Grapevine: Penitential prayers at the President’s Residence

They were not armed, but there was something sufficiently menacing about a group of angry young Palestinians to bring a conference to an abrupt close only minutes after it opened.

By
September 13, 2018 23:27
SOLDIERS SING slihot on the lawn outside the synagogue at the President’s Residence.

SOLDIERS SING slihot on the lawn outside the synagogue at the President’s Residence.. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

 
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In his first year in office, President Reuven Rivlin introduced a slihot service of penitential prayers to the President’s Residence. It was a somewhat modest affair the first time around, which has grown from year-to-year, with the prayers in song and recitation being led by well-known singers. Late on Wednesday night of this week, some 500 people gathered on the back lawns of the President’s Residence, facing the tiny synagogue. The president’s guests included pre-military cadets, soldiers, students from religious schools and seminaries, neighbors from the immediate area and regular worshipers, who come daily to the President’s Residence for morning prayers. In the past, the service, which is partially in the synagogue and partially outside, has been in the Ashkenazi tradition, perhaps in deference to the fact that the president is Ashkenazi. This year it was Sephardi, with David D’Or and Moshe Louk doing the honors. Only a small portion of the service was Ashkenazi, and read by Larry Wachsman, one of the Ashkenazi regulars at the morning service and a veteran immigrant from the United States, who is well known to all of the security guards with whom he is on first-name terms. Looking around at the audience, it was interesting to see who was Sephardi and who was not. Sephardim spontaneously stood for certain parts of the service while Ashkenazim remained seated. There was a wonderful mutual-admiration rapport between D’Or and Louk. D’Or’s body language spoke volumes about how relaxed he was and how much he was actually enjoying himself singing naturally, and not performing until the final prayer, Avinu Malkeinu – Our Father, our King – in which he practiced the vocal acrobatics for which he is famous, and which put a tremendous physical strain on his body.

In his welcome address, Rivlin made a point of thanking the morning congregants for preserving the status of the president’s synagogue and spoke of the collective responsibility of the Jewish people, noting that all prayers are in the plural form. “We do not ask for forgiveness for my sins but for our sins” he said, adding that taking credit and giving thanks for accomplishments is also in the collective and not individual form.

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All over the country different congregations are practicing their own traditions and cantors are singing their own tunes, he said, and there are disputes over the paths we should take as a nation, “which obligates us to agree to disagree.” But what is most important, he stressed, is that despite the issues on which there is disagreement, everyone wants the well-being of the nation and the state.

A FREQUENT visitor to the United States where she was born and raised, Barbara Goldstein, the deputy director of the Israel office of Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization of America, recently took some relatives for coffee in New York. She noticed that her grandson Eitan had the camera in his phone constantly focused in a particular direction. When she asked him who he was photographing, he replied: “I won’t tell you, because you’ll just get up and talk to her.” After a little prodding by Goldstein, someone else at the table revealed that it was celebrity chef Martha Stewart. Sure enough, the garrulous Goldstein, who is an avid fan of television cooking programs and stays awake beyond the witching hour to watch the ones from America, got up and introduced herself to Stewart, telling her how much she enjoyed her shows, even though they deprived her of sleep. Stewart was very gracious, gave Goldstein her card and told her that she had been invited to a culinary event in Israel in early 2019. It won’t be her first visit to the Holy Land. On a previous visit a few years back, she explored Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market, which has since become gentrified, and she also toured the Old City. When Goldstein returned to Israel she watched Stewart on television, as usual, but this time photographed the screen and immediately posted the photograph to Stewart as proof of how late she stays up to watch her. Stewart sent an almost immediate thank-you reply.

AROUND THIS time of year, a fresh crop of essays, books and opinion pieces about the Yom Kippur War begin to appear in book stores, newspapers and magazines, and there are endless programs on radio and television about the existential war that caught the nation unprepared and resulted in so many casualties. This Yom Kippur, Israelis will mark the 45th anniversary of the war that left scars and open wounds on the emotions of so many families and veterans of the battlefields. So many children grew up without knowing their fathers or even knowing much about them. Part of that latter lacuna has been repaired by authors Ilan Kfir and Danny Dor, who separately and in collaboration have written several books about Israel’s wars, and most recently collaborated to write about people who fell in the Yom Kippur War, using diaries and letters that they left behind as well as interviews with comrades from their units. In an interview on Reshet Bet, Kfir said that he and Dor had received numerous letters and messages of thanks from relatives of the deceased, but particularly from a 45-year-old woman who wrote that even though she had never known her father, after reading the book, she felt that he was with her.

THEY WERE not armed, but there was something sufficiently menacing about a group of angry young Palestinians to bring a conference to an abrupt close only minutes after it opened. After the group invaded the conference, shouting at the tops of their voices as they marched the length of the room and back again, their leader ordered everyone out. He wasn’t a member of staff of the American Colony Hotel in east Jerusalem, where the conference (organized by Ziad Abuzayyad and Hillel Schenker, co-editors of the Palestine-Israel Journal, and Christoph Klement, program organizer of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation) was being held. He wasn’t a soldier and he wasn’t a policeman. He was simply an angry, albeit charismatic young man with natural leadership abilities that he exercised to the hilt. In actual fact, he had no authority to order people out of the conference room or to disrupt the conference in any way. Initially, a couple of people affiliated with the conference organizers tried to push the protest group back and deny it entrance, but the group was stronger and stormed into the room. Israelis have more reason to fear people like this young leader than they do the unfortunate young men and women who have lost their lives while trying to break through the security fence separating Gaza from Israel.

This young man could influence followers, which in fact, is what he did. When he began shouting at conference participants and ordering them to leave, almost everyone, including Norwegian Ambassador Jon Hanssen-Bauer obeyed immediately, presumably out of concern that if they didn’t, the shouting might escalate into violence. Abuzayyad, Schenker and Klement looked glum and slightly in shock. They had put a lot into this conference to mark the 25th anniversary of the Oslo Accords and examine why they have not been implemented. It’s almost a pity that the protest group did not resort to violence, because former senior Israeli negotiator Gilead Sher is a martial-arts champion who could have quickly and quietly restored order.

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INTERVIEWED ON Reshet Bet by Liat Regev, Rabbi Galia Sadan, associate rabbi of the Beit Daniel Reform Synagogue in Tel Aviv and director of its conversion school, was asked to comment on the 10 days of penitence between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. She said that while the High Holy Days themselves were between individuals and God, the 10 days were time in which people should reflect on what they may have done to hurt or offend others and to try to settle accounts. She gave an example of how she had inadvertently ruined the career of a close friend, who as a result stopped talking to her. Year after year, in the week leading up to Yom Kippur, she had called her friend, who refused to accept the call and wouldn’t even listen to the apology. Then one year, the friend had a change of heart and agreed to talk to her. It was a very long and honest conversation in which each of them spilled her emotions. At the end, all was forgiven and Sadan felt as if a great burden had been lifted from her shoulders. The underlying message was that if you feel that you’ve wronged someone, keep trying to apologize until you set matters right – though in Jewish tradition, after you’ve tried three times and been rebuffed, the problem is no longer yours. In Sadan’s case, she kept trying nonetheless because she was sincerely sorry.

THE IMPORTANCE of apologizing was perhaps best illustrated at the Givatayim Theater where musician Nancy Brandes, who is also a comedian, was moderating a panel that included Anat Barzilai, Moshe Lahav, Shula Chen, Ari Shamai and brothers Naphtali and Daniel Ben Simon. The two brothers are journalists but have differing political affiliations. Naphtali is a Likudnik and Daniel is a former Labor Party MK. Brandes asked them about their political differences, and before either of them could answer, a woman in the audience rose and screamed that she didn’t come to hear about politics, she came to be entertained. Brandes politely asked her to calm down but she persisted, at which point he asked her to leave the auditorium and to not return.

Somehow the panelists managed to restore equilibrium, and everything continued smoothly. After the program, the angry woman returned and apologized to Brandes, who in turn apologized to her and gave her a big hug, which was reciprocated, and hard feelings became history, as each happily went their way, content in the knowledge that they were not entering the New Year in anger or resentment.

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