Grapevine November 3, 2019: A miraculous meeting

A round up of news from around Israel.

SERBIA’S PRESIDENT Tomislav Nikolic looks at pictures of Jews killed in the Holocaust during a visit to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem (photo credit: REUTERS)
SERBIA’S PRESIDENT Tomislav Nikolic looks at pictures of Jews killed in the Holocaust during a visit to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In Jewish tradition, saving the life of a single person is akin to saving a whole world. Dina Melpomeni, one of the Greek population’s Righteous Among the Nations, will surely be aware of this today, Sunday when she meets Yossi Mor, originally Yossi Mordechai and his sister, Sarah Yanai, whose lives and those of their parents, she and her sisters and neighbors helped to save when Greece was overrun by Nazis.
The overwhelming majority of Greek Jews were either shot dead or deported to Auschwitz. Very few survived.
Melpomeni will meet not only the siblings, but also their offspring, numbering 40 altogether. The meeting, which will take place at Yad Vashem, has been facilitated by Yad Vashem and The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous.
Golda Meir used to say that it was a fallacy to claim, ad infinitum, that the Jewish people lost six million of their number. It was them and their children and their grandchildren, and their great grandchildren. The numbers simply cannot be calculated.
She sometimes surmised what all these unborn people could have given to the world.
In all probability, both the rescuers and the rescued have pondered over this for decades.
It is miraculous that after such a long time, Melpomeni, who is well advanced in age, can see not only people to whom she gave life, but also their progeny.
Too often, either the rescuer or the rescued is no longer alive.
Happily, in this case both can sit and reminisce.
■ THERE’S BEEN one major conference after another in which issues of healing rifts between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, the sanctity or lack of it of the Western Wall, rising antisemitism, the Iranian threat, and Israel’s political future are re-hashed over and over. All of these conferences have been taking place at a hectic pace, leaving the ordinary Israeli who goes to work every day or sits at the unemployment bureau wondering, when, if ever, all the people who are playing musical chairs on the conference circuit, actually go to work.
Nearly all these conferences feature a core set of speakers – usually politicians or Jewish world activists – plus up to a handful of others for adornment.
What else can they have to say on these subjects that they haven’t said already?
Among the people who are going from conference to conference are President Reuven Rivlin, head of the New Right Party and former justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, and Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog.
Rivlin and Herzog have each spoken at several conferences over the past week, and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz is also taking a whirl on the conference circuit.
He and Shaked, along with Herzog, will be among the speakers at the Conference on Social Cohesion that is being held by the Israel branch of the Anti-Defamation League on Tuesday, November 5, at The Avenue in Airport City. Also among the speakers are Israel Consul-General in New York Dani Dayan and Moshe Gafni, the head of Degel Hatorah and chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee.
The ADL is not exactly left-wing, but the conference will have some topics coming up for discussion that will provoke people on the Right. One is “Israel’s Arab citizens – Segregated by choice or excluded?” Another controversial subject is “The Jewish People – story or history?” Actually, this conference is somewhat different than most because participants will also be discussing transgenderism in Israel, blocking traffic in Israeli protest demonstrations and the African community (which leads to the question as to whether this refers to Israeli citizens of Ethiopian descent, or the African refugee community or perhaps both). And there’s one other burning issue as far as Israel is concerned, and that is whether gender separation in Israel in 2019 should be regarded as discriminatory or considerate.
Secular women would mostly regard it as discriminatory, whereas Orthodox women see it as saving them from uncomfortable situations in the presence of men.
■ IN THE same week, on Thursday, November 7, Shaked will again be speaking at an international conference organized by the Institute for National Security Studies. Although this time, most of the other speakers from Israel and abroad are essentially military and cyber experts, though there will also be senior representatives of the Israel Democracy Institute. Shaked won’t be the only politician among the speakers. Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, who is part of the Blue and White triumvirate, will be the penultimate speaker. Due to a high demand for seating, the conference is moving away from the usual INSS venue, and will be held in the Klatchkin Auditorium of the Eretz Israel Museum.
■ IN RECENT years, Japanese diplomacy has been extensively utilizing the global fascination with Japanese animation, comics, games and fashion.
The kawaii culture in particular occupies a prominent place in Japan’s foreign ministry campaigns. The Japanese themselves sometimes wonder what actually creates this enormous fascination with Japanese popular culture, and how it influences Japan’s global position.
At the Friday lectures forum at the Japanese Embassy on November 8, Nissim Otmazgin, a professor of Japanese studies at the Department of Asian Studies and head of the Asian and African Research Institute at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, will explain what kawaii culture is, and how it appears in Japan’s diplomatic campaigns.
The Japanese are not the only ones employing culture for strategic diplomatic purposes, but because their culture is so different from that of the West, they found it relatively easy to arouse curiosity, and thus draw closer in people to people relations.
■ ALTHOUGH HIS visit to Israel last week was rather short, fun-loving owner of Virgin Atlantic, Sir Richard Branson managed to pack in a lot of social activity when he arrived in Israel to launch the new London-Tel Aviv route of Virgin Atlantic, bringing 40 journalists with him, who had almost as much fun as he did in a three-day jaunt. The trip included a huge party in a night club on the port of Tel Aviv, participation in a conference with members of Israel’s tourist industry, an informal meeting with British Ambassador Neil Wigan and a tour of the Jaffa market, where he set up a stall under the tongue-in-cheek heading of “Come Flea with Me.”
Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss had told him that Israelis love to haggle and bring the price down, so that they can boast that they got a bargain. Branson gave them their chance to do so by selling round-trip tickets at ridiculously low prices, which proved to be a great attraction among shoppers in the market who crowded around his Virgin Atlantic stall, which also offered other Virgin Atlantic merchandise. Branson, who advocates that one should never take oneself too seriously, loved the experience.
Many people received vouchers for flights. One man managed to get a round trip for only $45, which is as low cost as you can get, even though Virgin Atlantic is very price competitive, but nowhere near as low as that.
Branson loved Tel Aviv in general, and said he was glad to be able to provide an additional incentive for Londoners to visit the beaches and the night clubs and to take in the cultural scene and the wonderful dining options.
As for Wigan, he is following the lead of his two immediate predecessors, who were seldom seen at events hosted by other diplomats, because they were too busy hosting events of their own to boost the already-thriving relationship in so many different spheres between Israel and the UK.
■ RELATIONS BETWEEN Israel, Greece and Cyprus go way beyond a natural gas pipeline. The Israel-Hellenic Forum established by the B’nai B’rith World Center – Jerusalem, as a setting for discussion and action by Israeli, Greek, Cypriot and related academics, intellectuals and other public figures, will hold its first gathering in Jerusalem from November 12 to 14. The meeting will be moderated by Daniel S. Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith International and the initiator of B’nai B’rith’s Bi-Annual Leadership Mission to Greece, Cyprus and Israel, and George N. Tzogopoulos, senior research fellow, Centre International de Formation Européenne (CIFE); research associate, Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA); and lecturer, Democritus University of Thrace.
The festive opening session, at the Prima Park Hotel in Jerusalem will feature presentations by Thessalia S. Shambos, Ambassador of Cyprus to Israel; Prof. Dimitris Keridis, MP, Greek Parliament; and Ioannis Kasoulides, former foreign minister of Cyprus.
Other sessions include the strategic importance of the Mediterranean democratic bloc; the regional economy; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; national security policy under Israel’s new government; the relationship between Israel and the United States; innovation, tourism and humanitarian aid; the emerging new paradigm in Israel’s relationships with Arab states; and Greek-Jewish relations.
The IHF will also initiate an online publication with the aim of also addressing lingering prejudices and other obstacles to greater acceptance of each other among the peoples of these three democracies in the eastern Mediterranean.