Garpevine: A haredi wonder woman

ALMOST EVERY major business enterprise in Israel adopts at least one charitable cause.

SAGI MUKI is flanked by Oren Smadja (left) and Moshe Mumrad.  (photo credit: AVI HOFI)
SAGI MUKI is flanked by Oren Smadja (left) and Moshe Mumrad.
(photo credit: AVI HOFI)
She may not be well known to secular women in Israel, but to religious, especially ultra-Orthodox women throughout the Jewish world, Rachel (“Ruchi”) Freier is an inspiration. The mother of six who is a New York Criminal Court judge, is the first haredi woman in America to reach such a position. Prior to her elevation to the bench, Freier represented various hassidic movements whose adherents are not generally in favor of secular education for women. But they recognized her talent, and knew that with her background she was the person who could put up the best defense on their behalf.
Involved since her youth in various community activities on behalf of the poor, youth at risk and the sick, including those who are not Jewish, Freier, against strong opposition, won the right for Orthodox Jewish women to become emergency paramedics. Before becoming a judge, she advocated for the Ezras Nashim, an Orthodox women’s organization whose request to join United Hatzalah as a separate women’s unit had been rejected. The women were simply interested in preserving the modesty of other women in emergency medical situations – especially during childbirth.
Freier won the case, and now women work with Hatzalah not only in New York, but also in Israel. Emunah Jerusalem and Emunah B’Simcha – a younger Emunah group that works on behalf of young couples who are newly married or about to be married but have little money for household necessities – are hosting the screening at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center on February 6 of 93Queen, a film about Freier directed by Paula Eiselt. The event will also feature TED-style talks by Efrat Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the founder, chancellor emeritus and rosh yeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone; Dr. Tamar Elram, director Hadassah Mount Scopus Medical Center; and halacha counselor Atara Eis, director of Nishmat’s Miriam Glaubach Center for North American Youth. Proceeds from the event will be earmarked for youth at risk and young couples in need.
■ THE PROLIFERATION of Israel’s diplomatic ties causes considerable calendar juggling for Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as for President Reuven Rivlin, each of whom meet a bevy of foreign dignitaries each week, and travel abroad at least once every six weeks or so. Rivlin, who was in France last week, is scheduled to travel to a destination closer to home on February 12, and there have been unconfirmed media reports that Netanyahu may visit India and Morocco prior to the Knesset elections in April. Chances are high that he will visit at least one other country before that.
Among the foreign dignitaries who were in Israel this past week were: Malta President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, Foreign Minister of Italy Enzo Moavero Milanesi, New Zealand’s Defense Minister Ron Mark, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for Syrian affairs Alexander Lavrentiev, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin. At the beginning of next week, Rivlin will be hosting Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen. If photographs are any indication, of all his portfolios, Netanyahu derives the most satisfaction as minister of defense. In nearly all his photographs with army units, he is positively glowing. It’s almost as if he has returned to the elite squad in which he served in the days when he was in uniform.
■ AMONG THE subjects that came up for discussion when Skervnelis called on Rivlin, was the upcoming celebration next year of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Eliyahu Ben Solomon Zalman, better known as the Gaon of Vilna. Rivlin’s forebears, who were disciples of the Gaon, came to Jerusalem more than two centuries ago because the Gaon thought that the Messiah would come in the year of their migration. Unfortunately, they are still waiting. Netanyahu is also a member of the family of the Gaon of Vilna, whose 300th anniversary will be jump-started by various activities in Israel and Lithuania from the end of March this year.
One of the lectures at the annual conference of the Israel Genealogical Society that will take place in Safed on March 31 and April 1 will be devoted to the Vilna Gaon, and will be delivered by Chaim Freedman, who happens to be an eighth-generation direct descendant of the Gaon, and author of the book Eliyahu’s Branches, which lists the Vilna Gaon’s many descendants around the world. Freedman says now that DNA has become so popular, it is much easier to prove or disprove claims of relationship to the Vilna Gaon.
■ IF YOU thought the only seeds planted by the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund were in the ground – think again. In London over the next 10 days, the JNF is sponsoring an interactive festival of spoken Hebrew featuring Israel’s Orna Porat Theater that will take place in ten Jewish primary and secondary schools from February 1-10. The festival has been organized in cooperation with London-based Zemach Productions, with some of the events also taking place at JW3, the Jewish community center in northwest London.
This is the first Hebrew language education initiative of its kind in the UK to use the medium of theater to bring the Hebrew language to life, with the inclusion of plays, vocabulary exercises and songs.
The festival is a follow-up to the launch of JNF-UK’s grant campaign to boost Israel education in Jewish schools across the UK.
According to Yonatan Galon, CEO of JNF-UK, “This is a fantastic opportunity to enrich the learning of Ivrit as a modern foreign language in our schools. Echoing the National Languages Strategy, the program provides high-quality teaching and learning opportunities, making use of native speakers.” Galon noted that the enthusiasm of the Jewish schools led organizers to extend the festival beyond the originally planned time frame.
■ AN EXHIBITION of Israeli start-ups was this week inaugurated at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. Among those attending were Economy and Industry Minister Eli Cohen, Israel Innovation Authority chairman Dr. Ami Appelbaum, Israel Export Institute chairman Adiv Baruch, and Peres Center for Peace and Innovation chairman Chemi Pres.
The inauguration ceremony was also attended by CEOs from 50 leading Israeli companies whose products are at the forefront of Israeli technology and innovation.
Minister Cohen gingerly tasted the food of the future – grasshoppers – but not before checking that they really were kosher!
“In a world where the economy is based on innovation and technology, Israel is a key player,” he said.” This is evident in the number of start-ups and in the number of leading international corporations that operate here. The establishment of the Israeli Innovation Center at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation is yet more evidence of this.”
This center symbolizes the vision and spirit of Israel’s ninth president, Shimon Peres, and offers a glimpse of Israel’s wide-ranging technological ingenuity.
“This space was my father’s final project before he passed away, and I am sure that if he were with us today, he would be filled with pride,” said Chemi Peres. “The message he would wish to convey is that the future is in our hands. The past cannot be changed, but the future must be shaped. He always said that his greatest regret was that his dreams were not big enough.”
■ AMONG ISRAEL’S all-round patrons of sport is Tadiran CEO Moshe Mumrad, who was so proud of Judoka gold medalist Sagi Muki that he hosted a reception in his honor and that of Muki’s coach, Olympic bronze medalist Oren Smadja. Mumrad has taken an almost fatherly interest in Muki, who said that Mumrad and members of the Mumrad family have always been there for him, even at the worst of times. This was something he would never forget, he said, which was why it was important for him to come to them with his gold medal before he went anywhere else.
■ ALMOST EVERY major business enterprise in Israel adopts at least one charitable cause. In the case of El Al, it’s Alut, Israel’s leading resource for families in which one or more members, especially children, are autistic. Anyone who’s traveled on El Al knows that as the flight is nearing its destination, members of the cabin crew distribute envelopes for passengers to leave whatever they still have in small change in the currency of the country from which they boarded the flight. All these coins add up to a lot of money, which is used for special programs for autistic children and adults. Last week, Amos Shapira and Anat Goren, the chairman and CEO respectively of Alut, organized a tour of an Alut day care center in Netanya for El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin and a group from the El Al human resources division. The center is one of 11 Alut facilities that care for more than 1,000 infants and children who have been diagnosed as having various kinds and stages of autism. At the end of the tour, Shapira, who is himself a former CEO of El Al, presented Gonen with a work of art that had been created by some of the children.
[email protected]