Grapevine: The absence of Egypt and Jordan

Respect IS a value sorely lacking in Israel, even though it’s part of the everyday lexicon.

Man with shofar at Western Wall, September 4, 2018 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Man with shofar at Western Wall, September 4, 2018
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Two envoys who will be conspicuously absent from the annual pre-Rosh Hashana toast hosted by President Reuven Rivlin for the diplomatic community, will be Hazem Khairat, the ambassador of Egypt, and Walid Obeidat, the ambassador of Jordan. Each has concluded his term and has left the country, which is somewhat of a loss to the diplomatic community, as both were highly popular, personable and articulate. The appointment of Khairat’s successor, Khaled Azmy, was announced last week by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, though no date was given for his arrival in Israel. Meanwhile, Jordan is waiting for Israel to approve Ghassan Majali as Obeidat’s successor. Later this month, Israel will mark the 45th anniversary of the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, for which the country was ill-prepared, and next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the arrival in Israel of Egypt’s first ambassador, Saad Mortada.
■ RESPECT IS a value sorely lacking in Israel, even though it’s part of the everyday lexicon. But there’s a wide gap between words and deeds. The headline of the Yediot Aharonot report on the memorial ceremony for Israel’s ninth president, Shimon Peres, on the second anniversary of his passing was “They Forgot Peres.” The “they” in question were the ministers of the government, not one of whom showed up at Mount Herzl on Friday. Even though it was not a state ceremony, President Rivlin attended and spoke, the Supreme Court sent representatives, and diplomats attended. But the government’s sole representative was Deputy Minister for the Environment Yaron Mazuz, who came all the way from the North, but whose presence was overlooked, in that none of the speakers mentioned his name – possibly because he didn’t have a front-row seat and no one noticed him. Angered at being ignored, Mazuz placed a wreath on Peres’s tomb and left. Earlier in the week, when the Negev Nuclear Research facility was renamed in Peres’s memory, the turnout had been somewhat more in keeping with respect.
■ THREE TIMES a year, just before Passover, Rosh Hashana and Hanukka, Ronnie Fortis, the general manager for the Israel Hiltons, invites clients and friends of the Tel Aviv Hilton to the first of Israel’s Cinema Cities in Ramat Hasharon to attend the Israeli premiere of a significant movie. On Sunday night, it was Avi Nesher’s latest film, The Other Story, which premieres in North America at the Toronto Film Festival this week and which will open the 34th Haifa International Film Festival later this month.
Nesher, who was playing with religious themes long before the genre became a hallmark of Israeli movie and television productions, spoke to the Hilton’s 300 guests before running off to Ben-Gurion Airport to board his flight to Canada. “I’ll have to be brief so that I don’t miss the plane,” he apologized, but in actual fact, he wasn’t brief at all. He linked his current success to his first film, made at a time when Israel’s film industry was still in swaddling clothes, and there was hardly anyone with experience or expertise.
The premiere screening was at the Hod Cinema in Tel Aviv, and Nesher was so convinced it would be a flop that he and actor and singer Gidi Gov stood outside, afraid to go in because they thought no one would come. Eventually they had to go inside and were amazed to see that the auditorium was packed. But in those days, Nesher did not even dare to dream that one day he would be invited to address the top film directors of Canada and America. He said the fact that he had been invited to do so in Toronto was a tribute not only to him personally, but to the Israeli film industry, which has come such a long way that North American directors want to know what it is that guides Israelis when they’re directing films. It’s as if Israel has a special patent on directing.
Moreover, said Nesher, this year, he has received invitations to events in Toronto that were previously closed to him, because he was not part of that special movie elite whose achievements determined the guest list. In his own case, he said, the secret of being a good director is to put as much authenticity as possible into the film, because the audience is quick to detect anything that’s fake, and the goal is not just to make a good film that will entertain the audience, but to make a film that will also give audiences cause to think.
Hilton chefs who prepared a pre-screening buffet reception in one of the halls of Cinema City, decided that in deference to the nature of the movie, the menu should be consistent with the East European cuisine preserved in many ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. Even though it was a dairy menu, it included cholent with a rich assortment of beans and barley, gefilte fish, pickles, herring, cabbage rolls, potato kugel, cheese blintzes with apple sauce and sour cream, and much, much more. In addition, guests were given a family size honey cake to take home.
Motti Verses, the head of Hilton public relations, described Avi Nesher as the most creative and influential of Israeli film makers. Nesher in turn credited film producer and distributor Moshe Edery with being the man without whom Israel’s film industry would not exist. 
■ EVERYONE AGES differently, and while there are some people who are old at 40, there are nonagenarians who scamper around as if they were children. In the latter category is Murray Greenfield, 92, of Tel Aviv, who joined several members of his family, who toward the end of August traveled to the Czech Republic to honor the memory of the late Hana Greenfield, who was born in the town of Kolin, from where she was deported to Theresienstadt, then Auschwitz and finally Bergen-Belsen. Five hundred Jews were deported by the Nazis from Kolin. Hana Greenfield, born Hana Lustiigova, was among the few who survived. Following her liberation from Bergen-Belsen in 1945, Greenfield went to England, from where she eventually traveled to Israel and met and married Murray, a New York-born sailor engaged in illegally smuggling Jewish immigrants into the Land of Israel during the last years of the British Mandate. The couple founded the Gefen Publishing house, now operated by one of their children. To ensure that the Jews of Kolin would not be forgotten, Hana Greenfield wrote Fragments of Memory: From Kolin to Jerusalem. She also initiated an essay competition among Czech schoolchildren and was engaged in other memorial projects. Hana Greenfield died in January 2014.
When her daughter, Meira Partem, wanted to do something special to commemorate Hana’s life and work, she contacted Jane Drapkin, a member of the Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue in London, which has an ongoing connection with Kolin, because it has one of the Torah scrolls that were rescued from the Kolin synagogue, and which together with other rescued Torah scrolls from vanquished Jewish communities in Europe, were given to the Westminster synagogue, which in turn distributed them to other synagogues throughout the United Kingdom. At a previous meeting with Drapkin, an experienced “wild swimmer” who also swam the English Channel, Partem mentioned that as a girl, her mother used to swim in the Elbe River. This immediately inspired Drapkin to have a swimming event in the Elbe in Hana’s memory.
Drapkin asked Kolin mayor Vit Rakusan if anyone swims in the river any more. He replied that they didn’t because Kolin has a perfectly good swimming pool. However, he was in favor of having a memorial event in the river for Hana Greenfield.
Drapkin and Partem organized a series of events around the swimming contest, which in addition to honoring Hana’s memory, also honored the memory of Kolin’s legendary Rabbi Dr Richard Feder, who had been captive in Theresienstadt for most of the war and who conducted funerals for Christians who died there as well as funerals for Jews.
After the war, Feder returned to Kolin to build memorial for the members of his congregation who had been murdered by the Nazis or who had perished in captivity. He later became Chief Rabbi of Bohemia and Moravia and died in 1970 at age 95.
The Kolin swimming club organized the swimming event and oversaw the cleaning of the river in which no one had swum for decades.  Among the swimmers were 16 participants from the UK, plus close to 50 others from Israel, Serbia, Germany, Belgium and, of course, Kolin. The oldest swimmer was Sue Bard, 73, a member of Edinburgh’s Sukkat Shalom Liberal Synagogue.
During the weekend event, Shabbat services at Kolin’s 320-year-old synagogue were conducted by NPLS emeritus rabbi Andrew Goldstein. Among those attending the services was Israel Ambassador to the Czech Republic Daniel Maron, who also spoke at the Kabbalat Shabbat dinner.
Four generations of the Greenfield family were in attendance. Aside from Hana’s husband, Murray, daughter Meira, and son, Ilan, there were three grandchildren and one great grandchild.
The event was covered by Czech and British media and was so successful that organizers are thinking of making it an annual memorial swimming contest.
■ OVER THE past few months, campaigns have been mounted around the world to create greater awareness of people with special needs. In Israel, radio and television stations have drawn attention to the fact there are inadequate education facilities to cater to children with such needs. Now, virtually on the eve of Rosh Hashana, the families of Avera Mengistu and Hisham Al Sayeed, two Israeli citizens being held in captivity by Hamas, will launch an international campaign to demand that special needs captives be treated above politics. Al Sayeed and Mangistu each have long histories of severe mental illness and have been hospitalized for extended periods. Each accidentally crossed the border from Israel into Gaza, where they have subsequently been held hostage by Hamas. As they enter their third and fourth years in captivity, the families are asking for a sign of life and evidence that they are receiving the appropriate medical treatment for their respective mental illnesses. In addition, the families have united to demand special treatment for all special needs captives. The families are supported by various organizations, including the Jerusalem Press Club, where on Thursday, September 6, at 2:30 p.m., they will launch a global campaign followed by an interfaith prayer service led by an Ethiopian Jewish kes and an Arab Muslim imam representing the communities to which the two captives belong.
■ IT’S NOT certain that Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman would fully approve female soldiers going to the United States to act as fashion models, but given the cause, there is a possibility that he would give them the nod.
A Fashion for Philanthropy event, hosted by the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces’ Tri-State Region at Metropolitan West in New York on September 13, will bring together FIDF friends and supporters, models who served in the IDF and young women currently serving in the IDF, to launch FIDF’s Philanthropic Women Campaign. The event will feature clothing by Sharon Tal, head designer of Maskit, the luxury Israeli fashion house that was originally created by Ruth Dayan, became dormant, and was revived by Tal with Dayan’s blessing and advice. Guests will learn about Israeli fashion and will have the opportunity to shop for Israeli designer clothing. Tal, an internationally known designer, worked for three years for Alexander McQueen in London, before returning to Israel and reviving Maskit which had closed 20 years earlier. She was recently nominated for Designer of the Year in the 2018 Fashion Awards by At Magazine.
Among the models will be Sgt. Lea, a former L’Oreal model from Austria who served as a Lone Soldier in a special combat unit of the Artillery Corps. The event will be co-chaired by New York City philanthropists Ruth Schwalbe, whose late father John Klein was a Holocaust survivor and a founder of FIDF, and by Carol Levin.
■ ASIDE FROM the upcoming fashion show, FIDF supporters from Florida, Dr. Jeffrey and Barbara Feingold, have donated a synagogue and Torah scroll to the soldiers of the Amirim Battalion at Mishmar HaNegev, in time for the upcoming High Holy Days. The synagogue is believed to be the first on an army base in the Negev. It was dedicated with great joy at a ceremony in June attended by fellow FIDF supporters, family and friends. The Feingolds were particularly pleased to bring their dream to fruition during Israel’s 70th anniversary year.
■ THOUGH FOUNDED in 1949 by Hungarian immigrants, Kibbutz Beit Ha’emek in the northern part of the Western Galilee, not far from the Lebanese border, has also enjoyed a high ratio of British immigrants and volunteers, not the least of whom was the outrageous British film actor and television personality Sacha Baron Cohen, who spent several months there in his youth. Over the years, the kibbutz – which relies on plants, biological industries and medical products for its income – has received a great deal of support from British Jewry, so much so that kibbutz members felt the need to put up a plaque of appreciation. The unveiling ceremony will take place on Tuesday, September 25, in the presence of members of the Israel Association of British Immigrants, members of the kibbutz and invited guests. The plaque will be unveiled by British Ambassador David Quarrey.
■ APROPOS BRITS, Jonathan Lynn, the acclaimed British stage and film director and producer, actor and writer, who together with the late Jonathan Jay wrote the brilliant television series Yes Minister, and Yes Prime Minister, took British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to task in a letter to The Times.
Lynn wrote: “I am Jewish. Although I wrote Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, Corbyn says I don’t understand English irony. My co-writer Tony Jay was only half Jewish, so perhaps he half understood irony and was able to supply some. The Labour Party continues to deny that Corbyn is an antisemite, but as Sir Humphrey said: ‘Never believe anything until it’s been officially denied.’”
In Yes Prime Minister there is also biting criticism of the United Nations in relation to Zionism, with Lynn’s usual wit shining through. As far as Lynn personally is concerned, there’s also an Israel connection. His uncle was Abba Eban, who hoisted the Israeli Flag at the UN building in New York, served as Israel’s ambassador to the UN and the US, and was later foreign minister. Eban was noted for his oratory and for his enduring quotes which included: “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” “It is our experience that political leaders do not always mean the opposite of what they say,” “Men and nations behave wisely after they have exhausted all the other alternatives,” and “You can’t achieve anything without getting in someone’s way.”
■ PROLIFIC AMERICAN media mogul Armstrong Williams – who owns a myriad of TV stations across the USA, is a political commentator, entrepreneur, author of a nationally syndicated conservative newspaper column, the host of a daily radio show and a nationally syndicated TV program called The Armstrong Williams Show, as well as the owner of an international marketing, advertising and media public relations consulting firm – is one of the very few African Americans who owns media companies. One of 10 siblings born in South Carolina, Williams, from an early age, proved to be an achiever and graduated from South Carolina State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and English.
He paid his 11th visit to Israel last week, and devoted three days of the week-long visit to intensive filming at Sheba Medical Center-Tel Hashomer in Ramat Gan, where he taped a series of interviews with the hospital’s cutting-edge medical professionals. The interviews are scheduled to air this month in the US.
Among his interviewees were neurologist Dr. Roni Sharon and Prof. Michal Beeri, who is the director of Sheba’s Neuroscience Research Center. Both Beeri and Sharon have had considerable experience in the United States and are therefore in a position to discuss differences and similarities in the two countries in their respective fields of medicine. Although much is written and said about Israel’s poor public relations image, this is being rectified by people like Williams, as well as by numerous Evangelical broadcasters who individually and collectively tell the positive aspects of Israel’s story to tens of millions of viewers and listeners around the world.
■ IN WASHINGTON on Wednesday, September 5, veteran but ever glamorous Defense News bureau chief in Israel Barbara Opall-Rome will be officially retired after a three-decade career with the publication. She will give a retirement address at the publication’s annual conference. Opall-Rome, formerly Barbara Amouyal, launched her journalism career in Israel as a police reporter for The Jerusalem Post, gleaning scoops that seasoned male reporters from other publications somehow missed. She started with Defense News in the closing months of the Reagan administration, and subsequently became a one-woman bureau in Israel in 1999.
She has risked her life covering wars and other historic defense-related events. She has also covered defense events that have political or economic connotations, and has made numerous on-site visits to military bases, government offices and corporate boardrooms across the US, in most countries of East Asia, and in the Middle East.
Opall-Rome has interviewed top-ranking military personnel on Capitol Hill and on the battlefields of Gaza and Lebanon. She has also interviewed top brass in Israel’s Defense Ministry headquarters, and has a huge number of non-Israeli and non-American sources.
Her phone has been tapped. She has been summoned for a meeting with the Shin Bet national security agency. People she has interviewed or met for one-on-one conversations include, among many others, Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak, Shaul Mofaz, Moshe Ya’alon, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, Mohammed Dahlan, Majid Faraj, Shimon Peres, Barak Obama and so many more.
Although she’s retiring from Defense News, Opall-Rome is not retiring from journalism. In addition to her job at Defense News, she has been the presenter and executive editor of Strictly Security with i24News. She is continuing with the latter and her fans can continue to follow her career. Her daughter, Noa Amouyal-Brummer, is the editor of special supplements at The Jerusalem Post, and was previously news editor. She is also a writer, whose byline has appeared in the paper while working in either of the above-mentioned capacities.
■ ISRAEL’S PREMIER director of gala fashion shows, Moti Reif, is helping to run the campaign for reelection of Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who has been in office since 1998 and who, according to various surveys, is currently so much in the lead that he doesn’t really need a campaign. Reif is campaigning not only for Huldai, but also for himself, and hopes to gain a seat on the next Tel Aviv City Council.
Reif took time out from campaigning last week to join Moran Atias, Kobi Shimoni, Subliminal, Maor Zaguri, Itzik Cohen and several other celebrities from the worlds of fashion and entertainment to come to Jerusalem for a night-time tour of Selichot, the traditional penitential prayers recited this time of year. Some of the celebs brought parents, spouses and siblings with them, proving that regardless of the attractions of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem still has a unique fascination for those who do not live in the capital. The tour guides were Herzl Ben Ari, the CEO of the Old City Jewish Quarter and Pini Raphael, the director of the Jewish Quarter tour guides.
The event was organized by Tal Marom, a leading figure among the operators of PR companies in the capital. For Marom, it’s not all business. She used to head the public relations department of the Jerusalem Municipality, so showing off the city is close to her heart. For that matter, the tour was not confined to holy places, but also to the city’s pulsating night life to make the visitors from the Coastal Plain realize that Tel Aviv is not the only city that never stops.
Before heading for the Old City, the group went to the increasingly popular Andalusia Bar in the Music Center in west Jerusalem, where in addition to the bar there are several restaurants surrounding a huge square. All the restaurants have both indoor and outdoor facilities. During the summer evenings, diners prefer to sit outside, and the tables are almost always full. The group also visited the music museum in the Music Center, where they were shown the various musical instruments of the different immigrant communities that make up Israel’s demographic mosaic. Just like regular tourists, the musicians in the group tried out almost every instrument they were shown and instantly put together an impromptu band.
In the Jewish Quarter, in addition to visiting the Western Wall and various synagogues, they also came across a street theater performance which delighted them.
Then it was back to the center of town in west Jerusalem to spend the night at the relatively new Ibis Hotel. New hotels are opening up so quickly in Jerusalem, even locals can’t keep up with the pace. And when they are asked how to get to a particular hotel, they frequently confess that they don’t know because they’ve never heard of it.