Grapevine: From Tisha Be’av to Iftar

Notwithstanding the recent terrorist attack that claimed the lives of five Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, tourism between the two countries is on the rise.

REALITY ISRAEL 370 (photo credit: Courtesy REALITY Israel Experience Program)
(photo credit: Courtesy REALITY Israel Experience Program)
The diversity of living in a pluralistic society can be seen in the calendar of US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, who marked Tisha Be’av on Sunday at Pardes in Jerusalem and on Monday night hosted the embassy’s annual Iftar dinner for members of the Muslim community at his residence in Herzliya Pituah. As ambassadors go, Shapiro is arguably one of the most active, participating in an extraordinary number and variety of events. Recently he shared stories with the 70 Teach For America educators taking part in the REALITY Israel Experience program of teachers who had affected his personal career path, including a professor at Hebrew University who, when he came to study for a semester, brought the country to life for him on walking tours around Israel. Shapiro urged the educators to “follow their passion,” and, told them that while he has a high-ranking position, his wife has a more important job and deserves a lot of credit. She is a teacher.
Molly Bryson, originally from Alaska but who teaches high school social studies in Memphis, TN, sat alongside Shapiro and said that what he said resonated with her. “It reminded me of the high stakes of what we do. The youth we are working with could be the people who are running the world and solving the most complex problems,” she mused.
Now in its fourth year, REALITY Israel Experience has brought more than 200 Teach For America educators to Israel as part of a leadership development program designed to deepen their commitment to education reform and service.
During their 12-day visit, they explored alternative models of education and methods of approaching complex societal challenges, including how Israeli schools address issues of co-existence, religion and minority populations. The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation together with the Samberg Family Foundation supports REALITY Israel.
■ With regard to Tisha Be’av, it is doubtful whether any organization presents as interesting and varied a program to as widely diverse an audience as Jerusalem’s Beit Avi Chai, which, for the fifth consecutive year, held a series of discussions related to films that in one way or another reflected the theme of baseless hatred. The film and ensuing discussion that proved to be the most popular and drew the loudest and most sustained applause was Let There Be Light (Vayehi Choshech Vayehi Or), by and about former haredi singing star Meni Philip, who lost his children and his career because he became secular. One of 11 siblings in a closely knit and loving haredi family, he made what was considered a good marriage via a matchmaker. He was only 19 at the time. He barely knew his bride, other than the fact that she came from a fine, respectable family. But although he adored his two children, he was unhappy in his marriage and became so miserable that he was almost suicidal. Concurrently, he began to lose his faith and to opt for a secular life style.
When he left the community and following his divorce, his parents and his wife’s parents did everything possible to keep him away from his children, fearful that they would follow in his path. Eventually he won the right to see his children for two hours a week in the home of a haredi family. He was never allowed to be alone with them. His children missed him terribly, and he missed them. Half of his siblings followed him into the secular world and the other half remained haredi. Religious radio stations stopped playing his recordings and his parents broke contact with him, though not completely with those of his younger siblings who, like him, had become secular. Philip’s own apartment became a place for his siblings to crash, and he insisted that they come to him on Shabbat for cholent and on Passover and Rosh Hashana to celebrate the holidays, at least foodwise, the way they had at home when they were growing up. Initially they were afraid that he was trying to turn them back to religion, he told the audience, but then they realized the importance of the memory of home and they were more relaxed.
A few years ago, Philip was in a serious motorcycle accident on a Saturday. Taken to an emergency hospital unit, he was wheeled down a long corridor and left for a long period of time with various hospital personnel coming up to him and asking him over and over about previous illnesses and allergies. He felt terribly alone and thought to himself that he could no longer go on in this way. Hospital staff had not taken away his mobile phone so he called one of his siblings, told him what had happened and said that no matter what it took, he wanted his brother to persuade their father to come and see him. Soon after, he underwent surgery and then remained in the recovery room overnight for observation. When he was wheeled into the ward, he saw his father sitting by his bed. Their connection was renewed, though it’s not what it was before.
Most of the haredi relatives refused to attend his son’s bar mitzva if Philip was going to attend. He left the choice to his son, but offered to stay away. The boy preferred for his father to be there, and Philip, who usually wears jeans and a tee-shirt, came appropriately dressed in a suit and tie and, of course, a kippa. Unfortunately, his contact with his children is not as strong as it was because they have chosen to follow the haredi path. Someone in the audience asked Philip if he had any regrets and he said that he had none as far as he himself was concerned, but he regretted what it cost his children. He said that he was aware of other men in the haredi community who had lost their faith, but who had remained in the community for the sake of their children. Had he known how his decision would affect his children, he might have stayed too, he admitted.
He has since become a film maker and he also sings popular music, but five years ago, seeking some form of closure, he made a CD of religious songs. It wasn’t exactly closure according to the accompanying text, which states, “When I find myself riding my motorcycle on the road, the songs that fill my ears, along with the wind, are prayers and psalms that accompanied me as I was growing up. I love this music, it moves me, it connects me in a special way to the world as no other type of music can. It reaches my soul. And so, a decade after leaving the religious community, with the support and love of good friends, I have created this beautiful and moving collection. This is our music, and I hope you let it fill you and touch your spirit.”
It’s what in Yiddish-speaking circles is referred to as “dos pintele Yid” (this tiny spark of Jewishness). It makes no difference whether a Jew is a believer or not – he simply can’t escape his identity.
■ It was quite a day for Interior Minister Eli Yishai on Monday. In the morning he was at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel mingling with millionaires at the fundraising breakfast for US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, and in the evening he was at Teddy Stadium for the mega celebration for the conclusion of the sevenyear cycle of the Daf Yomi, where he had the task of getting the crowd to make way for Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
■ Activists in the Justice for Jonathan Pollard campaign never fail to remind high-ranking visitors from America of the discriminatory nature of Pollard’s continued incarceration. The activists stage large and small demonstrations outside the hotel of the visitor or outside the president’s, prime minister’s or foreign minister’s offices in the hope of gaining the attention of the dignitary to whom they want to convey their message. The bottom line is always that Jonathan Pollard has been in prison for far too long and that he is not going to be forgotten and left to languish.
Mitt Romney, despite his frequently proclaimed pro- Israel sentiments, was not let off the hook. Quite the opposite. There were reminders of the Pollard issue in both the Israeli and American media, in addition to which activists demonstrated outside the King David Hotel, where Romney was staying. Romney has made no commitment on Pollard, and Jewish donors to his and Barack Obama’s campaigns have not made their contributions contingent on Pollard’s release.
■ Among the outstanding soldiers at the Israel Independence Day ceremony at the President’s Residence was Chaya Schijveschuurder, whose parents and three of her siblings were killed in the suicide bombing of the Sbarro Pizza Parlor in Jerusalem in August 2001. The intervening years have not been easy for Chaya and her three surviving brothers. Last October, Channel 10 ran a documentary program on the family to demonstrate to what extent they had fallen between the cracks due to the insensitivity of people who are part of the Israeli system. The three surviving brothers, two of whom were in the army and one who was on the way home from a klezmer concert in Safed at the time of the tragedy, searched frantically for their family members in various hospitals. No one from the police or social services helped them. They were youngsters on their own.
Brother Meir arrived at a hospital to which one of his sisters had been taken, but because he did not have his ID card with him to prove his connection to her, he was unable to see her as she lay dying. It was only after she died a few minutes later that he was asked to identify the body.
Imagine the trauma that has haunted him ever since.
Meir, who was barely 19, had to organize the funerals, and the Jerusalem hevra kadisha initially wanted NIS 20,000 for burying the five bodies, although funerals in Jerusalem are supposed to be free. They were willing to give him three plots for free but not five. The money that he paid was eventually returned to him.
Later, Meir and his older brother, Benzion, who no longer lives in Israel, took care of their younger brother and sisters and remained in the family home. Social services tried to put the two youngest into institutional or foster care but there was strong objection and the siblings managed to remain together.
The girls were subsequently sent to live with a distant relative in Switzerland, but they were so unhappy that they returned to Israel to live with another distant relative, but that, too, was an unsuccessful exercise.
Meir had married in the meantime and he and his wife took them in even though they already had young children of their own. The third brother, Shvuel, has severe psychological problems and has appealed to the National Insurance Institute for help but has been denied.
After all that had befallen the family, they were shocked and outraged that the terrorist who had planned the Sbarro attack and the accomplice who had driven the terrorist into town were released as part of the deal to bring home Gilad Schalit. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wrote to many of the families whose loved ones had been murdered or injured by terrorists who were being released in the exchange, but no such letter arrived at the Schijveschuurder home.
When Chaya was among the 120 outstanding soldiers chosen to be honored on Independence Day, it seemed as though the family’s fortunes had at last taken a positive turn.
But that was just a temporary aberration.
According to a Ma’ariv report, the Schijveschuurder family has now been cheated by the government in the cruelest and most insensitive fashion. Meir, acting on behalf of the family, had taken out a loan and purchased a plot of land near the Motza interchange with the intention of building a visitors’ center in memory of their parents and siblings as well as in memory of all the victims of the second intifida. Meir has invested NIS 2 million in the project, and when he ran out of money to continue, the land was confiscated by the Transport Ministry for the purpose of widening Route 1. The compensation offered to Meir was NIS 172,000. That was what it was worth according to a government assessor. Meir was dumbfounded. He brought in an assessor from the private sector who valued the land at around NIS 6 million.
The difference between the two sums spurred Meir to take the matter to the Jerusalem District Court, which he did last week, but not before trying to secure an appointment with Transport Minister Israel Katz, whose secretary never got back to him. Ma’ariv attempted to get as response from the Transport Ministry and failed. It will take a while for the case to be heard. Not only is there no social justice, but there seems to be a dearth of social conscience and social morals.
■ As of today, Elana Kirsh, 29, officially takes over as managing editor of, the online edition of The Jerusalem Post. Kirsh has a background in Jewish education, Hebrew and Middle Eastern studies, and has been working on the Post’s Internet desk since 2008.
Kirsh was born and raised in Sydney, Australia, and made aliya in 2006. Since moving from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in 2010, she served as the news desk manager for the online edition for two years, completed a diploma in social media management and writes a biweekly column called “Untangling the Web.”
“The online arena is undeniably the way forward for the news industry, and I’m working toward keeping our already popular and respected website up to date to 2012 standards,” she says. “We’re also putting an emphasis on developing our other digital assets, including social media platforms and mobile applications, to get the Israeli and Jewish news that The Jerusalem Post is known for out to as many readers as possible, when and where they want it.”
■ Some of the many friends that James Larsen made in Israel when he served as Australian ambassador may have a chance to see him when he arrives next week with Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr, to whom he now serves as a senior adviser. Australia has consistently shown bipartisan support for Israel, including parliamentary endorsement of Israel’s request for a minute of silence at the opening of the Olympic Games in memory of the 11 Israeli athletes murdered at the Munich Games in 1972 and Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s recent pledge of half a million dollars from Australia to a fund established to preserve the death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. But Carr’s visit will not be entirely harmonious with this stance. In communications with Israel, Carr has raised objections to the way Israel treats Palestinian minors who are under arrest. He is unlikely to keep silent on this matter when he meets with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and other Israeli officials.
■ Israelis who were highly critical of Alex Gilady, the sole Israeli on the International Olympic Committee, who, it was believed, had not done enough to persuade his colleagues to hold a minute’s silence for the victims of the Munich massacre, should apologize.
Gilady was publicly criticized by Minister of Sport and Culture Limor Livnat as well as by many of Israel’s broadcast personalities.
Last Friday morning, prior to the opening of the games, Gilady was interviewed on Israel Radio by Arye Golan, who broached the subject of the IOC’s opposition to the minute’s silence – but Gilady, who had covered the Munich Olympics for Israel Television, didn’t want to talk about it. At the opening of the London Olympics, NBC sportscaster Bob Costas referred to the massacre as the Israeli team was shown on the television screen. It just so happens that Gilady is vice president of NBC Sports. Without detracting from Costa’s own feelings about honoring the memories of the murdered athletes, it’s hard to believe that there was no input on Gilady’s part.
After all, he’s the boss.
■ Following Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov’s visit to Bulgaria last week, the Bulgarian Minister of Economy, Energy and Tourism Delyan Dobrev came to Israel this week on a reciprocal two-day visit, which was so crowded with appointments that he had to reschedule and then cancel a joint press conference he had planned to give with Meseznikov. But whatever he missed out on this week can be amended in September, when representatives of the Bulgarian and Israeli governments are scheduled meet in Jerusalem.
In addition, Bulgarian President Rozen Plevneliev will pay a state visit to Israel in October.
Notwithstanding the recent terrorist attack that claimed the lives of five Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, tourism between the two countries is on the rise.
■ Elite models is one of the most prestigious modeling agencies in the world, and the majority of models accepted by its talent scouts become international celebrities. Israeli super model Esti Ginzburg, who was recently wed, has been selected to judge the Israel Elite Model contest 2012 that will be held at East, a new banqueting facility in Tel Aviv.
Elite Models, which was established in Paris 34 years ago, now has 36 branches worldwide. The Israeli branch has been operating since 2003 with Shai Avital at the helm. Several international models will come to Israel to grace the contest, which will also be attended by leading Israeli models who are signed up with Elite. Needless to say, Ginzburg is one of them.
Elite signed her up when she was only 14 years old.
She’s now 22.
■ Although there have been a lot of divorces in the Strauss (dairy) family, generally speaking relations between exes remain very civilized, which explains the presence of Dan Lahat and his wife, Ronit Reichman, at the surprise party Adi Strauss threw for his sister, Irit Koffler, in honor of her milestone 60th birthday.
Lahat is the first husband of Koffler’s sister, Ofra Strauss, who was also at the party.
Koffler used to be married to Leon Koffler, who heads the SuperPharm chain. Their children, Sean and Elinor, who are studying in New York, came home for the occasion.
There was no need to look for a suitable venue for the party; Adi Strauss and his sister, Irit, are the joint owners of the Yavne Montefiore Restaurant. Aside from various family interests in the Strauss Group, most of the members of the family are directly or indirectly involved in the food industry. It stood to reason that the party was held at Yavne Montefiore, which is one of the better restaurants in Tel Aviv.
■ Another milestone birthday party was that of television personality Orly Vilnai, who, together with her significant other, Guy Meroz, hosts a popular morning show on Channel 10. Vilnai’s main focus as a journalist has been social justice, which, in the days when she worked for Channel 1, got her into a spot of trouble with then-director general of the Israel Broadcasting Authority Yosef Barel. Apparently it’s a tradition at the IBA to crack down on journalists who go overboard on social issues.
Still young enough not to want to keep her age a secret, Vilnai celebrated her 40th birthday together with the publication of her new book, Things that Really Happen, at the Felicia Blumental Music Center in Tel Aviv. Among the guests were MK Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal, Noa Ben-Arzi (the granddaughter of Yitzhak Rabin) and her husband, Eldad Rotman, Minister for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee Silvan Shalom and his journalist wife Judy Shalom Nir Mozes, lawyer Sasis Gez, and a number of other well-known personalities.