Grapevine: A misrepresentation of sorts

THE EXTREMELY rare 16th-century Babylonian Talmud. (photo credit: COURTESY SOTHEBY’S)
THE EXTREMELY rare 16th-century Babylonian Talmud.
(photo credit: COURTESY SOTHEBY’S)
Many of the people who filled the auditorium of the Agron guest house in Jerusalem had expected to hear some kind of discussion or debate between wellknown columnists and authors Manfred Gerstenfeld and Isi Leibler on how to fight anti-Semitism and the demonization of Israel.
Notices that were sent out prior to the event gave the impression that it was a joint effort between Europeans for Israel and Honest Reporting.
However, it quickly became apparent that the only role of Europeans for Israel was to support Honest Reporting by sending out notices to people on its mailing list. The Honest Reporting logo in huge letters appeared on a paneled screen, on the lectern and on the head table. There was nothing to indicate that Europeans for Israel had anything to do with the function other than a passing mention at the start.
There was also nothing in the notice to suggest that the event was actually a promotion for Gerstenfeld’s new book The War of a Million Cuts: The Struggle against the Delegitimization of Israel and the Jews, and the Growth of New Anti-Semitism, which Gerstenfeld said he wrote “because of the incompetence of the Israeli government in fighting anti-Semitism.”
That the first half of the program was devoted to this, with a solo presentation by Gerstenfeld, did not sit well with several people in the audience, who had not come to listen to a lecture.
Sonia and Daniel Lew, who had specially come from Kfar Saba to hear what they thought was going to be an intellectual discussion, complained that this was dishonest reporting. Some of the other people sitting near them agreed.
As it turned out, Leibler, who is an accomplished and experienced public speaker and debater, had a very minor role in the affair, and was simply there as a moderator to pose questions of his own and to later take questions from the audience. He also praised Gerstenfeld as the greatest authority on anti-Semitism since the passing last May of Robert Wistrich.
While there is no doubt that Gerstenfeld is as familiar with the subject as any single human being can be, and he can quote names and incidents from around the world in the blink of an eye, there is no excuse for not making the public aware of the actual nature of the event, which was essentially to promote Gerstenfeld’s comprehensive book, which Leibler said everyone should read.
Gerstenfeld faults the government for not establishing a counter-propaganda agency to monitor individuals and organizations engaging in the defamation of Jews and of Israel, and anti-Israel incitement, and stated that the blame for the absence of such an agency rests with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
■ ISRAELI CONFERENCE organizers seem to be obsessed with haredi women and with the idea of bringing them into the 21st century.
Haredi women are already in the 21st century, but in accordance with their own religious standards.
Recently, the Israel Democracy Institute hosted a conference on haredi women, and now it’s the turn of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, which on Thursday, January 7, from 9 a.m. is hosting a conference on “Haredi Women in Israeli Hi-Tech: Challenges of Integration into Industry and Academia.”
The conference, in the Sonnenfeld Auditorium, will feature several speakers, among them MK Erel Margalit, a member of the Knesset Finance Committee; Rabbanit Adina Bar Shalom, president of the Haredi College in Jerusalem; Michal Tzuk, deputy director-general of the Economy Ministry; Yishai Fraenkel, Intel Jerusalem general manager; researchers, employers, heads of higher education institutions and policy-makers.
The conference will also present the latest research in the field, including that of Prof.
Aviad Raz and Gavan Tzruya of the department of sociology and anthropology, “Between Integration and Separation – Haredi Women programmers in Haredi Centers and Secular Organizations.” While Israel Prize laureate Bar Shalom is indeed a noteworthy personality, there are other impressive haredi women who are no less deserving of a platform.
■ FLEXIBILITY IN marking momentous occasions seems to be a Jewish character trait both in Israel and the Diaspora. On Monday, editors, researchers, contributors and supporters of the Talmudic Encyclopedia gathered at the President’s Residence to celebrate the encyclopedia’s 70th anniversary.
The Talmudic Encyclopedia, which is a decades-long work in progress, has been culled from the commentaries on all aspects of Jewish law. Published in Jerusalem by Yad Harav Herzog, named for Israel’s first chief rabbi, who was the grandfather of opposition leader Isaac Herzog, the Talmudic Encyclopedia was the brainchild of Meir Bar-Ilan, who saw what was happening in Europe during the Second World War and was afraid that all the great rabbinic scholars of Europe would be murdered in the Holocaust. Thus the work on the encyclopedia began in 1942 and not in 1945 or 1946.
The first volume was published in 1947, and President Reuven Rivlin recalled that his father had obtained a copy.
To date, 36 volumes have been published, and the aim, said Rabbi Prof. Avraham Steinberg, the president and head of the editorial board of the encyclopedia, is to complete the whole project within a decade. Modern technology and a change in methodology have enabled a faster output, and Steinberg is hopeful that within the next 10 years another 30 volumes will be completed.
In welcoming guests who came from Israel and abroad, Rivlin said that the encyclopedia is an important work, and that the wisdom of the Talmud is the heritage of the Jewish people.
“Your support and dedication have helped preserve this heritage, this legacy over the past 70 years,” he said. “The Talmud has been the Jewish heartbeat for countless generations.
More than any other text, it has influenced the character, life and thoughts of the Jewish people.”
Because so much in the Talmud is esoteric, Rivlin said that it is “a secret” passed from generation to generation, with each generation seeking to make its own impact on the commentaries.
It contains laws, customs, stories that defy the imagination, stories of righteous men, conversations, arguments, deep-seated wisdom, scientific ideas, human dramas, sea voyages, medical advice and the mysterious secrets of nature. Truth, Rivlin continued, is found in the multitude of opinions.
Never missing an opportunity to extol his mentor, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Rivlin said that Jabotinsky had taken a private tutor with whom to study Talmud, because he wanted to know it better and to learn what it was that had so great a fascination for the best of Jewish minds.
Chief rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, whose fathers were intimately involved with the encyclopedia and who contributed to it, spoke of the Talmud as a point of connection among Jews in all the lands of their dispersion.
Some of the traditions might be different, Lau conceded, but whether one was in Poland or Morocco or anywhere else in the Jewish world, the Torah and the Talmud are the same in every Jewish community.
Yosef said that one could learn all the wisdom from Sinai onward if one studied the commentators. Whoever is familiar with the commentators, he said, will develop a sharper brain.
Rivlin asked that perhaps a single summarized volume could be published in order to make the Talmud more accessible to more people, and was told by Steinberg that a micro edition is already in preparation.
■ IT WAS an Australian or, to be more precise, a Melbourne wedding in more ways than one when Malka Ben Porat married Moshe Fromer at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem.
Aside from anything else, it symbolized the union of members of the Chabad and Adass Israel communities in Melbourne.
Many years ago in Melbourne, when there was such an “intermarriage,” the main course at the wedding banquet was fish rather than meat, so as to avoid any argument on the standards of kashrut. But in Jerusalem that problem did not exist, and meat was served as the main course.
The bride’s family, which now lives in Beit Shemesh, has roots in Australia, and members of the groom’s family came from Melbourne for the celebration. Many of the guests were Australian expats, some of whom have been in Israel for less than two years, such as Susan and Sam Yelen and Vera and Alex Rosenbaum; and others have lived in Israel for upward of 50 years, such as Tova Teitelbaum (nee Gerta Eckstein) for whom the whole affair was a series of reunions.
Teitelbaum, who lives in Haifa with her Israeli- born husband, Yossi, is the mother of Israel Radio broadcaster Benny Teitelbaum. She was delighted to renew acquaintance with people whom she had not seen in decades.
She was particularly pleased to meet up with Erica Fromer (nee Heino), the paternal grandmother of the groom, who came from Australia to join in the festivities.
The fathers and grandfathers of the two women were friends in Bratislava, and the friendship was maintained by the third generation, despite the geographic divide. The groom’s maternal grandmother came from England, as did other relatives, and of course there were Israeli relatives on both sides.
Among the other Australian expats were Ditty and Fred Klarberg and Ruth Gestetner nee Felberbaum. Many of the younger generation who attended were born in Melbourne, but came as children to Israel and grew up here.
THE NEW Year announcement by supermodel Bar Rafaeli that she is pregnant with her first child was picked up by numerous websites of international publications, including USA Today, Harpers Bazaar, HollywoodLife, New York Daily News, Niagra Falls Review, Mirror Publications in Britain, Daily Mail, Stuff.
Co.NZ, Woodstock Sentinel-Review, Toronto Sun, Celebuzz, Northumberland Today, St. Thomas Times-Journal, Vogue (UK) and Reality TV.
Refaeli, who has made headlines recently after tax authorities questioned her for alleged failure to report significant income earned abroad, posted a photograph of a pregnancy test on her Instagram account. The announcement came three months after Refaeli’s wedding to businessman Adi Ezra. Refaeli, 30, expressed a desire for children long before her relationship with Ezra, 41.
■ DIVORCE IS commonplace in Israel’s entertainment industry, and there are few marriages that have stood the test of time. One such marriage is that of Tuvia and Yael Tsafir, who have been married for 50 years. Tsafir was born on New Year’s Eve, and last week at his 70th birthday celebration attended by family, friends and colleagues, there was yet another reason to raise a glass. Yael got down on one knee and proposed to her husband, asking if he would marry her again. The response was of course in the affirmative.
■ JANUARY 7 MARKS the first anniversary of the brutal terrorist attack on the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo in which five of the publication’s artists were murdered. A collection of their cartoons is included in the special memorial edition released this week.
The impact of the attack and on freedom of expression resonated in many parts of the world, including Israel, where the Jerusalem Press Club and the Israeli Cartoon Museum launched a competition among Israeli highschool students for the best cartoons dealing with issues of relating to the Other, to the Different, and to the Believer in another religion.
The terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo raised questions on the balance between criticism of religious and social institutions and personalities and the need not to inflict deeply felt hurt on the feelings of adherents. Should the freedom of cartoonists be limited, because of the impact of their work on certain sectors of society? The competition, titled “Cartoon, Criticism, Care,” with major professional cartoonists as jury, may help to propel some budding cartoonists into a career. The 20 most promising entries in the competition have been placed in an exhibition that goes on view Wednesday, January 6, at 6 p.m. at Mishkenot Sha’ananim.
The prize winners are Ami Katz, 16, of Hadera whose cartoon shows that Israeli Jews are marionettes at the mercy of the rabbinate; Yosepha Yaacobowitz, 16, of Ra’anana, whose cartoon demonstrates how beaches are being polluted by the public; and Hava Herman, 15, of Jerusalem, who illustrates the fear of people to reveal their true likes and dislikes.
The three winners will receive respective awards of NIS 3,000, NIS 2,000 and NIS 1,000.
■ INTERNET SURFERS who read the websites of various news organizations do not realize how hectic it is to be the managing editor of a news-oriented website and what it means to try to stay ahead of the competition.
Nati Gabbay, who after working as an editor and reporter on Channels 1 and 2 became managing editor of, the website of The Jerusalem Post, two years ago, absolutely loved his job, except that it was taking over his life. Even so, he wasn’t even thinking of looking for another job, when an offer came his way to manage the website and social media of the National Library, which in a sense is going from live news to dead news. But dead news is the thrill of researchers who delight in finding nuggets of information that were overlooked by previous historians, curators, archivists, et al.
Gabbay may discover that although he thought that he would be working at a slower pace, it will be much faster than he anticipated.
On his last day of work he came to say goodbye to his Jerusalem colleagues and told them that if they were ever in a bind, he would be happy to help out.
■ WRITING IN Haaretz last week, Yossi Verter queried whether the probe into the activities of Sara Netanyahu would bring down the prime minister. If precedent is any indication, the answer is no. Two years ago, when it was made public that a foreign worker had been employed illegally in the household of Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein, his wife took the rap. Similarly, a little over five years ago, when a foreign worker was illegally employed in the household of then-defense minister Ehud Barak, his wife, Nili Priel, also took the rap.
Apparently, responsibility for household affairs are a woman’s domain, and her husband is absolved of any role, even though it is his home as much as hers – maybe even more so, as in the case of the Prime Minister’s Residence.
So even if charges are filed against Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister can rest easy.
■ AS FOR the Prime Minister’s Residence, its location is becoming a bigger than ever problem for his neighbors. The iron-barred, enclosed area around the residence has been extended, in addition to which several members of his personal security detail have rented apartments in the immediate vicinity, much to the chagrin of other people living in the same buildings.
Security measures often prevent pedestrians from walking through the streets bordering the residence, so it was a great gamble on the part of Elaine and Adrian Mandel, who live on Balfour Road directly across the street from the residence, to invite some 90 of their friends to join them last Friday at New Year’s brunch.
The Mandels are originally from England and spent several years living in Ra’anana, before moving to Jerusalem last year. Their guests, mostly British expats, despite the fact that they were religiously observant, and Friday was a short day, drove in from Ra’anana, Herzliya Pituah and Netanya, and of course there were some from Jerusalem. Fortunately, it was one of those days when no problems were created for pedestrians, so a good time was had by all, and in a few cases, people who had known each other since their school days met up.
■ APROPOS THE prime minister, who every January has a large New Year’s press conference organized by the Government Press Office – the venue this year is a new one. In the past it has been the capital’s David Citadel Hotel, and last year it was the Israel Museum.
This time around it will be the newly renovated and refurbished Inbal Hotel, whose vice president of sales and marketing, Alex Herman, is very excited at the prospect, even though Netanyahu has spoken at the Inbal on previous occasions – but not to such a large media turnout of foreign and local press as well as the press attachés of foreign embassies.
Barring any last minute changes, the event will take place on January 14.
■ SHOULD HE want to take up yet another career when he leaves office at the end of July 2021, Rivlin, who will then be a few weeks shy of his 82nd birthday, could always become a warbler. At the Hebrew Language Day celebration at the President’s Residence this week, Rivlin and Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev mouthed the words of the two songs sung by Hava Alberstein, who, like Rivlin, happens to be Ashkenazi.
The other singer was Avihu Medina, who, like Regev, is of Sephardi stock. Medina encouraged the audience to sing with him two popular songs based on the Psalms. The first, in honor of Rivlin, ever the proud Jerusalemite, was “Shabehi Yerushalayim” (Praise Jerusalem). Regev and Rivlin sang along with great enthusiasm, and Medina suddenly stepped off the stage and thrust a microphone up to Rivlin’s mouth. The president didn’t hesitate for a moment and kept singing solo. Not a bad voice at all. Then, at Rivlin’s request, Medina sang “Al Tashlicheni” (Forsake Me Not in My Old Age) and again brought the microphone to Rivlin for the final salvo, which Rivlin delivered, hitting and holding a high note. The audience absolutely lapped it up.
Alberstein, before she sang, said it was a privilege and a pleasure, using the word “kef” for the latter. Kef is actually derived from Arabic, and she asked if it was permissible to use it at a Hebrew Language Academy event, to which Rivlin responded: “It’s permissible to use it in the President’s Residence.”
■ CONSPICUOUSLY ABSENT from the above event was celebrity culinary journalist, cookbook author and television personality Gil Hovav, who happens to be the great-grandson of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, and who in himself represents an East-West fusion in that his father, Moshe Hovav, was Yemenite and his mother, Dvora, was Ashkenazi. Dvora and Moshe Hovav were among the earliest broadcasters on Israel Radio. Moshe Hovav was famous for his perfect diction.
■ ONE OF the guiding lights of Kfar Etzion and the settler movement was the late Hanan Porat, a former MK and paratrooper who in 1967 was among the IDF soldiers who, together with the late Mordechai Gur, were responsible for the reunification of Jerusalem. Now his son Amitai Porat is also making a name for himself and has just been elected as deputy secretary-general of the Religious Kibbutz Movement.
Porat might not be in his present position but for the fact that Brig.-Gen. (res.) Tzvika Tessler, the former head of the Home Front Command, who had been tapped for the post of secretary-general, had changed direction in response to a call from Insp.-Gen. Roni Alsheikh to join the police force as head of planning and training. That moved everyone else in the race up a notch.
Porat had previously headed the social division of the movement. In his current role he has already given notice that certain reforms will be introduced to ensure the movement’s growth and ability to take on new challenges.
■ IT’S HARD to believe that half a century has passed since a young actor, playing a naïve, religious, easily manipulated young man and his worldly irreligious identical twin, captured the hearts of Jewish audiences in Israel and around the world in a film called Shnei Kuni Lemel (Two Kuni Lemels).
The multilingual, American-born actor, Mike Burstyn, whose first stage appearance was at the age of 3, went on to carve an international career for himself on stage and screen, performing in eight languages, among them Hebrew, English, Yiddish and Dutch.
The film, which was Israel’s first cinemascope production, has been rescreened on television and in movie theaters throughout the years, with excerpts on YouTube.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the production and the death of its producer, Mordechai Navon, who died in 1966 at the age of 56, the Tel Aviv Cinematheque will have a special screening on Monday, January 25, in the presence of Burstyn.
Based on an 1880 play by Abraham Goldfaden, the film version was written and directed by Israel Becker. The cast included three of Israel’s greatest actors at the time: Raphael Klatchkin, Aharon Meskin and Shmuel Rodensky.
Before he died, Navon realized his dream to produce a film about the Jewish world that disappeared during the Holocaust.
The jubilee event has been organized by filmmaker and film archivist Yaakov Gross, who will be among the speakers prior to the screening, as will Burstyn, who is specially coming from America for the occasion.
■ EVERY CLOUD supposedly has a silver lining, and in the period of economic unrest due in part to unrelenting terrorist attacks on the domestic front and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activities abroad, business enterprises in Israel are engaged in drastic reductions of prices that go beyond the usual winter sales.
Cofix – the discount coffee shop chain in which everything, including sandwiches, soup, pastries, pastas and beverages, sells for NIS 5 – set the ball rolling, and Avi Katz, the Cofix mastermind, has also launched a discount supermarket in which everything sells for NIS 5 and most of the prices are lower than those of Rami Levy. This has also forced other supermarkets to lower their prices.
These days, it’s not uncommon for a family to disperse in different supermarket chains and to compare prices via use of their cellphones to determine what goes into the shopping cart. Based on the success of Cofix, other discount coffee chains opened in quick succession.
First there was Cofizz, headed by Amir Amsalem and Dani Mizrahi, and now other discount coffee stores are popping up, not necessarily as chains. The latest in super-discount food is Eight Chef Sandwich, which offers a variety of meat sandwiches for only NIS 8. [email protected]