Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was back at his official residence last week – not his private home that now serves in that role but where he lived for so many years previously.
When president Donald Trump came to Israel in May 2017, a huge security hut resembling the exterior of a house was built along the length of the Smolenskin Street section of the Prime Minister’s Residence. It was never removed, and in summer sheltered security personnel’s cars from the sun, and in winter from the rain.
Last week, Netanyahu invited the employees of his office to join him in a Passover toast, and the venue was the hut that had been fitted out with chairs, a blue-covered stage, a podium and a microphone.
The area was sealed off from neighbors and passersby, which was somewhat annoying as many people use it as a shortcut. For more than a year now, many drivers have used Smolenskin Street to cut through to Keren Hayesod. All of a sudden there was no access, and the area remained sealed for hours after the event was over, suggesting that Netanyahu will be back again.
The event took place on the day after Netanyahu had told the nation that he was putting legislation on judicial reform temporarily on hold, to give the sides the opportunity to negotiate.
He referred to this in his speech, saying, “We are in the midst of an important debate. We will get past it. You will celebrate Passover. On Seder night you will sit with your families. You will argue a little – not too much – and reach agreements. This is our goal to reach agreements, both among you and among ourselves.”
Netanyahu also referred to the security situation without mentioning Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who at that stage had not yet received his letter of dismissal.
“We need to build up our security because the threats against us have not ceased, but our strength is increasing,” Netanyahu said. This rang counter to some of the things that had been said by Gallant. “We want to expand the circle of peace with our neighbors,” Netanyahu continued. “We have done an amazing thing here, and we are not stopping. We have big plans.”
Netanyahu also referred to the “basic unity,” which he said has accompanied the Jewish people for 3,500 years. This was yet another error in Netanyahu’s reading of history.
EVER SINCE the issue of judicial reform was raised, politicians of almost every stripe have been going individually or in groups to the President’s Residence to discuss the crisis with the president and among themselves. By coincidence, when Education Minister Yoav Kisch went to meet with the president, a group of children from the Sdot Ayalon School in the Gezer Regional Council was touring the public areas of the residence in the course of a visit to Jerusalem. The last person they expected to meet was the education minister, much less the president. But as a surprise, they both went out to greet the youngsters.
ONE OF the sad realities of life in Israel is the number of young men and women who commit suicide during their mandatory army service. One such person was Ronit Wolf of Jerusalem, who became so depressed, that she felt life was no longer worth living. Before that, she had been happy, loved music and gymnastics and had lots of friends. Her family was devastated.
But her younger, teenage brother Maor realized that Ronit’s case was not unique and that there were lots of young people, including those who were still at school, who were suffering from depression for several reasons. He did not want them to go the same path as Ronit, so together with another sister, Shiran, and his friend Benny Spierer, they founded the organization Sherak Techayech (Just Smile), whose members befriend anyone who looks depressed or who is being bullied at school.
They believe that it is very important for people in a state of depression to have someone to talk to – someone to trust.
Fully aware that they needed someone with a little more clout and in a position to give them some financial assistance, they turned to Maor’s grandfather Marcel Hess, a former Swiss parliamentarian, restaurateur and paramedic, who is the honorary president of the organization. Hess took up the role wholeheartedly.
The organization has the support of Chief Rabbi David Lau and of members of the Ginot Ha’Ir community center.
Last week, Sherak Techayech held a fundraiser at the Jerusalem Theatre’s Henry Crown Auditorium to create greater awareness of teenage suicide and how to sometimes prevent it.
Michal Herzog, the president’s wife, who is very sympathetic to the cause, sent a videotaped message. Stand-up comedian Guy Hochman made sure that despite the sad cause of the event, the full house audience would have reason to laugh.
As worrisome as the situation is in Israel, Hess quoted a study that was published in Switzerland in January this year in which it was estimated that 30% of Swiss youth have suicidal thoughts.
Conceding that not every youngster with suicidal tendencies can be saved, Hess said that it was important to recognize behavioral signs and to extend a hand to help.
He implied that technology was also to blame because cellphones have become so much a part of our lives that people are becoming isolated. There is less face-to-face communication and more through the phone and its various applications.
He quoted from a Jerusalem Post interview with a submarine commander, who had been asked what had been the most difficult, and most beautiful part of a week-long stay at the bottom of the sea. His reply was that being disconnected from the phone was the most difficult, but added this was actually the most beautiful time in the submarine because it allowed for long and deep conversations, with everyone becoming closer to each other and bonding in an exceptional manner.
Hess suggested that on the first Tuesday of every month, between 3 to 9 p.m., people avoid using their phones except for emergencies. This will give them time to engage in activities that are not phone-related, become more aware of their surroundings, be more sensitive to the needs and feelings of others, and have the opportunity to dialogue more with friends and acquaintances.