GRAPEVINE:Monument for Machal

The joys of Hebrew acronyms and returning to Iraq.

EDWIN SHUKER absorbs the sight, smell and taste of the Tigris River. (photo credit: DARTHMOUTH FILMS)
EDWIN SHUKER absorbs the sight, smell and taste of the Tigris River.
(photo credit: DARTHMOUTH FILMS)
■ HEBREW IS a very acronymic language in that acronyms often become part of the vernacular. In government circles for instance, the word roham is frequently used, but it’s not a word that one might find in every Hebrew dictionary. It’s an acronym for rosh hamemshela (the prime minister).
Another commonly used word in both government and business circles is looz – an acronym for luach zmanim, which translates as schedule (which is not quite the literal translation, but literal translations often make for awkward English).
This preamble is simply to introduce the new Machal monument opposite the main Six Day War museum on Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem.
The monument was conceived and partially paid for by American philanthropist and son of Holocaust survivors Jerry Klinger, who in his youth served as a Lone Soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. Machal is an acronym for mitnadvei hutz leartetz (volunteers from abroad) and judging by the turnout at the event, the majority were from South Africa, though there were representatives from France, such as Maurice Fajerman, a stereotypical gallant Frenchman and an adolescent Holocaust survivor who came with his brother in 1948 to fight for Israel’s independence. His brother fell in battle.
There was also Murray Greenfield, the American-born author of The Jews’ Secret Fleet, who painstakingly compiled a list of some 250 American, Canadian and Mexican veterans of the World War II who after discharge volunteered to man the 10 vessels that brought more than 31,000 Holocaust survivors out of displaced persons’ camps to Israel. Not all of these volunteers were Jewish. Greenfield’s list, on which his own name also appears, included not only the names of the men who served, but also the names of the ships on which they served.
Of the South Africans present, there was the legendary Smoky Simon, who was Chief of Air Operations in the War of Independence, and Reuben Narunsky, who fought in all the wars from the War of Independence to the First Lebanon War, and was one of the founders of the Israel Air Force and later of El Al. Sim Manor (originally Mandelzweig) likewise came in 1948, as did his brother Gordon and his aunt Dr.
Mary Gordon, a well-known South African physician who had served in the South African Army Medical Corps during World War II and later as the Chief Medical Officer of the Jewish wing of the British Military Hospital in the Cyprus refugee camp, and subsequently in the Medical Corps in the IDF.
There was also Yitzhak Rogow, who came on a youth leadership course in 1956 and made aliya in 1959; Tzemach Bloomberg, who came in 1961 and served with Nachal, first at Mahane Shmonim and then at Kibbutz Gesher, and Dorron Kline, who came in 1987, served in the IDF and opted to stay. Many of the South African volunteers went back to complete their university degrees, promising to return to Israel after they qualified.
Among the women present was Freda Strahilevitz, nee Gate, who had wanted to study medicine but had been expressly forbidden by her father, who held some very old-fashioned views about career women.
However when he was away at the war, she disobeyed him – albeit not entirely. She didn’t study to be a doctor, but unbeknownst to her father she did study to be a nurse, and qualified in time to serve in Palestine during the War of Independence.
Also present as an admirer of Machal was Jerusalem businessman Oshik Porshian and his wife Anna. They brought their daughter Sivan, a resident of an Akim protected living home, who was helped by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman to get employment in a kindergarten where she has ample opportunity to prove what she can do instead of being completely overlooked because of what she can’t. Porshian, who served in the Air Force, met Simon 40 years ago when a Machal delegation came to visit his base in Hatzor. He had himself photographed with Simon on that occasion and again this week.
Barkat, a former paratroop commander in the IDF was given the honor of lighting the tall hanukkia, after which he said that he was happy to be at an event linking the soldiers, pilots and nurses of World War II with the war of 1948. He commended their commitment and their passing on of the torch to the next generation.
“It is thanks to these veterans that we have a country and a glorious Jerusalem,” he said, elaborating on economic prosperity, tourism and progress in nearly every parameter.
“These are things we don’t think of in our day-to-day lives, but we have all this because of the defense establishment,” declared Barkat. “We don’t take the achievements of the veterans for granted,” he said, acknowledging them as “the builders and defenders of the state who came from all around the world.”
Barkat also paid his respects to veterans no longer living.
“We owe a great debt to all the veterans, he said.
Klinger, who is the founder of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation said that the monument, which is essentially a boulder containing models of tanks and planes and a facsimile of the signature of Yitzhak Rabin, represents the unity of the Jewish People.
“People came from 60 countries and joined together to make this free place for Jewish people,” he said. Several couples joined Klinger and his wife Judy in sponsoring the monument, as did the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. In front of the monument is a plaque featuring a portrait of one of the most famous Machalniks – Mickey Marcus – plus a citation from an address by prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in May 1993 at the consecration of the Machal memorial in the Sha’ar Hagai Forest… “You came to us when we needed you most, during those dark and uncertain days in our War of Independence.
You gave us not only your experience, but your lives as well. The People of Israel and the State of Israel will never forget and will always cherish this unique contribution made by you – the volunteers of Machal”.
Of the volunteers who came in 1948, 117 men and four women were killed in action. Of these, four non-Jewish fliers lost their lives and are buried in the Christian military cemetery in Haifa.
■ YOU CAN’T Go Home Again was the title of Thomas Wolfe’s posthumously published book. In a sense that’s true, because any home to which one returns after an absence of many years is not quite the same as we remember it or as we left it. Some people forced out of their homes by an evil regime never want to return. Others remember the period before the regime or have heard stories about it from relatives and community elders, and spend a lifetime longing to return.
One such person is Edwin Shuker, an Iraqi Jewish businessman and philanthropist who lives in London and who left in his native Baghdad in 1971 when in his mid-teens. Shuker, who is vice chairman of the International; Division of the Board of Deputies, and the European Jewish Congress’s special envoy for refugees, has always had a longing to go home again. Home before the July 14, 1958 coup d’etat and the murder of King Faisal II and other members of the royal family had been a wonderful place, as evidenced by the massive photo albums and home movies that belong to David Dangoor, who likewise was born in Baghdad, is president of the Jewish Renaissance magazine and former president of Britain’s Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community, which includes a high ratio of immigrants from Iraq.
His great grandfather, Ezra Dangoor, was the Chief Rabbi of Baghdad from 1923 to 1926. Two of David Dangoor’s aunts, who live in the same London apartment building, one on top of the other, bring out a large portrait of their distinguished forebear during an interview in the film. It is carefully rolled in cloth. They say that it used to hang in the family home, but was taken down and rolled up when the anti-Jewish riots began.
Even in London, it’s still rolled up.
Dangoor read a newspaper article about film director Fiona Murphy, who despite her name happens to be Jewish, and invited her to come and make a documentary film based on the material in his possession. Fortunately, his mother had written essential details on the back of every photograph.
The meeting with Murphy led to the making of an intriguing documentary, “Remember Baghdad,” which was released in Britain in November had its Israeli premiere at the Jerusalem Cinematheque last Sunday.
Documentaries don’t usually attract a full house, but this one certainly did.
There were a lot of people in the audience who were either born in Iraq or of Iraqi parentage, among them best-selling author Eli Amir, who appears in the film, retired diplomat Zvi Gabay, and home atmosphere caterer Hila Solomon. Although Dangoor (who funded the film) and some of his relatives appear frequently on screen, the star is undoubtedly Shuker, who not only waxes nostalgic about Iraq, but says in the film that he doesn’t want his children growing up thinking that history began in Finchley.
Jewish history in Iraq dates back more than 2,500 years. Neither Shuker nor Dangoor want the world to forget that. Baghdadi Jews in the pre-Saddam Hussein era did quite well for themselves because most were educated and spoke English, which was a major asset in getting ahead.
Dangoor’s family, which left in the 1960s, was among the last to flee, although a tiny Jewish community remained, and a handful of Jews still live there. In 2015, Shuker decided to go home again and to see his old house. It was an extremely emotional experience, as was putting his hand in the Tigris River and splashing the water on his face. He even bought a house in northern Itaq, just to prove that there was still a Jewish presence there, even though it’s still not safe for Jews – at least not yet, as he prefers to say – although nothing untoward happened to him in his travels to Iraq.
Since that first journey home, he has returned several times.
Amir cannot understand why Shuker wants to go home again. Amir is also nostalgic for the Baghdad of his youth, but has no desire to return. He would rather dwell on the sweet memories. One of his books has been adapted for the screen and is being filmed in Iraq. Amir was invited to come during the filming, but he declined. Following the screening, he told Murphy that the film was too one-sided and showed Iraq in too positive a light. However, he did voice appreciation in the film to the Moslem neighbor who for three days ensured that no harm would come to his family. Nonetheless, he would not dream of returning to the Iraq of today.
“Why do you want to do it? What for?” he asked Shuker after the screening.
But Shuker is simply not willing to let go of two and a half millenia of history.
■ ONCE THEY resign from the Foreign Service, former diplomats feel free to voice their own opinions.
While he served as Australia’s ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma acted in accordance with his country’s foreign policy though, he made no secret of where his heart was. It wasn’t just a matter of paying lip service; Sharma remains pro-Israel and pro-Jewish.
This has been clear in his tweets, but even more so in an op-ed piece that was published in the December 10 edition of the nationwide newspaper The Australian. An excerpt reads: “It makes no sense to deny the centuries of history that link the Jewish people to Jerusalem the capital of the ancient kingdom of Israel or the revered place Jerusalem holds for the Jewish faith.
UN resolutions that attempt to deny this connection are a disservice to history and a discredit to the multilateral system.
“It also makes little sense to pretend the western part of Jerusalem is not sovereign Israeli territory. Israel’s Knesset, Supreme Court, the official residences of its prime minister, president and many other state institutions lie within it. Foreign dignitaries, including Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop base themselves at west Jerusalem’s King David Hotel during official visits.
“As an ambassador, I would travel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem several times a week to meet ministers and officials….”
Most of the above has been said at one time or another by President Reuven Rivlin or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but it carries that much more weight when someone neither Jewish nor Israeli expresses similar thoughts.
■ BEGIN FOUNDATION prizes were this week awarded for the 18th consecutive year with former Justice Minister Moshe Nissim heading the public committee that reviewed nominations and selected the winners: Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, and Yigal Cohen-Orgad, chancellor of Ariel University of which he is one of the founders, and who is also a former minister of finance.
Other past and present ministers in attendance included Moshe Arens, Yehoshua Matza and Gila Gamliel, who said that Arens had been the best defense minister that Israel had ever had.
Understandably, every speaker expressed yearning for the integrity and leadership qualities that characterized Menachem Begin, noting that his priorities were social equality and Jewish unity. The greatest challenge that Israel faces today is divisiveness, said Herzl Makov, executive director of the Begin Center.
Cohen Orgad said that his prize belongs to Ariel University, in recognition of its accomplishments, and was confident that in its constant program of expansion, Ariel University would soon open a School of Medicine.
He was pleased to be sharing the prize with Hoenlein, he said, adding that there must be stronger strategies for strengthening the role of American Jewry in their engagement with the people of Israel.
Hoenlein, a master orator who has been deeply involved in many aspects of Jewish life since his days as a university student, appeared in a video before standing at the microphone and stated that for Jews to be able to have a say, they have to be involved.
Colleagues praised him for his ability to relate with ease to all streams and sectors of Jewish communities in the US, the wider Diaspora and Israel, for his ongoing ability to open doors in Washington, for his indefatigable work for Israel and world Jewry and his winning the confidence of American and Israeli leaders from across the political divide.
“It’s so great to be able to hear your own obituary and to be able to walk away,” smiled Hoenlein.
Conscious of the many facilities of the Begin Center, Hoenlein said that he remembered when it was no more than a glint in the eye of its late founder Harry Hurwitz and of Hart Hasten, president of the US Friends of the US Friends of the Menachem Begin Heritage Foundation. Hoenlein revealed that he had tried to build a Hasbara (public diplomacy) Center at the Israel Embassy when Arens was ambassador to the US, but there were others who did not share their vision.
Closely engaged with Begin for many years, Hoenlein said that he had been with him during many important visits and that his family had been the last to visit Begin before he resigned.
“For me this is very emotional in many respects,” he said. He also regretted that “people today have no patience for history. Apathy, ignorance and indifference are our greatest enemies.” He commented that even though Begin carried the history of the Shoa with him, he never got lost in it, but carried it as a warning.
Recalling that Begin had been a staunch proponent for Israel-Diaspora relations, Hoenlein said, “He saw himself not only as the prime minister of the State of Israel, but as prime minister of the Jewish People.
■ PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu had been scheduled to have a new year’s toast with foreign media and diplomats on December 14, but other priorities came up and the event was deferred to some time in January.
Then the same situation occurred with the Jerusalem Press Club, which was scheduled to host a holiday season event on December 21. That also was pushed off to some time in January.
Now one has to wonder whether the annual Christmas-cum-New Year reception that President Reuven Rivlin traditionally hosts towards the end of December will also be postponed.
One also has to wonder if the reasons for delays are Trump, Teva or terrorism.
■ WHILE MORALISTS and religious authorities are arguing against the inclusion of female soldiers in tank crews, the soldiers have the blessing of the president’s wife, Nechama Rivlin, who invited a group of them to come to the President’s Residence this week to light Hanukka candles with her. This is the year in which there has been a female revolution in many spheres, she said. Women have been marching forward, breaking barriers and demanding recognition, justice and equality.
Rivlin confessed that she had asked herself many times, “Why, if it’s so clear that women are strong, is it not taken for granted that we can do anything that is required of us? Why are there still doubts about what we think and what we are physically capable of doing?” She was sure that this question had never entered the minds of her soldier guests because each of them had been certain of her goals from an early age and each had known who they were and what they were going to do.
■ IS THERE going to be a diplomatic incident between the French Consulate in Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Municipality? The French Consulate in the capital’s Emile Botta Street, which is the side street by the King David Hotel that leads to the Sultan’s Pool, has reportedly added considerably to its existing premises without getting a building permit. It is doubtful that a permit would have been issued had an application been made, as the building has been designated for total preservation, meaning that no alterations are permitted.
Writing in Yediot Yerushalayim, Kuti Fundaminski says that the matter has been referred by the Jerusalem Municipality to the legal department of the Foreign Ministry.
There are many misdemeanors that diplomats can commit without fear of penalty, but building violations and damage to historic sites is not one of them. The elegant building that currently serves as the French Consulate was completed in 1930, and the building contractor Constantin Salameh was so enamored with the design that he commissioned the French architect to design his private home.
The first French consul in Jerusalem was appointed by King Louis XIII in 1523. In 1893, the rank was raised to Consul General and since 1994, the Consulate has been the French diplomatic representative to the Palestinian Authority. Presumably if the issue of Jerusalem is settled, and the area where the consulate is standing is designated as part of Israel, the consulate will have to relocate – unless Jerusalem becomes the shared capital of Israel and Palestine. It would certainly save a lot of time, trouble and bloodshed, and in the long run would probably be beneficial to both sides, but in this part of the world, anything that makes sense is taboo.
■ WHO ARE the following people? Meir Turgeman, Hagit Moshe, Yossi Deitch, Yitzhak Pindrus, Zvika Cohen, Haim Epstein and Yael Entebbe? Anyone who is not a Jerusalemite may be forgiven for drawing a total blank, but there are many Jerusalemites who have not heard of most of these people, either.
With municipal elections barely 10 months away and tensions increasingly rising over the status of Jerusalem Kol HaIr, the local weekend supplement of Haaretz, decided to do a cover story on the city’s not exactly well-known deputy mayors. While it is true that each of them is known within the social circles that propelled them into office, it’s doubtful that many residents of the city know who they are.
Whether this was an opportunity to make them better known or to question why they are each entitled to earn NIS 31,389 per month is for readers to decide. It’s possible that the deputies may be working diligently behind the scenes, but that won’t necessarily earn them votes. Until recently, there were actually eight deputy mayors, but Ofer Berkowitz, who found it difficult to see eye-toeye with the mayor, stepped down from being part of the coalition, staying on the council as a member of the opposition.
The question is: Does Jerusalem need eight deputy mayors? Aside from that, if Barkat decides not to run for a third term, whoever succeeds him will in all probability want a salary.
Barkat waived his right to a salary, but if he doesn’t run again, his decision will also play havoc with the municipal budget, which will have to be revised the tune of some NIS 400,000 if not more.

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