Grapevine: One man’s meat...

“We are living in an interesting and complex period characterized by geopolitical changes occurring throughout the world.”

December 8, 2016 20:13
FROM LEFT: Theresienstadt survivor Hana Weingarten; Tami Kinberg, the director of Beit Theresienstad

FROM LEFT: Theresienstadt survivor Hana Weingarten; Tami Kinberg, the director of Beit Theresienstadt; Murray Greenfield; and child Holocaust survivor Colette Avital, who chairs the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel.. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Saying sorry seems to be the way for an army brigadier-general to avoid a jail term for sexual offenses, as appears to be the case, unless the objections of women’s organizations to the deal that Ofek Buchris secured will cause the legal authorities to have second thoughts.

Former president Moshe Katsav, who refused to express remorse on the grounds that the charges against him were, in his perception, unfounded, has been languishing in prison for five years, and despite good behavior has been refused a reduction of his seven-year sentence, because of his refusal to acknowledge his crime and to apologize for what he had done.

Katsav, who celebrated his 71st birthday this week, is due to appear yet again before the Parole Board this coming Sunday after having finally agreed to enter a rehabilitation program, which he had long resisted, and according to reports, there has also been a change in his attitude with regard to admitting his wrongdoing.

Israel has a habit of turning a blind eye to the misdeeds of military heroes, and when they are punished, it’s little more than a slap on the wrist. Very often, their former army buddies who are now in important positions in civilian life use all the influence they can summon to help get the accused off the hook.

But at least one retired brigadier- general, and himself a legendary military hero, is on the side of the women. Avigdor Kahalani sent a message of encouragement to his niece, actress Avishag Kahalani, whose rendition of “Song of the Sexually Harassed” in the protest video “We are the Buchris girls” has gone viral. Avigdor Kahalani told his niece that he is proud of her.

NOT WITHSTANDING THE opposition of the Ministerial Committee on Pensions and the government, the plenum of the Knesset on Wednesday voted in a preliminary reading to upgrade disability allotments to the sum equivalent to the minimum wage, which is slightly more than double the existing disability allowance. The vote on the bill proposed by Meretz MK Ilan Gilon was a major triumph for him and a defeat for the coalition.

Gilon, one of two visibly disabled members of Knesset, cares deeply for other disabled people. His previous attempt to push through the bill had failed, but this time, conscience pricked at several ministers and MKs, who absented themselves during the voting so that they would not have to follow the coalition directive to vote against it.

An emotionally affected Gilon said that the current monthly allowance of NIS 2,342, which at best could be raised to NIS 2,714, depending on the severity of the disability, caused the disabled to live in permanent poverty. The newly approved allowance will make a considerable difference to the quality of their lives.

FRIDAY IS the 100th birthday of Issur Danielovitch Demsky, better known to the world as Kirk Douglas. A great actor and an extraordinarily generous philanthropist, Douglas has given away tens of millions of dollars to various charities, including some in Israel, most notably to Aish Hatorah as the result of an epiphany that he had when standing by the Western Wall during one of his visits to Israel. Douglas was so imbued with the aura of his surroundings that he envisaged an educational center opposite the Wall, from which its teachers and students would gain inspiration. This was at a time when he was finding his way back to Judaism, and although he didn’t underwrite the cost of the new Aish Hatorah facility, he did contribute to the construction of a theater bearing his name in the seven-story building. Douglas was a student at Aish in Los Angeles for several years.

His actor son Michael, though not halachically Jewish, considers himself to be a member of the tribe and was the 2015 Genesis Prize laureate, which in a sense made him more than just a member of the tribe.

IN THE days when retired diplomat Susana Gun de Hasenson was El Salavador’s ambassador to Israel, her tour guide husband, Dave, trailed along with her to diplomatic events, or she went on her own.

But since her retirement more than a year ago, she prefers to stay in the background, though she does trail along with him to events at the residence of the Finnish ambassador.

Dave de Hasenson is originally from Finland, and this week, after returning from a vacation in Guatemala, the couple was among the guests at the Finnish National Day reception hosted by recently arrived Ambassador Anu Saarela and her husband, Pekka Saarela.

The ambassador took great pride in the fact that “Finland is the world’s most stable country,” and revealed that one of the national day traditions in her country is to light two candles at 6 p.m. when it is truly dark and cold. The candles symbolize light and hope in the dark of winter. Next year the festivities will be very special because Finland will be celebrating its 100th year of independence.

Construction Minister Yoav Galant, who represented the government, noted that while Finland will be celebrating its centenary, Israel will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, and before that will have several other reasons for celebration.

“We are living in an interesting and complex period characterized by geopolitical changes occurring throughout the world,” he said, noting that Finland, located between the Nordic and Baltic regions, is affected by these changes.

“Both our countries are confronting difficult challenges,” he continued, but he was happy to note that bilateral friendship and cooperation were growing stronger.

He was particularly appreciative of Finland’s commitment to peace in the region and its contribution to peacekeeping forces. In this context, he referred specifically to the hundreds of Finnish soldiers serving in UNIFIL, UNDOP and UNTSO and working in close cooperation with the IDF.

Galant also mentioned the fact that Finland’s Prime Minister Juha Sipila had come to Israel to pay respects at the funeral of Shimon Peres.

A choir comprising members of the Finnish Embassy, including the ambassador herself, sang the national anthems of both countries, and the ambassador announced that two sterling people serving the interests of the embassy were being honored with Finland’s Order of the White Rose. One was Herzl Munzer, who has worked for the embassy for 40 years, and the other was Consul Elisa Oliveira.

YET ANOTHER female ambassador will present her credentials this coming Monday. Canadian Ambassador- designate Deborah Lyons will come to Jerusalem to present her credentials to President Reuven Rivlin, while in Ottawa, Nimrod Barkan Israel’s new ambassador to Canada, will present his credentials to Governor-General David Johnston, who was recently in Israel.

TO MARK the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Theresienstadt ghetto, a special concert of works by Jewish composers Gideon Klein, Hans Krasa and Viktor Ulmann, who were inmates of Theresienstadt, was hosted by the Czech Embassy in conjunction with Beit Theresienstadt. The concert, conducted by Dan Rapoport, was attended by Holocaust survivors and their relatives.

Among the speakers were Czech Ambassador Ivo Schwarz, Beit Theresienstadt director Tami Kinberg and MK Aliza Lavie, who spoke about Judaism in the Czech Republic – then and now.

Also present was publisher Murray Greenfield, whose late wife, Hana Lustig Greenfield, had been a survivor of Theresienstadt and had dedicated her life to Holocaust education projects in the Czech Republic. Hana Weingarten, who had been with Hana Lustig in Theresienstadt and had gone with her through Auschwitz slave labor and the death march from Bergen-Belsen, was also present.

Weingarten speaks to Israelis of her experiences. Greenfield presented certificates of appreciation to people who in a volunteer capacity continue his wife’s work.

FOR SOME odd reason, the Guinness World Records is ignoring Walter Bingham, the nonagenarian journalist who broadcasts his Walter’s World twice a week on Arutz Sheva and can be seen at numerous events, recording and reporting. He also organizes things for other people, and because he has interviewed numerous celebrities, he has easy access to them.

Thus when he wanted world-famous singer Dudu Fisher to sing for the members of Café Europa in Jerusalem’s Germany Colony this coming Monday, he had no trouble getting Fisher to agree.

Café Europa is composed largely of Holocaust survivors, some of whom are accompanied by spouses or partners who are not necessarily survivors. It is a wonderful social outlet for people who have endured similar horrors, but were able to make productive lives for themselves afterward.

Fisher’s father was a Holocaust survivor, and Fisher has made a film about the Holocaust and has participated in the March of the Living. He needed no persuasion to perform for a Holocaust survivor organization.

Bingham, who was born in Germany, went as a teenager on the Kindertransport to England, and as soon as he was able enlisted in the British Army and subsequently won a medal for bravery in the field, having participated in action in Normandy. On January 5, Bingham, who still walks tall and without the aid of a cane, plans to celebrate his 93rd birthday by making a parachute jump in Acre. He’s already made the arrangements. So in addition to being one of the oldest regular working journalists in the world if not the oldest, he will in all probability be the oldest to make a parachute jump, and Guinness will not be able to ignore him anymore.

THERE’S A bat mitzva under way in the household of US Ambassador Dan Shapiro and his wife, Julie Fisher, who tweeted: “In case you were wondering, if it is harder to plan a bat mitzva in America while living in Israel, or harder to plan a bat mitzva in Israel while living in Israel. It is the latter. Big time. Really hard. But when middle daughter Merav gets to the big day, her parents will reach the conclusion that all the headache involved was worth it.”

THERE’S AT least one Jewish veteran of the Pearl Harbor attack who may be accompanying President Barack Obama to Hawaii toward the end of this month. He is Aaron Chabin, 93 of Bayside, Queens, New York, who was an 18 year old, reading a newspaper in his barracks, when the Japanese launched a surprise attack in which some 2,300 American service personnel were killed. Each year, the number of veterans dwindles, and those who are left are mostly in their 90s, with a few already past their centenaries.

Every year on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Chabin is interviewed by reporters from the Big Apple newspapers. This year, the interview was a little different because, for the first time ever, a sitting Japanese prime minister will be attending the memorial ceremony. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced on Monday that he would visit Pearl Harbor and travel to the American naval base with Obama. Abe will spend December 26 and 27 in Hawaii.

In a sense it is a reciprocal trip in that last May, Obama became the first sitting American president to visit Hiroshima, where the United States caused enormous damage and loss of life in 1945, when it dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Interviewed by the New York Daily News, Chabin said that he had no problem with Abe visiting Pearl Harbor. “Over the years there has been a healing,” said Chabin, “But the world in general right now? I’ve seen better days.” Chabin is the father of Jerusalem-based journalist Michele Chabin.

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