Grapevine: Faces in the crowd

JUST AHEAD of Saint Patrick’s Day, the United with Israel Newsletter contained a warning related to Ireland’s policy on Judea, Samaria, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

DAN ALMAGOR (left) is embraced by National Library chairman David Blumberg.  (photo credit: FROM THE DEPTHS)
DAN ALMAGOR (left) is embraced by National Library chairman David Blumberg.
(photo credit: FROM THE DEPTHS)
With Purim on the immediate horizon, it seems appropriate to publish part of the weekly newsletter of London-based Rabbi Jeremy Rosen, the older brother of Rabbi David Rosen of Jerusalem and the late Rabbi Michael (Mickey) Rosen.
“In biblical Hebrew, there is no word for face. The Bible uses the word ‘panim,’ which literally means faces
“We all have faces. The face we show to our parents, our children, our friends and our work colleagues. They reflect different kinds of relationships and interactions. Yet all these faces are facets of our singular personality.
“In English, to be two-faced is an insult. In Hebrew, it is a reflection of the complex and ever-changing nature of our responses to the world around us. Theologically, it is important too, because Elohim, meaning God, is also a plural word. Not that there are different Gods, but that God interacts with us and we with God on so many different levels, moods and experiences and facets.
“The Bible says that Moses had to cover his face and wore a mask, masveh (Exodus 34), when he spoke to the Israelites after Sinai, because his face shone so much that people were frightened to look at him. Light and enlightenment are connected both in Hebrew and English.
Perhaps in Moses’s case, they just couldn’t understand his deeper self after his encounter with God on Sinai. They could deal with him only on a superficial level.
“We often disguise parts of ourselves because to reveal ourselves to everyone, in the same way, would be too much for most people to cope with. But then what we do reveal is often only a small part of who we are. And although it might be necessary sometimes, it can also be dangerous and problematic. What we reveal on Facebook can come back to bite us.”
■ JUST AHEAD of Saint Patrick’s Day, the United with Israel Newsletter contained a warning related to Ireland’s policy on Judea, Samaria, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The message read:
“Ireland’s Senate recently passed a bill that would criminalize importing or selling Israeli goods made in Judea, Samaria, eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
“What many do not realize is that if this controversial bill, known as the Control of Economic Activities (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018, passes into law, traveling to the Old City of Jerusalem or Judea and Samaria will become a criminal act!
“If the bill is passed, Irish citizens could face up to five years in prison or be forced to pay a hefty fine for visiting Christian and Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City or buying religious keepsakes.”
According Alison Kelly, Ireland’s ambassador to Israel, the government of Ireland is opposed to this bill and will continue to oppose it. Kelly told this to anyone who questioned her on the subject, and repeated it in her address at the Saint Patrick’s Day reception that she hosted on Sunday in the vast lobby of the Ramat Gan building in which her country’s embassy is located on the 19th floor.
With a Kelly green feathered boa draped around her neck highlighting her dark-hued dress, Kelly spoke of the pride that the Irish diaspora feels on Saint Patrick’s Day, which is celebrated in many countries, including Israel. She attributed local bonds with Ireland to the Israel-Ireland Friendship League and the Israel-Ireland Business Network.
There are some 2,000 Israelis working and living in Ireland, she said, adding that due to the Israeli influx, the Jewish community of Ireland is one of the fastest-growing ones in Europe. Altogether, one-sixth of Ireland’s population is foreign born and is contributing to Ireland’s diversity and prosperity, said Kelly. More than 15% of the workforce is international.
Looking momentarily backward, Kelly said that this year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of Ireland’s War of Independence. Today, Ireland is in very good shape, with unemployment at only 5% and with one of the most competitive economies in the world, she added.
Relating to the stalled peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, Kelly said that Ireland is committed to making progress toward peace, and will be pleased to bring the experience of Northern Ireland to this part of the world.
Representing the government was Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Michael Oren. He has a special fondness for Ireland, he said, recalling that exactly 40 years earlier, he sat as a young adviser to the Israel delegation at the United Nations, where delegations were seated in alphabetical order, so that the neighboring delegations were from Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Kuwait and Libya, and the only people from those delegations who would talk to him were the Irish. Afterward, he and his Irish friends would go to a bar where there was Irish music, which he fell in love with.
He was returning to Israel in 1979, when friends persuaded him to travel via Ireland. The memory of the friendliness, the hospitality and the culture stayed with him, as did the shared experience of fighting the British in order to achieve independence. In later years, when his daughter was about to go into the army, he took her on a trip to Ireland, which he said is in some ways similar to Israel, because both are start-up countries involved in peace. There’s no antisemitism in Ireland, he noted, and there have been Jewish mayors, such as Sir Otto Jaffe, who was lord mayor of Belfast, and Robert Briscoe, who was lord mayor of Dublin. “We are bound by history and by Leopold Bloom,” Oren said, referring to the fictional, nomadic character in Ulysses by James Joyce.
Remarking on an additional Irish-Jewish connection, he mentioned actor Harrison Ford, whose father is of Irish Catholic stock and whose mother is of Jewish Belarus background.
■ NOW THAT it has become public that former prime minister Ehud Barak’s phone and computer were hacked six months ago, it’s not surprising that he refused to answer questions put to him by television host Dov Gil-Har about the hacking of the phone of Blue and White cochairman Benny Gantz.
Although Gil-Har can be very aggressive and intimidating, he couldn’t frighten Barak, who wanted to talk about something else. “If you don’t listen, you won’t know what I have to say,” Barak admonished his interlocutor.
■ THIS COMING Passover, as is the case every year, one of the largest and most diverse Seder nights in the world will be hosted by Rabbi Chezki and Chani Lifshitz, who are the Chabad emissaries in Kathmandu. This is the place to which Jewish backpackers, Israelis in particular, find their way every year. This year, for the first time since opening Chabad House 19 years ago, the couple has appealed for funds to help to run the activities in the best way possible. They also have a close relationship with the local population, to whom they gave extensive help following the devastating earthquake in Nepal in 2015. Chabad House Kathmandu functions 24/7 for 365 days a year. No one is turned away.
In an email sent out worldwide, the couple said that if every person who visited Chabad House would “give just a little push, we can reach the Everest.” Considering the number of people who have enjoyed their hospitality and advice, if each of them donated only $10, it would come to a very tidy sum of money.
■ THE CURRENT dispute over the role of some Poles in the betraying and killing of Jews during the Holocaust can perhaps be traced to Polish-American sociologist and historian Jan Gross, who was born and raised in Warsaw and is an expert on Polish-Jewish relations. He is the son of a Catholic mother, who during the Second World War was a member of the Polish Resistance who saved the lives of Jews; and a Jewish father who was a Holocaust survivor and among those Jews saved by his mother. Her first husband was also Jewish and was denounced by a neighbor.
In 2001, Gross, who left Poland in 1968 in response to the Communist purges, published his book Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland, which caused considerable debate, confusion and condemnation in Poland, because Gross had dared to write of the role of local Poles in the massacre of Jews living in Jedwabne.
Fast-forward to the present crisis. Polish officials do not deny that there were Poles who killed Jews or who betrayed them to the Nazis, but they will not accept that this was official Polish policy, because Poland’s government in exile was seated in London, from where it maintained contact with Polish resistance forces against the Nazis and with Zegota, the Polish underground organization that aided Jews by providing food, shelter and escape routes.
Polish-Jewish journalist and intellectual Konstanty Gebert, who came to Israel last week to participate in the National Library’s Global Forum, taking place this week in Jerusalem, soon after his arrival addressed the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, a subsidiary of the World Jewish Congress. In the audience were Katarzyna Rybka-Iwanska, head of the political and economic section at the Polish Embassy; Joanna Hofman, director of the Polish Institute in Tel Aviv; Monika Krawczyk, head of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities of Poland (who coincidentally arrived on the same plane as Gebert); Alon Goldman, vice president of the World Society of Czestochowa Jews and their Descendants; Mordechai Palzur, who was Israel’s first ambassador to Poland following the renewal of diplomatic relations; deputy director-general at the Foreign Ministry Alexander Ben-Zvi, the current ambassador-designate to Poland, who will take up his post in September, after having previously served there in the early years of the diplomatic renaissance; and noted Holocaust historian Prof. Yehuda Bauer.
Gebert said that while it was true that Poles had killed and betrayed Jews and that Jews had betrayed other Jews to the Nazis, the circumstances were different. Poles generally had a choice. They could have opted not to kill or to denounce. Jews were appointed as kapos by the Nazis, and had no choice, particularly if they wanted to save their own lives or those of their loved ones. But in neither case was it official policy. The Polish government in exile supported resistance against the Nazis, and no organized Jewish group advocated betrayal of Jews.
Gebert attributed the rise of nationalism in Central Europe to the region’s countries’ unfitness for democracy. Not only Poland and Hungary have been hit by the rise of nationalism; it is all over the continent, said Gebert. “Even if we accept that, for once, this is not a Central European mess, it is a European mess. Worse still, it’s a Western mess.” The message coming from both Eastern and Western Europe is essentially the same, said Gebert. The difference is that in the West they use politically correct language.
In the first 25 years of post-Communist rule, he said, “Poland was an incredible success story.” There was economic growth, and Poland was secure in Europe as a member of NATO and of the European Union. Moreover, Poland has better relations with its neighbors than the neighbors have with each other. Yet at the same time, said Gebert, the country is in ruins.
Explaining this, he said that Poland’s citizens, instead of looking back and comparing themselves to what they had been under Communist rule, grumbled, because despite a healthy economy, Poland was not as rich as the Germans. “We were comparing ourselves with the most successful country in Europe.” This frustration caused the toppling of the government in 2015.
But something must have happened, he reasoned, to create a moral panic that resulted in voting for a government that would have been kicked out 10 years earlier. Gebert defined this moral panic as “fear of refugees coming to our shores.” The right-wing press was full of alarming articles about Muslims invading Europe and local populations being afraid to emerge into the street, he said.
When the Polish government decided to accept 7,000 refugees, it was rapped on the head, on the grounds that people would be afraid to walk the streets, especially women for fear of being raped, Gebert recounted. On the other hand, the Catholic Church in Poland said that not only was it not evil to take in refugees and help them, but it was a Christian, humanitarian duty.
Gebert was mildly amused that a nation of 38 million people feared 7,000 refugees. But the government refused to take in more refugees, saying that it doesn’t want Muslims slipping in.
Refugees didn’t even want to come to Poland, he said, and if they did come, they didn’t stay for long. “Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are ethnically cleansed countries with almost no Jews, Germans or Slavs.” Their philosophy is that an ethnically clean country is a good thing, arguing that their ancestors shed their blood to get rid of foreigners. For much of the extreme Right, Israel is seen as an ally, but they don’t want Arabs, Muslims or Jews in their countries, said Gebert.
It was this ethnic cleansing and fear of the other that sent many Poles and Hungarians to the polls to vote for the Right, he said . “They’re afraid of the country changing beyond their recognition.”
■ JUSTIFYING THE contention of Polish President Andrzej Duda that there were vile Polish individuals, but also exemplary humane and heroic Polish individuals, ceremonies recognizing the Righteous Among the Nations are still being held in Israel, Poland and elsewhere, and only by Yad Vashem. Unsung Polish heroes are being hailed by organizations and individual activists promoting reconciliation between Christians and Jews. In the case of Righteous Among the Nations, they are being honored – often posthumously – at ceremonies in which relatives of deceased people in this category are given medals and certificates.
FROM LEFT: Hilik Bar, Artur Hoffman, Mike Huckabee and Jonny Daniels with Irena Sila-Nowicka.
One such ceremony was held this month at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, where laureates of the Silent Hero Mosberg Awards were recognized. Among those attending were Deputy Knesset Speaker Hilik Bar, who has Polish roots; former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee, who is a prominent pro-Israel, pro-Jewish American pastor; and Jonny Daniels, the founder of Warsaw-based From the Depths.
RELATIVES OF Polish Righteous Among the Nations at an awards ceremony in Warsaw.
Among the honorees were Wladyslaw Sajkowski, who hid a Jewish family in his home and later helped them to escape; Danuta Fraczek, who accepted the award on behalf of her late parents, Leon and Kaziemiera Fraczek, who hid Jews escaping from transports to Auschwitz and actually managed to pull some off the train; Irena Sila-Nowicka, who with her late husband, Wladyslaw, gave employment to a Jewish girl in their home, provided her with false documents and maintained a friendship with her for many years after the war; Jan Borkowski on behalf of his parents, Wladyslaw and Maria, who for several months sheltered a Jewish family on their farm, but were later denounced by a Russian with whom the Jewish family later hid the forest. Waldyslaw Borkowski was shot and murdered by the Nazis. His wife had a nervous breakdown and was never able to work again. Also among the honorees was Andrzej Zdulski on behalf of his deceased parents, Josef and Juliana, who worked with the Polish underground, provided false ID cards for Jews and hid young girls for several months in their attic.
Most of these Poles never or seldom spoke of what they had done during the war. To them, it was a natural, humane thing to do, and they didn’t regard it as heroism. In all probability, there are still thousands of such people, whose stories remain unknown because the Jews whom they hid for a few days, weeks or months did not survive the war, and therefore did not provide testimony. But just as we should not forget Jedwabne and Kielce, where shocking pogroms took place, we should likewise not forget those decent Poles who risked their lives and those of their families to save the lives of Jews.
■ THERE’S POSITIVE and negative in almost anything. While the media is rarely critical of Avner Netanyahu, the prime minister’s younger son, who is generally regarded as a good guy with a pleasant disposition, Yair, the prime minister’s older son, whose attacks on anyone who dares to say a bad word against any member of his family may prove to be a political liability, seems unable to stop himself. All public figures are subject to attack, and the easiest way to overcome it is to ignore it and move on. But Yair Netanyahu does not allow that to happen. He responds in language that provokes some of his victims to take an even tougher stance against his family than they did before.
Recent targets include singer Miri Mesika, Gantz, New Right cofounder Naftali Bennett, President Reuven Rivlin, businessman Roni Mena, and Yonatan Ben-Artzi, who is Yitzhak Rabin’s grandson. Yair Netanyahu is not a good advertisement for the upbringing he received at home. In October last year, he lashed out at television broadcaster Ofira Asayag.
Asayag can give as good as she gets, as demonstrated with the spat that she had with her television cohost, former soccer star Eyal Berkovic, who likewise walks roughshod over diplomacy and has no problem trading barbs with anyone. The two were feuding offscreen for several weeks, though they managed to continue with their talk show as if nothing was amiss. Mutual friends, including singer Eyal Golan and Berkovic’s significant other, Sharon Cohen, persuaded them to kiss and make up, and Berkovic, with Cohen on one arm and Asayag on the other, showed up at the preview showing of the Spring Summer collections being sold by Factory 54.
■ NOT ALL wordplays work bilingually, but one that almost does is “mi’Dan L’Yerushalayim,” which translates as “from Dan to Jerusalem.” In this instance, it does not mean Gush Dan, the stretch of land along the Mediterranean that includes so many of the places located between Netanya and Tel Aviv. This time, the reference is to a person, not a place, and the person in question is Dan Almagor. An author, songwriter, playwright, creator of satirical skits, translator and, to some extent, historian and broadcaster, Almagor, now aged 83, began thinking about what might happen to his extensive archive when he’s no longer around to take care of it. Wanting it to remain intact, he followed the example of several other notables with a similar problem and decided to donate it to the National Library of Israel. In response, the National Library is hosting a tribute evening for Almagor on Wednesday, March 27, under the literal title of “From Dan to Jerusalem.”
The event will include, besides Almagor’s family, several of his friends and colleagues, including Yonit Shaked Golan, Lolik Levy, Noa Argov, Daphna Zahavi, and Natan Salor, who will sing his songs, some of which became classics and were immortalized by the late composer, musician and songwriter Nachum Heiman, who became the gatekeeper of Israeli songs and musical compositions, recording and cataloging them for posterity.
■ TEL AVIV tour guide and urbanist Tomer Chelouche, who searched for documents attesting to the contention that the Tel Aviv Municipality must forever maintain Yaacov Agam’s colorful fire and water installation, which since 1986 has been a Dizengoff Square landmark, says that he found the original documents in which Agam was paid NIS 54,000, which in those days was a lot of money, but there is nothing in the documents that guarantees the permanent maintenance of the fire and water fountain.
The installation was temporarily dismantled when Dizengoff Square was restored to street level. The late mayor Shlomo Lahat, in an effort to cope with traffic congestion, had built a crisscross pedestrian bridge in Dizengoff Square, with the arteries stemming from the installation. Mayor Ron Huldai decided to bring the square back to street level, where it had been from the 1930s to the early 1980s. At the fire and water inauguration, the honor of cutting the ribbon was given to Lahat’s wife, Ziva, because Dizengoff Square is not named for the first mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff, but for his wife, Zina. It was because of this that Ziva Lahat was given the honor of cutting the ribbon.
The installation has been put back in place, but the colors have to be revived, and Agam, who in May will celebrate his 91st birthday, is taking his time in mixing the right shades. Hopefully, he will still be around when the colors are restored. At that time, there will be another ribbon-cutting ceremony, and the honor, in accordance with tradition, says Chelouche, should go to Yael Huldai.
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