Grapevine: Smolenskin Clarification

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

A newsstand in Manhattan outfitted with ‘Fake News’ headlines was a stunt by the ‘Columbia Journalism Review,’ in October 2018. (photo credit: CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS)
A newsstand in Manhattan outfitted with ‘Fake News’ headlines was a stunt by the ‘Columbia Journalism Review,’ in October 2018.
 Fake news, perpetuated by almost every media outlet, was temporarily amended last Sunday night in the popular television quiz show The Chaser, when quizmaster Ido Rosenblum asked a male contestant by the name of Bar which of three possibilities was located at 9 Smolenskin Street, Jerusalem. One of the options was the residence of the prime minister – an option that the contestant immediately rejected because “the prime minister lives in Balfour Road.” The writer of this column, who also lives on Smolenskin Street, has been waging a long, but fruitless campaign for the prime minister’s correct address to be acknowledged, especially as those news photographers who specialize in photographing politicians know very well that the Prime Minister’s Residence is on Smolenskin Street and not on Balfour Road. The contestant, of course, gave the wrong answer. 
Michal Sharon, the female Chaser who alternates with Itai Hermann, the original long-term Chaser, definitely did know the answer, and as she has a tendency to elaborate, she pointed out that the famous building in Balfour Road was once known as Schocken House.
Actually the Schocken family lived in another house next door to what is now the Prime Minister’s Residence, but was not so when they lived there. The building on Balfour Road was built by Zalman Schocken to house a large collection of rare Judaica books and manuscripts that had been cunningly smuggled out of Germany in 1935 to prevent their destruction at the hands of the Nazis. It was almost as if Schocken was guided by the prophetic words of Jewish-born German poet Heinrich Heine, who predicted that those who burn books will also burn people.
During the Holocaust years, the Schocken Library with its huge and unique collection, proved to be a haven for German Jewish intellectuals who had fled Hitler just in time.
Following Schocken’s death in 1959, his family gave the library for safekeeping to the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, which has not only maintained the library’s name and reputation, but has added to it, and has honored Schocken’s desire to turn it into a research institute by holding numerous events there and adding many books and manuscripts to the collection.
The library is located directly opposite the side entrance to the Prime Minister’s Residence.
SO MUCH of what we hear has already been said before by other people. The text may not be verbatim, but the gist of the story or the message is more or less according to some mysterious universal script. Peruse the folk tales of any ethnic or national groups, and you will find a broad common denominator. The essential difference will be the names of the heroes and heroines of the tales. Thus, when repeating at the Shabbat luncheon table something said by Rabbi Yosef Ote of the Hazvi Yisrael Synagogue, it was not altogether surprising to hear the son of the host say that he had heard this somewhere before. In a nutshell, Ote saw a connection between the crossing of the Red Sea by the Children of Israel and the proclamation of the State of Israel.
In his sermon last Saturday, which was the seventh day of Passover, Ote noted that whatever day of the week that the seventh day of Passover falls on coincides with the day of the week of the fifth of Iyar, Independence Day. This leads Ote to believe that unlike the dates of religious festivals that are mentioned in the Bible, Independence Day, though not mentioned, was already preordained by God, and was not the outcome of a decision by the UN to compensate the Jewish people for what was lost in the Holocaust. On the seventh day of Passover, God split the sea to allow the Children of Israel to cross in their flight from Egypt, thus giving them freedom and independence. In 1948, British colonial secretary Arthur Creech Jones announced that the British Mandate over Palestine would cease at midnight on May 15, but for the Jewish population that would have entailed desecration of the Sabbath, so David Ben-Gurion, the state’s first prime minister, decided to call a secret meeting on the Friday in sufficient time 
before the onset of Shabbat to enable the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel be read and signed, especially as some of the signatories were religiously observant – and it was important to get signatures from as a broad a cross-section of community leaders as possible. Thus Israel’s independence was proclaimed on May 14.
IF JERUSALEMITES have been having a tough time with the demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu taking place over the past year, residents of a particular neighborhood in Zichron Ya’acov are experiencing something that is even worse. Aside from noise and the use of staircases for calls of nature, their property is being invaded and vandalized. Even when they put padlocks on doors, the locks are broken. The cause: the so-called rabbi, Eliezer Berland, 83, who is the head of the Shuvu Banim Yeshiva in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. Berland, who lived in several countries while trying to evade Israeli law enforcement authorities who wanted to question him on allegations of sexual assault and misconduct, eventually returned in 2016 after having experienced expulsions, arrests and extradition. In November of that year, after admitting to two counts of indecent acts and one of assault, he was sentenced by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court to 18 months in prison.
Not a healthy man, in February 2017, he was taken to hospital where urgent surgery was performed on him, and he was subsequently transferred to house arrest due to the condition of his health.
This did not stop him from fomenting hatred and incitement, so much so that in June 2019, a special rabbinical court, comprising some of the most highly respected rabbis in the country was convened to judge Berland’s behavior and that of his followers who collectively had violated the Jewish code of ethics.
Berland subsequently left Jerusalem for what was supposedly a secret hideaway in Zichron Ya’acov, but his followers, who are mainly Breslov Hassidim, quickly discovered the address and regularly beat a path to his door. The neighborhood included ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews who all lived in harmony and mutual respect, practicing a policy of live and let live. But there are now constant clashes between residents and Berland’s followers, and some of these clashes have led to violence, with far more serious injuries than any of those incurred in demonstrations in Jerusalem.