Grapevine April 10, 2022: Reducing the gap

Residents of the Protea Hills retirement village in Shoresh, just outside Jerusalem, have a charity fund whose subcommittee has little trouble in getting fellow residents to perform a mitzvah.

 CHILI TROPPER and Nina Weiner. (photo credit: OFER AMRAM)
CHILI TROPPER and Nina Weiner.
(photo credit: OFER AMRAM)

The Israel Scholarship Education Foundation, more widely known by its acronym of ISEF, held a convention at the Kiryat Ye’arim hotel with the participation of Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper, who congratulated ISEF founder 89-year-old Nina Weiner on 45 years of ISEF work to reduce social disparities in peripheral areas of the country.

Tropper told 400 ISEF students and alumni that his key motivation in entering political life was that he was conscious of the fact that in Israel, a child’s future is largely determined by where he or she was born. Unfortunately, the statistics, though significant, are always heartbreaking, he said. The children may be smart, talented, motivated, but if they were born in the wrong place in the periphery, and they come from the low socioeconomic clusters of the population, their chance of earning a matriculation certificate is only 12%, compared to children from other places where the whole environment has provisions for helping, if a child has any obstacles to overcome. A gap that starts at a young age will be very difficult to close later. “ISEF, which has been working in this field for decades, manages to change that situation. You are the proof of this. It’s something that I appreciate a lot.”

■ WEINER IS not the only member of her peer generation who remains an active social entrepreneur.

Residents of the Protea Hills retirement village in Shoresh, just outside Jerusalem, have a charity fund whose subcommittee has little trouble in getting fellow residents to perform a mitzvah – a good deed – by either donating cash to a designated charity or participating in an event in which the proceeds will go to charity.

This time, they conducted a donation drive, the proceeds from which went directly to United Hatzalah to further its humanitarian work in Ukraine. United Hatzalah was chosen for its outstanding and long-standing commitment to medical care, humanitarian aid and its assistance in enabling Ukrainian Jews to arrive safely in Israel. Yaakov Kamenetsky, project manager of United Hatzalah, visited Protea to answer questions about what the organization is doing, showed recent videos and received the collected funds.

 UNITED HATZALAH volunteers with refugees en route to Israel (credit: UNITED HATZALAH‏) UNITED HATZALAH volunteers with refugees en route to Israel (credit: UNITED HATZALAH‏)

■ OF COURSE, the Protea Hills contribution could not compare with that of the Adelson family, though to quote a couple of English maxims: “many hands make light work;” and “look after the pennies, and the pounds will take care of themselves.” If everyone gave just a small contribution, they would still have a share in saving lives, and a lot of people giving a little bit of money would still add up to a tidy sum. In the case of the Adelsons, it was a sign that the apple has not fallen far from the tree.

The Adelson siblings Adam, Matan, Sivan and Patrick, children of Dr. Miriam Adelson and the late Sheldon Adelson, recently sponsored flights for more than 500 Jewish-Ukrainian refugees seeking sanctuary in Israel. Over the past two weeks, the flights, which were part of United Hatzalah’s Operation Orange Wings, brought the refugees from Chisinau, Moldova, and Iasi, Romania, to Israel .

One of the people rescued, a woman from Kyiv named Irina, arrived in Moldova alone and was suffering from a complicated medical condition that required her to receive continuous medical care, which she was unable to receive in Kyiv since the start of the war and while making her way to the border. Due to her condition, she was taken to a local hospital in Chisinau where she told hospital staff that she wanted to go to Israel to be united with her son who lives in the Meir Shfeya Youth Village. Due to her condition, hospital staff were unwilling to let her leave without supervised medical care, and they certainly weren’t willing to let her travel out of the country.

Recognizing the uniqueness of her request, and having seen United Hatzalah’s team in action in Chisinau, a staff member contacted United Hatzalah and asked if there was a way they could help. Avi Marcus, who served as the chief medical officer for the organization’s mission to Moldova and the Ukrainian border, sent one of the volunteer doctors to visit the patient and give her a thorough checkup. The doctor determined that with special medical supervision the woman could make the journey, and signed a document to this effect. Two days later, the woman was on a plane to Israel, where immediately after landing in the country, she was taken to Meir Shfeya and reunited with her son, who was overjoyed as he had not expected his mother to be able to travel. Not only did the Adelson family help to save lives by sponsoring flights, but also facilitated family reunions.

■ GUILTY-BY-association sanctions against Russian oligarchs, most of whom happen to be Jewish, is somewhat unfair, unless the organizations and institutions to which they gave generous financial contributions are asked to return those monies to state custodians in those countries that have imposed sanctions. Most of the oligarchs have double and triple citizenship, and spend most of their lives outside Russia, frequently dividing their time between the United States, England and various European capitals. Sanctions can be applied to those of their businesses and investments in Russia, but given that there are currently no fiscal transfers to Russia, they should be permitted access to their business interests outside of Russia. 

Although Moshe Kantor, who has lived in Britain for more than 30 years, has been sanctioned despite the many prestigious prizes he has been awarded by heads of different countries, fellow oligarch Len Blavatik, who is both an American and British citizen, has so far been let off the hook, possibly because of his unstinting contributions to political campaigns on both the Right and the Left, but most likely as far as Britain is concerned, because of the extraordinary gift he gave to the Tate Gallery, believed to be the largest in the gallery’s history. Since nearly all these oligarchs have been exceedingly generous in supporting the arts, education, hospitals and numerous social welfare organizations in their countries of domicile, the countries of their birth, and Israel, all the various cultural, educational religious and social welfare organizations and institutions that regularly benefited from their largesse, will be drastically short of funds.

■ FORMER HAIFA mayor Yona Yahav, 77, is giving serious thought to running again in the next elections, but will not make a final decision until the end of the year. Yahav won three consecutive elections, which kept him in office for 15 years, from 2003 to 2018. He lost the last elections to incumbent Einat Kalisch-Rotem, who is one of the few female mayors in the country. Most, with the notable exception of Netanya Mayor Miriam Feirberg Ikar, who has been in office since 1998, last for only one term.

■ JUST ABOUT every city has buildings that are eyesores. Jerusalem is no exception, despite the Talmudic teaching that of the 10 measures of beauty that descended on the world, Jerusalem took nine. One of the eyesores is the President Hotel, on the seam of Rehavia-Talbiyeh, which was the capital’s first hotel with a swimming pool. Another is the Pnina, which leads from Tzahal Square to the Jaffa Gate, and is seen by almost anyone going into the Old City via the Jaffa Gate. Both hotels have been long abandoned, and from time to time, there are articles in the Hebrew press to the effect that one or both of them have either been sold, or that the person holding the majority shares in either of the buildings, is about to build a modern hotel on the site. More than 20 years later, the eyesores are still there. Jerusalem City Council is primarily interested in tearing down the Pnina, which in its early days was managed by the Dan chain, which soon backed off. 

The hotel was doomed from the start. Its banquet room was not designed in a square or rectangular shape, but rather in a serpentine shape, meaning that the curve not only obstructed the view, in that people sitting on one side of the curve could not see those sitting at the other, but also had other negative elements. The hotel may have originally been intended for a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) clientele, allowing men and women to sit at different sections of the banquet hall without the need to put up a dividing screen. The architecture also played havoc with the acoustics, with the result that business was very slow and, in a relatively short space of time, came to a halt. Even when the hotel stopped functioning some of the stores continued to operate for a year or two, but the building fell into total neglect and disrepair. The original owner died. His daughter said she would rebuild the hotel – but she never got around to it. 

The property is now owned by a company called Dave, and the address given in its official documents is that of the Pnina Hotel. Tired of broken promises, the municipality has applied to the courts for permission to tear down the building. The main shareholder in the building is a woman by the name of Vanessa Deri Moyal. If the court rules in the municipality’s favor, Deri may appeal the decision, but Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion is determined that visitors who enter the Old City via the Jaffa Gate receive a better impression than that which is afforded them by the ugly and neglected Pnina, which means pearl in Hebrew. These days, it is anything but the jewel in the crown of the City of David.