Grapevine: Shame and remembrance

The black mark of shame on Israel’s record with regard to Holocaust survivors remains indelible. Sixty-six years after the founding of the state, 50,000 Holocaust survivors live in abject poverty.

Holocaust survivors from Pardes Hanna (photo credit: GIL ELIYAHU / JINIPIX)
Holocaust survivors from Pardes Hanna
(photo credit: GIL ELIYAHU / JINIPIX)
The black mark of shame on Israel’s record with regard to Holocaust survivors remains indelible. Sixty-six years after the founding of the state, 50,000 Holocaust survivors live in abject poverty. Their meager resources do not stretch to both food and medicine and they often have to decide between the two. Considering the extent to which the state of Israel has benefited from German reparations and continues to benefit from its special relationship with Germany, it is unconscionable that Holocaust survivors should have to pay for any medical expenses at all. Their treatment and their medication should be entirely free of charge. The State of Israel pays lip service to their plight, but does little to relieve it. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, the media is chockablock with stories of the atrocities, the camps, the ghettos and the resistance movements, and there are numerous ceremonies to remind us that this must not happen again. But little is done to improve the conditions of those who managed to survive and reach the Jewish homeland. Holocaust survivors fare better in most other countries than they do in Israel.
■ ONE OF the constant figures at Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies in Israel and in Poland is Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, chairman of the Yad Vashem Council. Lau, who was a child Holocaust survivor, began attending such commemorations long before assuming his current office. He also attended in his earlier capacity as Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, and even before that period. This year, his son David Lau, the current Ashkenazi chief rabbi, will also be participating, as will Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef. The senior Lau will kindle the memorial torch in Yad Vashem’s Warsaw Ghetto Square, where the central Remembrance Day event will take place this coming Sunday night, April 27. Other participants will include President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
The theme of this year’s commemorative ceremony is “Jews on the edge, 1944 – Between Annihilation and Liberation.” Beacon- lighters whose personal stories fit into the category of the events of 1944 will be Asher Aud, Zvi Michaeli, Dita Kraus, Haim Herzl, Hinda Tasman and Itzhak Biran. There will be individual video presentations related to all six. The ceremony will be broadcast live on Channel 1 and Israel Radio.
Afterwards, a study evening will be held at Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies, while in Tel Aviv, an open discourse will take place at Habimartef, in the basement area of the Habimah Theater. Organized by Yad Vashem in cooperation with the Tel Aviv Municipality and Habimah Theater, the topic is: “So that the next generation will know – Between Memory and Identity in Israeli Discourse.” Entry is free of charge.
Elsewhere in Tel Aviv on Sunday night, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and second-generation survivor Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz, who is president of Bar-Ilan University, will take up this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day theme at the Arison Hall for the Arts.
On Monday at 9:50 a.m., Yiddishpiel will hold its dramatic annual ceremony of remembrance in Yiddish at the Jerusalem Theater. In addition to the traditional ceremonies at Yad Vashem and at the Knesset, there will be a special ceremony for youth movements at 5:30 p.m. at Yad Vashem’s Valley of the Communities, with the participation of Education Minister Shai Piron.
In Tzavta Hall, Tel Aviv at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, there will be a special evening of the Generation to Generation – Bearers of the Holocaust and Heroism Legacy, with the participation of Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev. The program will include a screening of the Serbian feature film When Day Breaks, directed by Goran Paskaljevic, which was nominated for the Avner Shalev Yad Vashem Chairman’s Award at the 2013 Jerusalem International Film Festival.
Then in Jerusalem at 8 p.m., Gil Shohat will conduct the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Dr. Lawrence Siegel’s “Kaddish – I am here.” The concert will take place at the Henry Crowne Auditorium.
Entry is free of charge.
Also on Monday, the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, in conjunction with the Jewish National Fund, will hold its annual ceremony dedicated to Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust. The ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. in the Scroll of Fire Plaza at the Martyrs’ Forest. The focus this year will be on Jonas Eckstein of Bratislava whose network of important contacts helped facilitate the rescue of thousands of people over a period of two-and-a-half years. Eckstein died in 1971, but many of the people that he helped to survive are still around to tell the tale. He will be represented at the ceremony by his daughter Tova Teitelbaum of Haifa and his grandson, Israel Radio broadcaster Benny Teitelbaum.
Guests of honor at the ceremony will include MK Amram Mitzna, chairman of the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee, Slovak Ambassador Radovan Javorcik, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael- Jewish National Fund co-chairman Effi Stenzler and B’nai B’rith World Center chairman Dr. Haim V. Katz.
There will of course be many other commemorations throughout the country, primarily at Mesuah and Yad Mordechai. For the time being, there are still Holocaust survivors who can recount their experiences.
■ ON TUESDAY, Jerusalem’s House of Quality will host the opening of an exhibition on “Rescuers and Rescued,” with the focus on Latin American diplomats who risked their lives to save Jews during World War II. The guest of honor will be former diplomat and former MK Colette Avital, who was a child Holocaust survivor and who today heads The Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, which represents some 50 organizations nationwide.
Speakers will include Rafael Aldor, chairman of the Jerusalem House of Quality, Itzhak Shoham, director-general of the Foreign Ministry, Susana Gun de Hasenson, ambassador of El Salavador, and Dr.
Efraim Zadoff, the academic adviser to the exhibition. There will also be the screening of a short documentary film, The Way of the Righteous, which tells the story of Jose Arturo Castellanos, who as consul general of El Salvador in Geneva during World War II helped to save some 40,000 Jews by providing them with false papers attesting to their El Salvadorian nationality.
■ ON WEDNESDAY of this week, the Workman’s Circle in Israel, headquartered in Tel Aviv, commemorated the 71st anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which took place on April 19, 1943.
Because April 19 fell on Saturday this year, the ceremony was moved to midweek. As always, it was conducted in Yiddish, with Prof. Avraham Novershtern and Rivka Basman Ben-Haim as keynote speakers.
■ IT’S RARE for a restaurant to receive a prize within a year of its opening, but the kosher Herbert Samuel restaurant at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Herzliya, which opened as recently as December, was awarded the Shine&Sharp prize in the category of interior design and décor for 2014. The restaurant, managed by celebrity chef Yonatan Roshfeld, has already built up a great culinary reputation, especially among those of its clientele who eat only kosher and were delighted that Roshfeld, whose other restaurants are not kosher, had given the opportunity to feast from his art. The Ritz Carlton is a project of the Tidhar real estate group and Adi’s Lifestyle, which specializes in managing hotels and restaurants. Adi’s Lifestyle is run by siblings Adi and Irit Strauss. The restaurant at the Ritz Carlton was designed by Gad Halperin, who combined modernity and clean lines with old-fashioned comfort.
The award ceremony was held at Tel Aviv University in the presence of mayors from several cities, architects, interior decorators and visitors from abroad. The adjudicating panel comprised several leading architects and the competition, which included several other top-notch restaurants, was very stiff.
■ REGARDLESS OF how grandiose Mimouna celebrations throughout the country may be and how many dignitaries, Knesset members and celebrities they might attract, the one that tops them all is that which is hosted by Rafi and Ofra Elul at their home in Mazkeret Batya. The Eluls have been hosting their post-Mimouna reception for almost 30 years, and at least one of their guests has been to every single one of them. The guest in question was President Shimon Peres, whose busy social life – both within and beyond his presidential duties – takes him all over the country.
On the previous evening, he had been to Mimouna events in Jerusalem – the first hosted by former Sephardi chief rabbi Shlomo Amar and the second by Shas leader Arye Deri. A few days earlier, Peres had been in the Negev, and on the eve of Passover on the Golan Heights, just after returning from a state visit to China – this despite the fact that he will celebrate his 91st birthday in August. Age has not been an impediment for the peripatetic Peres.
The president has a special relationship with the Eluls. Rafi Elul, who is a former Labor MK and currently chairs Ruah Tova, an organization that liaises between volunteers and organizations that need volunteers, is also one of the president’s advisers.
Ofra Elul chairs the Peres Academic Center in Rehovot. Politicians of all stripes can be seen each year on the lawns of the Elul home, and this year was no exception.
Among those who stood out is one who literally crossed the Knesset floor – Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, who arrived with Oded Forer, the director-general of her ministry, as well as with new immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are participating in a program for immigrant physicians that is run by the ministry in conjunction with the Jewish Agency. There were also recent immigrants from France. Landver too has a special relationship with Peres. A speech therapist by profession, she used to be his Russian teacher, and when she initially entered the Knesset in 1995, it was on a Labor Party ticket. Prior to the 2006 elections, she joined Yisrael Beytenu.
Landver was among the many people who crowded around Peres to be photographed with him. Israel’s photogenic president could long ago have rid the state of its financial deficit by charging a symbolic fee to everyone who wanted to be photographed with him. It happens wherever he goes. People just flock to his side and wait for the cameras to pop. The fact that Peres is winding up his term as president makes no difference. Shimon Peres is, after all, Shimon Peres – walking history with an eye to the future.
Among the other guests were presidential candidates MKs Reuven Rivlin and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Prof. Ron Shapira, president of the Peres Academic Center, Michael Strauss of the influential Strauss Group, Yafit Greenberg, the queen of Israeli advertising companies, business leaders Loni Hertzikowitz, Roni Mena and Moshe Gaon, and hundreds of other people who milled around and mingled. Popular singer Einat Sarouf, famous for rousing the crowd at community singing events, produced some gems from her extensive repertoire of Israel’s most enduring and bestloved songs. When she sang Naomi Shemer’s “Al Hadvash V’al Ha’oketz” (“On the Honey and the Sting”), she was joined on stage by Peres, Rivlin and the Eluls.
■ BEING CHARGED with and convicted of theft in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court did not deter twins Merav and Hodaya Maloul, who rose to fame on the television reality show Beauty and the Geek. The two, who admitted to stealing perfume valued at NIS 950 from the Super-Pharm store in the capital’s Malha Mall, arrived in court identically dressed as usual, but in outfits that did not exactly show respect for where they were. They wore white frilled short shorts, tight-fitting drawstring blouses that revealed their midriffs, pink platform-soled sandals, large sunglasses with pink rims and ivory-colored bows in their hair.
Hodaya admitted to other crimes and Merav expressed remorse, saying that they were living away from home and did a lot of stupid things. She said they’d learned a lesson and there was no chance that they would repeat the mistakes of the past. The twins were given a two-month suspended sentence. Hodaya was also fined NIS 1,000 and Merav NIS 750. One can’t help wondering whether they would have received a stiffer sentence had they not been celebrities.
■ MAGEN DAVID Adom UK last week made a major contribution to Israel’s medical services, unveiling 10 new vehicles and three new ambulance stations, including an emergency room at Kiryat Shmona, at a total investment of around £5 million.
Despite Britain’s faltering economy, this was a record year for British donors to MDA. Equipment provided by both Jewish and Christian donors included motorbikes as well as ambulances. A 4x4 ambulance presented by MDA UK vice president Irving Carter is equipped with the latest lifesaving technologies. In addition to mobile donations, an ambulance station in Yeroham has been dedicated to the memory of the late Lord Leonard Steinberg.
Another station in Hadera has been rededicated in memory of Nan Ferster of Manchester.
Yet to be dedicated later this year is an emergency room at the ambulance station in Kiryat Shmona.
MDA UK chief executive Daniel Burger noted the significance of such a sizable donation not during an emergency period, but during a time of relative calm in Israel.
“This is testament to our supporters’ desire to contribute to the everyday well-being of Israelis across the country,” he said. Britain’s Deputy Ambassador Rob Dixon, who attended an MDA UK dedication ceremony in Netanya, commented: “The longer I am here in Israel, the more I am aware of how the British Jewish community and Christian friends in the UK are engaged in building civil society here in Israel, and contributing to good causes throughout the country.”
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