The backlog of cases in the Israeli court system is such that it has taken four years for the Supreme Court to rule that documents prepared by anyone working in the capacity of a civil servant do not belong to that person or his or her heirs, but to the state. The decision was handed down on Monday by Justice David Mintz, bringing to an end a dispute between the State of Israel and the sons of the late Mordechai Beham, a lawyer who on the instructions of Pinchas Rosen, who later became Israel’s first minister of justice, wrote the first drafts of the state’s Declaration of Independence.
Beham kept the drafts and willed them to his sons who in the course of time decided to sell them through Jerusalem-based Kedem Auction House. Realizing the historic value of these documents, Kedem listed a quarter-million dollar opening bid, but expected to get much more. In response to Kedem’s publishing of the auction and putting the documents on display, the state stepped in and claimed that the documents belonged in the National Archives, which after the Supreme Court ruling this week, will become their permanent home.
Mintz wrote in his opinion that the documents are part of the cultural assets of the state, testimony to its past and part of its collective identity.
There are many other historic documents in the hands of former civil servants and their heirs, most of which cannot be traced unless they are put up for sale. The tragedy is that future generations may not realize their value and will throw them out.
■ MOST OF us have a dream or ambition which we carry throughout much of our lives without actually realizing it, even though we may plan endlessly for its eventuality.
Bella Bryks-Klein, the daughter of Polish-born Holocaust survivors Rachmil and Hinda Bryks who met in Sweden after the war, was born in Stockholm as was her sister, and the family was brought to America by YIVO and HIAS. Yiddish was the language spoken at home, and the two sisters were educated in Jewish day schools in Manhattan, New York.
While a student at Stern College, Bryks-Klein came to Israel to spend a year at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, met the love of her life, got married and remained in Israel, transferred to Ben-Gurion University and earned a BA in behavioral sciences. Her late father was a Yiddish poet, and she took it upon herself to continuing his work by disseminating Yiddish language and culture. In addition to working as a Yiddish translator, she also puts out a monthly newsletter in Hebrew, Yiddish and English, listing Yiddish events around the country. She is also the director of the Yiddish Arbeiter-Ring Cultural Center in Tel Aviv and the Israel representative of the Yiddish Forward, which is now published as a monthly magazine in New York. She also does Yiddish interviews with Holocaust survivors for Yad Vashem and works as a translator for Yiddishpiel Theater.
As if that’s not enough, she’s also in charge of the Beth Shalom Aleichem website and Facebook page. Her big dream to perform in a one-woman show based on her father’s life and writings has finally come to fruition with a show called My Father’s Daughter, or in Yiddish, Mein Tate’s Tochter, which is full of anecdotes about growing up as a second-generation Holocaust survivor. The show will premiere in Hebrew on June 4, with another performance on June 6, and a Yiddish matinée performance scheduled for June 12. All performances will be held at the Arbeiter Ring, 48 Kalischer Street, Tel Aviv. Bryks-Klein hopes to later take the show to America.
■ FORMER AUSTRALIAN ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma, who as a result of the recent elections in Australia has won a seat in Federal Parliament, has been an unofficial ambassador for Israel ever since his return to Australia. Sharma, who was Australia’s youngest-ever ambassador, left the Foreign Service in order to give his wife, Rachel Lord, who is a diplomat in her own right, the opportunity to shine.
While still an ambassador, Sharma asked for an extension of his stay in Israel and received it, and at one of the many receptions that he hosted for Australian groups and dignitaries, when asked by a politician what message to take back to Canberra, he replied that he wanted to stay in Israel forever. Sharma made many friends in Israel, including then-US ambassador Dan Shapiro and his wife, Julie Fisher. When Shapiro visited Australia a little under two years ago on behalf of the Jewish National Fund, he spent time with Sharma and his wife. Among the congratulatory messages that Sharma received following his election was from Fisher who retweeted a message from Austrian Ambassador Martin Weiss, who is due to wind up his own tenure this summer, and who wrote: “Congratulations on your election. You certainly made your mark as an ambassador, and you sure will as an MP.” Speculation has it that Sharma is tipped to become a minister. If that happens, it’s on the cards that we’ll be seeing him soon in Israel.
■ A FORMER Australian prime minister, Bob Hawke, who had been a great admirer of and friend to Israel ever since his days as the head of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, died on May 16, at age 89, two days prior to the Federal elections. Hawke, who was Australia’s third-longest serving prime minister visited Israel for the first time in 1971, and became enamored through his relationship with the Histadrut. He later played a significant role in the struggle for Soviet Jewry, working closely with Jerusalem Post columnist Isi Leibler, when the latter was president of the Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies, and later president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. Hawke also worked closely with Isi’s younger brother, Mark Leibler, when the latter was president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, a position now held by Mark’s son, Jeremy Leibler.
After Israel moved politically to the Right, Hawke became somewhat disenchanted, but maintained strong ties with the Jewish community of Australia. He was prime minister in November 1986, when Chaim Herzog was the first sitting President of Israel to visit Australia. Hawke subsequently included Israel in his January 1987 trip to the Middle East and celebrated Australia Day in Jerusalem. He also visited the Western Wall, and the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery on Mount Scopus.
Even before that, one of Hawke’s daughters had worked as a volunteer on kibbutz. In recent years, Hawke took a pro-Palestinian stance, viewing Palestinians in much the same light as he had viewed the Jews of the Soviet Union. That didn’t make him anti-Israel or anti-Jews. He was simply living up to the Australian characteristic of taking the side of whoever is perceived as the underdog.
■ IT’S DOUBTFUL that any famous Israeli has been memorialized to the extent of best-selling author and peace activist Amos Oz who died in December 2018. Tribute events in his memory have been held in Israel and abroad – and it isn’t over. Last week, the Hebrew Writers Association in Israel launched a monthly lecture series in which fellow writers, literary critics, professors of literature and academic researchers will examine different aspects of Oz’s writing including his style, his use of language, his subject matter and more. The lectures will be up to and including October. Coming up next on June 11 is a lecture by Prof. Avraham Balaban, emeritus professor Hebrew Literature at the University of Florida who is himself an author and a poet. The lectures will all be held at 7:30 p.m. at Writers’ House 6 Eliezer Kaplan Street, Tel Aviv. But even before that on June 6, at the Metulla Poets Festival commencing June 6. A.B. Yehoshua, Erez Biton, Ariel Hirshfeld, Dorit Zilberman, Rachel Halfi, Marit Zarhi and Rima Kogan will join forces to discuss Oz and his work.
■ DESPITE FEARS that in a digital age, people will stop reading novels and poetry, not a week goes past in Israel without a book launch, a poetry reading or the announcement of winners of a literary competition.
People are writing and reading in numerous languages. Winners of the Voices Israel Poetry in English Society 2018 Reuben Rose International Competition gathered recently in Ramat Aviv together with Voices poets from all over Israel. Reuben Rose was one of the founders of a small group that started in Haifa in 1971, dedicated to the promotion of English poetry in Israel. Today there are 10 branches from Safed in Upper Galilee to the Arava, plus one group in Berlin, and another in London all writing in different genres. Regional groups meet monthly to share their poems and receive friendly critiques.
Workshops are organized with local and visiting poets from abroad.
The 2018 competition was judged by Welsh poet Peter Thabit-Jones and Israeli poets Mark Radzyner, Iris Dan and Avril Meallem. The three winning poets were John Gallas of the UK, and two Israeli poets, Donna Bechar and Wendy Dickstein. Honorary mentions included Israeli members Celia Merlin, Johnmichael Simon and Dina Yehuda, a veteran member who is chief editor of the annual Voices Anthology. Other honorary mentions were awarded in absentia to poets from the UK, USA and Australia.
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