, which was symbolized by the diversity of Eurovision participants, North Macedonia stands out as a country that earlier this month was praised by Pope Francis for its efforts “to welcome and provide assistance to the great number of migrants and refugees coming from different Middle Eastern countries.”
■ IT HAS often been described as the world’s oldest profession. While the world progresses with innovations – which inspire other innovations, which turn what was once a novelty into an obsolete item – and eliminates professions that were once guarantees of a livelihood, prostitution is still with us. Sometimes it is reduced or camouflaged by efforts of feminist movements and legislators, but it never really disappears.
Many prostitutes, especially those who work without a pimp, are in the business not because they like it, but because they need the money. Others have been cheated and subsequently coerced by criminal elements. For instance, women from the former Soviet Union were deliberately misled into thinking that they were coming to Israel to get good jobs requiring whatever skills and qualifications they have, only to have their passports confiscated, while the women became prisoners in the age-old sex trade. Either way, extreme efforts are being made to restore their dignity, their self respect, and their ability to earn a decent living by honorable means.
Lilach Tzur Ben Moshe, a former lifestyle editor at Maariv, is one of the people who have taken on this mission. In 2011, she founded an NGO that in English is called Turning the Tables. Women interested in leaving the sex trade are given vocational training in sewing, design, pattern making and digital marketing, so that they can take their places in Israel’s fashion industry. On average, 50 such women are given economic empowerment each year. One of the activities that leads to an improvement in their self-image is the holding of fashion shows, in which some of them participate together with professional models strutting the runway in the clothes that they have created.
Coming up in conjunction with the International Women’s Club is a fashion show that is being produced by Motty Reif at the Einav Center in Tel Aviv’s Gan Ha’Ir, on Thursday evening, May 30. Reif is one of the top fashion show producers in Israel. The merchandise is branded “I’m not for sale” – a declaration that applies to the designer, not the garment.
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