The Grapevine: The brilliant Banai family

Ehud Banai makes no secret of his leftist leanings, but unlike some other left-wing colleagues, he will not boycott right-wing communities living in the West Bank.

Ehud Banai 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ehud Banai 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There are so many talented members of the Banai family – which originated in Persia, settled in Jerusalem and lived for many years in the legendary Mahaneh Yehuda market, before fanning out to other parts of the country. Arguably the most famous and talented of them all was the late Yossi Banai, who was a singer, actor and scriptwriter, and died of cancer in 2006. In 1998, he was awarded the Israel Prize for his contribution to Israeli theater. His brothers, Ya’akov, Gavri and Haim, also became actors, with Gavri the best-known in his capacity as a member of comedy group Hagashash Hahiver (The Pale Tracker), which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary and will be recognized for lifetime achievement by the Ophir Awards. Hagashash Hahiver was awarded the Israel Prize in recognition of its special contribution to society and the State of Israel.
Yossi Banai’s son, Yuval, and his nephews, Ehud, Uri, Meir and Eviatar, as well his niece, Orna, have all achieved recognition as performing artists. Orna Banai, who is the sister of Meir and Eviatar, indirectly gave the others a boost in a radio commercial she did for a shipping company, in which she literally screeched at the end, remarking on the strangeness of the sound considering that her entire family sings. Orna is also politically inclined and is running for a place on the Tel Aviv Municipal Council on the Green Revolution ticket – which also includes former interior minister Avraham Poraz, one of several former MKs who are attempting to reenter the political arena via local government.
The Banai who has been most prominent in the news of late is Ehud, the son of Ya’akov Banai, who like cousin Orna is politically inclined – but not running for office. Ehud makes no secret of his leftist leanings, but unlike some other left-wing colleagues, he will not boycott right-wing communities living in Judea and Samaria and other areas beyond the pre-1967 lines.
As is so trendy these days, Ehud, utilizing his Facebook page, regularly informs the world of what he is doing, what he is thinking and where he is going. So when he announced he was going to perform in Sussiya in the South Hebron Hills, there was a huge hue and cry from people politically left of center. Fearing some kind of demonstration during the concert might lead to violence, Ehud consulted with Tzvi Bar-Hai, head of the South Hebron Hills Regional Council; they both concluded the concert should be canceled. Ehud duly announced the cancellation, but Boaz Sharabi, another popular singer, said he would step in to fill the void – so the people of the area who were expecting to go to a concert last Sunday would still be able to do so.
Despite his personal political outlook, Ehud had hoped that the concert would be a catalyst for civilized political dialogue. On his Facebook page, he has even discussed his opposition to occupation and what he considers to be the injustices of Israeli society. Moreover, his political opinions are reflected in his songs.
Yet for all that, he was willing to listen to the other side that is involved in many aspects of Israeli life.
After yielding to various pressures not to appear at the concert, Ehud Banai again had second thoughts, and decided to go ahead after all. Because arrangements had already been made with Sharabi, the audience who showed up got a double treat, listening to performances by both singers.
■ JUST IN time for Simhat Torah, the International Council of Jewish Women has completed its online bible study program, creating a unique resource in English and Spanish that examines the entire Torah from a feminist perspective. The project, which took four and a half years, culminated with the uploading to the ICJW website of the 54th Torah portion of “The Five Books of Moses: Contemporary Issues and Classic Perspectives.” This is just in time for the traditional recommencement of the annual Torah reading cycle on Simhat Torah.
Material for the course was written by Dr. Bonna Devora Haberman, founder and former director of the Mistabra Institute for Jewish Textual Activism at the Women’s Studies Research Center of Brandeis University, together with Prof. Zvi Zohar, director of Bar-Ilan University’s Rappaport Center for Assimilation Research and Strengthening Jewish Vitality. Haberman is also one of the Israeli founders of the Women of the Wall movement.
“Ours is the first generation of Jewish women to have access to the Torah on a mass scale,” she said. “Using the Internet, we are making Torah study more accessible than ever, and starting a new conversation among women around the world.
Every time we open the text, we bring with us our history, our values and our questions – ourselves. This new access has given birth to new ways of reading and relating to the Torah.”
The Bea Zucker Online Bible Study Program is available in English and Spanish, and can be downloaded free of charge. The project, sponsored by the Zucker family of Zurich, is dedicated to the memory of Bea Zucker, who was European president and a lifetime member of ICJW. The organization offers four other online study programs – about biblical women, Jewish festivals, and women’s life-cycle events – on its website (, including materials in Russian and Spanish.
The ICJW is an umbrella organization that represents 47 Jewish women’s organizations around the world, and is a leading voice on agunot (women chained to their marriages) and other human rights issues. It is not aligned with any stream of Judaism, but represents all Jewish women worldwide.
■ IN FORMER years, mayors of Jerusalem greeted residents of and visitors to the capital in the municipal succa in Safra Square or the Tower of David. But this year, Mayor Nir Barkat decided to invite them to his home in the Beit Hakerem neighborhood instead – and did it for two days in a row.
It wasn’t altogether a smart thing to do just a month before the municipal elections. Barkat is a keen advocate for Pinui Binui, a plan for the renewal and enlargement or reconstruction from scratch of old apartment buildings, which according to law require reinforced foundations to protect the structures against earthquakes. The deal that most developers make with apartment owners in such buildings is to acquire the roof rights, so they can build two or three additional floors. However, they often come back and say two floors are not economically viable, and that they would rather gut the whole building so they can build a total of eight floors – with no guarantee that apartment owners will find themselves on the same floors they had lived on previously.
Moreover, an eight-story apartment complex requires at least one elevator – if not more – which immediately jacks up maintenance rates, and the extra square meters promised by developers of course affect annual arnona rates, which become significantly more expensive.
Additionally, other factors in this plan may have a negative impact on the cost of living in Jerusalem.
Although a good contract with a developer includes a bank guarantee of compensation for the value of the apartment, in the event that the developer goes bankrupt and does not complete the project, the amount stated is the value of the apartment at the time the project is approved. Whether that sum of money can still purchase an apartment of the same size in the same neighborhood two or three years down the line is another question altogether. There have been instances of people paying mortgages on apartments from which they were evacuated, with the promise that they would be coming back within less than three years to enjoy something bigger, brighter and more modern. The project was never completed. The bearers of the mortgage are living in rented premises and still paying off a mortgage on an address to which they may not ever be able to return.
Barkat, who lives in a fine, freestanding house, from which there is no danger of his being evacuated or evicted, is so much in favour of Pinui Binui that he wants to streamline the procedure for making permits available to developers. Some of the victims of that policy undoubtedly came to his home on Succot and noted the difference between how he lives and what may befall them. Their frustrations may well be expressed in the ballot box.
Barkat’s extremely spacious succa was more accurately a campaign tent. The decorations were more centered on campaign slogans than on ushpizin. There were loads of young people, university students, religious families, athletes and secular people, but whatever the demographic mix, the median age group represented the generation whose vote Barkat is seeking.
Campaign activists sat at the gate at the entrance.
Some were wearing campaign T-shirts and sat at a table loaded with campaign literature. They checked off invitees by asking who had invited them, making sure that their names were listed before telling them to walk in and enjoy themselves. In the succa itself, there were lots of tables, chairs and food, and Barkat held forth informally to an admiring throng.
■ VYING WITH Barkat for seats on the council is Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur, who lives in the more picturesque neighborhood of Ein Kerem, and held her own open house in the succa on the first day that Barkat held his. This, too, was a campaign rally of sorts, in that the invitations indicated her succa event was also part of her election campaign. Sent via email and Facebook, the invitation read: “Come celebrate Succot in the beautiful surroundings of Ein Kerem and meet the head of the Ometz Lev party, Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Naomi Tsur, together with councilwoman Edna Friedman and candidates Debbie Ben- Ami, Yaffa Sahalo, Shlomo Goldman, Masada Porat and others. Wine and light refreshments will be served, children are welcome. We are looking forward to seeing you for an informative and intimate evening.”
While it’s true that in Israel politics are everything, it’s sad that they have to intrude on religious festivals.
■ PRIMARILY KNOWN in Jerusalem and beyond for having provided the funding that enabled the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) to acquire their spacious premises in the capital’s Talpiot neighborhood, Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman of Toronto, Canada, were last week honored by Yad Vashem in tribute to their generosity in endowing the Terrace of the Soldiers. The terrace is both a meeting point and a place of rest and reflection for IDF soldiers during their intensive and emotional day at Yad Vashem. In 2005, the Glassmans also endowed the World Rebuilt balcony at the end of the Holocaust History Museum.
Max Glassman was born in Toronto to Nuson and Chaya, Polish Jewish immigrants. Tragically, almost all the members of Nuson and Chaya’s immediate and extended families were murdered in the Holocaust. In World War II, Max joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. Following his honorable discharge, Max entered the highly competitive and prestigious Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto and graduated as a physician and surgeon. He subsequently founded the Queensway Medical Center and Clinic in Toronto. For the past 30 years, he has conducted seminars and lectured on happiness as an integral component to health.
Gianna Glassman was born in Italy and arrived in Canada when she was five years old. She taught in public elementary schools for more than 20 years before retiring. She is an ardent Zionist who is involved in many communal and Israeli organizations.
At the ceremony, Max spoke movingly about his commitment to supporting Yad Vashem, the IDF and Israel. “I believe this is the world’s foremost museum, memorial, library and school,” he said. “It records the largest genocide in man’s history, involving the deaths of 6 million people and the countless progeny that would have ensued. Who are these victims? Bubbies and zaidies, tattes and mamas, shvesters and brieders, and 1.5 children. Who can imagine these numbers? I become sad and depressed when I go through Yad Vashem and I’m not ashamed to tell you I cry a river of tears… until I reach the very end of these incredible galleries and their horrendous exhibits. Yad Vashem does not allow us or the world to forget – and rightly so.”
At the end of the museum, he continued, there is the balcony that he and Gianna dedicated. It is there he came to realize that Yad Vashem is also a school, a college and a university, which teaches the lesson of the Holocaust not only to Jews but to the world at large.
The Glassmans have been generous benefactors to many other causes in Israel and Toronto. One of their most exciting projects is dedicated to brain research.
■ APROPOS YAD Vashem, one of the guides in frequent demand by groups and individuals from all over the world is child Holocaust survivor Rena Quint, who was at the Glassman tribute and who last week also guided a group from Finland that had come to Israel for the Christian Embassy’s Tabernacles celebration.
No one in the group had ever met a Holocaust survivor before, and nearly everyone among the approximately 30 participants plied Quint with questions.
Toward the end, they asked what they could do for her, and she told them that when they returned, they should tell others what they had heard. Quint said the Fins should stress this wasn’t something they had read in a book, but that they had actually met someone who lived through the Holocaust and could tell them her own personal story.
The Fins then asked if they could bless her, and heaped many blessings on her head. Before parting company, they sang “Hatikva” for her in their native tongue.
■ RETIRED AMBASSADOR Dr. Neville Lamdan last month received a lifetime achievement award at the 2013 International Conference on Jewish Genealogy held in Boston. The award was presented in recognition of Lamdan’s pioneering work in establishing and developing the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy and Paul Jacobi Center in Jerusalem. As a result of this, Jewish genealogists now have more tools and insights at their disposal, as does the academic community, for whom genealogical research plays an important role in the study of Jewish history and identity.
During his diplomatic career, Lamdan served in Washington and at the UN, in New York, Geneva and the Vatican. After leaving Israel’s Foreign Ministry, he channeled the same energy and enthusiasm he had given to diplomacy into the study of Jewish genealogy.
[email protected]