Grapevine: A woman’s place…

It is extremely unusual for a woman to be among the speakers at the inauguration ceremony of the chief rabbis.

Inauguration of new chief rabbis 370 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Inauguration of new chief rabbis 370
(photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO)
It was a big day for Justice Minister Tzipi Livni on Wednesday. The new round of peace talks with the Palestinians, in which she is the key Israeli negotiator, was the main focus of media attention. But a few hours earlier – in her capacity as justice minister, and not as negotiator – Livni was at the President’s Residence, to participate in the swearing-in ceremony of new Chief Rabbis Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau.
It is extremely unusual for a woman to be among the speakers at the inauguration ceremony of the chief rabbis, but since the Rabbinical Court is answerable to the Justice Ministry and the justice minister is a woman, Livni had the privilege of sitting on the dais, together with President Shimon Peres, Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben- Dahan, and the chief rabbis themselves.
In addition to the Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis, there is also a chief rabbi of the IDF. The incumbent, Rafi Peretz, who was among the many rabbis in attendance, is the sixth person to head the military rabbinate.
He has been in office since 2010. The first chief rabbi of the IDF was Shlomo Goren, who served in that capacity for 20 years.
This is the longest period ever served by a chief rabbi of Israel or the IDF, with the exception of pre-state Rabbi Raphael Samuel Meyuhas, who served from 1756 to 1791; and Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog, who became Ashkenazi chief rabbi in 1936 under the British Mandate, and continued in office after the establishment of the state, serving until his death in 1959. Goren was later elected Ashkenazi chief rabbi in 1973, serving together with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Both were Talmudic giants who admired each other’s scholastic abilities, but the fierce rivalry between them did not augur well for Jewish unity.
Until 1860, all chief rabbis of the Holy Land were Sephardi. The first Ashkenazi to hold high rabbinical office was Rabbi Meir Auerbach, who was known as the chief rabbi of Jerusalem and who served in that role from 1860 to 1871.
Coincidentally, or possibly deliberately, the inauguration ceremony took place during the week following the Shabbat Torah reading of Shoftim (Judges), to which several of the speakers referred. In fact, all judges – in both rabbinical and civil court – make their pledges of loyalty to upholding the law of the land based on the biblical text of not perverting justice, showing favoritism or taking bribes.
Prior to the ceremony, an aide to both Rabbis Ovadia and Yitzhak Yosef inspected the seating arrangements and was shocked to discover that Shas leader Arye Deri was sitting in the third row. After some frantic telephone calls, the aide insisted that the seating arrangements be changed and that Deri be upgraded. The people from the President’s Office refused, explaining that protocol did not allow an MK, especially one who isn’t a minister, to take precedence over members of the Chief Rabbinate or the families of the chief rabbis. The aide remained insistent and the Solomonic solution to the problem was to move Deri and a group of other religious MKs from the center block of seats to the right-hand section, where the extensions to the first and second rows were missing – thus giving Deri and company a virtual front-row seat. His brother, Rabbi Yehuda Deri, had a genuine front-row seat.
Ill health prevented Rabbi Ovadia Yosef from attending, though his family was well-represented.
One of the best known members of his family, Adina Bar-Shalom, the sister of the new Sephardi chief rabbi, was in the front row in the women’s section, and was sitting next to his wife, Ruth, on one side, and Rabbanit Hadassah Ralbag, the mother-in-law of the Ashkenazi chief rabbi, on the other.
Lau’s mother, Chaya, sat on the aisle in the women’s section, while her husband Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv and a former chief rabbi of Israel, sat on the aisle in the men’s section, so they were more less sitting next to each other.
The new chief rabbi’s wife, Tzipi Lau, a ninth-generation Jerusalemite, sat next to her mother-in-law.
Rabbi David Lau addressed the gathering, speaking of the importance of every individual and prefacing his remarks by listing several of the dignitaries present, including his father – but neglected to mention his mother. In his excitement, he must have forgotten the fifth commandment – though Peres, in his address at the start of the ceremony, had made pointed reference to the Ten Commandments as the foundation of civilization.
“Hatikva” was sung at the end of the ceremony by IDF chief cantor Shai Abramson, with the IDF rabbinical choir. The chief rabbis joined in, but most of the other rabbis in the reception hall refrained.
Before that, Abramson had sung the Shehecheyanu blessing and “Shir Hamaalot,” and it was interesting to watch Livni mouthing the words. In deference to the attendees, Livni wore a demure black dress with a high neckline and long sleeves, but changed into something a little less severe for her meeting in the afternoon with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
One of the early birds who arrived at the ceremony more than an hour before it started was Shula Zaken, the former bureau chief of Ehud Olmert from the time he was mayor of Jerusalem, through his ministerial posts right through to prime minister.Hagai Elias, another former Olmert stalwart, was also in attendance. These days he’s a strategic adviser to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and is helping with his election campaign. Zaken is a longtime friend of Rabbanit Ralbag.
Before the formalities began, the writer of this column asked Rabbi David Lau whether it would be easier or more difficult to be a Jew in Israel over the next decade. His reply was: “With the help of God, it will be good for all of Israel. We are believing Jews.
■ IT HAS been said in many quarters that if the politicians stayed out of the picture and allowed the people on the ground to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict themselves, we would have had peace a long time ago.
Now, in tandem with the peace talks taking place in Jerusalem and Ramallah, various peace-oriented organizations are bringing Israelis and Palestinians together. They are doing so out of the belief that people who have to coexist with each other will find a way to do so without malice or hostility, out of a genuine desire to create a better and peaceful future for Israeli and Palestinian children and the generations to come.
One such organization is Minds of Peace, which has organized a two-day meeting to take place next week on Thursday and Friday, August 22 and 23, at the plaza outside the Hamashbir store on the capital’s King George Avenue. The meeting will begin at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday and continue into the night, then resume at 10 a.m. on Friday and continue until 4 p.m., after which participants will march to the Prime Minister’s Residence. The event is a significant step towards the establishment of an Israeli-Palestinian Public Negotiating Congress.
The congress is the initiative of Dr. Sapir Handelman, an internationally recognized, prize winning-academic, who has written extensively on peace, conflict and thought manipulation. Handelman, together with several friends and colleagues, has participated in a series of peace-oriented mini congresses in leading universities in the US, Canada, the West Bank and Tel Aviv, and now feels the time is ripe for the involvement and engagement of more people from both sides and across the political spectrum.
“The congress in Jerusalem represents a forward step to do something concrete while the leadership on both sides continues to stutter. It’s time for the people to take matters into their own hands,” said Handelman.
The project is being promoted by Lotan Communications, whose CEO, Yael Lotan, has for many years worked towards the advancement of peace and mutual trust.
■ ONE OF the major revolutions this century in strengthening Jewish identity is Taglit- Birthright, which has prompted many young Jews from around the world to make their homes in Israel or to become more actively involved in Jewish life in their respective communities. Proof of the pudding is 34-year-old Gamal Jason Yakov Palmer of Los Angeles, who in 1999 was the first participant in the Taglit-Birthright groups.
Palmer returned to Israel this week for the first time since his initial visit, leading a group of Jewish students from Los Angeles, where he serves as senior director of leadership development for the Jewish Federation of LA.
On Monday, he joined in activities with the students at the pioneer Taglit Village, which has been established in the Negev as a center where overseas Jewish students can meet with their counterparts from the region.
“Before Taglit-Birthright was established, only about 2,000 Jewish students came to Israel every year,” said Taglit-Birthright CEO Gidi Mark. “This year, we have reached 44,000 participants.”
Many Americans who have come to Israel on the Taglit-Birthright program are the products of mixed marriages. Palmer is one of them. He was born to a Christian African- American father and a Jewish mother. “That short visit in 1999 changed my life. As a result, I dedicate my life to grooming leaders for the future,” he said. “Only here, in Israel, can many American Jews really feel at home. My greatest hope is we impact the one Jew who will lead us all to peace.”
■ DOUBLE CONGRATULATIONS are due to former Jerusalem Post military reporter Yaakov Katz, who in addition to being named an adviser to Economy and Trade Minister and Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, also a celebrated a birthday this week. Katz, who recently returned to Israel with an additional family member born in Boston, spent a year as a Nieman fellow at Harvard University.
Katz was given a proper Post farewell after announcing his new job, which will include liaising with Diaspora communities – as Bennett also holds the Diaspora Affairs portfolio.
Upon leaving the paper, veteran Post staff members usually receive a specially created mock front page with stories about them. It makes for a great keepsake.
■ HAD SHE arrived in Israel on the Nefesh B’Nefesh flight which brought in 330 North Americans, of whom 125 have come to serve in the IDF, Jessica Katz, 24, would have been greeted at Ben-Gurion Airport by Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar; IDF Manpower Directorate head Maj.-Gen. Orna Barbivai; Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund world chairman Efi Stenzler; and other dignitaries.
But Katz, who had once contemplated joining the IDF, had been talked out of it by her parents and uncle, who are all gung-ho about Israel but were not madly keen on her becoming a soldier. So she stayed in LA a little longer at their behest, and now she’s finally here. Her mom, Nancy Spielberg Katz, has come to Israel to help her settle in, though Katz – who arrived several weeks ago – is already familiar with the way things work in Tel Aviv.
Spielberg Katz is no stranger to Israel.
She’s been here several times in a professional capacity, most recently to complete a documentary film about the Israel Air Force. If the name rings a bell, it should, as Spielberg Katz is the sister of famed film director Steven Spielberg – whose various Israel connections include the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive at the Hebrew University.
In her youth, Nancy Spielberg Katz spent a year as a kibbutz volunteer.
Steven Spielberg, it turns out, also has a daughter called Jessica. The cousins were named for Jessica Rabbit, the character that Spielberg created when working with Walt Disney Productions.
■ MANY ISRAELIS have become interested in studying martial arts with Asian experts.
Taiwanese Tai Chi Master Wang Fu-lai was in Israel this week to conduct workshops at the Israeli Tai Chi Center.
At the age of 16, Fu-lai began studying with Grandmaster Wang Shu-chin. He succeeded in absorbing his master’s entire teachings in Tai Chi, Hsing-I and Pa-Kua.
Since the death of Shu-chin in 1981, Fu-lai continues to fulfill his teacher’s command to disseminate the three martial arts throughout the world. He established an association in Taiwan called Chang Ming (one of Shuchin’s nicknames), which the government of ROC (Taiwan) has officially recognized. The association has branches throughout the world, including in Japan, Australia, the US and Israel.
Fu-lai is considered one of the leading exponents in the field of martial arts, and has been coming to Israel each year since 1990.
■ IT’S COMMON knowledge that life is not exactly fair, and that nothing lasts forever. As such, the long association of Itzik Kornfein with the Beitar Jerusalem football team, first as a goalkeeper and captain and in recent years, general manager, came to an end this week when the new owner of the team, Eli Tabib, gave Kornfein his marching orders.
There is a slight compensation, in that when Tabib bought Beitar from its previous owner, Arkadi Gaydamak, he promised to honor the club’s debts. Kornfein is owed in excess of NIS 2 million in salary that was deferred from last season, plus severance pay based on his 18-year association with Beitar.
The law provides for a specific time frame in which Kornfein should receive all monies owed to him, but Tabib is unwilling to pay the entire sum and has already started haggling over the amount. Kornfein is unlikely to compromise, so there is a strong likelihood that the case will be taken to court.
Tabib previously owned Hapoel Tel Aviv, which he mismanaged to the extent that fans staged protest demonstrations outside his home. He was subsequently ousted by former government minister and former Histadrut labor federation head Haim Ramon, but was determined to own another club. Gaydamak had held several unsuccessful negotiations with potential buyers and was sick of the ongoing financial outlay and the many headaches which Beitar had foisted on him – not the least of which was having to combat the racist elements among Beitar fans.
Beitar was in a lot of trouble before the sale, and it seems that there’s even more trouble ahead.
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