Grapevine: A haredi sex therapist with lots of oomph

A roundup of news from around Israel.

GIDEON OBERSON, flanked by his daughter Dana (left) and his wife, Dina. (photo credit: AVIV HOFI)
GIDEON OBERSON, flanked by his daughter Dana (left) and his wife, Dina.
(photo credit: AVIV HOFI)

An ultra-Orthodox sex therapist, who is a mother of nine children, grandmother to 23 with more on the way, and a teacher of sexology to religious male professionals – sounds far-fetched?

Well it happens to be true, and some 90 women who are members of the International Women’s Club (IWC) heard the erudite, engaging and effervescent Malca Graucher tell her story at an International Women’s Day event at the residence of the Dutch ambassador, whose wife, Louise Beschoor Plug Wesseling, personally greeted each and every guest.

Graucher, who happens to be the cousin of Tammy Friedman, the wife of the US ambassador, was one of four panelists, each from a different walk of life, who were so interesting in their presentations that lawyer Michal Cotler, who served as moderator, just let each of them talk without interruption. Some television moderators could learn from her.

The other panelists were Hano Rado, deputy chairwoman of McCann Tel Aviv and chairwoman of McCann Valley; Maskit head designer Sharon Tal, who was a walking advertisement for her creativity; and Amanda Weiss, the director of the Bible Lands Museum.

Graucher, who sees herself first and foremost as an educator, has a string of degrees, including bachelor of education, bachelor of sexology and sex therapy, a master’s degree in social work and a master’s degree in arts from, respectively, the Jerusalem College for Girls, Bar-Ilan University, the University of Haifa and Tel Aviv University.

She’s also been a teacher at various religious schools for girls, and at one such school she was asked to teach the students about sex. When she presented her curriculum, the powers that be were horrified, telling her she could not use those dirty words. She explained that they aren’t dirty words, but simply the correct terminology for parts of the body. This did not satisfy the people running the school, and she was instructed to talk to a rabbinical board. The rabbis also vetoed the terminology, until she said to them that she knows how to present the information in a gentle manner, in accordance with religious teachings. If she doesn’t do it, some of the girls will learn these things from a secular teacher, who will be far less circumspect. Her argument won the day, and the rabbis told her to go and teach.

But her greatest triumph was when she visited her daughter who lives in Antwerp. She thought that while she was there, she may as well give a lecture on sex therapy, which she did. Sure enough, someone in the audience wanted to consult her, and then someone else and someone else. The word spread quickly through the ultra-Orthodox community. And then came her greatest triumph. In ultra-Orthodox circles, men and women do not study together. But there are religious male professionals who counsel married men who have sexual problems in their marriage. Few, however, have Graucher’s range of knowledge. So in Antwerp they asked her to teach them. Now she’s on a regular commute to Antwerp every three months, and the lessons are going fine.

In Israel she also counsels members of the Arab community.

Rado, though she works for a large advertising agency, never realized that she also had to advertise herself if she wanted a promotion. The penny dropped when she was invited to a conference to talk about women in advertising. She looked around at the audience and saw hardly any women. This turned her into an instant feminist and social entrepreneur.

At a slightly later stage, when on the verge of giving birth, she also realized that she couldn’t take the regular maternity leave, because someone else might steal her job. So she came back a few days after having her baby and impressed her boss with her dedication to duty. The rest is history.

When she became a boss herself, one of her male employees asked for a raise, saying that he worked longer hours than one of the women, who worked only from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. because she had a baby. Rado called in the woman and told her she was getting a raise to compensate for what she had to pay her baby-sitter. The man’s salary remained as was.

Shenkar graduate Tal spoke of how Israeli chutzpah had gotten her into top design studios in Paris and London, and how, after returning to Tel Aviv, she wanted to do something significant but not necessarily under her own name. She did some research, and decided that she wanted to revive Maskit, which fashion-wise had once been synonymous with Israel.

She met with Maskit founder Ruth Dayan, who regaled her with Maskit’s history, and told her about a first showing in New York that hardly anyone attended. But the buyer for Bergdorf Goodman was there, fell in love with the collection, called her own boss, who shared her enthusiasm, and they bought up the whole lot, effectively putting Maskit on the map.

Maskit designs were based on the traditions of early immigrants to the state and, in an East-West merger, were adapted by the late Finny Leitersdorf, whose famed desert coat was a big hit in the Big Apple and beyond.

Weiss, in 1991, came to Israel for one year to help out her mother, who together with Elie Borowski had founded the Bible Lands Museum, and she’s still here.

Batya and Elie Borowski met at an art exhibition in Jerusalem, which each had come to because they were friends of the artist. When they got to talking, Elie, who had an impressive collection of Middle Eastern antiques, shared his dream and said he wanted to build his museum in Toronto. Batya, who was a real estate expert, told him that there was no place in the world to build such a museum other than Jerusalem. Teddy Kollek gave them land adjacent to the Israel Museum, and it has since become one of the capital’s cultural and educational jewels.

The IWC, which comprises Israeli women and the wives of diplomats, foreign business executives and other people who have come to Israel to teach or to study, takes members to many places they might otherwise never see, and also supports local charity projects.

This year, said IWC president Maxine Levite, they are supporting Hofchot et Hayotsrot, which in English is known as Turning the Tables. It is a women’s empowerment association founded by Lilach Tzur Ben Moshe, in an attempt to take women who practice the oldest profession out of the cycle of prostitution, by giving them counseling to restore their self-esteem, along with training for other professions.

THE GALA opening of Tel Aviv Fashion Week, sponsored by Martini, was essentially a tribute to Gideon Oberson and his daughter Karen, who are leaving the world of couture. Karen is bowing out of fashion design altogether, but will be a business mentor to upcoming designers, while her father will continue designing sexy swimwear. Oberson, who has held sway over Israel’s classic fashion scene for more than half a century, presented a retrospective showing of 60 of his creations modeled by iconic figures such as Ronit Yudkowski, Yael Abecassis, Pazit Cohen, Shiraz Tal and Shirli Boganin, who for years graced the pages and sometimes the covers of local and international fashion magazines and women’s periodicals.

Oberson received a standing ovation from the numerous celebrities, fashionistas and fashion bloggers who had crowded into Hangar 11 at Tel Aviv Port. Runway items and whatever else is left from Gideon Oberson and KO collections will be available in a last chance sale on Thursday, March 14, and Friday, March 15, at the Gordon Street, Tel Aviv, showroom presided over by the Oberson family for so many years. It’s not quite the end of an era, and happily the world is becoming more aware of Israeli fashion designers, so Moti Reif, who runs Tel Aviv Fashion Week and who was responsible for its revival, will still have plenty of creativity from which to choose.

JUDO IS one of Japans greatest gifts to the world. A recipient of that gift, Uri Globus, will share the story of its history at the Japanese Embassy’s Friday lecture on March 15 at 11 a.m. The embassy is located on the 19th floor of The Museum Tower, 4 Berkowitz Street, Tel Aviv. The story of judo founder Kano-sensei is not well known to the general public.

Globus will tell the story of judo’s creation in the context of his lecture. Judo’s success can be attributed to a far-sighted vision, strong cultural and moral basis and a flexible execution. These attributes are as important today for innovators and start-ups as they were a century ago. Adapting the ancient samurai arts into 21st-century education was not an easy task. Therefore, judo’s success story carries timeless lessons for entrepreneurs, educators, martial artists and, of course, to Japan lovers, say Japanese diplomats stationed in Israel.

Globus is an entrepreneur and a university lecturer. He won a scholarship to Shizuoka University, where he received his PhD. He has studied martial arts for more than 30 years, and holds a black belt in judo. Interestingly, Israel’s first Olympic medals were won in judo.

AUSTRALIAN EXPATS in large numbers are expected to join in a protest outside the Jerusalem District Court on Salah a-Din Street at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 13, to show public support for the Erlich sisters Nicole, Dassi and Elly, who have specially come from Australia for the 48th hearing of the Malka Leifer case on alleged sexual abuse of students in her care in Melbourne, Australia. The Australian police have called for her extradition so that she can be brought to trial in Melbourne on 74 counts of sexual abuse. For the past five years, Leifer has been evading justice on the grounds of being psychologically unfit to stand trial. A private investigator who went to Leifer’s hometown in Emmanuel reported that her behavior was normal. Meanwhile, new allegations have recently come to light to the effect that Leifer had committed sexual abuses against minors in Israel before going to Australia.

There were also allegations that Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman was involved in keeping Leifer out of the clutches of the law. Litzman has been questioned about this by Israeli police.

One of the people engaged in organizing the protest is Manny Waks, who was also a victim of sexual abuse in another Orthodox school in Melbourne. He was not the only victim at the time, and his call for justice not only opened a Pandora’s box, but has led to widespread investigations of sexual abuse not only in religious Jewish schools but also in Catholic schools and to major upheavals in the Jewish and Catholic communities in Australia.

THE JERUSALEM Rotary Club, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary, is a model of coexistence, which for the past 64 years has been meeting at the YMCA, which is likewise a model of coexistence. Both Rotary and the YMCA have Jewish, Christian and Muslim members as well as people of other faiths. Regardless of regional and local hostilities over the years, neither Rotary nor the Y has allowed enmity to penetrate its ranks. Their members have somehow succeeded in remaining at peace with one another, perhaps because they know one another as decent human beings.

By maintaining their sense of fellowship and harmony even in the face of occasional disagreements with one another, they provide hope for the future. Rotary’s district conference on Sunday, March 17, includes, among several speakers, Gil Haskel, the deputy director of the Foreign Ministry’s Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation. Aid has been given over the years to students from numerous developing countries, including several with which Israel did not have diplomatic relations. Some of those countries, in the course of time, established diplomatic ties with Israel.

Following a day of deliberations, Jerusalem Rotary’s 90th anniversary will conclude with a festive concert at the Jerusalem Theater, where Chen Zimbalista will conduct the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. There will also be a performance by mezzo-soprano Na’ama Goldman.

TO MOST people in Israel and Europe, Marcel Hess was long known as the Sausage King, winning prestige prizes for blind tastings of his kosher sausages. Prior to moving from his native Basel in Switzerland, Hess was a frequent visitor to Netanya, where he had a holiday home, and where he initially set up his business in Israel before moving to Jerusalem.

One day, while sitting in his Netanya garden, he heard a loud bang and told his wife, Suzanne, that it sounded like a car crash. He took his bike and rode to the main road behind his building. His assessment had been correct, and he discovered a seriously injured elderly couple. The injured man had suffered a critical leg wound with fractured bones. He was also bleeding profusely.

Hess had nothing with him to staunch the bleeding, so he removed his arba kanfot, (a stringed vest open at the sides that is worn by religiously observant male Jews), tied it above the fracture and stopped the bleeding. When the ambulance arrived, Hess was told that the couple would be taken to the Hillel Yaffe Medical Center in Hadera, some 30 kilometers away. Hess argued that Laniado Medical Center in Netanya was much closer, but the ambulance crew told him that there was no trauma orthopedic emergency department at Laniado. Hess could not believe this, and on the following day went to see for himself. Dr. Avinoam Skolnik, who at the time was the hospital’s medical director, confirmed that indeed there was no orthopedic trauma emergency department.

Hess returned to Switzerland and established the Volan Foundation, whose purpose was to raise funds for the creation of a trauma orthopedic emergency department at Laniado. Skolnik came to Basel on a fund-raising mission for this purpose, and Hess told him that he wanted the department to be headed by Dr. Claude Picard, who was the deputy head of such a department in a hospital some 150 kilometers away from Basel. The two physicians met, with the upshot that Picard came on aliyah and built the 30-bed unit from scratch. This month it moved into new premises.

Among those attending the official festive opening were the grand rabbi of Sanz-Klausenburg, Rabbi Zvi Elimelech Halberstam; Rabbi Kalman Bar, chief rabbi of Netanya; Rabbi Haim Yaakov Schwartz, the rabbi of Laniado Medical Center; Litzman; Netanya Mayor Miriam Fierberg-Ikar; current medical director Prof. Zvi Shimoni; Picard; and Laniado CEO Meir Mark.

Litzman spoke of the importance of Laniado and predicted that it would continue to grow. Fierberg-Ikar said that representatives of an American foundation are interested in supporting Laniado and would come to Israel next month to familiarize themselves with the hospital and its needs. The grand rabbi spoke movingly of his late father, Rabbi Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam, a Holocaust survivor, who, after losing his entire family, started life anew and established Laniado as a not-for-profit medical center to serve the people of Netanya and the wider public.

WHILE ON the subject of Netanya, its known for its Anglo and more recently its French populations, but it’s also a Russian enclave. When Russian President Vladimir Putin came to Israel in 2012, he went to Netanya where he inaugurated a monument to Russian soldiers who lost their lives during the Second World War. He said at the time that the monument would serve as a permanent reminder of the heroism of an entire generation that fought and sacrificed itself for mankind. “The Holocaust is history’s blackest page, and such acts cannot be tolerated,” he said. “The Red Army put an end to such atrocities.”

Now, another Russian monument is to be inaugurated in Netanya on Thursday, March 28.

With increasing ambitions by Israel and other countries to score points in space travel, the Russians want to remind the world that it was one of their cosmonauts, Yuri Gargarin, who was the first human being to journey into outer space. His spacecraft, which was somewhat primitive by today’s standards, completed an orbit of the earth on April 12, 1961. To honor his memory, a statue of him will be unveiled on a date close to both the anniversary of his birth – March 9, 1934 – and the anniversary of his death – March 27, 1969. He and another pilot were killed during a routine training exercise when their two-seater jet aircraft crashed. Even though he died young, Gargarin left his imprint on history.

The inauguration of the Gargarin monument will be attended by a current Russian cosmonaut; Russian Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov; the deputy head of the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos, Sergey Saveliev; the director-general of the Israel Space Agency, Avi Blasberger; and, of course, Fierberg-Ikar. The event will be held at the Planetanya, where there will also be a Gargarin exhibition.

ALTHOUGH SOME 700,000 television viewers watched the airing and the rerun of the interview with Sara Netanyahu conducted by Ran Rahav and Sharon Gal, the two received a lot of flak both from television reviewers and on social media for treating her with kid gloves. Rahav dismissed the criticism, saying that the program was never meant to be a hard-line investigative probe. In a democratic country, an interviewee should be allowed to say what he or she wants to say, just as it is the right of any journalist to express an opinion, he declared on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet.

“I’m not a journalist. I’m in PR. I’m not Raviv Drucker. I come with a different perspective, but I’ll bet that every television reviewer would love to present a program like this and have the opportunity to interview Sara Netanyahu. I’m not an investigator, and I’m not a judge.”

Rahav concluded his remarks by saying: “Let’s reduce the hatred and ill will that are permeating the country.”

MUCH OF the glitz and glamour associated with television and movie awards was missing this week at the Israeli Television Academy Awards held in Or Yehuda. Hardly any of the winners bothered to dress up. In general, the fashion was not only casual but rumpled, and in some cases downright ugly. Television cameras, which kept panning the very large representation of Israel’s entertainment industry, repeatedly zoomed in on Haim Yavin, 86, who was there to present the Life Achievement Award to Billy Segal, who was chief archivist at the Israel Broadcasting Authority and is still engaged in preserving the documentation of the visual facets of Israel’s history.

The only worthwhile speeches of the evening, other than someone from a production team who took advantage of being so close to the microphone and spoke up on behalf of the Palestinians, were those of Yavin and Segal. Yavin received a standing ovation as he mounted the stage and was introduced as Mr. Television, a title that has not yet been usurped by anyone else. He squinted as he stood looking out at the crowd, but once he began to speak of what Israel owes to Segal, whose dedication to her job has produced what he termed as one of the best television archives in the world, the years seemed to slip away from him, and he once again became the familiar television personality who for decades had dominated the small screen.

Segal was one of the few people who had dressed up for the occasion and had also been to the beauty parlor. As she began her acceptance speech, Yavin fell off the back of the stage, and his cry of pain was audible even without the microphone. But the show must go on, even if Mr. Television has a fall, and Segal kept talking about the importance of preserving cultural heritage as if nothing was amiss. Fortunately, Yavin didn’t break any bones and, except for a slight discomfort, was fine.

THE ACTIONS of the justice minister, the Supreme Court, the foibles of members of the judiciary and the allegedly illegal actions of certain lawyers, which have been in the news lately, will stir added interest in Wednesday’s conference on Limits of the Law. Speakers include Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities president Nili Cohen, who is a professor of law at Tel Aviv University; Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, who is chairman of the Central Elections Committee; and Ruth Gavison, who is a professor of law at the Hebrew University and a founder and former longtime chairwoman and president of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. The three will discuss the authority of the court and the cases that should or should not be brought before it.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu is taking full responsibility for the Likud election campaign, and is leaving no stone unturned. A Likud representative this week met with leaders of Israel’s Indian community who are very politically minded these days, as elections in Israel and India are only two days apart. There are approximately 85,000 Jews of Indian origin living in Israel.