Grapevine: In tribute to Wallenberg

The choir of the Bialik Rogozin School sings at the opening of the Raoul Wallenberg Centennial exhibition at Beit Bialik in Tel Aviv.

Raoul Wallenberg 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Raoul Wallenberg 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
Few things could evoke greater symbolism with regard to commemorating the moral integrity of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg than the choir of the Bialik Rogozin School singing at the opening of the Raoul Wallenberg Centennial exhibition at Beit Bialik in Tel Aviv. Most of the children in the choir are destined for deportation at some stage or another, unless their parents decide to return to their countries of origin as soon as their work visas expire.
Among those attending the opening ceremony, which was hosted by Swedish Ambassador Elinor Hammarskjold, were some of the Hungarian Jews saved from the Nazis by Wallenberg: child Holocaust survivor Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who is currently chairman of the Yad Vashem Council; Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev; Sweden’s Minister for EU Affairs Birgitta Ohlsson; Ambassador Andrew Standley, who heads the European Union Delegation in Israel; Foreign Ministry Director General Rafi Barak; Israel’s Minister for National Infrastructure Uzi Landau; and former director-general of Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Olle Wastberg, who is the coordinator for Raoul Wallenberg Centenary activities and the travelling exhibition that is being shown in 15 countries around the world.
It is only in recent years that Sweden’s government has shown any particular interest in Wallenberg. Before that, his memory was kept alive mainly by Jewish organizations whose membership included people (or relatives of people) who owed him their lives. Hammarskjold, Ohlsson and Wastberg each acknowledged that the Swedish government and officials could have and should have done much more to perpetuate Wallenberg’s story and to find out what happened to him following his arrest by the Soviets.
Quoting famous Austrian Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, who was an eminent neurologist and psychiatrist, Ohlsson, in explaining what had motivated Wallenberg to risk his life to save thousands of Jews from extermination, said: “We cannot choose the circumstances of our lives, but we can choose the response to our circumstances.”
Anti-Semitism, intolerance and hate continue to plague the human mind and fundamentalism is in an enhanced position, she declared. Noting the resurgence of anti-Semitism throughout the EU, Ohlsson whose parents-in-law are Polish Jews, said that she had participated in the mid-August kippa walk in Malmo, where several hate crimes have been perpetrated against Jews.
“The best we can do for Wallenberg is to fight anti-Semitism, intolerance and xenophobia,” she said.
Landau mentioned that Wallenberg’s acquaintance with Jews started not in Budapest during the war, but in Haifa several years beforehand. While working in a bank in Haifa in the 1930s, Wallenberg met German Jewish refugees who had fled the Nazi regime. Among the refugees were Landau’s mother and her family.
Wallenberg had also met members of the developing Jewish communities in the Galilee, Landau said, and was thus exposed to the Zionist narrative. Landau also emphasized the importance of defending basic human values against all forms of extremism.
“Wallenberg shows us the difference a single person can make,” said Wastberg, adding that the world still needs people like Wallenberg because extremism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism are still rampant.
■ IT’S NOT unusual for Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, the spiritual leader of Jerusalem’s Kol Haneshama congregation, to officiate at second weddings. Late last month he married Yoav and Ayala Oren, for both of whom this was a second marriage.
The two had grown up in Kol Haneshama, where both their families had been active and where their rabbi knew them well. They wanted him to perform the ceremony because he was not only their rabbi and mentor but also their friend. But because neither of them had gotten a Jewish bill of divorce from the Orthodox rabbinate, they flew to Washington in June for a civil ceremony that took place at the residence of the groom’s father, who happens to be Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.
The second wedding, just outside Jerusalem, was no less spiritual than an Orthodox wedding, yet despite the fact that both the bride and the groom were halachically Jewish, it would not have been recognized by the State without benefit of their having first had a civil ceremony. Just another example of Chelm in Jerusalem.
■ EVERY RABBI has his own style, thus aside, from all the other reasons that no two weddings can be exactly the same, the manner in which the rabbi conducts the wedding can make a major impact not only on the bridal couple but also on the guests.
This was certainly the case when Rabbi Dror Yehoshua, who leads an egalitarian Sephardi congregation in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot, officiated at the wedding of Avital Montagu and Gilad Slonim in the beautifully bucolic environs of Bustan Abu Ghosh, where the bridal canopy consisted of a natural overgrowth of grape vines, adding to the romantic aura of the occasion.
Yehoshua, who took his role very seriously and had obviously spent a lot of time counseling the young couple, invoked not only traditional references but even some that might in certain circles be regarded as iconoclastic; One doesn’t expect to hear quotes from Aristotle, Plato and Spinoza at a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony. Nonetheless, it was a very delightful wedding. The long-haired bride with her peaches-andcream complexion, inherited from her father’s British forebears, looked like the heroine of a Shakespearean play.
Only 15 months earlier, she had accompanied her mother, Jerusalem Post columnist Judy Montagu to her own bridal canopy when she married Canadian immigrant Sheldon Fossaner at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel. Her father, Simon Montagu, has been married for several years to his wife Heftsiba, and one of their children, Aviad Montagu, was among those who recited the seven blessings at the ceremony. A contingent of Montagus arrived from London for the occasion, as did members of the Lowy family from the bride’s mother’s side.
The groom is the son of Shifra and Alex Slonim, who beamed with pleasure at all the guests, including many of their own relatives and friends.
Apart from being an excellent writer, Judy Montagu is also a talented needlewoman who made her own coquettish hat to wear to the wedding. In response to the many compliments that she received for it, she confided that the fabric had come from the Dormition Abbey. This was ecumenism of a different kind.
She had accompanied a non-Jewish friend on a visit to the Abbey and had seen a vase decorated with the fabric, which was exactly the same shade of green as the silk jacket that she was wearing over her copper-colored dress. She asked her friend to find out if she could buy a length of the fabric, and after a little negotiation, the people at the Dormition Abbey agreed to sell it to her – and would have probably been very happy to see the finished result.
Wedding guests included former and present members of The Jerusalem Post staff, with the real veterans remembering when the mother of the bride used to bring her to work as a tiny baby in a carry cot. Having inherited her mother’s ready smile, she is no less charming today.
Guests ranged in age from infants to nonagenarians. There were also a lot of scrabble players. The Fossaners are avid players and are keen members of the Jerusalem Scrabble Club, which next year will celebrate its 30th anniversary. In fact, Wendy Elliman, a friend from youth of the mother of the bride, is collecting material about the history of the club, which was founded by her former husband, the late Sam Orbaum, who was a popular Jerusalem Post columnist. Among the guests was his muse and greatest supporter, Sarah Schacter, 97, who, despite having spent the majority of her life in Israel, remains a British lady of the old school. She is still a formidable Scrabble player and can beat the pants off most of the members of the club.
■ THE ANNUAL awards ceremony of the President’s Prize for Volunteerism took place this week. With all the bickering, hardships, demonstrations and in-fighting that goes on in Israel, the level of volunteerism is extraordinarily high and covers an amazing variety of individual, communal and social needs. It is a real headache each year for the committee to decide which individuals and organizations are the most worthy to be considered for the prize.
Volunteerism takes on many guises, and is so natural for some people that it is not limited to a single sphere. A case in point is that of well known Jerusalem jewelry designer Joelle Medina Eckstein, who volunteers with Afikim, one of several Israeli organizations that focus on youth at risk, helping them to re-establish good relationships with their families and encouraging them to return to their studies or to improve their studies with the help of enrichment programs in which many of the tutors are volunteers.
Eckstein is one such volunteer who encourages young people to explore their potential for creativity.
This week she opened her beautiful Arabstyle home in the capital’s Greek Colony, where items from her Chez Joelle jewelry boutique were on sale, and donated part of the proceeds to Afikim. She even posted the invitation on Facebook. More than 200 people, including politicians, business executives, Afikim parents and volunteers, school principals, soldiers, students, secular and haredi friends, acquaintances and in some cases even strangers from Tel Aviv as well Jerusalem showed up and purchased some of her original pieces.
Eckstein came to Israel from Barcelona, Spain, and so the babble of languages heard at the event included Hebrew, English, Spanish and French. Throughout her life, she said, she has experienced a variety of cultures, which are reflected in her unique jewelry designs. She is running a jewelry-making workshop this school year for youngsters who might otherwise be out on the streets. Afikim runs weekly workshops in art, music, martial arts, etc.
It is hardly surprising that Eckstein is so interested in giving of herself in so many different ways. She is married to Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the founding president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which supports so many social causes throughout Israel. Giving is therefore a family affair. Among the people seen in the crowd were MK Rachel Adatto; Afikim Family Enrichment Association chair Orna Angel; Jerusalem City Council member and Secretary-General of the Labor Party Hilik Bar; Jerusalem City Council member Edna Friedman; Afikim director and founder Moshe Lefkowitz; former National Insurance Institute of Israel director-general Dr.
Yigal Ben-Shalom; Angel Bakery CEO Yaron Angel; former vice president of Yeshiva University Rabbi Hillel Davis; leader of the Yotzer Ohr Conservative Congregation leader Rabbi Uri Ayalon; Chairman of Machshava Tova organization chairman Daniel Weil; vice deputy of Clal Finance Tamir Porat; chairman of Tzedek organization Shlomi Amar; and many others, including, of course, the husband of the designer. The occasion was also used to toast the New Year. Refreshments were provided by Gvinaz, so no one left hungry.
■ BETTER PLACE is well on the way to the realization of the dream of its founder and CEO, Shai Agassi. At a festive ceremony at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol on Monday, Better Place launched the first batteryswitch station in the Netherlands. Aside from Agassi, attendees at this special event included Netherlands Minister of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation Maxime Verhagen; European Commission Directorate General for Mobility and Transport Oliver Onidi; and Schiphol Group president and CEO Jos Nijhuis.
Commenting on the event, Netherlands Ambassador to Israel Caspar Veldkamp said, “The Better Place switch station in the Netherlands is a milestone toward a greener economy. Israeli innovation and investment opportunities in Holland are a winning combination.” Veldkamp personally had the opportunity to experience the benefits of the electric car, which he used this week to get to his appointment with Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon at his home in Hod Hasharon. Veldkamp said that driving in the electric car was exciting.
“The car is extremely quiet and accelerates very rapidly. My driver and I both wanted to get behind the steering wheel.” Veldkamp said he was glad to have had the experience of both being driven in and driving the electric car himself.
The switch station in Schiphol airport has been developed in partnership with the City of Amsterdam and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and will initially serve 10 Renault Fluence Z.E. taxis operated by three leading Dutch taxi companies – Connexxion, Bios and TCA. Better Place will open a second switch station later this year and is planning a total of up to 28 switch stations in the Netherlands, to cover the needs of the whole country.
■ HER FRIENDS in the diplomatic community were saddened by the death last month of Edith Rojansky, the honorary consul for Monaco. Although Israel has enjoyed full diplomatic relations with Monaco for many years, Monaco does not have an embassy in Israel and Rojansky represented all the interests of the tiny principality, operating out of her home in Tel Aviv’s King David Street.
She had already been familiar with diplomatic life before taking on the position of honorary consul for Monaco. Her late husband, Dr. Arnon Roy Rojansky, a wellknown Tel Aviv lawyer and accountant who had formerly been an opera singer, had been president of the Israel Association for the United Nations,and the honorary consul for Uruguay. Prior to the establishment of the state, he had been the honorary consul for Yugoslavia in Palestine. He also presented Dutch interests and was recognized for his services by the Netherlands.
At a graveside memorial service last week at Tel Aviv’s Kiryat Shaul cemetery, Dr. Pinchas Zeltzer, the honorary consul for Austria, recalled his first meeting more than 25 years earlier with Edith Rojansky, or Ditta, as she was known to her friends.
They had sat alongside each other at a festive dinner hosted by the Austrian ambassador.
Zeltzer, who had then been a relatively new honorary consul, found himself engaged in conversation with a beautifully dressed, soft-spoken, charming, multi-lingual woman who was familiar with a broad range of subjects. Their conversation switched from English to Hebrew to French and back again. Several of the other guests who knew her well and respected her opinion turned to her from time to time to ask what she thought of one thing and another.
The chemistry between Rojansky, Zeltzer and his wife, Miri, was instant and they became fast friends. The friendship grew stronger over the years. Aside from their personal relationship, Zeltzer and Rojansky met frequently in the course of their consular work and at events for honorary consuls.
At such gatherings, Zeltzer recalled, Rojansky had always impressed with her sparkling wit, her knowledge, her intellect, her eloquence and her infectious sense of humor. Ambassadors graced her home each November when she hosted a reception in honor of Monaco’s national day, and her ability to talk to so many people in the language most familiar to them endeared her to everyone. She always appeared to be in good spirits.
She was on the guest lists of nearly all the ambassadors in the diplomatic corps stationed in Israel, and was treated as an ambassador in the absence of any other diplomatic representative of Monaco. In addition to her diplomatic duties, Rojansky was for many years the head of the Al-Sam Anti Drug Abuse Association. In the 1970s she was also a president of the International Women’s Club, with which she continued to maintain close ties until her death. She was also among the first members of the Caesarea Golf Club, and was an active member of the Friends of the Weizmann Institute, the friends of Tel Aviv University and other institutions. From time to time she travelled to Monaco to attend to diplomatic affairs, and Zeltzer, who occasionally accompanied her on such visits, recalled that she had always been treated with great dignity and respect, as if she were indeed an ambassador. He also credited Rojansky with upgrading Israel’s image in Monaco and said that in that respect she had been a great ambassador for Israel.
PEOPLE MAY surround themselves with friends and acquaintances, but they can’t really test the pulse of their popularity until a moment of crisis. For the writer of a book, that comes with the launch. Will people show up? Will they be interested in what the writer has to say? And even more important, will they buy the book? If Ruthie Blum had any qualms, they were dispelled on Sunday night as she looked around the entrance foyer of Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue, where she held the launch of her book, To Hell in a Handbasket. Her children and some of her best friends showed up for moral support and, much as she appreciated them, she was even more gratified by the overall turnout. The popular Blum, who has the gift of being serious and blasé at the same time, attracted a full house and spent a lot of time signing copies of the book – which means that it sold well.