Grapevine November 17, 2019: Depressing the press.

A roundup of news from around Israel.

Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel speaks to media in Brussels, Belgium July 2, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel speaks to media in Brussels, Belgium July 2, 2019
(photo credit: REUTERS)
During the past century, there have been dramatic changes in the face of the media, with print media dwindling as digital media takes over, and television channels under threat as live streaming becomes increasingly popular.
Numerous articles have been written about the unreliability of social media as a news source because the absence of professionalism, such as checking the facts, is something that eludes many of the people who use social media. Yet, this does not seem to affect public consumption of the often inaccurate information posted via various social media platforms.
Aside from that, public relations officers and companies are making the work of bona fide journalism irrelevant.
In the race to the world wide web, the journalist is often lagging behind while checking the facts, whereas press releases, including speeches by dignitaries, have been written in advance and are often disseminated within less than five minutes of an event.
The creative journalist who wants to write interesting copy doesn’t stand a chance.
Happily, there are still people who like to read newspapers and magazines, and may be interested in the National Library’s conference on Fulletons, Jews, the Jewish Press and the Public Sphere that is taking place on Monday and Tuesday of this week, with speakers from Israel and abroad.
One of the fascinating subjects, at least by its title, is “Priests, Prostitutes and Villains: Examining the Roman Feulleton.” The lecture will be delivered by Naomi Brenner of Ohio State University.
Matthew Handelman of Michigan State University will deal with a continuing commentary on politics by German-Jewish intellectuals.
Other speakers from Israel and abroad will look at Hebrew and other language newspapers, and the work of columnists and reporters, whose style and subject matter differ vastly from what we are offered today.
Entrance to the conference is free of charge, but pre-registration is required.
■NOTWITHSTANDING ORGANIZATIONS such as Magen David Adom, United Hatzalah and ZAKA, whose trained volunteers are quick to rush to the scene of any report of a motor accident, a succession of Israel governments and legislators have paid insufficient attention to road safety. It’s one thing to pass legislation, but quite another to implement it. There simply are not enough traffic police to apprehend the perpetrators of numerous traffic violations that lead to injuries, permanent maiming and too often to death. In Jerusalem, for instance, other than police patrol cars and ambulances, only the light rail is permitted to traverse the light rail track. Yet, motorcycle and bicycle riders, as well as people on electric scooters, come whizzing by all the time, and often ignore traffic lights, thereby placing pedestrians in extreme danger.
These same traffic violators also pose a risk to pedestrians on the pavement, often coming at them from the opposite direction or leaping up unexpectedly from the road onto the pavement to bypass long lanes of cars, trucks and buses. Similarly, when cars stop to allow pedestrians to traverse a cross walk, motorcyclists suddenly emerge out of nowhere and just miss hitting the pedestrian. That’s not a way to live, and hopefully the matter will be discussed at the second National Israel Road Safety Conference that will be held on November 18 at the Tel Aviv Cultural Center (Heichal Hatarbut) adjacent to Habimah.
Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich will be in attendance at the start of the conference, but there’s no guarantee how long he will stay. Ministerial appearances at such events are usually hit and run affairs. Even if he does stay, there’s not much he can do until there is a government in place, and when there is a government, there is no guarantee that he will remain in his present role.
■ MANY HASSIDIC dynasties have their origins in Poland. Followers of one hassidic movement or another returned to Poland even during the worst of times to visit the graves of great hassidic rabbis. With all the destruction of Jewish holy places during the Nazi occupation and under the Communist regime, it is amazing how many of these graves were still more or less intact. Sometimes headstones had been removed or vandalized, but the graves as such remained in place, and their location was known from old photographs and records.
Not everyone is aware that not only visiting hassidim can be seen in Poland today. There are also resident hassidim – and not just Chabad, who are unafraid to live in a Jewish wilderness, and who somehow succeed in drawing community around them.
Residues of Jewish culture and religious traditions remained in Poland, even when there were hardly any Jews left to preserve them and pass them on to the next generation. Some non-Jewish Poles remembered a different Poland in which Jews contributed to so many fields, and if they didn’t personally remember, they cherished stories handed down by their parents and grandparents, and became increasingly curious about Jews – so much so that they actually missed them without ever having known them.
Krakow-based film producer and photographer Agnieszka Traczewska has been almost obsessively photographing hassidim in her native Poland, Belgium, England, Canada, Israel and Brazil since 2006. It all started in Liszensk in Poland, when she went to photograph the grave of the famous Rabbi Elimelech Weissblum on the anniversary of his death. She had no idea at that time that photographing hassidim would become her lifelong passion. Indeed, she has photographed them in urban and rural settings, in desolate cemeteries, in yeshivot, and synagogues, performing Jewish rituals such as kapparot and lighting Hanukkah candles, at weddings and in their homes.
What is amazing is that they permitted a woman to get so close to them. Traczewska will show some of these fascinating colored and black and white photographs at Bar-Ilan University on Wednesday, November 20, following a conference on Polish hassidism, then and now. The exhibition will be held in the presence of Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski and Polish Institute Director Joanna Hofman. Earlier in the day, Polish academics Marcin Wozinski of the University of Wroclaw, Magdalena Zatorska of the University of Warsaw, Michal Galas of the Jaglelonian University and Traczewska herself will join Israeli colleagues in discussing hassidim, their customs and their lifestyles.
■ IN A world in which technology constantly accelerates change, the effect is not limited to the influences of hi-tech, though hi-tech undoubtedly plays a role in almost all aspects of change in that speedy access to Internet data owes that ability to hi-tech research. As a result, more information on any number of subjects is readily available in umpteen languages.
In most cases, foreign languages can be quickly translated, though Google tends to make a lot of mistakes in translation – but the gist of the research is certainly there.
Change in Jewish practices and interpretations of tradition are also part of this tendency to not leave things as they are. In this context, The Jerusalem School and the Study of Contemporary Jewry is hosting an international conference marking 60 years of the Research Institute of Contemporary Jewry.
The two-day conference will be held at Beit Meiersdorf on the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University on November 24-25. At the opening dinner, Prof. Yehuda Bauer will question whether there is a Jerusalem school of Holocaust studies. Yad Vashem runs many educational programs on the Holocaust, but it is not in itself a research institute or a think tank. Holocaust studies also feature prominently at Massua and Beit Berl, but not exclusively so, which means that there is more than a mere provocation in Bauer’s question. The other speakers are mainly Israelis who are affiliated with the Hebrew University, but among the speakers from abroad are: Prof. David N. Myers of UCLA, who will query whether there is a Jerusalem school in the global 21st century; Prof. Deborah Dwork of Clark University who will speak on “A New Turn in Holocaust Scholarship – the Role of the Unpredictable and the Irrational”; Prof. Leonard Saxe of Brandeis University, who will speak on “The Growth and Diversity of American Jewry – Understanding Demographic Change”; and Prof. Deborah Dash Moore of the University of Michigan, who will speak on “Centering Diaspora Reflections on Peoplehood and Contemporary American Jews,” the fact that the only non-Israelis at an international conference in Jerusalem on research studies of contemporary Jewry should ignore Jews from the Diaspora other than America is reprehensible.
While no one can deny that the largest Jewish community outside of Israel is in the United States, it is perhaps of greater interest how other Jewish communities in Europe, South America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere on the map continue to exist in the face of rising antisemitism, and in most cases, maintain Jewish traditions, synagogues and Jewish schools.