Grapevine August 9, 2023: The King’s-and other people’s-English

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 NATAN SHARANSKY and Gil Troy present President Isaac Herzog with an updated Hebrew edition of ‘Never Alone’ in Jerusalem last week.  (photo credit: GIL TROY)
NATAN SHARANSKY and Gil Troy present President Isaac Herzog with an updated Hebrew edition of ‘Never Alone’ in Jerusalem last week.
(photo credit: GIL TROY)

Britain’s new ambassador to Israel, Simon Walters, on Tuesday hosted a conference at his residence titled “The Future of English – A Global Perspective.” Organized by the British Council in Israel, the conference was based on a global study conducted by the council through its many international branches.

The British Council in Israel is currently conducting an extensive study to examine and reflect on the future of the English language in Israel.

The study, which was unprecedented in its scope, indicates that for at least the next decade, English will continue to be the most widely spoken language in the world, and that teachers in the classroom are much preferred by students, despite the rapid progress of automation, artificial intelligence and device-learning. Among those attending the conference were representatives of the Education and Science and Technology ministries, the Council for Higher Education, heads of municipal and regional education departments, representatives of ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities, representatives of various philanthropic foundations that deal with education, and more.

Israeli consul general visits home

■ BRIEFLY IN Israel for the graduation of his daughter Jen (pronounced Chen) Reuben is Meron Reuben, the Israel consul general to New England. Reuben’s Mexican-born daughter is a very talented artist. She was among the hundreds of students who graduated from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. Its annual graduate exhibition, which was a cornucopia of creativity, was held at the new Jack, Joseph and Mort Mandel Bezalel campus in Jerusalem’s Russian compound. 

Mort Mandel – who was the point man for the Mandel Foundation, which gave so much to Israel in terms of formal and informal educational and cultural projects – died a few short years before the campus was completed. It is truly the crown of his generosity toward Israel, and last Thursday attracted thousands of people representing the totality of Israel’s demographic mosaic. 

 BEDOUIN AND Jewish teenage girls relax at the One Team joint summer camp initiated by the Azrieli Foundation. (credit: Courtesy Azrieli Foundation)
BEDOUIN AND Jewish teenage girls relax at the One Team joint summer camp initiated by the Azrieli Foundation. (credit: Courtesy Azrieli Foundation)

Jen Reuben, who was born when her father served as ambassador to Mexico, created a video exhibit that reflected different relationships. In one of the videos, an elderly woman laments the fact that she does not know enough family history, because when her parents tried to tell her something, she was not interested, and by the time she became interested they were no longer there to ask. Now, she is experiencing something similar with her own children and grandchildren. When she tries to tell them what she does know of family history, they shrug her off, saying, “Not now.” But she urges them to “Ask questions now, because there may not be a tomorrow.”

Aside from attending the graduation and catching up with relatives and friends, Meron Reuben was eager to learn from colleagues what progress, if any, has been made toward normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia. He still cherishes a dream of being Israel’s first ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, he is returning to Boston this week, and will be back in Israel in December for the annual conference of ambassadors and consuls general serving abroad. He expects to complete his tenure as consul general some time in 2024, and hopes that by that time there will be a chance for him to serve Israel’s interests in Saudi Arabia.

Where are they now: The offspring of Israel's founding fathers

■ THE OFFSPRING of some of the founding fathers of the state do not live in Israel. Among them are direct descendants of David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Abba Eban, former Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Halevi Herzog, Moshe Dayan and more. This proves that no matter how ardent a Zionist one may be, it’s no guarantee that one’s progeny will follow.

We see this in many spheres, including religious circles, where some of the most anti-religious secularists will still boast about the great rabbis who were their forebears.

Last week, just a few days after Israeli film reviewers had raved about Helen Mirren’s portrayal of Israel’s only female prime minister, Golda Meir, Golda’s great-granddaughter, who lives in the United States, visited Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and was particularly interested in the Ben-Gurion archive.

Remy Meir, a PhD candidate whose research focuses on pain, addiction and the opioid system, was one of eight Brown University graduate students who studied at BGU for two weeks as part of the BGU-Brown intensive collaborative course, NeuroTechnology: From Research to Application.

The summer course – co-taught by Dr. Oren Shriki, head of BGU’s Department of Cognitive and Brain Sciences, and Dr. Christopher Moore, associate director of Brown University’s Robert J. and Nancy D. Carney Institute for Brain Science – is a collaboration between BGU’s Gordon S. Cohen Neuro-Hub and the Carney Institute. The Gordon S. Cohen Neuro-Hub and its summer course were made possible by donations secured by Americans for Ben-Gurion University.

During the final planning meetings for this summer’s two-week course, conversations between the Carney Institute and the Gordon S. Cohen Neuro-Hub revealed that one of the eight participating students actually had an historic connection to Israel. Yet Meir’s impressive pedigree was not known until she clarified the pronunciation of her surname. Subsequently, BGU and A4BGU officials facilitated the visit by Meir and several of her fellow Brown University students to the Ben-Gurion Archive, which she might probably never have come across under other circumstances.

The archive, founded in the 1970s ‏as part of the Ben-Gurion Heritage Institute to commemorate David Ben-Gurion’s legacy, is located close to Ben-Gurion’s former desert home in Sde Boker. It preserves, and makes accessible to the public, an array of documents about Ben-Gurion’s personality and achievements. The archive also accepts additional collections about personalities who worked with Ben-Gurion or left their mark on the Zionist movement and the State of Israel.

Meir’s visit to the archive, which includes information about her great-grandmother, came just a few weeks ahead of the August 25 US release of Golda, which Remy might now view with greater understanding.

Arab protests against violence get minimal media coverage

■ THE MINIMAL media coverage given to a recent Arab demonstration against violence and targeted killings is indicative that the government’s negligence in curtailing violence has spread to the sphere that is purportedly the conscience of society.

Thousands of Israeli Arabs – particularly young men and women – some bearing symbolic coffins with the names of deceased victims of violence, and others wearing shrouds and carrying placards with the words “Ben-Gvir, our blood is on your hands,” gathered on Sunday in Tel Aviv and not in some Arab enclave.

The idea, according to Amar Suleiman Al Amur, who was one of the organizers, was to take the people frequenting Tel Aviv coffee houses out of their lethargy and make them aware of what is happening.

At the time of the demonstration, 141 Arabs had been deliberately targeted or accidentally killed this year in the spate of violence pervading the country. The total number of violent killings among Arabs throughout the whole of 2022 was 111.

But whereas demonstrations against judicial reform have received ongoing coverage in print and electronic media, the Arab demonstration was barely acknowledged.

Ignoring the needs of the Arab community has been exacerbated by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is withholding funds that inter alia, would enable young Arabs to study at Israeli universities instead of Palestinian and Jordanian universities.

Not directly related, though relevant, is the cancellation by the Education Ministry of talks in schools by members of The Parents Circle-Families Forum. The grassroots organization is a joint Israel-Palestinian reconciliation group in which Israelis and Palestinians who have lost loved ones as a result of the conflict have come together to share each other’s pain. The parents of a Palestinian terrorist may not approve of what he’s doing, but they love him just the same, and mourn him when he is killed in retaliation by Israeli security personnel or an armed Israeli civilian.

Robi Damelin, one of the most prominent Israeli members of the Parents Circle, said, “Education Minister Yoav Kisch is trying to determine what is allowed and what is not allowed. Distancing the Bereaved Families Forum from schools is another step in the legal revolution – suppression of democracy and acceptance of other votes.”

Paraphrasing assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Damelin said, “Peace is made with enemies. For peace, we must acknowledge the pain of the other side.”

Members of the Parents Circle have been speaking to students in Israeli schools for around 20 years. Some school principals say that they have no intention of preventing members of the organization from continuing, regardless of Education Ministry directives.

Social entrepreneurs get stuff done

■ WHEN TWO social entrepreneurs and activists are married to each other, only good things can happen. Danna Azrieli, who chairs the Azrieli Foundation – which supports numerous educational, architectural, scientific medical research and social-welfare endeavors, as well as the arts – is married to Danny Hakim, who for many years has been involved in philanthropy and the teaching of martial arts. He strongly believes in integrating the two spheres.

Azrieli and Hakim have special individual interests. They also have joint interests such as the One Team summer camps in Kfar Silver, which bring together 50 Jewish and Bedouin girls ages 13-15, to learn about each other, engage in sports, share meals, listen to lectures by female champions in diverse sports, attend swimming workshops and become friends.

Camp One Team, an Azrieli Foundation initiative, is part of the foundation’s SSI (Sports for Social Change in Israel) program, which is Hakim’s brainchild, and operated by ORT Kadima Mada. The camp aims to promote mutual respect and understanding of others while creating new friendships through the girls’ shared love of sports.

“The Azrieli Foundation advocates for and believes in creating a shared society for all of Israel’s citizens, built on mutual respect, pluralism, and equality,” said Azrieli. “Particularly in these times, in the current social climate, the One Team summer camp holds amplified value. It exemplifies the true essence of unity and partnership and promotes the understanding that diverse communities in Israeli society can live together in harmony. We hope and believe that the positive experiences from the camp will resonate within the participating girls’ communities.”

Hakim said, “It’s truly magic to see Bedouin from unrecognized villages living together with Jewish girls from all over Israel. I feel that this is the most impactful thing I’ve done, and we intend to have many more of these camps around Israel in the future.”

Hakim has a long history of bringing Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, Bedouin, and Palestinians together under the banner of Budo for Peace, in which they were taught martial arts as a means of both self-control and self-defense, but with the utmost respect for opponents. He and his brother Paul have also been involved in teaching swimming and life-saving to young people from all the above-mentioned communities.

When will Israel learn: Heads up are important

■ ISRAELI ORGANIZATIONS and PR companies have, with rare exceptions, not yet learned to understand the importance of heads-up information. A recent case in point was the State visit by Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema, whose schedule – in addition to meetings with President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – included a visit to Yad Vashem. The visit to the Holocaust memorial is a traditional feature on the itinerary of every visiting head of state. Hichilema also planted a tree in the Keren Kayemet Jewish National Fund’s Grove of Nations, met with Zambian physicians who are being trained in Israel to save the lives of children with heart problems, and a met at the Herzl Museum with Yaakov Hagoel, chairman of the World Zionist Organization.

All such visits are planned well in advance, but it was only after Hichilema, generally known as HH, had his praying at the Western Wall reported on Arutz 7, appeared in an interview on I24, and had his visit with Herzog reported in The Jerusalem Post, that most of the above organizations began flooding the media with material. It was like unlocking the door after the horse had already bolted.

Still, it was interesting to see a photograph of the president attired in his business suit planting an olive tree – especially in the heat of Jerusalem.

Ronit Boytner, a member of the KKL-JNF board of directors said at the ceremony, “This olive tree that we plant here today symbolizes the connection between our countries that keeps on growing. As we plant these trees today, we are not only creating a legacy for future generations, but we are also making a profound statement about our commitment to the environment.”

At the conclusion of the planting ceremony, HH said he was deeply moved. “We plant trees to preserve the globe and for future generations,” he said.

During his meeting with Herzog, HH had mentioned how appreciative he was that Israel’s Save a Child’s Heart (SACH) team had done so much to save the lives of Zambian children with heart defects.

Five healthy Zambian children who underwent cardiac procedures at Wolfson Medical Center in Israel are still here. They happily prepared a special gift for HH and gave it to Zambian physicians Dr. Kalembe Invincible Lwara and Dr. Moonde Muulu to take to Jerusalem. The two physicians, who are in training with SACH, accompanied SACH executive director Simon Fisher, who introduced them to both HH and President Herzog.

Although HH is quite well versed in Zionist history, he and his wife, Mutinta, learned a lot more from Hagoel, and were particularly interested in how Theodor Herzl pursued his vision, while some of his contemporaries lived to see the beginnings of its realization. HH also laid a wreath on Herzl’s grave and wrote in the Herzl Museum guest book, “It has been 126 years since the First Zionist Congress in Basel, and it is amazing to see Herzl’s vision come true before our eyes”.

Sharansky: He knows dictatorships

■ FORMER JEWISH Agency chairman Natan Sharansky knows a thing or two about dictatorships. When he still went by the name of Anatoly, he was one of the most widely known of the victims of the dictatorship of the Soviet Union. In an interview with Maariv, which is part of The Jerusalem Post media group, Sharansky declared unequivocally that Israel is not a dictatorship. “They don’t put you in prison if you say you don’t like Bibi,” he said, giving that example as proof. In some East European countries, people can be and are imprisoned for speaking against the president or the prime minister.

Sharansky gives Herzog a book

■ LAST WEEK, Sharansky also joined Jerusalem Post columnist Gil Troy, with whom he wrote Never Alone, in presenting the updated Hebrew edition of the book to President Herzog who had written an introduction in English to the updated paperback edition. The two authors were accompanied by Amichai Berholz of Yediot Books, who edited the Hebrew edition.

Herzog’s predecessors Reuven Rivlin and Shimon Peres are and were voracious readers who were frequently presented with new books, generally published by Yediot. That usually guaranteed a photograph in Yediot Aharonot of the author with the president and the publishing house’s editor in chief. Most of these presentations are made in the president’s office, where the bookcases have become increasingly full during the two years in which Herzog has served as president.

Joanna Landau doesn't vibe with a trip to Jerusalem

■ HOWEVER, WHEN Joanna Landau, the founding chairperson of Vibe Israel, who is a personal friend of the president and his wife, Michal, decided to present him with her book Ethical Tribing, she didn’t make the trip to Jerusalem. The Herzogs occasionally spend the weekend at their private home in the Tzahala neighborhood of Tel Aviv, which is where Landau went to present the president with her book, which deals with how to bring Generation Z closer to Israel in the digital era. 

Like Herzog, Landau is a lawyer by profession. When she founded Vibe a little over a decade ago, she conceived the idea of bringing digital influencers on an immersive tour of Israel to meet with their Israeli counterparts. The upshot has been more than a billion positive mentions about Israel online. Admittedly, there are probably more negative mentions on social media platforms, but Vibe’s strategy has helped to present a more positive image of Israel and its people. Many of the digital influencers are neither Israeli nor Jewish.

Landau has inherited a lot of her spunk from her grandmother Dame Shirley Porter, who was a friend of Herzog’s late mother, Aura. The two women shared environmental concerns. Aura founded and headed the Council for a Beautiful Israel, of which Dame Shirley was a member. Dame Shirley and her late husband, Sir Leslie Porter, founded the Porter School of Environment and Earth Sciences at Tel Aviv University.

Old soldiers in Israel don't die, they become political activists

■ OLD SOLDIERS never die, they merely fade away, says the timeless adage. But in Israel they don’t fade away; they become politically active both formally and informally. An example is the Commanders for Israel’s Security, which at its annual elections this week elected its new executive committee. Matan Vilnai, a former minister and former Israel ambassador to China, was reelected as CIS chairman. The other members of the executive are Itamar Yaar, a former deputy chief of the National Security Council; Rachel Dolev, a former military attorney-general and IDF chief censor; Danny Yatom, a former head of Mossad; Ephraim Sneh, a retired brigadier-general and former minister, former Army Radio broadcaster Pe’erli Shahar; and Nahman Shai, a former IDF spokesman and a minister in the previous government.

The elections were held digitally for the first time in order to give all those eligible the opportunity to influence the outcome with their vote. A total of 301 people participated. Vilnai, in welcoming the new executive, praised all concerned for their dedication to the ongoing security of the State of Israel, and their determination to maintain it as a Jewish and democratic state.

Dry Bones finds new home

■ “WELCOME ABOARD Yaakov!” is the last line in a press release published on Monday by JNS – Jewish News Syndicate. The Yaakov in question is Brooklyn-born cartoonist Yaakov Kirschen, 85, who relocated to Israel in 1971. He began a long career at The Jerusalem Post in January 1973, with his internationally syndicated Dry Bones cartoon, which was a wry interpretation of current events.

Dry Bones kept appearing in publications around the world after Kirschen and the Post parted company.

Highly respected not only as a cartoonist but also as a public speaker, Kirschen is a member of both America’s National Cartoonists Society and the Israeli Cartoonists Society.

The cartoons he produced for the Post were on occasion reprinted in The New York Times, Time magazine, The Wall Street Journal, other major media publications, and of course numerous Jewish newspapers.

The Dry Bones story has been covered by CBS, CNN, Forbes and other media outlets. Kirschen has also published books, including an intriguing Passover Haggadah, which is his personal take on tradition both in text and cartoon.

Kirschen says he’s proud to be at JNS, where he can welcome old fans and provide them with cartoon updates on what is happening in Israel and the Jewish world. JNS for its part, has stated that it’s looking forward to bringing Dry Bones to its readers for years to come.

Interesting Ichilov conference

■ SOME 50 diplomats, many of them ambassadors and economic attaches, participated in July’s quarterly meeting of the IATI Foreign Ambassadors Forum at Ichilov Medical Center in Tel Aviv. IATI, the Israel Association of Tech Industries, is led by Israeli Advanced Technology Industries under the leadership of Karin Mayer Rubinstein, who serves in the dual capacity of president and CEO.

The diplomats – who among others, included Chinese Ambassador Cai Run, Austrian Ambassador Nikolaus Lutterotti, Tanzanian Ambassador Alex Gabriel Kallu, Sudanese Ambassador Wal Mayar Artec and Croatian Ambassador Vesela Mrden Korac – toured the hospital and listened to lectures by hi-tech entrepreneur Yossi Vardi and Ichilov director Prof. Ronni Gamzu about efforts to advance Israel’s hi-tech and biomed industries. As several ambassadors completed their postings in the early part of the summer, a batch of new ambassadors is gradually replacing them. By September, there will be many new faces on the diplomatic circuit.

In November, the new ambassadors and their more veteran colleagues will head for Jerusalem for the IATI MIXiii Health-Tech.IL Conference 2023.

Grant for genealogist

■ LEADING ISRAELI genealogist Prof. Daniel Wagner, of the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy and Paul Jacobi Center, was the recipient of the 2023 Stern Grant at the 43rd annual conference of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies that was held in London.

The grant was in recognition of a project that Wagner and Dr. Kamila Klauzinska have been leading in Poland for upward of two decades.

In September, 2001, the two initiated the Photographic Census Project of the Jewish cemetery of Zdunska Wola, which took seven years to complete, as it contains 3,505 tombstones dating from 1825-on. Wagner was subsequently accorded the honor of honorary citizenship of Zdunska Wola.

In 2009, he was named a fellow of the Israel Genealogical Society.

One of the few surviving Jewish cemeteries in Poland, the cemetery in Zdunska Wola is distinguished by its colorful tombstones. The project is therefore named “Walking Among Colors.”

The grant money will be used to support the printing of 300 copies of a detailed book about the tombstones. Copies will be distributed to the Jewish descendants of the town, to the local historical museum and to interested current residents of Zdunska Wola.

In recent years, non-Jewish residents of many Polish towns and villages in which no Jews remain have developed an interest in the Jews who were neighbors of their antecedents, and contributed to economic, cultural, scientific and political developments.

Netanyahu: Politician, poker player, thespian

■ LOOKING AT the facial expressions of Prime Minister Netanyahu in some of the video clips of interviews that he has given to foreign media, one can’t help but admire his ability to look happily sincere. Should voters become disillusioned with him in the event that he leads Likud in the Knesset elections yet again, Netanyahu has two instant career options. One is to become a professional poker player and the other is to audition for Habima. He really is a superb actor.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman doesn’t dwell directly on Bibi’s thespian talents, though. Instead, he tweeted a warning: “Attention journalists: If Bibi Netanyahu gives you an interview, he thinks you’re a sucker.”