Grapevine: A moment of triumph

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

THE ELIYAHU Hanavi Synagogue in Alexandria, Egypt, in 2005.  (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
THE ELIYAHU Hanavi Synagogue in Alexandria, Egypt, in 2005.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A number of heartwarming stories came out of Siyum Hashas celebrations around the world. Anyone who saw television coverage of the huge turnout of joyous Jews of all stripes at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey or the march against antisemitism across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York could not imagine the number of antisemitic incidents that have been perpetrated against Jews in communities across America, Canada, Europe and Australia.
Other than the fact that they were dressed in warm winter clothing and the signs carried by the thousands of participants, the march was eerily reminiscent of the forced death marches in the final stages of the Second World War. But this time the Jews were not the scapegoats and victims of a perverted ideology. They were free, and they marched fearlessly and voluntarily.
But there were also extremely moving moments not only at the march in New York and at the Siyum Hashas celebrations in Israel and around the world. One such celebration in Israel with the Modzitz Hassidim included the presence of Holocaust survivor Dov Landau, who in the midst of the dancing rolled up the sleeves of his jacket and shirt to display the Auschwitz number tattooed on his arm. Looking at the crowd of ultra-Orthodox Jews in front of him, he proclaimed: “The Nazis, may their names be obliterated, lost. We won!”
Born in 1928 in the Polish town of Brzesko, some 50 kilometers east of Kraków and 25 km. west of Tarnów, Landau, who was 11 years old when the Nazis invaded Poland, survived both labor camps and death camps, including two death marches. He was sent to Auschwitz together with his father, who fell, ill and did not survive. Landau was in fact the sole survivor of his family.
After the war, he succeeded in coming to pre-state Israel, joined the Hagana and subsequently fought in the War of Independence. Fighting in Gush Etzion, he was captured by the Jordanians and spent almost a year as a POW in Jordan.
After he was freed, he moved to Tel Aviv, married and began rebuilding his family. During the Holocaust, he lost 50 close relatives. Today, his family numbers more than 80 people.
Landau has traveled to many countries to tell his story. In 2017, he returned to Poland for the first time, with a group of Israeli youth, and with a broken heart revisited the scenes of his childhood, remembering how the Nazis had burned down the synagogue.
Now proud to be an Israeli, he has made it his life’s mission to tell the tale of how the Jewish people rose like a phoenix from the ashes. He rejoices in Jewish holidays, and mourns on remembrance days.
■ ANY AVIATION enthusiast who thinks that El Al’s experimental nonstop flight from Tel Aviv to Melbourne will coincide with the upcoming state visit to Australia by President Reuven Rivlin is mistaken. The president also has at least one more stop in the South Pacific either en route to, or returning from, Australia, which means that the direct flight to Melbourne is still on hold.
■ FORGET ABOUT maternity leave or paternity leave. These days it’s parental leave – at least as far as Hilton Worldwide is concerned. The international hotels company has updated its family leave policy, which provides two weeks of fully paid parental leave for all new fathers and adoptive parents, including those paid at an hourly rate. Biological mothers will receive 10 weeks of fully paid maternity leave.
In Israel the conditions are slightly different, in that, according to law, parents of newborn babies are entitled to 15 weeks leave, which can be taken by either parent or split between both, plus an allowance from the National Insurance Institute. In addition to this, the parent who does not take advantage of the NII benefits will be entitled to 10 days of leave on full pay. This applies only to workers who have been in the employ of Hilton hotels for at least two years from the day of the baby’s birth. This incentive covers the 1,000 employees of Israel Hiltons, including the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria, says Ronnie Fortis, country manager of Israel Hiltons.
This new incentive is part of the holistic policy of the Hilton chain to create an environment in which employees can realize their potential both professionally and in their private lives. Hilton strongly believes in supporting new mothers, and in giving them the tools with which to cope, he adds, noting that such support helps to create a solid partnership between employer and employee.
It now remains to be seen how many other hotels and business enterprises that are part Israel’s hospitality industry will follow suit.
■ IT’S UNFORTUNATE that so many Jews think with their hearts instead of their heads. This is great when responding to humanitarian needs, but borders on dangerous when any perceived or genuine criticism is leveled at the Jewish community. Case in point is an NBC News assessment last week.
An NBC news article, stating that the growth of ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in certain areas of New York state were to blame for the recent increase in violent antisemitic incidents there, drew harsh and angry reactions in Israel and in the American Jewish community.
According to the news item “The expansion of hassidic communities in New York’s Hudson Valley, the Catskills and northern New Jersey led to predictable sparring over new housing development and local political control, as well as to flare-ups of rhetoric seen by some as antisemitic.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat railed against NBC for running a news item that implies that Jews were to blame for the recent attacks against them.
“An outrageous NBC New York article blames the Jews for the rising of antisemitism in the New York area. Once again, the victim is blamed for the attacker’s racism. Instead of explanations and excuses, we need unequivocal action against racism and antisemitism,” Haiat wrote on Twitter.
An observation like that made by NBC was made in August 2017 by The New York Times, and that, too, was regarded as antisemitic.
But the truth is that locals everywhere resent new communities coming into their neighborhoods. In Israel, it used to be that Ashkenazi Jews were opposed to having groups of North African Jews coming to live in their neighborhoods, because their presence represented a clash of cultures. Likewise, to this day, secular Jews object to ultra-Orthodox Jews coming en masse to live in their neighborhoods. By the same token, Jews from Ethiopia are treated as inferior and humiliated in various ways, despite the hardships they or their parents endured on their journey to Israel. Non-Jewish Africans who are migrant workers or refugees who settled in south Tel Aviv are resented by the local population because they brought their various cultures with them, and have all but taken over certain sectors of the neighborhood. Their meager incomes don’t allow them to live in more affluent communities. They live where rent is relatively cheap, and where transport services to wherever they work are frequent in addition to being many and varied. Some of these people are highly educated but, due to their present circumstances, have been forced to take on menial jobs which most Israelis shun.
On top of that, forget about Arabs being accepted in Jewish neighborhoods. Arab university students who try to rent apartments in Jewish neighborhoods are usually rejected by Jewish landlords. The same goes for Arab families who try to rent or buy in Jewish neighborhoods.
While the NBC item was widely regarded as antisemitic, Danny Ayalon, a former Israel ambassador to the US and later deputy foreign minister, reached conclusions similar to those of NBC.
In an interview in the National-Religious publication B’Sheva, Ayalon stated that when Jews come to a place as weak immigrants, they develop increasing influence and power, which provoke extreme opposition and antisemitism, which ends in tragedy.
Many essays and articles that are not intended to be antisemitic but merely point out that Jews have greater influence and power than would be assumed from their ratio in the population are quickly pounced on by Jews as being antisemitic, despite the fact that in America alone Jews have risen to amazing wealth, power and influence.
A few examples include: Bernard Baruch, a financial adviser to US presidents; Levi Strauss, who founded America’s first blue jeans manufacturing company, and gave his name as one of the alternatives to jeans and dungarees; Louis B. Mayer, William Fox, the Warner Brothers who were among the pioneers of the Hollywood film industry; and Steven Spielberg, who is so influential today; Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Alan Dershowitz, whose names are legend beyond legal circles; former secretary of state and national security adviser Henry Kissinger; Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page; Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg; baseball champion Sandy Koufax; multiple gold medal Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz; feminists Gloria Steinem, who co-founded Ms. magazine, and Bella Abzug; Wonder Woman Gal Gadot; founders of major cosmetics companies Charles and Joseph Revson of Revlon; Max Factor Sr., Helena Rubinstein and Estée Lauder; New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzburger Sr.; banker Felix Warburg; New York mayor Michael Bloomberg; Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel; composers Irving Berlin (“I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”), Leonard Bernstein (West Side Story) and Stephen Sondheim; illusionist Harry Houdini; journalists Wolf Blitzer (who used to write for The Jerusalem Post), Tom Friedman, Barbara Walters, Bret Stephens (former Post editor-in-chief); comedians the Marx Brothers, Jack Benny, and George Burns; fashion style setters Calvin Klein, Isaac Mizrahi, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Diane von Furstenberg; and the list goes on in almost every imaginable category, plus the fact that, proportionately, more Jews have won Nobel Prizes than any other population group. We stand out like a sore thumb or an aggravating pimple on the face of the earth.
■ VETERAN PRIZEWINNING journalist Yaakov Ahimeir, who candidly admits to voting for one of the right-wing parties, in a television interview with Roni Kuban, when asked if Benjamin Netanyahu is correct in saying the media is against him, replied in the affirmative, saying not all but a large sector of the media is so negatively disposed toward Netanyahu that instead of legitimate criticism, reports on his activities come from an emotion of hatred. Pressed by Kuban to disclose what he would ask Netanyahu if the latter were sitting opposite him, Ahimeir gave it a moment’s thought and responded: “I would ask him, “Why did this happen to you?” He felt no need to elaborate on this, other than to clarify that he and Netanyahu would know what was behind the question.
■ THE PRIME minister’s younger brother, Iddo, was much more explicit about the way in which he believes that Netanyahu has been maligned by the media, and surprisingly said that their brother, Yoni, who was killed in Operation Entebbe, was treated with even greater disdain, even though all three brothers had served in the elite commando unit of the IDF. The comprehensive interview which Iddo Netanyahu gave to Amnon Lord appeared in last Friday’s issue of Israel Hayom.
■ FIRST YEAR archaeology student Avner Netanyahu, who unlike his older brother, Yair, is much liked by the media and just about anyone with whom he comes into contact, accompanied his parents to Greece, and paid for his own ticket. Unlike most of the others, who were dressed in suits, Avner was casually attired, arrived at the airport in the bus that transported the prime minister’s delegation, and carried his own suitcase in addition to his backpack.
Although the prime minister had to return on Friday, Avner and his mom stayed in Athens over the weekend, and celebrated Shabbat at Chabad.
■ THE FIRST batch of ambassadors-designate to present their credentials to Rivlin this year will do so in separate ceremonies on January 9. They are Pannabha Chandraramya of Thailand, Hector Enrique Celarie Landaverde of El Salvador, Evelyne Togbe-Olory of Benin and Francis Rene Blain of Gambia. Other new faces will join the ambassadorial ranks in coming months.
■ THERE IS no age limit on love. Dolly Tiger Chinitz, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor, and Larry Frisch, an American filmmaker and writer, who can be regarded as one of the pioneers of Israel’s film industry, met at the Jerusalem sheltered housing complex known as L.A. Mayer Residence. Each had just been widowed.
Frisch had brought his wife Marilyn, to whom he had been married for 62 years, to live in the complex, which is adjacent to the Islamic Museum, because Parkinson’s disease had robbed her of independence. She died only a few days later.
Dolly Tiger Chinitz was widowed in the same week from her third husband, Jacob Chinitz, a Conservative rabbi, whom she met at her Bible class in Montreal. She had divorced her two previous husbands.
Jacob Chinitz had been living in Israel with his first wife, Ruth, for many years and had come to Montreal on a temporary basis to fill an interim position. When Ruth died in 2005, the couple had been married for 50 years.
In 2007, Dolly came to Israel for a conference of Jewish child Holocaust survivors. She called Jacob and invited him to dinner. Romance blossomed, they had many shared interests, and in July 2008 they got married. She was 78 and he was 87. The marriage lasted three-and-a-half years, until Jacob died, but they were very happy years.
Although he didn’t know her, Larry, who is a perfect gentleman, thought that he should go the prayer services while Dolly was sitting shiva, because she was, after all, a neighbor in the place in which they were each living.
They became friends, and the friendship flourished and led to romance. Larry is only a few days older than Dolly. He was born in December 1929, and she was born in January 1930. Separately and together, they have a vast array of interests, as a result of which they have built up many friendships.
When they decided to host a joint celebration of their 90th birthdays at Jerusalem’s Inbal hotel, it was a four- generation affair that included children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and friends whom they have made in the various organizations to which they belong.
Both Larry and Dolly have unquenchable curiosity, and they can often be seen waiting for a bus to take them to a lecture, a conference or an outing.
Neither of them looks their age, and the families of each have not only accepted their relationship but have developed strong affections all round.
Among the friends who came was Lily Hershkovitz, who has been Dolly’s best friend for 81 years. The two main speakers at the event were one of Dolly’s daughters, Elizabeth Fenjves, and Larry’s son Hillel, who is a professor of political science.
While Elizabeth spoke of what a blessing it was that Dolly and Larry have each other, Hillel spoke extensively of his father’s contribution to Israel’s film industry, making the point that in the early 1950s, most of Israel’s films could be categorized as propaganda, whereas those of his father were genuine documentaries, and his father also made Israel’s first comedy feature film, Tel Aviv Taxi.
Neither Dolly nor Larry look anywhere near 90. Each is straight-backed and socializes easily, though Dolly somewhat more so than Larry. She was on her feet for most of the evening, moving around the room and chatting animatedly with the guests, while he went around and joined people at their tables, chatting for a little while with each until he moved on to the next table.
The joint birthday party, attended by some 80 people, had been intended as a two-hour affair, but there were still people there after three hours. Dolly’s incredible story of having lived in different countries, including war-torn Europe, was known to many of those present. It is an amazing tale of relations between Jews and non-Jews, of hiding, of escape and of migration. Over the years, Dolly has had jobs in different professions, but wherever she’s been, she has been in touch with other Holocaust survivors and with survivor groups. Several of the invitees were Holocaust survivors.
Both Dolly and Larry come from famous families. She is a cousin to the famous Gabor sisters who conquered Hollywood, and he is the son of Daniel Frisch, a former president of the Zionist Organization of America. In fact, the street in which ZOA House in Tel Aviv is located is called Daniel Frisch Street.
■ WHILE THE week has been full of joy for some people, it has unfortunately had its share of bereavements through floods, accidents on construction sites, traffic collisions, prolonged or even short-term illness and natural causes. There have unfortunately been a number of children among those chosen by the Grim Reaper.
Peace activist pioneer Hava Keller was one of the founders of Women in Black, and belonged to almost every organization in Israel that was dedicated to seeking peace with the Palestinians and putting an end to the “occupation.” She was a constant participant in peace rallies and demonstrations.
Also departing this world was Rabbi Mordechai Arnon, who in the 1970s and 1980s, before he found religion, was better known as Pupik Arnon, a sobriquet given to him because of his height. He was a popular entertainer who frequently appeared on stage with Arik Einstein and Uri Zohar, before Zohar, too, found religion and gradually took his leave from stage and screen. Both Arnon and Zohar lost many of their bohemian friends after they became religiously observant, but Zohar maintained contact with Einstein, whose former wife became religious and influenced their daughters to follow in her footsteps. Two of the Einstein girls married two of Zohar’s sons, so the connection remained strong, not only for reasons of friendship but also of family, though Einstein himself remained secular.
Among the great losses to the world of music this month was that of Yossi Shriki, who was among the first musicians to join the Andalusian Orchestra in Ashdod when it was founded in 1994. The prizewinning orchestra introduced audiences throughout Israel to Sephardi music, including that sung in synagogues. It also played in Morocco.
More recently – this week, in fact, a day after presenting the Institute for National Security Studies report to Rivlin, INSS members gathered at Kfar Nahman cemetery in Ra’anana to pay their respects to Dr. Emily Landau on her final journey. A senior research fellow with INSS, she was head of its Arms Control and Regional Security program. Her analytical research into and beyond the Middle East, particularly in the area of nuclear threats, brought her international recognition and renown.
■ THE PRESIDENT of the Alexandria Jewish community in Egypt, Robert Marini, will be delighted to welcome guests at the official ceremony to mark the completion of the restoration of the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue on February 14 between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., after which participants can stay for Sabbath services.
The synagogue, located at 69 Nabi Daniel Street, was built in 1354. When the French invaded Egypt in 1798, they bombed the synagogue, which was rebuilt in 1850 with the help of a contribution from the Muhammad Ali dynasty. However, over the years, it fell into neglect, and in 2018 was included in the World Monuments Fund list of Monuments at Risk.
Even before that, the Egyptian government in 2017 announced a restoration project, in line with its policy of keeping Egypt’s Jewish heritage alive. The renovations cost approximately $4 million. The synagogue, which seats 700 people, is one of the largest in the Middle East. Egypt’s Antiquities Minister Khaled Anani, who inspected the work in progress, is expected to attend the official reopening ceremony in February.
Although there are very few Jews left in Alexandria, and most of them are elderly, the synagogue remains open for services.
■ FOLLOWING THE hacking of the cellphone of Wonder Woman Gal Gadot by a Turkish hacker, the Instagram account of supermodel Galit Gutman was also hacked by a Turk – possibly the same person who left endearing messages for her. It would seem that he is on a wave spree. “Gal” in Hebrew means “wave.”
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