Grapevine: Celebrations unlimited

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

By
May 7, 2019 21:29
Grapevine:  Celebrations unlimited

US Ambassador David Friedman [C] Rabbi Israel Meir Lau [L] and Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog [R]. . (photo credit: US EMBASSY)

The dress rehearsal for the official ceremony for Israel’s 71st anniversary of independence was held on Monday at Mount Herzl, and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein hosted a reception at the Knesset for the 16 torch lighters. The Knesset event was also attended by Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, World Zionist Organization chairman Avraham Duvdevani, Knesset secretary Yardena Meller-Horowitz and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion.
 
Edelstein also hosted a separate reception for the 120 outstanding soldiers from all branches of the Israel Defense Forces, who will be honored at the President’s Residence on the morning of Independence Day.
 
Although Jerusalem missed out on hosting this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, the diversity of Independence Day festivities in Jerusalem will in all probability attract some of the visitors who have come to Israel for the Eurovision.
 
Despite the fact that entertainers are being paid less this year than during previous Independence Day celebrations, some of the top names in the industry are performing at celebration sites in Jerusalem. For instance, Sarit Hadad and Dudu Aharon will be among the singers performing in Independence Park; Regev Hod will be among the performers in Zion Square; and Danny Sanderson in Safra Square. Aharon Razel will appear in at least two locations, first at the Mamad School at 2 Sarna Street in Givat Mordechai and later at the Ross Community Center on Rabbi Maimon Street.
 
Festivities will also be held in many other community centers and synagogue halls in most Jerusalem neighborhoods. There will also be street parties in the Mamilla Mall, on Ben-Yehuda Street, Jaffa Road and at the Mahaneh Yehuda market, plus community singing in Teddy Park. For people who prefer less boisterous entertainment, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra is presenting an Independence Day program of works by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky at the Henry Crown Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theater. It would not have hurt to include an Israeli or at least a Jewish composer – but maybe next year.
 
Thursday will be both an exciting and frustrating day for Israelis who will be traveling throughout the country to the many museums, art galleries and theaters that will be staging exhibitions, lectures, plays and concerts. Those who manage to get to their destinations in time will be excited. Those who are trapped on the traffic-clogged highways will be frustrated.
 
Then again, many may opt to stay home due to uncertainty about the security situation and watch official events on television.
One of the Jerusalem attractions on Thursday will be a storytellers’ session at Heichal Shlomo on King George Street, adjacent to the Great Synagogue, conducted by Yossi Alfi, whose panel of storytellers will be devoted to people talking about what it meant to them to acquire Israeli citizenship, which none of them takes for granted.
 
■ AT YESHIVAT Har Bracha in Samaria on Thursday, outgoing Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, who decided not to run in the Knesset elections, thereby ending his political career, will be honored at a conference on Challenges for the State of Israel from a Torah Perspective.
 
The event is in tribute to his long years of dedicated public service to the religious Zionist community, in particular to the communities of Judea and Samaria, and in recognition of the various roles he has held during his years as a legislator. Speakers will include Rabbi Rami Berachyahu, chief rabbi of the Israel Police; Rabbi Benzion Algazi, head of the Ramat Gan hesder yeshiva; Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, head of Yeshivat Mercaz Harav; Rabbi Zeev Weitman, the Tnuva rabbi; and, of course, Ariel himself.
 
■ ONLY IN Israel? Well, not exactly, unless one counts an El Al plane in flight as technically being Israel. Passengers on an El Al plane flying over Germany on Holocaust Remembrance Day were surprised by an announcement over the plane’s communications system. The captain had left his cabin to inform all those aboard that as a second-generation Holocaust survivor whose grandparents had been murdered by the Nazis, he had established an annual ritual, when flying over Germany on this date, to sing two songs, and asked that passengers join him, as he played them on his guitar. One was “Kol Ha’olam Kulo Gesher Tzar Me’od” (All the world is a very narrow bridge) and the other was “Am Yisrael Hai” (The people of Israel lives). Several passengers, who videotaped the whole scene from the moment the captain took the microphone in his hand, shared the experience on social media. Generally speaking, when people stand up in a plane, unless they happen to be in line for the toilets, cabin crew members ask them to resume their seats. Not this time. Almost everyone was standing and singing with gusto, as they captured the scene on video or stills, the results of which went viral.
 
In other El Al news, 33 of the company’s outstanding workers for 2018 were given citations at a ceremony on the company’s campus, in the presence of their immediate families and 200 of their colleagues, as well as El Al chairman Eli Defes, CEO Gonen Usishkin and head of human resources and administration Yehudit Grisaro. Entertainment was provided by the dynamic Shalva Band, which is so popular that soon it will have more gigs than it can handle. At the tail end of its performance, the band, comprising Yair Pomberg, Shai Ben Shushan, Annael Khalifa, Dina Samteh, Guy Maman, Yosef Ovadia and Tal Kima, surprised the audience by presenting the song on its newly released single sponsored by Bank Hapoalim.
 
■ SOME ORGANIZATIONS raise funds simply by soliciting. Others hold raffles because raffle tickets are relatively inexpensive and even nonaffluent people can afford them. Others still have a concert, a film night or a dinner, figuring that people don’t mind spending money so long as they are getting something in return.
 
Aleh, the organization whose motto is “All People No Limits,” is hosting two film nights, one in Jerusalem and the other in Ra’anana, on Monday, May 13, at the Begin Center in Jerusalem, and the other on Tuesday, May 14, at Yad Lebanim in Ra’anana. The film, a prize-winning Hungarian production, is called 1945 and was previously screened in Israel at the 2017 Jerusalem Film Festival.
 
Anyone who ever went back to a town or village in Europe after the Second World War can identify with some part of the plot. Based on a short story called “Homecoming” by Gabor Szanto, the film opens with the arrival of two black-suited Orthodox Jewish men who immediately arouse suspicion. Are they the heirs to Jewish property taken over by the Hungarian villagers? What secrets do they know? What secrets will they reveal? They arrive on the day of a wedding, and their presence ensures that nothing goes according to plan. The film has English subtitles, and the suggested cost of a ticket is NIS 100.
 
The screening will be preceded by a short talk by historian Dr. Charles Landau, who will discuss “Hungary 1944-45: Destruction, Devastation and Discovery.” For those members of the audience who may not be familiar with the history of Hungarian Jewry, Landau’s address will provide a useful background to events depicted in the film. For reservations call (02) 501-1116 (03) 617-1883 or 054-330-1994.
 
■ US AMBASSADOR David Friedman wrote on his Twitter account last week: “Completed the Death March to Birkenau with survivor Rabbi Israel Meir Lau; carried a Torah rescued from the death camp. Then lit the 6th Memorial Torch with Amb. Grenell. No words to capture the feelings.” One suspects that Richard Grenell, who is the US ambassador to Germany, was among the US ambassadors participating in the March of the Living not only because of where he is stationed, but because he is openly gay, and homosexuals were persecuted by the Nazis no less than Jews, though in far fewer numbers because they could not be as easily detected, and because presumably in an era of suppressed sexual orientation, there were nowhere as many of them.
 
■ IN JERUSALEM on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yad Vashem broke ground for its new Shoah Heritage Campus. The emotional ceremony was attended by former Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, the ambassadors of Germany and Austria, Susanne Wasum-Rainer and Martin Weiss, respectively, donors, representatives of Yad Vashem societies worldwide and Holocaust survivors.
The new campus, to be built at Jerusalem’s Mount of Remembrance, opposite Yad Vashem’s Hall of Remembrance, will include the Joseph Wilf Curatorial Center; the Heritage Gallery for display of artifacts from Yad Vashem collections, and an auditorium, plus a main hall and a Family and Children’s Exhibition Gallery.
 
Yad Vashem has an unrivaled collection of Holocaust works of art salvaged from ghettos, camps and places of hiding. Some of these works are of extraordinary high quality and will give viewers a heightened understanding of the talents and genius that were lost due to Nazi atrocities.
 
During the groundbreaking ceremony, Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev called the items in Yad Vashem’s collections – including 210 million pages of documentation, 34,000 personal artifacts and close to 12,000 original artworks – “the building blocks of truthful Shoah remembrance and the human memories that allow us to pass on the stories of their creators and owners for future generations.”
 
Sharansky cited Viktor Frankl’s seminal work Man’s Search for Meaning and the importance of giving significance to one’s life even as one faces certain death. The experiences of people under regimes such as those of Nazi-occupied Europe and the Communist-ruled Soviet Union, of which Sharansky himself was a victim, are vital not only for those living their lives at the time, but also for those living in the future, in order to learn how best to advance humanity, he said. “The State of Israel, Yad Vashem and Yad Vashem’s friends guarantee that the memory of the Shoah will live on for generations to come,” Sharansky declared.
 
Speaking on behalf of the Wilf family and other donors who have enabled the construction of the Shoah Heritage Campus, Jane Wilf said: “Yad Vashem is the epicenter for Holocaust remembrance, for the Jewish people, Israel and all of humanity. The Shoah Heritage Campus and all of its components, including the Joseph Wilf Curatorial Center, the renovated auditorium and the Family and Children’s Exhibition Gallery, constitute an integral thread in the fabric of Yad Vashem’s vital work. Through these very components, we are faced with the profound challenge of ensuring the preservation of Yad Vashem’s collections for posterity, their accessibility to the public, and the transmission of the memory of the victims and survivors of the Shoah to future generations.”
Representing Yad Vashem Friends societies worldwide, Kai Diekmann, chairman of the Society of Yad Vashem Friends in Germany, called the occasion a “humble moment, full of responsibility.”
 
■ ISRAEL IS not the only country in which women hold high-profile positions in banks, real estate, chemical engineering, et al. In fact, an Australian trade delegation that was in Israel last week to study “Innovation in the Built Environment” from a number of different perspectives was headed by two women, Kathryn Fagg and Carol Schwartz, whose multifaceted involvement in scientific and industrial research, banking, real estate, steelwork, venture capital and then some, is simply mind-boggling.
 
All the members of the delegation had interesting stories to tell, but from an Israeli perspective, the most interesting was probably Erol Acar, the managing director of MEA Technologies, which specializes in electronic surveillance systems.
 
This was a first-time visit to Israel by Acar, and after experiencing the diverse program organized by the Israel-Australia Chamber of Commerce, and learning a lot that he didn’t know before, he was determined to come back with his family. “I loved it,” he said of the weeklong period he spent in Israel. But that wasn’t what made him especially interesting.
 
Acar is a Turkish immigrant to Australia and, in contrast to the official Turkish position, recognizes that the Armenian people were victims of genocide at the hands of the Turks. He is very unhappy that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is still in office and would like to see him electorally removed. His explanation for his attitude on both counts was that he’s an Alevi, not to be confused with the Syrian Alawites. While the Alawites are Arabs whose faith is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, the Alevis are a Turkish minority, whose members are neither Sunni nor Shi’ites.
 
Other than the above-mentioned differences, the Alawites support the brutal dictatorship of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whereas Alevis are strong believers in egalitarianism, peace and rule by democratically elected government.
 
Friday night dinners are part and parcel of the delegations that come from Australia under the auspices of the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce and are subsequently looked after by the Israel-Australia Chamber of Commerce. A religiously observant local personality, not necessarily a native Israeli, is invited to tell the delegation a little about tradition, in particular the Sabbath and its customs, but the discussion can veer into other aspects of Judaism.
 
Last Friday night the guest speaker was Rabbi Daniel Roth, director of the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution, who is an expert in conflict resolution and directs the Mosaica Center’s Religious Peace Initiative. He also teaches courses on conflict resolution, religion and peace at various Israeli universities.
 
Such dinners are usually conducted in private rooms in the hotels where the delegations are staying, but for some odd reason, this dinner at the Mamilla Hotel was held in the main dining hall, which was great from the point of view of access to the excellent buffet, but not a good idea when competing with other sounds in the dining room. As Roth was attempting to explain the “Shalom Aleichem” song of the Sabbath angels, the room was filled with piped music that sounded very much like church liturgies. Later, when he was explaining the different blessings, his voice was drowned out by a much larger group of Orthodox Jews at the next table who were singing Sabbath songs at the tops of their voices.
 
It would seem that Roth had faced similar situations in the past, because he came armed with a study sheet giving the interpretations of Rabbi Akiva, Maimonides and Rabbi Pinchas Eliyahu Horowitz of Vilna on the biblical verse “Love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” It was lesson on how Jews argue, debate and dialogue even when born centuries apart, because their arguments are taken up by others. The delegation was made up of Jews and non-Jews, with the latter entering the spirit of the debate and choosing which of the three sages was the one who, by today’s standards, presented the best argument. It was a way of getting everyone involved, and it turned out to be not only a fun thing but a philosophical discussion.
 
■ MUSICIAN, SONGWRITER, radio and television broadcaster, actor and comedian Yair Nitzani has a soft spot for children with special needs. So when asked to appear on behalf of the Malki Foundation, which helps families with severely affected special needs children to keep them at home in a loving family environment rather than have them placed in an institution, he readily agreed. The event was held at the residence of Australian Ambassador Chris Cannan.
 
Under the circumstances, Nitzani asked whether he should speak in English or Hebrew. Though it would not have made much difference to most of the guests, in deference to the host, Nitzani spoke in English, apologizing that his English is not so good, because it was learned in his youth, not in the classroom but from songs on the hit parade. “So if I say: ‘She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah,’ you know where it came from.”
 
His whole routine was gently self-deprecating from start to finish. Introduced in superlatives by Malki Foundation co-founder Arnold Roth, Nitzani said that no one had ever spoken about him so nicely. He had been a very bad student, he said, adding that when the teacher came to class and said: “Good morning, children,” her next sentence was: “Yair, out!”
 
He gave some examples of why she had that attitude toward him, leaving little doubt about what a cheeky boy he’d been. One day, he was called to the principal’s office, where it was suggested to him that he leave of his own initiative. The principal was reluctant to actually expel him, but made it clear that there was no point in him staying at school, because “no good will come of you.”
 
One day, several years later, Nitzani was walking down the street with his daughter, when he was hailed by a woman whom he did not recognize. She told him that the principal was retiring and that a book with messages from former pupils of the school was being prepared in his honor. She asked Nitzani to write a few lines of appreciation. Nitzani declined, and when she asked why, he told her that he could hardly do that after the principal had told him that nothing would become of him. That prediction had accompanied him throughout his life. “He would never say such a thing,” responded the woman. Curious as to how she could be so adamant, Nitzani asked: “Who are you?” “I’m his wife,” was the reply.
 
One of Nitzani’s comedy gimmicks is a regular faucet with a suction cup on the back, enabling him to stick it temporarily to any surface, including his head. He had never attended university, he said, but when he was asked to appear at an event at the University of Haifa, there was some dithering over payment. His compromise solution was for the university to give him a degree instead of the money. And sure enough, he projected onto the video screen a photograph of himself in academic cap and gown, flanked by the university’s powers that be. The one thing that suggested that perhaps it might be fake news was the faucet on Nitzani’s forehead. It somehow did not jive with the solemnity of the occasion. But according to Nitzani, he gave his citation to his 93-year-old mother.
 
One of Nitzani’s favorite games with the faucet is when cars stop at a traffic light. Drivers and passengers have a habit of turning their heads to see what is going on in the vehicle alongside. When Nitzani sees a husband and wife in the vehicle in the next lane, the wife is the one usually staring into his car. He puts the faucet on the top of his bald head and when the wife turns excitedly to her husband to tell him that there’s a man in the next car with a faucet springing out of his head, Nitzani quickly removes it, so that when the husband looks, all he sees is an ordinary male driver. The husband then berates the wife and tells her that she’s hallucinating.
The faucet, which was given to him by his brother, became an important branding and marketing tool when he was part of the T-Slam band in the 1980s. The guitarist and the singer were in front, and Nitzani, who was the keyboard instrumentalist, was in the back and could hardly be seen. The first time that the band was on television, Nitzani, out of the blue, decided to put the faucet on his head. The upshot was that he’s the only person seen in the promotional film clip. The faucet has served him well ever since.
Although the Malki Foundation was created in 2001 in memory of 15-year-old Malki Roth, who was killed in a terrorist attack on the Sbarro pizza parlor in Jerusalem, the work that the foundation does had been in operation for some time.
 
Malki’s youngest sister, Chaya, had been born a perfectly normal child, but was brain-damaged through being wrongly treated in hospital, said her father, Arnold Roth. The doctors had suggested to Roth and his wife, Frimet, that they not take Chaya home, because she would never progress. They were appalled at the idea of abandoning their child to the care of strangers, believing that what she needed most was to be in the bosom of her family, and to receive therapeutic care from professionals who came to their home. With the passage of time they discovered that many parents with special needs children shared this belief, but did not always have sufficient funds to enable such an arrangement. Malki adored Chaya, and gave her a great amount of attention, so it was only natural, when the Roths wanted to memorialize her, that they should come up with something that symbolized Malki’s love and care for Chaya.
 
The Malki Foundation subsidizes the expense of paramedical therapeutic care selected by the child’s family, provides specialized equipment on loan for rehabilitation in the home, and sends paramedical therapists to housebound children with special needs as well as to those who live in peripheral areas.
 
Cannan said that he is happy to be associated with organizations such as the Malki Foundation, “because in Australia we take disability seriously and recognize the need to care for special needs children in the home.” The other reason for his attachment to the Malki Foundation is that Malki Roth was born in Australia and came to Israel as an Australian citizen.
 
greerfc@gmail.com


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