Grapevine: On a high note

Cantors assemble in memorial concerts for Richard Tucker, Korea’s ambassador stakes a claim in Herzliya Pituah, and Palmahniks gather for a 70th-anniversary reunion.

Danny Ayalon 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Danny Ayalon 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
THREE GENERATIONS of family of the late Richard Tucker, one of the world’s most gifted operatic tenors as well as a noted cantor, came to Israel last week with a bunch of their music-loving friends under the auspices of The Richard Tucker Music Foundation for two memorial events. The first, at the Jerusalem International Convention Center on Thursday night, featured the great American soprano Renee Fleming and Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja singing with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta, within the framework of the Jerusalem Season of Culture sponsored by the Shusterman Foundation. The second, a cantorial concert/ Shabbat service at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue, featured Cantor Chaim Adler and his famous nephew Yitzchak Meir Helfgot.
The late cantor’s three sons – Barry Tucker, a lawyer, David Tucker, a stockbroker, and Henry Tucker, an ophthalmologist – came to Israel to memorialize their father, as did Barry’s son Robert, who is the assistant district attorney of New York, and also has major business interests in Israel.
Believe it or not, none of them sing.

About three years ago, Robert Tucker became interested in investing in Israel, and on the advice of his friend, Arik Arad, an Israeli living in New York, who also came with the group, he got into the country’s security business. His company T&M Israel provides guarding and protection services, monitoring and electronic security, and cleaning and maintenance.
He is immensely proud of the fact that he can provide a livelihood for 5,000 people in Israel. “It’s a real mitzva to be able to give them employment opportunities,” he said.
One of the important facilities cleaned and guarded by T&M personnel is Yad Vashem. Robert Tucker was particularly pleased last Wednesday, when Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev held a special ceremony to honor the T&M people – several them Arabs from east Jerusalem – who spontaneously risked their lives to fight the blaze that broke out in the Jerusalem Forest early last month and threatened to engulf one of the world’s most comprehensive Holocaust history archives. Shalev was profuse in his praise of the workers’ devotion to duty – and their boss was there to hear it.
On the day prior to the concert at the JICC, Barry Tucker hosted a cocktail reception at the King David Hotel, Jerusalem, which inter alia was attended by his wife Joan, his brothers and son, Fleming, her fiancé Tim Jessel, her daughters Amelia and Sage, Calleja, Lynn Shusterman, Helfgot and his wife, Zvi Raviv – a committee member of the World Zionist Organization and the director of Bakol Communications, which markets telecommunications products – and of course Barry Tucker’s young granddaughter Zoe.
The Great Synagogue was fairly full on Friday night, but on Saturday, it was almost full to capacity. Adler did most of the morning service, with Helfgot taking over sporadically. However when it came to Musaf, Helfgot was the undisputed star.
At the end of the five-hour service, the congregants applauded him. No-one was more satisfied than Barry Tucker, who said that the tunes sung by the two cantors and the impressive synagogue choir conducted by Elie Jaffe were similar to those sung at services by his father.
■ THOUGH WELL-known in Sderot, where she lives and where until last month she was an assistant kindergarten teacher, Hagit Yassu, who recently became the surprise winner of A Star is Born, had no time to get used to being famous before being courted by President Shimon Peres and opposition leader Tzipi Livni.
Peres was prime minister during Operation Moses and authorized the heroic, clandestine mass airlift of Ethiopian Jews. He was eager to know about the aliya of Yassu’s family.
Her father, Yehoshua Yassu, who had been a shepherd in Ethiopia, told the president that he had dreamed of coming to Israel, even as a child. He often sang songs about Israel to his flock, and hoped that one day one of his children would be a professional Israeli singer. He came here before Operation Moses.
Livni, during her tenure as immigrant absorption minister, had intense dealings with the Ethiopian community, which mounted frequent protests against the government for failing to bring the religious leaders of the community to Israel.
Yassu was brought to Beit Hanassi by Sderot Mayor David Buskila, and to Livni’s office at the Knesset by Ethiopian MK Shlomo Molla. At that meeting, they recalled the 20th anniversary of Operation Solomon. Both Peres and Livni noted that Yassu had paved the way for other young Ethiopians of her generation.
“You captured everyone’s heart and gave fresh hope to your own people,” said Peres.
■ SEEKING TO encourage young, innovative people to make science fiction films that are both educational and entertaining, Irit and Ori Yardeni, who have created planetariums, oceanariums, time elevators and other interesting educational concepts in Israel and in many parts of the world, are sponsoring a contest for short films of this nature for the second consecutive year.
The contest, for which the first prize is NIS 7,500 and the second prize NIS 2,500, is in memory of their son Lior, who inspired much of their enterprise and who died last year of a mysterious illness at age 29. As a child, Lior was imaginative and inquisitive, and in perpetuating his memory through the short science fiction film contest, the Yardenis hope to open doors for young Israeli geniuses who are just waiting to be discovered.
The closing date for entries is September 6. The winning entries will be screened at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.
■ WHILE IT is true that in recent months Israel Medical Association chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman has become a celebrity due to his frequent appearances in the news, the phalanx of photographers and television camera crews present when he came to Beit Hanassi Sunday at Peres’s invitation was of the size generally reserved for a head of state or an international entertainment star. On Monday, there were even more photographers and television crews when a delegation representing social justice came in response to the president’s invitation.
It will be interesting to see if there are as many Wednesday, when US Ambassador Dan Shapiro presents his credentials to Peres. He will be the third of four new envoys presenting credentials. The others are Slovakia’s Radovan Javorcik, Germany’s Andreas Michaelis, and Nauru’s Marilyn Moses, who is her country’s first envoy to Israel, albeit non-resident.
Shapiro is the third member of the tribe to be appointed US ambassador to Israel. The other two were Martin Indyk – twice – and Dan Kurtzer.
■ THE ROLE of every ambassador is to enhance relations between the country he represents and the country to which he has been assigned. In this respect, Korean Ambassador Young-Sam Ma has undoubtedly gone the extra mile.
While all ambassadors participate to various extents in Israel’s national events, few if any can beat Ma’s record. He became so involved with Israel that he established an annual ceremony to recognize and give thanks to Jewish Korean War veterans living in Israel. A table tennis expert, he also became a judge in the table tennis tournaments at the Maccabiah Games, and was one of the prime movers behind the Korean Airlines decision to include Israel among its destinations.
But perhaps his greatest achievement was the purchase of a 4-dunam plot of land in the Herzliya Pituah industrial zone for the construction of a permanent embassy. At the unveiling this week of the billboard announcing what was to be built on the site, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said this was a special moment not only for the Korean Embassy staff, but also for Korea and Israel. He was happy to see Herzliya Mayor Yael German – who had been helpful to Ma in cutting bureaucratic red tape – as well as Israel’s Ambassador to Korea Tuvia Israeli and Yitzhak Eldan, the former Foreign Ministry chief of protocol who had helped Ma and continued to do so in his present capacity as founding president of the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel.
Addressing himself specifically to Ma, Ayalon said: “It’s very clear to us that you’re planting roots in Israel. You’re not renting, you’re owning.”
Very few embassies in Israel are owner-occupied. Most rent not only their offices, but also their residences. German told Ma: “We are very proud that you chose our city to be your home.”
Others present included Lee Kang-Gun, chairman of the Korean community in Israel, and Korean Honorary Consuls Amihai Orkaby and Eitan Haber. Orkaby, a lawyer, was actively involved in clearing all the legal hurdles. As far as he was aware, he said, Korea was the first Asian country to buy a block of land in Israel.
Ma and his wife Park Eunkyung stood grinning like Cheshire cats. Ma had purchased the land in 2009, when the world was in the most severe throes of an economic crisis.
Nonetheless, he said, his government had decided to go ahead with the project as a sign of its commitment to its relationship with Israel. The actual construction work is due to begin early next year, with completion scheduled for the beginning of 2014. The building will be designed by a Korean architect who will work closely with an Israeli counterpart.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post what would happen in the event of a peace accord between Israel and The Palestinian Authority, after which all embassies are expected to move to Jerusalem, Ma was unperturbed. “We’ll sell it,” he announced. “And because there will be a beautiful building on the land, we’ll sell it for a profit.”
■ THIS WAS Ma’s second major triumph in a two-and-a-halfweek period. On July 14, he was one of the three winners of the second annual Open Diplomatic Table Tennis Tournament, which attracted not only diplomats, but government ministers, MKs, prominent members of the business world, and a group of disabled players from Beit Halohem.
Among the participants were Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, Likud MK Danny Danon, and Cameroon Ambassador Henri Etoundi Essomba, who is Dean of the diplomatic corps. The event was sponsored by Givatayim Mayor Reuven Ben-Shahar and The Israeli Table Tennis Association, headed by former Israeli champion Dror Pollack, in cooperation with The Ambassadors Club of Israel and the Diplomatic Corps.
■ AT THE 70th-anniversary reunion of the Palmah at Tel Aviv’s Mann Auditorium on Monday night, there was a significant number of caregivers from various foreign countries – and as it says in the Palmah anthem, the Palmahniks, now in their late 80s and early 90s, came all the way from Metulla to the Negev and from the sea to the desert, ready as ever to follow orders.
The date was not the exact anniversary; the Palmah – an acronym for Striking Force – was actually founded in May 1941, exactly seven years before David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence. An outgrowth of the Hagana, the Palmah was largely composed of kibbutzniks and moshavniks and students of the famed Kadoorie Agricultural School, such as Yitzhak Rabin. In its ranks were Yigal Allon, Haim Guri, Haim Hefer, Rafi Eitan, Shaike Gavish, Stef Wertheimer and many others who have left a permanent imprint on the nation’s military, cultural, literary, industrial and political development.
As Peres said in his address: If anyone asked what the Palmah did, they built the State of Israel. Peres, who had met earlier in the day with activists from the struggle for social justice – their tents on Rothschild Boulevard only a few meters away from the Mann Auditorium – could not help but compare the two groups. “You made history, and they are building a future,” he said.
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, declaring the Palmah to be the DNA of the army, said, “I salute you.” Members of the IDF entertainment troupes sang the songs made famous during the Palmah era, including the Palmah anthem, which has become part of the country’s musical legacy.
Last week, during a 70th-anniversary broadcast in tribute to the Palmah, Yitzhak Noy, who anchored a wide-ranging program on Reshet Bet, remarked that one of the sayings in the early days of the Palmah had been that there are two kinds of guns – a British gun and a Jewish gun; the British gun was a Tommy gun, and the Jewish gun was a Balagan.
■ MANY PEOPLE are aware of the Kindertransports, which brought some 10,000 mostly Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland to England on the eve and during the first year and a half of World War II, saving them from the dire fate that befell many of their parents and other family members. Less familiar to the Jewish world is the story of some 100 orphaned Slovakian Jewish children, traumatized by the Shoah, who were allowed into Eire for a 15-month rehabilitation period at Clonyn Castle, near the town of Delvin.
No More Blooms, a wonderful docudrama on the then-controversial Irish response to Jewish refugees before, during and immediately after WWII, was made by renowned Irish Jewish producer/director Louis Lentin. For the past year, Malcolm Gafson, chairman of the Israel Ireland Friendship League, has been trying to organize a screening of this film in the presence of some of these children, who are now well into the third age. The opportunity presented itself several months ago, when Gafson was contacted by author Barbara Barnett, who was writing a book, The Hide and Seek Children, that focused on the Slovakian orphans – several of whom found their way to Israel and rebuilt their lives here.
The problem was tracking them down. Gafson applied himself to the task, and found a few of them, most notably Capt. Yehuda Reich, retired from the Israel Merchant Navy, who last Thursday came from Eilat to Yad LeBanim in Ra’anana to share his story with fellow Castle children and Irish expats who had come to see the film. Even though their stay in Ireland was relatively brief, all the Castle children were appreciative of the opportunity to come from concentration camps to the peaceful surroundings of Ireland’s countryside, where they were able to play freely and where they were given ample nourishment.
The event was also attended by Irish Ambassador Breifne O’Reilly who noted that Ireland’s policies had changed somewhat in the intervening years and that today Ireland fully supports Holocaust education projects and activities, with Irish educators attending Holocaust education seminars at Yad Vashem each year ■ APROPOS YAD Vashem, its Visual Center last week launched its Online Film Database of more than 6,500 Holocaust-related film titles. They were uploaded through the generosity of Avraham Harshalom-Fridberg in memory of his parents Moshe and Cyra Fridberg and brother Sioma Fridberg, who were murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau early in 1943. The database, believed to be the world’s largest catalogue of Holocaust-related films, is a work in progress, and film titles from around the globe are added on a regular basis.
The database currently consists of 6,682 titles, among them some 4,000 documentaries, 1,000 full-length feature films, 400 television series, 250 personal commemoration and home videos, and other visual media such as video art, video dance, news items, war diaries, and short films. The online catalogue contains detailed information about the films, including commercial, artistic, historical and geographical data.
Harshalom-Fridberg was born Adam Fridberg in 1925 in the village of Pruzhany, Poland (now Belarus). In January 1943, he and his family were deported to Auschwitz. In June 1944, he escaped, but was recaptured after several days, returned to the camp and marked as a criminal. Later that year, along with 10,000 other prisoners, he was evacuated from Auschwitz and sent to several other camps over the following months.
He managed to escape from a transport to one of the camps and made his way to Prague, where he was rescued by Irina Sobotkova, later recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations. In April 1945, he joined the fighting in Prague against the retreating Germans, and was later honored by the Czechoslovakian government.
With the outbreak of the War of Independence, he was recruited by the Hagana to participate in a pilots’ course in Czechoslovakia, and then served in the IAF. In 1951, Harshalaom-Fridberg established a company called Ariel, which developed into a successful group of companies active both in Israel and abroad.
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