Grapevine: Their best friend...

Almost everyone present had experienced some kind of personal connection with Lady J, which was the affectionate sobriquet by which she was known.

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January 21, 2016 21:22
SELF-PORTRAIT of Josef Kowner in the Lodz Ghetto.

SELF-PORTRAIT of Josef Kowner in the Lodz Ghetto.. (photo credit: COURTESY: YAD VASHEM PHOTO ARCHIVE)

A stranger entering the auditori - um of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem on Wednesday evening may have been forgiven for thinking that he or she had stumbled into an annual general meeting of Hitachdut Olei Bri - tannia (Association of British Immi - grants). There were a few non-Brits in the audience, but by and large the animated and in some cases reserved conversations were marked by British accents.

The occasion was the Israeli premier of the film Lady J: Spreading A little Sunshine , which was aimed at per - petuating the values, warmth and light of Lady Amélie Jakobovits, an inspirational communal leader both as the wife and widow of chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth Rabbi Lord Immanuel Jakobovits.

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Almost everyone present had experienced some kind of personal connection with Lady J, which was the affectionate sobriquet by which she was known. The video docu - mentary was made by Legacy Live Productions, which is a division of JRoots, a nonprofit organization that was established to provide Holocaust education through meaningful Jewish journeys to plac - es of Jewish heritage, and to engage participants with Jewish history so that they can familiarize themselves with Jews who lived in these places and the lives they led.

Legacy Live was founded in 2012 when the daughters of Lady J, two years after her death, approached Rabbi Naftali Schiff and said that they wanted to memorialize their mother with a film and a book, Lady J: How One Woman Gave the Most Out of Life , that would perpet - uate her values, many of which were universal. As an example Schiff told the audience on Wednesday, she never spoke of my children but of “our children,” because children usually come into the world as the result of a partner - ship. One of the amazing things about Lady J, he said, was that everyone thought she was their best friend.

Lady J was a Holocaust survivor who believed she had been spared to bring sunshine into the lives of others. This was her mission in life, and whenever she could perform a mitzva from which someone else could benefit, she did so gladly, often bringing joy or comfort or both to people who minutes before her arrival had been perfect strang - ers. She brought hallot for Shabbat to the sick in their homes or in the hospital. People interviewed for the documentary, regardless of their station in life were unanimous in their love and their praise. They said that she brought life and light into their lives. She was open minded, she brought Yiddishkeit to Anglo-Jewish Judaism, she was a great Jewish woman of our time and she let people know that she really cared about them.

Schiff related something that had been said by one of Lady J’s sons- in-law at her funeral. On the Pass - over prior to her death she had gone to be with family in Man - chester. She didn’t want to be in the way, so she asked for a room and a telephone. When the bill subsequently arrived, it said that she’d made 300 phone calls.

CDs of the video and the book edited by Danny Verbov were dis - tributed to members of the audi - ence after the screening, but not before Rabbi Shmuel Jakobovits , one of the sons of Lord and Lady Jakobovits thanked all those who had been involved with the project and those who had made a special effort to attend. The essence of his mother’s life, he said, was to make other people happy. He described the project perpetuating his moth - er’s warmth and values as “an extraordinary labor of love.” He was appreciative of the venue that he said virtually faces the site on the Mount of Olives where his parents are buried.

Noting that Prof. Shimon Glick and his wife, Brenda , were in the audience, Jakobovits said that another reason that he was pleased by the choice of venue was that it was the site of a miracle where not so long ago their son Yehuda had been the subject of an attempted assassination. Rabbi Yehuda Glick has been raising four adopted children, said Jakobovits, adding that Glick’s brother was convinced that it was the merit of raising those four children that saved him from the four bullets that entered his body.

Organizers of the event urged everyone to emulate Lady J and to go out and to immediately demon - strate friendship to and concern for others.

■ NEXT WEEK is International Holo - caust Remembrance Day, which 10 years ago was designated by the United Nations as a day commemo - rating the murder by the Nazis and their collaborators of an estimated 6 million Jews, 1 million Roma, 250,000 people with mental and physical disabilities, and 9,000 homosexuals. The worst death camp was Auschwitz, which was liberated on January 27, 1945. Thus January 27 was selected as the date for international commemoration, even though Auschwitz was not the first place to be liberated.

The beginning of this week marked a bitter sweet anniversary for Jews of Polish descent with some connection to Czestochowa. The city that is second only to Rome as a place of Catholic pil - grimage also had a sizable Jewish population prior to World War II of which approximately 45,000 were murdered or died of illness and starvation during the Nazi occupa - tion of Poland.

Between January 16 and 17, 1945, Czestochowa was liberated by the Red Army. On liberation day, 5,200 Jews were freed from the Hasag forced labor camp. Only 1,518 of them had lived in Czestochowa before the war, and of these 1,240 had been born in Czestochowa. Most of the Czestochowa Jews who did not survive, were murdered in the Treblinka death camp.

A few weeks ago Alon Gold - man , the Tel Aviv-based chairman of the Association of Czestochowa Jews in Israel and vice president of the World Society of Czestochowa Jews and their Descendants, met with Malka Silver from Mel - bourne, Australia, who was visiting Israel. Silver told him that her late father, Haim Stajer had from mem - ory built a model of the old syna - gogue of Czestochowa that was located on Mirowska Street. The model is currently on exhibit in the Jewish Museum of Australia in Mel - bourne. Stajer was one of 67 Jews who survived the Treblinka upris - ing. Goldman arranged for Silver to meet with artist Samuel Willen - berg , who lives in Tel Aviv and is believed to be the last survivor of the uprising.

Goldman has asked Silver to see if the museum is willing to relinquish the model of the Mirowska Street Synagogue so that it can be placed in the Museum of Jewish History of Czestochowa that is being incorpo - rated into the Czestochowa Muse - um and is due to open next year.

Goldman has also met with Dr. Barbara Refaeli-Kushnir , whose late father Leib Kusznir was a pho - tographer in Czestochowa and photographed scenes in the ghetto and Hasag. He was a talented painter whose works include the old synagogue in Mirowska Street. The synagogue was famous for its magnificent ceiling painted by Prof. Perec Willenberg, who was the father of Samuel Willenberg.

■ MEANWHILE, AN exhibition that was jointly curated by Yad Vashem – Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority and the Bonn-based Foundation for Art and Culture, will go on display at the German Historical Museum in Ber - lin on January 26 and will remain on view till April 3. Titled “Art from the Holocaust,” it includes 100 works from the Yad Vashem Holo - caust art archives. Although it has previously sent art from the Holo - caust era abroad, no one can remember an exhibition of such scope, size and stature.

The exhibition marks the culmina - tion of the many and varied events that highlighted the 50th anniversa - ry of the establishment of diplomat - ic ties between Israel and Germany, but comes at a time when Ger - man-Jewish leaders are saying that Germany is no longer a safe place for Jews. According to Yad Vashem curators, German Chancellor Ange - la Merkel , who is expected to offi - cially open the exhibition in the eve - ning of January 25, has expressed a specific interest in the works of Esther Lurie, who had been living in Tel Aviv where she won the Dizen - goff prize for art, but who in 1938 went to visit relatives in Latvia and Lithuania and in June 1941 was apprehended by German soldiers while visiting her sister in Kovno. She was deported to the ghetto where on orders from the Germans, she began painting landscapes and portraits. At the request of the Ält - estenrat (a council of elders of the Jewish community appointed by the Germans), she used her talents to document scenes from the ghet - to and for this purpose formed an artist group that included inter alia Josef Schlesinger, Jacob Lifschitz and Ben-Zion Schmidt. The docu - mentation began in autumn 1942 and continued until the liquidation of the Kovno ghetto in the summer of 1944.

Many of the works documenting life in the ghetto were saved because they had been stored in pottery vases and hidden. The vases were discovered after the war was over. In July 1944, Lurie was deport - ed to the Stutthof concentration camp in Germany and from there to the Leibitsch camp. She survived the war and after liberation she went to Italy and from there back to Tel Aviv where she married and had two children. She died in 1998.

Speakers at a press conference to be held prior to the official opening will include Prof. Alexander Koch , president of the German Historical Museum; Avner Shalev , chairman of Yad Vashem; Eliad Moreh-Rosenberg , director of the Yad Vashem Art Department and co-curator of the exhibit; Prof. Wal - ter Smerling , chairman of the Bonn-based Foundation for Art and Culture and co-curator of the exhib - it; and the initiator of the exhibition Kai Diekmann , board member of the Foundation for Art and Culture and editor-in-chief of the German daily Bild . Smerling, during a visit to Israel to help select the works that were created under the most inhu - mane of conditions and often in secrecy, said that art is a powerful response to oppression and terror.

■ ITALIAN AMBASSADOR to Israel Francesco Maria Talò will be going from one Holocaust com - memoration event to another next Wednesday. In the afternoon he will participate in a special ceremony in Yad Vashem’s Hall of Remembrance to commemorate Italian Jewish vic - tims of the Holocaust. David Cas - suto will recite the memorial prayers after which there will be a brief address by Yael Nidam Orvi - eto , the director of Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holo - caust Research. After that Talò will speak of the commitment not to forget.

Internationally renowned Pol - ish-born American architect Daniel Libeskind , who is the son of Holo - caust survivors and whose designs include Holocaust memorials and Jewish museums will speak on “Building Memory” and the impor - tance of listening, reading and trans - mitting the memory of what trans - pired. After that young Jerusalemites who are members of Israel’s Italian community will read testimonies by Italian Holocaust survivors, and Rabbi Pinhas Pierpaolo Pun - turello will explain the importance of responsibility in Jewish tradition.

The event will conclude with a live broadcast from Turin, Italy, in which Maurizio Molinari , editor in chief at La Stampa , will base his remarks on the writings and history of renowned author and Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi, a native of Turin, and will read from Levi’s mon - umental work If this is a Man in which he wrote of the nightmare of not being believed and the fear of indifference.

In the evening, Talò will attend a memorial concert with the Israel Chamber Orchestra playing works written by concentration and death camp inmates. The concert will be held in the auditorium of the Israel Music Conservatory in Tel Aviv. Entry is free of charge but reserva - tions must be made in advance at (03) 546-6228.

■ IN JUST over a month, Nochi Dankner , who up to two years ago was one of Israel’s most pow - erful businessmen, will have to move out of his sumptuous mansion in Herzliya Pituah in order to pay banks debts in the range of NIS 700 million. Dankner is one of several Israeli tycoons who have fallen on hard times. He was ousted from IDB where he had been the controlling shareholder by his erstwhile partner, Argentine business mag - nate Eduardo Elsztain and Israeli businessman Moti Ben-Moshe. It didn’t take long for Elsztain to get rid of Ben-Moshe as well. Towards the end of December last year, Dank - ner who was traveling with other Israeli business - men survived a plane crash in the South American jungle that prompt - ed Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes to tweet that while she was glad that everyone on the helicopter had escaped serious injury, the incident brought back painful memories.

Nir-Mozes’s first husband Amiram Nir, a journalist and counterterrorism adviser to prime ministers Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir, after leav - ing the government in 1987, opened a London office for an Israeli security firm and arranged arms deals for Mexican buyers. On November 30, 1988, a chartered Cessna in which he was flying crashed, and Nir was killed. Some members of his family believe that he was assassinated for fear that he would reveal details of the Iran-Contra deal in which offi - cials in the Reagan administration secretly facilitated the sale of arms to Iran. The truth about the circum - stances of Nir’s death has never been made public, but his hotel room, his offices and his home were burgled after his demise.

As for Dankner, he was this month publicly shamed and humiliated by David Frenkel , the chef at Tel Aviv’s upmarket Pronto restaurant. Dankner had taken his family out to dinner and was dissatisfied with a dish that had come to the table and asked the waitress to return it to the kitchen. In a scene that came straight out of the television series Kitchen Nightmares , Frankel blew a gasket and threw Dankner out of the restaurant – something he would not have dared to do less than three years earlier when Dank - ner was one of the kingpins of Isra - el’s business community.

To make matters worse, Frankel shamed Dankner on Facebook, but removed the post after Dankner called the restaurant to offer apolo - gies to the waitress who had been unwittingly caught in the middle of a dispute between him and the chef. In his post Frankel had accused Dankner of mistreating the waitress, which Dankner’s daughter who had been present, hotly denied. Dank - ner, by the way, insisted on paying for the meal before leaving the premises. In response to Frenkel’s volatile temper, several regulars from the business community who are friends of Dankner’s dropped Pronto like a hot potato. The loss in revenue is incalculable.

In June last year, Moti Zisser , another former tycoon whose busi - ness suffered a drastic downturn was forced to sell his palatial home in Petah Tikva for which he received NIS 28 million although the estate was worth considerably more. Two of his children David Zisser and Hila Zisser-Bendet, who lived on the property with their families tried to salvage the family compound by offering to pay off the NIS 16m. mortgage that one of Zisser’s com - panies owed on the property, but the effort proved to be in vain.

In their more affluent days, both Dankner and Zisser engaged in numerous philanthropic activities. Zisser, the son of Polish Holocaust survivors was also a board member of the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel. Before that, together with the Ezer Mizion organization, Zisser and his wife, Bracha, established the Oranit – Donald Berman Rehabilitation Cen - ter for youth with cancer. They funded the National Bone Marrow Bank, which identifies and matches individuals in need of life saving bone marrow transplants and donors with compatible DNA. Nei - ther Dankner nor Zisser are exactly homeless. Nor are some of the other former tycoons whose for - tunes have ebbed. But they cannot maintain the lavish lifestyles that were once the norm, and with rare exceptions they are no longer gushed over by gossip writers. The question in a period of economic turbulence is: Who’s next in line? greerfc@gmail.com


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