Grapevine: An unknown side to his character

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

A UNITED HATZALAH self-defense class.  (photo credit: UNITED HATZALAH‏)
A UNITED HATZALAH self-defense class.
(photo credit: UNITED HATZALAH‏)
Regardless of how much positive or negative publicity any well-known personality receives, hardly anyone knows the full story. The public persona and the private persona are not always in sync with each other or with media spins and public opinion.
A case in point is the late entertainer Dudu Topaz, who a little over 10 years ago, while in prison for vengeance taken out on television executives who would no longer employ him, committed suicide.
In his heyday, Topaz was a star entertainer, but his style of entertainment became passé, and he just could not bring himself to change with the times.
He was a wonderful father to his three sons, each of whom was born to a different mother, who became a second mother to each of the boys, thereby creating a unique sense of family unity.
Recently, on the 10th anniversary of Topaz’s death, his sons dedicated a Torah scroll in his memory. Cynics might say that they were trying to whitewash his sins. But this was not the case. After his death, the boys were contacted by Rabbi Yitzhak Ravitz, the head of the Kiryat Ye’arim Council, who told them that their father had given tens of thousands of shekels in secret to needy families. In wanting to commemorate their father’s memory on the 10th anniversary of his death, the boys decided to dedicate a Torah scroll in the main synagogue in Kiryat Ye’arim, with the participation of former chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, through whom some of Topaz’s gifts to the poor were organized, and who was well aware of the nonpublic side of Topaz’s character.
A huge crowd came to the dedication ceremony, and some of the people present joined the boys in writing the final letters of the scroll. Among participants from the world of entertainment were the Duo Re’im – Benny Rosenbaum and Yisrael Gottesdiener.
Lau said at the ceremony last month that one of the most important of the 613 commandments is to honor one’s mother and one’s father. This was something that the three brothers had certainly taken to heart, he said.
Ravitz stated that he had never seen Topaz perform live or on television. The Dudu he knew, he said, was simply a kind man who wanted to help the less fortunate – but he did it in secret. “I stand here now and say to Dudu: Your will has been realized. We have bridged the divides and we are one people; regardless of lifestyle, we are one.”
■ USUALLY, WHEN he meets a small delegation of people, President Reuven Rivlin, who celebrated his 80th birthday on Monday, walks around the room shaking hands. On Sunday of this week, he desisted, when he met with representatives of Movilot, an organization that trains haredi women in middle management to improve their chances for promotion. Mindful that not all haredi women are willing to shake hands with a man, Rivlin decided not to attempt to shake hands with any of them.
Also present was his haredi chief of staff, Rivka Ravitz, who, if things had gone according to plan, would have been on maternity leave, but her son took his time in entering the world, and it was only later in the day that she actually gave birth to her 12th child – a week later than scheduled. Ravitz does not shake hands with men, and dignitaries who visit the President’s Residence have been primed not to shake her hand but to bow their heads ever so slightly by way of greeting.
■ IT WOULD have been much more comfortable if the official opening of the Art & Dolls Expo Jerusalem at Sergei’s Courtyard in the Russian Compound would have been held in one of the air-conditioned rooms of the superbly renovated premises. But no, the opening, called for 12 noon on Friday, took place in the sweltering outdoor heat, as more and more people – mainly Russian-speakers – gathered to listen to the speeches before going inside to view the amazing exhibition hosted by the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society, which was founded in May 1882 at the order of Emperor Alexander III and financed by the grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, who was the emperor’s brother. Sergei’s Courtyard, which is part of the Russian Compound, was originally a hospice for Russian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land.
During the period of the British Mandate, the Russian Compound was the key venue of the British administration in Jerusalem, and after the declaration of Israel’s independence, all Russian church properties were returned to the Soviet Union. A large section of the Russian Compound was purchased by Israel in 1964. In October 2008, the government agreed to transfer ownership of Sergei’s Courtyard to the Russian government.
Following massive renovations, it reopened as a luxury hostel for pilgrims in July 2017; and in June 2018, soon after his arrival in Israel, Russian Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov hosted a lavish reception in Sergei’s Courtyard in honor of Russia’s national day.
When Russian philanthropist and doll maker Svetlana Pchelnikova, who is president of the International Association of Doll Artists, thought of having an international exhibition of dolls in Jerusalem, it was natural for her to call on the Russian Embassy for assistance.
Not only that but, to encourage doll artists from other countries to come to Israel next year, as she wants to make this an annual event, Pchelnikova, who is also an Asgardian member of Parliament, brought with her not only the magnificent dolls that are being exhibited, but also some of the artists, so that they could get to meet Israeli colleagues and discover that Israel is a warm and welcoming place.
As a matter of fact most of the Israeli artists participating in the exhibition are from the former Soviet Union, which means that they had no language problems when greeting the visiting artists from Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Estonia and even the US. Some of the visiting artists are also Asgardians.
Also present was Asgardian Minister of Information and Communication Lena de Winne, who doubled as translator, because the official speeches were all in Russian.
Asgardia, established in October 2016, is a micronation founded by Igor Ashurbeyli together with a group of people who have launched a satellite into space. They regard themselves as a space nation and call themselves Asgardians.
Deputy chief of mission at the Russian Embassy Leonid Frolov, who was guest of honor at the opening, quoted Dostoevsky in saying that “beauty will save the world.” Every one of the dolls on display carries some kind of message, he said, adding that a doll is often an extension of the person to whom it belongs. Almost every child had a doll to which he or she was very attached, he remarked.
The exhibition itself is breathtaking with its many themes (including an Asgardian space concept, its extraordinary attention to detail, the exquisite and often ornate fabrics used in the costumes, and also the wonderful sense of fashion design not only in the clothing of the dolls but also in the accessories.
Several artists dedicated their individual approaches to a specific theme, but their works, when displayed together, evoked a sense of community. There were groups of biblically inspired dolls, regal, ecumenical, fairy tale, nursery rhyme, Middle Eastern, klezmer, Harlequin, celestial, ethnic, babies, animals and more. The themes ran the whole gamut from whimsical fantasy to something approaching reality. In fact, there was a selection of photographs in which artists were pictured with doll likenesses that they had made of themselves, and it had obviously been a most enjoyable ego trip. At one far end of the exhibits, just ahead of Knesset elections, was a doll, or more accurately a doll maker’s, election, with the public asked to vote for one of several dolls in a multi-themed display. Each was so impressive that it was extremely difficult to reach a decision.
Perhaps that was the purpose of the exercise – to give people a better appreciation of dolls and to get them to think about dolls in a new way. Thinking differently about dolls might lead to thinking differently about people they might encounter in their day-to-day lives.
■ SOME AMBASSADORS, when starting a new period of service in a foreign country, take a week or two to acclimatize themselves before presenting their credentials and taking on official activities. Sometimes they have to wait a month or more before presenting their credentials, but that doesn’t really deter them from work, which may appear to be of a social nature, but is actually part of the job.
A very recent example is that of French Ambassador Eric Danon, who only four days after arriving in Israel last week attended the opening of the Art on Screen festival at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque organized by Marion Vidal, the new Campus France manager for the French alumni network in Israel.
There were cocktails in advance of the screening, which gave Danon, who is due to present his credentials on Thursday, an opportunity to meet some of his fellow countrymen living in Israel, as well as local Francophiles. Danon, who is believed to be the first person of the Jewish faith France has sent as an ambassador to Israel, specializes in international security issues, and prior to his current posting was deputy director-general for political and security affairs at France’s foreign ministry.
Because credentials are presented to the president of the state in accordance with the chronological arrival in Israel of new ambassadors, Danon will be the fourth of five new ambassadors presenting their credentials to Rivlin.
The others are Lina Antanaviciene of Lithuania, Hans Decter of the Netherlands, Lasha Zhvania of Georgia and Andreja Purkart Martinez of Slovenia.
While it is not unusual for ambassadors to come to Israel after serving in Arab countries, it is far less common for ambassadors who served in Israel to have their next posting in an Arab country, particularly in the case of ambassadors who are extremely well disposed to Israel. Among the exceptions to the rule is immediate past Lithuanian Ambassador Edminus Bagdonas, who went from Israel to the United Arab Emirates.
■ ON THE very date that Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski was hosting a “First to Fight” exhibition at his residence in Udim, illustrating Polish resistance against the German invasion, and assistance given by Poles to Jews during the Holocaust years, Israeli websites and Jewish websites around the world carried the story of the vicious attack in Warsaw against a group of Israeli students by several Arab thugs, believed to be from Qatar. One of the assailants apparently wore knuckle dusters, with which he beat up law student Yotam Kashpizy.
A description of the incident was posted on Facebook by Kashpizy’s twin brother, Barak, with photographs of Yotam’s bruised and bleeding face. Bystanders had done nothing to help the Israelis, causing Barak Kashpizy to warn of what he called “a returning reality.” In cautioning other Jews and Israelis in particular, he said: “Today it’s my brother. Tomorrow it will be one of your relatives.”
Magierowski tweeted his disgust with the perpetrators of the attack, texting: “A despicable act of barbarism. There’s no justification for violence. I believe the perpetrators will be detained shortly. I wish Yotam and others a prompt recovery.”
The exhibition at the ambassador’s residence was designed to show Poles, including Jews with Polish citizenship, not only as victims but also as heroes who fought back. Prior to the Soviets joining in the battle against the Nazis, Poland had the third-largest army deployed throughout Europe.
Among the people invited by Magierowski was German Ambassador Dr. Susanne Wasum-Rainer, whom he described as a friend, but not before having given a detailed description of Nazi and Soviet atrocities against Poles and others of all faiths.
Today, Poland and Germany are allies that want to build up the European Union, said Magierowski. “We are reconciled.”
Magierowski delivered an address first in English and then in flawless Hebrew. Israelis who come into frequent contact with him marvel at his gift for language.
Several of the invitees had been child Holocaust survivors. Among them was Mordechai Palzur, who was born in Tarnow, and whose father was a reserve officer in the Polish army. The family managed to escape in 1943 and, traveling via Tehran, arrived in what was then Palestine in the same year. Palzur returned to the land of his birth as Israel’s first ambassador to post-Communist Poland, following the renewal of diplomatic relations in February 1990.
Also present was Ada Willenberg, who escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto. She is the widow of Samuel Willenberg of Czestochowa, who was believed to be the last survivor of the Treblinka uprising.
Another child Holocaust survivor in attendance was Dr. Herbert Hillel Goldberg, the chairman of Lema’an Zion, an organization of people like himself who go around the world telling Israel’s story to counter false impressions relayed on television newscasts.
Goldberg, originally from Lodz, was nine years old when he witnessed his father being killed by the Nazis. He was also on the list, he said, but was saved by the fact that the Germans cut down the Polish oak trees, and new saplings had to be planted in their stead. Many children, including Goldberg, were used for this purpose.
Yet another child Holocaust survivor was Uri (originally Jerzy) Huppert, a Jerusalem-based lawyer from Bielsko-Biala, whose father was betrayed by a Polish tailor who collaborated with the Nazis. But Huppert and his mother, Teresa, were helped by decent Poles, who risked their lives for them. The Hupperts came to Israel in 1950. Huppert returns to Poland from time to time to lecture and to file property claims for his clients.
The exhibition is one of 62 being shown by Polish diplomats around the world. All photographs were accompanied by explanatory notes in Hebrew and English. There was a group shot of Jews, including Menachem Begin, in uniform in Anders’ Army in 1942, and another of Jews participating in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. Among the Jews who fought in the Warsaw Uprising was Lt.-Col. Stanislaw Aronson, an officer in the Polish Home Army, who later held the same rank in Israel’s War of Independence. He also fought in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and in the first Lebanon War in 1982.
Another Polish Home Army officer, Witold Pilecki, was not Jewish. He founded the Secret Polish Army of resistance, and as far as is known was the only Polish army officer who voluntarily smuggled himself into Auschwitz under the assumed name of Tomasz Serafinski, in order to prepare a comprehensive report about what was happening inside the camp and to collect proof that the Nazis were continuing with their plan to exterminate the Jews. During that period he recruited camp inmates into an underground resistance group.
Yet another photograph shows Poles smuggling food into the Warsaw Ghetto, and yet another shows two young boys, brothers Perec and Zalman Hochman, who served as couriers for the Home Army’s Sokol Brigade. They were given false identities, smuggled food to their relatives, and fought in both the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Warsaw Uprising. When using their false identities on the Aryan side, they sold cigarettes and newspapers, and are listed among the young heroes in the book The Cigarette Sellers of Three Crosses Square. They survived and later came to Israel.
There are many other photos unrelated to Jews but demonstrating Polish resistance and resilience. In his speech, Magierowski noted that the suffering did not end when the Soviets “liberated” Poland. Being liberated by the Soviets was a long-lasting curse, he said. The Soviet regime executed dissidents, repressed freedom of speech and relentlessly persecuted Jews.
In talking about Poles who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust, Magierowski acknowledged that there were also Poles who betrayed Jewish neighbors and gave them up to the Nazis. “We must not forget them, just as we must not forget the Polish heroes who saved Jews,” he said.
■ YET ANOTHER means of ensuring that the memories of heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto and those of non-Jewish Poles who did much to help the Jews of Warsaw will not fade from public consciousness is the establishment of the Warsaw Ghetto Museum, which is currently under construction in Poland’s capital, and which on Tuesday of this week hosted the inaugural meeting of its council.
Office bearers who will serve from 2019 to 2023 include Romanian-born child Holocaust survivors Colette Avital, a former Israeli diplomat and parliamentarian. who currently heads the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel; Poland’s American-born Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich; Gideon Nissenbaum, the president of the Nissenbaum Family Foundation, which was founded by his father in Warsaw in 1983 and has been in involved in rediscovering and reviving traces of Jewish life and culture in Poland; child Holocaust survivor, Polish-born Abe Foxman, who is a former longtime head of the Anti-Defamation League; and historian and journalist Marian Turski, a survivor of Auschwitz. The chief historian of the permanent exhibition at the museum is Prof. Daniel Blatman of the Hebrew University.
■ DEPUTY CHIEF of mission at the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv Piotr Kozlowski served in Iran a few years prior to his transfer to Israel. Despite the ambivalence of the Iranian regime toward Israel, he revealed, the graves of Esther and Mordechai are maintained as a tourist attraction, and are cared for by members of the Iranian Jewish community.
■ EVEN THOUGH he is not an overseas emissary or working for any Israeli state institution or organization abroad, Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog has already voted in the upcoming September 17 elections – and yes, there was a camera that caught him in the act. Herzog was an early voter, together with Jewish Agency emissaries who are doing a year of post-high-school service in Canada, and in an act of solidarity, voted with them in Toronto last Thursday in the course of a coast-to-coast visit to Canadian Jewish communities.
Altogether, there are 500 Jewish Agency emissaries serving in Jewish communities around the globe, and most of them did exercise their right to vote.
■ WHEN ACTRESS Sarah Jessica Parker, best known for starring in the TV series Sex and the City, was in Israel three months ago, in addition to taking in several of the tourist sites, she also visited the Maskit fashion house and fell in love with several of the creations designed by Sharon Tal, one of which she wore to the recent premiere of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The dress, in purple metallic fabric, was widely reported in the international media, with inclusion of its brand name.
■ ONLY LAST week the wife of a patient at Hadassah Medical Center attacked a nurse and bit a security guard who was trying to restore order. But it’s not only in hospitals that people trained to help the sick and the injured are screamed at, punched, slapped and kicked. It also happens to the paramedics and first responders who rush to be of help when they receive a call, only to have their efforts and dedication thwarted by some angry person who thinks that not enough is being done or that the wrong treatment is being administered.
There are qualified physicians who can vouch for the fact that when called to an emergency, and conducting all necessary and possible tests, given the circumstances, at least two or three kibitzers will want to do something else. “I’m a doctor. I know what I’m doing,” typically says the physician, whose words fall on deaf ears. Sometimes the person disagreeing with the physician (including physicians who are first responders with Hatzalah, ZAKA or Magen David Adom) lashes out at him or her, and sometimes causes the physician acute bodily harm.
With regard to United Hatzalah, this has happened much too frequently in Kfar Saba and Ra’anana. The upshot is that United Hatzalah is now conducting training sessions in self-defense for volunteer first responders in these two areas. Volunteers who live in these and immediately surrounding cities have been attacked – sometimes by the actual patients.
The self-defense course was initiated by Nitzan Reich, chapter head of United Hatzalah for Ra’anana and Kfar Saba. He sent a message nationwide to the other chapter heads of the organization, in which he invited volunteers from other chapters who likewise suffered attacks to join the course.
At the first class, which was held last week, 20 responders who have suffered attacks in various degrees showed up in order to learn how to cope in such situations.
“The list for the course if full, but we will make room for other first responders who have suffered violence, in order to show our support for them,” wrote Reich in his message.
■ THE GREATEST threat to humanity today is climate change, says Prof. Richard Schwartz, who warns that the world is heading toward a situation that may make it uninhabitable much sooner than anyone realizes.
Schwartz was invited this week by Hazon, the Jewish Lab for Sustainability, to lead a webinar on “Applying Jewish values to help save the world.” Hazon is one of the world’s largest Jewish environmental organizations, and certainly the largest in the US, with approximately 80 rabbis on its rabbinic council.
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