Grapevine: Love without borders

Movers and shakers in Israeli society

 FIRST LADY Michal Herzog distributes roses at House of Wheels. (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM/GPO)
FIRST LADY Michal Herzog distributes roses at House of Wheels.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM/GPO)

Although it has been adopted in Israel, Valentine’s Day – or to be more correct St. Valentine’s Day – is not exactly a Jewish festival. St. Valentine was a third century Christian martyr, who was known for his good deeds and who is associated with love.  Of course, love need not necessarily be romantic. There’s also such a thing as a general love of humanity which is frequently seen among Chabad Hassidim, and which was promoted by the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

It’s also a message that President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal try to convey by personal example. On Valentine’s Day, armed with a huge bunch of long-stemmed red roses, they visited the Jerusalem branch of the House of Wheels, a facility that cares for youth and adults with disabilities, providing them with occupational therapies, formal and informal education, weekend and summer camp activities and workshops to develop their leadership potential, with the aim of integrating them at all levels of Israel’s mainstream society, be it school, work, community service, sport, etc.

Everyone is born with or acquires some kind of disability. Some disabilities, especially physical disabilities are inhibiting to various extents, while others, which are psychological, are far less obvious. The House of Wheels also encourages, young able-bodied high school and university students to come and volunteer to help people of their generation as well as older adults who are confined to wheelchairs, but who enjoy socializing and having fun and a sense of being equal among equals. Some of them come back to work as volunteers themselves, and to prove that a wheelchair should not be seen as an obstacle to living life to the full. The Herzogs moved around and sat to chat with young people of varying ages about what they do and what they wish for and how they cope. Michal Herzog also went around distributing a rose – the flower of love – to each person and commented that Israel is always open to expressions of love and that these were definitely evident among the wheel-bound, volunteers and staff at the House of Wheels.

■ IT’S TO be expected that when the mayor of a city is religiously observant, that projects related to religion will receive priority. Thus, it should come as no surprise that under the administration of Moshe Lion, whose coalition is overwhelmingly religiously observant, that huge sums of money have been allocated to something that many secular Jews regard as obsolete, whereas religiously observant Jews, particularly the ultra-Orthodox regard as something of extreme importance – and that is the mikveh – the ritual bath. A large number of religiously observant men use the mikveh on a daily basis; while others do so on Friday just before Shabbat. But married women who menstruate, make a point of going every month, prior to cohabitation with their husbands, to maintain the laws of family purity. This particular Jewish law is so hallowed by Jews from North Africa, that even women who do not keep the Sabbath laws beyond candle lighting, kiddush and a family meal, do not neglect the mikveh. According to a report in the religious weekly publication Hashavua, Lion has allocated in excess of NIS 150 million for the renovation of existing ritual baths and the building of new ones. Such an amount for such a purpose is without precedent, writes reporter Eli Cohen. Some of the ritual baths which have been built, rebuilt or renovated can be found in Pisgat Ze’ev, Homot Shmuel, Ramat Shlomo, the Jewish Quarter in the Old City, Nof Zion, Givat Shaul, Kiryat Yovel, Beit Hakerem, Arnona, Kiryat Menachem and elsewhere. One of the duties of a mayor of a city, says Lion, is to take care of the needs of the religious residents. Lion concedes that this view is not necessarily shared by his colleagues who are mayors of other towns and cities.

■ WHAT IS a Jewish melody? Many of the songs we sing have been adapted from folk songs and classics that originated among non-Jews in various countries but fitted nicely with the rhythm of Hassidic dancing, plaintive Yiddish songs, or what later evolved into national hymns. The tune of “Hatikva,” the National Anthem, was inspired by Bedrich Smetana’s Moldau. Naomi Shemer admitted before she died that the melody of “Jerusalem of Gold” had been plagiarized from a Navarrese song, popular among the Basques. Who knows how many other songs were taken from popular Russian, Polish and Hungarian melodies? Thus, an interesting day-long conference on the incarnations of a melody that will be held at Beit Tuvei Ha’Ir on Thursday, March 3, will begin with the question: “What is a Jewish Melody?”

An Israeli flag [Ilustrative] (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
An Israeli flag [Ilustrative] (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

■ BEIT TUVEI Hair is a retirement home in Geula that frequently hosts cultural events for residents and nonresidents from age 70 plus. On this occasion, the invitation to the general public stipulates that the event is for people in that age group. The conference will be moderated by Yedidya Meir and among other subjects, will deal with different musical styles of prayer introduced and discussed by Eli Jaffe, conductor and choirmaster of the Jerusalem Great Synagogue choir; “The Jewish Roots of Broadway” presented by Paul Salter; a musical journey from the villages of Europe to the State of Israel, presented by Moshe Berlin and his band; a panel discussion on where the Jewish melody can be found today based on the tunes of Ben-Zion Shenkar and the Modzitz Hassidim (considered to be the most musical); a lecture by Rabbi Anthony Manning on “Halacha as a Symphony”; “Women in Jewish Music” presented by Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi and Odelia Berlin; with a grand finale by internationally acclaimed fifth-generation Cantor Yaakov Motzen and the Jerusalem Cantors’ Choir conducted by Paul Salter. The event is in two sessions of NIS 50 each, with proceeds earmarked for Yad Sarah. Lunch and dinner can be purchased for an additional symbolic fee. Entry is limited to holders of a Green Pass. Reservations can be made with Tamar, 054-487-2267.