Grapevine: Good Shabbat

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides on December 2, 2021 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides on December 2, 2021
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

US Ambassador Tom Nides videotaped a Shabbat Shalom message outside the American Center on Keren Hayesod Street last Friday, and subsequently tweeted it to whomever follows him on Twitter. “Shabbat Shalom from the American Center in Jerusalem, a safe gathering space for all of Israel’s diverse communities.” It’s not the only safe space. The YMCA on King David Street can make a similar claim. It’s been a safe space for almost 90 years.

■ IN THE movie Annie Get Your Gun, Betty Hutton and Howard Keel face off in a duet: ‘Anything you can do I can do better. I can do anything better than you.” It appears that the same sentiment may apply to the rivalry between the Belz and Gur Hassidim. 

The Belz synagogue in Kiryat Belz in the capital’s Binat Yissachar Street can seat 10,000 people in all of its synagogue facilities, with 2,584 in the main sanctuary, which is used only on Shabbat and other holy days, plus a series of smaller synagogue chambers during the week. Until this month, the impressive Belz synagogue, study and dormitory complex, which took 15 years to build and was inaugurated in 2000, had the reputation of being the largest synagogue in the world. However the Gur Hassidim, who are reputed to be the wealthiest of the hassidic communities, this month received an official permit for occupancy (known in Hebrew as Tofes Arba) from Mayor Moshe Lion and Deputy Mayor Rabbi Eliezer Rauchberger, chairman of the Municipal Planning and Construction Committee, for their new grandiose synagogue on Yirmiyahu Street in the Romema neighborhood. The permit was presented to United Torah Judaism MK Ya’acov Litzman, who represents the Gerrer Hassidim in the Knesset, and to Rabbi Yochanan Weitzman, a Gerrer representative on the Jerusalem Municipal Council.

Although the seating capacity has not been made public, the building covers an area of 35,000 sq.m., plus a newly built wing which covers 12,000 sq.m.

Ophir May, who heads the municipality’s licensing department and who monitored the progress of construction, stated that Jerusalem had never previously seen a project on this scale, and emphasized that the complex has been constructed in accordance with the highest standards of safety and security. (It may be remembered that such precautions were not taken with the construction of the synagogue of the Karlin-Stolin Hassidim in Givat Ze’ev, where in May last year, following the collapse of bleachers during a celebration of the synagogue’s inauguration, two people were killed and 184 injured.)

GERRER HASSIDIM at a wedding in Jerusalem.  (credit: AVI OHAYON - GPO)
GERRER HASSIDIM at a wedding in Jerusalem. (credit: AVI OHAYON - GPO)

The Gerrer Hassidim made sure to avoid a similar calamity on their premises. Declaring the occasion to be historic, Lion said at the modest presentation ceremony of the permit in his office, that there are not many mayors who can boast that they signed a permit for the largest synagogue in the world, to which Litzman responded that in three generations along the line, Gerrer Hassidim will remember under which mayoral administration approval was given for the construction of the synagogue.

It is not absolutely certain that this new Gerrer facility is the largest in the world, but is among the largest.

The Yetev Lev D’Satmar synagogue in Brooklyn, has seating for 7,000. The Beit Tzedec Congregation in Toronto has seating for 6,000. The Dohany Synagogue in Budapest, with seating for 3,000, was for many years the largest synagogue in Europe, but has been overtaken by the Breslov Synagogue in Ukraine, which seats 5,000.

■ APROPOS MAYOR Lion, he may have missed his calling. In its weekly electronic media announcement last week, the Great Synagogue notified congregants that the sermon on the Torah portion for the week would be delivered by Lion. It was not done in person in the synagogue, but via YouTube. Lion’s delivery was first class as he spoke of the miracles that had led to the Children of Israel being released from the yoke of Egyptian bondage, with the underlying message that every individual needs faith, strength and courage to enable a miracle to happen. Lion noted the lessons in leadership that appear in the Torah portion, which in its totality, tells the story of the Jewish people. 

■ IT IS only in recent years that there has been acknowledgment that not only the Jews of Europe suffered under the Nazis, but also those of North Africa. To mark international Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday, January 27, Yad Ben-Zvi will host a symposium from 11 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. via Zoom on the Jews of Tangier in Morocco during the Second World War. The program will also focus on the Spaniards in Morocco, and the European Jewish refugees, who in fleeing the Nazis, sought safety in Tangier, which became a transit point before they moved on to Casablanca from where they hoped to reach the United States. Some of the refugee Jews joined the army of General Francisco Franco, who maintained a cautious, sometimes wavering neutrality in his relations with Hitler and the Vichy Government of France.

 The fate of North African Jews at the hands of the Nazis is scarcely known and barely appears in Holocaust literature or newspaper and magazine articles about the Holocaust. Yad Ben-Zvi hopes to partially rectify this historic injustice. The symposium will deal with both the above-mentioned issues, and will be opened by Prof. Shlomo Ben-Ami, an internationally acclaimed expert on Spanish history and politics, who was born during the Second World War in Spanish-occupied Tangier.

A professor of history, Ben-Ami was also politically active, and served as internal security and foreign minister. Before entering politics, he served as Israel’s ambassador to Spain from 1987-1991. Prior to his diplomatic service, he was head of Tel Aviv University’s history department, from 1982 to 1986. His initial field of study was Spanish history about which he has written extensively. He is also a fluent Spanish speaker.

Other speakers will include Prof. Michal Lasker, Prof. Yosef Shitrit, Yitzhak Gershon, Dr. Aviad Morani, Prof. Tuvia Friling of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, who will talk about the work of the Joint Distribution Committee in Europe during the Second World War, and Susan Amiram Weiss, whose refugee family went to Corfu and became involved with the Jewish community there, will tell the story of her family.

■  SOME ARTISTS are jealous of each other, and some admire each other to the extent that they will go to bat for them. An example is Sharon Binder of the Hutzot Hayotzer Artists Colony, who was upset when reading the recent item in this column about the Elon Joseph Garfinkel library in Sokolov Garden, that there was no mention of the designer of the library, world-renowned sculptor Israel Hadany, whose design she said “adds to the beauty and usefulness of Jerusalem’s landscape.”

Incidentally, the library was used this week for a Tu Bishvat celebration for tiny tots.