Grapevine: Award for defender of Jewish identity

Some of the 19 people who have edited Maariv over the past 70 years were present at the Maariv Leaders Conference

German First Lady Elke Budenbender, with two former first ladies Christina Rau and Eva Luise Kohler (photo credit: COURTESY - SHEBA MEDICAL CENTER)
German First Lady Elke Budenbender, with two former first ladies Christina Rau and Eva Luise Kohler
Among the recipients of the Aliyah and Integration Ministry’s Aliyah Prize at Habimah Theater in Tel Aviv on Wednesday will be Rabbi Seth Farber, founder and director of ITIM, the Israeli Jewish life advocacy organization which battles for a Jewish and democratic society in which Jews from all streams can lead full Jewish lives.
Farber will receive his award from Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who is himself an immigrant, and who in June this year celebrated the 40th anniversary of his own aliyah. As a boy in his native Kishinev, Liberman did not dream of being a politician. He wanted a career in literature, and while still a student wrote a prizewinning play. He first became politically active while a student at the Hebrew University.
Farber, who was born and raised in New York, is a graduate of Yeshiva University and a Modern Orthodox rabbi who in 2002 founded ITIM, a free assistance center that annually helps thousands of people to convert to Judaism. In cases of people born as Jews, but whose religious identity raises doubts in the rabbinate, ITIM advocates for them to be officially recognized as Jews, so that they can be married as Jews in a Jewish wedding ceremony.
The ITIM logo features a multi-hued Star of David and the slogan “The right to live Jewish.” A recognized expert on issues of religion and state in Israel, Farber is widely quoted in the media and is sought after as a public speaker. In 2015, he was awarded the Nefesh B’Nefesh Bonei Zion Prize for his contribution to Israeli society.
■ SOME OF the 19 people who have edited Maariv over the past 70 years were present at the Maariv Leaders Conference at the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria this week, along with a very large representation of the paper’s staff, who, despite the traffic congestion on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway, managed for the most part to be in the capital long before 9 a.m.
Among the former editors was Ido Dissenchik, a second-generation editor who edited the paper from 1985 to 1991. His late father, Arie Dissenchik, was the paper’s second editor, following the death of its founder, Azriel Carlebach, in 1956, and remained in the position till 1974. The young Ido first set foot in Maariv on its third day of operation. He was seven years old at the time. He later went on to work for Maariv in a number of different capacities before his appointment as editor.
Yesh Atid founder and chairman Yair Lapid was also present, albeit in a dual capacity – both as a political leader and as a third-generation former journalist. His maternal grandfather, David Giladi, was among the founders of Maariv, and his father, Tommy Lapid, was a longtime journalist there. Yair Lapid was also a journalist before following his father into politics. Tommy Lapid was not the only Maariv journalist to become an MK. Others included Geula Cohen, Moshe Shamir, Ariel Weinstein and Yossi Ahimeir.
Yair Lapid delivered a thought-provoking address on the near demise of Maariv, which was saved from extinction by present owner Eli Azur; the importance of a free press; the negative influence of social media; and the need for legitimate media to remain the vigilant watchdog of democracy. He also underscored the significance of distinguishing between genuine news and propaganda.
Television personality Danny Kushmaro, who emceed the event, said that Lapid’s was the most optimistic eulogy he’d ever heard.
■ AMONG OTHER speakers at the Maariv conference was Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, who is running a campaign to protect senior citizens from con merchants who use aggressive marketing campaigns to persuade senior citizens to buy expensive products or subscribe to programs they do not need. This often involves very large sums of money which are not always at the disposal of the hapless victims. Working in cooperation with the Bank of Israel and major commercial banks, Gamliel’s ministry is running a series of workshops around the country to teach senior citizens as well as younger people all they need to know about digital banking as well as how to resist people who are attempting to sell them things that they neither want nor need.
■ THE SOUTH Koreans have an impressive means of blending tradition with modernity. The same people who produce Hyundai, KIA and Samsung products alongside those of other well-known brand names also wear their traditional clothing on formal occasions – at least the women wear the high-wasted robes with the billowing skirts.
Prior to the inauguration of the impressive embassy building in Herzliya Pituah in 2016, ambassadors of South Korea held most of their receptions at the ambassador’s residence in Rishon. The embassy is better geared for large-scale entertainment and, in addition to a huge lobby, also has a very large courtyard which is sealed off from the street by a high, solid wall.
It was at the embassy that Ambassador Choi Yong-hwan and his wife hosted a mega reception in honor of Korea’s national day. Guests included an extraordinarily large representation of South Koreans living and working in Israel. Representing the government was Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, who appeared to have excellent rapport with Choi.
The South Korean ambassador noted that 2018 is not only an important anniversary year for Israel, but also for South Korea, whose first independent government came into office in 1948, the year in which David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence. He mentioned other similarities, such as a history of confrontation and reconciliation, and was hopeful that the three inter-Korean summits to date would lead to harmony and peace. The third summit eliminated fear on the Korean Peninsula and opened a new chapter of peace and cooperation, he said.
South Korea established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1962, and since then the two countries have cooperated on many levels, including defense. Choi commented that there is hardly an Israeli household without a Korean-made home appliance or mobile phone. He cited Samsung as one of the more popular Korean brand names in Israel, and commented that both countries can be categorized as start-up nations based on innovation. The two countries are now working on a free-trade agreement, said Choi.
There have also been exchange visits by high-ranking officials, and around 40,000 Korean pilgrims visit Israel each year. Korean Air now has three round-trip flights per week between Seoul and Ben-Gurion Airport.
“We are different in language, culture and appearance,” said Choi, “but we are linked in what we share.”
Hanegbi was pleased to see his former Paratroop Brigade commander Matan Vilna’i among the guests, and also recalled a visit to South Korea in which he had been the goalkeeper of an Israeli parliamentary soccer team that engaged in a friendly match with its Korean counterpart. After scoring three goals against the Israelis, who had scored none, the Koreans stopped the game “because they didn’t want to humiliate their friends,” said Hanegbi.
Echoing Choi, he added, “We are separated by 8,200 kilometers, but we are very close in other ways. Both countries began their [contemporary] history after years of suffering and wars.” Hanegbi lauded South Korea as “one of the important economic superpowers in the world,” and was happy to report that a growing number of Korean companies have shown an interest in Israel. Having witnessed the process of disarmament in North Korea, Hanegbi shared Choi’s optimism about the future.
■ DEAN OF the diplomatic corps and Ambassador of Ukraine Hennadii Nadolenko and his wife, Julia, had a double celebration last week and hosted a reception at the Enav Center in Tel Aviv to mark the 27th anniversary of the restored independence of Ukraine and the 100th anniversary of Ukrainian independence per se.
Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, who represented the government, was odd man out, not because he is a member of Israel’s Druze community, but because 95% of the other guests were Ukrainian expatriates, some of whom emulated the ambassador’s wife and came dressed in Ukrainian national costume, which is particularly fashionable in general terms right now, because the ethnic embroideries that were so evident in summer fashions have continued into fall. Thus, those Ukrainians who chose to come in traditional embroidered dresses were not only demonstrating national pride but also making a fashion statement. They also spoke their own language, dined on their own traditional delicacies and enjoyed a Ukrainian floor show.
Any ambassador who celebrates his or her country’s national day in Tel Aviv is rewarded by the powers that be at Tel Aviv City Hall, who run a giant facsimile of that country’s flag, displayed in colored lights, on the upper wall of city hall overlooking Rabin Square. Nadolenko was very excited to have his country’s flag displayed in lights.
For guests, one of the benefits of coming to events at the Enav Center is that it is inside a major shopping mall, so if guests arrive too early or want to go for a stroll after the event, there are ample opportunities for window shopping.
Alluding to current tensions between Ukraine and Russia, Nadolenko said that just as it had done 100 years ago, the Ukrainian nation desires to live in a unified country, with its own identity, language and sovereign territory.
Nadolenko quoted President Petro Poroshenko, saying that the mission of Ukraine is to become strong, successful and an indisputable part of Europe. Ukraine remains steadfast in its determination to become part of the European Union and of NATO.
During the past year, he said, Ukraine has had to cope with huge challenges to its integrity and security. He was proud that Ukraine had not only confronted these challenges but had resumed its economic growth and become more stable and even stronger.
As dean of the diplomatic corps, Nadolenko was invited to various 70th anniversary celebrations of the State of Israel. These were invitations that he would not have received without the status of the deanship. It enabled him to see and learn more of Israel’s achievements over the past seven decades than he would have otherwise, and for this he expressed his deep appreciation.
■ THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN Empire no longer exists, but there are still close ties between Austria and Hungary, which are celebrating their national days on the same date next week. Unlike several other countries that celebrate not only on the same day but at the same time, Hungarian Ambassador Levente Benko and Austrian Ambassador Martin Weiss were very considerate of each other in their arrangements, with Benko hosting his reception in Tel Aviv at 4 p.m. and Weiss hosting his in Herzliya Pituah at 7:30 p.m.
For Benko it’s going to be a somewhat hectic day. In the morning he is due to present his credentials in Jerusalem, after which he will probably attend a vin d’honneur together with other new ambassadors and then rush off to Tel Aviv to greet his guests, after which he, too, will in all probability go to the Austrian event in Herzliya Pituah. However, before that, immediately after his own reception, he will preside over the opening of the Hungarian Days Festival, which includes both cuisine and culture.
■ GUEST SPEAKER at the Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization of America’s Milestone Mission at its Friday night dinner in Jerusalem was Israel Prize laureate Miriam Peretz, the mother of two fallen soldiers, who as always spoke of turning tragedy into triumph by not giving in to self-pity, but by continuing to develop and to be there for others, especially for her grandchildren.
Peretz, who is a charismatic speaker who is in high demand in Israel and abroad, is invariably applauded in the course of her addresses by audiences that empathize with different aspects of her story, but she does not often raise a laugh. Last Friday night was an exception. Peretz, who is currently being treated for a lung infection, was told by her doctor that she has to put public speaking on hold. But she told him she couldn’t, because she had made a promise to Hadassah. He was insistent that she mustn’t honor that commitment, and she was equally insistent that she must. In relaying the story to the audience, she brought the house down when she said “He’s from Shaare Zedek.”
■ IN AUGUST 2011, Pascal Avrahami, a legendary sniper in the antiterrorism squad of the Israel Police, was killed in a terrorist assault near the border with Egypt. He is survived by his parents, Eliyahu and Nicole Avrahami, his wife, Sima and their three grown sons, Ohad, Matan and Tal. Recently, the Pascal family together with many other people inaugurated the Tiferet Pascal Synagogue in Petah Tikva, which was established with the assistance of members of the Tiferet Rimon community in the Neveh Gan neighborhood. The synagogue ark, which like the rest of the furniture in the synagogue was designed and built by Lavi Industries located on Kibbutz Lavi, was donated by Shula and Menahem Jakubowitz.
■ GERMANY’S HISTORIC Bellevue Palace in Berlin, which serves as the residence of the country’s president, was last week the venue for an intimate gala reception in honor of the 70th anniversary of the Sheba Medical Center. The event was organized by the German Friends of Sheba. Guests were warmly welcomed by Judge Elke Büdenbender, who is the wife of President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Noting that both Sheba and the State of Israel were celebrating their 70th anniversaries, she referred to Sheba as “Israel’s city of health,” adding that Sheba is a shining example for all people in the region, giving hope that peaceful coexistence, as practiced in Sheba, will be possible one day in the future.
Among those present were Prof. Yitshak Kreiss, director-general of Sheba Medical Center, and his wife, Inbal; Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal, who is a member of the Sheba board; Ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff and his family; two of Germany’s former first ladies, Eva Luise Köhler, the residing honorary president of the German Friends of Sheba, and Christina Rau, honorary member of the German Friends of Sheba; and board members Dirk Gaedeke, Michal Edelstein, Nicole Staudinger-Fahr, Andreas Herberz, Michael Bob and Jutta Prajs.
■ POETS WHO write their verses in English came together this month in Netanya for the launch of the Voices Israel 2018 anthology of poetry in English. The anthology includes poems from Voices members in the 10 Israeli branches of the organization, as well as from overseas. Several poets read their poems aloud. This is always interesting because different readers interpret poems differently, and only the poet knows what he or she wants to convey and what tone of voice to use in sharing those thoughts.
Voices president Susan Olsburgh had a special welcome for Henry Foner, the husband of poet Judy Foner, who attained his own moment of glory when he was written up in the British media following his meeting at Yad Vashem with Prince William during the latter’s visit to Israel last June. Foner was six years old in 1938 when his father sent him on a Kindertransport from Germany to England. Up until his deportation to Auschwitz in December 1942, his father sent him a postcard nearly every day. His father was murdered in Auschwitz. His mother had died before the war, and his adoptive family saved all the postcards and gave them to Foner when he got married. He subsequently wrote a book, Postcards to a Little Boy.
The Voices anthology, which is produced annually, is edited by Dina Yehuda, assisted by an editorial board. The poems are judged anonymously, and the book in which they are published is designed by graphic artist and poet Johnmichael Simon, who is of course a member of Voices.
■ ZIONIST UNION MK Leah Fadida twice failed to win a Knesset seat because she was placed too far back on the Labor Party list. But when Erel Margalit decided to quit the Knesset and return to the world of business, where he was somewhat more successful, she replaced him and finally became a politician on a national scale. Before that she served as deputy mayor of Yokne’am Illit from 2002 to 2017. She had previously been director of the public relations department of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund.
Now she wants to empower more women to take on political responsibility and to become part of the decision-making process. On Tuesday, October 23, she will launch a lobby for women’s empowerment and influence at a conference to be held at 2 p.m. in the Jerusalem Hall of the Knesset, with the participation of journalist Orly Vilnai, Eva Madj’iboj, director-general of the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women, Galia Wallach, head of Na’amat, Suzanne Patt Benvenisti, CEO of the Taub Center, Orna Hozman Bechor, chairwoman of Ashdod Port, and lawyer Nurit Bendori Shem Tov, who is the chairwoman of WIZO Rishon Lezion, who are all empowerment models in their respective fields.
■ PEOPLE FROM many countries and every walk in life visit Yad Vashem, and still it came as a surprise last week to learn that some of the people present at a ceremony that posthumously honored Mikolaj and Helena Sajowski and Aniela Debinska as Righteous Among the Nations were representatives of the Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer club. The reason for their presence soon became clear. The person whose life had been saved by the three deceased honorees was Sala Armel-Goldhar, who came to the ceremony with her son Canadian billionaire Mitch Goldhar, who happens to be the owner of Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Also present were a representative of the Canadian Embassy and Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski.
Sala Armel-Goldhar was five years old at the outbreak of the war. She and her parents, Feige and Israel Ber, lived in Stryj, near Lemberg. Her father was a furrier. When their town was occupied first by the Soviets and then by the Nazis, Sala’s parents decided that the family unit had to split up. In the hope of saving the life of their daughter, they put her in the care of a Polish schoolteacher by the name of Aniela Debinska, who came from Czortkow but worked in Stryj. Debinska took the little girl to a farm that belonged to her mother and stepfather, Helena and Mikolaj Sajowski.
All that Sala had of her previous life were a few family photographs and the addresses of some relatives living abroad. The Sajowskis treated Sala well and passed her off as their daughter. She spent two years with them. After the war they learned of a Jewish couple in their town by the name of Shorr, who were taking in Jewish children and giving them a sense of family. The Sajowskis put Sala in the care of the Shorrs, who looked after her, but two years later, when they and their son, Emanuel, decided to migrate to Israel, Sala refused to go with them because she still harbored the hope that her parents would return and look for her. That reunion did not eventuate, and Sala soon realized that it never would. In 1948 she was able to locate her mother’s aunt in Toronto, and left Poland in April 1948 to make a new life for herself in Canada.
On 27 December 2017, Yad Vashem recognized Mikolaj and Helena Sajowski and Aniela (Zachariasiewicz) Debinska as Righteous Among the Nations. At the ceremony last week, Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev presented the medal and certificate of honor to Barbara Rybczynska, the daughter of Debinska, on behalf of Yad Vashem, the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
To date, Yad Vashem has recognized some 27,000 individuals from more than 50 countries as Righteous Among the Nations.
■ UNTIL ONE actually comes into contact with the other, one has all kinds of erroneous misconceptions. This includes Japanese family life. In recent years a multitude of films, by established as well as new directors, have focused on the relations – or, rather, lack of relations – within home and family in 21st-century Japan. Such films offer a range of insights into the reality of the individual within a nuclear Japanese family and the range and quality of relationships among family participants. Is the “classic” balance of power between a male provider and female housewife still retained in Japan? When and how do such dynamics break down? How is masculinity “measured” in Japan and how grave is the “tragedy” of losing it? To what extent do dignity and a fear of “losing face” overpower one’s commitment to openness and truth? Is it possible to form an alternative family unit in places where an organic core family is lacking? What is the role of father and mother in the education of a Japanese child, and their preparation for adult lives?
A lecture accompanying a cinematic journey amid directors, movie clips, homes and families – some traditional and “typical” and others less so – in an effort to understand the fears, anxieties, roles and priorities inherent in the Japanese family as a microcosm of Japanese society will be delivered in Hebrew Friday morning, October 19, by Ayelet Eidelberg, an anthropologist, researcher of Southeast Asian culture and religions, educator, photographer and writer.