It is customary for heads of foreign missions that are hosting national day receptions to invite former Israeli ambassadors to their countries. Last year, among the guests milling on the lawn of the residence of US Ambassador Dan Shapiro and his wife, Julie Fisher, was former ambassador to the UN and current Kulanu MK Michael Oren.
In recent weeks Oren, an American native, has come close to widening whatever rift exists between Washington and Jerusalem.
This of course will not prevent the attendance of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who allowed Oren’s critical portrayal of President Barak Obama to pass without censure or comment. US Independence Day is coming in early this year – at least in Israel, because the Fourth of July falls on Shabbat, and there are just too many other events on July 2. Last week Shapiro met with six retired servicemen who were among the first US pilots to train Israelis on the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, the first American plane in the IAF fleet. The six airmen were being honored on the 50th anniversary of that training, and as the last of Israel’s A-4’s are being decommissioned.
Shapiro thanked them for their service to their country, and for being pioneers in the US-Israel security relationship, which has gone on to ever greater heights.
■ THERE WAS no mention of Iran until the tail end of a working luncheon hosted last Thursday by President Reuven Rivlin in honor of Bundestag President Norbert Lammert and his delegation. Even then, the matter was raised not by Rivlin nor by MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union), the co-chairman of the Israel-Germany Parliamentary Friendship Group, but by Claudia Roth, the vice president of the German parliament.
Rivlin barely took the bait and Iran got only a passing mention.
Roth was also the one who mentioned soccer which is Rivlin’s passion, and promised to take him to a match the next time he visits Germany.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was also put on the back burner and the main focus of discussion was the European Union’s attitude to circumcision and ritual slaughter.
Rivlin related a complimentary remark about people from the EU, who he said were at least willing to listen without imposing things on Israel even on issues of dispute. In this context he referred to circumcision and ritual slaughter that had been hotly debated in the Council of Europe. The debate in the Bundestag was very sensitive said Lammert, who wondered if there would have been a similar debate in any other European country.
Shai said that when the matter came up at the Council of Europe Israel had been caught by surprise.
“Cynically the best friends that we have on this issue are the Turks and Azerbaijan,” he said. “We’re not concerned about Germany, but we are worried about other countries.”
“There are questions about the vulnerability of children,” said Lammert.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein underlined the complexity of the matter saying “It’s not for anti-Semitic reasons but for children’s rights.”
Outgoing German Ambassador Andreas Michaelis said that this was the kind of challenge that he had never expected and that it was the most serious one during his four-year tenure.
He had kept asking himself whether Germany could provide a satisfactory answer, and in the final analysis it did.
“This went to the fundamental respect for the Jewish religion,” he said.
Nonetheless Lammert pointed out, the subject created a clash between religious tradition and democratic procedure.
“We approached this with consideration for cultural traditions and religious beliefs.”
Changing the subject, Shai asked Lammert’s opinion on the attitude to Israel by the next generation of Germans.
“Probably the same, I can’t see why it should be different,” Lammert replied. “All of us feel the particularity of this relationship.
The experience of the Holocaust is one of the unwritten parts of the German Constitution.
There is a question about what we will do when we no longer have witnesses [to the Holocaust], but I’m not skeptical.”
When the conversation turned to bilateral military cooperation, Lammert said, “We have an overwhelming majority against any form of military cooperation. It’s not just an Israeli problem.”
Rivlin, who admitted to having demonstrated against Rolf Pauls – Germany’s first ambassador to Israel, said that the country’s attitudes toward Germany had changed because Germany had taken responsibility when other nations had not, and that this was an important factor for the next generation.
“We see Germany as a real ally,” said Rivlin.
“There are real connections not just between two governments and two parliaments but between two peoples.”
In response Lammert said, “We are interested in the future not only in commemorating the past.”
■ WHEN SHAI asked Rivlin whether he would be attending the basketball championship game that night between Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Eilat and received a negative reply, because Rivlin had opted to attend the graduation ceremony of IAF trainee pilots who were to receive their wings, he was in shock.
“We need everyone,” he protested.
Because Rivlin had twice served as Knesset Speaker, and by his own confession remains a parliamentarian in his soul, he asked Lammert whether he thought the title of the Knesset Speaker should be changed to Knesset President, just as it is in the Bundestag.
Edelstein chimed in to say that when the president is away, the Knesset Speaker becomes the acting president.
“I didn’t have a problem with President Rivlin’s predecessor. Shimon Peres was always abroad...,” he said.
“Don’t worry, we’ll give you a chance,” Rivlin assured him.
Rivlin has at least three overseas trips in the pipeline before the end of the year.
■ “MUSIC HAS charms to soothe a savage breast” wrote British playwright William Congreve in The Mourning Bride in 1697.
Music can also trigger memory that has faded and can even provoke some kind of positive response in people afflicted with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Having read about the positive effects that music has, Adam Friedman of Los Angeles wondered if it would help his 98-year-old grandmother, Fay Eisenberg.
He loaded an iPod with his grandmother’s favorite melodies, took it to the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aged, adjusted a pair of earphones to his grandmother’s head and let her listen. Some three or four months later, his parents, Sharon and Neil Friedman, were returning late at night from a fund-raiser for the City of Hope breast cancer research hospital when Sharon’s phone rang. Concerned to be receiving a call at such a late hour, she automatically feared that something had gone amiss with her mother. But it was good news. The nurse who had called her said that her mother wanted to speak to her.
“You must have the wrong number,” Sharon replied. “My mother hasn’t spoken in three years.”
The nurse verified that she was calling to Sharon Friedman on behalf of Fay Eisenberg and then handed the phone to her elderly patient who conducted a normal if very simple conversation in which mother and daughter asked each other what they had done that day and what they had eaten.
Because Adam Friedman, his wife, Karen, and their two sons Julian and Liam live close to the nursing home, they went to visit Eisenberg soon after her miraculous return to the world around her. She had always had an excellent relationship with her great grandsons and was more open and talkative with them than with anyone else, especially when they started asking her questions.
Liam, who was nine at the time, said to his father: “It was the music that woke up her brain. We need to buy iPods for everyone here.”
It was a little too tall an order. The nursing home has some 400 residents. But the family discussed it and the boys decided to take it on as project which they named “Soothing Sounds.” They set about collecting used iPods and other easy-to-use recording devices and began supplying nursing homes all over Los Angeles. Naturally, their proud parents also became partners in the project by loading the iPods with appropriate music. When Sharon and Neil went to visit her mother, Eisenberg didn’t recognize the man accompanying her daughter and asked who he was.
When Sharon replied this was Neil, her husband, her mother responded incredulously: “You’re married?” Eisenberg never returned to her former self, but she had made amazing progress since receiving her iPod. The success of the project so much inspired Julian and Liam, which Julian said that what he wanted to do for his bar mitzva was to come to Israel and to give iPods to elderly people who have been afflicted with Alzheimer’s. The Friedmans determined that the organization that was the most suitable recipient was Melabev, a nonprofit organization leading in the treatment of Alzheimer’s victims and their families.
Two of the regulars at Melabev were recommended as the Israel pioneers of the Soothing Sounds project.
Neither Steven Shelly who was born in Hungary, but immigrated from Australia, nor Monique Sharvit, whose mother tongue is French, but who also spoke English fluently when she first came to Melabev communicate with anyone these days. Both sit with vacant expressions on their faces until they hear music. Shelly’s face lights up and Sharvit’s takes on a mixed expression of awe and bliss. Relatives of each supplied Melabev with a list of their favorite songs that Melabev forwarded to the Friedmans. Shelly’s iPod was loaded with Broadway melodies, Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. Sharvit’s had a medley of French songs including “The Marseillaise,” which was right at the beginning. Sharvit’s body twitched involuntarily, and then she made a futile movement as if to stand for the French national anthem. She then began mouthing the words, and it was obvious that she was listening intently and joining in to the best of her ability. Three generations of the Friedman family came to Melabev and were greeted by a rousing chorus of “You Are My Sunshine” followed by “Heiveinu Shalom Aleichem [Let us bring peace upon all of you]” led by Nancy Brown who heads the English language activity division and who encourages her 30-plus regulars to sing in English and Hebrew, tend the garden and play with animals brought in by the ZOOmobile.
She also gets those who are sufficiently mobile to dance, and makes sure that she has one on one contact with each of them.
Music therapist Howie Kahn got the group to enthusiastically stamp their feet, clap, and bang together wooden sticks in time to a lively melody. Music is one of many therapies utilized by Melabev.
“Music never stops in this room because it brings back wonderful memories,” says Brown. “Music speaks to the soul. Whatever else we forget, we never forget music.”
In addition to the iPods, Julian brought along his best friend Jaden Encarnacion who is also celebrating his bar mitzva, along with Jaden’s parents. Julian credited his father and brother with getting his great-grandmother to talk “by giving her music.” After making the two presentations plus a cash donation, and in turn receiving citations from Melabev coordinator Marsha Donshik, Julian presented Brown with two boxes filled with empty iPods that can be loaded with whatever music would appeal most to the recipient. After that an enormous birthday cake was wheeled out and Julian and Jaden were given the honor of cutting it and making a wish. The Friedmans who are now used to spending time in the company of people with Alzheimer’s, stayed around for nearly four hours and happily joined in the activities. Chances are that they’ll be back in two years for Liam’s bar mitzva. Liam has a special affinity for senior citizens with Alzheimer’s. He believes that they are lonely and that music penetrates their loneliness.
■ ANYONE WHO saw the film Woman in Gold is well aware of the story of Los Angeles- based lawyer E. Randol Schoenberg, who almost a decade ago, won the celebrated case against the Austrian government for the recovery of the Gustav Klimt painting of her aunt for Austrian-born American citizen Maria Altmann. The movie is based on the book by Anne-Marie O’Connor, who has been living in Jerusalem for the last few years with her journalist husband William Booth, the Jerusalem bureau chief of The Washington Post.
The painting that had been looted by the Nazis, now hangs in perpetuity in the Neue Galerie New York. World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder owns both the gallery and the painting. Aside from his legal practice, Schoenberg is also a mathematician with a degree from Princeton University.
His other passion is genealogy. He serves in the latter capacity as board member of JewishGen and co-founder, coordinator and moderator of the Austria-Czech SIG (Special Interest Group). He is the author of the Beginner’s Guide to Austrian-Jewish Genealogy, the co-author of Getting Started with Czech-Jewish Genealogy and also serves as president of the board of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. Woman in Gold, while the most famous of his cases related to the recovery of Nazi looted art, is certainly not the only one.
Schoenberg will be in Jerusalem next week to participate in the 35th International Conference on Jewish Genealogy that opens on July 6, at the Ramada Hotel and continues through Friday. The volume and variety of topics that will be discussed at the conference is mind blowing. Almost every possible aspect of Jewish genealogy including much of the Jewish Diaspora, Jewish DNA, rabbinic dynasties, descent from the Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal, North African, Indian and Ethiopian Jewish communities and of course the Jews of Poland are on the amazingly diverse program. Whoever compiled the program and uploaded it to the Internet must be commended. In addition to listings of every lecture and workshop there are also brief biographies of speakers and a synopsis of every lecture so that participants can make more informed choices and can decide whether they want to listen to a lecture in English or in Hebrew.
The keynote speaker at the opening of the conference will be Yad Vashem-Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority chairman Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv and former chief rabbi of Israel who was born in Piotrków Trybunalski in Poland, where his father Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lau was the last chief rabbi of the town before being sent to the Treblinka death camp. Lau, who was the youngest survivor of the Buchenwald camp, is in an unbroken family chain of rabbis. His sons who are also rabbis are the 39th generation. One of his sons, Rabbi David Lau, currently serves as Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel. With the exception of his older brother Naphtali Lavie and his half brother Rabbi Yehoshua Lau-Hager, Yisrael Meir Lau was the sole survivor of his immediate family. He has three sons and five daughters who have given him and his wife many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
■ AMONG THE more poignant lectures at the genealogical conference will be that of trying to help Mengele twins born in 1940 and separated during the war to find each other after 68 years. The twins whose tattooed numbers were A7734 and A7733 lived under adopted names and adopted dates of birth. They had no memory of each other and the only thing that connected them were the consecutive Auschwitz numbers on their arms. One was adopted by a Jewish family in Europe after the war and brought to Israel. Only when he was 20 did his father inform him that he had a twin.
Years went by, and the man now known as Menachem Bodner, kept wondering what had happened to his twin and whether they would ever meet. In 2012, Bodner’s family turned to genealogist Ayana Kimron who discovered a Red Cross document dated February 9, 1945, which contained an entry about four-year-old twins named Elias and Jeno Gottesman. The entry included their Auschwitz numbers. It was the first time that Bodner had learned that his real name was Elias Gottesman. Kimron will relate the story of the search for lost identity and of how DNA testing helped to discover relatives in California.
■ AT THE end of April this year, the Japanese government announced its decision to confer a decoration on Dr. Roni Aaron Bornstein, chairman of the Israel-Japan Friendship Society and Chamber of Commerce.
Last Thursday, at a formal black tie reception at his residence in Herzliya Pituah, Japanese Ambassador Shigeo Matsutomi conferred on Bornstein “The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon” in recognition of his contributions to the enhancement of economic relations and mutual understanding between Japan and Israel. Bornstein founded Rakuto Kasei Israel in 1990. His group of companies also consists of Gramse Pharmaceuticals, BioDalia Microbiological technologies and Rakuto Diplomat International – where he holds the positions of president/director. He has twice been the chairman of the Israel-Japan Friendship Society and Chamber of Commerce, from 1996-1998 and again from 2009 until the present, and has been instrumental in developing Israel’s business relations with Japan. Bornstein has been involved in introducing Japanese food culture to Israel through Kikkoman Corporation and others.
As a result of these activities, there are now more than 500 food shops, supermarkets and restaurants that use and sell Japanese products in Israel. This Thursday, Matsutomi is hosting another reception for an Israeli, this time for Gil Sheffer in celebration of his appointment as Japan’s new Honorary Consul in Jerusalem.
■ THE IMPRESSIVE residential, commercial and office project adjacent to the Jerusalem YMCA and across the road from the historic King David Hotel, is fast becoming the hub of international Jewish organizations that are making their headquarters in the sprawling complex built on the site that once housed the YMCA soccer stadium. Among the organizations that have set up their offices in one of these magnificent buildings is StandWithUs, the international organization whose mission it is to train students and others to stand up for Israel, to defend Israel’s image abroad and to counteract all verbal attacks against Israel in a calm, clear, articulate and logical manner. Although the StandWithUs Education Center moved into its current premises six months ago, its official opening and ceremony for the affixing of the mezuza took place only this week in the presence of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, IDF spokesman Lt.-Col. Peter Lerner, former Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, Canadian Ambassador Vivian Bercovici, retired Israeli diplomat Gideon Meir, who after completing his tenure as ambassador to Italy headed the Foreign Ministry’s Public Diplomacy Directorate, and many students and supporters.
Michael Dickson, the executive director of StandWithUs in Israel outlined what the organization does in terms of education, public diplomacy and Israel advocacy declaring: “We go whenever, we go wherever to stand with Israel.”
StandWithUs staff and students were in Geneva at this crucial time, he said. He made a point of thanking Bercovici for her personal support, describing her as “a friend and ally,” and he mentioned Canada’s support for Israel in general. The Educational Center is a visiting home for students and tourists and also a point for international outreach, said Dickson, adding that it had hosted more than 5,000 students and visitors during the past six months. There was so much activity he said, that StandWithUs may need to find even larger premises.
Barkat commended StandWithUs for “doing a phenomenal job around the world,” and said that the army it was training “is an investment in our future.”