Grapevine: Gouri the man

What happened to our value system?

Israeli poet Haim Gouri (photo credit: CRIS BOURONCLE / AFP)
Israeli poet Haim Gouri
(photo credit: CRIS BOURONCLE / AFP)
IN AN ever-changing world, customs denoting respect and appreciation also change. Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Mayor Nir Barkat were among the pallbearers last week at the funeral of national poet and War of Independence veteran Haim Gouri. The editorial pages of all of Israel’s major daily newspapers paid tribute to Gouri the sabra, Gouri the man of integrity, Gouri the author and poet, and Gouri the warrior. Some also published material about Gouri the worrier, whose concern for the future of his country was expressed in articles that were published from time to time in Haaretz. But where were the condolence notices in the newspapers? There were one or two at most for a man of that caliber.
Similarly, just under a week earlier, there was editorial material in the English language media about Toby Willig, a former national president of Emunah of America, an Emunah stalwart in Israel, a supporter of numerous organizations, a character who knew so many of the who’s who in the Jewish world – and they knew her; a woman whose views were frequently expressed at political and cultural meetings and through the Letters to the Editor columns of The Jerusalem Post. Yes, a lot of people came to the funeral, and even more paid condolence calls to the Givat Shaul home of her daughter Ruthie. But where were the condolence notices? Certainly not in a newspaper in which her name had appeared for so many years. If Gouri or Willig had been prominent figures in the business world, or had been bigtime lawyers, there would have been numerous condolence notices in the bereavement pages of both the Hebrew and English language newspapers, and possibly those that appear in other languages. But people who contributed to society without making multimillion-dollar deals are apparently not worth the effort.
What happened to our value system?
THERE’S NO shortage of English-language cultural and social outlets in Jerusalem. There are English-language programs in synagogues, community centers, theaters and in various institutions and organizations. Last week at Beit Avi Chai, where there have always been occasional English events, there was one by a Sabra delivering a monologue in perfect English. An almost full house came to hear to hear Dr. Astrith Balsan dispel some of the myths about the authorship of the National Anthem.
Balsan is by inclination a classical pianist who has played in some of the world’s best-known concert halls. But she’s also quite au fait with pop music and folk music. Her nimble fingers on the keyboard act as exclamation marks for her vocal recitation or for the videos that illustrate whatever point she may be making. Anyway, the bottom line is that lyrics are not those alone of drunkard and womanizer Naftali Hertz Imber, who spent only seven years in the Holy Land and died in New York, and the melody is not exactly stolen from Smetana’s Moldau, but rather Smetana stole Moldau from the hybrid of an old Italian folksong “La Mantovana” and an old Sephardi prayer melody, and it was “retrieved” by Samuel Cohen.
The orchestration is by Italian composer and conductor Bernadino Molinari, who spent a lot of time with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. But then he suddenly disappeared and it was learned that he had been tried in Italy for collaboration with the Nazis and had been found guilty. In Israel, his orchestration was dropped like a hot potato. Other arrangements by Kurt Weill and Paul Ben Haim replaced it, but Leonard Bernstein, when he came to Israel, restored it against loud protests, saying that it was the best of all orchestrations. To the argument that Molinari had betrayed the Jewish musicians in his orchestra, Bernstein suggested that the fact that he came to Israel and worked here free of charge may have been Molinari’s way of doing penance. The story and the way that Baltsan tells it make for a fascinating evening. Beit Avi Chai Executive Director David Rozenson is planning other evenings in which the delivery will be in English.
FOR THE second time in eight months, the Ramatayim Men’s Choir will be performing abroad. This time, the tour, which begins on February 11, will be in Paris – not exactly the most desirable city for Jews these days, but there’s a large Jewish community in Paris that needs to feel the kinship of Jews from other parts of the world, especially Israel. Despite the antisemitism to which so many French Jews are subjected, there is cause for celebration. The magnificent 900-seat Buffault Synagogue is celebrating its 140th anniversary and marking the retirement of Rabbi Didier Weil.
The Ramatayim Men’s Choir conducted by Richard Shavei-Zion will be performing within the framework of the 140th anniversary festivities. In addition, the choir will perform at Neuilly-sur-Seine synagogue. The tour was arranged by Cantor Claude Hoenel, who is originally from Strasbourg and now lives in Jerusalem – and needless to say is among the Ramatayim choristers as well as one of the principal soloists of the choir.