Grapevine: A little sensitivity never goes astray

Yehoram Gaon recalls Ben-Gurion’s friendship with Yehoshua Cohen, Joanne Yaron sings ‘Happy Birthday’ to Barack Obama, and Karnit Goldwasser is writing a book.

Birthright 311 (photo credit: Mendy Boteach)
Birthright 311
(photo credit: Mendy Boteach)
THE THINGS ingrained in childhood are frequently the things that stay with us.
Because he was raised in a religiously observant home, radio, screen and stage personality Yehoram Gaon often quotes from the weekly Torah portion in his Friday current affairs program on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, and also ushers in Shabbat with appropriate songs sung by studio guests.
Because it was just before Tisha Be’Av, the essential lesson of which is the avoidance of baseless hatred (sinat hinam), Gaon told the story of two sworn enemies who became friends – the country’s founding prime minister David Ben- Gurion and Yehoshua Cohen, a leading member of the Stern Group who is believed to have assassinated UN envoy Folke Bernadotte in September 1948.
Cohen later became one of the founders of Sde Boker in the Negev, where Ben-Gurion went to live after leaving the government. Despite their political differences, the two became close friends, and Cohen served as Ben- Gurion’s unofficial bodyguard. Among the many honors that Ben-Gurion continued to receive from various institutions was a pictorial anthology of his life. Naturally he gave an inscribed copy to Cohen, who on thumbing through it found a photograph of the Altalena, the Irgun ship that was carrying weapons, fighters and Holocaust survivors to the nascent state, and which Ben-Gurion ordered fired upon. The incident remained an open wound in relations between the Right and Left.
“You can’t expect me to accept a book that contains this photograph,” said Cohen. Ben-Gurion instructed the publishers to publish a second edition and to omit the photograph of the Altalena. He then presented the second edition to Cohen, who happily accepted it.
■ YAD VASHEM last Thursday commemorated the 69th anniversary of the deportation of Janusz Korczak from Warsaw to Treblinka. The Polish-Jewish educator, whose real name was Henry Goldszmit, ran an enlightened orphanage and had a chance to save himself from the Nazis, but refused to abandon the children in his care – most of whom were murdered together with him. One of the survivors of the orphanage, and one of the last people alive who actually knew Korczak, is artist Yitzhak Belfer, 88, who shared some of his memories and laid a wreath in Yad Vashem’s Janusz Korczak Square.
Belfer was seven years old when he came to the orphanage, where he spent what he described as “the eight most important years of my life.” Korczak gave his children a great deal of love and made life in the orphanage fun. He also created learning incentives by rewarding the youngsters with gifts for good answers or good grades.
■ Readers of the syndicated column written by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in The Jerusalem Post know he doesn’t pull any punches. Boteach, who is in Israel with a Birthright group, addressed members of Jerusalem’s Hazvi Yisrael congregation on Saturday evening and proved to be an even more riveting speaker than he is a writer. Because it was still Shabbat, he could not use a microphone, but his voice rang out clearly throughout the synagogue.
The main theme of his address was that in Jewish tradition, there is nothing redemptive in suffering. Jews celebrate life rather than sacrifice it, and those who try to explain away the deaths of innocents by saying they were punished for the collective sins of those who desecrate Shabbat or eat pork or are in some other way in violation of Jewish law, are wrong, regardless of how learned or pious they may be, he said. In Christian tradition, he went on, God is always exonerated and humanity is indicted, whereas in Jewish tradition, God is indicted and humanity is exonerated. By way of example, he cited two biblical instances of Abraham and Moses arguing with God for the sake of man.
■ APROPOS BIRTHRIGHT, mega philanthropist and international casino king Sheldon Adelson and his sabra wife Miriam recently announced a new $5 million 2011 challenge gift to Birthright Israel as part of their ongoing commitment to fund the free, 10-day educational trips for Jewish young adults. In all, the Adelson Family Foundation has contributed over $100m. to Birthright since 2007.
“We continue to be amazed by the profound impact the trip has on thousands and thousands of young people,” Dr. Miriam Adelson said. “It is changing an entire generation.”
Sheldon Adelson has consistently stated that he doesn’t think there has been a better Jewish program in his lifetime, and hasn’t talked to a young adult who returned from a Birthright trip and didn’t say, “It changed my life.” The latest gift is designed to encourage new donors or spur existing donors to increase their contributions, which the foundation will match. The aim is to increase the number of Birthright participants from 30,000 a year to more than 50,000 by 2013.
In May, at a reception for Birthright’s most generous donors in New York City, Adelson, whose family was so poor that he had to deliver newspapers to make some pocket money, told how his parents had always dreamed of traveling to Israel, but could not afford it. Eventually, when he was able to cover the cost of their trip, they were old and frail and unable to travel. They passed away without ever visiting Israel, prompting him to make the promise that he would do everything he could to help any young person who wanted to visit the country do so. It’s a promise that he’s been keeping for several years now.
■ THERE IS an uncanny physical resemblance between Avinadav Begin and his famous grandfather Menachem Begin, the first Israeli prime minister to sign a peace agreement with an Arab country. The younger Begin, 37, his wife Liraz and their four children live in a four-room rented apartment in Jerusalem’s Yefei Nof neighborhood. Begin identifies with the struggle of demonstrators protesting the high cost of housing. The Jerusalem weekly tabloid Yediot Yerushalayim found the fact that a former prime minister’s grandson was involved with the protest, in any way, was worth a cover story.
In terms of housing, though, he’s not all that different from his grandfather, who lived in a small, modest apartment in Tel Aviv before becoming prime minister. Early in his premiership, he also introduced Project Renewal, which facilitated the renovation and expansion of apartments in the poorest neighborhoods.
■ SOME MEMBERS of the Knesset do not always serve as a good example of behavior. But then comes a heartwarming story like the one published at the beginning of this week in Yediot Aharonot, about the Knesset project to employ people with disabilities. One such person is 26- year-old spastic Nadav Halperin, who has been employed in various capacities at the Knesset since the project was initiated during Dalia Itzik’s term as Knesset speaker. It has been expanded under present Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin.
Halperin’s great wish was to be able to move around the plenum when the Knesset was in session. Last week, just before the parliament went into recess, chief steward Avigdor Raphaeli informed Halperin that he had been assigned to work with the ushers in the plenum. On his first day in his new role, Halperin, appropriately attired in suit and tie, was asked by adviser Perach Lerner to deliver a note to the prime minister. Usually this is just a routine task, but in Halperin’s case, Binyamin Netanyahu stood up, shook his hand and spent a few moments in conversation with him. It was an exciting experience, said Halperin, who added that he hadn’t allowed himself to get carried away, because after all, he was on duty.
■ IT WAS too much to expect Jennifer Hudson to sing “Happy Birthday” in Tel Aviv as she did at the Chicago party honoring US President Barack Obama, but Joanne Yaron, chairwoman of Democrats Abroad – Israel, did sing the song to the president at a Tel Aviv celebration of his 50th birthday that took place at Mike’s Place on the boardwalk last Thursday night. As Yaron noted, “like Marilyn Monroe, who sang at President [John F.] Kennedy’s birthday in Madison Square Garden,” she, too, is a blonde.
Newly arrived American Ambassador Dan Shapiro received an invitation to the party, which took place just a few minutes’ walk from the American Embassy, noted DA – Israel vice chairman Hillel Schenker, “but apparently the ambassador was still too busy unpacking.”
The members of DA – Israel were joined in the celebration by many American tourists who raised a glass of beer to wish the president well.
■ CURRENTLY IN the country for the local launch of her best-selling novel Please Look After Mom, which has been translated into Hebrew, is Korean writer Shin Kyung-sook, who is being feted both by the Korean Embassy and Steimatzky. On Monday she had two launches – one at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, and the second at the residence of Korean Ambassador Young-Sam Ma in Rishpon.
On Wednesday evening, she will be signing books at the Steimatzky Gan Ha’ir store in Tel Aviv.
One of the most popular and widely read novelists in Korea, she has won many literary prizes both in her homeland and abroad. Amazon has listed the book among the top 10 so far for 2011. The book was released in Israel last month, and in a short period has reached third place on the local market.
■ ANOTHER BOOK coming up on the local scene is authored by none other than former police commissioner Moshe Karadi, who is now on the payroll of Yitzhak Tshuva as CEO of Delek Pi Glilot, a fuel storage and distribution company. The book is not exactly an autobiography, but will contain revelations of an in-depth nature that only Karadi could know.
■ WHILE KARADI is writing his book, Karnit Goldwasser, who touched so many hearts in her three-year battle to bring home her late husband Ehud after he and fellow reservist Eldad Regev were kidnapped by Hezbolla in 2006, has almost completed her book, which will be published by Yediot Aharonot. It seems that Hollywood is also interested in the story, and negotiations are under way with several companies for the book to be translated into English, after which a decision will be taken on whether it should be made into a feature film or a television series.
■ GOVERNMENT MINISTERS get to all kinds of places.
Some have been seen talking to demonstrators in tent cities, while others have been seen in fancy restaurants and night clubs. Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar occasionally sheds his ministerial image to take over as a DJ in various Tel Aviv night clubs, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, accompanied by Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov, was recently seen at Gonky, the popular south Tel Aviv hangout where the star entertainer is singer Einat Sarouf. Gonky also attracts people like journalist and potential politician Yair Lapid and business tycoons like Shari Arison.
Sarouf loves to pull celebrities, dignitaries and other luminaries on stage and get them to sing with her. Lieberman initially resisted, but finally gave in and sang a duet with her – “Oseh Shalom Bimromav” (He Makes Peace in His Heights). Later in the evening, she dedicated the popular song “Ata Totach” (You’re a Big Gun) to Lieberman.
Sarouf will have a dramatic change of venue this coming Sunday, with a Tu Be’Av concert at the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem.
■ SITUATIONS ARE not always what they seem. Anyone seeing Kadima MK Meir Sheetrit enter the opulent Hayarkon penthouse, part of one of the latest luxury residential projects of the FAIRE (First American Israeli Real Estate) Fund at 96 Hayarkon Street in Tel Aviv, may have been under the impression that he and his wife Ruth, who is the owner of a leading public relations and advertising company, had decided to move to the city that never stops since so much of her business life and both their social lives are there.
But no, they have no intention of moving from Yavne, where they have lived for the whole of their married lives and where Sheetrit was once a very young mayor. The reason for his visit was to meet with Shlomo Grofman, who established FAIRE together with former ambassador to the US and former MK Zalman Shoval. Grofman is one of the country’s leading real estate authorities; in addition to FAIRE, he is involved at the executive and ownership levels with other real estate concerns.
Before launching out as his own man, he spent 18 years as managing director and CEO of Africa Israel, during which time he initiated and supervised the construction of numerous prestige residential, industrial and commercial projects, including shopping centers and hotels.
Sheetrit and Grofman are old friends, and the former was interested in hearing the latter’s views on possible solutions for the current housing crisis, which has generated mass demonstrations around the country.
Perhaps it wasn’t the best place to discuss that kind of situation, given the cost of apartments in the building. In fact, Grofman took the opportunity to give Sheetrit a personal guided tour of the penthouse, for which the price tag is a mere NIS 120 million.
■ EXTREME SPORTS enthusiasts Yifrah Artzi and Daniel Peretz, the proprietors of the Kramim Restaurant in Moshav Segula, have temporarily put the kitchen and the dining room into other hands while trekking with a group of friends through Africa. Their aim: to reach the top of Mount Kilamanjaro. The mountain hike alone is expected to take six days.
■ BIRTHDAYS ARE in the air. President Shimon Peres turned 88 a week ago Tuesday, and Silvan Shalom, his successor as minister for the development of the Negev and the Galilee, turned 53 on August 4, but celebrated his birthday a couple of days earlier at the swanky Raphael Restaurant in Tel Aviv.
Cinema tycoon Moshe Edery, who celebrated his 60th birthday last week, had a somewhat larger affair on the same day at the Tel Aviv Port, where his wife Pnina threw a surprise party to mark his milestone celebration. Businesspeople and entertainment personalities happily rubbed shoulders at the event. Guests included the honoree’s brother and business partner Leon Edery; singers Gali Atari, Sarouf and Harel Skaat; Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat and her significant other Mickey Yerushalmi; Mizrahi-Tefahot chairman Jacob Perry and his wife Osnat; Leumi CEO Galia Maor and her husband Yehoshua; Cellcom CEO Amos Shapira; actor and comedian Shaike Levy; and a host of other well-known faces.
■ HEADS OF rabbinic dynasties, as well as other leading rabbis whose counsel is sought by the masses, are extremely worried about how to conduct their affairs since the recent murder of Rabbi Elazar Abuhatzeira.
Some have said they will no longer conduct one-on-one meetings with people seeking their advice, but will have an aide or a bodyguard present to at least quell if not prevent any future outbreaks of violence.
In addition to the thousands of people who flocked to Beersheba and Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives for Abuhatzeira’s funeral, a large number of dignitaries, including Peres, visited his home during the week of shiva to offer their condolences to his family. A memorial event last Wednesday night to mark the end of the shiva period was attended by some 10,000 people, including chief rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger, as well as prominent figures from Shas and the Lithuanian haredi community. Referring not only to the killing of Abuhatzeira, but to the general violence that has erupted throughout the country, Amar called for a clampdown by law enforcement officials. Metzger addressed another form of “murder” – character assassination, which he said was ruining the lives of untold numbers of people.
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