Grapevine: Kabbalat Shabbat for all

Every year is suffused with festivals and anniversaries in Israel.

bibi 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
bibi 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
STARTING TODAY, over the next four months until September 19, the popular Kabbalat Shabbat community sing-a-long at the First Station will be in force from 5 p.m. every Friday. Admission is free and participants include almost every stream of Judaism, and almost every age group from toddlers to nonagenarians. It’s an extraordinary pluralistic experience, in which all the barriers that may exist between one stream of Judaism and another are torn down in welcoming the Sabbath.
It’s as Jewish a happening as anyone could wish for, with live music, singing and dancing. People can just sit, listen and watch, or join in if they feel like it. There is no pressure either way. It’s simply a means of enabling Jews to forget their differences and to focus on their commonalities.
The pluralistic Kabbalat Shabbat was created by the Ginot Ha’ir Community Council, Nava Tehila and the “An Invitation to Piyut” website. All three organizations promote the pluralistic character of Jerusalem.
SOME PEOPLE just look for trouble. In the same week that he was appointed chairman of the Gihon, the Jerusalem Water and Wastewater Utility, Avi Balashnikov had to cope with water pollution in a number of the capital’s neighborhoods.
Balashnikov is one of those people who seems to chase difficulties.
When the Hadassah Medical Organization crisis erupted, Balashnikov, a resident of Old Katamon, offered his services to the board to try to resolve the problem, and became an unpaid member of Hadassah’s board of directors. At that time, he said, he felt obligated to do something to save Hadassah, because all of his children had been born at its medical center.
Balashnikov, 48, has had a varied career, but one in which for most of the time, he was in a key, influential position. In 1999, he made a failed attempt to become an MK, running on Pnina Rosenblum’s ticket. Before that, he was the political adviser to then-finance minister Avraham Shohat. In 1996 he was appointed director-general of the Internal Security Ministry, headed by Avigdor Kahalani. In 1999 he teamed up with Dalia Itzik, who was then environment minister, but also responsible for the Israel Broadcasting Authority and trying to initiate reforms. He was also deputy director-general of the Israel Export Institute and a member of the board of Carta, among other roles.
His connection with Itzik remained strong, and Balashnikov headed Itzik’s election campaign prior to her being appointed industry and trade minister. When Itzik took up the Communications portfolio, Balashnikov became director-general of the Communications Ministry and remained in the position when she moved on. After Itzik was elected Knesset speaker, she created a new position for Balashnikov. There had never been a director-general of the Knesset before, but there wasn’t too much opposition to the idea – and Balashnikov duly became the first director-general in Knesset history.
Later, when president Moshe Katsav was forced to suspend himself from office six months prior to expiration of his term, Itzik became acting president and Balashnikov became director-general of the presidential complex. Itzik would have loved to stay in the position of president, but due to a fierce loyalty to Shimon Peres, decided not to stand in his way by running for office.
In 2009, Balashnikov was appointed to be the Israel representative of Ronald Lauder, who in addition to being president of the World Jewish Congress has major business and philanthropic interests in Israel. In line with Lauder’s business interests, Balashnikov was appointed chairman of the board at Channel 10.
It is not yet certain whether Itzik will throw her cap into the presidential ring, but if she does, and if she happens to get more votes than her rivals, there is little doubt that Balashnikov will once again be her director-general.
EVERY YEAR is suffused with festivals and anniversaries, but it seems as if there may be a surfeit in 2014.
For instance, the Tower of David, which this week opened its year-long exhibition “Jerusalem: A Medical Diagnosis,” is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary. The museum was opened by late and legendary mayor Teddy Kollek, who envisaged it as a museum that would tell the history of Jerusalem in its many facets. The new exhibition, which presents a fascinating glimpse into centuries of health treatments and health facilities in which religious differences between Jews, Christians and Muslims were cast aside, also brings to light the fact that Jerusalem had the first children’s hospital in the Middle East and one of the first in the world. Curator of the exhibition is Dr. Nurit Shalev-Khalifa.
THE INTERNATIONAL Writers Festival, which will be held in Mishkenot Sha’ananim from May 18 to 23, will pay homage to poet Yehuda Amichai, and celebrate the 90th anniversary of his birth. Amichai was born on May 3, 1924.
NO SINGLE personality has been associated as long and as closely with the American Joint Distribution Committee as the dapper Ralph Goldman, who no matter what fashion may dictate has always chosen to wear a bow tie rather than a necktie. Because he is one of the great beloved icons of JDC, the organization has opted to bring his 100th birthday celebration forward by a little over three months, so that it can combine his centenary with its own 100th anniversary – which was kicked off in Washington last December with an address by US Secretary of State John Kerry, and which will culminate in Jerusalem just after mid-May.
One of the world’s leading humanitarian organizations, which operates on the principle that Jews are responsible for each other, the JDC – or the Joint as it is commonly called – came into being as a result of the appalling conditions under which Jews of the Yishuv lived under Ottoman rule in 1914. The leader of the Yishuv appealed to Henry Morgenthau, who was then US ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. Morgenthau in turn sent an urgent cable to philanthropist Jacob Schiff in New York, emphasizing the plight of Palestinian Jews and adding that there was an immediate need for $50,000. Schiff wasted no time in bringing together some other affluent Jews, who raised the necessary funds within a month – and the JDC, which has since operated in more than 70 countries, was launched.
The JDC, which is headquartered in New York, has a large and busy Israel office in Givat Ram. Some 150 members of the JDC Executive Council will be coming to Israel for the festivities, which will include meetings with President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and other prominent figures. On opening night there will be a gala dinner at Beit Shmuel honoring Goldman, who will be greeted by Peres. The two have known each other since the days when Peres was an aide to David Ben-Gurion.
Goldman, who is honorary executive vice president of the JDC, was among those who helped Kollek acquire arms for Israel during the War of Independence and was closely linked to the American Friends of the Hagana. Working under the aegis of the US government and the UN in the Prime Minister’s Office, from 1953 Goldman spent four years as a coordinator for the aid effort for Israel; he also worked closely with Ben-Gurion. It was he who established the JDC presence in Europe, the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.
Goldman, who lives in Jerusalem, was also the founder of JDC Israel, which in 2005 was awarded the Israel Prize. Energetic and inspiring, Goldman developed numerous networks for atrisk children, new immigrants, senior citizens and special-needs persons of all ages. He remained a volunteer with JDC through his mid-90s. He also took a great interest in cultural activities and sat on the executive boards of museums, theaters and orchestras. In 2008, when Israel marked its 60th birthday, Goldman was among the torch lighters on Mount Herzl.
Like so many others living in Israel, he has also experienced the pain of a bereaved parent. His son, David Ben-Rephael, who was a diplomat, was among the casualties when the Israel Embassy in Argentina was bombed by terrorists in 1992.