Grapevine: Greek to him

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 WEST JERUSALEM’S hotels lean toward the higher end: David Citadel Hotel, near the Mamilla Mall. (photo credit: FLASH90)
WEST JERUSALEM’S hotels lean toward the higher end: David Citadel Hotel, near the Mamilla Mall.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

Veteran journalist Omer Ben Rubi decided to give his father a treat, and last week made the trip from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for the Yehuda Poliker concert at the Jerusalem International Convention Center. 

The concert had been advertised as Greek, which is why Ben Rubi chose to take his Greek-born father there. Ben Rubi, who has an incredible fund of knowledge about music and musicians, as well as on many other subjects, had thought that it would be a rehash of some of Poliker’s most popular songs. But it wasn’t. 

According to Ben Rubi, it was a pure Greek delight, which brought great joy to his father and others of Greek background among the 3,000 people seated in the Ussishkin Auditorium. Poliker was accompanied by a 16-member band of musicians. Like many children of immigrant parents, Poliker had initially been embarrassed by the way they clung to the traditions they had brought with them after surviving the Holocaust.

He wanted to be an Israeli without any Diaspora strings attached.

Although both his parents used to sing around the house, it took a while for Poliker to come to terms with his roots. That was 38 years ago. Since then, he has been Israel’s foremost singer and composer of Greek music. Israelis, whether or not of Greek birth or parentage, love Greek music, and the Greek tavernas – mostly in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa area – are almost always full. At the convention center last week, the audience also had the opportunity to sample the variety of Jerusalem culinary temptations available at numerous booths and stalls throughout the lobby.

Yehuda Poliker (credit: BENNY DOUTSH)
Yehuda Poliker (credit: BENNY DOUTSH)

During the concert, Poliker interpreted various Greek genres, thereby ensuring that the performance contained something for everyone.

Several of the songs were those he had heard at home growing up. He sang from the works of Kasadjdes and Manos Hadjidakis among others. He also included songs that he had sung together with famous Greek singers such as Haris Alexiou. It was definitely a yassou night.

Will the Orient Hotel do for Jerusalem what the King Solomon did for Eilat?

■ AT THE opening ceremony of the luxury Orient Hotel on Emek Refaim in July 2017, Julian Lewis, chairman of the Isrotel Hotel chain’s board of directors, said that he was sure that the Orient would do for Jerusalem what the King Solomon Hotel had done for Eilat. The King Solomon, the first of several Isrotel luxury projects in Israel, had been built by his late father David Lewis, who was an English gentleman in every sense. David Lewis saw the potential of Eilat and beyond, and Julian Lewis saw the potential of Jerusalem.

At the opening of the Orient, he said that he was convinced that in the coming years, more than a million foreign tourists would go through its doors. He also noted that while it was the 18th hotel in the chain at the time, it was the first in Jerusalem, but not the last. Work was already underway on a second project which he could not yet discuss.

The Orient took four years to build, and before construction got underway, the project was subjected to opposition from people living in and around the German Colony. But the hotel was deliberately built far back from the street, and in the final analysis did not disturb the sensitivities of the local population.

Now, six years later, another Isrotel is being constructed on Jaffa Road as part of the expanded Zion Square. It will be called the Zion Hotel, in memory of the Zion Cinema, once the highlight of Zion Square, that closed its doors in 1972 and the building was demolished.

In October 1967 a bomb placed under a seat in the Zion Cinema was discovered by a policeman who heard it ticking, searched for the source of the sound, whisked the bomb out into the street and dropped it, after which it promptly detonated and shattered windows in nearby buildings. Fortunately, no one was harmed. This was quite miraculous, as the incident occurred at a time of night when the square was full of people leaving the movie theater and others arriving for the next screening.

The new Isrotel currently under construction is diagonally opposite the Herbert Samuel Hotel – only meters away from the Grand Hotel and commercial arcade with its changing on-site décor, presently featuring the optical illusion of a quaint 19th-century European hotel.

Even though the area of Agron Street and Jaffa Road and King David and Mesilat Yesharim streets is home to over 20 hotels of varying sizes and standards, they represent only a fraction of all the hotels in Jerusalem, with more in the offing. If incoming tourism fails to live up to expectations, hotels can easily be converted to studio apartments.

Jerusalem hotels court domestic tourism

■ MEANWHILE HOTELS all over the country, including Jerusalem, are courting domestic tourism by upgrading incentives for weekend stays.

Coming up toward the end of July at the Dan Hotel on Keren Hayesod Street is a musical love fest that includes a tribute to Yossi Banai; a tribute to love-oriented American folk songs; the stories behind the love songs from the greatest of the musicals; and great classical love songs. There will also be lectures on the Song of Songs; love as expressed in the poetry of Yehuda Amihai; and a look at Buddhism. More than a dozen stage and screen personalities are participating, the best known of whom are Gil Shochat and Bilha Ben Eliahu.

The event is organized by Kishrei Tarbut (“culture contacts”), which organizes similar events nationwide.

Dealing with the history of Mizrahi Jewry

■ AFTER YEARS of being treated as second-class citizens, Jews from Muslim-majority countries, known as Mizrahim in Israel, are finally receiving the respect due to them. While a not insignificant number of Mizrahim have over the years risen to important positions in academia, politics, the Israel Defense Forces, business and entertainment, there are unfortunately still places where a person with an obviously Mizrahi surname who applies for a job vacancy is informed that the position has already been filled. Some such Mizrahim adopted an Ashkenazi alias and applied again for the same job, resulting in an appointment for an interview. Now radio and TV programs are dealing with the history of Mizrahi Jewry, the difficulties they confronted as new immigrants, what they contributed to the state, and where they are today. The late president Yitzhak Ben Zvi was always interested in Mizrahim and their history, and Yad Ben Zvi continues his legacy. In this vein, it is hosting an international conference of researchers to mark the 75th anniversary of the Ben Zvi Institute for Researching Jewish Communities in the East.

The conference will take place on June 19-22 at Yad Ben Zvi, 14 Ibn Gabirol Street, and will be devoted to history, memory and identity. Admission is free of charge. The event will include North African liturgical compositions in Hebrew and Arabic.