Grapevine November 5, 2019: A month for remembrance

In the weeks ahead, Israel and the Jewish world will be largely focused on the struggle against antisemitism and major events in the history of the Jewish people.

KAZAKHSTAN AMBASSADOR-designate Satybaldy Burshakov (right) presents a copy of his credentials to Foreign Ministry Chief of Protocol Meron Reuben. (photo credit: COURTESY EMBASSY OF KAZAKHSTAN)
KAZAKHSTAN AMBASSADOR-designate Satybaldy Burshakov (right) presents a copy of his credentials to Foreign Ministry Chief of Protocol Meron Reuben.
In the weeks ahead, Israel and the Jewish world will be largely focused on the struggle against antisemitism and major events in the history of the Jewish people. For some reason, Balfour Day this year passed without much fanfare, possibly because November 2 fell on a Saturday. Coming up at the end of this week and the beginning of next week is the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is also the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht, which with hindsight can be perceived as the harbinger of the Holocaust. Curiously, the date also marks the Gregorian calendar anniversary of the death of Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, who was so instrumental in persuading the British authorities to issue what became known as the Balfour Declaration, and this year it also coincides with the Hebrew calendar anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. On November 11, the world remembers Armistice Day, which at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 signaled the end of the First World War. November 19 will mark the 42nd anniversary of the historic visit to Israel by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. On November 20, Holocaust historians will mark the 74th anniversary of the beginning of the Nuremberg trials. On November 22, Americans will remember the assassination, only two days after his birthday, of president John F. Kennedy, and on November 29 Jews will remember the passing of the United Nations resolution for the partition of Palestine, which led to the establishment of the State of Israel.
■ LIKE THE United States, Israel is essentially a country of immigrants who came in waves over several centuries. One of those waves was in 1882, when 30 immigrant families from Romania founded Rosh Pina, which can claim to be one of the oldest settlements in Israel, and one of the first to use modern agricultural methods. In December of the same year, 100 Jews from Romania founded Zichron Ya’acov, and in 1883 it received a boost from Baron Edmond de Rothschild, who discovered that the area is eminently suitable for growing grapes, and brought the wine industry to Zichron Ya’acov, which is home to the Carmel Winery.
All in all, there are some 400,000 Romanian Jews or people of Romanian Jewish descent living in Israel and maintaining close cultural connections with Romania. According to Transylvania-born Rafi Vago, of the department of history at Tel Aviv University, Romanian immigrants have contributed so much in so many fields of endeavor in Israel that they are now building a museum to preserve the memories and the knowledge of what Romanians have done in and for Israel.
Speaking last week in Jerusalem at a conference on “The role of common history and heritage in Central and Eastern Europe and Israel,” jointly organized by the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, the Jan Nowak-Jezioranski College of Eastern Europe, which is based in Wroclaw, and New Eastern Europe, a bimonthly magazine which often deals with Jewish subjects, and which in its March-April edition included a supplement on the revival of Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe, Vago and other speakers made the point that many leaders of countries that were part of the Soviet bloc see their expatriates who are living in Israel not just as a bridge but as a demographic and cultural extension. This is particularly so in the case of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Notwithstanding, or perhaps because of, the significant increase of antisemitic incidents in Europe, several countries are paying homage to their Jewish past by encouraging Jewish culture, promoting Holocaust education and enacting legislation that makes any form of racial incitement illegal.
Many places are constructing museums and/or monuments to Jewish life that once was, and to the victims of the Holocaust. In Romania last month, President Klaus Iohannis approved the establishment in Bucharest of Romania’s first Holocaust museum, even though Romania collaborated with the Nazis during the Second World War.
■ ONE OF the other speakers at the above-mentioned conference was Rafal Dutkiewicz, who for 16 years served as mayor of Wroclaw in Poland, until his retirement a year ago. He spoke movingly of the revival of Jewish life in Wroclaw. Prior to the Second World War, the city had been part of Germany and was known as Breslau. Poland has been invaded and annexed by other countries over the centuries. In 1945, Wroclaw again became Polish. Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski shared an old Polish joke that states that you don’t have to cross any foreign borders if you live in Poland. The borders come to you.
Jewish revival in Wroclaw began in the 1980s, though on a small scale because so many of the city’s Jewish population had been murdered by the Nazis, or left in 1968 during the Communist antisemitic purge. Jews have lived in Wroclaw for more than eight centuries. Of the synagogues in Wroclaw, the only one that remained standing was the White Stork, whose restoration was facilitated by the Norwegian Bente Kahan Foundation, which administers the building, which was officially reopened in 2010. The synagogue now serves as a center for Jewish culture and education and has a permanent display of the history of reclaimed Jewish life in Wroclaw.
Dutkiewicz encouraged these developments every step of the way, in recognition of which he was awarded the World Zionist Organization’s Jerusalem Prize in June of this year.
■ ALTHOUGH HE has yet to present his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin, Kazakhstan’s Ambassador-designate Satybaldy Burshakov has already presented a copy of his credentials to Foreign Ministry Chief of Protocol Meron Reuben. Burshakov has also met with Foreign Ministry deputy director-general for Euro-Asia Gary Koren. Discussions between Burshakov and Foreign Ministry personnel centered on the high level of bilateral relations, for which both sides credited Nursultan Nazarbayev, the longtime founding president of the Republic of Kazakhstan, who stepped down this year. Burshakov said that President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who was elected in March of this is year, is continuing with a policy of constructive public dialogue based on maintaining stability and prosperity for all in Kazakhstan.
■ IN THE same week that Yad Vashem finally gave public recognition to Manuel Quezon, the president of the Philippines who provided a haven and a means of livelihood to well over a thousand Jews fleeing Nazi persecution, and in the week in which Quezon House was opened in the Philippine Embassy to remind Israelis or make them aware of what Quezon did, the immigration police came at the crack of dawn and arrested two children born in Israel to Filipino mothers. The children, Gena Antigo, 13, and Ralph (Harel) Mariano, 10, were getting ready to go to school when immigration police arrested them and their mothers last Wednesday morning.
Gena’s best friend, Sivan Kandeliker, with whom she walked to school every day, came to the building where Gena lived and called her on her cellphone to tell her to come downstairs. A tearful Gena told her what was happening and said she would explain the rest on WhatsApp. Sivan began to cry and called her mother. Within a brief period of time, the school’s teachers, parents and students organized a mass demonstration outside Givon Prison, yelling “Busha! Busha!” (Shame! Shame!) and demanding the release of the two minors, whose arrest was in violation of a court order that entitled them to a hearing prior to arrest and deportation. The children were subsequently released, but who knows what effect that traumatic experience had on them, and what it is like for them now to live in the shadow of fear?
As if that was not bad enough, on Sunday immigration police came to a kindergarten in Tel Aviv and demanded to take away the child of a Nigerian mother who was in the country illegally. The kindergarten teacher refused to give her up, but after a lot of pressure, fear of the unknown proved to be stronger than moral conscience. When one thinks of what is happening to children born in this country to parents who have legal problems, the first word that comes to mind is disgrace.
This is no way to repay those long-ago kindnesses where people risked their lives, their careers and the lives of their families in humane endeavors on behalf of Jews. Surely the Supreme Court can order that while the government is in transition, there should be no deportations.
■ IN HIS Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as government of the people, by the people, for the people. But what happens when the people disagree with their elected officials? In Israel, unless it is a case that will attract too much unwanted international attention, the people have little or no say – and that seems to be the case in Jerusalem. Protests against the route of the light rail, high-rise buildings in the urban renewal plan of Mayor Moshe Lion, and most recently the renaming of the Har Nof neighborhood and the approval of a cable car to the Old City have all fallen on deaf ears.
To someone who doesn’t live in Har Nof, which was home to Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and which continues to be home to Shas leader Aryeh Deri, who heads the Interior and Development of the Negev and the Galilee ministries, changing the name of the neighborhood to Neot Yosef to honor not one but two great men may not seem like a big deal. But many Har Nof residents are angry that they were not consulted. Neot Yosef is also to be named after Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, one of the country’s leading halachic authorities, who died seven years ago at the age of 102.
There is a political background to the decision. Hakablan Street, which was the street on which Ovadia Yosef lived, was named in memory of Yitzhak Abud Levy, one of the most prominent building contractors in the capital. Even though the street was named for his profession rather than his name, it was common knowledge among the residents of Har Nof that the street was named for the modest Levy, who was born in 1906, and died in 1981. When the municipality decided to rename the street, it neglected to inform Levy’s relatives, who discovered this development via the media. After they raised a hue and cry, the municipality decided not to change the name of the street, but the name of the neighborhood. It should be remembered that one of the people who was among Lion’s chief promoters during both his first and second runs for mayor was Deri. Lion owes him big-time, and what better way to repay him than by honoring the memory in perpetuity of Ovadia Yosef? To include Elyashiv in the honor accorded to Yosef was to simultaneously honor the memories of two great scholars – a Sephardi and an Ashkenazi.
The municipal council was unanimous in accepting the idea, but not all the residents of Har Nof were in accord. In fact, close to 2,500 of them signed a petition against the name change – a factor that may be reflected in the next municipal elections. They are not the only disgruntled residents, so Lion should enjoy his current status while it lasts. He may not get a second term. The municipal naming committee was scheduled to meet as this column was going to press, so it is still possible for the neighborhood to get a reprieve.
By the way, changes in the names of Jerusalem neighborhoods do not always take hold. Several neighborhoods that had Arabic names were officially given Hebrew names that hardly anyone uses or is even aware of. “Katamon” was changed to “Gonenim,” a name used only in municipal publications. Likewise, “Talbiyeh,” the neighborhood in which the Prime Minister’s Residence is located, had its name changed to “Komemiyut,” but everyone still refers to Talbiyeh. If, in the final analysis, Har Nof becomes Neot Yosef, it will still be Har Nof.
■ ON A happier, far less controversial note, Lion last week joined members of the Kushner family from New Jersey, their Israel representatives and senior faculty of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, as well as members of the academy’s executive and board of governors, at the cornerstone-laying ceremony for a building to be constructed adjacent to the academy’s main building on the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University. It was very much a family affair, as the Kushners symbolically donned their yellow hard hats and took hold of their shovels.
The NIS 30 million building, to be named for Lee and Murray Kushner, ardent supporters of Israel, will include state-of-the-art facilities by way of concert auditoria, studios, classrooms and a cafeteria of the highest world standards. Murray Kushner, a real estate tycoon, knows a thing or two about high-standard construction and heads the KRE Group. The Kushner sons, Jonathan, who manages the family’s business interests, and Marc, a founding partner with Matthias Hollwich in a New York architecture firm, HWKN, are actively engaged in the project. HWKN designed the exterior of the building, while the overall design is that of Tel Aviv architect Erez Ella, a founding partner in HQ Architects.
Lion said that he sees great importance in the expansion of the academy, not only with regard to Jerusalem, but for its dance and music contribution to Israel as a whole. The academy’s president, Prof. Yinam Leef, said that the new building, which is scheduled to become operational in October 2021, will be of great benefit to the students.
Jonathan Kushner recalled that the family’s nine-year association with the academy began with a chance meeting in New York with then-vice president of the academy Meir Nitzan. The family could not have known at that time where that meeting would lead, he said. When he and his brother, Marc, had come to the academy for the first time, he related, they felt an instant sense of identification. Marc Kushner said that as an American Jew and an architect who has always dreamed of building in Jerusalem, for him the new building represents the realization of that dream.
Ella said that his big challenge had been to translate what the academy stands for into an architectural design, and that he believes that he has succeeded.
■ MESSAGES OFTEN flow quickly among members of The Jerusalem Post WhatsApp group, and every now and again someone announces that they’ve got a scoop. In the early hours of Friday morning, a message to this effect was transmitted by the paper’s chief photographer, Marc Israel Sellem, who wrote in capital letters “I have a scoop for you.” Many of his colleagues wondered what it could be at that time of the morning. Had he witnessed a terrorist attack? Was there something on the political front that had eluded radio and television reporters? Had he learned of some famous personality who was coming to Israel? None of the above. His scoop was somewhat more personal. The scoop announcement was followed by a photo of Sellem and a smiling young woman who was showing off a ring on the fourth finger of her right hand. Underneath was the caption “She said yes.”
However, Sellem neglected to mention the name of his bride-to-be. The couple met several months ago when Sellem’s father was ill in the hospital and eventually died in the last week of July. It was a devastating blow for Sellem, his mother and his siblings, but there was a little light provided by a chance meeting and good chemistry. No sooner had the word got out about Sellem’s changing status from eligible bachelor to engaged, and the happy congratulatory messages flowed fast one after the other. All his colleagues at the paper were delighted for him, as were his press photographer friends and rivals. The photo he took of himself and his fiancée was a selfie. It’s unlikely that he’ll be doing that at their wedding, but he won’t need to hire a photographer either. Most of the press photographers who are his friends will be jostling each other to produce the best possible stills and videos of the bride and groom
■ ON SUNDAY of this coming week, British Ambassador Neil Wigan will for the first time host the annual Armistice Day Memorial Ceremony at Ramle Military Cemetery, which is one of several military cemeteries in the country and the region that are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The ceremony always takes place on the Sunday closest to November 11 and includes a Scottish piper in full dress uniform.
Sam Lewis, chairman of the Israel branch of the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women, has been contacting as many World War II veterans as possible in the hope of getting them to attend the memorial service, but regrets that numbers have been dwindling from year to year. Most World War II veterans are in their late eighties and some in their nineties, and in many cases are now too feeble to participate. But there’s no reason for their children and grandchildren to stay away.
The Ramle cemetery dates from 1917 when the city was occupied by the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade. Ramle and nearby Lydda (now Lod) were places for field ambulances and casualty clearing stations. The cemetery was initiated by the medical units, but, later, fallen soldiers were brought from the battlefields for burial. During the Second World War, this cemetery was used by the Ramle Royal Air Force Station and by various Commonwealth hospitals located in the area for varying periods. The War Cemetery contains 3,300 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, 964 of them unidentified. Second World War burials number 1,168. There are also 892 war graves of non-Commonwealth nationalities from both wars, and 525 non-war burials, many from the RAF and garrison stations that were at Ramle in the interwar years and until the end of the British Mandate in 1948. In addition to the graves, there is a 1914-18 monument, erected in 1961 to commemorate more than 300 Commonwealth, German and Turkish servicemen of the First World War who lie buried in cemeteries elsewhere in Israel where their graves could no longer be maintained. Only 74 of the casualties are named. A 1939-45 monument commemorates 28 Jewish and non-Arab servicemen of the Second World War, and six non-war casualties of the Palestine Police Force, who lie buried in cemeteries elsewhere in Israel where their graves could not be maintained in perpetuity.
■ LAST WEEK, the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Beersheba was the scene of an Australian and New Zealand service for the ANZAC soldiers who fought successfully in the Battle of Beersheba. That service was hosted by the Australian and New Zealand ambassadors, Chris Cannan and Wendy Hinton, respectively. Afterward, a service for Turkish soldiers who fell in that battle was hosted by the Beersheba Municipality, and from there, another service was held at the Park of the Australian Soldier that was donated to the city of Beersheba by the Melbourne-headquartered Pratt Foundation, whose executive director, Sam Lipski, joined the foundation’s Israel representative, Peter Adler, in the extremely well-attended event.
At the entrance to the park is an impressive, larger-than-life-sized statue of an Australian soldier mounted on his horse, bayonet pointing forward to strike. One of the Australian visitors was unfamiliar with the story of the battle, which was the last cavalry charge in modern warfare, nor did she know the difference between a sword and a bayonet. Lipski, who has a long career as one of Australia’s leading, prizewinning journalists, and whose overseas work as a reporter included being the Washington correspondent of the Post, is an expert on ANZAC history in World War I, and happily explained it all to her. Incidentally, his daughter and son-in-law also worked for the Post – not in Washington but in Jerusalem.