Grapevine December 1, 2019: Jerusalem regardless…

An example is the Polish Embassy, whose ambassadors have several times used the Begin Heritage Center as a venue for an important event.

A view of the Har Nof neighborhood, Jerusalem (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA/SIR KISS)
A view of the Har Nof neighborhood, Jerusalem
(photo credit: WIKIPEDIA/SIR KISS)
In the complexities of diplomatic life, it is somewhat puzzling that ambassadors of countries that do not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel nonetheless hold events in Jerusalem. And when their monarchs, presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers come to Israel, they almost always stay in Jerusalem hotels. An example is the Polish Embassy, whose ambassadors have several times used the Begin Heritage Center as a venue for an important event, most memorably for the visit in 2006 of the late president Lech Kaczynski, who gave an inspiring lecture on Jewish soldiers in the Polish Army as the highlight of an exhibition on the same theme.
Kaczynski also hosted a reception at the King David Hotel, where other Polish presidents visiting Israel have also stayed. But the Begin Heritage Center is a natural location for the Poles when organizing events in Jerusalem because Begin is regarded as having been born in Poland, even though Brest, the city in which he was born, was at the time of his birth part of the Russian Empire, and was returned to Poland after the First World War when Begin was still a child. Moreover, Israel’s late prime minister was a student at the University of Warsaw, where a memorial plaque commemorates that fact. As a student, he organized Betar youth to stand up against antisemitic students who both verbally and physically attacked Jewish students.
Current Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski, together with Joanna Hofman, the director of the Polish Institute; Wojciech Kozlowski, director of the Pilecki Institute; and Herzl Makov, the executive director of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, are hosting the opening of an exhibition titled Passports for Life, dedicated to Polish diplomats involved in saving Jewish lives during the Second World War. The opening on December 15 will be accompanied by the screening of a film Passports to Paraguay, directed by Robert Kaczmarek.
There will also be a discussion about the Lados Group, whose activities from 1941-1943 were initiated by Konstanty Rokicki and other members of the Polish Embassy, and named for Ambassador Aleksander Lados. The group forged Latin American passports which they bought from the honorary consuls of Paraguay, Peru, Haiti and Honduras, nearly all of whom were Swiss nationals. The members of the Lados Group then worked on them to give Jewish refugees from Nazism new identities and citizenship.
It is estimated that the lives of approximately 8,000 Jews were saved in this manner. The activities of the Lados Group actually began before 1941, and members of the group were involved in projects aimed at helping and rescuing Jews from the moment the war erupted.
Among the beneficiaries of a fake South American passport from one of the members of the group was a prominent German-born, long-time Israeli politician Dr. Yosef Burg, who happened to be in Geneva in 1939. Although Switzerland was neutral, it was extremely dangerous for any Jew to leave Switzerland and pass through one of its neighboring countries. With the help of his fake passport, Burg made it safely to the Land of Israel, became active in politics and a leader in the National Religious Party. He was elected to the first Knesset in 1949 and remained a legislator till 1986, when he retired. From 1951-on, he held a series of ministerial positions, and at the time of his retirement was minister of religious affairs. His wife, Rivka, was a survivor of the 1929 Hebron massacre, and his son Avraham Burg was a founder of Peace Now, chairman of the Jewish Agency and speaker of the Knesset.
■ OVER THE summer, new ambassadors were arriving, and ambassadors who had already become familiar figures were winding up their postings in Israel, and some are still in the process of leaving. Among the latter is Argentine Ambassador Mariano Caucino who is beginning his round of farewell parties
■ ISRAELIS WHO are in New York and are interested in the subject of Jews in Arab lands and what they left behind there can attend an international conference, “The End of Jewish Communal Life in Arab Lands,” on Monday, December 2, at the Dahan Center and the ASF Institute for Jewish Experience at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street.
Speakers will include Hacham Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie, Dr. Sasha Goldstein-Sabbah (Leiden University), Dr. Samuel Torjman Thomas (ASF Broome & Allen Fellow), and multidisciplinary artist Dana Avrish.
The conference is organized in collaboration with Israel’s Foreign Ministry and Social Equality Ministry.
Much of the coming month in New York will be devoted to events related to Jews from Arab lands, their mistreatment in their native countries, the clandestine methods by which many reached Israel, and the humiliation they endured because they were so often treated as second-class citizens.
■ FOR SOME reason it didn’t make headline news in Israel when Yonatan Belik, 30, a native of Ra’anana, and Michael Reid, 32, of South Philadelphia, officially broke the world record for the longest journey on a 50cc scooter. The two took a 9,790-mile round-trip across America starting from Lansdale, Pennsylvania, handsomely beating the previous record of 8,986 miles. The trip took a little over two months, and along the way they met many interesting people and experienced a variety of cultures. Throughout the journey, the two documented their travels with photographs, insights and comments. Their adventure can be followed on projectcreate48.wheelingfortheworld.org.
■ EVEN THOUGH it was slightly premature, the gesture by Canada Post in issuing a Hanukkah stamp at a time when antisemitic incidents in Canada are at an all-time high is highly appreciated by the Canadian Jewish community. The stamp was issued in mid-November so that Canadians sending Hanukkah cards and other mail could make their postage look more festive by adding one of the most enduring symbols of Jewish tradition to their cards and envelopes.
Designed by Lionel Gadoury of Context Creative, the stamp – honoring the Jewish Festival of Lights – explores the relationship between light and dark. Combining a stylized menorah with layered patterns and nuanced hues that range from bright yellow to deep purple, the intent is to evoke a sense of reflection and contemplation.
■ THE DAF YOMI, the daily study of a page of Talmud by Jews around the world, is credited to Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin, who came up with the idea in 1923. Something similar had been proposed three years earlier by Rabbi Moshe Menachem Mendel Spivak, who didn’t really follow through, but Shapiro was so enamored with the concept that he brought it up at the First World Congress of Agudat Yisrael in Vienna, where it was adopted. Shapiro saw it as a unifying factor among Jews if, all over the world, Jews would literally be on the same page.
The Daf Yomi is not limited to scholarly Jews but to all thinking Jews, including those with a minimal background in Jewish studies.
Over time, people who joined Daf Yomi groups said they would feel more comfortable if the daily Daf Yomi get-togethers were in their native languages. Tens of thousands of people around the world congregate daily in Daf Yomi programs studying the Babylonian Talmud, which takes a cycle of seven-and-a-half years to complete.
Such groups includes native English-speakers living in Israel. Their completion, or siyum, as it is called in Hebrew, will take place in Jerusalem at the International Convention Center (Binyanei Hauma) on January 1. The event will be held in conjunction with a similar event in the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Participants will have a connection to both venues and will hear great Torah sages from Israel and the United States.
The background to the English language Daf Yomi in Israel began with the compilation by Rabbi Mordechai Kornfeld of a list of all the Daf Yomi programs throughout the country. An English-speaking leader of a Daf Yomi group suggested conducting a special siyum for Anglos. Kornfeld liked the idea, but would not adopt it without the approval of several leading rabbis. To his surprise, approval was readily given because the rabbis understood that their approval would bring more people to study. The first English-language siyum was held in 2005, the second in 2012, and now the third is on the horizon in tandem with the 13th global siyum.
■ IN BANKING, wine and philanthropic circles, the name Rothschild carries a special aura. No Jewish family is better known – at least by reputation if not in person. While the current crop of Rothschilds were all born with gold or silver spoons in their mouths, the family’s fortunes were not always what they are today.
Among the plays for the New Year’s season is the Encore! Educational Theatre Company’s production of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s Rothschild & Sons, a powerful musical drama depicting the rise of the Rothschild family in Frankfurt, and their efforts to use their wealth and influence to obtain rights for European Jews, including the dismantling of ghetto walls.
Featuring an all-star cast of Encore! veterans and newcomers, Rothschild & Sons, will be performed at Beit Shmuel’s Hirsch Theater in Jerusalem. It traces the history of European Jewry over half a century, from the courtly powdered wigs of Hesse-Cassel to the triumphant Alliance following the defeat of Napoleon. The songs, written by the team that created Fiddler on the Roof, shows influences of late 18th and early 19th-century music, yet has a contemporary feel with Jewish strains that pack a punch.
Performance dates are January 7, 8, 9, 14, 15 and 16.
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