Grapevine: Shared pain

A look at Israeli society this past week.

Chemi Peres (left) presents a copy of his father’s autobiography to Henry Kissinger. (photo credit: AVISHAG SHAR YASHUV)
Chemi Peres (left) presents a copy of his father’s autobiography to Henry Kissinger.
(photo credit: AVISHAG SHAR YASHUV)
Generally speaking, the people who are milestones in someone’s life come together at weddings and funerals. Now it seems that they also have reunions of sorts at book launches.
That’s certainly what happened this week at the Konrad Adenauer Center at Mishkenot Sha’ananim when people with whom veteran journalist Gwen Ackerman had worked, or whose stories she had listened to over the years joined her family and friends, as well as the Jerusalem Press Club, in celebrating the publication of her first novel, which was 12 years in the making and seeks to ease heartache with hope.
Bereavement and grief are common denominators on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The pain of loss has no religion, nationality or ideology. The more that this pain is shared between Israelis and Palestinians, rather than being inflicted by either side, the more there is that one day there will be peace. Ackerman has been interviewing people on both sides of the divide, particularly women who seem to have a greater talent for reconciliation than men.
Fellow journalist Matthew Kalman, who has worked with Ackerman, spoke of her selflessness and concern for others.
“It’s always about other people, not about Gwen,” he said, adding that “her writing is characterized by compassion and authenticity.”
Ackerman, who has covered the conflict for more than 30 years, said that the two peoples each have narratives that they believe in. “That doesn’t make them evil, just different.”
There were also a few Palestinians in the audience who were made to feel welcome and were warmly embraced. Ackerman read two chapters of her book – one pertaining to the grief of a young Palestinian woman who lost her husband who was killed by Israeli soldiers for no crime other than planting olive trees, and one to an Israeli woman who lives through a triple-barrel terrorist attack in the market.
Clinical psychologist Miri Ben Rafael lost her brother in the Golan Heights on the first day of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The responsibility for taking care of their parents fell on her because there were no other siblings. Her whole life changed overnight. Her parents died just over three years ago and Ben Rafael felt the need to do something in the effort to stop further bloodshed, pain and grief.
Someone told her about the Parents Circle Family Forum, a grassroots organization of bereaved Palestinians and Israelis who tell their stories to each other and listen to each other and among themselves find the path to reconciliation. She had never met any Palestinians before. Now she has many Palestinian friends and often goes to Beit Jala, because it is easier for Israelis to go there than for Palestinians to come to Israel.
Among the people who tell their stories, said Ben Raphael, is Soha Abu Khdeir, the mother of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the 16-year-old Palestinian boy kidnapped in July 2014 by Israeli extremists and burned to death. She has called for people on both sides to talk to each other so that the violence will stop.
Ruth Ebenstein and Ibtisam Erekat formed a friendship, not out of the loss of a loved one, but out of the loss of part of their body. Each was diagnosed with cancer while in the process of breastfeeding a baby.
The volatile and charismatic Ebenstein was asked by someone if she wanted to attend a meeting of a Palestinian support group for women with breast cancer. She went along and found a room full of Palestinian women whose common bond with her was cancer, but one of them in particular caught her attention because of her sense of humor. When they compared stories, they discovered that they were almost mirror images of each other in terms of personal histories. A lasting friendship blossomed not only between the two women, but also their families.
Erekat had an even more gripping story in which she differed from Ebenstein. Pregnant at the time that she was diagnosed with cancer, she was told by her physician that she had to have an abortion. She was reluctant because it went against her faith, and she wanted to keep the baby. She asked the sheikh in her village what to do and he said that if her life was in danger she should abort. She had the surgery, spent a few days in the hospital and on the way home started to throw up. She told her husband Ahmed that she thought she was still carrying the baby. He replied that it was impossible because she had just gone through an abortion, but told her to go back to the doctor, which she did a few days later. He looked at the ultra-sound and exclaimed, “Oh my God!”
Alarmed, Erekat thought that he had detected another tumor in her body. But no, it was the fetus of her son Yusuf, who is now a bright teenager. Erekat, who had never wanted to abort, said to the doctor, “You see, God was with me, not with you.”
A musical message of hope was also imparted by singer-musician Adina Feldman, who sang Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind” and John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Several of Ackerman’s friends who had already read the book enthusiastically recommended it as a must-read. Afterwards, dozens of people lined up to buy the book and have Ackerman sign it. She did more than that. She wrote a personal, thought-out dedication to each, and confessed that she had never dreamed of selling so many. The large pile of books on the table was very quickly depleted.
■ LAST WEEK also at Mishkenot Sha’ananim, there was another launch within the framework of the “Balfour to Brexit Conference” that was sponsored by British-Iraqi philanthropist David Dangoor.
The conference was in fact built around the Sir Naim Dangoor Center for UK-Israel Relations that was inaugurated at Mishkenot during the conference in the presence of former British prime minister Tony Blair. David Dangoor is an Iraqi-born British businessman and philanthropist who follows in the footsteps of his late father, who died two years ago at the age of 101. The Dangoor family gives financial support to numerous institutions and projects in Britain and Israel, mostly in the fields of medicine and education.
Dangoor is an immediate past president of the board of The Spanish and Portuguese Sephardi Congregation, the oldest Jewish community in the UK spanning more than 350 years and popularly known as the S&P Congregation. Originally established by Spanish and Portuguese Jews who found a haven in Britain, the S&P had various ups and downs, and one of the downs was the gradual disappearance of people of Spanish or Portuguese background. In the course of time, these congregants were replaced by Jews of Iraqi background, including the Dangoors.
Rabbi Dr. Abraham Levy, the Gibraltar-born and -raised emeritus spiritual leader not only of S&P, but of Britain’s Sephardi community as a whole, has together with Simon Rocker of The London Jewish Chronicle written an engrossing memoir, much of which is devoted to his years at S&P. The book was launched during the Balfour to Brexit Conference at a dinner to which many members of Israel’s Iraqi and Sephardi communities were invited. Among them were former politician and diplomat Shlomo Hillel, who is famous for having facilitated the mass emigration and absorption into Israel of Iraqi Jews in the early 1950s; retired ambassador Zvi Gabay; best-selling author Eli Amir; Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, who sits on the Jerusalem municipal council, and like Levy was born in Gibraltar, from where she went to London before settling in Israel; and Ashley Perry (Perez), president of Reconectar and director general of the Knesset Caucus for the Reconnection with the Descendants of Spanish and Portuguese communities whose members were expelled or forcibly converted to Christianity toward the end of the 15th century.
Levy drew parallels between Sir Naim Dangoor and Moses Montefiore, who each left their mark on S&P and on the very area in which the dinner was held.
At the dedication of the Sir Naim Dangoor Center for UK-Israel Relations, David Dangoor spoke about the importance of UK-Israel relations and the need for such a center.
“Clearly we know Brexit is going to change things, and the message from Prime Minister Theresa May and the government is very much that we need to strengthen our good relations, especially with those countries that have excellent business technology and science – and Israel is a top candidate in that,” he said, explaining that he felt that to put his father’s name in Israel, would bring Israel into an even more positive light in the UK and would help Britain strengthen its ties with Israel.
Moti Schwartz, director general of Mishkenot Sha’ananim said, “The center’s activity will complement Mishkenot Sha’ananim’s nonpartisan space for thought, dialogue and pluralism.” He envisaged that the center’s many cultural, creative, educational and social programs, will help to promote important aspects of UK-Israel relations, especially through hosting of British authors, scholars and artists.”
■ FOLLOWING THE successful launch in Romania toward the end of last year of her book Julius Matthias: A Pact With The Devil, Jerusalem based author Michelle Mazel was pleasantly surprised this week to be notified that the book had been selected for the Gib Mihaescu prize for a novel by the jury of the Scrisul Romanesc Publishing House. The award ceremony is due to take place on October 6 (a somewhat propitious date in contemporary Israeli history) at the Craiova Museum of Arts. Since its initial launch in Romania, the book has also been published in English in the United States. Mazel lived in Romania during the Romanian Revolution in which dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu was overthrown. Her husband Zvi was the ambassador to Romania at the time.
■ MANY THRILLING novels in any number of languages have been written about the exploits of Mossad, whose agents are usually portrayed as tough and clever superheroes. But even superheroes have a breaking point, as exemplified this past week by former Mossad Chief Zvi Zamir, who infiltrated the Olympic village in 1972 when 11 Israeli athletes were taken hostage by members of Black September. He was sent to Germany by prime minister Golda Meir to oversee what was happening. The Germans, who were not trained in martial arts, would not allow an Israeli team to come and try to effect a rescue operation. Zamir, a former major general in the Israel Defense Forces, who had fought in the War of Independence, and had seen some very gruesome sights on battlefields, witnessed the outcome of what has since been named the Munich Massacre the dismembered bodies of the murdered Israeli athletes. Interviewed this past week on Reshet Bet by Yitzhak Noy, Zamir now 92, broke down and wept and said that he would never, for as he lived, forget the horrible sight that met his eyes.
■ JUST A few days prior to Rosh Hashana, as part of the Honey Festival, and under the patronage of the Honey Council, Eli Edri, owner of the Pahot mi Elef (Less Than a Thousand) gallery in Tel Aviv, welcomed scores of guests who had been invited to the launch of Ephraim Sidon’s new children’s book about bees and honey. The book was illustrated by Itamar Tal and several of his artistic works were also on display. Among the many people who came to the launch were Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Galant and his wife Claudine; Zeev Meidan, the director general of the Honey Council; television director Arele Goldfinger; communications and social media expert Eran Pfeffer who brought his daughter; and Boaz Ben Zeev, one of Israel’s leading beekeepers, who brought some real bees with him as well as a couple of junior beekeepers.
There are 500 professional beekeepers in Israel who maintain beehives all over the country. Representatives of the Honey and Beekeepers’ Council met on Monday with President Reuven Rivlin to deliver quality honey to him on the eve of the New Year. Honey is an integral part of Rosh Hashana cuisine.
■ WRITING IN her newsletter from Australia where she was the guest of Habonim-Dror, Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli urged Shas MK Yigal Gueta to retract his resignation, but to no avail. Michaeli also posted photographs of herself having a great time in the far-flung island continent. Aside from the actual reason for which she was there, she met with parliamentarians from both sides of the house, noting Australia’s bipartisan support for Israel and the fact the many of her Australian colleagues were well clued up on current affairs in Israel.
She also visited the Supreme Court, participated in a television debate; was a guest at a conference organized by the Zionist Federation of Australia, visited the Sydney Opera House, took a close-up looked at the famed Sydney Harbor Bridge – and in general had a great time in combining work with pleasure.
■ FELLOW ZIONIST Union MK Hilik Bar, who also posts a regular newsletter, had the rare pleasure of having breakfast with former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who was in Israel to mark the first anniversary of the passing of his good friend and Israel’s ninth president Shimon Peres. Bar frankly confesses that he never thought to be accorded such a rare privilege as to dine with a statesman of Kissinger’s caliber and a man who made history not only as the master of détente, but also as the first Jew to be appointed America’s Secretary of State. For Bar, who holds degrees in public diplomacy and international relations, the breakfast meeting was one of the most exciting experiences of his life. He was totally blown away by the range of Kissinger’s knowledge as well as by his sharp memory.
■ IF ROSH Hashana is here, can Sukkot be far behind? Popular Hassidic Singer Avraham Fried will be performing with members of his family Benny Friedman, Simcha Friedman, Eli Marcus and Shmuel and Bentzi Marcus at Jerusalem’s Binyanei Ha’uma on Monday, October 9. The concert is on behalf of United Hatzalah, for which Friedman performed previously. But the needs are growing, especially due to the increase in natural disasters abroad to which United Hatzalah is sending teams of trained and experienced paramedics. Prices of tickets for the concert are listed in US dollars and range from $60 to $1,000.
■ ON THE subject of United Hatzalah, former Jerusalemite Gavy Friedson, the UH man in North America who, it was recently mentioned in this column, had come home for some R&R and his mother’s cooking only to be summoned to Miami on the day after his arrival, sent some photos home to show his parents the work he was doing. Friedson has been saving lives and comforting the sick and the frightened since he was in his mid-teens and there doesn’t seem to be much difference between what he was doing in Jerusalem to what he’s doing in Miami, except that in Jerusalem there’s no sea.
■ FOR THOSE who can’t afford the prices of the Fried concert and would rather have a less expensive daytime experience, on the same date, October 9, the 20th Moshav Country Fair at Moshav Mevo Modi’in will be held from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The fair features stalls of clothing, jewelry, accessories, food and knickknacks, along with special workshops and an ongoing concert that begins at 12 noon with Gavriel Naftali, Dvir Spiegel, Nuriel, Chaim Dovid Sharatski, Shlomo Katz, Alex Clair, the Solomon Brothers with their father Bentzion, Zusha, and the Elevators. For those whose level of religious observance does not permit them to listen to the voice of a woman singing, there will be a separate women’s tent, which men will not enter. There will be various activities as well as music and song including Rachel Rosenbaum playing harp, singing and teaching body movement; Chana Yaffee telling hassidic stories and singing lullabies, an open mike with Delia Bueno de Mesquitta, a chanting session with Tziona and the women of Safed, Chava Rachel and Tziona singing soul music, and Libby performing rock. The concerts in the women’s tent begin at 12 noon and finish at 8 p.m. There are also special activities for children. For those who may be unaware, the moshav was founded by the Singing Rabbi, the late Shlomo Carlebach, and several of the current residents were among the founding families.
■ FOR THE first time as far as anyone can remember, the ambassador of the United States was not present at the pre-Rosh Hashana reception that the president of the State traditionally hosts for the diplomatic community. Front seats are allotted to ambassadors representing regional groups, with the exception of the Middle East, which has only two ambassadors: Hazem Khairat of Egypt and Walid Obeidat of Jordan, who invariably get front-row seats. North America has only two ambassadors as well, but in the past it’s been the US ambassador who sat in the front row. This time, in view of his absence, the front row seat was allocated to Canadian Ambassador Deborah Lyons.
Co-hosting the event was Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, with whom many of the diplomats asked to be photographed. She was particularly wanted for a photograph by the ambassador of Egypt, who, after seeing that the sun had not been favorably disposed with regard to the photo she had taken with the Canadian ambassador, sought her out to pose again. Some ambassadors posed for photos with President Rivlin , but Cyprus Ambassador Salina Shambos, who was photographed with Rivlin when she presented her credentials, preferred on this occasion to be photographed with his wife Nechama.
■ LAST SUNDAY, the tight-knit synagogue community to which he and his family belong honored retired dentist and schoolteacher Peter Salmon and his wife, Roslyn, in celebrating the dedication of a Torah Scroll in their name. The joyous procession took hundreds of friends and loved ones from the Salmon home through the streets of Thornhill, Toronto, replete with balloons, music, dancing and cheering, and made its way to the Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto Congregation (BAYT), where the family has belonged for more than 30 years.
As the result of a fall that injured his spinal cord, Salmon has been a paraplegic for the past four years.
The Torah, which is one that he can carry, even in his physical condition, was written in Israel and will be stored at BAYT. As is customary in the dedication of a new Torah scroll, the final letters of the scroll were completed in ink by nearly 100 well-wishers three days before the ceremony. Salmon, who uses a mechanized wheelchair, has made remarkable progress since his accident. After two spinal surgeries, he was able to breathe independently without a respirator and he also gained strength in his arms and legs. Doctors initially doubted that he had any chance of improvement, but Salmon, now in his mid- 60s, remains cheerful and optimistic.
■ FANS OF Rama Burshtein, who watches a lot of TV these days because she’s writing a TV series that will further introduce readers into the lifestyles of hassidic communities, can hardly wait to see her next production. Her favorite show is Metumtemet (Idiot). The show revolves around Shiri, a 30-year-old frustrated actress with a strong character. The show was created by Shai Kapon and Bat Chen Sabag, who also stars as Shiri. Sabag has garnered a lot of media attention in recent months since she and comedienne Orna Banai made public their lesbian relationship, which obviously has not affected Burshtein’s TV viewing habits.