A symbolic act of defiance

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN wears a black kippah at the Bundestag. (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN wears a black kippah at the Bundestag.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
Although he loves tradition, President Reuven Rivlin is not a religious man and usually walks around bareheaded. But when he addressed the German Bundestag this week, he wore a large black kippah. It was a symbolic act of defiance in the country where the “Final Solution” to the Jewish problem had been determined. It was also because he felt the need to begin his address by reciting Yizkor, the memorial prayer for the dead – in this case millions of victims, both Jews and non-Jews of the Nazis, who regarded themselves as good Germans. Despite anti-racist policies enacted by the present German government, 75 years after the tortuous World War II  ended, it is again dangerous for a Jew wearing a kippah to walk in the streets of Germany, and in fact in many streets of Europe. Thus. the president of the Jewish homeland stood before the members of the German parliament and wore one of the most common outer symbols of Judaism – a kippah that expresses both fear of God and strength of faith. It is also a symbol of Jewish invincibility. Over the centuries so many leaders of nations and movements have tried to eliminate the Jewish people in almost every country in which Jews had found a dwelling place. They tried to convert them, to burn their synagogues while Jews prayed, to murder them in violent pogroms and to create something as inhuman as a Holocaust. Yet throughout the centuries, Jews have continued to rise as a phoenix from the ashes and have continued to wear the identifying kippah, which implies ‘you may cut me down, but you cannot destroy me. I will continue to rise again, and my people will continue to obey the Biblical commandment to be fruitful and multiply.’ Next month, Jews around the world will celebrate Purim, the festival that celebrates the defeat of Haman, the grand vizier of the king of Persia who failed in his effort to annihilate the Jews. Currently, the latter-day successor of Haman says Iran will wipe Israel off the face of the Earth. Perhaps, if he reads the Book of Esther, he will realize that although Iran could conceivably do damage to Israel, it cannot eradicate Israel.
■ THIS YEAR’S world-wide commemorations of Holocaust Remembrance Day had special significance not only because it coincided with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, but also because of the rising tide of antisemitism in the world today and the inadequate measures that are being taken in order to combat it. In Israel, two 16 year olds, Anna Vaanunu and Dan Edelheit, who are students at the Alliance High School in Ramat Aviv, called on Ambassador Emanuele Giaufret, who heads the delegation of the European Union, to present him with a petition on behalf of Israeli youth calling on European leaders to fight against racism, antisemitism and the delegitimization of Israel. The two teenagers, who are ‘Young Ambassadors’ from the Israel Center for Young Leaders – accompanied by their teacher, retired ambassador Yitzhak Eldan, who inter alia is a former chief of protocol at Israel’s Foreign Affairs Ministry – told Giaufret that words are not enough and that action is needed. Giaufret subsequently tweeted that he had received the petition calling on the redoubling of efforts against antisemitism and racism. “We are together in this fight; essential that the young generations are part of it,” he wrote.
■ IT’S A well known fact that Evangelicals around the globe stand up for Israel, but Evangelicals are not the only Christians who believe that Israel has a right to exist and who feel that Christians should atone for centuries of persecution against Jews.
One such Christian is Keri Teittinen of Finland, who was among the guests at the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria Hotel at which Christian allies were honored at the annual dinner cohosted by the Christian Allies Caucus (KCAC) in conjunction with Keren Hayesod. Teittinen, who says that he’s not religious and not an Evangelical, attracted attention because of the tie that he was wearing which featured a deep blue Star of David over wide stripes of pale blue and white. He said he often wears the tie in Finland and elsewhere in the world. He deeply regretted the spike in antisemitic incidents in Finland throughout 2019, something which caused him to increase his own advocacy efforts on behalf of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, which he says gave the Christian world its heritage.
Honorees for the evening were Texan televangelist Pastor Larry Huch, who came with members of his family, and Jobst Bittner.
Huch, who runs a non-denominational church with his wife Tiz, seeks to bring the Church back to its Judeo-Christian origins.
Bittner and his wife Charlotte, are the founders of TOS Ministries, which first took root in Tuebingen, Germany. Up till now they have founded twelve churches in five countries. Jobst Bittner has also inaugurated a means of bringing about reconciliation between the descendants of victims of the Holocaust and descendants of perpetrators of the Holocaust.
Between them, the many Christians who packed the Waldorf ballroom, support immigration, provide aid to Holocaust survivors, donate ambulances to Magen David Adom, underwrite education programs, build bomb shelters and so much more of which most Israelis are unaware, because it’s done under the radar and without fanfare.
Knesset Members Sharren Haskel and Orit Farkash-Hacohen, who are both descendants of Holocaust survivors, have experienced the reconciliation process, which each admitted she had resisted but found to have a healing effect. Bittner organizes March of Life processions in different cities in Israel and throughout the world.
Huch is one of the founders of “Project Aliyah,” an organization that provides financial support for thousands of Jews moving to Israel from Europe and North Africa.
He has been involved in building bomb shelters at the Ahava Children’s Village in Haifa, a residential facility that houses Israeli children coming from high-risk domestic situations.
World Chairman of Keren Hayesod Sam Grundwerg, who was previously Israel consul general in Los Angeles and before that the Israel director of the World Jewish Congress, said that even though he had known Huch for less than a year, he felt that they were really good friends because of the dedication and enthusiasm that Huch displayed for all that he does in and for Israel.
Keynote speaker was Immigration and Integration Minister Yoav Gallant, whose mother was among the Holocaust survivors who traveled to the Land of Israel on board the Exodus.
For KCAC Director Josh Reinstein and his wife Rebecca, the occasion was a double celebration. Although KCAC was founded in 2004, this was the 13th annual dinner and the Reinsteins are on the verge of celebrating their 13th wedding anniversary. KCAC has occupied a very central position in their married life.
■ POLITICALLY, IT may have been a great week for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who within a matter of days was able to celebrate both the unveiling of the “Deal of the Century” and the pardon and release of Naama Issachar. In Washington the cheers and applause were music both to his ears and those of United States President Donald Trump. But the prick in Netanyahu’s balloon came from Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, who formally indicted Netanyahu on charges of corruption as soon as Netanyahu withdrew his immunity request to the Knesset. In a radio interview, former justice minister Ayelet Shaked said that since the case had dragged on for so long, Mandelblit could have waited another day or two, especially as Netanyahu was out of the country on a mission of national significance.
■ APROPOS THE pardon and release of Naama Issachar, the Russians have been reported as saying that it was a goodwill gesture from President Vladimir Putin to Netanyahu. That could well be but perhaps the credit should really go to Rabbi Berel Lazar, the chief rabbi of Russia, who has a very close relationship with Putin. Leading Chabad figures in nearly all the countries in which Chabad operates have an extraordinary gift for entrenching themselves in the corridors of power. It is amazing how frequently the delegation of a visiting president or prime minister from an Eastern European country to Israel includes a Chabad rabbi – sometimes even more than one. Naama’s mother Yaffa was well looked after by Chabad in Moscow and also spent time in Lazar’s home. The question begging to be asked is – beyond the unfair severity of her sentence – what was so special about Naama Issachar as to possibly have a negative effect on Israel-Russia relations? According to a KAN report, there are approximately 16 other Israelis languishing in Russian prisons. Why does the Israeli public not know who they are, the nature of their crimes or the periods for which they were sentenced?