Grapevine August 16, 2023: Cut the talking

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG receives from Michael Oren his visionary book ‘2048: The Rejuvenated State.’ (photo credit: Todd Rosenblatt Photography)
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG receives from Michael Oren his visionary book ‘2048: The Rejuvenated State.’
(photo credit: Todd Rosenblatt Photography)

A Second World War slogan used by allied forces was “Loose lips sink ships.” This principle still applies to security situations in an era of advanced technology. Too much talk by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Herzi Halevi, not to mention former commanders who are among those reservists who have stated that they will no longer volunteer if what they consider to be undemocratic legislation goes through a final reading and is passed. It’s common knowledge that, in the event of a war, all these refuseniks would rush to defend the state, regardless of anything they’ve said or will be saying in weeks to come, so why bother to provoke the enemy with threats of this kind against the government?

Such threats have prompted top brass emergency meetings and declarations that politics should not be permitted to enter the defense forces. But politics have always entered the defense forces, because soldiers vote in national elections, and on occasion, their votes have tipped the scales in favor of one party or another. So let’s not pretend that the IDF is free of politics. But let’s not talk about it or about IDF preparedness in open discussion.

Is Israel competing in an international corruption championship?

■ IS ISRAEL competing in some under the radar international contest or the corruption championships? Ignoring the objections of the legal counsels in the Prime Minister’s Office and in his own office, Civil Service Commission head Daniel Hershkowitz has given the green light for three civil servants to be employed at the private holiday home in Caesarea of Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. This sets an unhealthy precedent, and is yet another nail in the coffin of political integrity.

Is Michael Oren a modern-day Theodor Herzl?

■ TIME WILL tell whether former ambassador to the US and former MK Michael Oren is a latter-day Theodor Herzl. Oren is the founder of Israel 2048, through which he presents his vision of a rejuvenated Israel which in 2048 will celebrate the centenary of its renewal as a sovereign state.

Oren has been promoting his vision both in Israel and the United States and has amassed quite a following in both countries.

 HANNA, GRANDDAUGHTER of the French donor to Hadassah, Prof. Emmanuel Messas (center), president, Hadassah France, and Jorge Diener, executive director, Hadassah International. (credit: COURTESY HADASSAH)
HANNA, GRANDDAUGHTER of the French donor to Hadassah, Prof. Emmanuel Messas (center), president, Hadassah France, and Jorge Diener, executive director, Hadassah International. (credit: COURTESY HADASSAH)

Last week, Oren, accompanied by members of his 2048 Initiative team, came to the President’s Residence, to share his vision with President Isaac Herzog. Although they were on opposite sides of the political aisle when both served as members of Knesset, the two men are in agreement on the importance of dialogue.

Oren, who is also a best-selling author, brought his latest book, 2048: The Rejuvenated State, which he presented to Herzog.

Published in Hebrew, Arabic, and English in a single volume, the book is designed to stimulate discussion related to Oren’s vision for a prosperous, secure, and unified State of Israel in the year of its 100th anniversary.

The content of the book includes foreign policy, the peace process, educational and social policy, and Diaspora-Israel relations.

Oren wants as many people as possible to read it, and is hoping to have it translated into more languages.

Referring to Israel’s current predicament, Herzog characterized it as “an evolutionary moment that is an opportunity for growth and change” – precisely the goals of the 2048 Initiative.

He also mentioned his community dialogue program, Mahlifim Mila Bakehila, which he initiated together with the Israel Association of Community Centers.

Herzog was sufficiently impressed with what Oren had told him that he suggested close collaboration between his office and Israel 2048.

“We all understand that dialogue, and being able to talk to one another with differing views and perspectives, is one of the key elements to effectively respond to all that has been happening in Israel lately,” he said.

“We need to be talking to and listening to each other and to find ways to cut through the noise of what is going on and get more people talking about solutions, even if they disagree. This is how we are going to heal.”

New books hit the shelves

■ REGARDLESS OF the fact that we are living in a digital age, new books keep appearing in the traditional format, as if on a conveyor belt. Related in some ways to the abovementioned is a book of essays titled A Jewish State – 75 Perspectives, which was originally written in Hebrew but will now gain a greater readership following its English-language launch on Monday, September 4, at the Jewish People Policy Institute on the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The time-worn search for whether Israel is a Jewish state or the state of the Jewish people is ongoing 75 years after the realization of a dream of centuries, but consensus remains a distant goal. For that matter, who can give a universally acceptable definition on the meaning of being Jewish? Then again, where does “Jewish” differ from “Hebrew”? Jewish law, when referred to in Hebrew, is called Mishpat Ivri – Hebrew law. In English we refer to the Jewish calendar, but in Hebrew it’s called the Hebrew calendar.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews claim to be the real Jews, born and living according to Halacha. But the word “halacha,” which comes from the Hebrew root that means walk, suggests that, contrary to custom, Halacha is flexible. Very few rabbis, other than those serving the Reform movement, would agree with that. Judaism is in many respects riddled with contradictions, a factor that will help to pepper discussion at the launch event of the book.

The moderator will be former Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief Yaakov Katz, who is very good at gentle persuasion, and getting people to say things they had not intended. The backgrounds of the speakers are primarily in diplomacy, defense, academia, law, and the written word.

The keynote address will be delivered by the chairman of the National Unity Party, former defense minister Benny Gantz, who according to various surveys may very well be the next prime minister.

Hadassah's good deeds bring more good deeds

■ ONE GOOD deed brings another, goes the old Hebrew saying. Indeed, in the case of Hadassah Medical Center, this has definitely proved to be true. Hadassah was among the various Israeli organizations that sent teams to Poland to help deal with Ukrainian refugees and to provide them with whatever medical aid was needed.

An interview in a French Jewish newspaper with Prof. Emmanuel Messas, the president of Hadassah France, came to the attention of an affluent reader, who was sufficiently impressed with what she read about Hadassah’s exceptional humanitarian efforts following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, to want to contribute to Hadassah’s ongoing development.

She decided that such dedication deserved to be rewarded, but opted to remain anonymous, even though her amazing generosity could not be kept secret.

Her multimillion-euro donation will support Hadassah’s treatment of children battling cancer.

In the interview, the focus had been on what Hadassah France is doing with regard to research and treatment in the sphere of pediatric oncology. The donor decided to allocate a significant part of her gift to furthering pediatric research in Hadassah’s pediatric oncology department to enable researchers to pioneer cancer immunotherapy clinical trials for children. At the same time, building on the recent establishment of the first organoids center in Israel at Hadassah, they will explore ways of providing personalized medicine for children with cancer benefiting from this advanced technology.

Part of the donation will also be used to upgrade medical equipment and infrastructure of the pediatric oncology department at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem, enhancing the treatment capabilities for young patients. Additionally, the French website will be updated and French-Israeli collaborations will be strengthened.

Hadassah has received a lot of large-scale donations over the years, but this one absolutely wowed all concerned.

“My colleagues and I are overwhelmed by the scope of this gift and the potential it has to transform treatment and save lives,” said Prof. Yoram Weiss, director-general of Hadassah Medical Organization at the ceremony at which the donation was acknowledged. The donor declined to attend, but sent her granddaughter Hanna in her stead.

Also present at the ceremony, in addition to Weiss and Hanna, were: Messas, Health Minister Moshe Arbel, Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Moshe Amar, Dr. Gal Goldstein, director, pediatric hemato-oncology, Rhoda Smolov and Carol Ann Schwartz, the national president and incoming president, respectively, of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik, who chairs the board of directors of HMO, and Jorge Diener, executive director of Hadassah International.

Ayelet Zurer goes to the Jordan River Village

■ PRIZEWINNING ISRAELI actress Ayelet Zurer, who has been living in the US for the past 20 plus years, but who has frequently returned home to act in Israeli television and movie productions, in addition to her television and movie roles in America, always makes a point of visiting Jordan River Village which is a free, medically supervised vacation village for children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. Zurer is one of the ambassadors of the village and also a member of its board. This time she was accompanied by her son, Liad, to whom she wanted to show the good work being done at the village.

Zurer is also a presenter for BMW, which is imported to Israel by Delek Motors. This is the third consecutive year in which she has been promoting the luxury car. Before she returned to her home in Los Angeles, Zurer attended an event for women only in the Delek Motors showroom in Tel Aviv, where she participated in a panel discussion in which the focus was on women flourishing again after the age of 50. Zurer is 54. Zurer, who on this occasion spent a month in Israel, was primarily in the country for the shooting of a new television series in which she appears.

Israeli audiences best remember her as one of the lead players in the television series Shtisel, which can be seen on Netflix, 10 years after it first hit the small screen in Israel.

Gal Gadot gets more attention

■ ISRAEL’S WONDER Woman, Gal Gadot, continues to attract attention as an actress and a model. She is currently starring in recently released Heart of Stone, which was produced by her husband, Yaron Versano, and can be seen on Netflix.

Some of the dangerous stunts in the film were executed by Gadot herself, who as a youngster studied dance. She says that this has proved invaluable for those stunts that she does do herself.

She also graces the cover of the latest issue of the Los Angeles-based fashion and culture magazine Flaunt.

Galit Gutman joins new beauty campaign

■ MODEL, ACTRESS and television anchorwoman Galit Gutman is one of the presenters of the Ronit Raphael network of beauty clinics and products. In the most recent campaign for the company, she came dressed in a Barbie outfit, and was accompanied by her mother, Zehavit Gutman, and her daughter Shira Gutman. They are appearing in a joint promotion for Ronit Raphael and Studio C. The campaign message is that beauty passes from generation to generation. Galit Gutman and her 21-year-old daughter, Shira, have worked together before, but this is the first time that they were joined by her mother.

The main focus of the campaign, which will be featured in Israel and abroad, will be a new beauty line, L. Raphael. Also participating in the campaign are Ronit Raphael’s own children Sarah and Julian Raphael-Leitersdorf, who are aged 16 and 18, respectively. They will be photographed with their mother.

Fashion and entertainment dynasties

■ TWO- AND three-generation family members are less common in the fashion industry than in the entertainment business. Supermodel Bar Refaeli’s mother, Tzipi, was a model under her maiden name of Tzipi Levine. But it’s difficult to find other mothers and daughters strutting the runway. Maybe it’s because mothers who know all the difficulties and hardships involved tend to deter their daughters from taking on what looks like a glamorous lifestyle but is really very tough work.

But in the entertainment business, even if offspring don’t follow in the direct footsteps of their mothers or fathers or both, they nonetheless become part of Israel’s entertainment industry.

The most outstanding example is the multitalented multigenerational Banai family, which includes parents, children, siblings and cousins. The latest member to receive attention is actor Amir Banai, who is the son of Orna Banai.

Then there’s Aviv Gefen, whose late father was Yonatan Gefen, and whose older son Dylan has already appeared on stage. It should be remembered that the Gefens are closely related to the Dayans, whose family includes three generations of creativity, including acting, screenwriting, cinema directing, writing of books, journalism, and sculpting. Then there’s Shlomo Artzi and his son Ben; the late Svika Pick and his daughters, Daniela and Sharona; Moshe and Dana Ivgy; Moni Moshonov, his wife, Sandra Sade, and their son, Michael Moshonov; Yossi Alfi, his son Guri and daughter, Sari; Assaf Amdursky, the son of the late Benny Amdursky; Shimi Tavori and his son Ben El; Nurit Galron, who is the daughter of singer Leah Sitin; Miki Gavrielov and his daughter Shira; Ariel Zilber, the son of singer Bracha Zefira; and the list goes on.

Is Ron Huldai committing political suicide?

■ GIVEN THAT this is a municipal election year, and that elections are due to take place in October, it’s tantamount to political suicide on the part of Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai to permit the closure of a large section of Allenby Street, as infrastructural work on the Purple Line of the light rail network gets under way.

Storekeepers are apprehensive over being able to keep their heads above water from an economic standpoint. Work on the purple line is projected for completion in 2027, which is a severe blow to Allenby Street’s many storekeepers, who are well aware that construction deadlines are seldom met. Even getting to the Carmel market is more difficult than it used to be. Jerusalem storekeepers went through a major period of declining profits while the light rail system was being built on Jaffa Road, but most business enterprises were able to bounce back. The question arises as to how long Allenby Street stores can hold out. Four-and-a-half years is a long time, and it may take much longer.

Presumably, many bus routes that passed by the Carmel market will be diverted. If they pass somewhere close to the Carmelit bus terminal at the rear end of the market, regular market shoppers can still patronize their favorite stalls, but will simply be entering the market from the back entrance instead of the front. But, unfortunately, that’s no consolation to Allenby Street storekeepers.

From an economic standpoint, it would be wiser to bring in a thousand Chinese laborers to build the Purple Line within a year. In the final analysis it would be a lot cheaper and far more beneficial to Israel’s economy in general, and Tel Aviv’s in particular.

Rediscovering Jewish Poland

■ THOUGH JEWISH life in Poland was all but nonexistent in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and millions of the country’s Jewish citizens had been murdered by the Nazis, as well as by some Polish villagers, Poland could not ignore the 1,000-year symbiosis of its Catholic and Jewish citizens. Many Catholics, some of whom were actually born Jewish but did not discover this until they were adults, have no qualms about admitting to having Jewish parents or grandparents.

In towns and villages across the country where Jews once thrived but no longer live there, some Christians have taken it upon themselves to clean up and preserve Jewish cemeteries and to renew and transform synagogues into cultural centers while retaining whatever Jewish symbolism or artifacts remain.

Recently, researchers from the University of Wroclaw discovered during archaeological excavations and renovations of a historic building, stretches of wall resembling those of 14th-century European synagogues.

For Prof. Malgorzata Chorowska of the Wroclaw University of Technology, this was an extremely pleasant surprise. Research that she subsequently conducted indicated that the synagogue had been integrated into a city palace, which had been built much later.

The find is being examined brick by brick, said Prof. Mateusz Golinski from Wroclaw University’s Institute of Universal History. Much of the research has been supported by the Bente Kahan Foundation as part of a wider project called History Recovered. The project is cofinanced by the Wroclaw Municipality, with the primary goal being the location of the ancient mikveh – the ritual bath used by members of the Jewish community.

Bente Kahan, an Oslo-born Jewish singer, actress, musician, and playwright, best known for her productions of Yiddish folk music and plays, is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Her Romanian-born father was a rabbi and Satmar Hassid, whose life was saved by an American soldier who saw him twitch amid a pile of dead bodies.

Though not religious herself, Bente Kahan is very conscious of being Jewish, and of the need to preserve certain Jewish traditions. She studied performing arts at Tel Aviv University and the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York.

She performs in several languages, but mainly in Yiddish and Hebrew.

In 2001, she moved with her husband and two children to Wroclaw, where she serves as director of the Wroclaw Center for Jewish Culture and Education. Five years later, she established the Bente Kahan Foundation, whose initial project was the restoration of the famous White Stork Synagogue, which was the only synagogue in the city known to have survived the Holocaust. Because there are insufficient Jews to make use of it as a house of prayer, it is used as a cultural center and a place for dialogue.

A new film about a Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivor

■ ALSO OF Jewish interest is a recent Polish film, Filip, the semi-autobiographical story of Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivor author and journalist Leopold Tyrmand, who in 1961 wrote the book on which the film is based.

The film, released this year, can be seen on Netflix and tells the story of a young architecture student who has the good fortune to speak fluent and accentless French and German. He escapes from the Warsaw Ghetto following the murder of his fiancée and several of his friends, and finds his way to Frankfurt, where he gets a job as a waiter in the most high-class hotel frequented by the Nazi top brass.

He takes his revenge on the Nazis by spitting in their coffee before he serves it, and by bedding as many German women as he can and turning them into whores. He even tells some of the women that he is a Polish Jew, though given the circumstances, his being Jewish was self-evident. When the women threaten to report him, he reminds them that it is a crime to sleep with aliens in general and Jews in particular. He might be executed, but they will be severely punished, and their heads shaven. No one dares to turn him in, but he goes through a lot of emotional torture when he witnesses the frequent acts of Nazi brutality.

The film, which stars Eryk Kulm Jr. in the title role, shows that the Poles understand the Jews more than we realize.

James Snyder to helm Jewish Museum

■ FORMER DIRECTOR of the Israel Museum James Snyder, who over the past four years has been executive chairman of the New York-headquartered Jerusalem Foundation Inc., had initially come to Israel some 25 years ago from the Museum of Modern Art. In his heart and soul, Snyder is a museum man, and he’s returning to the role of museum director – not in Israel, where he and his wife still own an apartment in Jerusalem, but at the Jewish Museum in New York, where he will become the Helen Goldsmith Menschel director, effective from November 1, 2023.

The announcement of Snyder’s new position was considered sufficiently important to be covered by The New York Times, which described the Jewish Museum as one of the largest museums dedicated to Jewish culture worldwide.

Snyder, who succeeds Claudia Gould, was described as “a veteran leader in the art world and Jewish community.” Gould served as director for 12 years.

The Jewish Museum, founded in 1904 in the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, is believed to be the first culturally specific institution of its kind in the United States.

Although the world supposedly belongs to the young, Snyder, 71, was a frontline choice for the job, given his background both as a long-term museum director and his strong connections to the Jewish world of philanthropy.