■ SEVERAL YEARS ago, Prof. Robert Rockaway of Tel Aviv University wrote a best-selling book, But He Was Good to His Mother, which, in an interesting and humorous manner, tells the story of some of America’s leading Jewish gangsters. Among those mentioned in the book are Louis Lepke Buchalter, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Arthur “Dutch” Schultz, Meyer “The Little Man” Lansky, Charlie “King” Solomon, Max “Boo Boo” Hoff and Abner “Longy” Zwillman. The book was so popular that it had to be reprinted several times.
The title comes from an oft-repeated remark of Rockaway’s mother, who, when anything was said of Jews who had become notorious, responded: “But he was good to his mother.” It wasn’t a far-fetched comment. Many of the gangsters were very protective of their families, and didn’t let them know how they made their livings.
On Sunday night of this week, Rockaway based an entertaining and even thrilling talk on what was written in his book, in an address to the Friends of Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People.
Among those who attended were Irina Nevzlin, who chairs the museum’s board of directors, and is president of the Nadav Foundation established by her father, Leonid Nevzlin, who was also present; Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis; chairman of the Beit Hatfutsot Board of Governors Eitan Ben-Eliahu; attorneys Avital Harlin and Zion Amir; publicist Gil Samsonov; and former career diplomat Avi Pazner, whose own semi-autobiographical book, which takes its title, I have been to Paris and also Rome, from the refrain of a popular song “Shalom lach Eretz Nehederet” sung by Yehoram Gaon, in which the conclusion is “but there’s no place like the Land of Israel.” Pazner originally wrote the book in French and launched the Hebrew edition last month.
The evening at Beit Hatfutsot was enhanced by celebrity attorney Amir, who gave a rundown on organized crime in Israel and the difference between American Jewish gangsters of old and Israeli gangsters of today, who are no less vicious, but whose families can’t help knowing what they do.
The American Jewish gangsters were products of poor immigrant families, grew up on New York’s Lower East Side, spiced their conversations with Yiddish, threw in their lot with the Sicilian Mafia, kept Shabbat at home, and outside were unashamedly hit men who killed each other as well as non-Jewish gangsters who got in their way. But they were also philanthropic and gave generously to Jewish causes in America and abroad, and were particularly generous when it came to the fulfillment of the Zionist ideal, which was boosted by a considerable amount of tainted money.
Both Rockaway and Amir gave their services free of charge. Tickets for the event were NIS 200 each, with proceeds dedicated to bringing children, youth, families from peripheral communities and soldiers to the museum to learn more about the history of the Jewish people.
Just as a corollary to the revelations at the Beit Hatfutsot event, last month Millicent Rosen, one of the two daughters of Bugsy Siegel, died at age 86 in Las Vegas. Her family wanted to bury her in the family mausoleum in New York, but because it was far less expensive to have her cremated than to fly a coffin to New York, they chose the more cost-effective means of transferring her remains to the city of her birth. Chabad Rabbi Mendy Harlig, who was called to Rosen’s bedside at the hospice where she lay dying, persuaded the family not to cremate her, but to lay her to rest in Las Vegas, the glamorous city which owed its existence to her father’s vision.
■ APROPOS PAZNER’s book, on his Facebook page he has included where or when he would be interviewed about it. On the day prior to the Rockaway lecture, Pazner and his wife, Marty, were in Jerusalem to present the book to President Reuven Rivlin, who will also be among the speakers at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference.
■ TOGETHER WITH the Association for the Elderly in Arad and the Department of Welfare of the Arad Municipality, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews organized a fashion parade at the “Sounds of the Desert” senior citizens club in Arad last week, in which the models parading garments from Irene Boutique Fashion were seven female Holocaust survivors. Four were from the former Soviet Union. All seven are among the 19,000 Holocaust survivors the IFCJ says it supports.
One of the models, Elizabeth Rodich, who is also a fashion designer, was born in 1937 in Ukraine and fled with her parents and three brothers to Russia. Her eldest brother was conscripted into the Red Army, and returned after the war severely disabled. Her mother was a seamstress who, during the war, sewed clothes for the family, using scraps of fabric. Rodich didn’t get what she calls her first real dress till she was 15. It was so perfect that she didn’t dare wear it. She has worn her own designs all her life, and her big dream, not yet realized, is to have a show in which all the clothes and accessories are her designs.
■ VICTORIAN PREMIER Daniel Andrews arrived in Israel to open a Victorian Government Trade and Investment Office, the first of its kind established in Israel by any Australian state government. The purpose is to help to boost new investment and exchange opportunities between the State of Victoria and Israel. He has been accompanied to Israel by members of the Victorian government and influential Australian businesspeople.
He was previously in Israel in December 2013, when he was opposition leader, and reached the conclusion that there is much more to Israel than geopolitical issues.
Victoria has Australia’s fastest-growing, most diverse economy and highest annual population growth. The focus of the premier’s visit is to strengthen relations between Victoria and Israel at all levels.
He has been accompanied to various meetings by Australian Ambassador Chris Cannan and chairman of the Israel, Australia Chamber of Commerce Ido Nehushtan.
■ HOW TOTALLY appropriate it is for the Porter Foundation to sponsor the National Library’s event “When Balfour meets Allenby” that will be held on Sunday, December 10, at the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University. London-born Dame Shirley Porter, who, with her late husband, Sir Leslie Porter, established the Porter Foundation in 1970, supports many causes in Israel and the UK and, aside from living in Israel for most of the year, has a symbolic attachment to the country, in that her birthday is on November 29.
The event will include an address by Prof. Shlomo Avineri, who is always a delight. This is one of many events celebrating the 100th anniversary of Gen. Edmund Allenby’s arrival in Jerusalem. This is the third of a series of related centenary events in the space of a month and a half. The first was the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba on October 31, followed by that of the Balfour Declaration on November 2 and that of Allenby’s arrival in Jerusalem on December 11.
Just as there were several before and after functions commemorating the first two centennials, there are events before and after the Allenby centennial, and this is one of them, though it is unfortunate that an event on the same subject will be held on the same date at more or less the same time at the Ben-Zvi Institute. A little coordination would not have gone astray.
Descendants of Australian and New Zealand soldiers came to Israel to commemorate the Battle of Beersheba, the current Lord Balfour came to Israel a few months back for a conference that was largely based on the Balfour Declaration, and members of the Allenby family will be here next week for the Tower of David’s keynote commemoration of Allenby dismounting his horse at the Jaffa Gate and entering the Old City of Jerusalem on foot.
■ POLITICAL HOSTILITIES and religious and secular disputes were temporarily placed on the back burner last week when Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush, a seventh-generation Jerusalemite, celebrated the marriage of his son Shloimy to Esty Grossberger. Among the numerous guests gathered at a Bnei Brak banquet hall were heads of Lithuanian and hassidic dynasties, heads of local municipalities, members of Knesset and relatives and friends of the families of the bride and groom.
There have been a lot of weddings in the Porush family. Meir Porush is the father of 12 children. The Sadigura rebbe, Rabbi Tzvi Yisrael Moshe Friedman, officiated, and the young couple received a special blessing from Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, a leading authority on Halacha.
Seen among the guest were Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who happily joined in the lively dancing, opposition leader Isaac Herzog, Zionist Union MKs Amir Peretz and Nachman Shai, former education minister Gideon Sa’ar, Jerusalem City Council member Moshe Lion, former Shas leader Eli Yishai, coalition chairman David Bitan, Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan. But the secular, traditional and Modern Orthodox guests were vastly outnumbered by those wearing shtreimels and black kapotas.
■ IT’S ALWAYS a source of pride to any country when one of its citizens gains international recognition and is awarded a prestigious prize by another country. In the case of Prof. Adrian Becker of the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine, who has been named the 2017 Paul Herren laureate of the University of Bern, not only Israel will share in the kudos but also England, where Becker was born and raised, and where one of his sons works as an actor.
Becker is a clinical associate professor emeritus in the department of orthodontics and former director of its Center for the Treatment of Craniofacial Disorders and Special Needs Children.
A world-renowned expert in orthodontics, he authored Orthodontic Treatment of Impacted Teeth, now in its third edition, and has co-authored 11 other textbooks. He has published approximately 150 articles in leading international orthodontic journals. He has been the recipient of other high-profile awards, and has been the speaker at many orthodontic congresses around the world. He is due to receive his award on Thursday, December 7, and to deliver an address.
■ A MORE historic award will be made on Wednesday, December 6, at the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus, where an honorary doctorate will be conferred on Bartholomew I, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople. In May 2014, Bartholomew came to Jerusalem to meet with Pope Francis. Each of the religious leaders met separately with then-president Shimon Peres to talk about the role of religion in promoting peace and the importance of reconciliation between followers of different faiths.
Both the pope and Bartholomew have been extremely active in promoting interfaith dialogue among Jews, Christians and Muslims and among different streams of Christianity. Both have traveled widely to spread the message of Christian reconciliation, interfaith tolerance and coexistence, protection of the environment and a world united in peace, justice, solidarity and love. The two were in Jerusalem at the same time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1964 meeting in the Holy City between two prelates, Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI. The two embraced, prayed together and set the tone for a new dialogue between the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches. Over time this dialogue expanded to include Jews and Muslims.
Attending Wednesday afternoon’s event will be a wide array of religious leaders, ambassadors and other dignitaries. Following the conferring of the doctorate, Bartholomew will deliver an address in English. For the diplomatic community, it works out very well, as they will hear a variety of political addresses in the morning and early afternoon, and a spiritual address that will also contain elements of human rights as twilight falls on Jerusalem in the late afternoon.
■ FANS OF Neshama Carlebach will be pleased to know that she announced her engagement last week. No, she’s not engaged to singer-guitarist Josh Nelson, a product of the Reform movement, whom she met after her first marriage, to restaurateur Steven Katchen, the father of her sons, Rafael and Micah, crumbled in 2012. Carlebach and Nelson became an item professionally and privately, but the relationship petered out several months ago, and she’s now engaged to Rabbi Menachem Creditor, who has three children of his own. “After a life journey filled with twists and turns, I have finally found my true companion and soul mate. I am so, so very blessed,” writes Carlebach, who is now 43 but looks much younger.
The couple, who have known each other for 10 years, plan to marry in New York next summer. They met when she performed for the Netivot Shalom Congregation in Berkeley, California, where Creditor serves as spiritual leader, and struck up a friendship. For a long time, it was nothing more than that, as each of them was married when they were first introduced to each other.
A new Carlebach anthology about the singer’s late father, Shlomo Carlebach, was recently published under the title of What do we know? Edited by staunch Carlebach disciples Rabbi Joseph Schonwald and Reuven Goldfarb, the launch last month at the Yakar Center in Jerusalem was attended by many people who were brought to religious observance by Shlomo Carlebach.
■ AT THE end of November, Hadassah International Israel held a fund-raiser at the Intercontinental David Tel Aviv hotel, with proceeds earmarked for the establishment of a rehabilitation center for wounded soldiers and victims of terrorism at Hadassah-University Medical Center, on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus. The event was promoted as “A new step for major rehab.”
Guests included senior past and present officers of Israel’s defense establishment, including the IDF, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and Mossad, along with well-known businesspeople who contributed generously to the cause and wounded soldiers who had recovered from their wounds and were back in the swing of things, but who could testify to what a long and arduous process recovery can be. Construction of the new rehabilitation center will begin in 2018.
Among those present were former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik, who chairs Hadassah International Israel, former chiefs of staff Dan Halutz and Moshe Ya’alon, former Shin Bet head MK Yaakov Peri and business leaders Rami Levy, Harel Wiesel, Avraham Koznicki and Natan Barak.
■ CHINESE TELEVISION star Fu Xiaotian, who hosts an interview program Talk with World Leaders, has produced a book by the same name in which Israeli and Iranian personalities find themselves as neighbors between the covers. Fu’s media career is based on encouraging international cooperation and dialogue. She is also a popular lecturer and consultant with a huge on-screen and off-screen following. Her television shows are watched by some 200 million people. She interviews in English and Chinese.
Among her interviewees was Edelstein, whose transcribed interview in the book appears directly after that with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. There’s not too much chance of the two of them getting that close outside of the book.
■ IN PREVIOUS Grapevine columns, it has been stated that journalists work in a vacuum, not really knowing who their readers are, until they write something with which some of their readers vehemently disagree, and readers express such disagreement in a letter to the editor; or until the journalist makes a mistake, and readers rush to point out the error.
Mea culpa. In last Wednesday’s Grapevine, in an item on the launch of a book that grew out of a diary written by Yitzhak Navon in 1961, there was a reference to the launch two-and-a-half years ago of his autobiography. Even though he was very ill at the time, his wife Miri Shafir Navon arranged to bring him in a wheelchair from Shaare Zedek Medical Center to the venue of the launch, where he derived great pleasure from the many plaudits. However, instead of using the word “plaudits,” the word employed was “platitudes,” and several readers were quick to email the correction. One should always be grateful for being corrected when the correction is correct, because it is yet another learning experience.
■ POLISH PRIME Minister Beata Szydlo, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, Zionist Union MK Hilik Bar, who heads the Israel-Poland parliamentary friendship society, and former MK Rabbi Dov Lipman last week attended an event in Torun, Poland, honoring righteous Poles who risked their lives and often lost them in the effort to save Jews from the Nazis. For Bar – who is the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, the late Jakub Kotowski – the event held special significance, and Lipman said afterward that it was one of the most meaningful diplomatic experiences that he had ever had.
This emotional gathering of Israelis and Poles was facilitated by From the Depths, an organization founded and headed by international public relations executive and strategic planning consultant Jonny Daniels, who is determined to maintain the relevance of the lesson of the Holocaust for both Jews and non-Jews. Daniels relocated from London to Israel and from Israel to Warsaw, where he has forged strong relationships with politicians and other people of influence.
Bar was particularly moved at a Friday night dinner at Daniels’s home, where Bar recited kiddush in the presence of Jewish and non-Jewish guests, including parliamentarians. Another moving experience was a meeting with Polish Secretary of State Anna Maria Anders, the daughter of Gen. Wladyslaw Anders, the head of the Polish Forces that were set up in the Soviet Union in 1940-41. Among the many Jews who served in Anders’s army was a young man by the name of Menachem Begin, who went on to become prime minister of Israel.