Grapevine: Memories of May Day

ONE OF the many traditions of Independence Day are the International Youth Bible Quiz final rounds of competition.

May Day protest (photo credit: LIDAR GRAVÉ-LAZI)
May Day protest
(photo credit: LIDAR GRAVÉ-LAZI)
In bygone years, May 1 was a date for celebration in Israel where socialism was the order of the day. The May Day marches of yesteryear have not quite faded into oblivion as socialism was replaced by capitalism. Nonetheless, Israel Radio, early Thursday, reminded listeners of what it used to mean. Following the broadcast of “The Internationale,” leftwing former politician Yair Tzaban, who once served as immigrant absorption minister, told Arye Golan that the values of socialism have been raised again in recent years by groups and organizations that call for social justice, workers rights and job security. Conceding that communism had given a bad name to socialism, which he said prizes democratic values, Tzaban made the point that democracy means more than having elections every four years. In Tel Aviv Thursday night, diehard socialists participated in a May Day rally.
■ ONE OF the many traditions of Independence Day are the International Youth Bible Quiz final rounds of competition.
Israel’s fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, has been a constant presence at this event since the days when he was an aide to the country’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. Photographer Osnat Shalev-Kollek, wife of filmmaker Amos Kollek, who is the son of the late Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, loves to go through old family photos. She found a photograph taken in the 1950s of her father-in-law, her husband with Ben-Gurion and Navon at the finals of the Independence Day Bible Quiz. Ben-Gurion was known to be a keen Bible scholar that studied regularly with other scholars, some of them religious, and some like him, totally secular, but enamored with scripture.
■ “IS THERE a doctor in the crowd?” asked Tower of David Museum director Eilat Lieber, on Wednesday night. In fact, there was no emergency. It was a quip on her part to launch the opening of the fascinating exhibition Jerusalem: A Medical Diagnosis that takes into account centuries of plagues, cures and medical potions and facilities of the city’s Jewish, Christian and Muslim populations. The equalizer among them was illness. Ideological, religious and national differences were cast aside in the treatment of the sick, as humane characteristics overcame hostilities.
When conceiving the exhibition, said Lieber, she could think of no more suitable curator than Dr. Nirit Shalev-Khalifa.
She said that Shalev-Khalifa knows every highway and byway in Jerusalem, especially in the Old City, and that she has the connections to knock on many doors, knowing in advance what was behind them. Both Lieber and Shalev-Khalifa were thrilled by the ready cooperation of leaders of the Christian and Muslim communities.
The leaders instinctively understood that this was to be a united effort free of politics and propaganda.
Shalev-Khalifa’s mother-in-law, a native Jerusalemite, was diagnosed with and died of cancer while she was working on the exhibition. She told her while undergoing treatment, that it would be wonderful if the understanding, empathy and compassion that existed within the hospital’s walls, could be extended beyond them.
The Custodian of the Holy Land, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, speaking in perfect unaccented Hebrew, said that he was happy to see so many communities represented at the exhibition and the opening, just as one sees them all represented in a hospital ward.
“We are of different faiths, but united in our love for this magical and complicated city – Jerusalem,” he said.
Jon Isaacsohn, chief medical officer of Global R&D, representing Teva Pharmaceuticals as one of the sponsors of the exhibition, said that Teva was founded in a private home in the Old City in 1901 and was originally known as Salomon Levin. It is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, as well as one of Israel’s largest exporters and employers, especially in Jerusalem.
“From Jerusalem, we give hope to millions of sick people worldwide,” said Isaacsohn.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Health Minister Yael German had been scheduled to attend, but they were otherwise occupied in trying to resolve the crisis at Hadassah, which all things considered was somewhat ironic. Hadassah director- general Avigdor Kaplan had also been invited and obviously couldn’t come, but Prof. Jonathan Halevy, the director- general of rival medical facility Shaare Zedek Medical Center, had no problem attending.
■ ROYAL VISITORS to Israel this week were Prince Radu of Romania and his wife, Crown Princess Margareta, who spent three days in Israel. Princess Margareta is the eldest daughter of former King Michael I of Romania and is a direct descendant of Queen Victoria. Her father, who in 1947 was forced by the Communist regime to abdicate his throne, is a great-great grandson of Queen Victoria. He is believed to be the oldest surviving pre-World War II head of state. During the Second World War, King Michael was actively anti-Nazi. Prince Radu, though not born a royal, represents the royal family. This is because the Royal Romanian Constitution, which became invalid in 1947 with King Michael’s abdication, has no provision for female successors to the throne.
Prince Radu, who is very close to King Michael, is known for his many diverse activities in the arts, the military and in politics. He was active in Romania’s integration into NATO, and he devised an art therapy program for abandoned orphans.
He has authored several books and has lectured extensively all over Europe and the US on subjects related to defense, security, geopolitics, diplomacy, economics, culture and education. He also writes regularly in the Romanian press and appears frequently on television.
Among the Jewish organizations that have been active for many years in Romania is B’nai B’rith. On the first day of the royal visit B’nai B’rith World Center chairman Dr. Haim V. Katz and director Alan Schneider had dinner with the royal couple and Romania’s ambassador, Andreea Pastarnac. Dinner conversation was wide ranging with discussion on Romania’s Jewish heritage including of course B’nai B’rith’s long history in the country, Israel-Romanian relations and persecution of Christians in Arab countries.
While in Israel, Prince Radu and Crown Princess Margareta met with Holocaust survivors who owed their lives to the princess’s grandmother, the late Queen Helen. The queen was recognized by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among the Nations for her efforts in rescuing thousands of Jews.
■ ON THE subject of Romanians, one of the all female torchlighters at the opening of this year’s Independence Day celebrations will be Israel Prize laureate and outstanding actress, Romanian-born Holocaust survivor Miriam Zohar. Interviewed this week on Israel Radio, Zohar, who at age 82 continues to perform all over the country, and performed in Haifa on Wednesday night, was asked whether she was nervous about reciting the text that accompanies the ceremony. Even though she has learned countless texts by heart during her long stage career, Zohar confessed that she was having trouble memorizing this very short text because she was so excited. Her grandchildren, she said, were even more excited.
■ MANY OF the thousands of people who participated in March of the Living in Auschwitz- Birkenau this week, will be in Israel next week to celebrate Independence Day in a symbolic move from the ashes to redemption. It is not the only site for March of the Living. In Lithuania, according to its Foreign Affairs Ministry, an annual ceremony of this kind is held to commemorate the victims in Paneriai (Ponar).
The sixth such ceremony was attended by members of the Jewish Community of Lithuania, Jews from other countries, Israel’s Ambassador to Lithuania Hagit Ben-Yaakov, as well as the Chancellor of the Government of Lithuania Alminas Maciulis, Lithuanian politicians, diplomats, other dignitaries, and Lithuanian youth. As in previous years, the procession marched between the Paneriai railway station and the Paneriai Memorial, retracing the route of the Vilna Ghetto prisoners who walked to their deaths and were massacred in the Paneriai forest. Maciulis, Ben-Yaakov, the chairman of the Jewish Community of Lithuania Faina Kukliansky, former Vilna Ghetto prisoner Fania Brancovskaja and the representative of the Lithuanian Union of Jewish Students Amit Belaite were the key speakers.
Eleven families representing Righteous Among the Nations were awarded medals by Ben-Yaakov at a separate ceremony in the government offices, in recognition of what their forebears had done to save Jewish lives. Among those present were Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius and his wife, the granddaughter of one of the Righteous Among the Nations, Rasa Kubiliene. In addition, Vice Foreign Affairs Minister Neris Germanas, Faina Kukliansky, well known writer and director of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum Markas Zingeris, and the painter Leonardas Gutauskas were in attendance.
Also present were Juliana Zarchi and Alexander Kaplan (brother of the rescued Anita Kupric), who specially came from Paris, sharing their memories of Holocaust atrocities. Germanas made a presentation on behalf of Foreign Affairs Minister Linas Linkevicius to Danute Selcinskaja, head of the Righteous Gentiles Department of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, in appreciation of her many years of work in collecting stories of Jewish rescue and for carrying out historical research.
Sergey Korablikov-Kovarsky, a guest from Israel born in the Vilna Ghetto and rescued by the town’s women, presented the Vilnius St. Christopher’s Gymnasium with a painting by Gutauskas, portraying the rescue of a baby. Up until now, 872 Lithuanian citizens have been acknowledged as Righteous Among the Nations.
■ KNESSET SPEAKER Yuli Edelstein, who is the son of Holocaust survivors, swore in the past that he would never set foot in Germany. But times and circumstances change and Edelstein next year is to lead a Knesset delegation to Germany to participate in the jubilee celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany. Edelstein made the announcement this week at the Herzliya Pituah residence of German Ambassador Andreas Michaelis at a reception in honor of former MK Ya’acov Edri. He was awarded the Commander’s Cross of the German Order of Merit in recognition of his significant contribution to the enhancement and strengthening of relations between the two countries. In conferring the award on behalf of German President Joachim Gauck, Michaelis said that Edri in his capacity as chairman of the Israel-Germany Parliamentary Friendship League had paved the way for very important meetings between Israelis and Germans. Michaelis commended Edri for his dedication in this respect. Edri said that he was glad that his children and grandchildren had grown up in the realization that there was a different Germany to that from the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s. Among the guests who congregated at the ambassador’s residence were members of the Bundestag.
■ A LARGE representation of Israel’s business and philanthropic community showed up at the Tavola Restaurant in Herzliya for a fund-raising event hosted by the management and Friends of Meir Medical Center (FMMC). Rubbing shoulders with each other were Ra’anana Mayor and former MK Ze’ev Bielski; Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yiftah Ron-Tal, director-general of the Israel Electric Corporation; Moshe Edri who is one of the owners of Cinema City; Yafit Greenberg who heads the Gimmel Yafit group of advertisers; Natan Barak, CEO of MPrest Systems; Dr. Eitan Wertheim, director of Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba; David Ben-Basat, chairman of the FMMC; Arie Fishbein, CEO of FMMC and Mira Kenan, its director who also happens to be the wife of Zion Kenan, the president and CEO of Bank Hapoalim.
■ NOW THAT we’re in the month of May, it’s Eurovision time. May Feingold, who is Israel’s representative in the Eurovision Song Contest, which is being held this year in Copenhagen, has already participated in her first rehearsals, and will appear in the second semifinal on May 8. If she scores sufficient points she will appear in the finals to be broadcast on Channel 1 and Israel Radio on May 10.
■ ONCE INDEPENDENCE Day is behind him, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will begin preparing for his trip to Japan. Accompanied by his wife, Sara, the prime minister will pay an official working visit to Japan on May 11 and will stay there until May 15. Meanwhile, the Netanyahus had better practice their bowing, as during their stay they will have an audience with Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan as well as meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who will host a dinner in their honor. No matter how modern and westernized they become, the Japanese maintain the tradition of bowing when they meet another person, and the bow is more pronounced in the presence of the emperor and the empress.
An announcement released by Japan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry stated, “The government of Japan sincerely welcomes the visit of the prime minister, which will further strengthen the friendly relations between Japan and the State of Israel.”
■ AS IT does every year, Yediot Aharonot presented its readers with a run down of what fee popular singers will receive from various municipalities that have engaged them to perform on the night that ushers in Independence Day. Surprise, surprise, the highest paid entertainer is not Eyal Golan, but Yehuda Poliker who will receive NIS 165,000 for his performance in Kiryat Yam. Shlomi Shabat, Omer Adam, Sarit Hadad, and Moshe Peretz will each receive NIS 150,000 from other municipalities. Dudu Aharon will earn NIS 145,000, with Eyal Golan coming in next with NIS 127,000. Even Rita will earn only NIS 100,000 from the Acre Municipality, but the Jerusalem Municipality probably got the best deal with a total entertainment outlay of NIS 300,000 of which NIS 60,000 will go to native son and former Jerusalem City councilor Yehoram Gaon.
The municipality with the largest outlay is Ramat Hasharon, which will fork out NIS 700,000 for Ivri Lider, Dudu Tassa, Esther Rada and the Mercedes Band.
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