GRAPEVINE: A sweet victory

Isaac Herzog
Had the Labor Party under his leadership been received with the same popularity as his election to the chairmanship of the Jewish Agency, Isaac Herzog would have been prime minister, and Benjamin Netanyahu would have been the leader of the opposition – or he might have taken another time-out from politics.
Political rivals as well as people in his own party were in accord that Herzog is the best person for the job, particularly given his family’s long record of public service. Several people who hailed his election recalled that his grandfather had been the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the nascent State of Israel, and that his father had been the nation’s sixth president.
What they failed to remember is that Herzog is a second-generation Jewish Agency man on both sides of his family. In preparation for the state-in-the-making, the Jewish Agency opened a school for diplomats, and his mother, Aura Herzog, was in the first class. At the time, his father, Chaim Herzog, was head of the Jewish Agency’s security division. Aura Herzog was among 44 people wounded by the explosion of a car bomb in the courtyard of the Jewish Agency compound on March 11, 1948, and was carried out of the building in her husband’s arms. In addition to the 44 wounded, 12 people were killed.
When his father was ambassador to the United Nations, Herzog attended the Ramaz School in New York, which to a major extent contributed to his experience of American Jewish life. He has, of course, been back to America many times since, to speak at conferences and public forums.
Politically and professionally, Herzog followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a lawyer and a legislator. His father was a Labor MK when elected president. It’s no secret that Isaac Herzog would like to follow his father further and become Israel’s 11th president, but if he follows through on that ambition, he may have to curtail his four-year tenure with the Jewish Agency, as present incumbent Reuven Rivlin has only three years left in which to complete his seven-year term. Last year, in addition to his parliamentary duties, Herzog was busy with events commemorating the 20th anniversary of his father’s death.
This year, soon after taking up his role with the Jewish Agency, he will be busy commemorating the centenary on September 17 of his father’s birth. In fact, Herzog was born as a birthday present for his father on September 22, 1960. Prior to being a lawyer and a diplomat, Chaim Herzog spent a large part of his life as a soldier, and held the rank of major-general. Isaac Herzog left the army with the rank of major, and Michael Herzog, one of his three siblings, is a retired brigadier-general.
Herzog’s Polish-born grandfather, for whom he is named, moved to England 120 years ago but, after settling in Jerusalem in 1936, famously tore up the British White Paper, which in 1939 restricted Jewish migration to Palestine when, almost everywhere else in the world, entry was closed to Jews fleeing from the Nazis. This tearing of a decree was emulated by Chaim Herzog at the United Nations on November 10, 1975, when he tore up the paper on which the UN resolution equating Zionism with racism was printed.
“For us, the Jewish people, this is but a passing episode in a rich and event-filled history,” he said at the time. “We put our trust in our Providence, in our faith and beliefs, in our time-hallowed tradition, in our striving for social advance and human values, and in our people wherever they may be. For us, the Jewish people, this resolution based on hatred, falsehood and arrogance, is devoid of any moral or legal value. For us, the Jewish people, this is no more than a piece of paper, and we shall treat it as such,” he said.
Isaac Herzog’s paternal grandmother, Sarah Herzog, was an important figure in the development of the psychiatric and geriatric hospital in Jerusalem that now bears her name. She was also the founder of World Emunah. His mother is the founder of the Council for a Beautiful Israel and the annual Bible Quiz held on Independence Day.
Herzog himself has been a legislator for 15 years, and though born with a silver spoon in his mouth, has always shown great empathy for the weaker sectors of society, whom he got to know well during his four-year stint as welfare and social services minister. His other ministerial roles were housing and construction, tourism and Diaspora affairs and the fight against antisemitism. As chairman of the Jewish Agency, he will to some extent continue in that role. A criminal lawyer by training, Herzog’s wife, Michal, works as a representative of the Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Philanthropic Foundation, and before that worked for the Marc Rich Philanthropic Foundation.
Certain media people, after gloating that Herzog was a pie in the eye for Netanyahu, could barely wait to dig their nails into the Jewish Agency per se to ask whether it still has any relevance. As a matter of fact, it does, because many things that the government cannot do for Jewish communities in other countries can be accomplished by the Jewish Agency, which, unlike the government of Israel, has the word “Jewish” in its title – a factor that in itself indicates its raison d’etre.
In an open letter to Herzog, Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli wrote: “Dear Bougie, no one is more suitable at this time to safeguard the connection between Judaism and the Jews of the world, which our government has threatened to destroy.”
■ EURO-ASIAN JEWISH Congress president Mikhail Mirilashvili, who has just added another title to his CV and is now president of the Euro-Asian Keren Hayesod Foundation, wasted no time in becoming more closely acquainted with Herzog in both their new roles, and spent time talking to him at the Jewish Agency board of governors meeting at the Orient Hotel in Jerusalem.
■ AMONG SOME of the other affluent and generous figures who were citizens of the former Soviet Union, and who have admirable philanthropic accomplishments to their credit, are diamond merchant and property developer Lev Leviev, who supports many causes in the FSU, Israel and the US, and Len Blavatnik, who inter alia provides scholarships to enable promising Israeli academics to continue their work. Kyrgyzstan-born billionaire Alexander Mashkevich, who has strong political and economic connections in Kazakhstan, is a former president of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress and contributes to Jewish causes in the FSU as well as to Israel. Roman Abramovich has given millions to Tel Aviv University and other causes. Mikhail Chernoy’s foundation helps other immigrants from the FSU to realize their potential, and he also uses his money to help nations fight terrorism. Leonid Nevzlin, head of the Nadav Foundation, is best known for rescuing Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People from closure, and has since expanded its size and its scope.
The Nadav Foundation also supports projects in Jewish studies in Israel and the Diaspora and also has a stake in the Holon Children’s Museum, which hosted a reception marking the first anniversary of its year-long, highly successful Beatles exhibition. Needless to say, Nevzlin and his wife, Tatyana, were there.
Director Gil Omer said that the senior staff at the museum had put on their thinking caps to come up with an idea for an exhibition that would have universal, inter-generational appeal, and The Beatles seemed like an ideal theme. There was just that minor problem of funding. The word got out, and a few days later Omer was contacted by a representative of the Nadav Foundation with an offer to help. It turns out that Nevzlin, during his youth in the Soviet Union, was a Beatles fan, and he remains one. Beatles records that were smuggled into the Soviet Union sparked a love of rock music among Soviet youth.
The interactive exhibition, which not only conveys the history of The Beatles but also their effect on music, fashion, cultural values and more, is presented as a magical mystery tour at eye level. Also present at the anniversary celebration, along with several celebrities from the world of entertainment, was Holon Mayor Moti Sasson, who takes great pride in the number of museums and galleries in his city.
■ AFTER SIX years as director and head curator of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Suzanne Landau is retiring at the end of 2018. Her successor is Tania Coen-Uzielli, whose appointment was officially approved last Thursday by the museum’s board of directors.
Prior to her own appointment in August 2012, Landau was curator of contemporary art at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, a position she has held since 1982. From 1998, she also served as chief curator of fine arts.
Coen-Uzielli likewise comes to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art from the Israel Museum, where she is a curator and head of curatorial services. She joined the staff of the Israel Museum in 2000, and has worked as associate curator in the department of Jewish art and ethnography. She was curator-in-charge of the Suriname project, in which the Portuguese Synagogue of Suriname was reconstructed and installed in Jerusalem. During the revamping of the Israel Museum, she headed the renovation project of the Jewish Art and Life Wing and curated the “Synagogue Route” exhibition. In 2015 she curated the “Brief History of Humankind” exhibition, which later traveled to the Bonn Bundeskunsthalle. This year she was co-curator of the Israeli Pavilion at the 16th International Venice Biennale for Architecture.
Landau, who initiated dramatic changes in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art’s internal organizational structure, is widely regarded as an outstanding and influential figure in the field of art, especially contemporary and modern art, both Israeli and international. She established the Voting for Art acquisition group, changed the museum’s logo and visual language, renewed the sculpture garden and the permanent collection galleries, and initiated a comprehensive renovation process for the main building.
Coen-Uzzielli said that she is thrilled to be joining one of Israel’s major cultural institutions and that she is approaching her new role with a sense of mission.
■ WITH THE number of double baby carriages being wheeled around, it’s difficult to believe that one in every eight couples is fertility challenged. While Israel is known to be medically and financially generous to such couples, the emotional and psychological stress that these couples undergo is generally ignored or overlooked. The recently opened Keren Gefen Mind-Body Fertility Center in Jerusalem’s German Colony was established to fill this void. Its broad range of programs, activities and support groups for the various people it serves provide emotional and psychological support for women of all backgrounds and ages undergoing fertility treatment and challenges in their pregnancies.
Established in May 2014, the Gefen organization aims to nurture and support fertility-challenged women and serve as a teaching resource to share its vision and innovative programs with Jewish communities worldwide.
Dr. Keren Friedman, founding director, runs the clinic together with Kady Harari and a team of expert therapists in the fields of medicine, mental health and alternative medicine. Friedman said: “Once a woman undergoing treatment walks through the Gefen door, she is no longer alone.”
Harari, director of the yoga program, guides members into finding the space between each breath. “I know deep in my heart what these women are going through, and my quest is to help them through theirs,” she said.
Harari and her staff teach diverse yoga classes, including yoga prenatal and one-on-one sessions with women before or after their medical procedures, such as embryo transfer, once again showing them that they are not alone.
Friedman’s husband, Prof. Yedidia Stern, explained that she is motivated by the fact that they have a large family, and she wants to express gratitude for this by helping women with fertility problems.
Dr. Yuval Bdolah, head of the sperm bank at Hadassah Medical Center on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus, lauded the Gefen clinic for providing the emotional support that complements the physical treatment. Prof. Arye Hurwitz, head of the Hadassah Mount Scopus IVF Unit, explained that women helped by the Gefen Center include single women who want to preserve their eggs. This can be a difficult process when decisions need to be made, often alone. Gefen helps these single women to reach a decision. A second group includes women who can no longer conceive naturally. They receive ova which are transferred from younger women. This can be emotionally difficult, and the Gefen Center helps them through the whole process, he said. The Gefen Center also deals with the haredi community, where pressures are different but equally painful and intense, said Hurwitz. In addition, the center runs support groups for haredi husbands whose wives are having fertility treatment, he said.
Dr. Jordana Hyman, an IVF physician at Shaarei Zedek Medical Center and medical adviser at the Gefen Center, spoke of the holistic and all-encompassing nature of the support the women receive, emphasizing the kindness and compassion that exemplifies the Gefen Center.
Pnina Klinger and Batya Prebor, acupuncturists and trained herbalists, said that acupuncture is a safe and effective method of increasing chances of having a healthy baby by lowering stress and improving blood supply to pelvic organs.
A central feature of the Gefen Center is its connection to leading scholars in Jewish law. Rabbi Yaakov Warhaftig, head of the female advisers in Jewish law program at Nishmat, explained that in a joint program the Gefen Center trains women to become experts in family law in all areas relating to infertility, pregnancy challenges and building a family.
■ SEVERAL VETERAN British immigrants who hail from London were pupils at the Avigdor School, an Orthodox coeducational school established by Rabbi Dr. Solomon Schonfeld in memory of his father.
Solomon Schonfeld, who was the spiritual leader of the Adas Yisroel Congregation, devoted himself to the establishment of Anglo Jewish schools in London. He was also the presiding rabbi of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations founded by his late father, Rabbi Dr. Avigdor Schonfeld, who died from blood poisoning at age 49. The union comprised just over a dozen small synagogues in London’s East End. Avigdor Schonfeld was also been keen on establishing Anglo Jewish schools that combined secular and religious studies, and set up the first Jewish secondary school in Finsbury Park in September 1929, three months before his death. His son Solomon continued with his father’s aspirations.
Just before the outbreak of the Second World War, Schonfeld organized something similar to the Kindertransport, and managed to get hundreds of young Jews out of Austria and Germany.
Gene Portnoi was a student at the Avigdor Grammar School on Lordship Road, London. Over the years, he learned that several other former students from his school were living in Israel and began to track them down for the purpose of having a reunion. He also found several students in London, some of whom were willing to come to Israel but were unable to come at this time. Realizing that it was impossible to find a date that would suit everyone, Portnoi went ahead with his plans and organized a reunion at Mul Hayam in Netanya, where many British expatriates live. The gathering included spouses, but it was not only because of them that Portnoi prepared name tags. It was obvious to him that people who in some cases had not seen each other in 60 years would have difficulty in recognizing each other.
Among those who attended were Judy Marcus, Jeanette Sint, Alex Deutch, Alan Unterman, Joyce Lichtig, Alan Portnoi, Liz Weil and Maurice Corb. The event was so successful that they wanted to do it again but with sufficient flexibility to enable some of their former schoolmates still living in London to attend.
Reunions are apparently in vogue just now. In Jerusalem, Steve Sattler has organized a reunion of former members of Australian Bnei Akiva from Melbourne, Sydney and Perth to come with their families to the park by the promenade (Tayelet) just off Daniel Yanowski Street on the seam of Talpiot-Arnona.
Participants are asked to bring their own food. The get-together is to take place on Thursday from 5 p.m. and will continue till nightfall.
■ WHAT COULD be more appropriate in the 70th anniversary of the state than a new biography about founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion? The book A State at All Costs, written in Hebrew by eminently readable writer and former journalist Tom Segev, will be launched Wednesday evening, June 27, at 7:30 p.m. at Mishkenot Sha’ananim, with the participation of the author, former minister and cabinet secretary Dan Meridor and former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg, who grew up within two minutes’ walk of each other, and whose fathers Eliyahu Meridor (Herut) and Yosef Burg (National Religious Party) were also members of Knesset, serving at the same time as Ben-Gurion. In fact, Yosef Burg, who died at age 90, was elected to the First Knesset, and continued to be a legislator for almost 40 years, serving in several ministerial positions until his retirement in 1986. Moderator will be broadcasting personality Liat Regev.
■ AMONG THE various titles that Meridor has these days is that of president of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, which operates under the auspices of the World Jewish Congress. As part of Israel’s 70th anniversary celebrations, the Israel branch of the WJC hosted a conference of national Jewish community directors and other professionals from 45 countries around the world, including Myanmar and Cuba.
Arguably the busiest of these professionals is Jerusalem-born Rabbi Moshe Silberhaf, known as the traveling rabbi because he gravitates between 14 African states whose Jewish communities are under the umbrella of the African Jewish Congress.
Many ambassadors and other diplomats were invited to a gala dinner at the Dan Accadia Herzliya Hotel, where most were deliberately seated alongside the professionals from the countries they represent. Meridor, who was the keynote speaker, attempted to strike a balance between Israel’s accomplishments in the past 70 years, and the challenges currently being faced by Israel and the Jewish people.
Relating to Israel’s status in the world, Meridor said that Israel had achieved something that the Jewish people had not had before, rising from a dismal plight of no power to the highest point of power.
Looking at recent political developments around the globe, Meridor said that there has been a backlash in democracy and the rule of law. The world which witnessed the end of communism now sees a rise in extreme nationalism. There are countries in which human rights and democracy constitute a strange idea, said Meridor. “The values of the world we live in are under threat. We see ideologies in Europe that we thought would never come back. Sometimes these ideologies go hand in hand with antisemitism, he observed.
Turning to Israel, Meridor conceded that there have been huge political fights on many issues, “but never a struggle over human rights and the rule of law,” which he said were agreed on by the Left and the Right. But now, this too is at risk. “Today, common ground is under stress, and the character of the nation is under threat,” Meridor warned. “We have a challenge that Israel has to take care of. Unemployment is low, tourism is high, but something is wrong in the basic values of the Zionist movement, and society is threatened. Today, we are a majority. Do we treat the minority as we were treated, or treat the minority as ourselves?”
In a different, pre-state era, Jews, wherever they lived, were united by religion, he said. There was one religion practiced to different degrees, but Jews were Jews. With enlightenment, he continued, came the realization that one can be fully Jewish but not religious.
Today, a minority and not a majority keep Jewish religious law, said Meridor, “so what unites us? We have to ask ourselves: Do we have values with which Jews in the world can identify? Conservative and Reform Jews are a large part of the Jewish people and need to feel at home here. The State of Israel needs to take this into account.
“Israel needs to have a moral leadership for itself and the world.”
The different streams of Judaism were represented by the community directors in attendance, who, when the music led by the YoYa Entertainment Group began, rushed onto the dance floor to dance a spirited hora that went on for a long time and was then followed by a conga around the room, until everyone was part of a circle, indicating that Jewish unity is not in the mind but in the feet.