Grapevine: Signing in the succa

UN Chief invited President Rivlin to come to New York in January to address the UN on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

By
October 14, 2014 22:44
jerusalem

President Rivlin meets UN Chief Ban Ki-moon. (photo credit: GPO)

IN THE course of his visits to Israel, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has signed the guestbook at the President’s Residence on several occasions, but until this week, never in the president’s succa. Although his discussions with President Reuven Rivlin were inside the building, the signing ceremony took place in the succa at a table that had once belonged to British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli.

During their discussions, the secretary-general invited Rivlin to come to New York in January to address the UN on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Before that, Rivlin will travel to Poland in the last week of October to attend the official opening of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews on the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto. This will be his first state visit abroad since taking office in July; he will be in Poland as the guest of Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.

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■ ON THE home front, Rivlin will be the Hatan Torah at the Shemini Atzeret/Simhat Torah celebrations at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue. Hatan Bereshit will be retired ambassador, popular lecturer and essayist and bestselling author Yehuda Avner; Hatan Kol Hane’arim will be Sir Ian Gainsford, who prior to making aliya was dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry and vice principal at King’s College London; and Hatan Maftir Arye Naor, professor emeritus of political science at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and cabinet secretary under Menachem Begin.

■ ESRA, THE English-Speaking Residents Association which does so much to help Netanya’s Ethiopian community integrate into mainstream society, held a gala fund-raiser at the elegant Herzliya Pituah home of Beverly and David Saffrin, who divide their time between England and Israel. The majority of the guests were British expats, some of them veteran immigrants, others who had just immigrated within recent weeks and others who are regular vacationers.

Ireland was also well-represented, and there was someone with an American accent who lashed out at ESRA chairwoman Brenda Katten, charging that if ESRA was a political organization, he did not want to have anything to do with it. Katten had sparked his ire by thanking guest speaker and Knesset opposition leader Isaac Herzog for an excellent address in which he had clarified a number of points for the 70 people, who had each donated NIS 1,000 towards ESRA’s Netanya project. Katten is herself an eloquent speaker who tailors her votes of thanks to what the guest speaker has said, if for no other reason than to prove that she was listening.

The heckler totally misinterpreted her comments, and the evening would have ended with high drama but for the innate characteristic of understatement of the well-bred Brits – who rather than yell at him, which some were tempted to do, valiantly came to Katten’s rescue by soothing ruffled feathers rather than bearing bayonets. The irate man, who was on the verge of leaving, was persuaded to sit down again, but the reason for his yielding to persuasion may have been because he had not yet eaten dessert.

We’ll never know.

Curiously enough, Herzog comes across better in English than he does in Hebrew, and his command of the language is not only fluent but on a high level with a wide-ranging vocabulary, proving the apple did not fall far from the tree. His late father Chaim Herzog, who was Israel’s sixth president and some years before its permanent representative to the UN, was well-known for his eloquence, enhanced by his lilting Irish accent.

Isaac Herzog left before the fracas over Katten’s alleged politicization of ESRA, but in his opening remarks he praised her highly, saying she was an outstanding person. “A society is formed by people who take responsibility,” he said. “Brenda is one of them.” He noted her leadership when she headed the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association, and observed she was again proving her mettle in ESRA.

Herzog was familiar with the organization, he said, because his father – who was a Labor MK prior to his election as president – decided to open an office in his “constituency” of Herzliya (as he lived in Herzliya Pituah) and thus got to know Merle Guttmann, the founder of ESRA, which Herzog called “an outstanding organization.”

In his address, Herzog credited founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion with having the foresight to realize the importance of creating regional pacts. Today, he said, as the region around Israel becomes more tumultuous, Israel should cling to its partners Egypt and Jordan, and build a common front with them. He did not rule out the inclusion of the Palestinian Authority in such a common front, though he did acknowledge that PA President Mahmoud Abbas, after having said all the right things during Operation Protective Edge, went in the other direction afterwards.

Herzog was critical of the way Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had made his disagreements with US President Barack Obama public.

“You don’t have to embarrass the president of the United States and challenge him on every issue. You don’t go nit-picking with the president; you understand that you are fighting Islamic State together with a regional coalition,” he said, charging Netanyahu with campaigning internally at the cost of external relations.

Relating to his own position as opposition leader, Herzog acknowledged that it was not easy to get people from so many different political ideologies and agendas to work together. “We must create unity in the opposition,” he said, listing common aims such as social justice, fighting poverty, closing social gaps, empowering women and increasing earning power.

On matters of security, he said Israel must maintain stability on her borders and create a coalition, by way of an international frontier against the lunatic fringes within the Muslim world. Looking to the future from a political standpoint, Herzog is hoping to persuade Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni and Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz to join him in presenting a Labor-led centrist alternative to the right-wing bloc.

Looking back, Herzog said Egyptian president Anwar Sadat had offered prime minister Golda Meir a peace process which she had rejected again and again, as a result of which 2,600 Israeli soldiers were killed in the Yom Kippur War. “I don’t want future historians to look back and see how we missed an opportunity,” said Herzog of the present-day political leadership.

“We have to change the paradigm in moving towards peace,” he insisted.

“Abbas is not a friend; he’s an adversary with whom we can make peace.” Gently chiding those who claim Abbas won’t last, Herzog observed the PA president has outlasted four prime ministers.

While he doesn’t go along with Netanyahu’s methodology or ideology, Herzog said there was no doubt Netanyahu loves Israel and cares about it. But the way things are going, there is little doubt that there will be early elections, Herzog opined, saying he anticipated the next Knesset elections will take place some time in 2015.

■ OCTOBER 16 marks the 128th anniversary of the birth of Ben-Gurion, whose name is constantly being dredged up by his two most loyal and durable disciples, each of whom has served as president; Yitzhak Navon was Israel’s fifth president and Shimon Peres its ninth.

During his seven-year tenure, Peres frequently introduced comments by or anecdotes about Ben-Gurion into his speeches, and even more so in conversations with David Landau, with whom he had previously collaborated to write Battling for Peace. During his presidency, Peres also wrote Ben-Gurion: A Political Life, which was first published in English by Random House in 2011, while a Hebrew version under the title of Shimon Peres’s Ben-Gurion (Ben-Gurion Shel Shimon Peres) was released in 2012.

Anyone familiar with Landau’s style of writing can instantly tell that while the book was based on conversations he had with Peres, and Peres certainly furnished the information, the telling of the tale is definitely Landau’s. The book is not only about Ben-Gurion, but also other committed Zionists of his era – including, of course, Peres himself.

When Peres first met Ben-Gurion before the establishment of the state, austerity was rife – so much so that when Peres and Moshe Dayan were sent as Mapai youth delegates to the first post-war Zionist Congress in Basel in 1946, they had to share accommodations with other delegates.

This is the story of the voyage and its aftermath, as it appears in the book: In order to understand Ben-Gurion, it is necessary to return to the shtetl in Poland where he was born and which stamped him deeply with Jewish feeling, Jewish history and Zionist fervor.

But the place to begin this book is with a boat ride I took from Palestine to Basel in 1946 to attend the first Zionist Congress after the Holocaust.

Moshe Dayan and I were among the delegates from the Mapai political party in Eretz Yisrael, though we were much younger than all the others.

I represented our youth movement, Ha’noar Ha’oved.

We set out from Haifa on a Polish ship. I found myself sharing a cabin with Mapai veterans Levi Eshkol and Pinhas Lavon. They were old hands at this sort of seafaring, and they insisted that we draw lots for the best bunk, the one right under the porthole. As bad luck would have it, I won. I immediately offered the bunk-with-a-view to Eshkol. He kindly but firmly refused.

“No,” he said. “You won it fair and square. It’s yours.”

I was all of 23 years old and until recently had been used to sleeping on a camp bed in a tent in our fledgling kibbutz, Alumot. When our first child, Zviya, was born a few months earlier, my wife and I graduated to a hut with solid walls. Eshkol, then 51, was a senior and respected official in the Mapai-dominated Yishuv, the pre-state Jewish community in Palestine. At the time of our voyage, he also served as secretary-general of the powerful Tel Aviv Labor Council and as a ranking officer in the Hagana, the Yishuv’s clandestine defense force. Ben-Gurion regarded him as a trusted lieutenant.

I was still weakly remonstrating when Lavon chimed in, “Well, if Eshkol won’t take it, then, um, I suppose...”

Lavon was 42. As a young man in Polish Galicia, he had founded the pioneering Zionist youth movement Gordonia. He had served as co-secretary-general of Mapai, and was widely seen as one of the party’s brightest hopes.

Eshkol turned on him with all his bass-voiced vehemence. What kind of Gordonian values were these? What kind of socialist was he if he blithely proposed to rob me of what was mine by right? And on and on.

I listened, silent and aghast, to these luminaries of our movement berating each other in the name of our most hallowed principles.

Although still formally a kibbutznik like Eshkol, Lavon was a bit of a dandy. He always left the cabin elegantly and fashionably turned out. I grew ever more aghast as the voyage wore on. I owned two pairs of trousers: khaki work trousers for weekdays, and flannels for Shabbat.

Interestingly enough, considering what was to happen among us all later, it was Lavon who got me the job as director-general of the Defense Ministry in 1953. As a cabinet minister without portfolio in Ben-Gurion’s government, Lavon had occasion to fill in for Ben-Gurion at the Defense Ministry. [In addition to being prime minister, Ben-Gurion was also defense minister.] I was, at the time, acting director-general. Lavon said he wanted to give me the permanent appointment.

“I want to appoint Shimon,” he told Ben-Gurion.

“Appoint him what?” “Appoint him director-general.”

“But he is director-general.”

“No, he’s only acting director-general.”

Ben-Gurion called me into his office. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked.

This is only one of many anecdotes that fill the book. Peres religiously travels to Sde Boker each year on the anniversary of Ben-Gurion’s death to deliver a memorial address, and this past May was presented with the Ben-Gurion Leadership Award at the opening of the plenary session of the 44th meeting of the board of governors of Ben-Gurion University.

More recently, during the annual Succot Storytelling Festival in Givatayim, he was yet again talking about Ben-Gurion, who remains his hero to this day. Curiously, Ben-Gurion, who died in December 1973 at the age of 87, was referred to as the “old man” (hazaken), even before he turned 60 – whereas Peres at 91 is considered to be eternally young.

Landau, a former editor of Haaretz, was previously the diplomatic correspondent and managing editor of The Jerusalem Post.

■ AMONG THE many celebrities participating in the Succot Storytelling Festival was attorney Benny Don- Yihye, who specializes in divorce and other family matters. Don-Yihye, who is himself divorced, is also a much-in-demand stand-up comedian and a well-known personality on the lecture circuit, where he often gives tips to couples about what it takes to reconcile their differences and be happy with their lot.

Prior to his appearance at the storytelling festival, Don-Yihye was interviewed last Friday by Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes on her program on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet. When she asked why a successful lawyer needs to take on stand-up comedy and lectures, Don-Yihye gave her a very frank reply: a three-letter word, he said, “ego.” But more than that, he enjoys disseminating Jewish humor, which while in many respects is universal, is also uniquely Jewish.

When Shalom Nir-Mozes asked whether old-fashioned Jewish humor had not become passé, he said it was more popular than ever but perhaps with certain updates, and gave as an example one of the most popular themes of Jewish humor: the schnorrer, the translation for which is “beggar,” but within the Jewish psyche has far broader connotations.

In the updated version, a beggar asks someone for NIS 40 for a cup of coffee. “Forty shekels for a cup of coffee?” the person asks incredulously.

“Well that includes the fee for the parking lot,” responds the beggar.

As for his tips to couples, Ben-Yihye advocated that anyone who is reasonably happy with what they’ve got should not aim for more, because greed provokes dissatisfaction and dissatisfaction in turn disrupts harmony and leads to bickering, which could lead to divorce.

Ben-Yihye’s parting shot, when noting that this is the season for reconciliation in which people ask forgiveness for any offense they may have caused to another, addressed himself to his professional colleagues and said, “I hope that if I have offended any of you, my aim directly hit the target.”

■ BELOVED SCOTTISH poet Robert Burns wrote in his 1785 poem to a mouse after turning up her nest with a plow: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.” The line, translated into English as it is generally spoken, has become parts of Burns’s enduring legacy. For more than two centuries, people have been saying that the best-laid schemes of mice and men often go awry or astray.

But one doesn’t have to be a Scotsman to discover how true a saying this is. Spanish Ambassador Fernando Carderera Soler and his wife, Victoria, had Spain’s National Day celebration planned to a fine detail.

In fact the ambassador, in his speech to the many guests crowded around the pool and on the upstairs balcony, credited his wife with having organized the event.

Some time prior to the official part of the reception, an embassy staff member announced there was a kosher section on the upstairs balcony, which had until then attracted minimal attention. Whether it was curiosity or genuine observance of Jewish dietary laws that drove a lot of people upstairs cannot be estimated.

Suffice to say, there were many mingling upstairs who couldn’t care less about kashrut.

Despite the good intentions of the ambassador and his wife, the waiters and waitresses walking around with trays of Spanish delicacies had apparently not been primed against taking them upstairs. When a waitress was asked whether the meat-filled pastry shells on her tray were kosher, she had no clue what kosher meant and replied: “They’re Spanish.” Some people to whom kashrut is important might not have not asked, and would simply have taken it for granted that all the food upstairs was kosher. Big mistake! Moreover, the swimming pool has no guardrail, and because there were so many guests, several came perilously close to either falling or being accidentally pushed into the pool. It was a miracle this did not happen.

The usual custom for such events is that the ambassador gives an address, followed by an address with very similar content on the government representative. The national anthems of both countries are played either before or immediately after the speeches, and the ambassador and the minister then toast the leaders of their respective countries – and that’s the end of the formalities.

Some ambassadors also have large screens at their receptions, and a continuous video enables guests to see something of the beauty, diversity and achievements of the ambassador’s country. Such video programs may sometimes include footage of visits to the ambassador’s country by Israel’s president, prime minister or foreign minister; or the signing of bilateral agreements by teams from both countries. The ambassador had intended to depart slightly from this format by delivering a brief address in English and Hebrew, then having a video screening, after which the minister was to deliver his address.

Soler, whose Hebrew is fluent, veered from English to Hebrew and back, but the most important thing he said was that the recession (in Spain) is over.

He started out by saying that relations between Spain and Israel were complex because their history was complex and tense, but expressed pride in their common heritage.

He noted the growing presence of Spanish companies in Israel, some of which are engaged in improving Israel’s infrastructure and others which are working on R&D projects in cooperation with Israeli counterparts.

In declaring the recession over, Soler said that confidence in Spain’s economy has been restored. As is common practice among European ambassadors at such events, he reiterated Spain’s support for a two-state solution – with the proviso that there are effective security guarantees for Israel, and the Palestinian state will recognize Israel.

He then invited guests to partake of the Spanish tapas, saying the ham and cheese had been specially brought from Spain. “It’s the best you’ll get in Israel,” he promised, apparently oblivious to the fact that the government representative was Senior Citizens Minister Uri Orbach, who happens to be an Orthodox Jew.

Soler announced the video would be shown, after which Orbach would give his address. But there was a technical glitch, aside from which the screening area was out of viewing range of many of the guests, and the system operator was at the other end of the pool. Soler tried to call him on his cellphone but couldn’t reach him, and the video aspect of the program turned out to be a flop.

By that time, the formal part of the event had lost its momentum. People were chatting to each other, and Soler had a tough time in his attempt to restore silence.

To make matters worse, Orbach’s speech was in Hebrew, and much longer than the norm. He also strayed from the prepared text to relate an anecdote that illustrated the workings of Israeli bureaucracy, coupled with the shared Spanish-Jewish heritage and the striving for peace. This was translated by Shlomo Morgan from the Foreign Ministry’s Protocol Department, who rose magnificently to the occasion, considering that he had been unprepared for Orbach’s spontaneous addition to the speech.

Among his various Knesset roles, Orbach is a member of the Ministerial Committee for Ceremonies and Symbols, which inter alia approves the naming or renaming of streets when there is disagreement on the part of a municipal council regarding a street name. On that very day, said Orbach, an appeal had come in from a small northern municipality whose former mayor wanted to name a street after his father. However, the street in question was already named after someone else, and that person’s relatives were bound to object if his name was replaced. So they looked further afield and decided to change the name of Yehuda Halevi Street.

Yehuda Halevi was a great Spanish poet, physician and philosopher of the 11th and 12th centuries CE. One of the greatest of all Hebrew poets, he died shortly after his arrival in Jerusalem in 1141. There was no way the Knesset committee was going to agree to get rid of the street named after him, said Orbach. The only outof- the-box solution was to move the requested street name elsewhere, to a street whose name had no relatives who might object. The street chosen was Hashalom, the Peace Street.

“Hashalom has no relatives,” quipped Orbach, but even so, it would be unthinkable in Israel to erase the concept of peace from any street. So in the final analysis, a decision was reached whereby half the street will be known as Hashalom and the other half as Yehuda Halevi, “so Yehuda Halevi will be side by side with peace,” declared Orbach, before getting on with his address.

He noted that in recent years, relations between Israel and Spain have flourished and prospered, but the potential to expand and strengthen them remains untapped.

Like Soler, he also referred to the importance of R&D cooperation and spoke of shared interests in renewable energy and use of natural resources. He also noted the extent to which cultural relations have been enhanced, with Israel as this year’s guest country at Barcelona Design Week, plus the opening this month of an exhibition by leading Israeli artist Sigalit Landau.

With regard to Middle East peace, Orbach underscored Spain’s support at the UN for Israel’s right to exist, and said Jerusalem views Madrid as an important ally and ideological partner in many fields, adding that Israel publicly supports Spain’s candidature for occupancy of a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2015-2016.

Among areas of concern shared by the two countries is that both continue to be targets of jihadi terrorism and must cooperate in the quest to overcome it. Israel is looking forward to a visit by Spain’s interior minister in two months, and hopes a visit by the Spanish defense minister will materialize, he said.

Before Orbach finished speaking, a waiter bringing in a tray of wine glasses for the toast tripped, and one of the glasses fell to the ground and smashed, splattering white wine and shards of glass all over the steps. Soler remained remarkably composed while the waiter went to get a replacement.

The toast was made and the anthems played, after which Orbach made a speedy exit.

greerfc@gmail.com


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