Grapevine: British Chief Rabbi in Jerusalem

British Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks met with 180 of Bnei Akiva’s gap year students. The students, congregated at the Ramban Synagogue.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It’s common knowledge that although ambassador Yehuda Avner has long been retired from the Foreign Ministry, he is unlikely to ever retire from the computer keyboard or the speaker’s podium. Avner, who is the author of the best-selling book, The Prime Ministers, and who has been a frequent contributor to the pages of The Jerusalem Post, was the keynote speaker at the annual Daniel Elazar memorial lecture last week.
Addressing a full house at the Konrad Adenauer Center in Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim, Avner recalled the many hours he had spent in Elazar’s company as “enriching, edifying and ennobling.”
Elazar, who was one of the great independent thinkers of Israel and the United States, was the founder of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Avner observed that these annual events are not only in Elazar’s memory but in celebration of his life.
Avner, who had the rare privilege of serving a number of prime ministers and being privy to their conversations with world leaders, most significantly the presidents of the United States, shared anecdotes about the relations between Levi Eshkol and Lyndon Johnson, who received him at his Texas ranch, where he practiced BBQ diplomacy; Golda Meir and Richard Nixon; Yitzhak Rabin and Gerald Ford; and Menachem Begin and Jimmy Carter.
Up until the Six Day War, said Avner, Israel’s dealings with Washington were limited. But after France imposed an arms embargo on Israel, Israel’s only hope was the United States. In historic terms with regard to the Israel-America relationship, said Avner, Johnson was the first US president to help Israel maintain a quantitative military edge. During Ford’s term as president, Henry Kissinger, who was then US secretary of state, introduced shuttle diplomacy which almost drove Yitzhak Rabin and members of his administration mad. Kissinger wanted Israel to make impossible concessions, causing Rabin to shout at him, “Henry you will be judged not by American history but by Jewish history.” Their disputes almost caused a breakdown in relations between Israel and the US, something that must have slipped President Shimon Peres‘s memory last year when he awarded Kissinger the Presidential Medal of Distinction.
Avner was too diplomatic to mention that.
If there is any truth to the rumors about the lack of chemistry between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama, it’s another case of all things being relative and can’t compare to the antagonism between the two leaders that Avner referred to as “the Holocaust survivor from Warsaw and the born-again Baptist from Georgia.”
According to Avner, Begin believed that it was better to be disliked than to be pitied and, although there was no chemistry between the two men, said Avner, Carter learned what kind of a Jew he was dealing with and grasped which red lines Israel would never cross.
■ AT THE same time that Avner was speaking, Peres was elsewhere addressing a convention of past and present bodyguards who for more than 50 years have been protecting the lives of the presidents and prime ministers of Israel as well as those of other dignitaries. Among the bodyguards attending was the most veteran of them all, Aharon Eldan, 83, who was David Ben-Gurion’s bodyguard but who at some stage had also been Peres’s bodyguard. In fact, Peres could trace his career via the bodyguards who had looked out for his safety over the years.
Later, he posed for a photo with Eldan and his youngest current bodyguard who is 26 and who for security reasons remains nameless.
“You’re not just bodyguards,” said Peres. “You’re actually protecting the interests of the state and what you do is one of the toughest jobs that anyone can undertake because you always have to be alert.” In the course of his job as a bodyguard, Eldan has had a front row seat on history as it was happening. He was also bodyguard to Levi Eshkol and was part of the Israeli security detail when Richard Nixon became the first US president to visit the Jewish state.
■ COINCIDENTALLY, THE following day I received an email with excerpts from Ronald Kessler’s book, In the President’s Secret Service, in which he quotes impressions and observations of Secret Service personnel assigned to protect the presidents and the first ladies as well as vice presidents of the US. The assessments begged to be shared.
• John & Jaqueline Kennedy: “A philanderer of the highest order.”
“She ordered the kitchen help to save all the left-over wine during a State dinner, mixed it with fresh wine and served again during the next White House occasion.”
• Lyndon & Ladybird Johnson: “Another philanderer of the highest order. In addition, LBJ was as crude as the day is long. Both JFK and LBJ kept a lot of women in the White House for extramarital affairs, and both had set up ‘early warning systems’ to alert them if/when their wives were nearby.
Both Kennedy and Johnson were promiscuous and oversexed men.”
”She was either naive or just pretended to ‘not know’ about her husband’s many liaisons.”
• Richard & Pat Nixon: “A ‘moral’ man but very odd, weird, paranoid, etc. He had horrible relationships with his family, and in a way, was almost a recluse.”
“She was quiet most of the time.”
Spiro Agnew: “Nice, decent man, everyone in the Secret Service was surprised by his downfall.”
• Gerald & Betty Ford: “A true gentlemen who treated the Secret Service with respect and dignity.
He had a great sense of humor.“ ”She drank a lot!” • Jimmy & Rosalin Carter: “A complete phony who would portray one picture of himself in public and very different in private, e.g., he would be shown carrying his own luggage, but the suitcases were always empty. He kept the empty ones just for photo-ops. Wanted the people to see him as pious and a non-drinker, but he and his family drank alcohol a lot! He had disdain for the Secret Service and was very irresponsible with the ‘football’ with nuclear codes. He didn’t think it was a big deal and would keep military aides at a great distance. Often did not acknowledge the presence of Secret Service personnel assigned to serve him.”
“She mostly did her own thing.”
• Ronald & Nancy Reagan: “The real deal – Moral, honest, respectful, and dignified. They treated Secret Service and everyone else with respect and honor. Thanked everyone all the time. He took the time to know everyone on a personal level.”
One favorite story that has circulated among the Secret Service personnel was an incident early in his presidency, when he came out of his room with a pistol tucked on his hip. The agent in charge asked: “Why the pistol, Mr.
President?” He replied, “In case you boys can’t get the job done, I can help.”
It was common for him to carry a pistol.
When he met with Gorbachev, he had a pistol in his briefcase. Upon learning that Gary Hart was caught with Donna Rice, Reagan said, “Boys will be boys, but boys will not be presidents.”
[He obviously either did not know or forgot JFK’s and LBJ’s sexcapades!] “She was very nice but very protective of the President; and the Secret Service was often caught in the middle. She tried hard to control what the President ate, and he would say to the agent, ‘Come on, you gotta help me out.’ The Reagans drank wine during State dinners and special occasions only; otherwise, they shunned alcohol; the Secret Service could count on one hand the times they were served wine during their “family dinner.” For all the fake bluster of the Carters, the Reagans were the ones who lived life as genuinely moral people.”
• George H. & Barbara Bush: ”Extremely kind and considerate Always respectful. Took great care in making sure the agents’ comforts were taken care of. They even brought them meals, etc. One time Barbara Bush brought warm clothes to agents standing outside at Kennebunkport; one agent was given a warm hat, and when he tried to nicely say ‘no thanks’ even though he was obviously freezing, President Bush said “Son, don’t argue with the First Lady, put the hat on.”
“He was the most prompt of the Presidents.
He ran the White House like a well-oiled machine.”
”She ruled the house and spoke her mind.”
• Bill & Hillary Clinton: “Presidency was one giant party. Not trustworthy – he was nice mainly because he wanted everyone to like him, but to him life is just one big game and party. Everyone knows of his sexuality.”
“She is another phony. Her personality would change the instant cameras were near. She hated with open disdain the military and Secret Service. She was another one who felt people were there to serve her. She was always trying to keep tabs on Bill Clinton.”
• Albert Gore: “An egotistical ass, who was once overheard by his Secret Service detail lecturing his only son that he needed to do better in school or he ‘would end up like these guys’ – pointing to the agents.”
• George W. & Laura Bush: “The Secret Service loved him and Laura Bush. He was also the most physically ‘in shape’ who had a very strict workout regimen. The Bushes made sure their entire administrative and household staff understood they were to respect and be considerate of the Secret Service. She was one of the nicest First Ladies, if not the nicest. She never had any harsh word to say about anyone.” Karl Rove “was in fact, though, the guy who was the most caring of the Secret Service in the administration.”
• Barack & Michele Obama: “Clinton all over again” – hates the military and looks down on the Secret Service. He is egotistical and cunning; looks you in the eye and appears to agree with you, but turns around and does the opposite – untrustworthy. He has temper tantrums.”
“She is a complete bitch, who basically hates anybody who is not black; hates the military; and looks at the Secret Service as servants.”
“A tax payer voting for Obama is like a chicken voting for Col. Sanders.”
■ AS A 40-year veteran of professional Jewish activism, one would imagine that Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, would have seen it all. But apparently not. Addressing a large audience at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue last Saturday night, Hoenlein said that he cannot remember a time more complex and more complicated, “which will affect us all, our children and our children’s children.”
What he was he referring to was the resurgence of Jew-bating.
Although he did not spell it out exactly, it was not difficult to get the message when he said “The things we thought we left behind in the 20th century are coming back to haunt us. There is much more disorder than order and things are more unpredictable than predictable.”
One of the big problems he said, without actually mentioning Google, ”is that we live in an age of forgetfulness, an age of ignorance.”
The subtext was why bother to remember anything when you have Google at your fingertips. But the greatest danger to the Jewish people, Hoenlein cautioned is “apathy, indifference and ignorance.” To overcome these existential hazards, he suggested the study of history “not as a thing of the past but as a guide to the future.”
He also stressed the importance of Jewish unity, because when Jews are together they become a very powerful force. He instanced the struggle for Soviet Jewry, in which Jews put aside their differences in the united effort to get Jews out of the Soviet Union. Unity also leads to self definition.
“We cannot allow those who seek to divide us from the outside and the inside to succeed. Why should we allow our enemies to define us?” he asked, recalling that it was Pharaoh “who called us a nation before we defined ourselves.”
Heaping blame on Jews while ignoring the sins of others has long been a practice among anti-Semites.
Hoenlein pointed to the fact that Christians are constantly being massacred throughout the Middle East and no one says a word, “but the world is pre-occupied with E1 even though they don’t know where it is.” Hoenlein made the distinction between fair criticism and anti-Semitism. “You can criticize Israeli policies and not be an anti- Semite, but you can’t deny Israel’s right to exist."
■ DIPLOMATS DANCED with haredim in Beit Shemesh early last week when Mordechai David Cheshin, the son of Matityahu Cheshin, married Brocha Frankel, the daughter of Aharon Yehuda Frankel. The senior Cheshin has made it his mission to introduce diplomats to the inner workings of the haredi community, as a result of which a former American ambassador to Israel playfully dubbed him the haredi consul – and the title stuck.
Men and women were seated separately, which meant that the diplomats could not discuss the evening’s proceedings with their spouses until they were on their way home. But the men were having too much fun anyway, because at haredi weddings there often tends to be more dancing in the men’s section than in the women’s.
Spotted among the dancers in the men’s section were US Ambassador Dan Shapiro and Deputy Chief of Mission Tom Goldberger along with senior Foreign Ministry official Yaakov Livne, New York State Rep.
Gerry Stoch, Knesset Member Meir Porush. The men’s section was more or less a sea of black. The women’s section had some color, but the guests conformed with the request on the wedding invitation to come in modest dress.
■ ON THE following night it was Shapiro’s turn to play host – but for an entirely different crowd. Shapiro and his wife, Julie Fisher, hosted some 150 guests at their residence for an event organized by the Diplomatic Spouses’ Club, which had no problem selling tickets for an evening with Saul Singer, coauthor of Start-up Nation. The book’s title has become a generic term in the Israeli lexicon, and is recognized all over the world. The event was a benefit for Middle East Education through Technology (MEET), a three-year program for talented students who learn leadership, problem-solving and coexistence skills. Among the guests were ambassadors and their spouses, diplomats, business people and Israeli friends who enjoyed much more than a fascinating lecture and Q&A session with Singer. The evening also included a live jazz trio, a cocktail reception and a presentation by MEET students and alumni.
The DSCI Committee, which organized the event, was in attendance, many with their spouses: Rachel Alkalay and Michael Sternberg, head of the Multinational Force Observers, Susan and Shawn Dilles, US Embassy, Eavan Doyle and Irish Ambassador Breifne O'Reilly, Julie Fisher and US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, DSCI president Eden Goldberger and US DCM Tom Goldberger, Swati Jha, Embassy of India, Pauline Mantha and Canadian Ambassador Paul Hunt, Petra Niens Schouten and Netherlands Defense Attache Ruud Niens, Lanre Obassa, wife of the Nigerian Ambassador, Juliane Ruthe and Deputy German Defense Attache Wolfram Ruthe, Ju de Simas and Chilean Air Force and Defense Attache Jorge Verdugo, Jane Smith and Canadian Defense Attache Brad Smith, Judith Standley and EU Ambassador Andrew Standley, Deidre Travis and Barret Travis, US Embassy, and Anne Veldkamp and Netherlands Ambassador Caspar Veldkamp. Other guests included MEET CEO and co-director Noa Epstein MEET COO and Co-Director Ala Sader, MEET students and alumni, Israel businessman Stef Wertheimer and others. In addition to being a great social success, the event raised awareness of MEET’s program and gave guests the opportunity not only to hear Saul Singer but also to get a signed copy of Start-up Nation.
■ AS AN adolescent, multi-talented actress, singer, dancer, moderator and TV and radio hostess Rivka Michaeli was already presenting on radio. Sometimes on the way to or from a broadcast she would stop at the offices of The Jerusalem Post to say hello to her mother, who worked there as a bookkeeper. In those days, the paper’s offices were located on Havatzelet Street (then called Hasolel Steet), a hop, skip and a jump from Israel Radio’s Helene Hamalka Street studios.
Since then, both Rivka Michaeli and The Jerusalem Post have come a long way. The paper turned 80 last December and has expanded in many directions under its present ownership. Michaeli will celebrate her 75th birthday in a few weeks, and shows no sign of letting up.
She’s on stage, screen and radio, and despite her white wig on Golden Girls, the Israeli adaptation of the popular American sitcom, she looks younger than her co-stars. One of them, Tiki Dayan, will be appearing with her in Never a Dull Moment, a special program written and produced for Michaeli, who will be the honoree feted at this year’s International Women’s Festival in Holon.
Since its inception in 1996, the festival has showcased the diversity of women’s abilities in many fields, including politics, business, social issues and the arts. The festival, which runs from February 27- March 2, will host the tribute to Michaeli on its opening night.
Appearing with her in addition to Tiki Dayan will be Israel Gurion, Hani Nahmias, Guy Meroz, Mike Burstein, Avi Greinich and Dror Keren. Produced by the Holon Theater and the Holon Municipality, the Women’s Festival always includes successful women from abroad – this time three charismatic entertainers, each from a different country. Fatoumata Diwarra is an impressive African singer who was born in Mali and who chose to abandon a culture that advocates the oppression of women and instead to live a life of artistic creativity.
Coming from a little closer to home is Greek singer Rita Antonopoulou, who is not tied to any particular genre but is equally at home with every style of Greek music. Hiske Eriks is a young Dutch actress who is taking theater festivals in Europe by a storm.
These are just some of the reasons that the Women’s Festival will attract thousands of people to Holon, as it has for well over a decade.
■ DUTCH MONARCHS are decidedly different from their peers in other countries. Namely, they don’t keep the next generation waiting overlong for their turn to sit on the throne. Queen Beatrix, who in January announced her abdication in favor of her son, Crown Prince Willem Alexander only a few days after returning home from a State visit to Singapore, will step down in April, after a 33 year reign. She is following in the footsteps of her mother, Queen Juliana, who abdicated in 1980, and her grandmother, Queen Wilhelmina who abdicated in 1948. The popular and informal Queen Beatrix, who thinks nothing of riding a bicycle through the streets of Amsterdam, is receiving numerous farewell gifts, including one delivered by Israel’s Ambassador to the Hague Haim Divon, who presented her with a copy of ambassador Yissakhar Ben-Yaacov’s autobiography, A Lasting Reward, in which he recalls her visit to Jerusalem and includes a photograph of her at that time.
The queen was received by thenmayor Teddy Kollek, to whom Ben-Yaacov had been sent as a special adviser. Now 90 and still active and energetic, Ben-Yaacov treasures fond memories of the Dutch queen and hopes that she has fond memories of Jerusalem.
■ FEW THINGS are as inspiring to young people as hearing a famous individual tell them that he or she was in their youth movement. Such revelations have a strong motivating force. British Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks met with 180 of Bnei Akiva’s gap year students in Jerusalem last week. The students, who came from Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Belgium and the Netherlands, congregated at the Ramban Synagogue in Jerusalem to hear the Sacks speak about leadership and the people who inspired him. He suggested to the group what they can do to make a difference in their communities.
Sacks also spoke about his personal pride in having been a member of Bnei Akiva.
Jonny Lipczer, head of the British Desk at World Bnei Akiva, noted that the Bnei Akiva gap year students are the leaders of tomorrow so it was fitting for them to hear from one of the foremost Jewish leaders of this generation. “The chief rabbi remains an inspirational figure in our movement and we felt privileged to be addressed by him,” said Jodie Colletts, from Edgware, UK.
“The chief rabbi spoke to us about how to share with others the joy of Purim. He answered questions regarding our role in the Jewish community and especially what we can do during our gap year to prepare for the future. He provided inspiring answers with lifelong messages.”
Talya Lewis, from Manchester, UK, added: “Having the opportunity to meet Chief Rabbi Sacks was a fascinating experience. I found it particularly interesting to hear his views on encouraging Jews to remain committed by being joyous in everything we do and not hiding our beliefs and ideals.”
Noam Hayman, from Sydney, Australia, regarded the morning with the chief rabbi to be “hugely inspirational. He taught us what it means to be a leader, and he clearly leads by example. By taking time out of his busy schedule to speak to us, he showed how much Bnei Akiva and its ideology means to him.”
■ IN 2011, British immigrant Helen Conway heard of a young man, Benjamin Goodman, a pianist who had also migrated from the UK and who, on joining the army, found that there was no piano available on his base. He was keen to give concerts to the troops with explanations about the music he was playing.. A group of people who admired his initiative raised funds to buy an upright piano for his base. His recitals proved so successful that his superiors decided to introduce classical music on a regular basis to soldiers in the army and Goodman, joined by violinists and other classical musicians now plays for them frequently.
Inspired by Goodman, Conway thought it would be a good idea to bring her baby grand piano from London and donated it to the army.
The piano became seriously damaged in transit and parts had to be brought from abroad in order to mend it. This has now been done and the inaugural concert was held at noon on Monday at its new home on the Tel Hashomer army base. Conway dedicated her harmonious gift to the IDF in memory of her husband, Victor, with whom she was in the classical music business for nearly 40 years.
Victor Conway was business manager to prominent international classical musicians, conductors, soloists and opera singers, and Helen Conway went to rehearsals, recording sessions and anything else that was required of her professionally. She is delighted that the grand piano that graced her London home will help countless Israeli soldiers who are unfamiliar with classical music to develop an appreciation for it.