Grapevine: Mother love

A roundup of the week's news briefs.

December 20, 2016 22:09
Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Mehereta Baruch-Ron, Yael Dayan, Ruth Dayan and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai.

Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Mehereta Baruch-Ron, Yael Dayan, Ruth Dayan and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai.. (photo credit: TEL AVIV-JAFFA MUNICIPALITY)

It’s not very often that a 77-year-old woman has her mother standing by her side when she receives an award. But that was the case this week when former MK and former member of the Tel Aviv City Council Yael Dayan received the Social Services Award from Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and Mehereta Baruch-Ron, who like Dayan before her is deputy mayor and holds the welfare and social services portfolio in the municipality. Dayan, who celebrated her 77th birthday earlier this month, was selected for the award by a public committee headed by Baruch-Ron, who is a marvelous success story in herself.

Born in Gondar, Ethiopia, she came to Israel when she was 10 years old. She was illiterate at the time and was sent to a youth village. But there’s not much left of who she used to be.

These days she’s a wife and mother with a BA in psychology and human services and she is completing a master’s degree in organizational sociology. An actress by profession, she has appeared in numerous productions.

Dayan, a talented writer, authored several well-received books and wrote columns for various newspapers. A peace activist as well as a staunch promoter of human rights, women’s rights and LGBT rights, she was a third-generation legislator. Her grandfather Shmuel Dayan was a member of the first Knesset.

Her father, Moshe Dayan, was chief of staff and later defense minister and foreign minister. He, too, was a member of Knesset, and Yael followed.

She subsequently served two terms on the Tel Aviv City Council. Ruth Dayan, who will celebrate her 100th birthday in March, two days before International Women’s Day, has long been a lighthouse of women’s empowerment and has also generated projects for coexistence.

■ IT’S AMAZING how, regardless of people’s own personal status, everyone wants to jump on someone else’s bandwagon, touch a piece of glory and hope that it sticks. One of the tasks of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce is to make connections abroad or with visiting dignitaries, with a view to upgrading economic ties with movers and shakers in different states and countries. Two years back, one such visitor to Israel who was hosted by the FICC was the governor of Indiana, whose name happens to be Mike Pence, and who today is vice president-elect of the United States.

It’s not certain whether FICC president Uriel Lynn is claiming to have had the foresight to know that Pence was a future No. 2 on the totem pole of American politics, but people on his staff are crediting him with prescience, and have produced a photograph as proof.

■ MANY ISRAELIS, especially those of American background whose politics are right of center, were delighted to learn that David Friedman had been named as US ambassador- designate to Israel. Some, such as congregants at Jerusalem’s Hazvi Yisrael Synagogue in Talbiyeh, were not exactly surprised. When he’s in Israel, Friedman is a congregant there, and during his visit in October to drum up votes for Donald Trump, he was so confident of Trump’s forthcoming victory that he let the cat out of the bag and let it be known to a few friends that he was first in line to succeed Dan Shapiro.

When the rumor became reality, Jerusalem businessman David Zwebner, who has real estate interests in Ashkelon and who has been angling for a golf course by the Mediterranean, commented: “Maybe we’ll finally get a golf course in Ashkelon.”

The remark emanated from correspondence between then-Ashkelon mayor Benny Vaknin and Trump. Four years ago, Trump expressed interest – in fact, excitement – in developing a golf course and resort hotel in Ashkelon, following a letter that he had received from Vaknin, and suggested that, meanwhile, Vaknin work closely with Friedman and his colleague Zwebner.

As yet, nothing concrete has emerged from the two-way correspondence other than the fact that Zwebner and Friedman are good friends, and will in all probability become closer friends if Friedman’s appointment is approved. Whether or not the US Embassy finally moves to Jerusalem, Friedman, if his appointment is confirmed, will be giving his security detail a headache by occasionally moving to home away from home. Friedman owns a home in Jerusalem within easy walking distance of the synagogue.

■ APROPOS SYNAGOGUES, American Jewish media journalists are falling over themselves playing guessing games as to which Washington synagogue will be frequented by Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner. The process of elimination is to cast aside Conservative and Reform synagogues, which doesn’t leave all that many choices in DC, where the couple is also house-hunting, although there’s a brand new Trump hotel where they could stay for the next four years. The short list synagogue is Kesher Israel. The only problem is that most of the congregants, some of whom are very prominent personalities socially and politically, have said and penned some vile things about the president-elect. It all remains to be seen whether Ivanka can let bygones be bygones.

■ GUIDED BY the words of Elie Wiesel “and the world stood silent” and by the post-Holocaust pledge of “never again,” Shmuel Rosenman, one of the founders and current chairman of March of the Living, has called on the government to do all that is possible to rescue and assist the people of Syria.

“Even though they are enemies,” he said in an interview on Israel Radio with Yaakov Ahimeir, “they are our neighbors across the border, and we cannot sit by and watch what is happening there.”

He is particularly concerned about the suffering of children and the elderly. Rosenman has also launched a fund-raising campaign in behalf of Syrians being treated in Israeli hospitals, and has asked past participants in March of the Living to pressure their governments to take action to bring the war in Syria to an end.

When Ahimeir asked him what connection March of the Living had to the atrocities in Syria, Rosenman quoted Wiesel, saying that the world must not remain silent in the face of such barbarity and that “never again” applies not only to Jews. He also reminded Ahimeir that among those who came to help Israel fight recent forest fires were people who were not exactly Israel’s friends, but who put animosity aside in a time of crisis.

■ COMPILING A guest list for a wedding when one or both of the families concerned are well known is very problematic, but less likely to be so when Avraham Yosef, 20, marries Adi Shimoni, 19. Both are students at Ono Academic College, of which the bride’s father, lawyer Moshe Shimoni, is chairman of the Jerusalem campus. The young couple, who announced their engagement this week, did not meet at college. In fact, they met long before they even knew the word “college.”

They have known each other all their lives, and are actually related.

Yosef is the grandson of the late Sephardi chief rabbi and Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and Adi is the rabbi’s great-granddaughter. Avraham’s parents are Rabbi Moshe and Yehudit Yosef, who lived with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef following the death of his wife, and took care of his needs. Adi is the granddaughter of Israel Prize laureate Adina Bar Shalom and Rabbi Ezra Bar Shalom, who is a judge who sits on the Supreme Rabbinical Court.

Family members alone, taking in-laws into account, will fill a banquet hall.

■ THIS YEAR marked the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Peres Academic Center in Rehovot, which is approved by the Council for Higher Education, and which was founded in a pioneer effort to explore new learning techniques and to foster human values and moral objectives. This was the only educational facility named for Israel’s ninth president, Shimon Peres, in his lifetime. In June 2013, former US president Bill Clinton attended and spoke at a gala fund-raiser there.

This week, on his return from the US, where he lit Hanukka candles with President Barack Obama, Chemi Peres, one of the sons of Shimon Peres, attended the renaming ceremony of the first elementary school to be named for his father, who died three months ago. Chemi Peres told the students that as much as he had been moved by the Hanukka ceremony at the White House, it was even more moving for him to be at the environmentally conscious Peres School in Kfar Saba, because his father had placed such great value on education.

In the spirit of the school’s dedication to the environment, Peres and Kfar Saba Mayor Yehuda Ben-Hamo planted a tree together in the school grounds.

■ IF ISRAEL would undertake electoral reform whereby all candidates for Knesset would be elected as representatives of a particular area and not only as members of a party bloc, Kulanu MK Michael Oren, Israel’s immediate past ambassador to the United States and currently deputy minister for public diplomacy, would undoubtedly score well if he moved to Herzliya Pituah, where residents and friends of the Seven Stars Residence gave him a rousing ovation last Thursday, after he shared some of his views on the likely attitudes of the Trump administration toward Israel, the Middle East and world Jewry.

However, like almost anyone else who speaks about Trump, Oren admitted that no one could predict what Trump will do next.

Oren, who was speaking under the auspices of the Herzliya Cultural Group, is heartened by Trump’s stated intention to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and also reminded his audience of the special relationship between the US and Israel, which is based on common heritage, democratic values, mutual interests and trust. He is confident that this relationship will not be affected by the change in administration.

Oren was inundated with questions that reflected the concerns of many Israelis, and he patiently answered one question after another.

Though a former ambassador to Israel’s most important ally, the American-born and raised Oren is not always diplomatic. Toward the end of last month he tweeted that if France is labeling Israeli products from Judea, Samaria and the Golan, Israelis should think twice before buying French products. French Ambassador Helene Le Gal tweeted back at the time: “So you are calling for boycotting French products, when in France boycotting Israel is punishable by law.”

Oren is used to controversy. His revealing book Ally, which was highly critical of Obama, created a backlash of negative reaction, even though many Israelis share Oren’s opinion that Obama is not a friend of Israel, despite the fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly acknowledged that no other US president did more for Israel’s security.

■ IT’S INTERESTING to see how many physicians had a literary bent and became famous writers. Among them are Anton Chekhov, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Oliver Wendell Homes, Robin Cook and Michael Crichton. Among those living in Israel is Kenneth Collins, who is both a writer and a historian who has written extensively on Jews in Scotland and his native Glasgow in particular, as well as on Jewish medical history and ethics.

His latest book, The Jewish Experience in Scotland, was launched this week at Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People, after having been previously launched in Glasgow.

The book is the brainchild of retired diplomat Neville Lamdan, the Glasgow-born former Israel ambassador to the Vatican and currently chairman of the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy, which is headquartered in Jerusalem.

Lamdan was scheduled to be the moderator at the launch, but unfortunately took ill and was unable to attend. Quickly recruited for the task was Steven Kliner, another former Glaswegian, who had served with Collins on the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council.

Approximately half of some 300 known Jewish expats from Scotland attended.

The wider Jewish community doesn’t know too much about Scotland’s Jews, which is hardly surprising since the total number during the two centuries of an established Jewish community in Scotland did not exceed 70,000. Nonetheless, Jews built synagogues, had kosher food and Jewish educational facilities and integrated well into mainstream Scottish life. In fact, the subtitle of Collins’s book is “From immigration to integration.”

There were occasional gasps in the audience during his PowerPoint presentation, as people recognized scenes from their childhood, and several of those who attended purchased more than one book. Collins said that rather than simply present dry statistics, he tried to tell the story of Scottish Jewry through some of the people who had been prominent in the various Jewish communities.

Among those present was Ephraim Borowski, who is the director of the Standing Committee of Scottish Jewry, who said that any time there is a lecture or debate in Scotland with the word “Jew” in the title, there is a large turnout of even the most assimilated of Scottish Jews, who, aware of the paucity in numbers of Scottish Jewry, say they came because they thought that no one else would.

As a result, most such events are very well attended.

■ BACK IN 1989, author and translator Michelle Mazel accompanied her husband, Zvi, to Romania, where he served as Israel’s ambassador. The Mazels and their embassy staff were caught in the throes of the Romanian Revolution and witnessed the end of the Ceausescu regime. The Mazels were later posted to Egypt and then to Sweden. They have maintained contact with friends they made in all three countries.

Michelle Mazel has written books and articles that, in terms of both fact and fiction, relate to places where her husband was sent to represent Israel. She writes in French, Hebrew and English, and her books are often translated into other languages.

The latest to come off the press is A Pact with the Devil, which tells the story of a Jewish family from Transylvania whose saga begins at the end of the 19th century and concludes in 1944. Considering where the plot is set, the publisher, who is of Romanian background, insisted that the book first be read and made available in Romanian. So naturally the launch was in Bucharest last week and hosted by Ambassador Tamar Samash, who had been a member of the Israel Embassy staff back in 1989. In fact, when she left Israel prior to taking up her present position, the Mazels held a farewell reception for her in their home in Jerusalem. An English version of the book is due to appear in the spring, and perhaps after that a Hebrew edition.

■ WHILE SOCIAL media seems to be gaining in influence, the regular media is losing its clout. It has been proved wrong far too often. The most obvious example was the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.

But closer to home, the media was forecasting that former president Moshe Katsav’s third appeal for early release from a seven-year sentence would be rejected, just as the previous two appeals had been. Minutes before the hearing, reporters were still predicting that Katsav, who has already served five years, would not go free at last.

But even some of Katsav’s strongest critics argued that if Brig.-Gen. Ofek Buchris, though convicted of sexual offenses, had avoided prison with a plea bargain, then Katsav should not have to stay in prison.

He had already lost his prestigious position, his spirit had been broken, and many of his close friends had abandoned him. Moreover, Katsav has still never publicly admitted to the rape charges, whereas Buchris, after first vehemently denying the accusations brought against him, eventually admitted them to be true.

In the Katsav case, the public will never know the real truth beyond the fact that there were sexual liaisons between him and certain women. During the period in which Katsav was initially experiencing his downfall, several MKs and Knesset reporters claimed to have been aware of the fact that he was a sexual predator. If so, why did they not speak out before the Knesset election for president? Could their silence be interpreted as a form of collusion – especially the silence of those who voted for him? While the media continues to condemn Katsav, very little has been reported on the catty remarks of socially prominent women who knew one or more of the victims, and who suspected that the actual story was not quite the same as that told to the court.

With hindsight, one also has to wonder who leaked the story in the first place.

In 2006, Katsav approached lawyer Yaakov Neeman and told him that an extortion attempt was being made on him with regard to sexual harassment. Neeman advised him to speak to then-attorney-general Menachem Mazuz. The story was broken very soon afterward by Channel 2’s investigative journalist and political analyst Amnon Abramowitz, after which it continued to mushroom, until Katsav was finally found guilty and sentenced to prison, all the while protesting his innocence.

The only redeeming feature in the whole case is his wife, Gila, who remained loyally at his side both physically and metaphorically.

A modest, generally undemonstrative person in public, almost to the extent of being shy, in September 2006 she was taking Maria Kaczynska, the wife of Polish president Lech Kaczynski, on a tour of welfare institutions.

Moshe Katsav and his Polish counterpart were standing beneath the pergola at the President’s Residence to wave them on their way when Gila, about to enter the car, suddenly turned back and kissed her husband, as if to assure him that no matter what, she is in his corner. And that’s the way it has been ever since.

Na’ama Buchris has been equally supportive of her husband but has endured greater humiliation simply because Buchris, in the final analysis, admitted his crime, meaning that he had been lying not only to his friends and to the court but also to his wife.

■ IN NEW York last week, more than 100 people attended the dedication of the Ronald S. Lauder JNF House on the Upper East Side. Jeffrey E. Levine, JNF president and co-chairman with Alan Dabrow of the JNF Building Modernization Committee, was thrilled, after years of planning, hard work and elbow grease, to be able to welcome everyone back to the JNF’s national headquarters in the US.

The day’s celebrations included a first-time meeting in the building’s Leonard J. Attman and Phyllis Attman Family Boardroom, followed by an official unveiling and dedication of the Ronald S. Lauder JNF House and reception in the Katharina Otto-Bernstein and Nathan A. Bernstein Assembly Hall, where Consul-General Dani Dayan addressed the guests, as did Georg Heindl, Austria’s consul- general in New York. Ronald S. Lauder is a former US ambassador to Austria.

JNF CEO Russell F. Robinson recalled that years ago, he and Lauder had discussed whether to move to more modern premises, and Lauder, who pent 10 years as president of the JNF, before taking on the chairmanship of the board of the organization, said that they simply could not leave JNF House. Lauder had offered to spearhead the funding of the renovation of the building, so that it would remain the permanent home of the JNF in America.

The building, which was originally owned by financier Arthur Sachs, dates back to almost a century. Sachs sold it to Edward H.

Foley, Jr., the under secretary of the treasury under president Truman, in the early 1930s, and in 1954 it was gifted to JNF.

“When I think about JNF, the first thing that comes to mind is Israel, and the second thing is JNF House,” said Lauder. “JNF is about life.

The forests it planted and the water reservoirs it built forever changed Israel for the better.

I’m happy that I could do something that would forever leave a lasting mark on such a wonderful organization.”

In 2012, the organization moved to a temporary office space, so renovations could begin on the town house. The building also showcases several impressive pieces of artwork gifted to JNF, including Alex Katz’s series Ada Four Times and Salvidor Dali’s complete Twelve Tribes of Israel series. In addition, three menorahs from George Tobolowsky are on loan to JNF by the Dallas Museum of Biblical Art.

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