Grapevine: People of the Book

Movers and shakers: how Israeli people shape the places of this country.

May 29, 2019 00:51
‘JERUSALEM POST’ and ‘Jerusalem Report’ columnist Amotz Asa-El presents his book to President Reuven

‘JERUSALEM POST’ and ‘Jerusalem Report’ columnist Amotz Asa-El presents his book to President Reuven Rivlin.. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

Jerusalem Post commentator and political analyst Amotz Asa-El was among the speakers last week at the monthly Bible Circle hosted by President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence. Addresses by leading scholars on subjects related to the Bible portion of the week, yet directly or indirectly paralleling whatever is taking place in contemporary Israel, are common to these monthly sessions. Asa-El’s talk was titled “In those days there was no king in Israel, everyone did as he pleased” (Judges 21:25). The political chaos in Israel in recent weeks was indicative of everyone doing as they please rather than pulling together for the benefit of the nation.

Asa-El also took the opportunity to present a copy of his best-selling Hebrew book, Mitz’ad Ha’ivelet Hayehudi (The Jewish March of Folly), to Rivlin prior to the start of the event.

■ AFTER FIVE years of research, countless interviews with refugees, politicians, soldiers and aid workers, and several trips to Ukraine, former Post Jewish world reporter Sam Sokol completed his book, Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews, and has the joy of finally seeing it published, after marketing its progress on Facebook as he went along. In addition to presenting a broad picture of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, and showing how the ravages of war often rob people of their humanity, the book also casts the spotlight on contemporary antisemitism in the former Soviet Union. So far, the book has garnered favorable reviews from critics who received advanced copies before it hits the bookstores sometime next month.

Both Asa-El and Sokol are laureates of the B’nai B’rith World Center Journalism Awards. Asa-El received his last year, and Sokol in 2015, when he was still working for the Post.

■ ADJUDICATORS WHO chose the winners of the Jabotinsky prize for literature had to wade through 30 volumes in order to decide on the winners: Dr. Moshe Yager, for his biography on John Henry Patterson and the Jewish Legion; and Prof. Eliezer Tauber for his book Deir Yassin – The End of a Myth.

■ WHEN HE was working for Israel Radio in its previous guise, broadcaster Izzy Mann wrote an interesting book on the history of radio in Israel. When Israel Radio celebrated the 70th anniversary of radio in this country, Mann and Yoav Ginai cowrote the script for the production.

Mann currently hosts a program on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet called Honorable Knesset in which he interviews past and present legislators, parliamentary assistants, directors, legal advisers, Knesset correspondents, et al. In this way he presents the many diverse aspects of the Knesset, of which the general public is largely unaware. Hopefully, the gems from this program will form the basis for another book.

■ JAPANESE JOURNALIST Kaori Matsutomi, the wife of one of the former Japanese ambassadors to Israel, has written a book on Turkey and the modern world, which is due for release in bookshops on July 25. It is an analysis of how authoritarian regimes gain power, and how the populations in Muslim countries are becoming more religious.

■ VETERAN READERS of the Post will be familiar with the byline of Lisa Palmieri-Billig, who has been the paper’s Rome correspondent since 1965. Billig was photographed alongside the new poster of the Rome Foreign Press Club, which features the mastheads of all the newspapers represented by journalists corresponding from Rome.

■ “YOU CAN’T go home again” is one of the adages that remind people of the difficulty in recapturing the past, but the recent addition of Yaron London to KAN 11 by the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation is in a sense a homecoming. Reshet Bet broadcasters often say that they are broadcasting from Kol Yisrael – the Voice of Israel, which is a residue that survived the demise of the Israel Broadcasting Authority. London, who will be 79 in August, began his broadcasting career with Kol Yisrael in 1962. Seven years later, he was sent to Paris as the IBA’s West European correspondent. After returning to Israel he joined Israel Television, which then – aside from Educational Television, which was broadcast on the same channel – was the only television channel in the country. He later worked for channels 2 and 10. Now he’s back with what used to be ITV, then Channel 1, and is now KAN 11.

IPBC employs numerous broadcasters in their 70s and 80s, on radio, television or both. Some left several years ago to work elsewhere, and now at the third age are back where they started. Others made the natural progression from Army Radio to Kol Yisrael and are still there. And some simply started at Kol Yisrael without the Army Radio background. Among the third-age broadcasters are Yaakov Ahimeir, Aryeh Golan, Dan Kaner, Carmela Menashe, Gideon Hod, Moshik Timor, Shalom Kital and Moti Gilat.

Even in the days of the IBA, it was customary to keep certain veterans on the payroll. Haim Yavin, known as Mr. Television, and often referred to as Israel’s Walter Cronkite, was the founding anchor at Israel Television, when he reported the 1968 Independence Day military parade. Yavin, who was the channel’s key news presenter for the best part of 40 years, other than a brief interlude at Channel 2, stepped down from the IBA in 2008. At the time, he was 75. In all probability, he could have continued at least until the closure of the IBA, if not longer, but chose to retire while still in his prime. He continues to make documentaries.

■ LONDON IS now appearing nightly with Geula Even-Sa’ar in a program similar to that which he coanchored with the late Moti Kirschenbaum on Channel 10. Even-Sa’ar also has a weekly radio program, in which she conducts in-depth interviews with well-known personalities, most recently filmmaker Avi Nesher, who it so happens was the first-ever filmmaker to be chosen to light an Independence Day beacon. He could not understand why people such as Ephraim Kishon and Moshe Mizrahi had been overlooked.

■ AT THE start of every new month on the Hebrew calendar, the women of Moshav Mevo Modi’im used to hold a Rosh Hodesh gathering with a pot luck vegetarian lunch and lectures on a variety of subjects by women for women. Some of the women attending were disciples of the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, the “Singing Rabbi,” who brought his “hippelach” from the House of Love and Prayer in San Francisco to Israel to live a Jewish lifestyle in a semi-hippy environment. The founding families were and are each other’s extended families, with an enviable camaraderie not only among themselves but among nonresident members of their peer generation who were also Carlebach groupies in America. The next women’s gathering in celebration of Rosh Hodesh Sivan was scheduled for Tuesday, June 4.

As always, Leah Rivka Sand Soetendorp prepared the invitation to publish on Facebook and email. The list of speakers included Dina Solomon, Chana Sara Zeller, Leah Golomb, Sara Wurtzel, Norma Sarit, Emuna Witt Halevi, considered to be one of the greatest authorities on Carlebach’s teachings, and Nurit Sirkis Banks. As always, there was going to be a joyful chorus of Hallel before lunch, and the day would conclude with the singing of songs of the late David Zeller, who in addition to being a Carlebach disciple was a musician, lecturer and expert in Jewish mysticism and spirituality in his own right.

Most of the moshav was destroyed in the raging fires of last weekend. Anyone who wants to be updated on whether the Rosh Chodesh gathering will take place regardless can check out the Facebook account of the moshav. Meanwhile, many friends of residents have flocked to the area to see what they can do to help. Some have already set the wheels in motion to help individual families, and for an emergency campaign for immediate needs and for the reconstruction of the moshav, which will have to be rebuilt from scratch.

Sometimes it pays to learn from non-Jews. The Amish, a religious Christian community, practices a simple lifestyle, is reluctant to introduce modern technology into its environment, and is located mainly in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

When a house is being built, everyone in the community bands together to put it up, and the work is usually finished in less than a week. Imagine if all the followers of Shlomo Carlebach were to donate only four hours of their time to rebuilding the moshav; it could be completed within six months. Such people include architects, interior decorators, property developers, painters, carpenters, electricians, etc. Whoever has been to a fair at the moshav and has enjoyed the music of the original residents and their highly talented offspring would surely want to have that experience again in the not too distant future. It could happen if they all donate four hours of their time. You know the old saying: Many hands make light work.

■ EVERY PROFESSIONAL journalist knows that a front-page story in a newspaper or a cover story in a magazine is not based on the status of the writer, but on the news or human interest value of the story. It is somewhat rare to find a caricature or a photograph of a journalist on the cover of a magazine, but that’s what happened last weekend to Gideon Levy, the enfant terrible of Haaretz, who usually writes about injustices suffered by Palestinians at the hands of Israelis. On the cover of the paper’s weekend supplement, there was a cartoon impression of Levy and his Neanderthal ancestor, which was an illustration for his delightful, somewhat tongue-in-cheek story of self-discovery via DNA.

Persuaded to undergo a DNA test by depositing a large sample of his saliva into a test tube, Levy subsequently discovered that he had more than a thousand new relatives of whose existence he had been totally unaware; he has 225 Neanderthal gene variants; racially, he’s 100% Ashkenazi Jewish; and his ancestors in their wanderings bypassed the Middle East.

There are several genealogical research enterprises currently using DNA testing in order to give clients a broader picture of their origins and inherited family characteristics. Levy applied to a company called 23andMe, whose clientele included 1,092 people who were his relatives – some quite close, and others very distant. Apparently, each time the company discovers new relatives of existing clients, it notifies them all of the identities of the new members of the clan. Since receiving the first lot of results, Levy has been informed that 22 additional members of his family have approached the company in search of their roots. Some of his newly discovered relatives have made contact with him and vice versa, and it has been a pleasurable experience for him to link up with relatives in the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia, Israel and even Romania. Levy contemplates that there must be many more, because the thousand plus relatives who have been brought to his attention are only those who are clients of 23andMe. He surmises that there must be many more who have applied to other companies, or who have not applied to any. At this rate, he figures that the only place suitable for a family Seder would be Yankee Stadium.

■ IT IS widely known that although they belong to the same political party, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar do not see eye to eye on many issues, and that Netanyahu regards Sa’ar as his nemesis. One thing they do have in common is that each has separately taken flak for the fact that their offspring have entered into romances outside of the faith. Five years ago, Yair Netanyahu was dating Sandra Leikanger, a pretty Norwegian girl whom he met when both were students at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. Sa’ar’s daughter Alona, a talented actress of whom he is very proud, is dating actor Amir Khoury, who happens to be Arab.

Responding to the flurry of comments on social media, Sa’ar tweeted that his daughter is a private person, and asked that she be left alone. In fact, he asked the busybodies to get out of her life. Netanyahu has also on more than one occasion asked for people who are attacking his wife and older son to focus on him alone and to leave his family out of it.

Of course, such requests are to no avail. Benzi Gopstein, whose Lehava organization rescues Jewish girls who have discovered, after marrying Arab boys, that life in the Arab village is far from rosy, wrote a letter to Sa’ar and tweeted that assimilation is not a private matter. He predicted that Alona Sa’ar’s romance will ruin her life, and suggested that her father counsel her to break off the relationship.

As for Netanyahu, he was hardly in a position to tell his son not to date a non-Jewish girl, since he had done so himself. His second wife, Fleur Cates, was not Jewish, but converted in order to marry him.

■ ESPECIALLY JOYFUL services will be held in synagogues around the world this coming Sabbath to mark the 52nd anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, which was achieved during the 1967 Six Day War. Understandably, the most meaningful of these services will be held in Jerusalem itself, with many worshipers flocking to the Western Wall of the Old City, as they do every Friday night and Saturday, but undoubtedly more will do so this weekend.

The two main services on Saturday morning, June 1, will be at synagogues that are fortunately next door to each other on the capital’s King George Street. Why is this fortunate? Because many of the dignitaries who have indicated their attendance will be at both synagogues. One can only presume that they will attend Shaharit services at one, then move to the next for Musaf. The two synagogues are the Great Synagogue and the Ra’ananim Synagogue located in the adjacent Heichal Shlomo building.

The Great Synagogue service will be attended by Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, the Rishon Lezion Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar, who is the Sephardi chief rabbi of Jerusalem and a former chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Aryeh Stern, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Jerusalem, and heads of community organizations from Israel and abroad, with special prayers for Jerusalem led by cantor Chaim Adler and the Great Synagogue choir, conducted by Elie Jaffe.

The service at Ra’ananim is under the auspices of Gesher Shel Zahav (Bridge of Gold), a Jerusalem-headquartered international initiative founded by attorney Yehuda Zaretsky in 1991 in the aftermath of a Scud attack on Ramat Gan during the Gulf War. The organization serves as bridge between people of different backgrounds in Israel and between Israel and the Diaspora. It mentors new immigrants and lone soldiers, establishes a national and international support network for them, and organizes numerous activities and projects that emphasize the centrality of Jerusalem in the lives of the Jewish people, whether they live in Israel or abroad.

On the Jerusalem Day Sabbath it will host lone soldiers in Jerusalem and their families in Diaspora communities as a symbol of the unity of the Jewish people regardless of geographic divides, or differences in political or ideological beliefs.

For this global project, which is by way of a three-day festival, Gesher Shel Zahav has forged links with 100 Jewish organizations in 38 countries representing a total of 5,000 Jewish communities.

On Thursday morning it will broadcast to Diaspora communities a prayer for Jerusalem from the Tower of David Museum in the Old City arranged by composer and singer Ovadia Hamama, who has many Jerusalem-themed songs to his credit, but is best known for “Ana B’Ko’ah.”

This event will take place in the presence of the chief rabbis of Israel and Jerusalem, members of the Rabbinical Courts, heads of local councils, and representatives of Diaspora communities. The live broadcast is being facilitated through the Foreign Ministry, which is including Gondar in Ethiopia as one of the places to which the broadcast will be relayed.

On Thursday evening, the festivities will move to the Lev Ha’Ir community center in Nahlaot, where the Police Band, the Kol Haneshama choir and cantor Moshe Zaretsky, the son of the founder of Gesher Shel Zahav, will broadcast by satellite to Israeli missions abroad, in the presence of lone soldiers in Jerusalem and their families in the Diaspora.

On Saturday, lone soldiers will be among the congregants at the special Jerusalem Day service at the Ra’ananim Synagogue.

■ AMONG THE numerous events that go hand in hand with annual meetings of boards of governors and boards of trustees of institutions of higher education are ceremonies in which people whose accomplishments have made a difference are awarded honorary degrees.

In the case of Bar-Ilan University, the recipients this year of honorary doctorates include: Dr. Miriam Adelson, for her contributions to medicine, philanthropy and humanitarian activities; former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, for his contribution to the security of the State of Israel; journalist and activist on behalf of many public issues Israel Harel; industrialist brothers Sami and Itzhak Sagol, for their contributions to Israel’s economy, culture, education and higher learning; Dr. Zipora Schorr, in recognition of her contribution to Jewish education in the Diaspora; Yisrael Gottesdiener and Benny Rosenbaum, who as the Duo Reim have for half a century contributed to the dissemination of Hebrew and hassidic songs in Israel and around the world; and Rabbi Kalman Samuels, co-founder with his wife, Malki, of the Shalva Center for the treatment and inclusiveness of children with disabilities.

Without Shalva, the world-famous Shalva Band would never have come into existence. The Shalva Band and the Duo Reim will perform at the honorary doctorates ceremony at BIU’s Dahan Family Unity Park on Tuesday, June 4.

■ THIS WEEK, Adelson and her husband, Sheldon, were at Ariel University to witness the signing of a historic memorandum of understanding between Florida State University and Ariel University. Florida State is the first American University to sign an agreement with an Israeli university located in Judea and Samaria. Signatories to the MoU were Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was introduced by Miriam Adelson, and AU president Yehuda Danon.

The Adelsons are keen supporters of Ariel University, and in August last year established its Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson School of Medicine, which already has a student intake. Considering the difficulties that Ariel had in gaining approval from the Council for Higher Education, and subsequently for including medicine in its curriculum, that, too, was a historic event, which was attended by Rivlin and by the late Moshe Arens, only five months before his death in January this year.

Arens, a former foreign and defense minister, as well as a former ambassador to the US, was chairman of the board of governors of Ariel University. In recent years he wrote a column for Haaretz, where prior to the opening of the medical school he wrote:

“All Israelis – Jews and Arabs – should have applauded the news that a sixth medical school is going to be opened at Ariel University in Judea and Samaria. It joins the ranks of the medical schools of the Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, the Technion, Ben-Gurion University and Bar-Ilan University.

“The existing medical schools accept about 750 students each year, while about 600 applicants, most of them highly qualified, are rejected and therefore study abroad at their parents’ expense, some not returning to Israel. Six out of 10 Israeli physicians have received their medical education abroad, a phenomenon unknown in any advanced country in the world.
“The new medical school will allow another 100 Israeli students, Jews and Arabs, to pursue their medical studies in Israel – an important step for Israel’s talented students wanting to enter the medical profession.”

■ ANYONE FAMILIAR with Zionist history knows that the First Zionist Congress was held in Basel in 1897, and that of a total of 22 Zionist congresses, 15 were held in Switzerland. Even before the establishment of the State of Israel, Switzerland maintained a consulate in Jerusalem in what was then Palestine. The consulate was accredited to the British Mandate. There was also a consular agency in Tel Aviv. Switzerland recognized Israel in 1949 and opened a consulate in Tel Aviv, which was upgraded to an embassy in 1958.

To mark the 70th anniversary of its diplomatic relations with Israel, Switzerland is embarking on what it calls the Basel Project, which will be launched this week at his residence by Swiss Ambassador Jean Daniel Ruch. The Basel Project is closely related to Tel Aviv, which last month celebrated its 110th anniversary. The founding fathers of Tel Aviv, which was originally called Ahuzat Bayit, took its name from the book Altneuland by Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl. When the book was translated into Hebrew, its title was Tel Aviv, credit for which goes to another Zionist visionary, Nahum Sokolow. The most widely circulated photograph of Herzl is that of him leaning on the balcony of the Hotel Les Trois Rois (The Three Kings) in Basel.

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