Grapevine: A smoke-screen trip?

Gershman, whose focus was on people doing good, said that he was disturbed by the growing paranoia in the world with regard to Muslims.

ARCHBISHOP PIERBATTISTA PIZZABALLA, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, speaks at the Italian Synagogue in Jerusalem at the ceremony honoring Jews who saved Jews.  (photo credit: MOSHE MIZRAHI)
ARCHBISHOP PIERBATTISTA PIZZABALLA, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, speaks at the Italian Synagogue in Jerusalem at the ceremony honoring Jews who saved Jews.
(photo credit: MOSHE MIZRAHI)
In the schedule released by his office prior to President Reuven Rivlin’s visit to London last week, there was no mention of a meeting with Jordan’s Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammad, personal envoy and chief adviser to King Abdullah on religious and cultural affairs. Moreover, during the same period in which Rivlin was in London, representatives of 15 Arab countries met in the British capital to discuss rejection of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and to encourage relations with Israel.
One suspects that the prince was also at the 15-nation conference, which was sponsored by the American-headquartered Center for Peace Communications, and which coincided with the 71st birthday of one of the speakers, former director of US policy planning and Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, who inter alia is currently cochairman of the board of directors of the Jerusalem-headquartered Jewish People Policy Institute.
According to released reports about the Arab conference, there was no Israeli speaker present – but that does not mean that there were no other meetings with Rivlin behind closed doors. Given the brevity of press releases about his addresses to Jewish organizations and his meeting with Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, it would not be illogical to presume that such events were smoke screens for meetings of far greater regional importance.
Presumably, Rivlin and Mirvis will have the opportunity for a longer discussion when Mirvis comes to Israel later this month to attend the 70th anniversary celebrations of the city of Ashkelon, which owes much of its development to South African immigrants. Mirvis, who was born in South Africa in 1956, is scheduled to attend a special Sabbath service to be held in the central Ashkelon synagogue that was built by South African immigrants.
The overall festivities include a special tribute to the late Sylvia Raphael, a South African-born Mossad agent, plus a toast to prominent members of Israel’s South African community who played a significant role in the planning and running of the city.
In addition to honoring South African achievement in Ashkelon, the overall event, which begins on December 13, is also designed to encourage future South African aliyah to Ashkelon, to promote the city itself, and to foster greater awareness, among Israelis in general and South Africans in particular, of the South African contribution to Israel on many levels, but particularly in relation to Ashkelon.
■ THE EURO-ASIAN Jewish Congress is making an increasing impact in the Diaspora. Jewish community leaders from 32 countries of the Euro-Asian region gathered last week in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, for the first summit meeting of Euro-Asian Jewry.
Among the attendees were: Euro-Asian Jewish Congress president Dr. Michael Mirilashvili, who called on Ukraine’s authorities to move the Ukraine Embassy to Jerusalem; European Jewish Parliament president and EAJC first vice president Vadim Rabinovich; EAJC first vice president Temur Ben-Yehuda (Khikhinashvili); EAJC vice presidents Alexander Levin, Victor Naishuller and Moshe Shvets; All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress executive director Joseph Axelrod; Nativ director Neta Briskin-Peleg; EAJC CEO Haim Ben-Yakov; Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund chairman Daniel Atar; and representatives of the World Jewish Congress.
Mirilashvili said: “Among the initiators of the draft resolution on the transfer of the Ukrainian Embassy to Jerusalem are 86 deputies of the Ukrainian parliament.” Given their support, he urged all present to support the adoption of “this important resolution, which will definitely strengthen the friendship between our peoples and states.” During this particular summit session, the chairman of the Verkhovna Rada (Legislative Chamber) of Ukraine, Dmytro Razumkov, assured Mirilashvili that he would study the issue further.
“The establishment of the Euro-Asian Jewry Summit is a historic event taking much of 20th century history into account. It testifies to the unity and mutual responsibility of the Euro-Asian Jewish communities, and includes the development of Jewish educational and social projects in the region. The summit was made possible as a result of the fruitful cooperation of international organizations, such as the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress and the European Jewish Parliament,” said Rabinovich.
Briskin-Peleg, head of Nativ (the Prime Minister’s Office liaison group for the FSU and Diaspora affairs), noted that “the leaders of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress have consistently supported the State of Israel. The position to support aliyah to Israel, adopted at the summit, is a significant step in this direction. The Israeli leadership highly appreciates the congress’s dedication to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”
Atar spoke of a strategic partnership between KKL-JNF and EAJC.
Summit participants adopted a Declaration of Devotion and Commitment to the Jewish people and the State of Israel, which states: “We believe in a strong and prosperous Jewish Diaspora united around the ancient Jewish heritage and the State of Israel. This is the main inspiration behind our joint endeavors.”
They also adopted a resolution on strengthening the role of youth in preserving Jewish heritage and development of Jewish life in the Euro-Asian region, emphasizing the importance of new, modern technologies, innovative initiatives and a creative approach in working with Jewish youth, including the student community, and in educating a new generation of Jewish leaders in the Euro-Asian region.
A unanimous resolution passed by the summit called on the state leaders of the Euro-Asian region to take a clear stance against antisemitism and work toward preventing its further escalation in the region, and to join in a constructive dialogue on combating this reprehensible and dangerous phenomenon.
The summit opened with the annual general assembly of the EAJC, followed by the first joint session of the EAJC and the European Jewish Parliament.
■ YAD VASHEM frequently has ceremonies to award the title “Righteous Among the Nations” to non-Jews (or their closest living relatives) who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust period. It took many years before Yad Vashem expanded its rescue recognition to Jews who saved other Jews.
Recognizing such Jews was no problem for the B’nai B’rith World Center, which annually hosts a ceremony honoring the memories of Jews who saved other Jews, and since initiating such recognition in 2011 has honored 280 European Jews. Last week its Jewish Rescuers Citation was presented posthumously to Rabbi Nathan Cassuto, the chief rabbi of Florence, who during the war years headed his city’s Jewish underground, and Matilda Cassin, a member of the underground, whose members also included Christian clergy.
This accounted for the presence, at the presentation ceremony in Jerusalem’s Italian Synagogue, of Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Notwithstanding the vast improvement in relations between Catholics and Jews since the Second Vatican Council and the issuing of the Nostra Aetate and other declarations of esteem for Judeo-Christian teachings and for the Jewish people, representatives of the Catholic Church still feel a sense of embarrassment when discussing Catholic involvement in the rescue of Jews during the Holocaust. Pizzaballa even said as much.
There were numerous instances where Catholics – both clergy and laypeople – risked their lives to save Jews, but there are the controversial issues of pre-Holocaust teachings of the Church which cast Jews in an extremely negative light, coupled with a wide belief that Pope Pius XII did not speak loud enough or often enough in his criticism of Nazism, and did not do enough to save Jews. Evidence has surfaced in recent years that he did much more than people realize, but that he did it so discreetly that even the people he saved were unaware of the identity of their benefactor.
■ IN POLAND last week, one of the Albanian Muslims who rescued Jews during the Holocaust was honored by the From the Depths organization, which inter alia makes a point of honoring such rescuers in addition to any recognition they may have received from Yad Vashem.
This brought to mind an exhibition mounted by Yad Vashem in November 2007, showing Albanian rescuers whose images, and those of their relatives, had been captured for posterity by American photographer Norman Gershman. Several of the people whom he had photographed were brought to Jerusalem for the opening, and some of the people they rescued, who had moved to other countries, specially came to tell their stories and voice their thanks.
Albania was the only country in Europe in which there were more Jews after the war than there had been before the war, said Gershman at the opening. Before the war, he said, there were only 200 Jews in Albania in a total population of 800,000. After the war, there were many more Jews with refugees from some half dozen other European countries. King Zog himself saved the Weizmann family from Vienna, who fled to Albania after Kristallnacht in 1938, said Gershman, who managed to track the Weizmanns down in New York, to where they relocated after the war.
Albania is essentially a Muslim country, and while he did not see himself as an advocate for Albania, Gershman, whose focus was on people doing good, said that he was disturbed by the growing paranoia in the world with regard to Muslims. “They think that all Muslims are terrorists – and that’s crazy,” he said.
Five years earlier, he had approached the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous in New York about doing a project. They told him what little they knew about Albanian rescues. He said he wanted to do it, but they didn’t have sufficient information. They referred him to Yad Vashem, which gave him access to its archives, and in turn referred him to the Israel-Albania Friendship Association, which is largely made up of Holocaust survivors rescued by Albanians. The association helped him to trace many people who had been involved in rescue operations. In cases of those who had died in the interim, he learned the stories from their families, whose members he photographed.
Qirjako Kureta, who 12 years ago was Albania’s charge d’affaires in Israel, made the point that there was not a single instance in which Albanians accepted compensation for saving Jews. “Albania was the only country in which Jews were not victims,” he said, noting that Albanians had refused to comply with Nazi orders. They neither gave up their Jews nor supplied the Germans with names of Jews in their villages. As a result, every Jew in Albania was saved.
The attitude of the Albanians derives from a philosophy called besa. “It is a virtue that has characterized the Albanian people for centuries. It means faith and trust,” said Kureta, adding that Albanians saw Jews as fellow human beings who needed shelter. Jews did not live in ghettos in Albania, he said, but were integrated into the general population. Although they were few in number, Jews lived in Albania for 2,000 years.
Coincidentally, the exhibition took place in the same year that Ghaleb Majadle was appointed a minister in the government, making history as the first Muslim minister in Israel. Needless to say, he attended the opening of the exhibition.
■ TO MARK this, the 70th anniversary year of the Knesset, veteran broadcaster Izi Mann has been hosting an intriguing weekly radio program on Reshet Bet – Knesset Nechbada (Honorable Knesset), in which he takes listeners behind the scenes to explain the intricate workings of Israel’s parliament. In his interviews with various department heads and other Knesset personnel, Mann, unlike some of his radio colleagues, lets the interviewee talk with minimal interruption on his part.
Listeners learn, for instance, how a private member’s bill is treated; that all books written by any Knesset member before, during or after serving in the Knesset are in the Knesset library; and that Yehuda Leib Maimon, who was one of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence, even though he was asked not to do so, wrote “Baruch Hashem” (Blessed be God) alongside his signature. He served in the first Knesset and was religious affairs minister. He was a keen proponent for women’s rights, and it was his argument that won the right for women to vote in Israel’s elections. His sister Ada was also politically active and was elected to the first and second Knessets.
Mann has a polite, low-key style of interviewing, allowing the subject of the conversation to come from the interviewee who lives it, rather than from an opinionated interviewer. In the days when Reshet Bet was part of the now defunct Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA), Mann was regarded as the IBA historian, as was Yoav Ginai, who now broadcasts on Army Radio. The two wrote the script for the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the first radio broadcast in the country, which took place at what is now the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria Hotel, but which in 1936 was the Palace Hotel, and later was the headquarters of the Trade and Commerce Ministry.
The 70th anniversary festivities took place after much of the interior of the building had been demolished to make way for the present structure, which added to the uniqueness of the event. Mann also authored a book on the history of Israel Radio, mainly through the biographies of its broadcasters. In the early years of the state, the radio was very different from what it is today, with special children’s programs, a live orchestra, radio dramas and more, which makes the book such a valuable source of information. It is to be hoped that he will write another book based on his broadcasts about the Knesset, which would be a great eye-opener for many readers.
■ APROPOS THE Knesset, Moshe Fuchsman, the director of the yet-to-be-completed Knesset Museum, which will be located on the capital’s King George Avenue in the Frumin House, which housed the Knesset from 1950 to 1966, had hoped to open the museum to the public last January to actually coincide with the Knesset’s 70th anniversary. But there were problems with the plumbing and with funding. So it is to be hoped that if all goes well, the museum will be ready in time for the 75th anniversary – providing that we have a government by then.
Meanwhile, passersby do get a sense of the history of the Knesset from the surrounding safety fence, which is illustrated with portraits, captions and brief anecdotes pertaining to Knesset members and Knesset events. This street exhibition, which changes every few months, generates a lot of interest. Initially created in 2016 as a promotional vehicle for the museum-in-the-making, it now serves as a mini museum in its own right.
■ ON THE subject of museums, the transitional government last month approved the establishment of a communications museum on the site of the old Israel Radio studios on Tel Aviv’s Leonardo da Vinci Street. The initiative came from Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, in cooperation with the Tel Aviv Municipality and the Government Press Office.
The estimated cost of the project is NIS 12 million. Given the fact that there is no national budget and that severe limitations have been placed on expenditure, the project may take a long time in coming to fruition, but hopefully not as long as the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, which is due to officially open in 2020, 16 years after its groundbreaking ceremony. The communications museum will have an amazing historical archive of recordings of interviews and speeches by all of Israel’s presidents and prime ministers, as well as by other dignitaries, along with reports of historical events, recordings of once popular programs by presenters who are either long retired or long dead – in other words, anything and everything that was recorded by Israel’s public broadcasting network.
Fortunately, people who were once at the top of the totem pole at the IBA had the foresight and good sense to get much of this material digitized so that it would not be lost or inadvertently destroyed. The pioneers of Israel Radio are no longer with us, though a lot of the veterans of both Israel Radio and Israel television are still around, and some of them are still broadcasting.
Among them are Yaakov Ahimeir, Moshe Timor, Dan Kanner, Yitzhak Noi, Carmella Menashe and Aryeh Golan. Radio and television veterans such as Haim Yavin and Rivka Michaeli are still around, though Yavin these days prefers to make documentaries, and Michaeli is a highly successful theater actress, though she does occasionally appear in television sitcoms.
■ WITH REGARD to veteran actresses, Lea Koenig played to a full house on Friday, when Habimah Theater, despite its financial woes and the fact that actors have not been paid for months, celebrated her 90th birthday. To prove she is 90 years young, rather than 90 years old, Koenig, when acknowledging a standing ovation after several people had spoken about her with affection and admiration, took a deep bow – so deep that she touched her toes without bending her knees. Not too many nonagenarians can do that. For that matter, not too many nonagenarians are still pursuing a full-time thespian career.
■ IS IT possible to kidnap a neighborhood? Apparently, in Jerusalem it is. At least it would seem so from a report in Yediot Yerushalayim, which shows a photograph of a new neighborhood called Shikun Kiryat Yoel MiSatmar – referring to Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, the founder of the Satmar Hassidic dynasty – with the name imposed on a wall in metal letters. This follows the 10-day visit to Israel by Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum, the grand rabbi of Satmar, who distributed $5m. to Satmar institutions which do not accept financial subsidies from the state. Satmar is a virulently anti-Zionist hassidic movement, and in the various events that Teitelbaum attended, he whipped up a new frenzy of anti-Zionist sentiment among the tens of thousands of his followers.
The “new” neighborhood is actually in the capital’s Bukharan Quarter, whose residents were shocked to see the metal signs with the new name. Initially, they thought that it was in the wake of the municipality’s decision to rename Har Nof after Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the late Sephardi chief rabbi and spiritual mentor to Shas. But after making inquiries, they learned that the city council, which has to approve such name changes, had nothing to do with renaming their neighborhood.
Satmar Hassidim were few and far between in the Land of Israel before the establishment of the state. It was Zionism that paved the way for them to come here in their multitudes. It was a concerted Zionist effort that built the roads they traverse and the public transport they use. It was also Zionism that built many of the dwellings in which they live. It’s also a Zionist army and a Zionist police force that safeguard their security.
They want to honor Rabbi Yoel. It’s their right to do so, but not in a Zionist neighborhood, and certainly not without the permission of the local authorities.
■ AS FAR as anyone can remember, Dr. Tsvia Walden’s name has not been associated with Yiddish. Walden, the firstborn of three offspring of Shimon and Sonia Peres, is unlikely to have heard Yiddish spoken at home. Her father knew a few Yiddish catchphrases, but he couldn’t converse in the language.
Nonetheless, Walden will be among the speakers at a tribute event at Tel Aviv’s Leyvik House, which promotes Yiddish as a viable language, has Yiddish study courses, houses the works of Yiddish novelists, poets and journalists, and hosts Yiddish-language social and entertainment events.
The tribute is in memory of award-winning author, playwright, librettist, journalist and art critic Nava Semel, who died two years ago, and who grew up in the home of her Yiddish-speaking Holocaust survivor parents. The subject of Yiddish has featured in some of her writings. She was the sister of singer Shlomo Artzi, who last week celebrated his 70th birthday. Her husband, Noam Semel, who will also be among the speakers at the tribute on Monday, December 9, was for 25 years the director of the Cameri Theater, which he brought to new heights. Other speakers will include actress Tamar Amit-Yosef; literary editor and broadcaster on Army Radio Tsippy Gon-Gross; and Leyvik House director Daniel Galai.
■ FOLLOWING A recent farewell service at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue in honor of its chief cantor emeritus Haim Adler, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday, the Jerusalem Cantors Choir is giving him a tribute concert at Heichal Shlomo, the building right next door to the Great Synagogue, on Thursday evening, December 5. The 32-member choir is made up of both active and retired cantors. It is not known whether Adler himself will be singing, but anyone who wants to listen to him can find a good selection on YouTube.
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