Grapevine: Friedman plants a tree

As part of the extended Tu Bishvat activities, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman planted a tree in the grounds of the US Embassy.

KKL-JNF WORLD CHAIRMAN Danny Atar presents a tree certificate to US Ambassador David Friedman.  (photo credit: RAFI BEN HAKOON KKL-JNF PUBLIC DIPLOMACY DEPARTMENT)
KKL-JNF WORLD CHAIRMAN Danny Atar presents a tree certificate to US Ambassador David Friedman.
As part of the extended Tu Bishvat activities, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman last week planted a tree in the grounds of the US Embassy as an historic symbol of America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the moving of its embassy to Jerusalem. It was also a day of ecological awareness. The tree planting was organized in conjunction with Keren Kayemet LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, whose World Chairman Danny Atar and other KKL-JNF personalities were in attendance. Atar, who presented a tree-planting certificate to Friedman, was almost blown away by the fact that they were standing in the US Embassy grounds in Jerusalem. He voiced his gratitude to both Friedman and US President Donald Trump.
■ INDIA IS well known for its pluralism and religious tolerance, which can be seen in the film Sarah Thaha Thoufeek, which will be screened at Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People on March 1, in the presence of Indian Ambassador Sanjeev Singla and Becky Finkelstein, the niece of Sarah Cohen, one of the oldest Jewish settlers of Kochi. The film, which highlights respect, love, companionship and religious tolerance is about Sarah Cohen, Thaha – a Muslim who developed a fine reputation in the Jewish community– and Thoufeek, a young Hebrew calligrapher
Following the screening, there will be a Q&A session with the with film’s producer, Sarath Kottikkai.
■ TEL AVIV is known as the first Hebrew city in the modern State of Israel. The distinction between Hebrew and Jewish has become sharply obvious with the introduction of a new administrative regulation prohibiting all religious organizations from being within 100 meters of any state funded education facility.
The decision was taken several weeks ago at the initiative of Deputy Mayor Reuven Ladianski of the Greens Secular Party, and follows an earlier edict by his predecessor Assaf Zamir, who is now a Blue and White member of Knesset.
Zamir, who held the city’s education portfolio, barred all Orthodox organizations from schools and kindergartens in Tel Aviv, saying that he wanted to ensure the secularism of the city’s education network.
A similar move was taken by the Givatayim municipality.
The more recent Tel Aviv ruling is seen as being primarily directed against Chabad, whose emissaries are known to stop male passersby, asking whether they were Jewish, and if so, whether they would like to lay tefillin. To Chabad it is very important to give people the opportunity to perform at least one mitzvah (good deed) a day, because no-one knows which mitzvah is the key to open the doors of Heaven. To many non-observant Jews around the world, this single action is sometimes their only connection with their Jewish heritage and identity. In some cases, it is transformative. In others, it’s just a passing introduction to Jewish practice. It’s hardly missionary activity. Then again, there are secularists who shy away from any form of Jewish religious practice including the circumcision of their sons.
■ JEWS WHO are so opposed to Jewish religious traditions, sorely misjudge what Chabad does. The first thing that comes to mind, given that Passover is almost around the corner, is the mega-Seder in Kathmandu, to which backpacking Israelis and young Jews from around the world flock in droves, regardless of the extent of their religious affiliations or lack thereof.
But Chabad is always there to serve the Jewish people visiting Jews in prison or hospital, providing kosher meals, creating educational frameworks and more.
In recent weeks, Chabad emissaries in Asia have been particularly active in providing meals and other services to people affected in one way or another by the coronavirus.
Rabbi Mordechai Avtzon, who is the leading Chabad emissary in China, and together with his wife Goldie is headquartered in Hong Kong, says that although there is not yet a panic situation, it is all very scary, particularly because so many people are getting too much information from social media, and sometimes that information is far from correct.
There are 15 Chabad emissary couples in China who remain in close coordination with each other and who are doing their utmost to serve their communities while taking maximum safety precautions for themselves and their families. Avtzon stresses the need to maintain the highest levels of person hygiene.
Chabad emissaries throughout Asia are doing whatever they can by way of distributing masks, providing, food, shelter, comfort and prayers. Those who have been unable to send their wives and children to America and elsewhere have also arranged additional activities for children in their communities to keep them occupied and to prevent panic.
The truth is that instead of being so critical of Chabad and accusing their emissaries of being missionaries.
The Tel Aviv Municipality would do well to nominate Chabad for the Israel Prize.
■ VERY FEW radio and television interviewers are respectful these days, and the tones in which they conduct their interviews border on those of inquisitors rather than interviewers. Among the worst offenders is KAN’s Assaf Liberman, whose style is accusatory and often tinged with hysteria. Moreover, he constantly interrupts the interviewee, who barely manages to complete a sentence. When interrupting, he often provides the answer to what he asked. When he tried this with Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, the latter responded: “You’re interviewing me, so maybe you’ll let me answer the question.”
■ BARELY A week after her induction into the army, ‘teen pop-star’ Noa Kirel is getting time off to appear today, at the President’s Residence for the launch of a new initiative aimed at preventing bullying and shaming in the classroom. Other pop stars, including Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai, are involved in the initiative which is a joint project of the President’s Office, the Education Ministry and the Public Security Ministry.
■ THERE’S NOTHING like cashing in on royalty. Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot’s new commercial has hijacked Prince Harry, who receives investment advice from financial consultant Susie. In the past the commercial has been entirely in Hebrew with some naïve investor praising Susie’s investment acumen. But now the supposed Prince Harry, after receiving advice, says in British accented English, albeit in a voice that’s nothing like Prince Harry’s, “Susie, you’re my queen.”
■ TABLOIDS HAVE often been characterized as scandal sheets, and it would seem that the description fits Yediot Aharonot, which last Friday disclosed some of the data in the Ofra Haza file. Haza, who grew up in the Hatikva Quarter of Tel Aviv, and whose talent was discovered even before she was a teenager, was one of Israel’s most beloved singers and was known as the “Madonna of the East.” For well over a year before her death, Haza had been extremely unwell, something she tried to hide from her fans, especially because she had been diagnosed with AIDS. The rumor machine attributed her illness to her husband Doron Ashkenazi, whom she married in 1997 just over two years prior to her death. Her name had not been linked with any previous romantic encounters, and she was obviously very happy in the first few months of her marriage. She did her utmost to keep her illness a secret, but the rumor mill in Israel is extremely active, and word soon went out that Ofra had AIDS. Following her death in February 2000, fans and members of her family blamed her husband, who died of a drug overdose two months later.
Now, on the 20th anniversary of her death, Haza’s privacy she guarded so carefully, has been violated despite the fact that her siblings are still living and that Yediot’s revelations cause some of them extreme embarrassment.
Was it really necessary to reveal Haza’s secrets to the world? After all, she was a singer not a politician. This was not within the category of the public’s right to know. There should have been just a little more respect to her memory.
■ ALMOST IN defiance of the Nation-State Law, which has proved so painful to both the Arab and Druze communities, the Jerusalem Great Synagogue, an Orthodox synagogue, has for the second time honored the memories of Druze security officers. The first time was when Druze police officer Zaydan Said was killed in a terrorist attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood, and the second time was this past Shabbat, when the memories were honored of Druze policemen Ha’il Satawi and Kamil Shnanaan, who were killed by terrorists while saving the lives of worshipers on the Temple Mount. The date for remembering them symbolized the alliance between Israeli Jews and Israeli Druze. The Torah portion for the week was Jethro, the Midianite priest who was mentor and father-in-law to Moses. Jethro is greatly revered by the Druze community, so it was entirely appropriate to honor two of their heroes last Saturday. Prayers were held in cooperation with the Yakir Foundation, headed by Rabbi Yaakov Kermaier.
■ IT’S NOT exactly a win-win situation for discount supermarket magnate Rami Levy, who on the one hand is on the blacklist of the UN Human Rights Council, and who on the other faces complaints from Israeli farmers who have charged him with buying wholesale tomatoes from Turkey in order to force Israeli farmers to bring down their prices. Levy has denied these allegations, but at the same time has said that his first duty is to his customers.