Grapevine August 23, 2023: No light rail on Shabbat

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 VIP PASSENGERS on the Tel Aviv Light Rail – (from left) Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, Sara and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Transportation  Minister Miri Regev, and Energy Minister Israel Katz.  (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
VIP PASSENGERS on the Tel Aviv Light Rail – (from left) Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, Sara and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Transportation Minister Miri Regev, and Energy Minister Israel Katz.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

Both Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and former transportation minister Merav Michaeli traveled on board Tel Aviv’s first light rail carrier on Friday.

Huldai boycotted the launch ceremony on Thursday, part of the reason being the fact that the service will not operate on Saturdays. It’s doubtful that Michaeli was invited, given that she and current Transportation Minister Miri Regev are at loggerheads. Michaeli is also angry that there will be no light rail transport on Saturdays. The fly in the ointment is Bnei Brak, a religious town which is part of the route.

There are two possible solutions to that problem. One is that the light rail will not stop in Bnei Brak on Saturdays, and the other is that no Jewish drivers will be rostered to work on Saturdays.

The only remaining problem is the swiping of the Rav-Kav electronic ticketing card. But the hi-tech industry could in all probability come up with a solution that is acceptable from a halachic standpoint.

Huldai wrote on his Facebook page that he had seen lots of people traveling and enjoying modern transport.

 LABOR PARTY chairwoman and former transportation minister Merav Michaeli on the Tel Aviv Light Rail on the first day of its operation.  (credit: COURTESY LABOR)
LABOR PARTY chairwoman and former transportation minister Merav Michaeli on the Tel Aviv Light Rail on the first day of its operation. (credit: COURTESY LABOR)

“The Red Line is just the beginning,” he wrote. “In the next few years Tel Aviv-Jaffa will have 69 stations that will allow every person to move from one place to another in quality public transport.”

The quality diminishes when people are crowded in like sardines, as happened on Friday. It remains to be seen whether the aisles in the light rail in Tel Aviv will be blocked by shopping trolleys, baby carriages, scooters and bicycles, as is the case in Jerusalem.

Focus on the light rail

■ MOST NEWSPAPERS focused on demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Regev. Demonstrators were angry that so many roads had been closed several hours in advance of Netanyahu’s arrival in Jaffa where the launch ceremony for the Red Line was held, though Haaretz reported on Sunday that the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) had not requested such precautions. Those who were angry with Regev and stalked her for most of the day demanded that the light rail operate on Saturdays.

What prompted the initiative for a light rail network was the monstrous white elephant still known 30 years after it first opened as the “new” Tel Aviv Central Bus Station – the third largest facility of its kind in the world, with two major entrances on Levinsky Street, as well as in other parts of the structure.

Writing in the weekend edition of Israel Hayom, Yakir Elkariv produced a six-page feature about his visit to the central bus station, which is largely deserted and even frightening.

Officially, it has six floors. Technically, it has seven. Two of the floors, though accessible by elevator, escalator or staircases, are closed. No offices, shops or other enterprises operate in them.

Part of the building has been taken over by homeless people, drug addicts and alcoholics. There is also a health clinic manned by Israeli physicians, who treat foreign workers and sex workers free of charge. Elkariv explained that it is no longer politically correct to refer to sex workers as prostitutes.

There’s also a lot of crime and violence in the area, but there’s also culture. There’s Little Asia and Little Africa, where people from those continents can buy food that is familiar to their palates, and clothes that are part of their national costume. They can also get beauty treatments in accordance with those of their home countries. There’s a kindergarten for the children of foreign workers, and there are still various shops with a variety of bargain-priced merchandise.

While still searching for a new home, Yung Yidish, founded and run by actor, author, singer, and teacher Mendy Cahan, has a huge library of Yiddish books and manuscripts and puts on Yiddish plays and concerts. There’s also an abandoned movie theater.

Elkariv found the large contingent of bats in the basement somewhat scary, but did not mention how scary it is not to know where to find a bus to a certain destination, and not have anyone in an official capacity to ask. Not everyone is aware that the information they seek is available by telephoning *2800.

Tel Aviv bus station is a black mark on transportation

■ AS FAR back as 1953, it was already obvious that Tel Aviv’s old central bus station, girded by Shomron, Galil, Salome and Sharon streets in the Neveh Sha’anan neighborhood, was no longer large enough to cope with the surging local and intercity populations. It was decided to build a much larger terminal. It took a while to find a suitable site, but in the long run, one was found nearby.

Much of the land had been previously purchased by leading real estate developer Arie Piltz, a factor that gave him leverage with the city authorities. The initial plans were prepared by an architect whose ideas did not satisfy him. Piltz then brought in prominent architect Ram Karmi, with whom he had worked previously. Karmi produced one design after another over the years, but Piltz had some grandiose vision of what the new bus terminal should look like, and he and Karmi could not quite come to terms.

The cornerstone was finally laid in December 1967. It was anticipated that construction would take about three years. As is so frequently the case in Israel, where plans are disrupted by deficits and security concerns, construction was halted in 1972 because of an enormous shortage of cement, and then came the Yom Kippur War. Piltz had contracted the Solel Boneh construction company to build the dream that became a nightmare, but in 1975, when Piltz and the Egged bus company were unable to supply adequate financial guarantees, Solel Boneh bowed out of the project. It was also a financial death blow for Piltz.

The ugly shell of the project created more problems for what was already a problematic neighborhood. Finally, in 1984, Jerusalem building contractor and real estate developer Mordechai Yona won a tender for the project for his company Heftsiba.

Whether by coincidence or design, the Red Line of Tel Aviv’s projected light rail network was launched on August 17 in the presence of Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, Regev, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Infrastructure Minister Israel Katz, a former transportation minister, who did more to advance Israel’s railroad system than did any of his predecessors. The date was exactly 30 years after Yona, on April 17, 1993, proudly escorted then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and transportation minister Yisrael Kessar through the completed New Central Bus Station.

Christian Evangelicals do good

■ REGARDLESS OF the fact that large numbers of Jews are offended by Evangelists, whose main purpose in boosting aliyah is to hasten the Second Coming of Jesus, it should be noted that they not only boost aliyah but take on a number of responsibilities for the care and well-being of Holocaust survivors, senior citizens, and new immigrants and refugees from the former Soviet Union. Strictly speaking, much of what they do should be the province of the government, which simply does not do enough in these spheres.

In addition to funds received from millions of Evangelists around the world through weekly tithes in church, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem also brings in thousands of tourists every Sukkot for its Feast of Tabernacles celebration.

The tourists spend money on hotel accommodations, meals, gifts to take home, and more.

In recent weeks, the ICEJ, mindful of the government’s neglect in providing bomb shelters for towns and cities in the North, placed six new portable bomb shelters and refurbished 53 existing shelters in Shlomi on the Lebanese border. In April of this year, the town took a direct hit from a rocket barrage launched from Lebanon, said David Parsons, vice president and senior international spokesman for the ICEJ. A call went out to Evangelists around the world, and there was instant response.

So what does the ICEJ get for its trouble? Something akin to a slap in the face. Together with other Christian organizations and movements, its clergy, paid workers and volunteers are being denied entry visas to Israel.

Christian communities are not alone in that respect. Something similar applies to Baha’is, whose volunteers are such polite and gentle people dedicated to peace and harmony. “In spite of bureaucratic challenges, relations between the Baha’i International Community and the State of Israel remain cordial and strong,” said David Freeman Jr., the Baha’i representative in Jerusalem, while confirming that there are more difficulties than usual in obtaining visas. Whereas in the past, the waiting period took only a few weeks, it now takes months.

Perhaps the bureaucrats should familiarize themselves with the Book of Isaiah, where it states: “It shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house will be established as the top of the mountains and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations will flow unto it....”

Ze'ev Elkin leaves Jerusalem

■ STILL CONSIDERED to be an influential political figure, though no longer part of the government coalition, MK Ze’ev Elkin, a former minister for Jerusalem affairs and a failed candidate for mayor of Jerusalem, has left his large six-room villa in Pisgat Ze’ev, and has returned to Gush Etzion, where he lived before he decided to run for mayor.

Another former mayoral candidate, who no longer lives in Jerusalem, where he was born and raised, is popular, singer, actor, and television and radio host Yehoram Gaon, who lives in Ramat Hasharon but frequently returns to Jerusalem to perform, to meet the friends of his youth, and former colleagues from the 10-year period in which he served on the Jerusalem City Council.

Gaon was again in Jerusalem some two weeks ago – but this time on family business. His nephew Moshe Gaon, the son of the late industrialist Benny Gaon, invited him to see the movie made by Benny’s granddaughter Nitzan Gaon about the history of the Gaon family. Although he had the chance to see the finished product before it was displayed at the annual exhibition of works by Bezalel Academy students, Yehoram Gaon, who has made several films himself, preferred to wait until his visit to the new Bezalel campus adjacent to Jerusalem City Hall.

In the beginning, Nitzan did not have much to go on, and she spent long hours talking to her grandmother Rachel. In the final analysis, Nitzan found a batch of 8-millimeter home movies which her grandfather had taken. They had been stuck at the back of a cupboard for some 30 years, but provided a valuable foundation for what Nitzan hoped to accomplish. She obviously did more than anyone had bargained for, and the gathering of the Gaon clan proved to be a very emotional affair in which pride mingled with nostalgia.

Moshe Gaon subsequently wrote on his Facebook page that if he had ever felt pride as a father, this was it. The Gaons, who are part of Israel’s celebrity circuit, were given a guided tour of Bezalel by its president, Prof. Adi Stern, accompanied by senior staff.

Ehud Olmert: Jerusalem's mayor who wasn't born there and doesn't live there

■ SOMEONE WHO actually succeeded in being voted in as mayor of Jerusalem, but likewise no longer lives there, is Ehud Olmert, who long ago moved to Tel Aviv. Unlike Gaon, Olmert is not a native son of Jerusalem, though he spent a large part of his life there. Olmert was born and raised in Binyamina.

Two other former mayors of Jerusalem, so far show no signs of moving. One is Haifa-born Uri Lupolianski, the founder of Yad Sarah, which is headquartered in Jerusalem; and the other is Economy Minister Nir Barkat, who was born in Jerusalem.

Is Ze'ev Elkin leaving Jerusalem to avoid Ben-Gvir?

■ APROPOS ELKIN, the reported reason for his leaving Jerusalem has been cited as family reasons. But it could well be that he does not like the idea of National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir prowling around his neighborhood. Ben-Gvir recently led a tour through Pisgat Ze’ev.

It will be interesting to see how Ben-Gvir reacts this coming Friday to the planned demonstration outside his home in the West Bank which was organized by Breaking the Silence with a broad coalition of peace organizations. Will he order the police to force demonstrators to keep their distance, or will he pretend to be democratic and tell police to allow demonstrators to stand directly opposite his home?

Bar-Ilan professor joins the Academy of Sciences and Humanities

■ BAR-ILAN University historian Prof. Shmuel Feiner has been appointed as a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

A faculty member of BIU’s Koschitzky department of Jewish history and contemporary Jewry, Feiner is the incumbent of the Samuel Braun Chair for the History of the Jews in Germany and chairman of the Historical Society of Israel. From 2007 to 2019 he was chairman of Jerusalem’s Leo Baeck Institute for the Study of German Jewry.

Feiner’s research focuses on European modern Jewish history in the 18th and 19th centuries, German-Jewish history, gender and modernization, Jewish secularization, historiography, and the history of the Jewish Enlightenment.

Beyond his academic roles, Feiner has been actively engaged, in various capacities, to advance the humanities, Jewish studies, and historical research of Israel. As head of the Historical Society of Israel and a member of the editorial board of the journal Zion, he has published dozens of books, sat on a number of Council of Higher Education committees, including its planning and budgeting committee, and has received numerous prestigious awards for his research.

Together with other new members of the academy, Feiner was warmly welcomed by its president, Prof. David Harel, who expressed his confidence that, along with their scholarly achievements and expertise, they will contribute greatly to the activities of the academy, enrich it with their knowledge and experience, and play an integral role in advancing the academy’s mission of fostering scientific excellence and innovation in Israel.

The academy boasts 149 highly accomplished members who continue to shape the scientific landscape of Israel through their groundbreaking contributions.

40 year anniversary for Yossi Alfi's festival

■ THIS YEAR marks the start of the 40th anniversary of Yossi Alfi’s festival of marathon storytelling. The festival is held annually during the intermediate days of Sukkot, and covers an enormous range of subjects. The venue is the Givatayim Theater, which the multitalented, versatile, and creative Alfi helped to found, and of which he is a former director.

Born in Iraq, he came to Israel with his grandmother in 1949. He was then a very young child and, to this day, does not know on exactly which date he was born, though it’s estimated that he is 78 years old.

He spent his first years in Israel in an immigrant transit camp, where it’s possible that he developed his passion for storytelling, as he encountered so many people from so many places with so many tales to tell.

It was also in the transit camp that he had his first encounter with Yiddish, which he speaks with reasonable fluency.

In addition to being a storyteller and a collector of other people’s stories, he is a singer, actor, comedian, author, poet, and director, who has appeared on stage, in movies, on television, and on radio. His storytelling programs are broadcast on radio and television in Israel, the US, and Europe.

His talents were already evident when he was still at school, and after his army service, he went to England to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.

He has since performed in several countries in Asia, in Europe, and in the US.

In addition, he lectures, and conducts courses and workshops on storytelling. Through the thousands of people whom he has met in the various phases of his career, he has developed an enviable fund of knowledge.

But no one is perfect, and despite his many talents, Alfi has the annoying habit of interjecting when the storyteller whom he is interviewing reaches the high point of the tale. Although he sometimes relies on other moderators, for the most part Alfi takes on that role himself, using it to prove how much he knows about each and every subject that comes up for discussion in the truly amazing repertoire of stories.

His other annoying habit is his self-appointment as ambassador and spokesman for Israel’s Iraqi community. In almost every program, he makes some reference to Iraq, and in the upcoming Sukkot marathon, he has one session devoted to Iraqi-born women who have made an impact in Israel, and naturally has included broadcaster Carmella Menashe, the first woman broadcaster in Israel to cover military operations.

Alfi’s talents have been passed on to the next generation. His daughter, Sari, is a well-known singer, and his son Guri is an actor and television host. Guri’s daughter Emma Alfi-Aharon is an actress.

Alfi intersperses his storytelling sessions with musical entertainment. Sari has appeared on his shows many times, and Guri will be appearing this coming Sukkot.

Storytelling format

■ THE FORMAT for the storytelling comprises a panel of people from a certain profession, a particular historic event, a pioneer town or city, expertise in specific subjects, and more. Each person tells some aspect of the story related to the subject.

Obviously, the opening session on September 26 will focus to some extent on Israel’s 75th anniversary of statehood, but, given the crisis situation on judicial reform, will also feature a panel of retired Supreme Court judges, including Aharon Barak, Ayala Procaccia, and Hanan Melcer, who will discuss judicial independence throughout the history of the state.

On October 3, a panel of historians will discuss democracies in different countries, a subject that is very pertinent in Israel today.

The 100th birthday of Shimon Peres

■ FOR SOME strange reason, a topic that should have been obvious has been omitted. This is the centenary year of the birth of Shimon Peres, who contributed so much in so many spheres of Israel’s development, but there is no mention of him in the extensive program, which does include the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Betar, the Revisionist Zionist youth movement, which was initiated in Riga in 1923 by Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Among the panelists will be former president Reuven Rivlin, World Zionist Organization chairman Yaakov Hagoel and Begin Heritage Center Executive Director Herzl Makov.

Incidentally, 1923 was an important year for the births of people who would rise to fame. Among the Israelis born in that year were: Holocaust historian and survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Prof. Israel Gutman; Haim Gouri, one of Israel’s greatest poets, who was also a novelist, journalist and documentary filmmaker; peace activist and journalist Uri Avnery; and Samuel Willenberg, one of the last survivors of the Treblinka revolt and a fighter in the Polish resistance movement.

Also marking its centenary this year is opera in the Land of Israel. The first opera production was La Traviata, which took place in Tel Aviv in July 1923, leading to the foundation of the Palestine Opera Company, which later became the Israel National Opera.

50 years since the Yom Kippur War

■ ANOTHER IMPORTANT anniversary that will be commemorated this year is the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. Here the panelists will include retired senior officers whose names became household words, among them Avigdor Kahalani, David Ivri, and Yitzhak Mordechai, as well as Israel’s leading military reporter Ron Ben Yishai.

This is also the 50th anniversary year of the death of Israel’s legendary first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. Among those who will relate anecdotes about him will be Amos Yadlin, who chairs the Ben-Gurion Legacy Institute, Prof. Meron Medzini, who, aside from knowing Ben-Gurion well, was director of the Government Press Office during the Yom Kippur War, and historian Anita Shapira.

Missing from the panel is Ben-Gurion’s official biographer, Michael Bar-Zohar, who would be able to shed considerable light on the close relationship between Ben-Gurion and Peres. Bar-Zohar, a former Labor Party MK, lived in the same apartment complex as Peres in Tel Aviv.

Yet another 50th anniversary event is that of singing Duo Re’im – Israel Gottesdiener and Benny Rosenbaum – who arguably hold the record for Israel’s longest-lasting performing duo. They will give a special nostalgic performance at the festival on October 1.

Musical entertainment

■ AS FAR as musical entertainment goes during the storytelling festival, Alfi has included: Gil Shohat, Avihu Medina, Dori Ben Ze’ev, Miri Aloni, Kobi Oshrat, Dudu Fisher, Yasmin Levy, Lea Koenig, Izhar Cohen, Sarele Sharon, and Shlomit Aharon.

Tribute for Tzipi

■ REHEARSALS FOR the traditional musical productions presented every Hanukkah are well under way. One of them will be a tribute to the irrepressible comedian, actress, and singer Tzipi Shavit, who has been in show business for more than half a century, and who, at 76, has lost none of her verve.

Shavit will also perform in the show, which is titled Sweet Jumbo in recognition of the all-time favorite song she sang to children.