This year’s Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, coming only a few days after the paper celebrated its 85th anniversary and only a few hours before US President Donald Trump was due to declare America’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, was the best attended ever, with a standing overflow that lined two walls of the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem hotel. There was an air of anticipation as if something historic was about to happen.
While some people were there only to hear Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was a semi-surpise speaker, having decided less than 24 hours earlier to come on board, there was only a small exodus after he finished speaking. The big exodus is usually after lunch, and while it is true that there were several empty seats after lunch, the hall was still more than three-quarters full.
It was difficult to tell whether Netanyahu was on stage as prime minister or as foreign minister, as he spent most of the time talking about Israel’s flourishing relations in the world. Of course, he spoke about Iran as he always does, but it came at the tail end of his address.
Netanyahu was truly in fine form, walking up and down stage, interacting with the audience and, for a large part of his address, speaking without notes or prompters while reeling off statistics. Aside from being a great orator, he’s a master showman, and he quickly demonstrated the extent to which Israel has been taken out of “the proposed myth of isolation” to diplomatic relations with 159 countries. During 2017, 300 world leaders visited Israel, as well as 1,800 “international influencers.” In addition, Netanyahu has made 21 foreign visits on six continents, in some cases being the first sitting prime minister of Israel to visit those countries. Israel also has relations at some level with most of the other countries in the world, with the notable exception of Iran.
There was a large color-coded map to illustrate what Netanyahu was saying, and he invited anyone present who did not see their country coded on the map to come and see him at the Foreign Ministry, quipping that he’s also the foreign minister.
■ IT’S UNLIKELY that Netanyahu was inclined to attack the media on the morning following America’s historic recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, for which many of his media critics gave him credit. Even Israel Radio Reshet Bet’s Aryeh Golan, who is so often slammed by Netanyahu’s followers for critical remarks against the prime minister, said “Chapeau to Netanyahu” who he said realized even before Trump’s election that he and Trump would hit it off.
■ OPPONENTS TO the Blue Line of the Jerusalem Light Rail running through Emek Refaim, the quaint main street of the capital’s German Colony, received a reprieve this week when a subcommittee of the Jerusalem District Planning Committee urged the Jerusalem Municipality to come up with a viable alternative.
The battle between strangely determined Mayor Nir Barkat, who has turned a deaf ear to the demands of the majority of the people who live in Emek Refaim and surrounds, has been going on for the best part of a year, with protest meetings and the storming of city hall, with neither side giving way.
The opponents say that the line could go through nearby Hamesila Park along the old railway track, without causing damage to the park. Transportation Minister Israel Katz is in favor of this plan, and it seems that the subcommittee is also in favor.
The final decision has to be made very soon so that progress on the light rail can go ahead. As the campaign for the 2018 mayoral elections has already begun, candidates cannot afford to offend a large mass of potential voters. Barkat has still not announced whether he will be running for a third term or whether his next political career move will be in the direction of the Knesset. But if he runs for mayor again, he will have to learn the rules of compromise.
■ ZIONIST UNION MK Merav Michaeli, was contacted this week by a radio interviewer who wanted her comments on one of the issues of the day. Michaeli, who is usually more than willing to express her views, said that she would have to cut it short because she was to attend a conference on mamzerim (bastards), whose status according to Halacha becomes hereditary. Mamzerim and their offspring can marry only other mamzerim or converts to Judaism. The Chief Rabbinate is reported to have a black list of mamzerim, who suffer even more than people with a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, in that such people have the option of conversion to be fully accepted into the faith.
Michaeli believes that the concept of mamzerut has no place in this day and age and that no one should be punished for the sins of his or her parents.
■ AN ELDERLY Holocaust survivor who came to Israel to escape the civil war in Ukraine has fulfilled a lifelong dream to pray at the Western Wall.
Avraham Takotch, 90, was born in Donetsk, Ukraine (which is also the birthplace of Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky) and had never been to Israel before his arrival in 2014 with two daughters and several grandchildren. Even then, he never made it to Jerusalem. When he came to Israel under the auspices of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, he was placed in Rishon Lezion. But on Monday of this week, with the help of the IFCJ and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, his wish finally came true.
“I dreamed about it all my life, and I am here,” said a smiling Takotch. “I feel good that I had the opportunity to come and pray at Judaism’s holiest site. This is a place that I’ve always seen on television, and now I’ve finally been here.”
To enable him to celebrate his milestone birthday in the best possible way, his granddaughter called the IFCJ’s assistance hotline and asked for help to bring him to Jerusalem and the Western Wall. He rarely travels otherwise, due to his advanced age. IFCJ provided transportation and arranged for nearby parking and a wheelchair.
Takotch was 14 in 1941 when the Nazis entered his native city and his family fled to a collective farm in the countryside. They had to leave this haven in 1942 as the Nazis advanced. The family made it to the city of Kazan in what is now the Republic of Tatarstan. Takotch, his parents and two brothers were sent to another collective farm, where they worked throughout the remainder of the war. After the war ended, they returned to Donetsk, only to experience famine. Takotch was later drafted into the Soviet Army and learned to drive trucks, which led to his making this a career after his return to civilian life.
■ STILL ON the subject of very senior citizens, the family of Jerusalemite Issasschar Goldstein placed a death notice in Yediot Aharonot in which the bottom line was “He died before his time at age 109.” Goldstein was survived by two daughters, six grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren. Some people who read the death notices that were plastered on billboards and elsewhere in his neighborhood thought that the family was either joking or had made a mistake. But no, they were merely fulfilling one of his last wishes. Hoping to live to be 120, he had told his family that should he not reach that age, they were to write on his tombstone that he died before his time.
Goldstein was born in a small Polish village, was married for 80 years, and retained his mental faculties until the end. He could remember incidents from his childhood and from the First World War. Longevity runs in the family. Goldstein’s wife, Batya, died six years ago, just before reaching the age of 100. His younger brother died at age 97. A sister died at age 104, and Goldstein’s great-grandmother lived to be 102 in an era when people died at relatively young age.
■ SUNDAY, DECEMBER 10 is International Human Rights Day. The Austrian Cultural Center has arranged with the Tel Aviv Cinematheque to screen Kat Rohrer’s controversial documentary Fatal Promises, which takes a hard look at human trafficking, which, despite enlightened laws on human rights that have been enacted in so many countries, remains a scourge of our times – even in Israel. A panel discussion will follow the firstname.lastname@example.org