GRAPEVINE: The extraordinary long arm of coincidence

As Israelis commemorate 75th anniversary of the beginning of one of the darkest chapters in Jewish history President Reuven Rivlin, will celebrate 75th birthday in the same month.

President Reuven Rivlin.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
President Reuven Rivlin.
Like many other solidarity missions that have come to Israel over the past month, the combined mission of Emunah of America and Congregation Ahavat Torah of Englewood, New Jersey, visited with soldiers at a southern army base, stopped at hospitals to show wounded soldiers they cared enough to come all the way from the US, paid shiva calls to families of fallen soldiers, met the staff of the Emunah Counseling Center in Sderot, and got to see the Iron Dome installation. They also brought letters, greeting cards, pictures and photographs from Jewish children in America, which they distributed to the soldiers.
Mission leaders were Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, who under happier circumstances would be celebrating his 30th anniversary as spiritual leader of his congregation, and Fran Hirmes, national president of Emunah of America.
The 80 members of the mission were joined in Israel by Rabbi Neil Winkler and his wife, Andrea.
Winkler is the founding spiritual leader of the Young Israel of Fort Lee, also in New Jersey.
The Winklers came to Israel ahead of the solidarity mission, and joined it on the day they went to the army base to bring cold drinks to the soldiers. The passengers, two busloads of Americans dispersed among the soldiers, chatting with each of them in a friendly fashion. Although Hirmes speaks fluent Hebrew, she and her husband, Alan, happened to meet a soldier who spoke English. He was there by pure chance; it wasn’t the army base to which his unit had been assigned.
The soldier had been sent there on an errand, but lingered when he heard that most of the group was from New Jersey. Though living in Israel for several years, he had been born in the state and was curious to see if there was anyone whose name was familiar to him. When he said he came from Fort Lee, Alan Hirmes immediately went in search of Rabbi Winkler, shouting excitedly that there was a soldier from New Jersey.
That didn’t make much of an impact on Winkler, until Hirmes told him the soldier was from Fort Lee. Winkler’s congregation is made up mostly of retirees, and his first thought before he met the soldier was, “What are they doing down here with 85-year-old veterans?” When they were introduced, the soldier said that although he had never met him before, he knew who Winkler was because his parents frequently spoke of him, and had told their son he should really make a point of one day meeting the rabbi. When Winkler heard the name of the soldier, he embraced him warmly – because, in fact, it was not their first meeting. It was their second but the soldier, Dov Rosen, who lives with his parents Annie and Allen Rosen in Modi’in, could not be expected to remember the first meeting – since at the time, he was only eight days old. Winkler refers to him as “the snow baby,” because his brit mila took place during the worst snowstorm that Fort Lee had ever experienced.
Dov’s parents were part of a contingent of young marrieds who had come to Fort Lee and injected new vitality into the congregation.
However, most of the others moved back to their hometowns after the births of their second or third babies, saying their apartments were too small or there was insufficient job potential. But the Rosens stayed. It had always been their ambition to make aliya, and Winkler counseled them to go ahead with their plans.
As often happens, the best-laid plans tend to get disrupted. Various obstacles got in the way, and their dreams were put on hold for an indefinite period. In the interim, Annie gave birth to Dov, and as luck would have it, his induction into the faith not only coincided with a blizzard, but a Shabbat blizzard.
When the Winklers were walking to synagogue, they were the only pedestrians in the street. A police car stopped them and the officers offered to give them a ride. They were appreciative, but explained that as observant Jews, they could not accept on Shabbat. So the police car trailed them all the way to the synagogue.
When Dov was about 18 months old, his parents realized their dream and came to Israel. But there were difficulties here, too, and they were not entirely sure they had made the right decision.
So they went back to America, where they thought they would be in a better position to judge where they really should be – and the answer was Israel.
Winkler stayed in touch with them, and either spoke to or saw them during his annual visits to Israel, but somehow, until last week, had not met up again with Dov, the snow baby. Dov was thrilled to finally be able to put a face to the name, and said he wanted to call his mother immediately.
He then remembered that his cellphone had not been in working order for several days.
Still, he thought it was worth a try, and surprisingly, this time it did work – and Annie Rosen was delighted to ask Winkler if Dov looked healthy, and all the other questions an anxious Jewish mother asks about her son.
Winkler called her again this week and soon, the Winklers and the Rosens will be seeing each other on a more regular basis – as this was the Winklers’ last trip before coming to live in Israel permanently. It’s something they always wanted to do, and to ensure they could adjust to life in Israel, previously did a sixmonth sabbatical here.
They won’t be short of friends.
Young Israel is very active in Israel, with chapters in many parts of the country comprised of enough retired American rabbis to make up a whole army unit. In fact, some of them are retired army chaplains.
■ LIKE MANY participants in solidarity missions, Fran Hirmes was somewhat frustrated by the absence of a central clearinghouse or umbrella organization to determine what was needed by the soldiers and advise accordingly.
Hirmes said she had heard of one case in which a soldier had received so much surplus food that he and his mother went out and distributed it to the poor.
There is an organization in America called Yashar Lachayal (Straight to the Soldier), which grew out of a desire to provide soldiers with basic necessities during the Second Lebanon War. During that war, the Moskowitz family of Miami Beach and a small group of volunteers worked together to purchase, collect and package toiletries, underwear, towels and other necessities and transport them directly to soldiers on the front, without any middleman interference. They met with soldiers in various IDF units on the Lebanese border, and learned firsthand about soldiers’ needs. The project, initially dubbed Northern Points, was made possible by the fact that the Moskowitz family underwrote the operating costs.
After the war, the family – which has various philanthropic, ideological and business interests in Israel – continued to receive requests from army commanders, resulting in the establishment of Yashar Lachayal, which is recognized as a nonprofit both in the US and Israel. In addition to all the gifts being brought to soldiers by Israelis and by solidarity missions from abroad, Yashar Lachayal is also providing goods in accordance with needs specifically listed by the IDF.
The organization’s board includes Americans who have made aliya and can instantly assess any requests. Among the board members is Israel21c associate editor and writer Abigail Klein Leichman, whose articles frequently appear in The Jerusalem Post. Needless to say, the Moskowitz family is also represented on the board.
■ THERE ARE many ways to conquer fear or ignore it, and one of them is to be creative. Case in point is a group of 10 female teenagers who are summer interns at Reut Medical Center in Tel Aviv.
As sirens wailed over the city, these 16- to 17-year-old women from the US remained determined to continue on with their internship program, a joint project with the American Friends of Reut, which is currently in its fourth successive year. Program participants lived on the Reut campus, and worked at the 350-bed Reut Medical and Rehabilitation Center, shadowing professional staff, learning about the medical field and of course, helping patients in emergency situations.
In response to the sirens, these teenagers not only went into the air raid shelters – but painted them! This was one way to ensure they remained busy for the 10 minutes people have been asked to remain inside following a rocket attack.
■ CANADIAN AMBASSADOR Vivian Bercovici was very busy last week, demonstrating Ottawa’s support for Jerusalem’s right to defend itself against Hamas aggression.
Last Wednesday, she participated in the Canadian Solidarity Rally at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, where she stated to huge applause that “Canada stands with Israel.” On Thursday, together with Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma, she joined NGO Monitor president Gerald Steinberg at the capital’s Begin Heritage Center, in a discussion on Operation Protective Edge.
Both Bercovici and Sharma spend so much time in Jerusalem that it would really be more convenient for them if their governments moved their embassies to the capital.
In fact, Sharma arrived late because he was caught in heavy traffic en route from Tel Aviv.
Bercovici almost instantly won the approval of the audience at the Begin Heritage Center when she said the Gaza Strip has become a terror strip, and that Canada does not view the Hamas government as legitimate. “Whether elected or not, it’s a terror government,” she said.
Australia has made a conscious effort to look at the cause of the conflict, said Sharma, who noted that the terror infrastructure has been used to inflict harm on Israel’s civilian population. Moreover, he said, Hamas is putting its ideological and political objectives ahead of the safety of its own civilian population.
Both Sharma and Bercovici advocated the demilitarization of Gaza, and Bercovici – who recently visited UNDOF on the Golan Heights and MFO forces in Sinai – suggested that similar peacekeeping forces would have to be stationed in Gaza if peacekeeping efforts were to stand any chance of success.
Several countries have complained that funds channeled to Gaza for humanitarian aid and development purposes have been used for terror purposes by Hamas.
In this regard, Bercovici said Canada is very careful about where its aid dollars are placed, and is reshuffling its donations to Palestinian communities in the West Bank.
The current Canadian government does not give money to UNRWA, she said, nor to NGOs which are political satellites and give themselves peace, justice and love names when they are not really engaged in humanitarian aid at all.
Australia is more lax in this respect and channels aid to Gaza and the Palestinian Authority through UNRWA, Sharma admitted, but was quick to add that Canberra has joined those countries calling for an investigation into how this UN agency has been misused and compromised.
■ FORMER US president Bill Clinton has also been siding with Israel, and lambasting Hamas. Speaking in Ligonier, Pennsylvania at a memorial service last Saturday for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review owner Richard Mellon Scaife, Clinton was sharply critical of Hamas for deliberately placing munitions in places where civilians seek shelter, and using aid money to dig tunnels in order to destabilize the region and kill people.
Two weeks earlier, Tower Magazine reported Clinton’s interview on India’s NDTV in which he attributed blame for Palestinian civilian casualties squarely on the heads of Hamas leaders, saying their policy was designed to kill their own.
“Hamas was perfectly well aware of what would happen if they started raining rockets into Israel. They fired 1,000, and they have a strategy designed to force Israel to kill their own civilians so that the rest of the world will condemn them.”
■ BUT SOME people with long memories are charging that the Gaza crisis can be traced back to the Clinton administration. Writing in the 5 Towns Jewish Times last Friday, New Jersey attorney Stephen M. Flatow – whose daughter Alisa was murdered by Palestinian terrorists in Israel in 1995 – recalled that when Clinton visited Israel in March 1996, he had pledged to make the capture of Hamas mastermind Mohammed Deif a top priority. Though Deif had been responsible for the deaths of several other US citizens in addition to Alisa Flatow, the Clinton administration had not followed through and now, nearly 20 years later, Deif is still at large and plotting how to kill more Israelis.
■ EVEN PEOPLE unaware of the fact that the school year begins on September 1 would realize, when visiting stationery stores or department stores carrying stationery, that school must be starting soon.
Aisles are crowded with parents and children examining and picking up notebooks, pens, pencils, markers, et al. Even in a computer age, the old-fashioned basics are still in use.
In 1995, Israel launched the Computer for Every Child Project to ensure that children from low-income families would have the same opportunities as their more affluent peers to enter the digital age. In more recent years, with the fast-paced development of technology, the project has changed to a tablet for every child.
Somewhat less ambitious but no less important is a schoolbag for every child. Yes, believe it not, there are families where income is so low there isn’t enough money to buy a standard backpack, which relatively speaking is a far less costly item than the old-fashioned leather schoolbags or satchels that were more or less enlarged briefcases with two shoulder straps. Schoolbags today are much lighter and more affordable, but have more cavernous compartments in which to hold tablets, books, lunches and even sports equipment.
The bags are sometimes less of a burden on a low-income family than what goes into them. Even when a family can afford to pay for the schoolbag and its contents, families living in the South are cautious about going shopping and taking their children with them.
To relieve many families of this problem, the players and coaches of the Israel National Basketball Team, including coach Erez Edelstein; Shufersal CEO Itzik Abercohen; iconic coach Pini Gershon; and Rabbi Yaakov Gloiberman of the Yad B’Yad (Hand in Hand) organization got together at Hand in Hand’s huge storeroom in Lod, and packed schoolbags with basic classroom needs for distribution to children in southern communities.
The schoolbags will be distributed by social welfare authorities in each community. Members of the public who wish to contribute can donate NIS 10 at their local Shufersal supermarket.
■ THERE’S A little bit of a child in all of us, which may explain why Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky was having such a great time last Thursday, arm wrestling with youngsters from the South.
This was yet another event in which the Jewish Agency together with the Jewish Federations of North America, Keren Hayesod- UIA and the United Jewish Israel Appeal UK provided a day of fun and recreation for children living in towns, villages, kibbutzim and moshavim near Gaza.
This time, the Jewish Agency took some 1,200 children to the Nachshonit water park near Tel Aviv, where if photographs are any indication, Sharansky had a great time. Up until now, the Jewish Agency has taken more than 65,000 children from the South to fun places in the Center and North.
■ SEPTEMBER 1 is also the date of the 75th anniversary of World War II, which arguably has more resonance with Jews and gypsies than with other people who suffered heavy death tolls.
According to a report on the Truth Revolt website – which monitors what it believes to be lies in the media on any number of subjects, not just Israel and the Jews – last Friday, August 1, exactly one month before the anniversary, local police in Oswiecim where the Auschwitz death camp site is located arrested Rabbi Rafi Ostroff, the leader of a group of visiting Australian and South African members of Bnei Akiva. The charge? Singing the sacred songs intoned by Jews as they went to their deaths.
Auschwitz security officials twice requested that the group stop singing, and when the request was ignored, summoned police.
Ostroff, who heads the Gush Etzion Religious Council, wrote up the incident on Facebook, saying the security guards had hounded the group throughout their visit, and that even in the gas chamber, where the group sang “Am Israel Chai” (The Nation of Israel Lives), the guards approached Ostroff and demanded he tell the group to immediately shut up. He had responded that he had no control over them, and that they were singing from their hearts. Most were grandchildren of Holocaust survivors or of people who had been murdered by the Nazis.
When local police arrived, they seized Ostroff, and threatened him with 24-hour imprisonment and a fine roughly equivalent to NIS 1,000. Ostroff paid the fine because he did not want to spend Shabbat – even on principle – in a Polish prison.
The story, which was instantly picked up by a number of Internet publications, elicited a large number of responses – including one from Paweł Sawicki of the Auschwitz Memorial Press Office, who wrote: “The whole situation was a problem of far too loud and inappropriate behavior at the memorial. That became a problem for guides and other visitors who were on the site at that moment.
Other visitors were disrupted, even in such a sensitive place as the building of the crematorium.”
Sawicki admitted that the police had been called, but denied anyone had been arrested. There are different ways of commemoration, he stated, but none can disrupt the visits of other people. “Such bad behavior arouses many critical comments from other visitors,” he wrote, also noting that numerous groups coming from Israel know the appropriate way to behave at the site.
■ WHILE ISRAELIS are commemorating the 75th anniversary of the beginning of one of the darkest chapters in Jewish history, there is again a matter of coincidence – in that Israel’s 10th President, Reuven Rivlin, will celebrate his 75th birthday in the same month.
Rivlin was born on September 9, 1939, eight days after the outbreak of the war that was designed to provide a solution to the Jewish problem. What sweeter revenge could there be for the Jewish people than to have as a president of the Jewish state, and the proudest son of its capital Jerusalem, someone who was born at almost the same time as that horrific war began? This past week, the world also commemorated the 100th anniversary of World War I, in the last year of which Lord Rothschild received a letter from James Balfour stating, “His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” Part of this was incorporated into Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
Both Jews and non-Jews in Israel and beyond should read both documents carefully, and act accordingly.
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