Grapevine: Home and away

It's the old story of a prophet not being heard in his own city.

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November 21, 2017 21:09
This depiction of President Reuven Rivlin circulated on social media

This depiction of President Reuven Rivlin circulated on social media. (photo credit: FACEBOOK)

 
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It's the old story of a prophet not being heard in his own city. President Reuven Rivlin had been feted left, right and center in Spain, and a few days later he was given a warm welcome in California. And then he came home to bear the brunt of ignoring public opinion in the pursuit of justice. Overnight – even sooner – the generally extremely popular president became the public’s pariah. It wasn’t the first time that he had said or done something that met with a wide swath of public disapproval, but this time he hit a very raw nerve.

Never in his worst nightmares did Rivlin imagine that he would be subject to so much vitriol just as he was approaching the halfway mark of his presidency.

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It wasn’t just the foul language or the calls for his resignation. In the past few weeks Rivlin has been depicted not only in a keffiyeh and in an SS uniform, but also as a portrait insert into the Palestinian flag.

It’s unlikely that Rivlin will be able to walk around freely in his beloved Jerusalem, as he has done to date, with a couple of security men for company. With so much poison in the air, it’s simply too great a risk

On the other hand, many members of Knesset, from across the political divide, have come out in support of Rivlin and were photographed holding signs that called for an end to incitement. Among them was Likud MK Oren Hazan, who in the immediate aftermath of Rivlin’s announcement that he would not pardon “Hebron shooter” Elor Azaria had unleashed a torrent of violent anti-Rivlin verbosity, and had demanded Rivlin’s resignation. Another case of “If you can’t beat them, join them”?

A whole generation of Jews has grown up barely knowing about the struggle for Soviet Jewry. In another generation, there will be very few Israelis with Russian accents, and there will be no memory of the hope and the heartbreak that were so prevalent in the Jewish world, where demonstrations on behalf of Soviet Jews were held in the 1970s and 1980s outside Soviet embassies, and in front of theaters in which the Bolshoi Ballet, the Leningrad Ballet or the Red Army Choir were appearing.

Jewish dissidents, refuseniks and Prisoners of Zion were adopted by Jewish communities around the world. A symbolic place was set for them at the Seder table. Their portraits graced banners, billboards and newspaper advertisements that called out to the Soviet authorities: “Let my people go.” That sentence will be remembered because it’s in the Bible, in connection with the Children of Israel, who likewise were denied freedom – but by Pharaoh, not by the Communist regime.

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There were also non-Jews who played very significant roles in the struggle for Soviet Jewry. Among them was former US secretary of state George Shultz, of whom it can be said that he played a key role. It was Shultz who had weekly meetings with longtime Soviet ambassador to the US Anatoly Dobrynin, and it was Shultz who realized during a snowbound supper with president Ronald Reagan that Reagan had never actually had a conversation with a high-ranking Soviet official. Shultz asked Reagan if he was willing to meet with Dobrynin, and Reagan said that he would give him 10 minutes. The meeting lasted an hour and a half, and was the beginning of a turning point in the fate of Soviet Jewry and other oppressed minorities in the Soviet Union, who were being denied basic human rights.

Shultz, who will turn 97 on December 13, relayed the story last weekend in a riveting monologue at the Limmud FSU West Coast Conference. Before Shultz, speaking without notes or hesitation, began his reminiscences of beyond three decades ago, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky , the most famous of the people that Shultz and Reagan helped to get out of Russia, said that in her quest to secure his freedom from a Soviet prison, his wife, Avital, had met with many world leaders. She sometimes talks about these meetings, he said, but the only time that Sharansky almost becomes jealous is when she talks about George Shultz.

It’s a mutual admiration society. “If you want an advocate, get her,” said Shultz, who met with Avital many times during the period in which her husband was incarcerated in the Gulag, and each time she caused him to shed a tear. “When she left, there was a sense of mission,” he recalled.

After such a long passage of time, Shultz still could not conceal his admiration for Avital’s husband, who could have left prison earlier had he agreed to a certain deal worked out by the Americans. But he declined, said Shultz, because the terms implied that he was a spy – and he wasn’t a spy. Sharansky’s integrity had been overpowering, said Shultz, and when Sharansky finally was released, Shultz was thrilled to have a man with such integrity finally free.

Shultz traveled frequently to Moscow during his period as secretary of state, and met often with Ida Nudel, whose name he had put on a list of people that he wanted to get out and which been presented to the authorities in Moscow. One day, while he was sitting in his office in the State Department, his phone rang and the voice at the other end said, “This is Ida Nudel. I’m in Jerusalem. I’m home.”

Shultz recalled going to a Seder in Moscow that was supposed to be top secret, but a lot of Russian immigrants in America knew about it, and before Shultz left for Moscow, many came and pressed photographs and other personal objects into his hands to deliver to their relatives who would be at the Seder. Shultz and his colleagues attended the Seder because they wanted to show Soviet Jews that there were people who cared. “But it was the other way around,” he said of the Soviet Jews. They had been an inspiration in showing the strength of the human spirit and the importance of never giving up, even when the situation seemed hopeless.

In case anyone wondered why Reagan had taken such a special interest in the plight of Soviet Jews, Shultz had the explanation. Reagan was a great leader, he said. During the Second World War he was an US Air Force officer and, because of his background as an actor, was assigned to make a documentary film to bring back to the US. When he encountered the devastation of the Holocaust, he made two copies of the film, keeping one for himself. “Time will go by and soon people won’t believe it,” he told Shultz. “When people say it never happened, I’ll bring out the film and show it to them.”

Sharansky, who embraced Shultz, said that Shultz played a crucial role in bring down the Iron Curtain.

Shultz, for his part, said: “I have a great sense of gratitude to the Soviet Jews because they showed us what courage is all about. They showed us how important it is to stand up for what you believe in and to never give up.”

Shultz didn’t mention that when Sharansky came to the White House to express his appreciation to Reagan, it was one of the very rare occasions on which the exceedingly informal Sharansky wore a tie.

Brookings Institution president and a former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, who has also served as US special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, this week tweeted his recipe for peace: “1. Close the PLO office. 2. Fearing being shut out of Washington, PLO accepts all Bibi’s requirements: no ’67 lines, no evacuation of settlements, no Jerusalem, permanent Israeli hold on Jordan Valley, state minus sovereignty. 3. ME Peace.” In reply, Philippe Assouline, a political analyst and communications expert at the University of California and a well-known commentator on Middle East issues, tweeted: “Amazing how those whose peace efforts have consistently brought nothing but war and death feel that they are best placed to teach peacemaking to others.”

The gift that singer Yehoram Gaon is giving himself for his 78th birthday is a concert with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv on December 27. Gaon, who will celebrate his birthday on December 28, is still in full voice, and appears regularly on stage and screen as both an actor and singer. No one should be surprised. After all, if Charles Aznavour can still do it at age 93, why not Gaon at 78?

It happens with immigrants all over the world. No matter how much they want to fit in to their new environment, they are forever looking for someone who speaks their language and knows their culture. It’s a little different for those who come from English-speaking countries which are geographically far apart and have certain language differences and often great cultural differences. Nonetheless, the English-speakers, whatever their origins, tend to band together.

Thus, it stands to reason that there’s an organization that calls itself the Anglos of South Jerusalem. Chaired by Shlomo (Samuel) Fisherowitz and Carol Silk, it brings together native English-speakers who feel more comfortable in their own milieu than in Hebrew-speaking circles. There are a lot of well-educated Anglos who, after even 20 or 30 years in Israel, still cannot hold a proper conversation in Hebrew and do not read Hebrew newspapers. The same can be said of immigrants from other countries who continue to mix socially with people with whom they have a common language.

Anglos of South Jerusalem will, on Tuesday, November 28, host a Back to the ’60s Cafe Night with Anders (Bentzion) Nerman, a singer and songwriter who came to Jerusalem from Vancouver. An instrumentalist as well as a singer, Nerman plays guitar and harmonica, and his repertoire includes a variety of genres. He runs the gamut from current pop to Carlebach to hassidic tunes, classic folk songs, rock and reggae. His credits as a composer have been on several American and Canadian television shows. His performance next Tuesday will include popular favorites previously performed by Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and Leonard Cohen.

The venue is the Arnona Community Center at 1 Israel Eldad Street, and some of the people attending will in all probability be flower-child veterans of the ’60s who will happily grab this opportunity for nostalgia. To ensure that there will be sufficient food on hand, organizers ask that anyone planning to attend notify them by the end of this week at aosjerusalem@gmail.com.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who is a rising star in the Republican Party, in the course of a visit to Israel last week met with Mifal Hapayis national lottery chairman Uzi Dayan, who took him on a helicopter tour to give him a broad perspective of the country in the shortest possible time. Looking down, Greitens was able to get a view of the diversity of Jerusalem, the situation along the Gaza Strip, the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights.

Dayan, who knows all these areas well from his long period in the army, including stints as OC Central Command and deputy chief of staff, proved to be a very informative guide, who, drawing from his former position as head of the National Security Council, was also able to discuss the complexities of security issues.

At the conclusion of the tour, the two were guests at a reception hosted at his residence by US Ambassador David Friedman.

Pulitzer prizewinning columnist (and former Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief) Bret Stephens will receive an honorary degree and will be the keynote speaker at Yeshiva University’s 93rd Annual Hanukka Dinner on Sunday, December 3, at the New York Hilton Midtown Hotel in New York City.

Three days later, at another Hilton facility, this time the Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem, the annual Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference will take place on December 6 with a stellar lineup of speakers, including Rivlin, United Nations Cooordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nikolay Mladenov, Friedman, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, Intelligence Minister Israel Katz, Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is being touted as the next chairman of the Jewish Agency, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay, Noble Energy’s Bini Zomer, Ohad Cohen, head of the Foreign Trade Administration, and Sima Vaknin-Gill, director-general of the of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy ministries.

Women are now becoming divided on the “Me Too” issue. There are those who want to out anyone alive or dead who has engaged in any form of sexual harassment or assault. There are those who say that anyone no longer in the position to defend themselves should not be outed, and their families should be spared undue embarrassment; and there are those who try to adopt a more rational approach and not interpret every physical action by a man in relation to a woman as sexual harassment or assault, and say that women should not rush to shame someone via social media.

Not having been present at the alleged incident described by veteran Army Radio reporter Hadas Shtaif regarding former prime minister Ehud Olmert, I am in no position to judge the veracity of what she said. But I do know that Olmert is a touchy-feely individual who puts his arm around people when he talks to them, pats them on the shoulder, and may even give them a hug. But it is something that is done in public and is more in the nature of being fraternal than a sexual overture.

Several women who worked closely with Olmert for long periods of time came forward to defend him. MK Shelly Yacimovich tweeted that someone told her 20 years ago that she had been harassed by Olmert, and added that she was sorry that the incident had not been reported to the police, because the statute of limitations has expired. In addition there was no Facebook in those days. Yacimovich subsequently tweeted that she had never previously heard complaints of this nature about Olmert. The second tweet was in response to a statement made by Shtaif, in which she claimed that someone who wished to remain anonymous had told her that she had also been harassed by Olmert, and that this person had told Yacimovich, who allegedly said that it was known. Yacimovich, in her follow-up tweet, denied having said so.

What’s interesting is the difference in which allegations or the subjects of allegations have been treated. The professional activities of Alex Giladi and Gabi Gazit were suspended. Natan Zahavi, who writes a weekly column for Maariv, was given a double-page spread in which to state his case, and 103FM, the radio station that employs him, also allowed him to let off steam about Shtaif, who he is also suing for libel. Haim Yavin, the “Walter Cronkite of Israel,” against whom there have been multiple allegations, has not been removed from the program of the annual Journalists Conference in Eilat and has loudly denied the allegations.

Business tycoon, entrepreneur and philanthropist Matthew Bronfman has fathered his eighth child, a boy who goes by the name of Jamie Raphael. The infant was inducted into the faith in a fancy New York banquet hall. Bronfman married his fourth wife, Melanie Lavie, in a glittering rooftop ceremony in Jerusalem’s Old City in April this year, soon after divorcing his third wife, Stacey Kaye, with whom he has one child. His first wife, Fiona Woods, is the mother of three of his children. He also had three children with his second wife, Lisa Belzberg.

Bronfman resides in Manhattan with his current family but is frequently in Israel, where he has philanthropic and business interests. Among the latter is the Israeli franchise for IKEA. For some reason best known to himself, he has so far not opened a Jerusalem branch of the huge furniture, furnishings and housewares store in Jerusalem, even though Jerusalem has by far the highest population in the country.

ALTHOUGH AUSTRIA has an unfortunate Holocaust history, it was nonetheless an important postwar bridge for Holocaust survivors wanting to leave Europe, and in later years for Soviet Jews en route to freedom. Many Jewish survivors, in attempting to leave Europe after the war, were helped by various forces to get to Austria, from where they climbed the snow-covered mountains to enter Italy and finally board a ship to bring them to Palestine, only to be stopped by the British Mandate authorities and deported to Cyprus, says nonagenarian Murray Greenfield , who was one of the guests at a reception hosted by Austrian Ambassador Martin Weiss for a delegation of Austrians who climbed the same mountains and came to Israel to meet some of the survivors. Weiss also invited some of the Aliya Bet volunteers who helped the survivors to reach the shores of Palestine, including those who were apprehended by the British and transferred to Cyprus.

A documentary film about the illegal immigration was screened, and some of those present told their personal stories. Greenfield, who as a young volunteer sailor from New York was involved in Aliya Bet, brought with him a book that he had writ- ten about that short-lived era and present- ed it to the ambassador.

IRONICALLY, IN the same week that it was reported that India is canceling a $500 million missile deal with Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the Indian Embassy in Israel is continuing with its celebrations marking 25 years of full diplomatic ties between India and Israel and 70 years of India’s independence from British rule, which came just a little ahead of Israel’s independence from British rule. Indian Ambassador Pavan Kapoor will on Thursday, November 23, launch an exhibition of works by noted Indian photographer Raghu Rai, who has won many prizes and is a member of the prestigious Magnum group of top-ranking photographers.

Rai, whose photographs have been published in leading newspapers and magazines around the world, such as Time, Life, Le Figaro, Le Monde, Die Welt, The New York Times, The Times, Newsweek, Vogue, GQ, Marie Claire, The Independent and The New Yorker, is celebrating his 50th anniversary as a professional photographer.

Israelis who appreciate photography will have a treat when they visit midtown Tel Aviv at 144 Begin Road. Those who attend the opening on Thursday evening will also have a chance to meet not only the ambassador but also the photographer himself, who at 6:30 p.m. is scheduled to give a gallery talk. Even if one is not particularly interested in photography, listening to Indians talk English is pure joy. Their vocabulary and the manner in which they structure their sentences is an example of linguistic artistry.

During the event Kapoor will announce the winners of a photography competition on India, which was held during the month of October as a prelude to Rai’s exhibition.

LOVERS OF Yiddish may be interested in a weekly evening lecture series under the heading of “Yiddish Oifn Bar” (Yiddish on the Bar) that is being hosted at Leyvik House, 30 Dov Hoss Street, Tel Aviv, beginning on November 27. The first lecture in the series is by David Saar, who will discuss “Shabtai Zvi the False Messiah in Poland.” It’s not certain that Shabtai Zvi ever set foot in Poland, but Saar may be referring to Shabtai Zvi’s disciples.

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