Grapevine: The vowel that makes the difference

This week in social news.

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July 4, 2018 08:56
 Dr. Alvin J. Schonfeld, Grenada’s first ambassador to Israel and President Reuven Rivlin

Dr. Alvin J. Schonfeld, Grenada’s first ambassador to Israel, shakes hands with President Reuven Rivlin, July 2, 2018. (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)

 
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Grenada is a sovereign state in the southeastern Caribbean Sea which gained its independence in 1974 and was the first of the West Indies states to be accepted as a member of the United Nations.

Granada is the autonomous community of Andalusia in Spain, located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, which in the early 11th century was a seat of Jewish political, military and cultural influence.

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Dr. Alvin J. Schonfeld, Grenada’s first ambassador to Israel, presented his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin on Monday. This was mentioned in advance in last Friday’s Grapevine, in which it was also written that Jews lived in Grenada 1,000 years ago, but were massacred. This elicited a quick response from Suelin Low Chew Tung, assistant editor of NOW Grenada, who suggested, “Perhaps in this instance you meant to write Granada (Spain)? Grenada (Caribbean) has not had 1,000 years of Jewish history.”

If, indeed, we were wrong, we stand corrected, but it is a fact that Jews in their dispersion, following their exile from the Promised Land and from other parts of the world, settled in the most unlikely places. When president Chaim Herzog went on his tour of the South Pacific in November 1986, he discovered that the only fax machine in Tonga was being operated by an Israeli expatriate and that there were a handful of Jews among the permanent residents of Fiji. So it is not improbable that Jews also found their way to the Spice Islands 1,000 years ago. However, who are we to argue with the local population? So if they asked not for a correction but for an adjustment, which is a much more diplomatic expression, we will concede that we may have been mistaken, especially as Granada acknowledges that there used to be an influential Jewish population just under 1,000 years ago.

■ PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu refused to yield to pressures to disinvite Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is due to begin an official visit to Israel on July 18, despite ever-rising antisemitism in Hungary. It’s no secret, of course, that common interests, especially in politics, make strange bedfellows. When Netanyahu was in Budapest a year ago, the two leaders played with a Rubik’s Cube. It will be interesting to see what game they play in Jerusalem.

■ FILM FESTIVALS are one of the ways in which embassies promote their own countries in their host countries. For several years now, there have been film festivals showing Australian, Irish, French, Italian, Indian and Austrian films as well as those from several other countries. Now, the Philippine Embassy in Israel has also joined the film festival network, and is this month launching its first film festival, in partnership with the Film Development Council of the Philippines and the cinematheques in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, beginning Sunday, July 8, at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.

For its film festival debut in Israel, the embassy, in conjunction with the FDCP, has chosen On the Job, a gritty crime thriller which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013 and earned a standing ovation at its first screening. Joel Torre, who won a Best Actor award for his performance at the 17th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival in Bucheon, South Korea, plays Mario Maghari, a convicted felon who carries out contract killings during his incarceration to earn money to support his family.

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Three other films will be shown during the film festival. On July 15, the Jerusalem Cinematheque will screen An Open Door, a documentary about Philippine President Manuel Quezon’s policy to create a safe haven in the Philippines for Jewish refugees from the Holocaust. The film, one of multi-awarded filmmaker Noel Izon’s trilogy of “Forgotten Stories from World War II,” has won numerous international awards, including Best Picture/Best Documentary wins in Madrid, Sochi, Bali, London, Java, and Saint Petersburg. It was previously shown at Yad Vashem.

On July 22, the Haifa Cinematheque will screen Smaller and Smaller Circles, a screenplay based on a Filipino crime novel – the first of its genre in the Philippines – that won both the Carlos Palanca Grand Prize for the English Novel and the National Book Award. In this gripping whodunit, two Jesuit priests who also perform forensic work find themselves in a search for a serial killer, and in the process end up confronting class conflict, corruption and religious dilemmas.

The film festival wraps up on July 29 at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque with Die Beautiful, a comedy-drama that takes off from a transgender beauty queen’s final request to be made up as a different celebrity during every day of her wake. As friends trickle in to pay their respects, they look back at the events that preceded her death and celebrate her journey to discovering and living as her true self. The film, which debuted at the 29th Tokyo International Film Festival, won the Audience Choice Award and netted lead actor Paulo Ballesteros a Best Actor Award.

“Philippine cinema has been undergoing a renaissance in the past decade, and we’ve seen some truly well-made films emerge during this period,” says Philippine Ambassador Neal Imperial, who is very excited about holding a Philippine Film Festival in Israel. “This film festival is also, in a way, our tribute to the Filipino woman, who – as the Chinese proverb goes – ‘holds up half the sky’ as a member of our society and as a creative force to be reckoned with. Two out of three of our films feature screenplays written by women, which were groundbreaking in their respective genres.”

■ JUST LIKE his boss, Natan Sharansky, international media spokesman for the Jewish Agency Avi Mayer is moving on and, again like his boss, is remaining part and parcel of Jewish world activity. His new office is actually less than a 10 minutes’ walk away from his old office. Mayer’s new title is that of assistant executive director and managing director of global communications at the American Jewish Committee. Although his team will be stationed in New York, Mayer will continue to be based in Jerusalem.

He admits that, exciting challenges notwithstanding, this is a bittersweet period for him, as the Jewish Agency has been his professional home for more than seven years, and his personal identification with the organization, its people, and its mission has intensified during that time. Working alongside such an iconic figure as Sharansky was a high honor, he says, in addition to which he is proud to have been part of an institution that contributed so much to the State of Israel, the Jewish people, and the world.

■ SIXTY-FOUR YEARS after winning the Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in On the Waterfront, Eva Marie Saint received a standing ovation this year when she appeared on stage at the Academy Awards ceremony to present the Oscar for costume design. Aged 93 at the time, the iconic actress quipped that she was older than the Academy. As far as Hollywood is concerned, Saint lived up to her name in a divorce-ridden environment by remaining married to her late husband, Jeffrey Hayden, for 65 years. Hayden died on December 24, 2016, at age 90. Saint celebrates her 94th birthday on Wednesday, which happens to be American Independence Day.

In Israel and the Jewish world she is best remembered for co-starring with Paul Newman 58 years ago in the epic film Exodus, based on the book by Leon Uris and directed by Otto Preminger.

One of her good friends is American-Israeli stage and screen actor and more recently filmmaker Mike Burstyn, who performs in English, Yiddish, Hebrew and Dutch, and who this week celebrated his 73rd birthday. The two went shopping together for groceries just before their respective birthdays, and Burstyn posted proof on his Facebook page. Burstyn this year celebrates the 70th anniversary of his first stage appearance, at age three. His late parents, Pesach Burstein and Lillian Lux, were also actors and singers. His mother, who was born in 1918, went onstage in the Yiddish theater, New York, when she was seven. She met her husband, who was 22 years her senior, when she was only 20, but they, too, had a long marriage, which lasted just under half a century until Burstein’s death in 1986.

■ IN JEWISH tradition seven is considered to be an important number, which explains why David Cohen, the general manager of the InterContinental David Tel Aviv overlooking the Tel Aviv-Jaffa beachfront, was over the moon at the 2018 World Travel Awards ceremony in Athens, where it was announced that his hotel has been named the Best Hotel in Israel. This was the seventh time that the hotel was given the award, and Cohen was naturally elated, saying that it is important to receive this kind of recognition, which he attributed to the quality service provided for guests by the hotel’s loyal and dedicated staff. He also paid tribute to the hotel’s returning guests, who, despite growing competition in the city that never sleeps, remain loyal to the hotel.

A sister hotel in the InterContinental Hotels Group is due to open in Jerusalem in 2021. Unlike its Tel Aviv flagship facility, it will not have 555 rooms, but will be confined to 229 rooms, which is still a lot, considering the number of boutique hotels that are rapidly springing up in Jerusalem in converted buildings. But not everyone wants to stay in a boutique hotel. There are many people who prefer something on a grander scale.

■ FORMER BEAUTY queen, fashion model and actress Shani Mashasha, 37, was one of the first members of Israel’s Ethiopian community to become a model. Actually, considering the number of truly beautiful women with perfect features, smooth skin and striking, slim figures who can be seen in this sector of Israel’s population, it’s a wonder that there are not more Ethiopian models.

Mashasha, 37, married, and a mother of three, came to Israel with her father and stepmother when she was seven years old. As a young adult, she has been back to Ethiopia several times to tell the Jewish community there about Israel. Many members of the community have been waiting for years to be accepted as Jews with the right of return to the ancestral Jewish homeland. Meanwhile, despite one disappointment after another, they hang on to the stories told to them by Israeli Ethiopians who come back every now and again to visit relatives and nurture the hopes and dreams of those still waiting to join family members in Israel.

Mashasha spent two years writing her recently published book, The Beauty in Being Different, published by Media 10. The book is intended to help children who, for whatever reason, feel different from the children around them and suffer as a result. The book is also intended to help their mothers. The book is based on her son Ilai, and tells the story of an Ethiopian boy who feels different because of the color of his skin, the texture of his hair and the culture in which he was raised. The boy tells anyone who asks why it’s better to be special, to be different, and why everyone, regardless of their color or their features, is different from everyone else, yet at the same time, everyone is equal.

Mashasha continues to act and model, and she also coaches groups that are dedicated to social welfare, and helps them run projects in this category.

■ THE PROLIFERATION of vegan and vegetarian eateries and the inclusion of vegetarian dishes in the menus of restaurants that do serve meat indicate the growth of non-carnivores in Israel’s demographic makeup. After all, restaurants cater to taste, and presumably many tourists who come to Israel are also vegetarians and vegans. For many such people, what they eat is not merely a matter of choice but part of their ideology. After all, we are what we eat.

Ideological vegans and vegetarians who have not yet seen the acclaimed one-hour documentary A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World can make up for lost opportunities on Thursday, July 5, at the Jewish Vegetarian Center at 8 Balfour Street, Jerusalem. The documentary, which incorporates Jewish teachings on current environmental threats, will be introduced and discussed after the showing by associate producer Prof. Richard Schwartz, president emeritus of Jewish Veg, formerly Jewish Vegetarians of North America, and author of three editions of Judaism and Vegetarianism. The documentary is in English with Hebrew subtitles, and the introduction and discussion will be in English. Admission is free of charge, and refreshments will be served. Because the venue is very close to the Prime Minister’s Residence, anyone intending to attend should arrive early, in case of possible security checks.

■ HISTORIAN AND veteran broadcaster Yitzhak Noy has a weekly radio program in which he and a two- or three-member panel deal with some aspect of Israel’s history or contemporary Jewish history. In addition to including academics who are historians or political scientists, Noy sometimes includes retirees who were senior Mossad agents or IDF veterans who fought in the Six Day War, or other personalities who were both participants in, and witnesses to, specific historical events.

In his most recent program one of the panelists was Jaffa-born Eli Chelouche, 95, a Palmah and British Army veteran, who was a member of the Palmah’s Arabic Division. Chelouche spoke of how other Palestinian Jews who joined the British Army in World War II smuggled British military equipment and ammunition to the Hagana. Among those he named was Sonia Peres, who was a truck driver with the British Army’s Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service in Egypt. Jewish soldiers, including those from Palestine, were among the prisoners of war captured by the Nazis. The British told the Germans that if even one Jewish POW was killed, they would take every captured German airman and execute him. The threat worked.

When Chemi Peres, the youngest of the three Peres siblings born to Sonia and Shimon Peres, met the Duke of Cambridge last week, it’s doubtful whether he was aware that they had more in common than each of them having served as air force pilots. Though located in different parts of the world, Peres’s mother and Prince William’s grandmother had similar histories as young women. When she was still Princess Elizabeth, in February 1945, Queen Elizabeth joined the ATS as an honorary second subaltern with the service number of 230873. She trained as a driver and mechanic and was later promoted to honorary junior commander.

■ CONTRARY TO what many people think, working in the Foreign Service is not a constant round of cocktail parties – although there’s no shortage of them. Diplomats tend to work almost around the clock, even when they look as though they’re having fun. Enhancing bilateral relationships is not always easy, especially when there are radical differences on foreign policy and human rights issues. But ambassadors get to see things and meet people at events that are rarely available to average individuals in their host countries.

Other than ambassador, the most exciting position in almost any foreign ministry is that of chief of protocol, whose task it is to meet every high-ranking foreign dignitary, to be in regular contact with every resident ambassador of a foreign country, and to attend the most important events that are hosted by those ambassadors.

The chief of protocol will sometimes sit on the coattails of history, as was the case last week with Meron Reuben, the Foreign Ministry’s chief of protocol, who was on hand to welcome William, the first British royal to come on an official state visit to Israel. Reuben also bid farewell to him at the airport, and was thus one of the few people to experience the royal handshake both coming and going.

■ WHILE NO one doubts the importance of Israel’s security operations, the bureaucracy that accompanies them often leaves much to be desired, not to mention a sour taste. Last week Nebi Qena, The Associated Press’s chief television producer, arrived early at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem to go through the security check prior to covering the meeting between William and Netanyahu. Qena had made all the necessary prior arrangements, but in a country in which “two Jews, three opinions” is the order of the day, he was denied entry on the basis of what the Foreign Press Association in Israel calls “a blatant case of ethnic profiling.” Qena is an Albanian national and accredited international journalist who has been based in Israel for three years. He was repeatedly asked by security guards about his “extraction,” while other AP staffers were asked about his religion and whether he is a “Muslim.”

The FPA points out that Qena had registered for the event ahead of time and been assured by the Prime Minister’s Office that he would be allowed to enter. He also was meant to be the pool reporter for international media. Accompanied by an AP cameraman, Qena, aware that security checks are time consuming, appeared at the Prime Minister’s Residence two-and-a-half hours ahead of the scheduled event. According to the FPA, the manner in which Qena was humiliated was “disgraceful” and “indefensible” and yet another episode in a long list of inappropriate attitudes toward journalists who have previously passed security clearances but who suddenly find themselves subjected to very personal questions and strip searches. Not exactly the way to win friends and influence people.

Another case of bureaucratic bungling was reported this week when an American Jewish Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement activist, Ariel Elyse Gold, who had previously visited Israel and who wanted to come back and study Judaism at the Hebrew University, was denied entry at Ben-Gurion Airport, even though she had received a visa. She was detained for several hours before she was deported and posted her story on Facebook.

She admitted to having been outspoken about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, and that she has advocated BDS, but what hurt her most, she said was being told that she was a bad Jew. Gold, who wears a small gold Star of David around her neck, and who is active in her local synagogue, is a victim of the new rule that states that anyone who consistently calls for a boycott of Israel will not be allowed to enter Israel.

That’s all well and good, but if that’s the rule, and someone as well-known as Gold, who is a prominent member of Code Pink, an ultra-left-wing peace and social justice NGO, applies for a visa, why give it to her in the first place, if it’s known that she will be denied entry, once she has to be approved by a Population and Immigration Authority clerk at Ben-Gurion Airport? Was it an honest mistake, a deliberate bureaucratic bungle to see what happens, or a form of punishment, in which she would have to fork out money for a ticket and then spend many hours in flights to and from Israel?

greerfc@gmail.com

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