Grapevine: The Polish connection

ALMOST EVERY ambassador who comes to Israel builds up a following among his or her expatriate community.

Joseph Gitler with Natan and Avital Sharansky 311 (photo credit: Steven Allen)
Joseph Gitler with Natan and Avital Sharansky 311
(photo credit: Steven Allen)
ALMOST EVERY ambassador who comes to Israel builds up a following among his or her expatriate community. Most of those whose native tongue is not English manage to some extent to also make their mark in the English-speaking community. Polish Ambassador Agnieska Magdziak-Miszewska, in her five-and-ahalf years in Israel, developed not only a Polish-speaking following but also a following of native Anglos, possibly because so many of Israel’s immigrants from Englishspeaking countries are of Polish parentage. Whatever the reason, the most telling sign of Magdziak-Miszewska's popularity was the full house in the auditorium of the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem at a farewell reception in her honor jointly hosted by the Begin Center and the Israel Council on Foreign Relations. The invitation was for Tuesday at 6 p.m. – not a terribly convenient time for Jerusalemites, let alone for people coming from outside the city. So the large turnout was indeed a token of the esteem in which she is held. The two organizations also arranged for the cream of the crop of speakers – Yehuda Bauer and David Horovitz – to deliver if not exactly farewell addresses, orations that in some way related to her or to the work she has done, is doing and will continue to do.
Aside from being a diplomat, she is also the deputy editor-in-chief of the monthly magazine Wiez and a member of the International Auschwitz Council. Before coming to Israel she served as Polish consul general in New York and she has also served as the advisor to the prime minister on Polish-Jewish relations. Although she is not Jewish, there are many Jewish symbols on display at her residence, and during her tenure in Israel she made a point of having a Hanukka party replete with doughnuts every year.
Begin Center director-general Herzl Makov spoke of the complicated relationship between Jews and Poland. For some Jews of Polish birth there is a sense of nostalgia, while others feel they can never go back, even though Poland may have shaped who and what they are. Makov quoted Menachem Begin, who was born in Brisk, Poland and who used to say, “We will never go back to Brisk, but Brisk will always be with us.”
Bauer, who is a close friend of the ambassador, said that he would be more pleased if he could welcome her as ambassador for the next five to six years instead of having to bid her farewell. In reviewing the history of Poland in general and Polish Jewry in particular, Bauer declared that until the late 20th century there was no such thing as a Jewish Pole. “They were Polish Jews,” he said. He also said that he does not subscribe to the “myth” of Jewish unity. Quarreling among Jews contributes to their survival; “Unite us and we die,” he said. Horovitz, who doesn't mind talking about his career but seldom refers to his personal life, made an exception to explain why it was so important for him and other members of his family to be living in Israel, “in the Jewish homeland that was revived too late.” The product of a long line of Orthodox German rabbis and a descendant of Yeshayahu Ish Horovitz, the 16thcentury mystic of Prague, Horovitz’s grandfather Avraham, who had fought for Germany, refused at first to believe that the German people would tolerate Hitler’s policy. Finally realizing in 1937 that this was not the Germany for which he’d fought, he took his family of 10 children to England. Horovitz expressed outrage that in too many diplomatic circles the right of the Jewish people to a homeland is called into question, and was happy to note that Magdziak-Miszewska was not included in those circles, but is among those “who have honest voices.” Speaking of Israel, his anger at the distortions of history and of Israel’s attitudes to its neighbors, Horovitz disclosed his own reasons for living here.”This little sliver of land is the only place on Earth where Jews have sought and hold sovereignty.”
■ INTERNATIONAL HOLOCAUST Remembrance Day, a United Nations initiative that has generated commemorative events around the world on January 27, the date of the liberation of Auschwitz, will this year take on added significance as it falls just a week after the 70th anniversary commemoration of the infamous Wannsee Conference in Berlin at which government bodies decided to carry out the Final Solution. To honor the victims and survivors, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem in partnership with Yad Vashem and the Helping Hands Coalition has organized several commemorative events to be held at the Konrad Adenauer Center in Jerusalem and at Yad Vashem on January 19 and 20. High-ranking representatives of German and Austrian Protestant churches and Christian organizations will will meet Holocaust survivors and lay commemorative wreaths at Yad Vashem. Participants include: Minister for Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein; executivedirector of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem Jurgen Bugler; director of the German Branch International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem Gottfried Buhler; director of the Austrian Branch International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem Karl Klanner; board member of Initiative 27 January Christians for Israel- Germany, Dietmar Kern; businessman and author Martin Baron; chairman of the Pentecostal European Fellowship Rev. Ingolf Ellsell; European Director of Christ for all Nations Rev. Siegfried Tomaszewski; President of the International Chamber of Commerce Germany Claus Philippin; coordinator of the Women’s Branch of the European and German Pentecostal Fellowship Hannelore Illgen; and board member and director of Bible College Bad Gandersheim Rev. Gerry Klein.
■ AVIATION ENTHUSIASTS may be familiar with Mielec, which contains Poland’s largest airplane manufacturing plant. It was also one of the first Polish cities to be occupied by the Nazis in September, 1939. Using slave labor – during the initial period the slaves were mostly Jewish – they took over the airplane manufacturing facilities and produced bombers and fighter planes for the German Air Force. The Nazis burned the synagogue and Jewish shops and institutions – sometimes with people herded inside. In March, 1942, the Jews of Mielec were among the first to be deported to the death camps and were sent to nearby Belzec. Very few survived and the community was totally destroyed. Though perhaps a small fragment in Holocaust history, Mielec is important because what happened to its Jews so soon after the Nazi invasion of Poland was indicative of what would follow.
Several books have been written about Mielec, but a new one, The Shtetl that became a Nazi Concentration Camp by Dr. Rochelle D. Saidel and published by Gefen, will be launched this coming Monday, January 23 at Congregation Moreshet Israel in Jerusalem. The launch is co-sponsored by the Congregation and the Fuchsberg Center. The book contains rare visuals of the Holocaust period which survivor Moshe Borger, who is participating in the launch, received from Polish neighbors after the war.
■ IN ADVANCE of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a new exhibition “Last Portrait: Painting for Posterity,” will open at Yad Vashem on Monday, January 23.The exhibition comprises some 200 portraits of Jews drawn by Jewish artists during the Holocaust. The depictions were undertaken in ghettos, concentration camps and during slave labor. Also on January 23, an international symposium in the presence of diplomats, historians and the general public will take place in the Yad Vashem Auditorium. The Symposium, “70 years since the Wannsee Conference: The Organization of the Mass Murder of the Jews and Its Significance” will take place in Hebrew and English with simultaneous translation.
■ JUST AS the generation of Holocaust survivors has begun to fade away, so has the generation of Machalniks (volunteers from abroad). These people, not all of whom were Jewish, participated in Aliya Bet, which entailed bringing Holocaust survivors from Europe to the Promised Land despite the efforts of British Mandate personnel to prevent such actions. Machalniks also fought in the War of Independence. After the war some returned to their places of origin while others opted to remain in the nascent State of Israel. Among the latter was Murray Greenfield, founder of Jerusalem headquartered Gefen Publishing. Greenfield was one of several American volunteers who smuggled Holocaust survivors onto the shores of what was then Palestine. After the establishment of the state, Greenfield initially lived in Haifa. Then he and his wife Hana, a Czech Holocaust survivor, settled in Tel Aviv where they continue to live today. Greenfield was one of the founders of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel and later became the organization's executive director. Constantly involved in helping the underdog, he was for seven years the voluntary director of the American Association for Ethiopian Jews. Through his wife he has also been involved in Holocaust education projects in the Czech Republic. After trying his hand at diverse business ventures, in 1991 Greenfield established Gefen Publishing House, which publishes up to 35 titles a year. He brought his sons Dror and Ilan into the firm to guarantee continuity, but Dror took ill and died in 2003. Ilan has continued to run the business.
Among the published works by Gefen was Greenfield’s own memoir, The Jews’ Secret Fleet, from which a documentary film, Waves of Freedom, was made by Alan Rosenthal. Afraid that the Machal story and the individual volunteers from many parts of the world would be forgotten, Greenfield, who was one of the early board members of Beth Hatfutsot, persuaded the powers-thatbe in what has become known as the Museum of the Jewish People to allocate space for a permanent Aliya Bet-Machal exhibit. Greenfield has signed an agreement with the museum on behalf of the Aliya Bet- Machal organization. Although the organization has plenty of photographs, it is lacking in artifacts from 1947-48 and would be grateful to receive them. Greenfield signed a commitment to raise money for the permanent exhibition and says that a tremendous job is being done in this regard by a group from England led by Stanley Medicks. The exhibit, curated by Shira Friedman, is scheduled to open on Friday, April 27, the day after Independence Day, and will serve as a constant reminder of what was done by volunteers to rebuild the scattered nation and bring about the birth of the state.
■ ARTISTS DISSATISFIED with what they have produced have often painted over the finished product and created something else. That is their prerogative But why would any world famous artist paint a mural that he or she knew was going to be painted over by someone else? The question arises because famed French artist Jean-Michel Alberola will on Thursday, January 19, in the presence of an adoring public, paint on a wall at the French Institute in Tel Aviv. But the painting will barely be on view long enough for anyone to truly appreciate it. The French Institute is undergoing renovations and the wall will be painted over. This is truly the height of iconoclasm. Hopefully the renovators will wait until the paint on Alberola’s work of art is dry so that some future art forensics expert will be able to peel away the layers of paint on the wall and rescue what lies beneath. People at the French Institute doubt that this will ever happen, but who knows?
■ FURTHER PROOF that timing is everything is the fact that Hirsh Goodman was asked to speak at Beit Knesset Hamaginim in Modi’in this coming Tuesday, January 24 even before it was announced that his most recent book, The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, was the recipient in the history category of the National Book Award of the Jewish Book Council of America. Goodman, a journalist, broadcaster, author and Jerusalem Post columnist, is in excellent company. Other recipients of National Book Awards for 2011 include Simon Sebag Montefiore for Jerusalem: The Biography, Art Spiegelman for Metamaus and Aharon Applefeld for Until the Dawn’s Light. This is Applefeld’s third National Book Award. All the winners will be honored on March 14 at a gala awards ceremony to be held at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan. In conjunction with the announcement of the 2011 awards, the Jewish Book Council launched a new website,, featuring thousands of books of Jewish interest.
■ POLITICIANS SHOULD never play favorites. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is travelling to the Netherlands on a working visit this week, was interviewed last week by Greg Sheridan, the foreign news analyst of the national daily The Australian. Netanyahu told Sheridan that he loves Australia, appreciates Australia’s support for Israel and had a great time when he and his family went there on vacation around a decade ago. He told Sheridan that “In a world where Israel is vilified, castigated, where a beleaguered democracy is defending its very life against radical Islamist forces, we don’t always get credit. We don't always get fair play. We feel that [fair play] happens more often than not with Australia.” A year ago, on a visit to Jerusalem, Australia’s Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, invited Netanyahu to visit Australia as prime minister. Sheridan asked Netanyahu whether he would like to do that and received Netanyahu will be received in the Netherlands on Thursday at Palace Huis ten Bosch by her Majesty Queen Beatrix and by Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his wife. In the course of his visit Netanyahu will also meet with Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal as well as several other members of the government and various parliamentary dignitaries. One of the highlights of his brief sojourn will be a visit to the nearly 400-year-old Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam.
■ ISRAEL’S DECLARATION of Independence was signed on a Friday, so it was appropriate that a reenactment of that most significant event in contemporary Jewish history should also be on a Friday. Because none of the 37 signatories are still in the land of the living, the reenactment at the original site was conducted by their children and grandchildren. The event was used to launch the book The Tenth Signatory, which is the biography of Zionist activist and leader Eliahu Dobkin, who was indeed the tenth person to sign the declaration. Using the reenactment as a springboard for launching the book was the brainchild of Dobkin’s grandson, businessman Boaz Dekel, who received the green light and cooperative endeavors of the Israel Heritage Preservation Council. The event, last Friday, was attended by Minister for Culture and Sport Limor Livnat, Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hausner, former Knesset Speaker Shlomo Hillel and, of course, Yariv Ben-Eliezer, the grandson of Israel’s founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion. Also attracted by the concept were many dignitaries and leaders of the business community, including veteran industrialist and former MK Stef Wertheimer, who can remember the excitement that Ben-Gurion generated when he read the Declaration of Independence aloud. It was not easy to locate the descendants of all 37 signatories, said Dekel, but once he found them, they all responded positively.
■ THIS MONTH, Leket Israel-The National Food Bank held its second Annual Gala Dinner at the Eden Al Hamayim events garden with an attendance of 680 people who came to support the organization’s nineyear mission to reduce nutritional insecurity. By distributing excess food rescued from restaurants, catering halls and other food venues, the organization feeds more than 60,000 needy Israelis on a daily basis. Each year, fruit and vegetable growers destroy hundreds of thousands of tons of produce. In 2011, Leket Israel managed to rescue 9,000 tons of fresh fruit and vegetables for the needy. In a country where 20 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, it is essential that excess food be distributed to those who need it most. Leket Israel CEO Gidi Kroch told dinner guests that the new poor come from the growing section of the middle class in which two people in the family are working but do not earn enough to put food on the table. Among those attending were Eitan and Ariella Wertheimer, Leket Israel founder and chairman Joseph Gitler, Natan Sharansky, MK Ze’ev Bielski, general manager of Apple’s memory division in Israel Ariel Maislos, IKEA Israel CEO Shlomi Gabay, Tempo Beer Industries Ltd. director Ron Gutman and CEO Jack Bar and Consul General of Israel in Toronto Amir Gissin, who made a point of attending because the dinner honorees were well-known philanthropists Henry and Julia Koschitzky of Toronto.