Grapevine: A dreary August

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

By
August 6, 2019 21:25
Grapevine: A dreary August

Dr. Josef Burg (R) with his son, former MK Avraham Burg and grandchildren in this 1992 photograph. . (photo credit: TSVIKA ISRAELI/ GPO)

Even though Tu Be’av, the Jewish equivalent of Saint Valentine’s Day, falls in August and there are klezmer festivals in different parts of the country along with other summer festivals, August is a dreary month. Coming up in the immediate future is Tisha Be’av, one of the saddest days on the Jewish calendar because it commemorates the destruction of both the first and second Temples. Then on August 15, former residents of Gush Katif mark the 14th anniversary of their forced evacuation. There are still some who have not been permanently resettled and who are still in trauma. But whatever they suffered in leaving Gush Katif was not nearly as bad as the 1929 Hebron riots, in which 67 Jews were killed. The 90th anniversary of those murders will be commemorated on August 23.
The deaths of so many people in a single day would have been tragic under any circumstances, but in this case more so because although there were tensions between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem, relations between Jews and Arabs in Hebron were relatively good, and they even visited in one another’s homes. Thus the riots were unanticipated. In some cases Jews were killed by Arabs who only a week earlier had been their friends.
 
But not all the Arabs in Hebron were bent on murderous intent. There were also decent, humane Arabs who saved their Jewish friends and tenants. One was called Abu Id Zaitin, who, together with his brother and his son, hid Jews in their cellar and stood against the rioters. Another was Abu Shaker, who saved several of his tenants, including Rivka Slonim, the mother of former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg. Her father, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Slonim, who was the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Hebron, and her brother Eliezer Dan Slonim, who managed the Hebron branch of the Anglo-Palestine bank, were murdered, but she was protected by Abu Shaker, who would not allow the rioters past his door.
 
Later she married German immigrant Yosef Burg, who was elected to the first Knesset in 1949, and for whom nine was a significant number. Burg was born in 1909 and died in 1999. He came on aliyah in 1939 and, as already noted, was elected to the Knesset in 1949, where he served for a total of 39 years, prior to his retirement in 1988. Beginning with the second Knesset, he held ministerial portfolios in every Knesset up to and including the 11th Knesset.
 
He was a longtime leader of the National Religious Party, but his son, Avraham, did not follow on the same political path, though he does continue to wear a kippah. Avraham Burg was and is inclined toward the left of the political spectrum. He was among the founding members of Peace Now, and was subsequently active in the Labor Party. In February 1983, while still a member of Peace Now, he was wounded when a hand grenade was thrown by right-wing activist Yonah Avrushmi at a group of Peace Now demonstrators, killing his friend Emil Grunzweig, wounding nine, including Burg and Yuval Steinitz, who in those days was a staunch leftist before swinging to the political Right. Burg was elected to the Knesset in 1988 as a member of the Labor Alignment, and Steinitz in 1999, by which time he had already abandoned the Left and joined the Likud.
 
■ LARGE FAMILIES often lose sight of each other as their members fan out to different parts of the country or the world. Many members of such families, when they come together for a family reunion, encounter relatives whom they have never met before and, in some cases, of whose existence they were completely unaware.
 
There didn’t seem to be much evidence of this in the large gathering of the progeny and former students of Haham Shmuel Beruchim on the 40th anniversary of his death. His granddaughter Atara Kalimi Segev, who organized the get-together at the wonderful banquet facilities of Moshav Ora in Jerusalem, was a sparkling hostess whose radiant smile encompassed each and every guest. What truly delighted her was the fact that of the close to 500 people present, there were six generations of her family.
There’s a street in Jerusalem that bears the name of Haham Shmuel Beruchim, who led the whole Jewish community of Sakez, in the Kurdish sector of northern Iran, to pre-state Israel.
 
Beruchim was a very learned man of extraordinary perception and talents. In addition to being an extremely knowledgeable scholar, he was also a scribe and wrote several Torah scrolls. When David Ben-Gurion sent a delegation to him in 1945 to urge him to leave Sakez and come with his community to the Land of Israel, Beruchim, perhaps realizing that not everyone would accept the members of his community with open arms, decided to prepare the Aramaic-speaking population for life in their ancestral homeland.
 
He had already taught them Bible and the religious precepts by which to live, but with the exodus from Sakez on the horizon, the most important thing, as far as he was concerned, was language. They had to learn spoken Hebrew. Anyone who didn’t couldn’t come with him. His leadership was so inspiring that everyone made the effort, and all arrived in the Holy Land fluent in Hebrew and flexible in the acceptance of their new domain.
 
The haham and his wife had six children – three boys and three girls – who, after settling in Jerusalem and getting married, provided him with many grandchildren. His progeny now numbers in the hundreds. Together with all the descendants of the Sakez Jewish community, they are in excess of 10,000. The overwhelming majority are still religiously observant, albeit to varying degrees. Most of the men present wore kippot, and a large number of the women present had various kinds of headgear covering their hair. There were quite a number of babies and toddlers.
 
Prior to the event, Kalimi Segev, aided by a few relatives, made it her business to contact all of the adult descendants of the haham who live as far north as the Golan Heights and as far south as the Negev. For those living on the Golan Heights, it was more than a three-hour journey, but they made it.
 
Given the fact that most members of the current family were born in Israel or came as infants, their lifestyle today is more Western than Eastern, especially in the cases of those who have married into families whose forebears came from Europe. What has remained is the style of prayer, which is Eastern. That, too, was heard among reminiscences during the emotion-filled evening.
Relatives present included well-known singer Ruhama Raz, while nonrelatives included former MK Bennie Begin, Prof. Itzhak Reches, Rabbi Joe Weinstein, who represented the Jewish Agency, and Adis Urieta Vega, the ambassador of Panama, who is a former prizewinning journalist and is on her second diplomatic posting in Israel. She speaks Hebrew, and even though the transfer of her embassy to Jerusalem was canceled, she lives with her husband in the capital’s Yemin Moshe neighborhood. She has Palestinian friends in the Palestinian Authority and Jewish friends in Judea and Samaria.
 
Ori Hamani, who as a child was taught by the haham how to read and write, still speaks in the guttural Hebrew of his youth. He declared that everyone present owed whatever they had achieved to the haham. With great affection in his voice, he recalled having been taught the alphabet on a wooden board. After he knew the alphabet by heart, the haham covered the board with honey and told him to lick it. “I can still taste it,” he said, his face wreathed in pleasure.
 
Former National Religious Party MK Eliezer Avtabi spoke of the Jewish community of Sakez, whose members were descendants of the ancient Israelites who had gone into exile following the destruction of the Second Temple.
 
Although Beruchim was very religious, he said, he followed the path of Hillel rather than Shammai and taught love of Zionism and of Judaism. “Thanks to him, we survived as Jews,” he said, referring to the land of his birth.
 
Kalimi Segev has arranged for many people to receive memorial citations, but the relatives who had helped organize the event decided that she deserved a much more detailed citation of her own. It was a complete surprise to her when master of ceremonies Dan Kaner read the long list of her accomplishments, and she was barely able to stop herself from bursting into tears.
 
A video of family photographs showed how every bride and groom and every bar mitzvah boy came to be blessed by the haham on the important days of their lives, and how they all kissed his hand. The photos depict the most humble of residential circumstances, which gradually improve as the years go by, but remain relatively sparse and simple. None of his progeny live in such tiny homes today.
 
■ SOME 1,200 Indian businesspeople descended on Tel Aviv this week as participants in the 19th NATCOM conference held at the InterContinental David Tel Aviv hotel on August 5-7. Most of the participants were involved in India’s changing real estate landscape
The hotel had only one serious challenge in accommodating such an influx, and that was in the realm of cuisine. While many travelers to other countries enjoy the taste of foods that differ from what they are used to at home, there are others whose palates cannot adjust to strange tastes. It was taken for granted that with so many Indians in the hotel, there was a desperate need for genuine Indian cuisine. The hotel management therefore recruited celebrity restaurateur Reena Pushkarna and her team from her Tandoori chain of restaurants to work with the hotel’s executive chef Alfred Jevnisek and his team in the preparation of breakfast, lunch and dinner, including a gala event on Tuesday night, and pre-conference meals on Sunday. There was one other problem attached to Indian fare. Residents of the northern part of the subcontinent have traditional dishes different from those of the south, and Pushkarna’s team, which includes expatriates from both parts of the country, had to prepare Indian food accordingly.
 
■ IT WAS the correct thing for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to contact Israel’s Ambassador to Panama Rada Mansour regarding the manner in which he and his family were treated by a security officer at Ben-Gurion Airport.
 
It’s tough enough to be a non-Jewish diplomat representing the State of Israel and having to honor “Hatikva” as the national anthem. For years now it has been suggested that the anthem be changed to something more universal so as to speak to all sectors of Israel’s population.
 
Among the suggestions offered is Shaul Tchernichovsky’s “Ani Ma’amin” (“Sahaki, sahaki”) which speaks of the belief in humanity, peace, blessing, freedom of the spirit and freedom from hunger. The lyrics do not offend anyone’s sensibilities, and the melody by Tuvia Shlonsky is hauntingly beautiful.
 
Several countries have changed their national anthems, among them Australia, Germany, Iraq, Nepal, the Netherlands, Canada, Russia, China, South Africa, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sometimes just the lyrics were changed, and sometimes the whole anthem was changed. In Australia, for instance, “God Save the Queen” was the national anthem up till 1984, when it was replaced by “Advance Australia Fair.”
 
■ BANK HAPOALIM chairman Oded Eran participated in the fifth graduation session of Kochavei Hamidbar (Stars of the Desert), a young leadership program initiated by former Hura mayor Dr. Muhammad al-Nabari. In order to build up confidence between young Bedouin and their Israeli counterparts, the program encourages regular meetings, teaches the Bedouin participants Hebrew to facilitate their integration into Israeli society and the Israeli workforce, and urges them to become volunteers in the implementation of various social welfare projects and to initiate community projects. It also urges them to prepare themselves for academic studies.
Nabari himself has a PhD in chemistry, and is married with six children. During his period as mayor, he made radical changes, significantly reduced unemployment, improved the city’s infrastructure, opened a call center that employs Bedouin students, and did much more to give the residents of Hura new hope for the future.
 
There were 25 graduates at last week’s ceremony at Kibbutz Ruhama in the south of the country. Attending in addition to Eran were Ofir Libstein, head of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council; members of the Bank Hapoalim management; outgoing director-general of the Justice Ministry Emi Palmor; Ram Zahavi, head of the southern branch of the Education Ministry; Nabari; and Matan Yaffe, the CEO of Kochavei Hamidbar.
 
Eran said that it was very exciting for him to see the progress of Kochavei Hamidbar, because he is well aware that education and initiative are the keys to success, and Bank Hapoalim for the second consecutive hear is providing support to the project in the desire to see young Bedouin succeed. He is confident that the acquisition of knowledge and education would enable the development of informed critical thought, which in the final analysis would lead to greater cooperation, friendship and mutual respect. He was happy to report that Bank Hapoalim has increased its investment in the project.
 
“We need more people to build bridges rather than walls,” said Palmor, who has attended every graduation since the project first got under way. 
 
“When we come to a ceremony like this, we see the best of Israel and the way it should be beyond this place,” said Yaffe, who was looking forward to the arrival of the next group of young Bedouin.
 
■ DIFFERENT PEOPLE react to illness in different ways. When Uri Dromi, the founding director of the Jerusalem Press Club, had to take a six-month break to cope with a serious illness, he didn’t waste time feeling sorry for himself or contemplating the worst-case scenario. He had been planning a book for a long time, and had filed memos on his computer about what he wanted to include. The upshot was the completion and publication of From the Navigator’s Seat: Life in a Turbulent Country, which in Hebrew takes up almost 457 pages. One can imagine what a magnum opus it would be in translation.
 
A seasoned journalist, a former director of the Mishkenot Sha’ananim Conference Center which hosts local and international cultural, diplomatic and political events in a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect, and a former spokesman for the Rabin and Peres governments during the period of the Oslo Accords, Dromi’s CV also includes an 11-year stint as director of publications and international outreach at the Israel Democracy Institute. Before that he served for 25 years in the Israel Air Force and retired with the rank of colonel. He continued to fly in the Air Force reserves for another 14 years.
 
The reason for mentioning all this is to illustrate that he has had the opportunity to witness Israel’s unfolding history from a number of different perspectives.
 
For all that, there were facts that he thought he knew well, but discovered that there were gaps and even errors in his knowledge. Dromi realized from the very beginning that he might have made a mistake here and there, so before going to publication, he showed the manuscript to historian Tom Segev, who is an admirable writer in his own right. Segev went through every line of the book with a fine-tooth comb and corrected many details and misinterpretations. Someone else might have been disheartened by the volume of material that needed to be revised. But Dromi instead discussed with Segev the corrections that Segev had made and admits to having learned a lot from him. “He really opened my eyes to things I hadn’t seen before.”
 
The book has received several favorable reviews, and Dromi has been restored to good health. Perhaps part of the secret of recovering from a serious illness is to find something that occupies one’s mind to the extent that one doesn’t think about illness. After all, one’s state of mind often affects one’s state of body.
 
Incidentally, Dromi isn’t keeping the profits from sales of the book. He’s donating them toward scholarships for Ethiopian-Israeli youth.
 
■ NONE OF us are responsible for what our parents, siblings and other relatives might do. Avner Netanyahu, the younger son of the prime minister, has done his best to keep a low profile. He’s not into politics like his father and brother, and only twice has he really made headlines. Once was when he was a little boy and ran away from his bodyguards – something he would still love to be able to do – and the other time was when he proved himself to be a formidable contestant in the Bible Quiz. He had a little publicity when he joined the army, when he was slightly injured during army service, when he adopted a dog, when he went backpacking in Australia, and when he took a job as a waiter in a suburban Jerusalem coffee shop. He has tried to lead as normal a life as possible for a son of the prime minister.
 
It was grossly unfair of attorney and left-wing social activist Barak Cohen to publicly assault and insult him in front of his friends. Prime Minister Netanyahu has requested for people opposed to him to attack him and not his family. The court did well to order Cohen to distance himself from Avner.
 
■ SOCIAL MEDIA are too often filled with negative stories and comments, not to mention slurs on people’s personalities. But every now and again there’s a positive story involving good people.
 
One was posted recently on social media by Miri Shalem, the mother of a young man who just before going into the army went to Eilat to take a diving course. Before returning home, he decided to buy himself a pair of sandals, and quite by chance chose to enter a Rikushet store.
 
He found a pair to his liking and asked the sales attendant for a discount, considering his age and the fact that he was on the verge of doing his duty in defending the country. The salesperson replied that the maximum discount was 5%. It wasn’t much, but the sandals were sufficiently tempting for Miri’s son to produce his credit card. Before it could be processed, the young man felt someone touch his shoulder. “Enjoy your new sandals, and have a pleasant time during your service,” said the stranger. “You don’t have to pay anything.” It turned out that the stranger was Dudi Mantin, the CEO of Rikushet, who had entered the store just as the transaction was taking place, and had overheard the conversation.
 
In thanking him on social media, Miri Shalem wrote that her whole family had been moved by his gesture and that it was good to know that there are still good people in the world.
 
■ THERE ARE certain ongoing projects that remain in the public consciousness through annual fund-raising campaigns, and others that continue to operate but on such a low key that the public hardly hears about them. One such project is Computer for Every Child, which operates in several countries around the globe, and which was launched in Israel by Prime Minister Netanyahu, who wanted to give every schoolchild access to a computer. The project was a joint initiative of the government, local authorities and the private sector.
 
In the beginning, it was a computer for every classroom, but as technology improved it became a laptop or a tablet for every child. Now that technology is so strongly embedded in the education system, from elementary school onward, and in some cases even in kindergartens, it is essential for every child to own a laptop or a tablet, and various commercial and industrial outlets continue to make sure that every schoolchild does indeed own one or the other.
 
Most large enterprises, including banks, have a policy of giving back to the community. The Computer for Every Child project is part of that policy, where the Mercantile Bank is concerned. Just before the start of the new school year, the bank’s management distributed 50 computers to children in Petah Tikva. Over the years, the bank has donated more than 1,500 computers.
 
Mercantile Bank CEO Shuki Burstein emphasizes the importance of promoting education, and says that the computer is a significant tool in providing equal opportunities for children of all backgrounds to bridge digital gaps, and in opening wider horizons of information about facts on every conceivable subject.
 
Prof. Arie Scope, the chairman of Computer for Every Child, Petah Tikva Deputy Mayor Ron Katz and Shiri Alter, a representative of the Mercantile Bank, participated in the distribution ceremony.
 
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