Grapevine: Dry Bones visits Jonathan Pollard

A cartoonist’s prison call, a party for Hadassah’s Barbara Goldstein and a visit from a CBS correspondent

Hadassah hospital 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Hadassah hospital 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
There is definitely life after 70, as cartoonist Yaakov Kirschen is increasingly discovering. Ever since his milestone three-score-and-10 birthday, Kirschen, 73, the creator of the long-running, internationally syndicated Dry Bones cartoon, which initially appeared in The Jerusalem Post, has been in great demand on the American lecture circuit. During his current lecture tour, Kirschen took time out to travel to North Carolina to visit Jonathan Pollard, who has been incarcerated for 26 years for passing classified information to Israel. All efforts to secure his release have so far hit a brick wall, though according to Kirschen, “rumor has it that Dennis Ross is advising President [Barack] Obama to hold Jonathan as some kind of ‘bargaining chip’ to pressure Israel. I hope that that is just a scurrilous anti-Obama libel. The list of those calling for an end to Jonathan’s incarceration grows longer and longer. But I don’t see Dennis Ross’s name on it.” Kirschen said he was “surprised to find Jonathan bright, intelligent, and far less bitter than I would have been had I been in his situation.” He also noted that the crime for which Pollard was convicted usually carries a two-to-three-year prison sentence. Kirschen’s visit to Pollard was facilitated by Rabbi Pessach Lerner of the National Council of Young Israel.
■ Among the credits on HOT’s new series The Children of the Prime Minister is Noa Rotman, who co-scripted the intriguing plot with Shahar Magen. To most people, she’s better known as Noa Ben-Artzi, the granddaughter of Yitzhak and Leah Rabin and daughter of Dalia Rabin. But the sunny-natured Rotman, who does not want to spend her life living in either the shadow or the glory of pedigree, decided to stick with her married name. Before launching the series this week, HOT hosted a gala premiere at the Israel Opera in the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center (TAPAC), where it featured two episodes. Because of her intimate knowledge of life in the Prime Minister’s Residence and the constraints placed on the family, Rotman, whose writing skills were recognized when she was still an adolescent, was able to make valuable contributions to the script, and it helped that when she and Magen first met, they instantly hit it off and have been friends ever since.
Among the hundreds of invited guests were several who had either family or working relationships with prime ministers. Among them were Dalia and Yuval Rabin, Rotman’s mother and uncle; Omri Sharon, son of Ariel Sharon; Nava Barak, the first wife of Ehud Barak; Eitan Haber, who was Yitzhak Rabin’s bureau chief; Shula Zaken, who ran Ehud Olmert’s office; Eitan Ben-Eliahu, former commander of the Israel Air Force, who was appointed during Shimon Peres’s term as prime minister; his successor Dan Halutz who was chief of General Staff under Olmert; Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon, a member of Binyamin Netanyahu’s government; Ran and Hila Rahav who were part of the Rabins’ extended family; Yonatan Ben-Artzi, Noa’s brother; and others whose connections were less direct.
Members of the cast who came on stage afterward to take a bow and receive longstemmed roses looked somewhat different from their screen personalities, with the exception of Li Biran, who plays the prime minister’s son and who bears an uncanny resemblance to Yuval Rabin – although the series is set long after the Rabin era. One of the singular aspects of the series is that it shows the harsh reality of sacrifices made by public figures’ families, who lose not only their privacy, but also their free will. The series also portrays the people who are legally and officially permitted to pry into the lives of public figures and their immediate kin by constantly observing them on closed-circuit monitors. Rotman, meanwhile, received thunderous applause and was engulfed by hugs and kisses from all sides.
■ French businessman Patrick Drahi, who owns the controlling interest in HOT, came to Israel with his wife Lena for the premiere and was told by HOT CEO Herzl Ozer that for his benefit and that of French-speaking viewers abroad, French subtitles would be added. Ozer said HOT invests NIS 700 million a year in content and that The Children of the Prime Minister was but one example of that.
■ Guests invited to the Hadassah Independence Day party honoring Barbara Goldstein, deputy director of the Hadassah office in Jerusalem and one of the beaconlighters at the Independence Day ceremony on Mount Herzl, stood around in the reception room of the Inbal Hotel, anxiously wondering why she had not yet made an appearance. Her brother-in-law Ivan Goldstein recalled that 50 years ago, she had missed her own engagement party because Hadassah affairs always took precedence in her life – but this was, after all, a Hadassah party, so there was no reason for her to absent herself.
A beaming Barbara Goldstein, who had been held up in traffic, eventually arrived. One of the first people to embrace her was Abed Sayad, whose family has taken care of the Jewish graves on the Mount of Olives for generations, including the grave of Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold. Sayad, who is familiar with all the leading figures of Hadassah who periodically visit Szold’s grave, also had an animated conversation with media consultant and former longtime Government Press Office member Linda Rifkind, whose parents are buried in the same row as Szold. Goldstein, a highly sought-after public speaker who can speak passionately and knowledgeably about almost any subject related to Zionism or Judaism, has a well-developed sense of drama. The brief speech she gave before lighting the beacon was delivered in the spirit of legendary actress Hannah Rovina, albeit with a slightly American accent rather than a strong Russian one. Family and friends flew in from the US, Puerto Rico and Cuba to celebrate with her.
Goldstein’s obsession with Zionism is reflected in her Sabra personality, which initially comes across as aggressive but camouflages a warm and generous heart. Many of the people in the room had been the beneficiaries of her spontaneous generosity. For instance, knowing that those who had come to witness her moment of glory would brave the cold of Mount Herzl for two or three hours, she spent the afternoon making sandwiches for them in case they got hungry while waiting. Her colleagues at Hadassah are all part of Goldstein’s extended family, and therefore made every effort to attend. Barbara Sofer, Hadassah’s Israel director of public relations and communications and a regular Post columnist, was abroad on a speaking tour, and arrived home at noon just prior to the festivities. The effervescent and irrepressible Marlene Post, a former Hadassah national president who has been a close friend of Goldstein’s for most of their lifetimes, flew in from New York for the occasion. Speaking on behalf of current National President Nancy Falchuk, Post said, “When she sees the video, she’s going to regret that she wasn’t here.”
As for Goldstein, Post said that no one better embodied the spirit of Hadassah.
Audrey Shimron, executive director of Hadassah’s Israel Office, said of Goldstein’s delivery on Mount Herzl, “If they were handing out an Oscar tonight, BG would get it.”
■ Even when people are only temporarily in Israel, as tourists or in a working capacity, they don’t like to be left out of festive celebrations. As such, when The Israel Project hosted an Independence Day party for the second consecutive year, it made a point of inviting members of the foreign press corps and foreign diplomats, as well as several locals, including spokespeople, senior civil servants and academics. All in all, some 125 people made merry at the Mirror Bar in Jerusalem’s Mamilla Hotel.
Foreign diplomats included Bulgarian Ambassador Yuri Sterk and his wife Radona. Among the Israelis were Lt.-Col Israel Tal Saranga, head of the Public Affairs Branch, IDF Spokesman’s Unit; Amir Koren, spokesman of the Civil Administration for Judea and Samaria; Ambassador Haim Divon, head of MASHAV MFA; Ambassador Eli Shaked, former ambassador to Egypt; and former TIP executive director Calev Ben-David, who is now the Bloomberg bureau chief.
In a previous incarnation, Ben-David hosted such events. This time, he was there as a guest. The TIP male representatives, headed by TIP Israel Director Marcus Sieff, were all in suits, and the women, headed by Laura Kamm, TIP’s executive director of global affairs, all wore black cocktail dresses and black, high-heeled pumps. Kamm’s heels were the highest, and it’s likely that her real Independence Day celebration was when she got home and took her shoes off after spending most of the night standing.
■ Veteran CBS news correspondent Bob Simon and his wife Francoise made many friends in Israel while living here, and come back to visit either separately or together at reasonably frequent intervals. They were back again in the first week of May and managed to catch up not only with old friends and new restaurants, but also with some of the country’s latest fashion trends. Father and daughter Gideon and Karen Oberson, who are among Israel’s leading designers and who have been working in tandem for some years now, put on a show in cooperation with Variety at the Peres Peace Center. It wasn’t just play, though; it was also work. Simon came to Israel with a crew from 60 Minutes to do a segment on Tel Aviv. Variety President Ori Slonim surprised the 400 invited guests when he welcomed Simon, who is a TV icon for many of them. After the show, Simon went backstage to congratulate Oberson for making him feel as if he were in Milan instead of the Peres Peace Center.
■ Diplomatic successes are ephemeral, because, with rare exceptions, heads of diplomatic missions in any country tend to move on after two, three or four years. Whatever they may have accomplished, unless it is something truly extraordinary, quickly fades from memory, and they are not around to nurture it. However this may not be the case with Indian Ambassador Navtej Sarna, who conceived of bringing a month-long, multifaceted Indian Festival to Israel. The Indian Festival has been so successful that it will now become an annual tradition, which can only serve to enhance the already strong ties between Israel and India.
Sanjoy Roy, director of Teamwork Productions, which brought the Indian Festival to Israel, is fast becoming his country’s roving cultural ambassador, bringing a smorgasbord of the incredible variety of Indian culture to countries around the globe. When Sarna in 2009 invited him to put together an Indian Festival in Israel, he was not quite sure where to start, because he knew so little about Israel.
Whatever knowledge Indians may have about Israel is gleaned through the media, and it’s not always good, he told the audience gathered in the Konrad Adenauer Conference Center in Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim last week for a bilateral symposium on literature. The symposium was entitled “Words on Water” in deference to India’s greatly gifted Rabindranath Tagore – the Bengali poet, novelist, musician, painter and playwright who authored the famed Gitanjali collection of poems and who became the first non-European Nobel laureate when he was awarded the prize for literature in 1913. Tagore produced some of his best work while on board his famous Padma houseboat; being on water was a source of inspiration. In addition to his prose and poetry, he also wrote the national anthems of both India and Bangladesh.
Roy said that he, his team and all the Indian artists who had come to Israel within the framework of the festival celebrating India in Israel had been overwhelmed by the warmth and love Israelis had for India. Sarna, who has attended many of the festival events, is also a prolific writer and published author, and read from his works along with other writers who came from India.
Among the Israelis who read from their works was Prof. David Shulman, a Hebrew University Indologist and cultural anthropologist who originally hails from Iowa and who also publishes poetry in Hebrew and English and translates ancient Indian poems. When he first came to Israel, he studied Arabic, and then decided to study Persian. He took an El Al flight to Tehran, which was still possible in those days and may hopefully one day be possible again, he said, and from there he graduated to India, with which he has conducted an ongoing love affair.
■ Not all the ambassadors of the 27 member states of the European Union attended the Europe Day celebrations hosted at the residence of EU-delegation head Ambassador Andrew Standley and his wife Judith. Some were abroad and some were hosting events of their own. However, Turkey, which is a candidate for membership in the EU, was well represented by its charge d’affaires, its counselor and its first secretary. Interestingly, the African continent was also well represented with ambassadors of at least half a dozen countries in attendance. Both Standley and Dan Meridor, who represented the government, spoke without notes, which may have contributed to their forgetting the traditional toasts to the presidents of Israel and the EU.
Standley spoke of how much had happened since he and his wife first welcomed guests to a Europe Day reception a year earlier, and mentioned the new responsibilities taken on by the EU in the wake of the Treaty of Lisbon. Europe Day is actually on May 9, but because of the interplay of the Jewish and Gregorian calendars, said Standley, that date this year was also Remembrance Day for Israel’s Fallen, so the Europe Day celebrations had been postponed until after Independence Day.
Remembrance Day followed by Independence Day, he continued, signifies the rebirth of the country, and for Europeans Europe Day also marks a kind of rebirth of Europe, which can feel proud of its achievements just as Israel does. Reviewing recent developments in the Middle East, Standley was optimistic that democracy was achievable and that positive developments lay ahead. He also assured Israel that the EU would always stand alongside it in matters of stability, peace and security.
Meridor observed that until the late 19th century, 90 percent of the world’s Jews lived in Europe, and that one of the early leaders of the Zionist Movement had proposed that the borders of Europe be expanded to include the Middle East. Europe Day, he said, is also known as Schuman Day to commemorate the May 9, 1950, proposal by French foreign minister Robert Schuman for the creation of a new organization of the States of Europe. This eventually led to the founding of the EU. Meridor underscored that another reason May 9 was an important date was that it commemorated the Red Army’s victory over Nazi Germany.
■ Some positive developments in the relations between Israel and Turkey are anticipated by Olgun Yucekok, counselor at the Turkish Embassy. Yucekok did not spell out what these developments would be, but hinted that they might have something to do with Gilad Schalit.
■ Several weeks after his arrival in Israel, British Ambassador Matthew Gould met with a broad representative group of haredim at the Tel Aviv home of Rabbi Yitzhak Shapiro. At the close of that meeting, Gould said he had learned a lot but that he still had many questions.
Those questions were apparently nagging him, because he recently visited the Shapiro home again, this time meeting another representative group of haredim, plus one or two people who had been in the first group. This time, nearly everyone present was an educator or the representative of some branch of the haredi media. The meeting was extensively covered by Avi Rosen in the haredi Hashavua chain of weekend tabloids. What was bothering Gould was the negative image of the haredi community as portrayed in the secular media. His questions were sharp and direct; essentially he wanted to know what haredim had contributed to the state if most of them were not going to the army.
It’s not that they’re negatively disposed toward serving in the army, he was told. It’s just that they’re more positively disposed toward learning Torah.
Rabbi Avraham Avish Schorr, a prominent figure among the Karlin Hassidim, told him that during the Holocaust, not only were Jews decimated, but centuries of Jewish culture died with them. Haredi communities throughout Israel had taken it upon themselves to revive that culture, with the result that Israel is today the largest center of Torah learning in Jewish history. This is no less important, he said, than the revival of Jewish nationalism with all that it entails.
Schorr said that while other ancient civilizations had disappeared, the Jewish People had survived not because of an army, economic achievements or advanced technology, but because of Torah and mitzvot.
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