Grapevine: A tribute to Yaffa

This year, Purim will be devoted more than usual to women’s issues and the recognition of women’s contributions to society.

Ussishkin Street Purim Carnival 390 (photo credit: Courtesy Ramat Hasharon)
Ussishkin Street Purim Carnival 390
(photo credit: Courtesy Ramat Hasharon)
GIVEN THE heavy rainfall, it would not have been surprising if the audience at the evening memorial for Yaffa Yarkoni at the National Library on the Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus would have been sparse. But in fact, a crowd was already gathered by the staircase long before the advertised starting time. At the National Library audiences are not allowed into the hall until around half an hour prior to the event, nor are chairs provided for senior citizens to take the weight off their feet while they’re waiting to go upstairs. And there were quite a few very senior citizens, considering that many people were of Yarkoni’s generation.
By the time the program got under way, the hall was packed.
Prof. Edwin Seroussi announced that it was less of a memorial tribute than a celebration of the fact that Yarkoni’s extensive personal archive had been transferred to the National Library, with many of her personal effects on display. Anecdotes about Yarkoni and her so-called feud with Shoshana Damari were relayed by playwright and songwriter Dan Almagor and Army Radio’s music guru Yoav Kutner. Some of Yarkoni’s most popular songs were sung by Adi Cohen, aided by musicians and vocal harmonizers Shahar Ziv and Roi Regev.
Although Cohen’s voice is not as deep and husky as that of Yarkoni, she managed to retain the ambience of the songs, most of which were featured in video clips of Yarkoni’s performances so the audience received both interpretations. Kutner was angry at how Yarkoni had been betrayed by her own colleagues prior to a scheduled tribute in her honor at the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv. Yarkoni had seen a television news clip of Israeli soldiers rounding up Palestinian prisoners and putting numbers on their hands so that they could be easily identified. She was horrified, and in an interview with Army Radio, said that she was shocked at the thought that the IDF would do such a thing. She wondered aloud what had happened to the Jewish people – the people who had gone through the Holocaust. How could they do something like this? Her comments were immediately picked up, distorted, widely spread over the Internet and subsequently the print media. The distortion was that she had compared the IDF to Nazis. In fact, she had not mentioned the word Nazis, but the story became embellished, and the distortion became perpetuated to the extent that entertainers who had been lining up to appear on stage at the tribute concert started to bow out until hardly anyone was left. Yarkoni, whose home had been open to all of them, and whose hospitality was known to be boundless, was devastated to be abandoned in this fashion. Her fans also deserted her, and even reviled her.
Some time later, said Kutner, another tribute concert was arranged, but on a much smaller scale. Yarkoni, who had given so much to the nation, never quite recovered from what had been done to her, he said. This was a perfect example of how to perpetuate a lie, said Kutner, whose remarks were corroborated by Almagor. When speaking of both Yarkoni and Damari, Almagor said that no matter how much glamor and glitter they displayed on stage, in private, neither was a diva. Each was down-to-earth and did her own cooking and house cleaning.
Once when he had come to Damari’s home, recalled Almagor, he found her washing the floor, or as it’s referred to in the local vernacular, doing sponja. “How can you, such a queen of song, lower yourself to do sponja?” he had asked her. She replied: “The floor doesn’t know I’m a queen.”
■ THIS YEAR, more than any other, Purim – which coincides with International Women’s Day – will be devoted more than usual to women’s issues and the recognition of women’s contributions to society. This is in no small measure due to what is perceived in the non-haredi community as the denigration of women by certain extreme haredi elements. Today and tomorrow, Kehillat Moreshet Yisrael, located at 3 Agron Street, will be celebrating Women’s Shabbat. The services will be led entirely by women and will feature Torah-inspired sermons by Prof. Alice Shalvi, the founder of the Israel Women’s Network, and Rachel Azaria, a member of the Jerusalem City Council representing the Yerushalmim faction.
■ CONGREGANTS AT the Beit Yisrael Congregation in Yemin Moshe are due for a special treat this Shabbat, with services being led by Cantor Naftali Wertheim of the Moscow Great Synagogue.
■ WAVES OF FREEDOM, the documentary film based on the book by Murray Greenfield about American Mahal (Mitnadvei Hutz La’aretz) volunteers who came to help in the mission to bring Holocaust survivors to Israel and to fight in the War of Independence, has been widely screened in Israel and is available on DVD. The film was made by Alan Rosenthal, who specializes in making documentaries that relate to Jewish – or specifically Israeli – themes. Such productions require an incredible amount of research. Rosenthal will discuss this on Wednesday, March 14 in an address to the Jerusalem Branch of the Jewish Historical Society of England. The lecture at Beit Avi Chai, which is wheelchair accessible, will begin at 7:45 p.m.
■ WHILE THE majority of political leaders in Israel keep touting a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, amateur historian, researcher and author Tsvi Misinai – along with Prof.
Josef Ben Dak, an expert in international security and chairman of Knowledge Planning Corporation, a strategic multinational think tank, right-wing author and activist David Ish-Shalom, an impressive array of academics and Jewish and Palestinian religious and community lay leaders – are advocating one state based on rapprochement, or what they call “engagement.”
In separate addresses at Media Central last week to a group of media representatives who braved the relentless rain, the trio outlined their proposal, which is rooted in genetics. While relatively few Palestinians may be halachically Jewish, many are genetically Jewish, and a surprisingly large number carry the priestly gene of the kohanim.
■ EVEN THOUGH rapprochement between Israelis and Palestinians at the government level has hit a stalemate, there has been long-time coexistence at an interfaith level. Aside from regular meetings at which information is shared about religious traditions, there are also retreats in which Israelis and Palestinians coexist. Coming up is a joint retreat of the Palestinian Peace Society of Hebron and the Interfaith Encounter Association, whose members include Jews, Christians and Muslims. The retreat will take place on March 22-23 at the Austrian Hospice in the Old City.
■ IF YOU’VE ever wondered when seeing television clips of gala events taking place in hotels, why there are so many screens or stands featuring the hotel logo, it’s because such publicity often gives the organization whose event it is extra perks or a big discount.
This even applies to one-on-one interviews. At a recent conference at a luxury Jerusalem hotel, one of the prominent figures was being interviewed by Channel 1, but the interview could not take place until the hotel’s screens had been set in place behind him. The perk was that the hotel supplied free cake, cookies, sandwiches and coffee throughout the morning to the organization’s administration and press rooms.
Not all organizations want to be part of such an arrangement.
In another Jerusalem luxury hotel in which a non-Jewish organization has an annual large-scale reception, the PR of the hotel stood just two or three meters ahead of the official receiving line to welcome every guest in the name of the hotel. The organizers of the event were very upset because they had neither asked for nor received any perks and had paid full price without question.
The hotel was in fact encroaching on their event.
In Tel Aviv, more than in Jerusalem, hotels go a step further and ensure that the manager of the hotel is photographed greeting international celebrities. Such photographs are, of course, circulated all over the world and, if published, result in enormously valuable free publicity. Thus it’s hardly surprising that the managers of Tel Aviv’s best hotels are in hot pursuit of the organizers of the anticipated visit at the end of May by Madonna, who will be launching her world tour from the Holy Land. Lady Gaga is due to arrive in August to give a concert in Petah Tikva, and the rush to accommodate her will be no less intense than that to serve the needs of Madonna.