Grapevine: When the rabbi turned 75

A lifelong Zionist, Rabbi Gorodesky was disenchanted by some of America’s policies and wanted only Israeli citizenship.

DAVID GEFFEN (left) and Ezra Gorodesky 370 (photo credit: Steve Linde)
DAVID GEFFEN (left) and Ezra Gorodesky 370
(photo credit: Steve Linde)
Despite the continuing myth that all people are born equal, it’s a fact of life that some are more equal than others.
Prior to the gala opening of the General Assembly on Sunday, one of the GA sponsors, the Ruderman Foundation, which primarily promotes the integration of individuals with disabilities into mainstream society, co-hosted a networking reception with the Jewish Federations of North America, to which executive representatives of various organizations and institutions as well as Israeli dignitaries and members of the media were invited.
A very prominent personality from among the organizers of the GA twice sent this columnist away, despite her being invited not only by someone acting on Jay Ruderman’s behalf, but also by Ruderman himself. When she eventually said so, the prominent personality reluctantly let her pass.
The event itself was something in the nature of a Jewish UN in the most positive sense of the word, with Yitzhak Eldan, a former Foreign Ministry chief of protocol and now a live wire with the Israeli Jewish Congress, introducing people from different countries to each other. Seen in the crowd were martial arts champion Danny Hakim, representing Budo for Peace; MK Nachman Shai, who served as both a vice president of United Jewish Communities and director-general of UJC Israel, and currently heads the Knesset caucus for the Jewish Agency; Bar-Ilan University president Rabbi Prof. Daniel Herschkowitz; Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky; AACI director David London; Malta’s Chief Rabbi Reuben Ohayon; Goodwill ambassador and former basketball champion Tal Brody; and Dore Gold, formerly Israel’s ambassador to the UN and currently president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, who was keynote speaker for the evening.
The topic was naturally Iran, and the reason that national security is still at the center of the American-Israeli relationship.
■ IT WAS difficult to tell whether Dan Shapiro was the ambassador for the US, or for the Jewish Federations of North America. Making more than one public appearance as a speaker at the GA, Shapiro, a former beneficiary of the Jewish Federations, could easily get a job as a fund-raiser if he decides to quit his political and diplomatic careers.
Because of the Jewish Federations, he went to Jewish summer camp, where he met his wife, Julie, to whom he has been married for 21 years. It was also through the Jewish Federations that he studied at the Hebrew University.
It is customary for the US ambassador to address major American Jewish organizations when they visit Israel, but never before could any American Jewish organization boast of the US ambassador as one of their own. True, Martin Indyk and Dan Kurtzer are both Jewish, and Kurtzer, as a religiously observant Jew, certainly mingled in the Jewish community in America. But during his period of tenure, the closest he came to actively identifying with the American Jewish community was through his wife, Sheila, who attended the reunion in Jerusalem of her old school, New York’s Yeshiva of Flatbush. Moreover, on more than one occasion, she hosted meetings of the Lion of Judah, the international Jewish women’s philanthropic organization that has the largest portion of its membership in the US.
Shapiro and his wife, on the other hand, are both offspring of Hadassah activists, and before coming to Israel were themselves active supporters of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
“When you hold the GA in Israel, it’s an investment in the US-Israel relationship,” Shapiro told a packed auditorium at the Jerusalem International Convention Center.
Then, by way of reassurance over America’s commitment to stop Iran from going ahead with its nuclear project, Shapiro declared: “There is no greater priority for the US and for Israel than preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”
■ THE GUESTS at the 75th birthday party of retired rabbi and historian David Geffen were mostly relatives, plus a little more than a handful of friends – most notably one of the true characters of Jerusalem and an eminent collector, Philadelphia-born Ezra Gorodesky.
Gorodesky has the distinction of being one of the very few immigrants from the US who voluntarily gave up American citizenship, but not because he had to – as did people such as Americanborn ambassadors to the UN and the US Gold, Michael Oren and Ron Dermer; MKs Dov Lipman and the late Meir Kahane; as well as Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, who though born in Israel, was also entitled to citizenship as the son of American citizens.
A lifelong Zionist, Gorodesky was disenchanted by some of America’s policies and wanted only Israeli citizenship.
He came in 1960 for a month-long visit, which evolved into a permanent arrangement. He made his home in Jerusalem, moving from time to time from one part of the city to another, always the dapper gentleman, always with an eye for collectibles. He and Geffen have been friends for 35 years, and Geffen credited Gorodesky with introducing him to the collector’s world.
There were two birthday cakes gracing a small table, in addition to the welll laid buffet in a hall at the capital’s Yedidya Synagogue. The reason: It was also Gorodesky’s birthday, marked by two numerical candles which when placed together, indicated it was his 85th year on earth. Gorodesky didn’t blow them out, but kept waving his hand over them until the flames abated.
Geffen, whose name will be familiar to readers of The Jerusalem Post as a writer who brings interesting historical vignettes into play with current events, credited the paper’s Editor-in-Chief, Steve Linde, with restoring his writing abilities. After a stint at the Post more than 20 years ago, there had been a long hiatus until five or six years ago, when Geffen met up with Linde, who was then the paper’s managing editor. Linde suggested he write something and said if it was acceptable, he should keep going.
The rest is history.
Geffen is the grandson of the late Rabbi Tobias Geffen, who after being permitted to inspect the secret recipe for Coca-Cola, famously declared it to be kosher – but not on Passover. Tobias Geffen was the rabbi of Atlanta’s Shearith Israel congregation for half a century, during which time he officiated at 3,000 weddings. He and his wife, Henne, had eight children, which accounts for the fact that David Geffen has so many relatives.
Among those who came to his birthday were cousins Heschel and Adinah Raskas. Heschel’s great-grandparents settled in St. Louis in the 1880s, and his children and grandchildren were also born there; Heschel is a former treasurer of the Jewish Federations of North America. He and Adinah brought Geffen a St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap, causing Geffen to reminisce that the first time he heard a baseball game on the radio was in 1946 – when the Cardinals, playing against the Boston Red Sox, won the World Series. Incidentally, one of Geffen’s baseball heroes is fellow Atlantan Larry Frank, the father of Rabbi Adam Frank of Jerusalem’s Masorti Congregation, who refused to play on Rosh Hashana.
Geffen and his wife, Rita, who have been married for 50 years and who he still calls “the love of my life,” came on aliya 36 years ago with their children, Avi, Alisia and Jeremy-Tuvia. Involved in many aspects of Israeli life, they trained for nine months to visit refuseniks in the Soviet Union, where they went 25 years ago in September 1988 – only a few days after one of their offspring was married. When they returned, the late Charles Hoffman, then the Jewish world editor and reporter at the Post, asked Rita to write about their experiences.
The couple had taken with them to Russia a Dry Bones Rosh Hashana card specially designed by Yaakov Kirschen.
A copy was on view, alongside other items of Geffen’s memorabilia.
Geffen and Rita have eight Sabra grandchildren, aged 25 years to 21 months.
■ WHAT WITH the 100th anniversary of the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Agency Assembly, the GA and Limmud, it’s definitely World Jewry Week in Israel. At the opening of the Jewish Agency Assembly, the ever-vivacious Marlene Post – a former national chair of Hadassah, along with several other titles of Zionist organizations she bears or has borne – interviewed President Shimon Peres in her capacity as chair of the assembly.
Observing that in six years’ time, the Jewish Agency will celebrate its 90th anniversary, Post asked Peres how the agency could stay as young in spirit and personality as the 90-year-old president.
“Everyone can do it,” replied Peres.
“Don’t have self-pity, have self-discipline,” he counseled, listing habits to avoid such as smoking, eating (the wrong foods or too much of anything), exaggerating, losing faith and losing hope.
“Take yourself in hand and don’t underrate your capabilities. Don’t go on vacations. There’s more fun in working than in doing nothing. Be engaged and interested. If you do all that, you will reach 120, and someone will tell you, ‘Till 140.’” ■ MEDIA REPORTS in recent days have suggested that behind closed doors, Peres is already planning for the day after his term as president is up. They say he aims to form a new political party with other ex-officio, such as former chiefs of both the Mossad, Meir Dagan, and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency),Yuval Diskin; as well as former chief of general staff Gabi Ashkenazi.
Peres has stated publicly he does not want the law to be changed to enable him to remain in office, and yet there are political pundits who believe that if the law is changed, Peres will not refuse to continue to serve his country. He has also declared his intention to continue to serve the nation with or without a title, and has said that as a politician, he was unpopular – in that whenever he asked for anything, the answer was usually no. Yet as president, whenever he asks for something, the answer is yes.
Regardless of whether one likes Peres or not, it is an undeniable fact that no previous president of Israel has been as active or as involved domestically and internationally. Peres is an Israeli icon who often succeeds where current politicians fail. He is a hard act to follow, and none of the possible candidates whose names have been bandied about come anywhere close to his energy and influence. So it’s anyone’s guess what he will do next, but after reaching the peak of popularity in his career, it is unlikely he would risk damaging his image.
Then again, his very good friend, the immensely popular fifth president Yitzhak Navon, did return to politics after serving as president. While the Education portfolio he held is important, it doesn’t have quite the same prestige as Foreign Affairs – which if Peres does return to politics, is arguably the portfolio he would wish for himself, if he could not be prime minister.
■ WHILE MANY of the president’s activities are reported in the media – on his Facebook page, on the Foreign Ministry website and by the Government Press Office – even more are conducted outside of the public domain: meetings with Israeli political leaders, top-ranking security personnel, various delegations and individuals from abroad, and all kinds of people who want to present him with books, works of art or some archaeological discovery, etc., etc. The president seldom has a moment to himself.
Among the people who he met over the last week or so were Akamai Technologies co-founder and CEO Dr. Tom Leighton. He presented him with a book on the life of the late Daniel Lewis, a co-founder of Akamai, a leading provider of cloud services for optimizing and securing online content and business applications.
Leighton was in Israel for the company’s 15th anniversary and the inauguration of its new Israel headquarters in Herzliya. He also announced a recruitment campaign to increase Akamai’s employee base in Israel, which is a pleasant change after the reports of other companies downsizing or going out of business.
Peres also met with Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, and with the outgoing and incoming secretaries-general of the Baha’i International Community, Drs. Albert and Joshua Lincoln.
The two happen to be father and son, but according to Sarah Vader, a member of the BIC leadership, the senior Lincoln was completely uninvolved in his son’s appointment, and it came as a complete surprise to him.
The Baha’i community has a special relationship with Peres, who as vice premier and foreign minister in April 1987, on behalf of Israel’s government, signed an agreement of recognition of Baha’i’s full religious status, with all the privileges and benefits befitting the spiritual and administrative center of a world faith.
■ FOLLOWING THEIR meeting with Peres, the Lincolns and other Baha’i personalities proceeded to the nearby Inbal Hotel for a farewell and welcome reception, which was attended inter alia by MK Amram Mitzna, a former longterm mayor of Haifa who has a close relationship with Baha’i representatives; Supreme Court Justices Salim Joubran and Elyakim Rubinstein; representatives of various churches; Rabbis David Rosen and Michael Melchior; and Hebrew University president Prof.
Menahem Ben-Sasson, who noted that while there are many Baha’i academics teaching at universities around the world, the Hebrew University is the only institution of higher education that has a chair in Baha’i studies.
Albert Lincoln, who came to Israel with his wife 20 years ago and served as BIC secretary-general for 19 years, will return to his native Boston, where he will engage in mediation. Before moving to the Baha’i World Center, Lincoln practiced law in France and Africa for 23 years. During this period, he served pro bono as the special representative of the Baha’i International Community in Africa, dealing with threats to religious freedom in Mali, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and the Republic of the Congo, while researching, writing and presenting papers on the proposed UN Convention on the Elimination of Religious Intolerance. Two of the highlights of his period in Israel were the opening of the Baha’i Gardens and the inclusion of the Baha’i World Center on Mount Carmel on the World Heritage List.
With numerous achievements to his credit, Lincoln was typically modest and said that although it had been a special time for him in Israel, it was just the preparation of another chapter in Baha’i history for others yet to come. He had never previously worked with his son, he said, and it had been a pleasure and a precious opportunity to introduce him to his new duties.
This is not a permanent departure for Lincoln and his wife, who will be back as often as possible to see their grandchildren.
“We have strong feelings about this country and about world peace,” he said.
Joshua Lincoln greeted guests in Hebrew, then went back to English.
Coming to Israel is actually a return for him, he said, recalling that he had first come before his parents, when in 1988 he arrived to serve as a volunteer at the Baha’i Gardens. He could not have imagined at that time that five years later, his parents would take up residence.
Soon after his parents arrived, he came to visit them, met his wife, Monette, and the two were married in Haifa 18 years ago.
Before his appointment as secretarygeneral, Joshua Lincoln had a career with the UN, serving in senior positions in New York and Geneva and taking on assignments in Africa. He has a background in academic research and holds a PhD in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
Joshua Lincoln has two children who he expects to soon be fluent in Hebrew and Arabic.
■ HOT ON the heels of the recent Polish Culinary Festival is the Japanese Food Festival, which opened on November 10 at leading Japanese restaurants such as Yakimono, Kyoto, Minato, Yamatoya, Frangelico, Kampai, Neo-Sushi, Moon, Soho and other well-known Japanese eateries. Tonight, there will be a gala Japanese dinner at the Tel Aviv Hilton with the participation of Japanese Ambassador Hideo Sato and other Japanese notables, who will sample washoku, or Japanese cuisine, prepared by master chef Takatoshi Toshi as the guest of the Hilton’s executive chef, Avigdor Brueh.
Toshi, a native of Japan who has been living in the US since 1989, was flown in from San Francisco, and on Sunday held a cooking class together with Israeli master chef Israel Aharoni.
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