Grapevine: Holiday seats

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

Jerusalem Great Synagogue (photo credit: MARTIN VINES MONTREAL/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Jerusalem Great Synagogue

The High Holy Days are already on the horizon, and synagogues are making preparations as to who will lead the services and how much to charge for seats.

Visitors from abroad generally prefer the Great Synagogue, whose board is encouraging them to get year-round memberships so that they will have a guaranteed seat whenever they come – including for religious and cultural events that are not part of any synagogue service.

There are three membership categories – platinum, gold, and silver. Although $1,800 initially seems a little steep for the platinum membership, it’s actually quite reasonable taking into account that this sum includes name plaques on two seats for the whole year; invitations to attend VIP events; entry to special Shabbat services plus invitations to kiddush; and two tickets for Rosh Hashanah and for Yom Kippur.

Gold membership for $1,000 includes name plaques on two seats for the year and entry to special Shabbat services. The silver membership at $420 entitles members to entry to special Shabbat services.

The truth is that regardless of whether or not you are a member, the Great Synagogue will not deny you entry. In a general misunderstanding, one of the doorkeepers did deny entry during COVID, but that error was quickly rectified. The only embarrassing situation that occurs year after year is that non-members often sit down in seats allocated to members and are reluctant to move when the authorized seat-holders show up. But that happens in other synagogues, too.

The Great Synagogue (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Great Synagogue (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Jerusalem congregation seeks learned, charismatic rabbi

■ HAZVI YISRAEL Congregation is on the lookout for a new rabbi. Its immediate former rabbi, Yosef Ote, is now at Ohel Nechama; and Ote’s predecessor, Rabbi Avigdor Burstein, is now at the Ra’ananim Synagogue in the Heichal Shlomo building. A search committee is looking for a learned, charismatic successor to Rabbi Ote. Because a large percentage of the congregation are native English speakers, candidates will probably be required to be equally fluent in Hebrew and English. Meanwhile last Saturday, the congregation celebrated the 103rd birthday of Roz Groob, who doesn’t look anywhere near her age, wears lipstick and polishes her nails, goes swimming daily – walking from her home in Talbiyeh to the YMCA – and attends Shabbat services every week. And she’s not the only member who has passed the 100th-birthday mark and remains fully active.

Groob is the older sister of the late Diana Lerner, whose byline appeared for many years in The Jerusalem Post, as well as many other publications in Israel and abroad. But her journalistic career began at the Post. A colorful, slightly eccentric character, she knew everyone who was anyone in Tel Aviv. She passed away in October 2015, at the age of 93.

It was not stated whether Groob was celebrating her Jewish birthday or her Gregorian calendar birthday. But as Jewish birthdays go, prime minister Menachem Begin, though born on August 16, always celebrated his Jewish birthday, which was on Shabbat Nahamu, which was marked last Shabbat. During his years as prime minister, his birthday was celebrated by the pastry chefs of the nearby Plaza Hotel who, under the direction of executive chef Shalom Kadosh, would march from the hotel to the prime minister’s residence in their pristine white chef’s uniforms, bearing aloft a huge tray with a magnificent birthday cake.

The exercise was not repeated with Begin’s successors.

Jerusalem stores see vacancies

■ IT IS sad to walk through the city and see the number of shops with “For Sale” or “For Rent” signs taped to the windows. Some of these premises are snapped up quite soon after they are vacated, but others remain empty for months and even years. Of the new enterprises, there is the elegantly appointed Pinoli kosher gelato and coffee bar on Ben-Yehuda Street, which could conceivably pose some competition for nearby renovated and enlarged Katzefet. Getting close to completion is the Auster Hotel, just a few doors away from the Ibis. Both these hotels on Ben-Yehuda Street can be characterized as boutique. Work is also in progress on the former Eden Hotel on Hillel Street, which was once patronized by well-known politicians including Abba Eban, but which in later years was taken over by the administrative division of the Immigrant Absorption Ministry.

Less than five minutes away on the corner of Jaffa Road and Luntz Street, Laurent Levy is making great progress with his very large Grand Hotel. The exterior of the building site features large photographs of downtown Jerusalem during the British Mandate period.

This week, the wide gates on the Luntz side of the project were open, and it was almost a shock to see just how much land there is at the rear of the property. In its former incarnation, there was no indication that the site was so spacious.

Hopefully, when the project is completed, Levy will reserve one large room for a photo gallery that depicts more than two centuries of Jerusalem life.

Diagonally across the road, the newest hotel in the Isrotel chain is past the halfway mark, stretching almost the length of Havatzelet Street, while hotels and townhouses on Mordechai Ben-Hillel and Agrippas streets are in the final stages of completion.

A stroll around the inner city is an adventure of discovery. Veteran Jerusalemites will be shocked to see how little has been left of the places that were part and parcel of their youth.

Curtain call for Smadar movie theater

■ FOR THE best part of 80 years, the Smadar cinema in the German Colony has been a Jerusalem fixture. It has been the subject of controversy and has several times been threatened with closure. It seems that this threat has materialized yet again and that in the present era of tearing down the old and replacing it with much taller new, the Smadar’s days are numbered.

Always suffering from fiscal woes and family feuds, the Smadar’s management was taken over in the mid-1990s by Lev Cinemas, and the movie theater has since been known as Lev Smadar.

Constructed in 1928, the building originally served the British Army and later became a commercial outlet. In 1950, it was purchased by Aryeh Chechick, whose family continued to own it and screen movies, even after it was managed by Lev Cinemas.

Sisters Sara Harush and Nava Chechik, who inherited the movie theater from their father, are always at loggerheads with each other, which is one of the reasons that there have been intermittent rumors of closure.

People came to Smadar not just to watch movies but also to sit and schmooze in the lobby coffee shop. For many of the denizens of the German Colony, the Smadar coffee shop was a home away from home. There’s no shortage of coffee shops along Emek Refaim, but it’s unlikely that any of them would build a cinema in the back once Smadar is history.