Grapevine: Of murder and miracles

Only two days before the tragic discovery of the bodies of Eyal Yifrah, Naftali Fraenkel and Gil-Ad Shaer, another boy who had been a target of Arab terrorists celebrated his bar mitzva.

Bystanders mourn the deaths of the three kidnapped boys at Halhul junction (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Bystanders mourn the deaths of the three kidnapped boys at Halhul junction
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Only two days before the tragic discovery of the bodies of Eyal Yifrah, Naftali Fraenkel and Gil-Ad Shaer, another boy who had been a target of Arab terrorists celebrated his bar mitzva.
In early March 2002, Shimon Levy was a few-months-old baby when a suicide murderer detonated a bomb in the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Yisrael. Scores of people had emerged from a bar mitzva celebration and as is the norm in haredi communities, there were many parents pushing infants in strollers.
The force of the explosion sent people flying in all directions, parents were separated from their children and babies were hurled to the ground.
Levy was one of those babies; he fell next to a car that was about to go up in flames. With barely seconds to spare, he was rescued by Bentzi Uring, who heads the ZAKA rescue and recovery organization in Jerusalem, and who rushed towards him at the risk of his own life. Levy’s mother and father had both been hurt in the explosion, in which 11 people were killed and more than 50 injured.
A photograph of the baby, safe in Uring’s arms, was featured on the front page of Yediot Aharonot the following day.
This week, Uring was the guest of honor at Levy’s bar mitzva. For a year after the explosion, he was unaware of the identity of the baby he had saved. But Levy’s father eventually tracked him down in order to thank him, having found him through the newspaper photograph, and they have maintained contact ever since.
The hundreds of guests at Levy’s bar mitzva were celebrating not only his maturity in terms of Jewish tradition, but also the miracle that had enabled the celebration.
■ AS THE mother of five children, Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes, the wife of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom, identified completely with the mothers of the three kidnapped yeshiva students.
Although she usually spurns the role of “wife of” and identifies herself first and foremost as a mother, then as a journalist, Nir-Mozes took a rare departure from her usual attitude. While there was still hope that the three boys might be found alive, she wrote to Amina Abbas, the wife of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, to ask her to use whatever influence she could to have them returned to their families.
Writing as one mother to another who wanted nothing more than to see her children happy, safe and sound, Nir-Mozes – who had the letter translated into Arabic – asked Abbas to imagine for one moment how she would feel if her teenage son was abducted by a murderous gang.
From Nir-Mozes’s perspective, nationality and religion have nothing to do with the emotion involved. “In the final analysis we are all human beings, with mothers having a special feeling towards their children,” she said on her Reshet Bet radio show.
■ THE NATURAL gut feeling of every Israeli, indeed of Jews around the world, following the awful discovery of the bodies was a mix of dismay, outrage and desire for vengeance.
But vengeance could result in an outright war, because retaliation would beget retaliation, especially if innocents on both sides were among the victims.
It was Golda Meir who said that peace will come only when the Arabs start loving their own children more than they hate us. It should be remembered that concern for the fate of Eyal, Naftali and Gil-Ad, coupled with the exemplary behavior of their parents during the ordeal of uncertainty, created a rare aura of unity in the nation – as people of varied political and religious streams and ideologies put their differences aside in a spirit of togetherness.
Rather than avenge the murder of the boys, the most positive thing to be done in their memories is to try to maintain that sense of unity, by seeking common denominators and maintaining mutual respect despite differing worldviews.
■ IT IS understandable that Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett would leave his ministerial Economics kippa at home and wear the one designated for his Religious Services role, to an event at which prizes were given out to three journalists and one composer, arranger, conductor, instrumentalist and singer, in recognition of their contributions to Israel- Diaspora relations and mutual understanding.
The latter was Nurit Hirsh, and Bennett said he had grown up on her songs and was very excited to be at an event at which she was being honored. But he also displayed familiarity with the work of the three journalists: Matan Chodorov, the economics reporter for Channel 10; Judy Maltz, who writes on the Jewish world for Haaretz; and David Horovitz, the founding editor of The Times of Israel.
The prizes were awarded by the B’nai B’rith World Center in memory of Dr. Wolf Matsdorf, a journalist and social worker, and his wife, Hilda, who was a leading social worker.
Bennett focused his remarks on the Pew Research Center survey on intermarriage and assimilation in the US, describing its contents as “catastrophic.” He saw it as a red light, warning that unaffiliated Jews are likely to sever all connection with their people and heritage.
As for the award-winning journalists: Maltz was a former economics reporter for The Jerusalem Post; Horovitz, who started out as a reporter for the Post, later became the paper’s editor-in-chief, and before that was editor-in-chief of its sister publication, The Jerusalem Report.
Although it was claimed by Government Press Office director Nitzan Chen and several other people at the recent Jewish Media Summit that the Israeli media does not deal with the Jewish Diaspora unless there is a crisis or tragedy, this has proven to be untrue in the case of the annual BBWC competition – where the number of entries grows from year to year. This year, there were 33 applicants who submitted 82 news and feature stories.
But it’s also not true throughout the year. The Post’s Sam Sokol reports on Diaspora Jewry around the globe almost every day, and on some days has two or three reports on individual Jews or Jewish communities in other parts of the world. The Post has for many years consistently published reports on the Jewish world, and Sokol’s immediate predecessors, Haviv Rettig Gur and Gil Shefler, were no less enthusiastic or prolific than he is. Maltz, though not quite as prolific, has in the period of a year produced some 25 stories which have an Israel-Diaspora connection, and her editor-in-chief Charlotte Halle did her proud for the occasion, producing a 24-page tabloid supplement featuring Maltz’s writings.
Horovitz, who has previously received a B’nai B’rith award, was this time the recipient of a lifetime achievement award. At age 51, he’s still somewhat young for that, but as he quipped, it means he can retire.
But of course he won’t, because generally speaking journalists don’t. They may retire from a place of work, but they don’t retire from the profession. If worse comes to worst, they write blogs.
In his acceptance speech, Horovitz said that honest, fair and independent journalism is the most effective way to keep leaders honest.
Maltz, who after leaving the Post worked for Globes, The Jerusalem Report and Haaretz, went back to the US for several years, and after returning to Israel was offered the Jewish world beat by Halle. The subject had never really interested her before, but now she’s fascinated by it.
Chodorov did a controversial television series on the new Jews, which focused on Israelis living in Europe and the US, trying to maintain Israeli culture abroad while integrating into local Jewish communities.
It was not because he wanted to encourage emigration, he said, but because he wanted people to be aware that a young generation of Israelis that can’t make ends meet in Israel are going to places where they can have a better, more affordable quality of life.
Hirsh preferred not to make a speech, but to present a potpourri of her compositions together with a sextet from the entertainment troupe of the IDF’s Education Corps.
■ THE MAN who on June 28, 1914 pulled the trigger that sparked the First World War has more or less disappeared into the dust of history, in places other than Serbia – where Gavrilo Princip is still hailed as a national hero. The victims of the assassination in Sarajevo – the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and his wife Sophie – have remained eternal symbols of a world that is no more.
Austria declared war on Serbia and soon many other countries were engaged in the bloody battle, in which 17 million soldiers and civilians lost their lives and another 20 million were wounded. The First World War also led to the Second World War, the 75th anniversary of which will be commemorated this September.
Both wars directly and indirectly led to the establishment of the State of Israel. It should be remembered that the Balfour Declaration dates back to November 1917, a year and nine days before the war ended; and that David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the independence of the State of Israel almost three years to the date of the end of World War II. The first major influx of immigrants to the nascent state was comprised mainly of Holocaust survivors.
Apropos Holocaust survivors, who now, 70 years after World War II, are finally getting sufficient funds on which to live more or less comfortably, there are still some individuals and organizations that believe that a little pampering of survivors does not go astray. One such individual is Moshe Mano of Mano shipping, who decided to treat a group of octogenarian and nonagenarian survivors to a Mediterranean island cruise on one of his ships, the Golden Iris. The initiative for the gratis cruise came from the Students Union, which is involved in a project to document survivor stories, and transferred the details of some of these survivors to Mano – who later said that just seeing how happy they were on the trip was a most worthwhile experience.
■ OVER THE years, several staff members of the Post have left and returned some years later, but few have been farewelled as sadly and welcomed back so happily as editor, copy editor and writer Marion Fischel – who has left three times, most recently last week, and was told by Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde and Managing Editor David Brinn that she would always be welcome if she decides to come back yet again.
Fischel is one of those rare creatures who simply spreads sunshine, is willing to take on any job and is unfailing polite to and considerate of the people who work with her. Fellow workers toasted her at a party at the offices of the Post last Wednesday, and she in turn hosted them at a party in her family’s home toward the end of the Saturday night shift.
Fischel left this week for Spain, where she had been living for several years prior to returning to Jerusalem some three years ago.
Despite not reaching her desired level of Hebrew fluency in Israel, she hopes to make up for lost opportunities and has enrolled in a Hebrew course at one of the best universities in Madrid; she might also learn Arabic. To support herself she will teach English, and during vacation periods will be doing a lot of traveling. Her mother lives in Greece, and her children in Israel, Gibraltar and England.
Fischel also plans to set up a website for and about conversos, especially in light of the fact that Spain is now granting citizenship to descendants of Jews who were expelled during the period of the Inquisition in 1492.
■ ISRAEL PRIZE laureate David Rubinger, who is one of the country’s best-known photographers and has recorded the prism of the nation’s history through the lens of his camera, celebrated his 90th birthday on June 29, but many people who know him and have known him for years, find it difficult to believe the still-energetic Rubinger has entered his tenth decade.
Rubinger was feted at a pre-birthday party hosted by Austrian Ambassador Franz Josef Kuglitsch at the Austrian residence.
Rubinger’s archive goes back to the very beginning of the state, and represents a pictorial record of hope, courage, progress and change.
■ “SHOLEM ALEICHEM” said the fair-haired young Yiddish speaker, whose name instantly suggests she is not a member of the tribe.
Christa Whitney, director of the Wexler Oral History Project at the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts, was winding up her first visit to Israel, where she conducted 18 interviews – most of them in Yiddish and a couple in English – over a twoweek period.
The inevitable question presented itself: How come a non-Jewish woman is so fervently involved in preserving Yiddish literature and culture? Whitney has been asked this question many times over the years, often by her interviewees.
Her interest in things Jewish is purely academic; she has no intention of converting.
Whitney grew up among Jews whose backgrounds, traditions and culture aroused her curiosity, especially since she comes from an intellectual family in which everyone has gone in their own direction.
It used to annoy her that no matter how esoteric a subject, if she asked her father about almost anything, he knew the answer. She could never stump him – until she began to learn Yiddish.
She attributes her interest in Jewish history and Yiddish to really good teachers. In high school she learned about the history of World War II and when she studied for her BA at Smith College, her main focus was on Jewish America and Yiddish literature. During her semester with Prof. Justin Cammy, she studied Holocaust literature – much of it originally written in Yiddish – and she wanted to read the original, not the translation. So Whitney began studying the language at the Yiddish Book Center, where she applied for a fellowship after graduating college.
One thing led to another and eventually she found herself directing the Wexler Oral Project, which currently has more than 400 videotaped, easily accessible interviews in its archives. Some are in Yiddish, some in English. The interview that gets the most hits is the one with actor Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek fame, speaking in English but dropping Yiddish and Hebrew expressions into the conversation.
While in Israel, Whitney interviewed, among others, artist Yosl Bergner, actress Lea Koenig and singer Ruth Levin. She would have loved to have interviewed Yiddishspiel founder Shmuel Atzmon, but a documentary about him is currently in process and one of the requirements is he not grant interviews to anyone until the film is released. There are a lot of other names on her list that she never got to, so she hopes to be able to return to Israel.
Whitney also would like to return to Vilna, where she has done a series of interviews and also completed a course in Yiddish. Another hoped-for destination is Melbourne, Australia, where there is a large, Yiddish-speaking community and Yiddish schools.
■ ONCE UPON a time, a silver wedding anniversary was considered a big deal. But with increased longevity, many couples are celebrating not only a silver wedding anniversary, but also gold and diamond anniversaries.
There are also rare examples of platinum anniversaries – as, for instance, in the case of Rabbi Joshua and Maxine Haberman of Jerusalem. This week, the couple celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary at the Inbal Hotel, together with their four children, their children’s spouses, 12 of their 15 grandchildren, and 15 of their 19 great-grandchildren.
Haberman is the rabbi emeritus of the Washington Hebrew Congregation and chairman of the Foundation for Jewish Studies in Washington, DC. A rabbinical student at Vienna’s Theological Seminary, he fled his native city in 1938 and continued his rabbinical studies at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he met his future wife, Maxine, a retired geriatric social worker. Both are dual American-Israeli citizens, dividing their time between homes in Rockville, Maryland, and Jerusalem.
At 95 and 88 respectively, the Habermans are amazingly active, attend numerous cultural events, frequently host their children and other family members, look much younger than their chronological ages and continue to travel in Israel and abroad. Rabbi Haberman, who is the author of four books, was an adjunct professor at several universities in the Washington area, delivered a sermon at the White House in 1971 and participated in the national memorial service at Washington Cathedral in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
The Habermans first visited Israel in 1954 for their 10th wedding anniversary, and kept visiting frequently after that – until they finally decided to make one of their homes here, and in 1995 took up residence in the capital.
■ WHILE HUNDREDS of people with American citizenship will be milling on the lawn of American Ambassador Dan Shapiro on Thursday (even though the Fourth of July is on Friday), not all wellknown Americans have been invited, and some may have other commitments.
One well-known American Israeli is book publisher Murray Greenfield, who was a founding member of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel and before that served with other American volunteers to bring Holocaust survivors and arms to the Land of Israel during the British Mandate. Involved in a number of public causes, Greenfield was also active in the rescue of Ethiopian Jews. He is currently associated with Regavim, an organization dedicated to ensuring legal and accountable use of Israel’s lands, especially in the Negev, where there is considerable illegal construction.
Greenfield will host a Regavim meeting in the garden of his home in Tel Aviv on July 3 with Ari Briggs, international relations director of Regavim, as guest speaker.
■ BLOOD BEING thicker than water, several Shas people who have cold-shouldered former Sephardi chief rabbi Shlomo Amar, who had lobbied unsuccessfully to replace the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef as Shas spiritual leader, had no choice but to acknowledge him following the birth last Wednesday, at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem, of his new grandson – whose other grandfather happens to be the current Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef. Amar’s daughter is married to Yosef’s son.
■ WHILE NEW media has impacted negatively on the fortunes of newspapers and magazines, digital publishing enables the speedy correction of errors and omissions in books. For instance, the 998-page lexicon of Israeli writers, which lists hundreds of Hebrew writers of poetry and prose, omitted Israel Prize laureate Naomi Shemer. The lacuna is all the more glaring because the publication of the book more or less coincides with the 10th anniversary of Shemer’s death.
The book is co-edited by Prof.
Yigal Schwarz, director of the Heksherim Institute for Jewish and Israeli Literature and Culture at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Schwarz is also a senior editor of the Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir publishing house, which published the lexicon under the joint auspices of BGU, the Heksherim Institute, the Rothschild Foundation, Mifal Hapayis and the Center for Books and Libraries.
When questioned by a reporter for Israel Hayom, Schwarz said that several of the professors who had been involved with compiling the lexicon did not think Shemer’s writing was sufficiently impressive. It sounds like a strange attitude, given that Shemer’s gift for language has long been praised; attempts have also been made to accuse her of musical plagiarism, because stanzas in some of her compositions are reminiscent of folk songs from other countries. Music experts who defend her say that all musicians are inspired by melodies they hear, and sometimes tuck them away in their subconscious for years, not realizing when they allow them to emerge that they are not original.
Schwarz and others associated with the lexicon have received a lot of flack over the omission of Shemer’s contribution to the Hebrew written word, and the omission will be rectified in the digital version of the lexicon.
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