During the High Holy Days, Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue is a magnet for non-Jewish tourists, who definitely look out of place with their jeans and backpacks.
On the first day of Rosh Hashana, some 40+ Asian tourists arrived at the synagogue during shacharit and stayed until halfway through mussaf, taking up seats that belonged to bona fide congregants who in some cases had actually paid for those seats.
Anticipating an overflow, the management of the congregation ensures that additional seats for non-paying congregants are placed against the back wall. When two of the Asian visitors were dislodged by someone who showed them the card that proved that they were sitting in paidfor seats that had been allocated to her, they had very hurt expressions on their faces. It could well be a cultural thing in that it is not done in their country to unseat someone, especially in a house of worship.
The situation is going to be a lot worse on Yom Kippur, when not only the Great Synagogue will be a target for Evangelists coming to Israel for the annual Feast of Tabernacles hosted by the Christian Embassy, but also the nearby Conservative synagogue and Hebrew Union College, which contains a Reform synagogue. In past years these visitors coming in groups at various times during the service, have taken up the seats of congregants, and when seats were not available, sat on the stairs blocking the path of other people, creating a safety hazard. A lot of embarrassment and unpleasantness could be avoided if these three synagogues put up a sign with a seating plan and a text that says visitors to Israel are welcome but are kindly asked not to sit in seats designated for worshipers.
At the Great Synagogue, Cantor Tzvi Weiss and remarkable boy soprano, Saar Sperling, together with the inspired and inspiring choir under the energetic leadership of choirmaster Elli Jaffe, outdid themselves, especially on the second day, adding to their traditional liturgical repertoire, the melodies of Shlomo Carlebach and Leonard Cohen. The prayerbook version of Cohen’s “Hallelujah” was simply awesome.
■ IN 1947, David Ben-Gurion asked Yitzhak Tabenkin, one of the founders of the United Kibbutz Movement and one of the great political thinkers of the day, whether there should be a partition of Palestine. Tabenkin asked Ben-Gurion to wait for a few days while he consulted someone. When he came back to Ben-Gurion, his answer was a definite no. Ben-Gurion was curious as to who he had consulted, to which the reply was “my dead grandfather and my unborn grandchild.”
The moral of the story was that without referring to history, one should not plan the future. Ironically, Tabenkin was a Marxist, who advocated the one-state principle, and that belief is currently being promoted by certain factions on the right of the political spectrum. The anecdote about Ben-Gurion and Tabenkin was told to congregants at Jerusalem’s Hazvi Yisrael synagogue on Saturday, where the congregation included President Reuven Rivlin, who came with one of his grandsons. He had also been there on the first day of Rosh Hashana, as was US Ambassador David Friedman, but on the second day Rivlin went to Yeshuran, where more than 60 years ago he celebrated his bar mitzva. Rabbi Avigdor Burstein, spiritual leader of Hazvi Yisrael, talked about continuity and said that Rivlin had told him how as a child, prior to the establishment of the state, he used to accompany his father to services at the Western Wall and now he is bringing his grandson to services.
■ THE 30TH anniversary of the death of Abba Kovner, one of the great heroes of the Vilna Ghetto, was marked this week. Kovner, who authored the manifesto “Let Us Not Go Like Lambs to the Slaughter” and who in that spirit helped to initiate a joint resistance effort of united partisans from the left and the right of the political divide under the Yiddish title of Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatzye (United Partisan’s Organization), was also a great Yiddish and Hebrew poet.
Kovner published the manifesto in early 1942 when he became aware that the Jews of Lithuania were first in line for the Final Solution to the Jewish problem. The united resistance movement was initially headed by Yitzhak Wittenberg who was betrayed to the Nazis by Jacob Gens, the head of the Jewish Council. Wittenberg was arrested, but the partisans managed to free him. A true freedom fighter, Wittenberg voluntarily returned to Nazi captivity when he learned that the Gestapo had threatened to raze the Vilna Ghetto and to kill all its inhabitants, unless he gave himself up. He subsequently committed suicide in prison, presumably to avoid being tortured into revealing the plans of the partisans. Kovner then became the leader in July 1943.
The partisans had intended to fight the Nazis from within the ghetto, but the ghetto leaders, not realizing the extent to which their fate had been sealed, opposed Kovner, so he and his partisans headed to the forests and from September 1943 to July 1944 – until the occupation of Vilna by the Red Army – engaged in sabotage operations against the Nazis. They called themselves by the Hebrew name Nokmim (Avengers). Kovner subsequently helped Holocaust survivors to make their way to the Land of Israel.
Kovner himself arrived in the country in 1945, but then went briefly back to Europe. He was arrested because it was known that the Avenger group was in the process of singling out former Nazis and killing them. He was released soon after his arrest and returned to what was still Palestine in 1946, married Vitka, who had been a member of the partisans, and settled in Kibbutz Ein Hahoresh. He joined the Hagana and also fought with the Givati Brigade in the War of Independence. While he was fighting on the southern front, his son Michael, a well-known artist, was born in May 1948. Kovner and his wife, who became a noted and beloved clinical psychologist, working mainly with children, also had a daughter, Shlomit. Vitka died in February 2012 at the age of 92.
Abba Kovner was among the people who testified at the Eichmann trial in 1961. A leading cultural figure, he was awarded the Israel Prize in 1970 and was elected to head the Hebrew Writers Association. Together with Nahum Goldmann, who had been a long-standing president of the World Jewish Congress, Kovner was among the initiators of the The Diaspora Museum, which opened in 1978, and which has been renamed the Museum of the Jewish People. The museum will doubtless honor his memory in March 2018, on the 100th anniversary of his birth.
■ FORMER AUSTRALIAN ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma keeps his finger on the pulse of Australia- Israel relations and also keeps up his Israeli contacts. Thus, he and his wife Rachel Lord were delighted to meet up again with former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro during the latter’s trip down under to speak at the annual dinner of the Jewish National Fund at which he was introduced by Sharma. Also on the program was former Mossad Chief Tamir Pardo, who was interviewed by Israeli journalist Yoav Limor.
On a visit to Melbourne in the same week, Sharma caught up with Brig.-Gen. (retired) Gal Hirsch, whose appointment as head of the police was revoked before he could take office, due to allegations of corruption against him. Sharma wrote in Hebrew on his Twitter account: “I saw Gal Hirsch yesterday in Melbourne. He’s a good guy who had a tough life.” Shapiro wrote on his Twitter account that it was great to reconnect with great friends and colleagues Dave Sharma and Rachel Lord on their sparkling home turf in Sydney. Sharma and Shapiro will meet up again at the end of October when Sharma comes to Israel to participate in the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba, the victory of which was achieved by the Australian and New Zealand Light Horse Regiment.
■ THIS MULTI-faceted centennial event is helping to bring out a new sense of patriotic pride in Australians resident in Israel. Among them is Danny Hakim, the founder of Budo for Peace, and one of the key promoters of Kids Kicking Cancer.
Hakim has organized a grueling bike ride along the entire length of the JNF-KKL’s 100-kilometer ANZAC Trail, which retraces the route taken by the Australian Light Horse Regiment horsemen when they conquered Beersheba in 1917. The bike ride is a fund-raiser for Kids Kicking Cancer, an organization that helps children with cancer learn to cope with their pain by employing martial arts techniques. Operating in six hospitals in Israel, this program gives children hope, strength and courage, and is a boon to their families as well. More than 120 bike riders from Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, Israel and Britain have already signed up, and Hakim expects a lot of last-minute cyclists to join the ride.
■ SEASONED ISRAELI politicians and statesmen try to avoid mentioning people by name in their speeches, knowing how easy it is to insult someone whose name was overlooked. But Tsolag Momjian, the Honorary Consul of Armenia, seems oblivious to that social peril.
At the reception that he and his wife Allegra hosted at Notre Dame Jerusalem in celebration of the 26th anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Armenia, Momjian, as is his habit, mentioned the names of numerous guests – possibly to emphasize the harmonious ecumenical nature of the event.
Among the guests were representatives of several branches of Christianity, as well as Islam and Judaism.
There were religious, political and cultural personalities from various parts of the country, and there was also a business associate of Momjian’s who came from Jordan. Among the people singled out by Momjian were Israel’s new non-resident ambassador to Armenia Eliyahu Yerushalmi; Alex Ben Zvi, the deputy director general of the Euro-Asian Division of Israel’s Foreign Ministry; along with its director Rafael Harpaz; chief of state protocol Meron Reuben; and retired ambassador Zvi Mazel and his polyglot wife Michelle, who writes books and essays in different languages.
The fact that there was such a significant Foreign Ministry turnout, including members of the consular staff who were not mentioned by Momjian, speaks volumes about the importance that Israel attaches to its relations with Armenia. Momjian also mentioned Rabbi David Rosen, who, like the above-mentioned diplomats, has made great efforts toward effecting rapprochement between Israel and Armenia.
Also present were Georgian Ambassador Paata Kalandadze and Spanish consul general Rafael Gonzales. Momjian had specially warm words for Professor Michael Stone, the founder of Armenian Studies at the Hebrew University Jerusalem and for Professor Reuven Amitai, who is also involved with Armenian studies. It goes without saying that the Armenian genocide was mentioned, but not as forcefully as in the past.
Rather than dwell on the distant past, Momjian preferred to relate to the recent past and its potential effect on the future. He spoke in glowing terms of the visit to Armenia in July this year by Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, who met with Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, and Culture Minister Armen Amiryan, among other dignitaries and signed cooperation agreements on visa exemptions for holders of diplomatic passports, the avoidance of double taxation and prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income and capital, as well as cultural, educational, scientific, sports and youth cooperation.
In discussions that Hanegbi held with his hosts, they talked about cooperating within international organizations, inter-parliamentary exchanges and ways to boost trade and other economic ties, including tourism. Hanegbi was the highest- ranking Israeli to visit Armenia since the 2012 visit by Orit Noked who was then Minister of Agriculture. Hanegbi’s visit was within the framework of Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wide-ranging efforts to improve relations and enhance cooperation with countries around the world whose ties with Israel can be strengthened.
■ MASTER STORYTELLER Yossi Alfi, who this Sukkot celebrates the 24th consecutive year of his storytelling festival at the Givatayim Theater, thought that this year’s festival would be the kick-start to Israel’s 70th anniversary festivities, but was beaten to the punch by Israel Hayom, which is running a nostalgia series. Yet in a sense, the storytelling festival has long been a lead-up to the 70th anniversary in that excerpts from past festivals were regularly aired on radio and sometimes on television under the aegis of the now-defunct Israel Broadcasting Authority as well as Channel 2, and are being continued by Kan on Reshet Bet.
This year’s festival, which runs from October 5 to 14, includes 67 separate events, with scores of storytellers covering the gamut of Israel’s past seven decades in terms of politics, economics, security, kibbutz life, entertainment, culture, media, immigration and more. Some of the storytellers, such as Palmah veteran, journalist, poet and novelist Haim Gouri, have appeared several times in the past and will do so again during Sukkot, primarily due to Alfi’s acute sense of history and his understanding of the need to impart its message as much as possible through first-person accounts by those who made it.
Thus, several octogenarians and nonagenarians will feature on the program, alongside younger people. In celebrating Israel’s seven decades, Alfi is paying tribute not only to living witnesses and makers of history, but also to those no longer here, such as former president and education minister Yitzhak Navon, whose widow Miri Shafir, his son Erez Navon and daughter Nava Navon- Peretz will be joined by superb storyteller Shmuel Shai; radio personality Avshalom Kor, who for many years appeared with Navon at the International Bible Quiz; author Eli Amir and other well-known personalities to talk about the many sides of the man who was a longtime aide to Ben-Gurion and who later became Israel’s fifth president, as well as a key promoter and preserver of Ladino.
■ THE ISSUE of whether Yiddish is dead or dying crops up every now and again. While the language may not be as universal a part of Jewish culture as it once was, it is still far from dead and is widely spoken in haredi circles. Anyone using public transport on routes that go through haredi Ashkenazi neighborhoods, can hear both children and adults conversing in Yiddish. It’s not always Lithuanian or Galician Yiddish, but it definitely is Yiddish.
Avraham Burstein, head of the Jerusalem Klezmer Association as well as of a Klezmer band that regularly plays in the original Jerusalem location of Yung Yidish in the capital’s Romema neighborhood, who happens to be haredi, told Kalman Libeskind and Yossi Liberman, who host a morning show on Reshet Bet, that many people, whether religious or not, have a sense of nostalgia for Yiddish culture and come to listen to his band because everything about it – even the dancing – has a Yiddish flavor and a sense of authenticity. CNN is doing a program on Yiddish and chose Burstein’s band, not because of its popularity or its renown but because of its genuine Yiddish ethos.
■ BRIG.-GEN. (retired) Shimon Hefetz went from serving Yitzhak Rabin to serving Ezer Weizman, who was well-known for being politically incorrect. Hefetz treasures a note that he received from Weizman, in which he wrote, “You know me well enough so I can tell you that there are people who wake up in the morning wondering who they can screw that day, and there are people who wake up wondering who’s who going to screw them. I’m the one in the first category and Rabin is in the other category
■ ZIONIST UNION MK Tzipi Livni, in the New Year greeting she sent to Hatnuah and Labor Party members, wished them good election choices. Is there something she knows that has not yet been made public?
■ FORMER JERUSALEM mayor Uri Lupolianski, who in December, 2015, was one of the guilty parties in the drawn-out Holy Land trial and was convicted to six years in prison on charges of corruption, gained a reprieve due to ill health, and the sentence was reduced to six months of community service. Another possible reason for leniency where Lupolianski was concerned was that the money he received in bribes never went into his own pocket, but was used to expand the services of Yad Sarah, a unique, nation-wide, free of charge lending service of medical equipment to people recovering from surgery, illnesses, and accidents.
Yad Sarah, which was founded by Lupolianski, also provides many other services for the aged, the disabled and the infirm.
Because so many hundreds of people have benefited from Yad Sarah over the years, the general public was more inclined to treat Lupolianski as a hero, rather than a criminal. His illness appears to be under control, and it was therefore par for the course that he should be present at the dedication this month of the Yad Sarah – Frenkel Emergency Medical Center in Jerusalem. Unlike other emergency medical centers in Israel, which are staffed by general practitioners and feature one universal department that accepts all patients, this particular medical center is divided into three departments – Internal Medicine, Pediatrics and Gynecology – with a field specialist assigned to each respective department.
The center is named for international businessman and Chairman of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress (EAJC) Aaron Frenkel, who dedicated it in memory of his parents Chaim and Fruma and whose generous donation made its establishment possible. Taking up an area of 1,000 sq. meters, the Center is situated in the Yad Sarah House in Jerusalem, in close proximity to Shaare Zedek Medical Center. It currently includes a medical imaging department; treatment rooms; laboratory; and more, and will be operated by members of Shaare Zedek’s medical faculty.
Among those attending the ribbon- cutting ceremony were president of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress (EAJC) and vice president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) Mikhael Mirilashvili; Chairman of Limmud FSU Matthew Bronfman; Health Minister Yaakov Litzman; Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and of Environmental Protection Zev Elkin; and Shaare Zedek Medical Center CEO Professor Jonathan Halevi.
In his address to those present, Frenkel declared, “It is my obligation and privilege to attend this event. I have been acquainted with Uri for many years and borne witness to the extraordinary kindness and charity that takes place here. It all starts and ends with good people who are devoted to the public.
“It is our hope that this place will become a leader and model in the quality of service that it provides to the public – better service – service with heart, with generosity and warmth. We want this medical center to become a guiding light to others in the field of medicine.”
■ THE DIGITAL age poses many problems – socially, psychologically and legally. An example of the latter is ownership of a Facebook account.
Currently in court is the case of Channel 10 against former latenight host Guy Lerer, who after 12 years with Channel 10, switched in July this year to Channel 2. Lerer hosted the popular show Hatzinor (The Pipeline) in which he presented viewers with information about flaws in the system, irregularities in market sales and a variety of sometimes weird happenings. He also ran the Hatzinor Facebook account, of which Channel 10 claims ownership because it was operated in tandem with the show.
Lerer contends that he posted entries in the account during his free time and that the account belongs to him, not to Channel 10. There are similar problems in the print media, such as when a columnist moves from one publication to another and wants to maintain use of the name of the column for which he or she became well known. Logic would dictate that if the column had been inherited from a previous writer, it belongs to the publication, but if it was started by the columnist in question it belongs to him or to her. However, on the premise that the law is an ass, logic may not enter into the question.
■ THE CONFERENCE on Citizenship, Identity and Political Participation: Measuring the Attitudes of the Arab Public in Israel, which is taking place today (Wednesday) at the Tel Aviv University Law Faculty, was planned long before the Minister of Provocation, sorry, the Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev decided to ask Attorney General Avichai Mandelblitt to launch an investigation into Arab-Israeli actor and director Mohammed Bakri in relation to his participation in the “Palestine Days” festival in Beirut.
Among other things, Regev is querying Bakri’s right to Israeli citizenship. Whether his name will come up in the conference remains to be seen, but it would not be surprising if keynote speaker MK Ayman Odeh, who heads the Joint List and who is a lawyer by profession, uses the Bakri case as an example of the intolerance that is gaining ground in Israeli politics and threatening to enter into law.