Grapevine: April – a month of mixed emotions

Peres was one of many people who have been helping the financially ailing Gesher Theater to continue staging the unique productions for which it has received glowing reviews in Israel and in many parts of the world.

Peres in the snow 390 (photo credit: Gideon Sharon)
Peres in the snow 390
(photo credit: Gideon Sharon)
It is an interesting coincidence that this year the month of April carries with it so many symbols and memories of freedom, hope, unity, pain, sorrow and pride. Passover, the festival of freedom, concluded on the evening of April 1 and was replaced by Mimouna, the festival of unity, hospitality and friendship. This will be followed a week later by Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 8, and a week after that is Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s wars as well as for the Victims of Terrorism. When that tragic day gives way to night, it will immediately transform into Israel’s Independence Day.
In the last week of April, the capital will host the First International Jerusalem Symposium on Green and Accessible Pilgrimage, which will bring together people of many faiths and nationalities and will be held on April 21-26, at the Jerusalem International YMCA. Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis, Muslim imams, Christian clergy and lay people representing the Eastern, Catholic and Protestant churches, Bahai, and other religious groups, along with urban planners, tourist entrepreneurs, access activists and others will participate. The key goals of the gathering will be to ensure equity and freedom of worship in the public domain; interface between the city and the metropolitan region and to overcome the challenges of infrastructure in historic pilgrim cities. Speakers at the opening will be Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Deputy Mayor and Pilgrimage Network Ambassador Naomi Tsur, Deputy CEO of YMCA Forsan Hussein, The American Jewish Committee’s International Director of Interreligious Affairs Rabbi David Rosen and Greek Patriarch Theophilos III.
■ WHATEVER DIFFERENCES there may be among Israel’s various media outlets, they are united on the issue of mistreatment of Holocaust survivors, an ongoing subject for decades, and whatever criticism has been leveled at Finance Minister Yair Lapid, it is to his credit that his first act in office was to order a NIS 50 million increase to the budget of the foundation that was established to financially assist Holocaust survivors. His late father, Tommy Lapid, a Holocaust survivor himself, served as chairman of the Yad Vashem Council. However in other respects there are still screaming headlines about Holocaust survivors being forced to choose between food and medications because their meager funds won’t stretch to pay for both.
Curiously, when newspapers, radio, television and the Internet have been unable to bring about social justice for Holocaust survivors, one book has succeeded in righting a historical wrong. For almost 65 years, the courage and determination of right wing Zionist organizations in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was ignored or forgotten until former defense and foreign minister Moshe Arens decided to do something about it, and wrote his book Flags over the Warsaw Ghetto which tells the story of Pawel Frenkel and his valiant group of followers.
As a result, the Polish authorities put up a monument honoring Frankel in the area near the Warsaw Ghetto plaza, and now in Israel, the Philatelic Services have issued a stamp featuring Pawel Frenkel against the backdrop of the building on Muranowski Square in the ghetto. At the base of the stamp is an Israeli flag symbolizing that even though Frenkel and others from both the Left and the Right who rose up against the Nazis – knowing that they would lose their lives – did not survive, the Nazis failed in their plan to exterminate the Jewish people. The stamp will be launched at Beit Jabotinsky in Tel Aviv on April 8.
■ WITH REGARD to the Holocaust, it is a fairly well-known fact that Malka Gantz, the mother of Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, was a Holocaust survivor.
What was not common knowledge was that she also saved the life of a 12-year-old Hungarian girl in Bergen- Belsen.
The girl, sick with typhus, lay under a pile of bodies, waiting for death, when suddenly a hand reached in and pulled her away. Esther Friedman was the girl, and Gantz’s mother shared her tiny portion of food with the sick girl, and in general looked out for her welfare. Friedman had been deported to Auschwitz in April 1944, where she had been subjected to the horrifying experiments of Dr. Josef Mengele. After surviving a “selection,” she was transferred to Bergen-Belsen with 500 other girls. After Malka Gantz saved her from death, the two became inseparable and after the war were sent to a hospital in Sweden where they remained until they came to Israel on the illegal immigrants’ ship Chaim Arlosoroff. They maintained contact until Malka’s death.
This week, the chief of staff visited Friedman at her home in Petah Tikva within the framework of Flower for a Survivor project, and the two shared fond memories.
■ OTHER THAN lack of finances, many Holocaust survivors suffer from loneliness, the knowledge of which has moved Jay Shultz, President of the Am Yisrael Foundation and international man of mystery, to create an Adopt a Safta program similar to the Big Brother/Big Sister model, which allows survivors to share their memories and strengthen their identities. It is also an opportunity for new immigrants who want to involve themselves in voluntary projects with a humane element to adopt a safta (“grandmother”) or a saba (“grandfather”) and learn from them, not only about their wartime experiences, but also about life in Israel. The project linking new immigrants with Holocaust survivors will be launched on Sunday, April 7, at 7 p.m. at the Fuchsberg Center, 6 Agron Street, Jerusalem.
■ MEMORIES OF the Holocaust were briefly revived by President Shimon Peres at the conclusion of the well received premiere of the new Gesher production of Yehoshua Sobol’s Village set in the final phase of the World War II in British Mandate Palestine. The play, first staged by Gesher in 1996, was taken on tour and received high praise. It was hard to tell whether the audience – there by invitation only – was more enthusiastic about Peres or the production starring the incredibly talented Sasha Demidov whose naïve character Yossi, speaks the first and last lines in the play. When Peres entered the auditorium to take his seat it was to the sound of thunderous cheers, applause and whistles which also reverberated as the wonderful cast directed by the internationally heralded Yevgeny Arye took its bow.
Peres was one of many people who have been helping the financially ailing Gesher Theater to continue staging the unique productions for which it has received glowing reviews in Israel and in many parts of the world.
Called by Gesher CEO Lena Kreindlin to address the wildly appreciative audience, Peres, referring to Arye’s innovative interpretation of the play, said that he didn’t know if he was watching dead people dreaming that they were alive, or live people dreaming that they were dead. It was simultaneously the most theatrical and most authentic production he had seen, said Peres, familiar with the strange mix of characters in the underdeveloped villages of the 1940s. The period between WWII and the creation of the State of Israel was the most chaotic, said Peres. Who could have imagined that only three years after the Holocaust the State of Israel would be a fact? he asked.
Alluding to references to dreams and reality in the text of the play, Peres looked out into the audience and declared: “We are the reality. We are the triumph of our people.”
Seen in the audience were former prime minister Ehud Olmert who sat four seats away from Peres, former Tel Aviv mayor Shlomo Lahat and his wife, Zena, Governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer and his wife, Rhoda, former Ma’ariv editor Ido Dissentchik and his wife, Batya, who used to be a leading model, former ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman and his wife, Janice, former MK Collette Avital – who now heads the umbrella body that unites various Holocaust survivors welfare and preservation of memory organizations, MK Nitzan Horowitz, former government minister Dan Meridor and his wife, Liora, Mifal Hapayis national lottery chief Uzi Dayan, business tycoon Alfred Akirov and his wife, Hava, Sano founder Bruno Landesberg – an ardent Gesher supporter – Osem chairman Dan Proper and his wife, Susan, and of course Gesher chairman lawyer Eli Zohar and Friends of Gesher chairman businessman Israel Makov.
■ ARGUABLY THE most widely known Holocaust survivor after Eli Wiesel is Tel Aviv’s Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, also chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, for years a keynote speaker at Holocaust memorial events in Israel, Poland and elsewhere. Mimouna celebrations this week took place a week prior to Holocaust Remembrance Day, and though it was mentioned in Wednesday’s column that Lau participated in the festivities hosted in the sumptuous Moroccan tents set up in the palatial Savyon garden of Yardena Ovadia, the photos of the event arrived too late. However, one delightfully candid shot of Lau and Ovadia should not be ignored.
■ ANOTHER WELL-ATTENDED Mimouna event that was top heavy with celebrities and various other public figures was hosted by Leon and Solange Edery at their home in Caesarea, where guests included Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, his wife, Sara, and their older son Yair, who came by after attending official Mimouna celebrations organized by the World Federation of Moroccan Jews in nearby Or Akiva. Cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser was also present.
Edery and his brother Moshe are the owners of United King and the Cinema City chain of multi-cinema auditoria, so it was understandable that many of the guests were well-known personalities from the world of entertainment. Like Ovadia, the Ederys are also of Moroccan background, and likewise set up huge Moroccan tents in which the guests mingled as they nibbled on traditional sweet Moroccan delicacies.
It goes without saying that Moshe Edery and his wife, Penina, were there, as were Bar Refaeli, Harel Skaat, Liraz Charhi, Tom Avni, Zev Revach, Uri Pfeffer, Yael Goldman, Yon Tomarkin, Peter Roth, Netta Garti, Tzvika Pik, Reshef Levy, Gilat Ankori, Meni Pe’er and Israel Katorza amongst others; and from the business world, faces in the crowd belonged to Delek’s Yitzhak Tshuva and his wife, Chaya, Castro CEOs Eti and Gabi Roter, Gazit Globe’s Ronen Ashkenazi, Discount Bank chairman Yossi Bachar and his architect wife, Orit, Nokia CEO Ilan Greenberg and his wife, Vered, and hotel tycoon David Fattal. Among the others present were almost-chief of general staff Yoav Galant and his wife, Claudine, British Ambassador Matthew Gould and his wife, Celia, Elem President Nava Barak and her husband, Shalom Zinger, and Hapoel Beersheba owner Alona Barkat.
Ironically, a specially invited guest was actor Gerard Butler, whom the Ederys had brought to Israel to promote the movie Olympus Has Fallen which is about saving the White House from North Korean invaders.
They could not have known that North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un’s threat of a merciless attack and nuclear strike against Washington would probably do more to promote interest in the film than the presence of one of its key actors.
■ ON HOLOCAUST Remembrance Day and Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars and Victims of Terrorism, Israeli television stations screen numerous documentaries related to the Holocaust and to those who paid the supreme sacrifice when fighting in wars in which Israel was engaged. Occasionally, there is a feature film related to the memorial period, often easier to digest than the documentaries.
One such film is Whereabouts Unknown, a television drama written by Nava Semel, directed by Yali Bergman and produced by Amir Harel. The film, which will be screened on Channel 1 on Tuesday, April 16, is pertinent to both remembrance days in that it is set in 1949 Israel at a time when veteran Israelis and Holocaust survivors alike were glued to radio news broadcasts and a program called Search for Missing Relatives.
It was a time when the state was absorbing more than a million new immigrants, the overwhelming majority of whom were Holocaust survivors bearing deep-rooted psychological scars as well as physical evidence of what they endured.
Some were aware of other family survivors, but most had no knowledge of what happened to parents, siblings, spouses, children and other relatives.
Often they didn’t know how or where to start looking, but they listened obsessively to the radio in case someone was looking for them.
Semel, the sister of singer Shlomo Artzi and the daughter of Holocaust survivors, weaves a sensitive tale about two such families. Even now, 65 years later, the radio program continues to link Holocaust survivors with lost relatives.
The film stars Yona Elian-Keshet, Yehezkel Lazarov, Ola Shur, Levana Finkelstein and Rotem Sussman.
■ IT’S BEEN a tradition for several years now to hold a Yiddish festival at one of the Dead Sea resort hotels, but as Yiddish gains in popularity, contrary to all the predictions of the post-Holocaust doomsayers, more Yiddish events are taking place all over the country. A three-day Yiddish festival-seminar will be held at the Leonardo Plaza Hotel, Tiberias, on April 11-13, with the participation of Dr. Mordechai Yoshkovsky, Yaakov Bodo, Yankele Ben-Sira, Adina Ben- Sira, Marina Jakubowicz, Elazar Strum and comedienne Pnina Meller. The weekend will include humor, songs, folk tales and serious discussion.