Grapevine: Open wounds

David Arquette celebrates his bar mitzva at the Western Wall.

Open wounds (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Open wounds
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
■ THIRTY YEARS after the First Lebanon War, there is still no closure for the families of Zecharia Baumel, Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz, who were taken prisoner in June 1982 in the Battle of Sultan Yakoub.
The families have no knowledge of the fate of these three men who have been missing in action for so long. The IDF had planned to classify the trio as soldiers who had fallen in battle but whose burial place was unknown. However, the families successfully fought the decision following news agency reports that IDF soldiers had been seen on a tank during a military parade in Damascus. Photographs of the parade showed someone who bore so striking a resemblance to Baumel that it imbued his family with fresh hope. This increased when PLO leader Yasser Arafat delivered half of Baumel’s dog tag in December 1993.
Small wonder that these pieces of evidence that his son might still be alive spurred Yehuda Baumel to travel far and wide, including many places in the Arab world, in search of any information that would help him find his son or at least learn what happened to him. In his search, the elder Baumel, an American citizen, represented all three families. He was relentless in his quest until his heart gave out in 2009 and he passed away.
But his wife, Miriam Baumel, is continuing to keep her son’s disappearance in the public consciousness.
At a service this week at Jerusalem’s Ramban synagogue, where prayers have regularly been recited for all of the country’s missing soldiers, she told Channel 1 that a succession of governments had not done enough to find the missing soldiers. Rabbi Benjamin Lau, focusing on the half of the dog tag that Arafat brought, declared that the other half was floating somewhere in the world and that Israel must do its utmost to find it and its owner.
■ FOR THOSE who missed out on it at age 13, it’s never too late to celebrate a bar mitzva. Last month, nine Holocaust survivors who did not have a chance to celebrate their bar and bat mitzvas made up for lost time at the Heichal Shabbat Synagogue in Ashkelon, with the participation of children from the Henry Ronson school. One of the men celebrating said that to stand in the synagogue with his tefillin bound on his arm and his head while surrounded by Jewish youngsters was the survivors’ greatest triumph over the Nazis.
There was a slight connection to this celebration this week in Jerusalem, when American actor, director, producer, screenwriter, fashion designer and wrestling champion David Arquette, who is halachically Jewish even though he wasn’t raised Jewish, decided to celebrate his bar mitzva at the Western Wall.
Arquette’s mother, born Olivia Novak, is the daughter of Polish Holocaust survivors. She is an actress, poet and theater operator who assimilated in her youth and passed little if any of their heritage on to her children.
Arquette’s father was a convert to Islam.
The 41-year-old Arquette, who is best known for his appearance in feature films like Scream and Never Been Kissed, arrived in the country last Friday as part of his travels around the globe to shoot material for a new reality show that is scheduled to air next year on the Travel Channel. Since his arrival, he has been tweeting fans about his impressions of Israel, which have generally been good. His bar mitzva included all the rituals, and he was guided in what to do by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall and the holy sites in the Old City. It is not certain whether the bar mitzva was a publicity stunt to be incorporated into the TV program, or whether, having landed in Israel, Arquette felt the spark of his Jewish roots.
■ WHEN HE first came to Jerusalem in 1997 to take up his position as director of the Israel Museum, James Snyder met with a certain degree of suspicion.
Never mind the impeccable credentials that went with the impeccable hairstyle, he was a strange bird who had never previously been to the country and who spoke no Hebrew.
His Hebrew is still not fluent, but he tries hard and injects a few Hebrew sentences into all his formal speeches. The suspicion has evaporated and been replaced by love, friendship and admiration – and to cap it off, he received Honorary Citizenship of the City of Jerusalem last week from Mayor Nir Barkat.
The ceremony at city hall took place within the framework of the International Council of the Israel Museum’s annual meeting, with participants from Israel, the US, Canada, England, Switzerland, Monaco, Italy, France, Belgium, Spain, Brazil and South Africa crowding into the Jerusalem City Council chamber to celebrate with Snyder.
As it happened, the occasion coincided with his 30th wedding anniversary, and in a voice that broke with emotion, he paid tribute to his wife, Tina, saying that their marriage in a Cleveland synagogue had changed his life. It was also due to her that he had come to Israel, he said; had she not agreed, they would have remained in New York.
One speaker after another – including diplomat Yitzhak Molcho, Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, and philanthropists Charles Bronfman, Michael Steinhardt and Lynn Schusterman – praised Snyder for his vision, his courage, his persistence, his ability as a speaker and fund-raiser, his powers of persuasion and his style of management.
Confirming what everyone else had said, Barkat declared that “even when you try to say no to James, you end up saying yes.”
Addressing himself directly to Snyder, the mayor said, “You’re great at motivating strategic projects. It’s not only what you do, but the way you do it. You can be very lovey-dovey, but also aggressive like a bulldog.You have uplifted the Israel Museum into a symbol that the Jewish World can look on with pride and the whole world can admire. You’re an asset to the city and the museum.”
Barkat also disclosed that he had frequently consulted with Snyder on how to improve the capital’s cultural image and had found him to be not only helpful but inspiring.
There was also a musical tribute by twin clarinetists Alexander and Daniel Gurfinkel, who as child prodigies frequently played at Israel Museum events, as well as in different parts of the world. Now serving in the IDF, the twins showed up in uniform to play a Gershwin medley in Snyder’s honor.
“I thought I had my bar mitzva 47 years ago,” quipped Snyder. Then, becoming serious, he said: “For Tina and me, Jerusalem is our Israel and the Israel Museum is my Israel.” He declined to take full credit for the revamping of the museum, which has become one of the most important museums in the world. It was done with the assistance and cooperation of all the museum staff and the friends of the museum, he said.
■ EARLIER IN the week, Snyder presided over the museum’s Honorary Fellowship Awards to Wendy Fisher, David Grossman, Linda and Michael Jesselson, Barbara and Morton Mandel, Evi Musher Shechter and Lily Safra. British Ambassador Matthew Gould came to the fellowship ceremony in honor of Fisher, who chairs the British Friends of the Art Museums in Israel, is a successful sculptor in her own right and has been selected to exhibit her work in the Olympic Sculpture Park at the upcoming London Olympics. It was amazing to see how the Mandels, who over the years have given millions of dollars to numerous Israeli causes besides the Israel Museum, were almost humbly grateful to see their names linked with the Wing for Jewish Art and Life, in addition to all the other museum projects they have supported.
Michael Jesselson, whose late parents Erica and Ludwig Jesselson were among the museum’s early benefactors, recalled that former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek had been a visitor in their home whenever he came to New York, and once took a painting off the wall because he decided that it belonged in the museum. Grossman, who grew up not far from the museum when the area was still a barren hilltop, said that he loves to come to the museum as often as he can because he finds it a place of serenity in which he can discover his true self.
■ MUSEUMS HAVE certainly featured prominently in Barkat’s schedule over the past couple of weeks. This included notifying the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Marvin Hier that all legal obstacles to continuing the construction of the Museum of Tolerance on the site of a Muslim cemetery on Hillel Street had been removed. It also included attending some of the International Council of the Israel Museum events and the Bible Lands Museum’s 20th anniversary celebration.
The anniversary celebrations included the opening of the scintillating “Pure Gold” exhibition, which demonstrates how superb craftsmanship endures the test of time, and culminated in the Bible Lands Museum’s annual gala dinner in the garden area – which, according to director Amanda Weiss, will be incorporated into the museum’s expansion program in the not-too-distant future.
Barkat said that the first time he had come to the Bible Lands Museum was around a decade ago, and he had been very impressed. Ever since, he said, he found himself coming back with ever greater frequency to see its progress and its inspirational and informative exhibitions.
“The Bible Lands Museum has become my third home,” he said, adding that it had become a significant stop not only for tourists, but for students visiting the city. He enthused over the “Golden Mile” project, in which the museum and the municipality have engaged with Bezalel students who are studying jewelry design. Referring to the cultural hub in the immediate vicinity, Barkat spoke of the National Library that will be constructed through the generous gift of the Rothschild Foundation, and the construction of a National Museum, which, along with the Israel Museum and the nearby Bloomfield Science Museum, will form “a critical mass of cultural anchors.” He also mentioned the intention to bring the light rail to this part of the city, so as to make all the cultural attractions easily accessible to both residents and visitors.
Batya Borowski, who founded the museum together with her late husband Elie Borowski, said it was exciting to have people who had been supporters from the beginning at this milestone anniversary dinner. Weiss was thrilled that the museum had become a permanent feature on the Taglit-Birthright calendar and said she was expecting some 1,500 Birthright visitors in July.
She also spoke of the museum’s educational program, in which Jewish, Christian and Muslim children and their parents come together to learn about a common past and leave their differences outside the door.