Grapevine: Between politics and prayers

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

TAMAR ZANDBERG and Uri Zaki are expectant parents.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
TAMAR ZANDBERG and Uri Zaki are expectant parents.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Although the presidency is supposed to be a ceremonial position, free of politics, President Reuven Rivlin has been caught in the maelstrom of Israel’s current political turmoil in which so many people are asking out loud what will happen, but no one is really in a position to supply an answer. Rivlin has introduced a few suggested scenarios for which he has received a sharp backlash from some quarters.
There was also more than a hint of political interference in his address to the opening session of the Knesset. But it’s interesting to compare the different quotes that people in office take from their predecessors. Rivlin chose to quote both Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, and sixth president Chaim Herzog.
Quoting Weizmann at the outset of his address, Rivlin said: “President Chaim Weizmann was at his home in Rehovot with an unhappy look on his face. ‘Why are you so sad?’ he was asked. ‘After all, Moses was in the desert for 40 years and never got to the Land of Israel. You led the people for nearly 40 years through the wilderness but you realized the dream. Our state has been established and you are the head of this dream.’ The president replied, ‘No, I’m in a much worse position than Moses. It’s hard,’ he said, ‘hard to live the dream.’”
Weizmann’s nephew Ezer Weizman, who was Israel’s seventh president, when speaking of his uncle, said that he frequently complained that the only thing in which he was permitted to poke his nose into was his handkerchief.
Things have changed a lot since then, and the presidents of Israel tend to poke their noses into many issues, which are sometimes beyond their legal purview.
In quoting Herzog, who was perhaps the only president faced with a dilemma similar to that in which he himself has been engulfed, Rivlin, said: “‘Our democracy is in peril; and without a democratic regime based on the will of the majority of the people, the State of Israel has no future. The greatest danger lurks here, within us. It comes from the lack of tolerance and discourse between religious of one kind and of another, between religious and secular, between different ethnic identities, between different peoples. And, to our shame, it already appears in scary and appalling public statements.’”
Rivlin added that it sometimes feels as though Herzog were talking about today.
Although he professes to be secular, Rivlin had an in-depth Orthodox education, which stands him in good stead in his discussions with religious authorities and when he goes to synagogue. Rivlin actually likes attending synagogue services, and can frequently be seen at Hazvi Yisrael (better known as Hovevei), where he sometimes takes one of his grandchildren, and where he occasionally reads from the Torah.
Last Shabbat he was the last person called to the Torah, and after reciting the blessings in a loud clear voice, he remained on the bimah to read the haftarah (the portion from the Prophets read on Shabbat and holidays), which he did loudly, clearly, and at a pace that congregants who were not completely fluent in Hebrew could follow.
Since taking office, Rivlin has annually held a slihot (penitential prayer) service for some 500 people at the synagogue and on the grounds of the President’s Residence, to which he invites several dignitaries from the neighboring synagogue congregations and religious organizations as well as many soldiers and students from yeshivot and seminaries for girls. He did so again on Sunday night. The service was broadcast so that all citizens of Israel who were interested could hear it.
■ ALTHOUGH he is the 10th president of Israel, Rivlin is only the eighth to occupy the current President’s Residence. Chaim Weizmann preferred his residence on the campus of the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, the longest-serving of all Israeli presidents, lived in a modest apartment in the Rehavia neighborhood and used what was called a hut for official purposes. The hut, near his home, has since expanded and has become a highly respected, multidisciplinary, informal educational institution known as the Ben-Zvi Institute.
The first president to occupy the current President’s Residence was Zalman Shazar, followed by Ephraim Katzir, Yitzhak Navon, Herzog, Ezer Weizman, Moshe Katsav, Shimon Peres and Rivlin. Other than busts of their faces in the grounds and portrait photographs in the entrance hall, none of Rivlin’s predecessors have any visible reminder of themselves in the presidential compound. Although the new entrance to the compound has been named for Peres and Navon, with plaques containing quotes by each, they don’t really stand out sufficiently to catch the eye.
So far, the only former resident who has anything named for her in presumed perpetuity is Nechama Rivlin, who changed much of the artwork in the building and created a garden environment for children on the grounds. Since her death in June this year, there have been numerous memorial ceremonies for her, in addition to which prizes and products have been named in her memory. The most recent of these, on the Thursday after Rosh Hashanah, was a project launched at the President’s Residence by the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens to preserve wild flowers that are in danger of becoming extinct.
According to Tom Amit, the CEO of the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, many species of wild flowers are disappearing due to the intensive construction of roads and building complexes throughout the country. Previously empty grasslands where the wildflowers grew are no longer empty, and there is less space available for the wild flowers to flourish. This is leading to their gradual extinction.
The staff at the botanical gardens has prepared sacks of these wildflower seeds, which are selling at a symbolic price, and urges members public from all parts of the country to plant these seeds in their own gardens and in pot plants. The project, which is named for Nechama Rivlin, who was known to love plants and flowers, was inaugurated at a private gathering of the Rivlin family and their closest friends together with botanical gardens representatives.
■ THE BOTANICAL GARDENS also launched another project, which is intended as an annual tradition. Prior to the inauguration of the 22nd Knesset, Amit presented Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein with a rare fig tree with which to enhance the Knesset gardens. The plan is for an annual presentation of a rare tree or flower to the Knesset speaker, so that the Knesset gardens will in themselves become an attraction for visitors interested in botany and different kinds of horticulture.
■ ANYONE WHO may be wondering about the disappearance of former Labor MK Nachman Shai, and pondering whether he might be licking his wounds, can rest assured that Shai has never had a problem about finding a new niche. These days Shai, who will celebrate his 73rd birthday next month, is on a sabbatical at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Shai has received a grant from the university’s Institute for the Study of Modern Israel. During his time in Atlanta, he will speak publicly about Israel and will teach a class in public diplomacy and another on Israel’s nation-building. He will also attempt to partially heal the rift between American Jewry and Israel.
Shai is no stranger to the United States. In the past, he was press secretary of the Israel delegation to the United Nations and media consultant at the Israel Embassy in Washington.
■ MEMO TO chief rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef and any other rabbis delivering Yom Kippur sermons: Please tell your congregants that to jaywalk immediately after Yom Kippur is tantamount to spitting in God’s face. The equivalent of a day and a half has been spent in prayers in which congregants asked to be inscribed in the Book of Life, and yet immediately afterward, so many people returning home from services cross the road on a red light, defying traffic moving in their direction. It’s bad enough when adults of any age do this, but for adults, wheeling baby carriages or with children in tow, to cross on a red light is nothing short of criminal, and such people should be instantly arrested. It may seem drastic, but if it saves the life of even a single child, it’s worth the effort.
■ THERE IS a belief in Jewish tradition that when the Messiah comes, the dead will rise again. Jerusalem’s dead will have a hard time finding their way home, because there are so many streets and neighborhoods that did not exist in the years of their demise. There are also street names that are not self-explanatory. Anyone who died during the past century can figure out why a street is called Herzl or Jabotinsky, but, for instance, why is there a street called Israel’s 6th President?
The reason is quite logical. Israel’s sixth president was Herzog, whose father was Chief Rabbi Isaac Halevy Herzog, after whom many streets and institutions all over Israel have been named. Israel is a sufficiently confusing place without having a Yitzhak Halevy Herzog Street and a Chaim Herzog Street, so the simple solution was to call the street named for the son “Israel’s 6th President.”
Anyone traveling by bus to the Malha Mall will hear, on the recorded message played on the approach to each new bus stop, one that is designated “Hatzalam Rahamim” (Rachamim the Photographer). Of course, there is no explanation on the recording, and most drivers wouldn’t have a clue after whom the street is named unless they got close enough to read the sign. Rachamim Israeli was one of the most prolific press photographers in Jerusalem, often referred to by his colleagues as the cat, because of the speed with which he managed to get from one event to another, showing up almost unexpectedly, just like a cat suddenly appears out of nowhere. He photographed politicians, sports events, demonstrations, entertainment, army, police, in fact anything that was in any way newsworthy. His career spanned 25 years, from 1968 to 1993. He was unfortunately stricken with cancer, to which he eventually succumbed. In 1998, the Jerusalem Municipality saw fit to name a street after him.
■ IN THE near future, the municipality will name several new streets after movie lover Lia van Leer, to whom not only Jerusalem but all those cities that operate cinematheques that teach Israelis to appreciate good movies owe a great debt; philanthropist Irving Moskowitz, who sought to create a Jewish majority in Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem and helped in the purchase of Arab properties; Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who issued thousands of false documents to Jews during the Holocaust and thus saved their lives; property developer and former deputy mayor Maurice Rejwan, who served on the city council for 20 years during the administration of Teddy Kollek.
The street in memory of Rejwan will be located in Ramat Sharett, adjacent to a street already named for his wife, Goga Rejwan, who was a widely known travel agent and Jerusalem socialite with many friends in high places.
Moskowitz was nominated by council member Arieh King, who is the founder and director of the Israel Land Fund, which was one of many organizations supported by Moskowitz. King knew Moskowitz well, and often worked on his behalf.
A very important street will also be renamed. Hakablan Street in Har Nof, where the late Shas mentor and Sephardi chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef lived, will soon bear his name. Old maps of the capital will become useless other than in the archives of the National Library and the Jerusalem Municipality.
■ THE ROUND of farewell concerts and parties for maestro Zubin Mehta, who is stepping down after a half century as conductor and director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, which he has taken on tour to many parts of the world, begins this week. Among the parties is one that will be hosted this coming Thursday at the Tel Aviv Hilton, which has been Mehta’s home away from home throughout nearly all the years in which he has visited Israel.
Although members of the IPO will be playing at this event hosted by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Foundation, the music will be somewhat different from that which Mehta conducts, and will feature performances by Yoni Rechter, Rona Kenan, Esther Rada and operatic soprano Chen Reiss. Mistress of ceremonies for the evening will be television anchorwoman Tamar Ish-Shalom.
Among those present will be prominent members of the IPO Foundation such as Michal and Michael Zellermayer, Ruth and Meir Sheetrit, Tova and Sami Segol, Uzi Zucker, Elana and Yair Hamburger, Hannah and Gideon Hamburger, and many other well-known personalities.
In the following week, restaurateur Rena Pushkarna who is one of Mehta’s closest friends in Israel, and like him born in India, will, together with her husband, Vinod, host another party with a somewhat different flavor and her very personal touch.
■ THE 25TH anniversary of the death of the famed singing rabbi Shlomo Carlebach will be marked on October 20- 21, according to the Gregorian calendar. There is a slight dispute over the date, as there is over the Hebrew calendar date of Heshvan 15-16. As always, he will be remembered at his graveside and synagogues around the world, with followers gathering to sing his melodies.
Carlebach melodies are heard in synagogues of almost every stream of Judaism, but these days he has a little competition from Leonard Cohen, who died on November 7, 2016. Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and “Who by Fire” were heard in many synagogues during Rosh Hashanah, and in all probability will be heard in even more synagogues during Yom Kippur.
Not long before his death, Cohen was working with son Adam Cohen on a new album, which was left incomplete. As a tribute to his father, Adam Cohen completed the song sketches and called on friends and admirers to collaborate with him in getting the album finished. The result is the nine-track Thanks for the Dance, featuring a broad range of musicians who have remained true to the spirit of Leonard Cohen. The album is due for release on November 22.
■ HOLLYWOOD stars are increasingly coming to Israel. As has previously been reported in The Jerusalem Post, Kevin Spacey was seen last week in Tel Aviv’s trendy Nahalat Binyamin neighborhood. Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, Jack Nicholson was seen in the hairdressing salon of Marcel Reboh, which is a hop, skip and a jump from the hotel belt that includes the King David, King Solomon, David Citadel, Mamilla and Leonardo hotels.
Prior to his return to Israel some seven years ago, Reboh and some of his siblings were hairdressers to the stars, the rich and the famous. Clients have included Paris Hilton, Jennifer Lopez, Uma Thurman, Claudia Schiffer, Ivana Trump and Sharon Stone. When Stone came to Israel, she made a point of having her hair styled by Reboh, who has also handled the manes of several male film stars. Stone is but one of his former clients who have been happy to put their locks in his hands during visits to Israel.
Coincidentally, society photographer Sara Davidovich, who never goes anywhere without her camera, was in Reboh’s salon at the same time as Nicholson and was able to capture a together moment of Reboh with Nicholson.
■ IT HASN’T been the best of years for Democratic Union MK Tamar Zandberg, 43. The former head of the Meretz Party lost out in the primaries to Nitzan Horowitz and subsequently discovered that former prime minister Ehud Barak, who sees himself as the most suitable person to be Israel’s next prime minister, proved to be more of an electoral hazard than a help. But politics aside, it looks as if the year ahead is full of promise. Zandberg and her life partner, Uzi Zaki, are expecting to enlarge their family. The petite Zandberg, who has just begun to show traces of a bulge in her abdominal region, has a daughter from her first marriage.
■ JUST OVER a decade ago, it was reported in the Hebrew media that Hollandia, the veteran manufacturer of adjustable beds and mattresses designed for comfortable sleeping, was leaving Sderot and relocating to a quieter region of the country. Had it actually done so without reaching an agreement with its workers, it would have put 86 people out of work. What had prompted the decision to relocate was the constant barrage of Qassam rockets, one of which actually hit the factory plant located in Sderot’s industrial area. The frequency of rocket attacks had taken a toll on the company’s ability to produce and to fulfill orders from several countries in Europe. As a consequence, the company suffered severe financial losses.
The Qassam hit on the factory had been the straw that broke the camel’s back. But now, despite the even greater frequency of attacks and would-be attacks from Gaza, Hollandia is returning to Sderot’s industrial zone in order to boost morale, and to provide additional employment options for residents of Sderot. This week, the cornerstone for a new factory plant was laid by Yitzhak Bersast, the founder of the company, together with his son Avi, who is the company’s CEO. The cornerstone ceremony was attended by Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi, his deputy Mark Efraimov and other dignitaries. Construction of the NIS 30 million plant is expected to take approximately a year.
Avi Bersast said he is very excited about the new project, which will enable the company to fulfill all its obligations to overseas clients, and will also open up new job possibilities for people in the region and strengthen Sderot’s industrial sector.
■ SAFED IS entering the era of urban renewal. The ancient and mystic city in the Galilee will receive a face-lift courtesy of JNF-USA, following an agreement reached between the organization’s chief Israel officer, Eric Michaelson, and Safed Mayor Shuki Ohana.
Although JNF-USA has only the best of intentions, not everyone in Safed will appreciate the change, because renewal tends to alter the character of a city, and Safed has for centuries traded on its magical, quaint, old-world ambience.
Ohana shared his vision of the future of Safed with Michaelson and his team; and Michaelson, in turn, said that he is familiar with Safed and believes that the city has great, untapped potential.