Regular congregants of the Hazvi Yisrael Synagogue in Jerusalem’s Talbiyeh neighborhood knew from their emails that there would be a kiddush last Saturday in honor of US Ambassador David Friedman, and that another David, bridegroom David Denker, would be called to the Torah prior to his marriage to Ariel Bruce. What they didn’t know – because it wasn’t announced in advance – was that Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Aryeh Stern would also grace the congregation with his presence.
Nor did they know that the two Davids are members of the priestly tribe and, as such, descendants of Aaron, the brother of Moses.
Members of the priestly tribe, or kohanim as they are known in Hebrew, are charged with blessing the congregation. This was referred to by both Stern and the congregation’s Rabbi Avigdor Burstein.
Stern said that the kohanim had been blessed by God to bless the people of Israel, and Burstein noted that kohanim are God’s envoys and stated how appropriate it was that both Davids had blessed the congregation on the day of the reading of Naso, which is the longest of all the Torah portions of the year and which deals with the responsibility of the kohen. He also found it symbolic that Friedman had been the first to be called up to the Torah reading and Denker the last in what was in a sense a generational continuity.
Friedman, for his part, spoke of what Jerusalem means to him and hinted broadly that he would be spending many future weekends in Jerusalem and attending services at Hazvi Yisrael. He also mentioned that his family, which has visited Israel more than 50 times, was in Jerusalem last year during the festival of Sukkot, and he had been given the honor of being hatan Bereshit on Simhat Torah, a fact that apparently carried a lot of weight in Washington. He forecast that quite a number of political figures would show up in Jerusalem next Sukkot.
■ INTERNATIONAL HUMAN rights lawyer and former justice minister of Canada Irwin Cotler and his wife, Ariela, who divide their time between their homes in Montreal, where he was born, and Jerusalem, where she was born, also attend services at Hazvi Yisrael when they are in Jerusalem, and were among the congregants last Saturday.
It was important for Cotler to be in Israel at this time because it was not only the 50th anniversary of the reunification of the city but also the 50th anniversary of his days as a student at the Hebrew University; the 40th anniversary of his becoming a professor; the 40th anniversary of his meeting Ariela through his acting as an unofficial envoy for Menachem Begin, for whom Ariela was the legislative assistant; the 40th anniversary of his meeting with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat; the 40th anniversary of his human rights activities on behalf of Natan Sharansky; and the 40th anniversary of his human rights activities on behalf of Ethiopian Jewry.
■ JUST AS Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer will return to Jerusalem with an honorary doctorate conferred on him in America by Yeshiva University, former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro will return to the US with an honorary doctorate conferred on him by the University of Haifa.
Shapiro was one of five Americans out of a total of 10 outstanding people who, in caps and gowns, received honorary degrees this week from the University of Haifa. The others were American historian Prof. Deborah Lipstadt, internationally famous for winning a courtroom Holocaust denial case against British historian David Irving; lawyer Sandor Frankel, who as a trustee of the Helmsley Charitable Trust has directed many philanthropic endeavors toward Israel; Prof. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, a world-renowned scholar of performance and Jewish studies and a museum professional who has made significant contributions to the research of the culture, folklore and heritage of East European Jewry. Strictly speaking Weizmann Institute physicist Dr. Harvey Scher is also an American, but because he lives here, he was listed as an Israeli. Still, the overall ratio certainly says something about the American-Israel alliance.
Shapiro received his honorary doctorate in recognition of his exemplary public service, and particularly for his extraordinary dedication to the advancement of the alliance between Israel and the United States, and for being a true friend of the State of Israel, as well as for his contribution to advancing the values of pluralism, tolerance and acceptance of the other.
■ GUESTS AT the Swedish national day luncheon last Friday at the residence of Swedish Ambassador Carl Magnus Nesser wondered, in view of the recent political disputes between Sweden and Israel, who if anyone would represent the government. One of the Foreign Ministry officials in attendance said that ministers never attend national day receptions on a Friday. This is not exactly true, because even Meir Porush of United Torah Judaism represented the previous government at a luncheon of this kind hosted by Nesser. The question was more pertinent than it might have been ordinarily, if only because witty and good humored Nesser is in the process of completing his term.
In the final analysis the government was represented not by a minister but by Rodica Radian-Gordon, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general for Western Europe. One of the guests quipped that this was entirely appropriate, as no other ambassador had been summoned to meetings with Radian-Gordon as frequently as Nesser.
It was obvious to all that despite the current downturn in bilateral relations, there is mutual respect and affection between Nesser and Radian-Gordon, and she gave one of the most balanced and honest addresses ever heard at a function of this kind. The platitudes were there, but so were the criticisms.
For all their differences, Radian-Gordon praised Nesser and deputy head of mission Alexandra Rydmark, who is also leaving but will continue to work with Nesser in Stockholm. Radian-Gordon lauded both as honorable diplomats who have worked to strengthen relations between the two countries “despite deep political disagreements.”
Even when relations are not at their height, she said, cooperation, especially in innovation, continues. Israel sees Sweden as a hub for innovation, she said, noting that Sweden has three innovation offices abroad, and Israel is one of the countries in which such an office is located.
Radian-Gordon was also appreciative of Sweden’s attitude to Holocaust remembrance and underscored that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance was founded in 1998 at the initiative of Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson. She also commended Nesser’s personal involvement with Holocaust survivors in Israel and categorized Sweden as a leading model of a welfare state.
Nesser said that it had been a privilege to work in Israel, where he had made great contacts and many friends. For a diplomat, he said, “your service is your own story. Israel played an important part in my life, and I will stay in touch.” He also promised to return.
■ ALSO COMPLETING his term this summer is Italian Ambassador Francesco Maria Talo, who had actually made a farewell speech last year when he thought he was leaving, but asked for and received a second extension.
The upshot is that he served for five years, which is the longest period that an Italian ambassador has ever served in Israel.
Talo makes no secret of the fact that he’s in love with the country, and told hundreds of people gathered on the spacious lawns of the Italian residence in Ramat Gan on Sunday in celebration of Italy’s national day that he is a frequent visitor to Jerusalem, “which is a city dear to all of us, with undeniable and intrinsic links to the Jewish people.”
Almost immediately after arriving in Israel, he said, he had gone to Yad Vashem to take responsibility “for our hatred and our past.”
After that he went to the Italian Synagogue in the capital, to which he has since escorted many Italian dignitaries, including one of his country’s presidents.
He was very pleased at the presence of President Reuven Rivlin, whose attendance, he said, was proof of the friendship between Italy and Israel. He was also happy to welcome veterans of the Jewish Brigade who fought in Italy during World War II, and said that the Italian Parliament is now discussing the awarding of Italy’s highest honors to these soldiers “who liberated Italy while dreaming of Israel.” Talo also spoke extensively of cooperation in science and culture, which he said is the opposite of boycotts. “We are resolutely against any form of boycott,” he said.
Both Talo and Rivlin condemned the terrorist acts in London this past weekend and sent condolences to the British people. “Terrorists will not prevail,” declared Talo.
With regard to Italy’s national day, Rivlin said: “Seventy-one years have passed since Italians realized the dream to live in a democratic republic, and to this day, it is a dream worth celebrating.”
Relating to the historic ties between Israel and Italy, the president said, “The lines between Rome and Jerusalem go back many centuries. This connection has shaped both sides and both cultures in many ways. Back then, the connection was one of tragedy and violence. In recent years, however, the relationship between Israel and Italy has become very close.”
In addition to voicing appreciation for the honors to be conferred on Jewish Brigade veterans, Rivlin also emphasized Israel’s deep appreciation for Italy’s vote “against the shameful decision by UNESCO which treats Israel as foreigners in its own capital.”
Reiterating what was said by him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to foreign diplomats on Independence Day, Rivlin said: “It is time for our friends, including Italy, to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
We might have some disagreement over the borders of Israel’s capital. But we all agree that Jerusalem is and will remain Israel’s capital. It is time to translate this truth into a fact.”
Although there were numerous current and former politicians among the guests, Rivlin, who by virtue of his position is supposed to be apolitical, singled out former minister Gideon Sa’ar as having contributed greatly to Israel-Italy relations. In this context, Rivlin also lavished praise on Talo.
■ THE ISRAEL-AUSTRALIA, New-Zealand & Oceania Chamber of Commerce has a small team of dedicated people headed by Australian- Israeli executive director Paul Israel, whose job it is to keep tabs on who’s who in diverse areas of Israel’s industry, innovation, finance, scientific research, hi-tech, entrepreneurship and academia, so that he can put together interesting and effective programs for the various Australian trade missions that come to Israel.
Such missions are on the rise, and they are not professionally homogeneous. This year, there will be a total of 30 missions – some back-to-back and some simultaneous.
All have participants with impressive biographies, but this week there’s a particularly amazing group of 43 high-powered women, most of whom had never met one another before, but who have each reached executive positions in most of the above-mentioned spheres, plus others.
Taking into account distance and travel time, the Australian missions are of at least a week’s duration and very intense, covering a great deal of the country and including meetings with top-notch Israelis who represent areas of interest to mission participants. There are occasional one-on-one meetings as well, especially for Australian investors and venture capitalists.
The most relaxing period is Friday night when mission members have a traditional Friday night dinner in the hotel where they are staying, often with a rabbi present to explain some of the Sabbath rules and customs. Most of the mission members are not Jewish, and Paul Israel feels that in addition to learning about Israel during their visit, they should also learn something of the prevailing faith in the country.
Given that it was a women’s mission led by barrister Helen Coonan, a former senator, cabinet minister and deputy leader of the government in the Senate, and Diane Smith Gander, who have each had a broad range of diverse roles and professions, it was only natural that the rabbi on this occasion should also be a woman.
Rabbi Yael Karie is a Reform rabbi who serves as the regional rabbi of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council. In this capacity she cares for the spiritual needs of 10 kibbutzim and moshavim. She is also engaged in peace building between residents of Jewish and Arab communities and has devised special projects on which they work together and develop friendships by seeing each other solely as people without labels.
Karie absolutely captivated her audience, and as far as Jewish law is concerned, didn’t tell them anything of which an Orthodox rabbi would disapprove. She also sang one of the blessings in a sweet, lilting voice.
A tour guide before she became a rabbi, she had grown up believing that her grandfather was a true Zionist pioneer who came from Estonia to drain the swamps and to plant orange trees. When she became an English-language tour guide, her mother told her that the story was not quite true. In actual fact, her grandfather had intended to sail to America to make his fortune, but he was late in getting to the boat – only five minutes late, but that was enough to put an end to that plan. He asked when the next boat would be sailing and didn’t have to wait long.
When he asked its destination, he was told “to British Mandate Palestine” – and that’s how he ended up in the Holy Land. Karie was nonplussed. “Why are you telling me this story now?” she asked her mother. The reply was: “I want you to remember that the only difference between you and the tourists is five minutes!” To high-powered women who were leaders in their respective fields, the message was loud and clear.
■ ASSOCIATES OF the controversial and much married Rabbi Marc Schneier, who in March of this year wed his sixth wife, former Israeli flight attendant Simi Teitelbaum, who is now a New York real estate broker, say that his personal life is his own business, but what he has done publicly to strengthen interethnic and interfaith understanding is more than praiseworthy. During this year, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding began facilitating dialogue between American Evangelical leaders and Muslim leaders from the United States and from Muslim countries, with the aim of strengthening Muslim-Evangelical relations. Schneier, who is president of the foundation, believes that stereotypes have often shaped the perception of Muslims in the American Evangelical community.
During a visit to New York by Azerbaijan Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, the foundation seized the opportunity to host a breakfast meeting with American Evangelicals to raise awareness about Azerbaijan’s outstanding role in promoting religious freedom and harmony on its territory and at the international level through the Baku process.
In attendance were Azerbaijan Ambassador to the US Elin Suleymanov, Azerbaijan Ambassador to the UN Yashar Alieyv, former Azerbaijan ambassador to Mexico Ilgar Mukhtarov and an outstanding delegation of 15 American Evangelical leaders led by Eagles’ Wings founder Bishop Robert Stearns.
Schneier welcomed the participants and told them why Azerbaijan is such a remarkable model of tolerance, calling it “a beacon in the Muslim world,” a Muslim-majority country, sharing borders with Iran and Russia, that not only protects the religious freedom of its Jewish and Christian communities but also promotes intercultural dialogue at the international level through the Baku process.
Stearns noted that Evangelicals had no idea about Azerbaijan’s model and that they wish to work closer with the two other Abrahamic faiths, Jews and Muslims.
At the conclusion of the breakfast gathering, the delegation of Evangelical leaders pledged to continue this dialogue through the foundation and the Azerbaijan Embassy in Washington, DC, and explore the opportunity to implement cultural exchange programs between the US and Azerbaijan.
Early in May, Schneier, together with foundation chairman Russell Simmons, traveled to Baku and met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, where the focus of the conversation was the contribution of the Baku-hosted 4th World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue to the strengthening of international cooperation.
They also discussed the fact that representatives of different nationalities and religions live in an atmosphere of brotherhood in Azerbaijan, where government policy promotes a high level of mutual tolerance, which serves as an example to the world. They also praised successful development of Azerbaijan- US bilateral relations in a variety of fields.
■ IN THE plethora of milestone anniversaries this year, one that was almost overlooked was that of the joint suicide of Irgun fighter Meir Feinstein and Stern Group fighter Moshe Barazani, who were sentenced to death by the British Mandate Authorities and placed in the same prison cell in Jerusalem. Only hours before the scheduled execution by hanging, the two decided to take their fate into their own hands and on April 21, 1947, with an improvised grenade that had been smuggled into the prison inside an orange, they committed suicide by embracing each other with the grenade between their chests.
Feinstein, who was born in the Old City of Jerusalem, and who studied for 10 years at Etz Chaim Yeshiva, was a disciple of the famous Rabbi Aryeh Levin, who was known as the rabbi of the prisoners, making a point of visiting them regularly and supplying them with kosher food.
Feinstein and Barazani have been commemorated as the heroes of the gallows. Menachem Begin, who was the commander of the Irgun, asked to be buried alongside them on the Mount of Olives, and that is the prime reason that he was not buried with the leaders of the nation on Mount Herzl.
To mark the 70th anniversary of the heroism of Feinstein and Barazani, a memorial evening will be held on Thursday, June 8, in the grounds the Underground Museum at the rear of the Russian Compound. Speakers will include Aryeh Mualem, deputy head of the families and commemoration department of the Defense Ministry; Herzl Makov, the CEO of the Begin Heritage Center; Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, whose mother, Geulah Cohen, was a famed Stern Group broadcaster; Tuvia Goldman, the son of Rabbi Yaakov Goldman, who was the chief chaplain at the prison and who spent time with Feinstein and Barazani on the night of their death; Rabbi Benji Levin, the grandson of Aryeh Levin; and Eliezer Feinstein, the nephew of Meir Feinstein. The keynote address will be delivered by Dr. Yaakov Markovitzky, who will speak on 1947 as a decisive year in the shadow of the gallows.
■ AS PART of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the reunification of Jerusalem, the Shalom Hartman Institute is hosting the launch on Wednesday of the Hebrew edition of Yossi Klein Halevi’s prizewinning book Like Dreamers. Halevi will be engaged in conversation by Micah Goodman, who is also a prizewinning author.
■ WHILE MOST Israelis and Jews from around the world have been celebrating the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, there have also been a series of events protesting the “occupation.” Another such event is scheduled for Wednesday at the Jerusalem Press Club, where SISO, an acronym for Save Israel, Stop the Occupation – an initiative of prominent Israeli individuals and organizations that have joined with Jewish leaders from around the world to achieve a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – is hosting a panel discussion at 11:30 a.m. on “Societal Costs of the Six Day War and Israeli Occupation of the West Bank.”
Panelists will be SISO founder and chairman Daniel Bar-Tal, emeritus professor at the School of Education at Tel Aviv University and internationally acclaimed scholar of the social psychology of prolonged conflict and peace-building; Dr. Ruhama Marton, founder of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, which monitors rights to health in Israel and the territories and advocates for those whose rights have been violated; and Dr. Shlomo Swirski, founder and academic director of the Adva Center, which recently published an in-depth study on the economic cost of the occupation. Moderator will be Jessica Montell, executive director of SISO and former head of B’Tselem.
■ AT SUNDAY’S traditional March for Israel parade along Fifth Avenue, New York Gov.
Andrew Cuomo declared the event as the first-ever “Shimon Peres Day.” Over a celebratory breakfast, Cuomo said, “This is a special day for me, a day that honors one of Israel’s founding fathers, an inspirational leader and visionary. We will never forget his strong connection to the United States and New York. I am moved from the bottom of my heart.”
Last March, during his visit to Israel, Cuomo met with Chemi Peres and announced that, starting this year, every first Sunday of June will honor Israel’s ninth president, Shimon Peres.
Chemi Peres, who is chairman of the board of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, was touched by the moving gesture in honor of his father, and gave Cuomo a medal in memory of him.
In New York this week, Peres said: “My father worked all of his life to strengthen the strategic relationship between Israel and the United States. There is no greater friend to Israel than the United States. Today I came to say thank you on behalf of my late father.
With this parade, we continue his legacy.”
Other Israelis participating in the march included Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who initiated the 4IL campaign to create an online community of supporters for Israel; Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat; coalition chairman David Bitan; and members of Knesset Ofer Shelah, Avi Dichter and Stav Shaffir.