Grapevine: From crocodile tears to mothballs

Organizations that care for survivors lamented the waning support that they receive and worried that they would not be able to provide meals for all the Holocaust survivors that need them.

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN with Dr. Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, chairman of the Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation (photo credit: MARK NEYMAN / GPO)
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN with Dr. Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, chairman of the Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation
(photo credit: MARK NEYMAN / GPO)
It started as it always does a couple of weeks before Passover. Politicians shed crocodile tears over Holocaust survivors who do not have the wherewithal to live out their twilight years in dignity.
It was pointed out yet again that Holocaust survivors who arrived in Israel after 1953 receive considerably less financial aid than do those who arrived before 1953, regardless of the extent of their suffering.
Organizations that care for survivors lamented the waning support that they receive and worried that they would not be able to provide for Passover meals for all the Holocaust survivors that require them.
It was noted for the umpteenth time that those Holocaust survivors who live in impoverished conditions have to choose between spending what little financial resources they do have on medications or on food.
The outcry against the high salaries paid to administrators of organizations that supposedly look out for the interests of Holocaust survivors was not quite as vocal this year as in the past, but there was discussion on social media as to the possibility of doing away with some of the ceremonies on Holocaust Remembrance Day and redirecting the cost of these ceremonies to the actual needs of Holocaust survivors Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon announced that he was allocating an additional half-billion shekels to supplement existing grants to Holocaust survivors. Yair Lapid, when he was finance minister, also made substantial allocations, but it seems that bureaucracy always gets in the way of good intentions, and too many Holocaust survivors are still missing out on what is due to them.
It is unfortunately still a sad fact that Holocaust survivors fare worse in Israel, the Jewish homeland, than in almost any other country. As always, the plight of the least fortunate of Holocaust survivors was highlighted by the media, but by the end of this week, the subject will as always be put in mothballs till Rosh Hashana, when there will again be pleas on radio and television for Holocaust survivors to be invited to Rosh Hashana meals. It’s all part of an ongoing cycle.
■ WITH ALL that is done by institutions and organizations such as Yad Vashem, Masssuah, Lohamei Hagetaot, Amcha, Beit Terezin, Yad Lezahava, Shem Olam and close to 50 others to perpetuate the memory of the Holocaust through a variety of educational and research programs, there are still aspects of the Holocaust that are overlooked, ignored or simply forgotten for lack of sufficient interest.
A case in point is this year’s central commemoration, which takes place Wednesday night at Yad Vashem. The six people chosen to light the beacons in memory of the six million Jews who were murdered or who died of illness and starvation during the Holocaust were originally from Czechoslovakia, Libya and Poland. Not one is from Romania, a factor that this year in particular bothers members of Israel’s Romanian Jewish community.
In an open letter to Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem Council Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and members of the Yad Vashem Council that was published on Tuesday as a quarter-page advertisement on the front page of Haaretz, Rabbi Mordechai Yisrael Twersky of Ramat Raziel notes that this year marks the 75th anniversary of the massacre of some 50,000 Romanian Jews during a three-week period from July to August 1941. The letter does not mention the 15,000 Jews killed in Iasi a month earlier, but it does mention Khotyin and includes a photograph of Twersky’s namesake the Admor, who together with 60 leaders of the community was murdered by the Nazis in July 1941. Twersky cannot understand why a survivor of the massacre of Romanian Jews will not be among the beacon-lighters. Painful though this may be for him and other members of Israel’s large Romanian community, first-, secondand third-generation survivors of atrocities almost anywhere in Europe have reason to commemorate a 75th anniversary of something.
Still, it’s possible that Yad Vashem may have a special memorial event for Romanian Jewry sometime within the next three months.
■ JUST AS the generation of Holocaust survivors is diminishing daily, so is the generation of Righteous Among the Nations who were responsible for saving so many Jews at the risk of their own lives and those of their families. Out of the Depths founder Johnny Daniels writes that just before Passover, his organization, which is headquartered in Poland, helped child Holocaust survivors still living there to deliver matzot to the Association of Righteous Among the Nations. This is a tradition that has been going on for years, writes Daniels. For the child survivors it is a small token of gratitude, “and for the Righteous it is something they wait for every year.” One can well understand the importance of the matza to the Righteous, most if not all of whom are Catholics. Many Catholic churches use matza for communion rites.
■ AS A prelude to Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yad Vashem hosted a special screening of the multiple-prizewinning film Son of Saul this past Sunday. In addition to the first-, second- and third-generation Holocaust survivors in attendance, also present was one of the supporting actors, Amitai Kedar, who said that he is the only Israeli actor in the film, apparently forgetting that although Mendy Cahan was technically there as the Yiddish dialogue coach, he also appeared on screen as a Sonderkommando, and is listed as such in the credits.
While both are Israeli citizens, neither was born in Israel. Cahan was born in Belgium, and Kedar in Canada.
In fact, when describing his arrival in Budapest to begin shooting the film, Kedar said his English was good, his Hebrew was good, but his Hungarian was nonexistent, and it was quite traumatic for him to be surrounded nearly all the time by Hungarian-speaking people and not being able to fully comprehend instructions that were given on the set. On the other hand, he imagined that similar chaos existed in the camps, where prisoners coming from many countries and not necessarily countries in which German was a first or second language, had trouble understanding the instructions barked by the guards and were mercilessly punished for not obeying orders.
When Kedar auditioned for director Laszlo Nemes, he was asked to do a monologue in Yiddish. Fortunately, this was no problem for him, as he has appeared in several Yiddishpiel productions and has also appeared on the Yiddish stage in New York with the Folksbine Theater. Actually, he’s a trilingual actor who has appeared in Hebrew, English and Yiddish productions on stage and screen, including the television screen.
Kedar said that the question he is most often asked is whether the dead boy in the film really was the son of Saul. To him it is irrelevant whether he was or he wasn’t.
To Kedar it’s more important to see the effect on the audience of Saul’s obsessive behavior over a 48-hour period. Naturally, everyone in the cast had to lose weight to play their parts as Auschwitz inmates, said Kedar, adding that he managed to shed 5 kilo in a relatively short space of time.
■ AMONG THE people attending the screening was Zvi Rav-Ner, Israel’s immediate past ambassador to Poland, who approached a Holocaust survivor and reminded him of a common acquaintance, the late Dr. Marek Edelman, a noted cardiologist and political figure who died in Warsaw in October 2009.
Edelman, who was the last surviving leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, having succeeded Mordechai Anielewicz, had been an ardent Bundist before the war, and remained one afterward. According to Rav- Ner, Edelman had left instructions in his will that his casket be covered with a Bund flag, and that kaddish was not to be recited over his grave. No Bund flag could be found in Poland, said Rav-Ner, and one had to be procured from Paris. Edelman, who had also fought with the Polish People’s Army in 1944, was given a military funeral. After the Polish officials had departed, Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich assembled the Jews present and asked them to join him in reciting kaddish. Whether he wanted it or not, Edelman in the final analysis had a Jewish funeral.
■ THIS YEAR, there is a particularly narrow time span between Holocaust Remembrance Day and VE Day, which stands for Victory in Europe marking the anniversary of the May 8, 1945, unconditional surrender by the Nazi forces and its acceptance by the Allies of the Second World War.
Coincidentally, Europe Day is celebrated one day later, on May 9, and marks the anniversary of the vision outlined in 1950 by French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman (one of the founders of the European Union) of a new form of political cooperation between all the nations of Europe so as to create a situation in which war between any of the member states would be close to impossible. Today, there are 28 member states of the European Union, and the flags of all of them will be displayed on May 9 at the Herzliya Pituah residence of Laars Faaborg-Andersen, the head of the European Union Delegation in Israel, on May 9.
Budgetary constraints have prevented the holding of Europe Day receptions in recent years, but this year Faaborg-Andersen decided to make an exception, and to enhance the occasion has invited President Reuven Rivlin to be the guest of honor.
■ JUST AS Independence Day is preceded by Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars and Victims of Terrorism, so VE Day and Europe Day, though not preceded by a special memorial day, nonetheless carry with them the memories of loss and man’s inhumanity to man, as well as the nobility of the human spirit of those who risked so much to save the lives of others – not just of people they knew but of total strangers.
May 8 is the Gregorian calendar anniversary of the murder by Palestinian terrorists of 13-year-old Koby Mandell and his friend Yosef Ishran, who in 2001 were stoned to death in a mountain cave in Wadi Haritoun.
Koby’s mother, Sherri Mandell, a widely published freelance writer, was able to some extent to deal with her grief through her writing. She and her husband, Rabbi Seth Mandell, quickly realized that there were families out there who had suffered similar tragedies and needed to be with others who could understand what they were going through. The Mandells established the Koby Mandell Foundation, which also involves their other children and which has grown way beyond their expectations. Rather than allow their pain to destroy them, they built a foundation with programs for bereaved parents, siblings and widows; summer camps, hiking trails, marathon runs, Comedy For Koby events, quiz nights and much more. Sherri Mandell has all the while continued with her writing, and some of her columns have been published in The Jerusalem Post.
On Sunday, May 8, on the 15th anniversary of Koby’s murder, Sherri Mandell will discuss the sequel to her award-winning book The Blessings of a Broken Heart, which she has called The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration. The book is published by Koren Publishers Jerusalem and is a hands-on guide to resilience by choice, demonstrating the many ways in which people can raise themselves out of grief and transform themselves into a positive force for others. Mandell and Dr. Elliott Malamet, with whom she will engage in conversation, will be introduced by Rachelle Sprecher Fraenkel, the mother of 16-yearold Naftali Fraenkel, who together with two other Yeshiva high school students, Eyal Yifrah and Gil-Ad Shaer, was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists in the Gush Etzion area in June 2014. The families of the three boys, with Fraenkel in the forefront, have initiated several projects in their memories, the most important of which is the Jerusalem Unity Prize, which promotes national unity, social entrepreneurship and enhancement of relations between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. The event will take place at the Ramban Synagogue, 4 Amatzia Street, Jerusalem, at 7 p.m.
■ BELGIAN FOREIGN Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Didier Reynders will arrive in Israel next week as one of a series of foreign ministers who will visit the country during the month of May. Given recent events in Belgium, it is in the cards that Reynders’s discussions in Israel will focus primarily on how to combat terrorism.
■ THE FOLLOWING week, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, who at age 29 is one of the youngest foreign ministers not only in Europe but in the world, will arrive in Israel to celebrate the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Austria and Israel. The gala event will be held not in Herzliya Pituah at the residence of Austrian Ambassador Martin Weiss but at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Sooner or later the diplomatic community will have to acknowledge that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.
■ APROPOS THAT particular subject, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, whose party is seeking to depose him, has pledged that if he wins the election, he will move the American Embassy to Jerusalem. Promises, promises. We’ve heard them from both Democratic and Republican candidates running for the presidency, but in the final analysis, the embassy remains in Tel Aviv regardless of which party heads the US administration.
■ ITALIAN AMBASSADOR Francesco Maria Talo hosted a reception for Italian singer, songwriter and musician Eros Ramazzotti on the evening prior to his sellout concert at Tel Aviv’s Menorah Mivtachim Arena. Ramazzotti was extremely well received by the crowd, just as he had been the previous evening at the ambassador’s residence in Ramat Gan, where people to whom he was introduced included MK Yaakov Peri, a musician in his own right, famed hoopster Tal Brody, leading model Carol Simanovich, and popular entertainers Idan Raichel and Einat Sarouf.
■ THE JAPANESE mean business. That was certainly the impression they gave when they met on Sunday with Rivlin. Members of Keizai Doyukai, the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, made up largely of the presidents and CEOs of Japan’s largest companies, were in Israel to learn a little more about what makes the “Start-up Nation” tick. Heading the 16-member delegation was Dr. Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, who is chairman of the Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation. This was Keizai Doyukai’s first trip outside of Japan, and it is a matter of no small significance that Israel was chosen as its first overseas destination.
Rivlin told the delegation that Israel takes pride in the fact that such an important delegation had decided to make Israel its first stop. Some of the members of the delegation had visited Israel previously on their own, as part of other delegations or as students, but for others it was a firsttime experience.
Rivlin said that even though Israel is not rich in natural resources, it is extremely rich in human resources. “Innovation and initiative is the way that Israelis make the impossible possible,” he said. Kobayashi commented that nothing seems to be impossible in Israel and suggested that this might also be attributed in some measure to Israeli chutzpah.
■ THE STORY has all the makings of a telenovela. Here was a handsome young singer, songwriter, composer and musician by the name of Dudu Aharon, who comes from Ekron, near the southern part of Ashkelon, and was in danger of being sucked in by the evil forces of Tel Aviv’s bohemian society. Like all good Jewish mothers, Mama Aharon wanted a bride for her son. To be more accurate, she wanted a daughter-in-law who would fully meet with her approval. But Dudu seemed to be in no hurry to tie the knot.
Then came an opportunity to not only boost his career and his image but also to change his status. Three years ago, he was invited to star in the Israeli version of the reality show The Bachelor, which was screened on Channel 10. The set of the show created an illusionary impression of glamour and high life, which was supposedly the lifestyle of the handsome and eligible Dudu, who was ardently pursued by several attractive young women who were interested in becoming Mrs. A. Their dates were always in romantic settings, and the producers of the show saw to it that their grooming was perfect and that their closets were full of designer clothes.
Part of the publicity leading up to the show was the extent to which the singer’s mother was keen for him to get married, settle down and provide her with grandchildren.
The show was entertaining, but Aharon emerged from it without a bride.
The relationship with the young woman who allegedly won his heart petered out very quickly. Then, a little over two years ago, Dudu was introduced to Shir Rosenblum, who bore an extremely apt first name for the wife of a singer. It was love at first sight for both, and after a few months of getting to know each other, they set up house together.
Mama Tzippora Aharon was not pleased. In fact, she didn’t like Rosenblum at all and did her utmost to break up the relationship. When that didn’t work out, she accused Rosenblum of tearing the Aharon family asunder. It seemed that Dudu was more attached to Rosenblum than he was to his mama. She failed again.
Then, on Mimouna night, which is supposed to be a night of goodwill, peace and friendship, Dudu proposed to Rosenblum and she instantly agreed to marry him. Mama, when she heard the news, was livid. “Over my dead body!” she exclaimed, and declared that there were would be no marriage. When it was pointed out to her that Dudu had already given Rosenblum a ring, Mama sniffed and said “So what? What’s a ring? It has no value.”
Papa Aharon hasn’t had much to say on the subject, but chances are that even if he’s invited to the wedding, he’s unlikely to go because Mama won’t let him, unless of course she plans to make a last-ditch effort to separate the lovebirds at the actual wedding ceremony.
■ ALMOST EVERY day over the past three weeks and especially during the Passover holiday week, there has been pedestrian congestion in a certain section of Jerusalem’s King George Street. The reason is the interest that is being taken by passersby in the exhibition on the protective construction boards surrounding Frumin House, which served as the temporary home of the Knesset from 1950 to 1966, before the Knesset moved to its permanent premises in Givat Ram. The building, which later served as the headquarters of the Tourism Ministry, and after that was used by the rabbinate, is now in the process of being converted into the Knesset Museum.
In recent years, Israeli building contractors have taken much more care in surrounding construction sites with safety features that not only protect the public from harm but are also aesthetic. In Tel Aviv, for instance, the fences surrounding the light rail construction sites have illustrations and information pertaining to the light rail. Outside the front and side entrances to the future Knesset museum, the boards feature photographs of bygone politicians, foreign dignitaries and newspaper clippings, including newspapers long defunct such as Davar, Al Hamishmar and Herut.
What is particularly interesting is to see how senior citizens take delight in recognizing once-familiar faces and explaining to their grandchildren who these people were and what they did. In Europe, this is quite a popular means of teaching history and sparking interest in a cultural institution that is under construction, and it is now becoming the norm in Israel, too.
The exhibition was the brainchild of Knesset director-general Ronen Plot, who is hoping to exchange that role for that of mayor of Upper Nazareth. As part of the building’s conversion to a museum, construction workers are restoring the original appearance of the plenary hall, the Knesset cafeteria, the prime minister’s bureau, and other historic sections.
Attempts are also being made to reconstruct the furniture of the era.
Hadassah Greenberg-Yaakov, the head of the Knesset Museum project, has together with her team spent the past two years collecting objects, photos and documents that will complete the exhibits in the various sections of the museum. The fact that the museum is so centrally located in the heart of the city and close to numerous bus routes will add to its attraction for tourists and Jerusalemites alike.
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