Grapevine: In tragedy and triumph

More than 100 Auschwitz survivors from at least 19 countries, each of them accompanied by a child or grandchild, will join WJC President Ronald Lauder at Auschwitz next week.

Auschwitz (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The greatest triumph of any Holocaust survivor is progeny, especially for those who already have great-grandchildren – who are walking testimony to the failure of the Final Solution.
More than 100 Auschwitz survivors from at least 19 countries, each of them accompanied by a child or grandchild, will join World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder and a number of world leaders in Auschwitz next week, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of liberation. The Israeli delegation is traveling to Poland under the joint auspices of the WJC and the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel. Ranging in age from 73 to 96, the survivors will be accompanied by WJC CEO Robert Singer; Colette Avital, COHSI chairwoman and herself a child Holocaust survivor; Minister Silvan Shalom; and 10 IDF officers.
The WJC has also arranged a medical team of 12 doctors, psychologists and nurses to care for the survivors during their stay in Poland and return to Auschwitz, which is expected to be emotionally and physically taxing.
■ LONG BEFORE his death in December 1973 at age 87, founding premier David Ben-Gurion was known as the old man.
Age, of course, is relative. Some people are old before they’re 30, and some people stay young well into their 90s. Two of Ben-Gurion’s most loyal disciples, Yitzhak Navon and Shimon Peres, both nonagenarians, are in the latter category. Both continue to be involved, to work and travel.
This week, Navon signed on as the 120th member of the Labor-Hatnua Knesset list.
Peres, who has been a constant presence at the annual World Economic Forum conference in Davos and was honored last year with the Spirit of Davos award, was off again on Wednesday – this time in a non-official capacity. With or without a title, Peres remains a sought-after persona on matters relevant to the Middle East, and yesterday participated in a conference on the most burning issues in the region and in Europe, especially the wave of terror that is causing untold fear and chaos.
Peres also delivered an address to the Davos breakfast club, as he has done previously.
■ FEW THINGS have a more unifying effect than shared persecution, and the outrage and grief that accompany it. Thus Jews – affiliated and unaffiliated – are bridging generation gaps, political differences, national boundaries and differences in religious identification and observance, in demonstrations of unity against terrorist attacks and the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere.
Last week, in a “Live from Paris” conference call to the US, young Jewish professionals from the East and West Coasts learned firsthand from French media analyst Philippe Karsenty of the aftermath of the January 9 terrorist attack on a Paris kosher supermarket.
The call, initiated by the Philadelphia- based Young Jewish Leadership Concepts, a young professionals network connecting post-college Jews, revealed just how deep the sense of fear and urgency is for France’s Jews, as described by Karsenty – who has been named by The Algemeiner as one of the “top 100 people influencing Jewish life.”
The fear is palpable, related Karsenty, as “driving your car in the street, you don’t know if someone will pull up to you with a gun.”
Contrary to the reported 7,000 French Jews who immigrated to Israel in 2014, Karsenty estimates that more than 15,000 have left, with others going to the US and Canada.
As vice mayor of the affluent Parisian suburb of Neuilly, Karsenty polled local Jewish days schools and found that students and their families were leaving by the hundreds.
He estimated that nearly 200,000 Jews have left France (the world’s third-largest Jewish community) within the past 15 years.
■ IDA, THE thought-provoking, award-winning Polish film playing in Israeli cinemas, which has been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Cinematography in the upcoming Academy Awards, was not the only black-and-white film being screened in Israel last week, nor was it the only Polish film. At the opening at the Jerusalem Cinematheque of the third annual Restored European Film Project under the title of Another Look, invited guests had a chance to see the restored version of the Polish satirical film Ewa Chce Spac (Eva Wants to Sleep) – which was made nearly 60 years ago and has been beautifully restored by the Digital Film Repository of Warsaw, in coordination with Reconstruction and Restoration Processes of Polish Film Masterpieces.
Polish representatives who held workshops on film restoration with their Israeli colleagues included Magdalena Janowska, Martyna Korablewska, Martyna Korablewska- Szpezmanska and Agnieszka Bezubik. Restoration specialists from other European countries were also present, as were Lars Faaborg Anderson, head of the Delegation of the European Union which sponsors Another Look; Polish Ambassador Jacek Chodorowicz; Portuguese Ambassador Miguel de Almeida e Sousa, one of the more veteran heads of foreign missions in Israel; and recently arrived Czech Ambassador Ivo Schwarz. All in all, 12 EU member states are participating in the Another Look project, which was initiated by the French Institute to give Israelis a better appreciation of European films.
Just before the screening of the 1958 production, which is a delightfully disguised spoof on the ineptitude of the Communist regime, there was a brief split screen showing a couple of scenes from the film before and after restoration. There is no doubt that the Poles are master filmmakers, and the guffaws during the 94-minute screening were ample proof that a good film never becomes outdated. The satire of the era was somewhat different than that of today, and the very fact that the completed production got past the censor is yet another example of what the film intended to convey.
The film starred Barbara Kwiatkowska- Lass in the title role as a trusting albeit naïve innocent, who somehow succeeded in taking advantage of others before they could take advantage of her. She was 18 years old when she made the film and a year later, became the first wife of Roman Polanski. The marriage lasted only three years.
■ IT’S NOT every day that a musician who comes to perform at a fund-raiser for a worthwhile cause does so out of a sense of personal appreciation. However, when singer-instrumentalist Yonatan Razel came to sing and play at a sponsored event for Hadassah’s Israel projects at the historic home of Shoshana and Martin Gerstel on Jerusalem’s captivating Ethiopia Street, he also felt the need to talk.
“I know it’s a hard place, but I think of it as the Garden of Eden,” said Razel of the pediatric intensive care unit at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem. “That’s because it’s full of angels doing their job, saving lives and projecting the optimism that makes all the difference for the families and patients.”
He spoke from the perspective of one who knows: Five years ago, Razel’s daughter Rivky fell from a collapsed roof while watching the fireworks on Independence Day. She was then four-and-a-half.
She overcame severe head injuries in PICU. The unit was run at the time by the late Dr. Ido Yatsiv, an expert in head injuries, whose memory was honored at the event; a tribute certificate was presented to his widow, Gabi Yatsiv.
“Once I was coming into the unit and Dr.
Yatsiv told me to wait for a minute, they were doing something,” Razel continued.
“When I came in later, he had his smile, and said, ‘Well, we almost lost her, but now she’s back.’” Among those present were Hadassah Medical Organization’s acting director-general Prof. Tamar Peretz, and Hadassah University Medical Center director Prof. Yoram Weiss.
Peretz introduced Dr. Jacques Braun, the newly appointed head of the unit, one of the doctors who helped care for Rivky and a most familiar figure to Razel, who said: “I ran into Dr. Braun and his son once in the outdoor market. He asked his son if he knew who I was. I expected him to say ‘Yonatan Razel, the singer.’ Instead, he said, ‘This is the father of Rivky, for whom we’ve been praying every day.’ That’s the extra element you have at Hadassah.”
The happy ending to the story is that Rivky is back in school, studying at her grade level, and is a cheerful little girl with loads of musical talent – which is hardly a surprise.
After all, she’s got music in her genes.
Anne Rothenberg, who chaired the event, said she had played Razel’s CD Between the Sounds so often that she could be his back-up singer. He invited her to join in, but she respectfully declined.
■ APROPOS HADASSAH Israel, the focus of its national conference at Jerusalem’s Ramada Hotel this coming Monday and Tuesday will be reminiscent of the early years of the state, when people talked of the melting pot and ingathering of the exiles. Under the umbrella title of “The Ethnic Symphony of Israel,” participants will hear Rachel Wolf, Prof. Moshe Zimmerman, Ishata Alemu, Solomon Akale, Idit Sharoni and Prof. David Cassuto speak about Ladino culture, German Jewish tradition, Ethiopian Jewish customs, Babylonian Jewry and Italian Jewry. There will also be an authentic Moroccan henna ceremony.
Bearing in mind Hadassah’s contributions not only to medicine in Israel, but to education and youth aliya, the dynamic Barbara Goldstein, the resident representative of Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America – which has been integral to her life since she was a teenager – will talk about HWZOA, then and now.
■ SEVERAL HEADS of diplomatic missions in Israel are closely involved with Israeli projects, organizations and institutions.
Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma is one such envoy, and this week hosted 45 mentors who advise and coach emerging social, business and technology entrepreneurs as part of the PresenTense network.
The event was launched by PresenTense CEO Guy Spigelman, who immigrated to Israel from Australia and is closely connected with the embassy.
PresenTense in Israel facilitates community- based entrepreneurship to develop local economies and enrich community life; the mentors are professional volunteers who assist emerging entrepreneurs in creating vibrant ventures with the capacity to bring about social change.
“Israel has become known as the ‘Startup Nation’; however, only 15 percent of the population actually benefits from Israel’s technology revolution,” said Spigelman.
“At PresenTense, we believe that the power of innovation should be made accessible across Israel – so that 100% of the population can enjoy the benefits from entrepreneurial activity.”
Besides the obvious connection of Spigelman being a fellow Australian, Sharma explained that what drew him to host the event was the concept behind the organization.
The ambassador voiced his pride in supporting PresenTense, which implements entrepreneurship as a vehicle for social change, particularly in targeting disadvantaged segments of the population.
“Australians are strong believers in equal opportunities for all, but also in people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and working hard, not waiting for handouts.
We in Australia believe in practicality.
That’s why it’s amazing to see how all of you at PresenTense are looking for practical solutions to improve access to technology among the multiple sectors in Israeli society, and working to narrow the socioeconomic gaps. This is a true marriage of the start-up culture in Israel and the pillars of Zionism,” Sharma told his guests.
If Sharma ever decides to leave the foreign service, he will be snapped up by any number of Israel advocacy organizations.
■ APPROXIMATELY 18 months ago, Magen David Adom in Jerusalem received an urgent call from a coffee shop proprietor about a 72-year-old tourist who had suffered acute chest pains while in his establishment.
Paramedics Raphael Herbst and Dan Drori instantly responded to the call and treated tourist Marta Harari of Argentina, saving her life. After her recovery, she returned home to be told by her general practitioner that were it not for MDA, they might not be in the position to speak to each other.
Harari related this to one of her friends, who happens to be a member of the Argentine Friends of MDA. A few months later MDA director Eli Bin and coordinator Haim Rafalowski arrived in Argentina for a special event of the Argentine Friends.
Harari seized the opportunity to meet them, telling them that in appreciation of what MDA had done for her, she would donate an ambulance to the organization.
True to her word, she came back to Jerusalem this month, together with family members, to inaugurate the ambulance and present keys to the drivers. Needless to say, Herbst and Drori were also on hand.
■ JANUARY HAS more or less been designated Arik Einstein month. The popular singer, songwriter, actor and screenwriter, who died in November 2013, was born in Tel Aviv on January 3, 1939. His fans have continued to celebrate his birthday, and radio and television stations continue to dedicate programs to the songs which became enduring melodies of the nation.
One of them, “You and I Will Change the World,” is the title of the musical program to be presented at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on January 25 by Yoni Rechter, Shem- Tov Levi, Israel Gurion, Adi Cohen and Ido Tadmor, at the awards ceremony for the Culture and Sport Ministry’s Arik Einstein Prize in various fields of the arts. Most of the winners and members of the jury are veterans in their respective disciplines, and belong by and large to Einstein’s peer generation; the jury was chaired by prize-winning actor Moni Moshonov.
It is strangely fitting that Limor Livnat – Israel’s first minister of culture and sport, as distinct from culture and education – should be awarding the prize in the twilight of her political career. In his teens, Einstein was Israel’s junior high jump and shot put champion, and he also played basketball for Hapoel Tel Aviv; he was subsequently the pioneer of Israel’s rock culture.
His father was an actor and Livnat is the daughter of well-known singer Shulamit Livnat, and has grown up with a vast song repertoire.
■ REGARDLESS OF the moral standards that any community may place on itself, there are always exceptions to the rule – including in haredi communities.
It is unfortunate that the many are often besmirched by the sins of a few. The ultra-Orthodox community is not exempt from perverts, though perversions may initially be less obvious among people under the cloak of respectability and religious observance. However, in recent years, there have been several incidents of pedophilia in haredi neighborhoods – and such incidents are apparently increasing rather than decreasing. This has prompted Yitzhak Kadman, director of the National Council for the Child, to ask parents of young boys not to allow them to go to the mikve unsupervised, because there are too many cases of pedophilia.
Altogether in Israel, the figures for sexual abuse of minors are worse than shocking.
NCC surveys indicate that at least one in every five children in Israel has been sexually abused. It should be remembered that perpetrators sometimes instill so much fear in their victims that children are afraid to tell their parents, and thus become victims of ongoing abuse. Sometimes the abuser is a parent or grandparent, which makes the situation even more appalling.
Kadmon has for several years urged the introduction of legislation that will force pedophiles to take chemical or other preventive treatments, but legislators have so far refrained from taking such a drastic measure – refusing to realize that by their very hesitation, they are contributing to a lifetime of trauma for a fifth of the nation’s children.
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