As has been his custom since taking office just over three years ago, President Reuven Rivlin, on the eve of the new school year, this week visited a haredi school, and sat alongside first-grade pupils in a desk that was somewhat constricting for his size. Haredi schools resume studies at the beginning of the Hebrew calendar month of Elul, which is sometimes earlier than regular state schools, which begin the school year in September.
This year Rivlin chose to visit the Boston Talmud Torah in Bnei Brak, but other than announcing the city that he would visit, his office declined to give details, possibly in order to avoid the embarrassment of last year, when Rivlin had been scheduled to pay a visit to the Kehillat Yaakov School in Jerusalem’s Ramot neighborhood, only to have it canceled by the school’s administrators. Shas intervened on the president’s behalf and quickly organized for him to visit the Dibrot Moshe Talmud Torah in the capital’s Har Nof neighborhood, which is home to Shas leader Arye Deri.
The reticence on the part of the president’s office staff was not sufficient to keep this year’s venue secret. Kikar Hashabbat, the haredi Internet site, let the cat out of the bag and disclosed the venue on the day prior to Rivlin’s tour of Bnei Brak. The visit passed more or less without incident, though some eyebrows were raised when Rivlin told the children that they would never forget their first day at school even if they became presidents, prime ministers, mayors of cities or heads of yeshivot. Being president or prime minister does not figure in haredi career ambitions – at least not yet.
■ WITH ALL the killing and heartbreak in the world today plus many injustices, some of which unfortunately are part and parcel of life in Israel, it’s emotionally uplifting to know that there is another side to the coin. Earlier this week Health & Science Editor Judy Siegel wrote about doctors Omri Emodi and Zach Sharony of Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, who were part of an international team of physicians who went to Ghana under the auspices of US-based Operation Smile to correct facial deformities in children.
Here in Israel, we have Save a Child’s Heart, where surgeons at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon have for more than 20 years repaired the faulty hearts of children regardless of race, religion or nationality, even if such children come from countries hostile to Israel. These surgeons also go abroad to perform lifesaving miracles, and train physicians from developing countries to do similar work. To date, the lives of more than 4,400 children from 54 countries have been saved by Israeli cardiologists.
Schneider Children’s Medical Center for Israel in Petah Tikva also has an open-door policy of treating any child regardless of ethnic, religious or national affiliations; and because it offers a full range of pediatric disciplines, sick children from all over the region come to be healed, thus justifying the hospital’s raison d’être as a bridge to peace.
Such a bridge exists in hospitals all over Israel. Hundreds of Syrian patients – both children and adults – have been treated at the Ziv Medical Center in Safed as well as in other hospitals, and of course many Palestinians, including some from Gaza, are treated in Israeli hospitals. In addition, members of Israel’s Physicians Without Borders sometimes risk their own lives to save the lives of others in the region.
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■ MUSEUMS ARE on the agenda of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres when he visits Israel next week. While every high-ranking foreign visitor to Israel is taken to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust history museum, not everyone gets to see the Israel Museum, and is even less likely to be taken to Beit Hatfutsot – the Museum of the Jewish People. Guterres will be going to all three and will be speaking on Israeli innovation at the Israel Museum. The Beit Hatfutsot invitation does not state the topic of his address but merely calls it a special address.
Considering that, in addition to the top-level meetings in Israel, he will be meeting with Palestinian leaders in the Palestinian Authority and in Gaza, one can only surmise that his talk will have something to do with conflict resolution. Then again, he might use his Jerusalem speech in Tel Aviv, or, being Portuguese, he may talk about how his country is granting citizenship to descendants of Jews expelled more than half a millennium ago. We’ll just have to contain our curiosity for a few more days.
■ BREAKING THROUGH the glass ceiling is usually much more difficult in the haredi community than in the secular community, but one woman who has done so is worth watching, because she may possi- bly set the bar for other talented and ambitious haredi women who have been held back from fulfilling their potential because they have not been allowed to enter the man’s world of religious and business professions. There are already women pleaders in the rabbinic courts, and now there is a woman owner of a haredi newspaper. As far as is known, Naama Idan is the first woman to take on this role. Idan purchased the ailing Sephardi publication Yo m LeYom and aims to put it back in the black in more ways than one. For her editor-in-chief she chose former government minister Shlomo Benizri, who like Shas leader Arye Deri has served time in prison.
Benizri told Kan11 that people going into prison or coming out of prison turn to him for advice on how to survive the ordeal. “I give them tips,” he said. Benizri added that even though he remains a Shas-nik through and through, as editor he personally would not deal with politics. However, the paper will have political content, though it will have an uphill climb in trying to secure advertising.
It’s difficult these days for any publication but more so for Yom LeYom , which is under threat of boycott. Although it continues to cater to the Sephardi community, Deri, who was incensed that the paper is being run by a woman, promptly set up a rival publication, Baderech. Many former Yom LeYom advertisers have been told that they will suffer if they continue to advertise there, said Idan, and she herself had been subjected to threats when it was learned that she intended to buy the paper. She doesn’t scare easily, and apparently her male staff members, who are haredi, have no problem working with a female boss.
■ PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu brought forward his return home from Sochi, where he had met with Russian President Vladimir Putin , in order to stop off at the Lago Banquet Halls in Rishon Lezion to congratulate coalition chairman David Bitan on the marriage of his elder daughter, Galit, to Hagai Shpitz. Both Netanyahu and the father of the bride were in the most genial of moods, as were the many members of Knesset from both the coali- tion and the opposition, who were among the close to 1,000 guests. Political squabbles were placed on the back burner, as people crowded around to watch Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef unite the couple in matrimony. The bride hugged her father, while Bitan’s younger daughter, Inbar, stood directly behind them, as Netanyahu sang Bitan’s praises.
“Two years ago, when I proposed David Bitan as coalition chairman, I thought he would be excellent, but he was even better than I thought he would be,” said Netanyahu, who lauded Bitan’s warmth and courage and thanked him for the wonderful rally that he had organized earlier in the month.
Both the bride and her sister wore elegant but revealing gowns. Galit, of course, wore white, and Inbar chose to wear black. On his Facebook page, Bitan thanked the prime minister and his wife, Sara , for coming to share in the celebration. He also thanked the guests, declaring “We love you all.”
■ DEPUTY MINISTER for Diplomacy in the Prime Minister’s Office Michael Oren, a former ambassador to the United States, was the guest speaker this week at a summer event for friends and supporters of One Family UK. The event was hosted by Lauren and Keith Breslauer at their home in Herzliya, where guests were also informed of the most recent activities in the organization.
Eighty people, including bereaved members of OneFamily, attended. Oren was present not only as a public figure but also as part of the extended OneFamily. His sister-in-law was killed in a bus bombing in 1991. Oren emphasized the importance of the support that OneFamily gives to victims and their families.
Michal Hoter, a bereaved sister, sang a song in English that she had composed and dedicated to her late brother, Gavriel Hoter, who was killed in a terrorist attack at Yeshivat Otniel. Their mother, Eileen, who is originally from the UK, spoke on behalf of bereaved parents.
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