Grapevine: Decorating the presidential succa

Peres had a great time with the youngsters from the Rabin Peace School in the capital’s Malcha neighborhood.

Shimon Peres decorating Succa370 (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
Shimon Peres decorating Succa370
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
FOR THE last time during his period of tenure, President Shimon Peres this week joined tiny tots in decorating the presidential succa which will be open to the public on Tuesday morning of next week. Next year, there will be a new president who will help to decorate the presidential succa for the first time. Whoever it is will have a hard act to follow. An incurable workaholic, Peres set himself a grueling schedule at home and abroad, and as a living legend has attracted an ongoing stream of heads of state, government ministers, global business leaders and other dignitaries who flock for opportunities to meet with him.
None of the people whose names have been bandied about as potential candidates for the presidency can compete with that kind of popularity which has not only served as a compliment to Peres but has benefitted the image of the State of Israel.
Meanwhile, Peres had a great time with the youngsters from the Rabin Peace School in the capital’s Malcha neighborhood. The youngsters who had come early in the morning to the President’s Residence to decorate the presidential succa, greeted Peres with song as he entered, and Peres grabbed a hand mike from somewhere and went from one youngster to another holding it up to each child’s face so that the voice of each could be heard distinctly, even if only singing a few words.
It was a way of proving to them that each of them was individually special, but together they made up a human lulav and etrog, the Succot symbol of Jewish unity which combines the four species of palm, myrtle, willow and citron, each with different qualities symbolizing the different qualities or lack thereof in human beings, who nonetheless when banded together, form a united front.
Peres was presented with a lulav and etrog by Rabbi Gershom Ohana of Kfar Chabad, who unfailingly each year brings these symbolic gifts to the presidents of Israel wishing them and the nation a sweet year of peace, fraternity, harmony and prosperity.
Peres examined the etrog carefully to ensure that it had no flaws and quipped, “If it comes from Kfar Chabad, I guess it must be kosher.” He then asked the children to join him in inviting the nation to come next Tuesday morning to celebrate Succot with him in the presidential Succa. He also asked the children to return next week and to bring their families and friends.
■ ISRAELI POLITICIANS are known for voicing their opinions on anything and everything, regardless of whether they may be familiar with the subject. Strangely enough, many have learned to toe the line when it comes to the vacillations of US President Barack Obama on action to be taken regarding Syria. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has asked them not to comment, and amazingly, most have exerted selfdiscipline.
A case in point: Yisrael Beytenu leader and chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Avigdor Liberman, who when interviewed on Israel Radio, evaded the issue by saying: “ It’s not our place to comment or to give advice that was not sought.”
■ ANYONE WHO expected a hot debate on the Oslo Accords between Labor Party secretarygeneral MK Hilik Bar and Deputy Transportation Minister MK Tzipi Hotovely was disappointed. The two agreed on so many issues that the only point of interest at the debate organized by Media Central was the realization that Hotovely speaks excellent English with a slight American accent.
Hotovely started by saying that all Israelis want peace, but leaving ideology aside, one had to look at reality. In her view, a two-state solution is not the answer. She doubted that much would come out of the current peace talks, because all previous attempts to achieve a peace agreement had failed.
Bar’s response was that this is not a reason not to keep trying.
One interesting thing he did say was that in its willingness to cede territory for the sake of peace, Labor was not talking about giving anything back, but giving something away. Historically, all the territory belongs to the Jewish people, he said, but anyone who wants to see a two-state solution must make territorial concessions.
Where he and Hotovely completely saw eye-to-eye was in response to a question about double standards regarding the right of Jews to regain property in Europe that was seized by the Nazis and subsequently taken over by the Communists, when Israel refuses to return property confiscated from the Palestinians. Both bristled, mistakenly assuming that a comparison of Israel’s military victory over Arab states was being compared to what the Nazis did in Europe. What they couldn’t understand was that the only point of comparison was that people had been dispossessed from their homes. Dispossession – not oppression – was the common denominator, and Bar saw absolutely no reason for returning property to Palestinians as a goodfaith demonstration of peace intentions.
■ THERE WAS a period in which Labor MK Eitan Cabel was the only legislator who did military reserve duty. But now, with younger people joining the Knesset, there is at least one more.
Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, who is a major in the reserves of the Special Forces unit, will also be doing reserve duty next week even though he is entitled to an exemption. Bennett, a father of four, never thought for a moment to take advantage of his government role and ignore the call-up notice. In fact, his reaction was quite the opposite. After several months in politics, he said, reserve duty would be like a vacation in the Caribbean.
■ EDUCATION MINISTER Shai Piron, drawing from experience within his own family, is implementing a policy aimed at integrating more children with special needs into mainstream schools, to help them better cope and teach so-called normative children to respect others regardless of physical or mental disabilities, or religious and racial differences.
This education in the classroom is not always successful, even though children tend be less biased and more accepting than adults. The problem often lies with parents, who act as if whatever it is that causes a child to be categorized as having special needs must be contagious. This totally illogical attitude prevails even among intelligent and welleducated parents. Moreover, not all teachers can adjust to having special-needs children in their classrooms and some tend to ignore and thereby humiliate these youngsters, who just want to be given the chance to fit in.
Sometimes bias against children and adults with special needs verges on incomprehensible callousness.
After all, there but for the grace of God go any of us.
Yediot Aharonot this week ran a story about the particularly unfeeling attitude of some of the neighbors of 20-year-old Ofer Mandelman from Haifa. Up until a year ago, he was a perfectly healthy young man. Then one day, he had difficulty moving his hand. Following a medical examination, he was diagnosed with ALS – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a debilitating motor neuron disease which affects muscles, speech, breathing and mobility.
Ofer’s condition deteriorated rapidly, and because it is difficult for his parents, Dalia and Amir, to move his bed, he has been confined to his room for months, without once going out into the sunlight. His parents hoped to build a small cottage for him in the courtyard of the building where they live, so that he could be wheeled outside to enjoy the sun and hear the birds chirping.
However, they cannot get municipal permission because some of their neighbors object that the additional structure would mar the view and reduce the value of their property. The Mandelmans offered to pay them a land swap compensation. They have a private garden on which it is impossible to build, but they were willing to trade it for the common land on which the three unwilling neighbors are preventing them from building and helping their son. One of these neighbors went so far as to say that the Mandelmans could move out and rent another place more suitable to their needs.
Not all the neighbors were so heartless. Eli Toizner, who also lives in the building told Yediot’s Lior el- Hai that for him and his family, there was no dilemma. “We felt it was the moral thing to do,” he said.
Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav heard about Ofer’s condition and came to visit him. Despite the fact that an absolute majority vote by the neighbors is required before the municipality can grant permission for a structure to be built in the courtyard, Yahav has indicated he will seek whatever available loopholes there are in order to help the family in its quest.
Acceptance of the other is beautifully illustrated in a story told from time to time by Jerusalem’s Rabbi Yisrael Gellis, a former editor-inchief of the Hebrew edition of Yated Ne’eman and one of its founding staff. The story, as he tells it, is about a wedding that was almost called off at the last moment and then suddenly went ahead as planned.
In the haredi community marriages are brokered and often, the bride and groom barely get to see each other – let alone get to know each other – before the wedding.
One bride had second thoughts and as she sat on the bridal throne, announced she could not go through with the marriage. Her prospective husband, whom she had seen only once, was just too physically repulsive to her. Family and friends did everything they could to persuade her to change her mind – but to no avail.
Reluctantly, two of the male members of her family went to inform the groom of the bad news.
He took the message quite well, but said he wanted an opportunity to talk to the bride. Initially she did not agree, but he persisted, saying if she was going to humiliate him by canceling the wedding, the least she could do was to hear him out. She realized that if she did not accede to this request she would gain a reputation as a hard-hearted woman.
The only option she had was to listen to what he had to say.
“You know that marriages are made in heaven before we ever come to earth,” he told her. “I was privileged to see my bride, and when I saw that she would have a hunched back, would be cross-eyed and would have crooked teeth, I said to the Divine Creator: ‘Please do not send my bride into the world like that. Give her my physical attributes in exchange for hers.’” Thus the groom acquired the hunchback, crossed eyes and crooked teeth.
The bride looked at him and thought to herself that it could have indeed been the other way around, and she could have been the one discarded by the groom.
The wedding was conducted as planned and the couple derived great happiness and many children, living in wedlock for more than 50 years.
■ IN A city in which a large sector of the population lives in economic distress and cannot afford to pay somewhere between NIS 40 and NIS 140 for a concert ticket, sponsors of the Piyut Festival – which was held last week in various Jerusalem venues, including the Jerusalem Music Center at Mishkenot Sha’ananim, Beit Avi Chai and the Jerusalem Theater – hosted a gratis grand finale in Safra Square, the huge plaza which is part of the city hall complex. The free concert was welladvertised and attracted thousands of people.
At previous musical events in Safra Square, latecomers drifted in and stood around if no chairs were available. There is always a security check, which is understandable, but this time latecomers were not permitted past the barriers – and huge numbers of people who had specially come from the furthest reaches of the capital and beyond were forced to stand crowded like sardines behind the barriers, instead of being allowed inside where there was still plenty of standing room space, albeit no empty chairs.
Entreaties to barrier guards to be allowed in to get closer to the star performer, the charismatic Rabbi Chaim Louk, met with apologetic refusals. The guards had been instructed not to let anyone in after the concert started.
Louk sings melodies that are familiar to people of North African background. This was one of those rare occasions in which they had an edge over the Ashkenazi community, because so many of them were part of the mega audience that represented the Jewish demographic mosaic of the city – secular and religious, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, and of course, North African. The latter, whether religiously observant or not, were familiar with Louk’s repertoire and sang along with him with tremendous verve. The music penetrated into the street, so everyone on the wrong side of the barrier heard it, but it was not the same as being up close, as could be vouched for by those who managed to evade the guards and slip inside.
The other big spoiler of the night was Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat taking advantage of the mammoth attendance to make a campaign speech. This might have been forgivable had he done so at the very start of the evening’s proceedings before the actual concert, which also featured other artists in addition to Louk. But to disrupt a concert and interfere with the harmony of the musicians is simply not done – especially by a mayor who prides himself on having brought culture to the city.
■ NOTWITHSTANDING THE court of the Israeli media, which delights in finding public figures guilty of corruption and other crimes before they have been charged by legal authorities, the law in Israel states that a person is innocent until found guilty. While some public figures engulfed by the shadow of suspicion step down from office, especially if the alleged crime involves moral turpitude, others claiming innocence stay put, and even offer their candidature for additional terms. Several mayors are under police investigation and may eventually face prison terms, but for the time being they are running for reelection, despite petitions against their being permitted to do so.
The fact of the matter is that Supreme Court President Asher D.
Grunis has declared that it is up to the electorate to decide who is suitable to be mayor. If they want a mayor with criminal charges hanging over his head – so be it. Grunis, who headed a seven-member panel of justices who discussed the issue, may have based his decision on the fact that the law provides for a city council to unseat its mayor if the mayor’s conduct is deemed to be unseemly. None of the mayors who have been charged with corruption or are under investigation for corruption have been removed from office by their councils – including one who is not only allegedly corrupt, but also racist.
■ LAST YEAR, China and Taiwan celebrated their national days on the same date at hotels within less than a five-minute walk from each other. However, guests who were invited to both were wary of offending Chinese Ambassador Gao Yanping by leaving her reception to attend that of Liang-jen Chang, the representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Tel Aviv. This year, they have again chosen hotels that are almost adjacent to each other, but their receptions are a week apart, so there will be no diplomatic tensions to overcome.
■ WITH ALL the anti-Israel sentiment going on in South Africa, it was refreshing to read the positive talkbacks in The Citizen to an article written by Arthur Lenk, Israel’s new ambassador to South Africa. In it, he gave examples of how the two countries can benefit each other. Aside from being interested in Lenk from a news perspective, The Jerusalem Post has a vested interest in his wife, Ruth Koval, who for several years worked at the paper as a graphic artist, bringing American talent and experience to the table.
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