Grapevine: Out of the zoo...

Israeli flag (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli flag
(photo credit: REUTERS)
More than 80 donors from the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Russia, Germany and Liechtenstein who will arrive in Jerusalem for the Jerusalem Foundation International Conference, taking place October 16-18, 2018, will get to meet Shai Doron, the new president of the Jerusalem Foundation, whose appointment was announced in July, but who formally took office this month.
The intensive three-day conference, which will include tours to different parts of the city to actually see foundation projects and not just hear about them across the conference table, will include a tour of the Gottesman Family Aquarium at the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens, and who better to lead it than Doron, who has just stepped down from a long period as CEO of the zoo. Storytelling is one of Doron’s talents, and every Friday afternoon, listeners to Yaron Enosh’s two-hour program on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet have been presented with an interesting story by Doron on life at the zoo, especially in the company of four-footed creatures, exotic birds and fascinating fish. As foundation president, Doron will still keep his finger on the pulse of the zoo, but it will be a case of looking in from the outside.
The Jerusalem Foundation, which was founded by Teddy Kollek, has contributed greatly to the development of arts and culture in Jerusalem, but has been active in other spheres as well. “The Jerusalem Foundation continues to play a crucial role in shaping Jerusalem’s landscape,” said Doron in a press release. “An international conference like this gives us a unique opportunity to personally thank our friends who understand the importance of our vision to preserve a cultural, pluralistic, modern and creative Jerusalem.”
■ DUE TO visit Israel in the first week of October is the governor of the state of Victoria in Australia, Linda Dessau, and her husband, Anthony Howard. Dessau, who is also a lawyer by profession, is the first female governor of Victoria, and the first member of the Jewish faith to hold the position. She is one of five Jewish individuals who have served in a vice-regal capacity. She was preceded by governors-general Sir Isaac Isaacs and Sir Zelman Cowan, who like Dessau were both born in Melbourne, Victoria; Sir Matthew Nathan, who was the governor of Queensland; and Gordon Samuels, the governor of New South Wales. Nathan and Samuels were both born in England.
■ IN OTHER news from Down Under, former ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma, who retired from foreign service after returning to Australia, has thrown his hat into the political ring and has won the Liberal Party preselection contest for the federal seat of Wentworth. The seat was previously held by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who endorsed Sharma, as did John Howard, another former prime minister. Turnbull, who was ousted from office last month, said at the time that he would quit politics. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in tweeting congratulations to Sharma, called him “a quality guy with extensive experience and capability.”
Since returning home, Sharma has been an unofficial spokesman for Israel.
He loved being here and had his service extended at his own request.
■ THE EUROVISION Song Contest finals will be held just under a week before the 54th birthday of Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev. If Israel wins, she’ll take it as a birthday present. She had announced previously that she would boycott Eurovision if it wasn’t in Jerusalem, but she’s obviously realized that it’s better to have it anywhere in Israel than not in Israel at all. Presumably, she will order another couture creation – this time in shades of blue and turquoise to represent the beaches of Tel Aviv. Or she might choose blue and white because of the circumstances. In the event of another Israeli win, the national colors are imperative.
Although there is little doubt that Ron Huldai will be reelected mayor of Tel Aviv, the Eurovision people, in choosing his city, gave him a few extra brownie points. All things considered, Tel Aviv, which is considered to be the gay capital of the Middle East, is the right venue for Eurovision, taking cognizance of the fact that so many past contestants from different countries, including Israel, belong to the LGBT community. Many of the rainbow flags and banners that went up for the last gay pride parade have not been taken down, and more are likely to go up before the Eurovision visitors arrive.
It’s going to be a very profitable period for Tel Aviv hotels, as well as for domestic tour operators, who will undoubtedly be arranging tours from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and points elsewhere. It is to be hoped that the desire to show off the country will take priority over greed. If prices are low enough to be symbolic, but high enough to be profitable, it will be a win-win situation and a great way to triumph over BDS.
■ BUT EVEN before Eurovision fever sets in, locals and visitors to Tel Aviv will be able to rub shoulders with celebrities such as Hebrew-language expert Avshalom Kor, spoon bender Uri Geller, prizewinning master chef Tom Franz and quiz wiz Itai Hermann, better known as The Chaser, who will lead tours of their childhood haunts and other parts of Tel Aviv during the intermediate days of Sukkot. All in all, there will be 60 tours during a six-day period.
Probably the most unusual but informative tour will be led by Hermann, who will take people through Tel Aviv’s famed Trumpeldor Cemetery, where many of the early pioneers and cultural icons of the city are buried.
The cemetery, which dates back to 1902, is not quite in the heart of the city, but is certainly much more accessible than cemeteries in outlying areas. Because Hermann is the kind of person who likes to share his knowledge, he’s bound to stop at several graves to talk about specific people whose names are etched on the tombstones.
Actually, he should also go to the much larger Nahalat Yitzhak Cemetery, where many famous people such as Alexander Penn, Natan Alterman, Tirza Atar, Dahlia Ravikovitch, Natan Yonatan, Moshe Vilenski, Mordechai Zeira, Nahum Nardi, Izhak Graziani, Hanna Rovina, Shmuel Rodensky and Yafa Yarkoni are buried.
Yarkoni who was born in Tel Aviv, and lived there all her life, should have, to all intents and purposes, been buried at Trumpeldor Cemetery, where her nemesis Shoshana Damari is buried. There was a lot less to the so-called rivalry between the two than the media led readers to believe.
Other famous people buried at Trumpeldor include Haim Arlosoroff, Chaim Nachman Bialik, Meir Dizengoff, who was the first mayor of Tel Aviv, Shaul Tchernichovsky, acknowledged as one of the greatest of all Hebrew poets, Lova Eliav, who was a diplomat, teacher and politician, and singer Arik Einstein.
There’s a lot of Israeli history in general and Tel Aviv history in particular in both cemeteries. The sad part is that so many of these people, who achieved so much in their lifetimes, are all but forgotten.
In Yarkoni’s case, for instance, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality has not yet seen fit to name a street after her or to put up a monument in her memory.
Her records are seldom played on radio – and yet she and Damari, separately and together, sang to the soldiers in the IDF in all the wars that took place during their lifetimes.
Eurovision would be a good time to unveil monuments to both of them and to include among the many concerts being planned during the first half of May 2019 two concerts with the most-loved songs of each.
■ NO ONE should hold his breath about the opening of a Czech Embassy in Jerusalem, even though such a move has been approved by the Czech authorities. But the approval comes with a corollary to the effect that the move will take place only with the joint agreement of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. However, in a joint statement last week, the Czech president, prime minister, parliament speaker and foreign and defense ministers said that the opening of the Czech House in Jerusalem in November, when President Milos Zeman is to visit Israel, would be the first step of moving the Czech Embassy to Jerusalem.
In July, when Slovakia announced the opening of a cultural and scientific center in Jerusalem, several media outlets mistakenly reported that Slovakia was moving its embassy, an error that caused quite a headache to Ambassador Peter Hulenyi, who went to great pains to explain that this was a first step toward the possibility of moving the embassy, but that there would be no embassy move in the foreseeable future.
Despite the split of what was once Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic remain on excellent terms, and often take similar steps with regard to specific issues. Both are this year celebrating the 100th anniversary of Czechoslovakia, despite the fact that it no longer exists, and both have chosen to open cultural centers in Jerusalem as an expression of their friendship with Israel.
■ THE OFFICIAL part of most national day receptions hosted by heads of foreign missions in Israel is usually bilingual, in that the speeches are delivered in English, but the ambassador may struggle with a brief introduction in Hebrew. Sometimes, the representative of the Israeli government, in reciprocity, delivers an address beginning in the language of the ambassador’s country, but then switches to English or Hebrew. In the case of countries that are part of the former Soviet Union, the government representative is usually Sofa Landver, who delivers her address in both Russian and Hebrew, while the ambassador may speak in English.
Some Israeli government representatives deliver their addresses only in Hebrew, and an English translation is read out by the Foreign Ministry’s Chief of Protocol Meron Reuben or some other representative of the ministry.
But last week, many of the guests were surprised when Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who represented the government at the 197th independence day celebrations of Central American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, delivered the whole of his address in Spanish. It was a much longer address than usual, in that he had to give due credit to relations between each of the four countries and Israel, and was somewhat more inclined to favor Guatemala, the only one of the four countries that moved its embassy to Jerusalem. Levin had warm words of praise for Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, though he was also generous in his references to Costa Rica, El Salvador and Honduras.
On September 15, 1821, the leaders of five Central American nations – Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua – accepted a plan drafted by the Mexican Agustin de Iturbide, declaring their freedom from Spain.
The representatives of four of the five countries – Ambassador Esteban Penrod of Costa Rica, Ambassador Mario Edgardo Castillo of Honduras, Ambassador-designate Mario Adolfo Bucaro of Guatemala, who has yet to present his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin, and Hector Enrique Celarie, charge d’affaires of El Salvador – hosted not only a reception but a magnificent sitdown dinner at the Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel. Each of the four countries had a display of some of its products, plus a variety of colorful travel brochures.
One product that they all had in common was coffee.
Nicaragua was not represented. In March 2017 it was announced that Israel and Nicaragua were renewing relations after a seven-year hiatus, but that has not yet been finalized, so there was no representative from Nicaragua.
Latin American national anthems tend to be long, and guests had to listen to all four as well as to “Hatikvah.”
As the most recent arrival to Israel, Bucaro was chosen to speak on behalf of his colleagues. He referred to the date as “the day of our freedom, the day of our unity,” with the goal of preserving the highest ideals of peace, liberty and development as well as solving common problems and creating a more democratic and more integrated society. Together, they also demonstrated compromise and the spirit of friendship, he said.
As far as relations with Israel are concerned, all four countries want to build up trade, were grateful for the training in different fields provided by Mashav, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, and for the large number of Israeli tourists who visit Central America.
Ariel Goldgewicht, the Costa Rican-born director of the Latin American Department of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, practices what might be called green diplomacy. He gets to meet all the Latin American dignitaries, from presidents down, who visit Israel and is with them when, after their traditional visits to Yad Vashem, they plant a tree. For the dignitaries, the tree-planting ceremony is often an emotional experience.
For KKL-JNF, it is yet another symbol in the greening of Israel and the advancing of bilateral relations.
Dignitaries from Latin America have contributed to the 250 million trees planted by KKL-JNF.
In appreciation of the good relationship between Latin American embassies and the organization as well as with Mashav, both Goldgewicht and Mashav director Gil Haskel were presented with gift baskets.
■ ELSEWHERE IN Latin America, a new government has been sworn in in Colombia, under the presidency of Ivan Duque Marquez. The vice president is Marta Lucia Ramirez, the first woman vice president of the Republic of Colombia, whose previous positions include minister of defense, ambassador to France and minister for foreign trade.
■ IT’S A given today that women have senior ministerial positions in government, are leaders in high finance, serving as heads of banks, are scientists, supreme court judges, and university professors. In 1906, Finland became the first country to give women full political rights – namely, to vote and to be elected. In a handful of countries, female property owners were permitted to vote from the late 17th century onward, but in as enlightened a country as Switzerland, women were not given the right to vote till 1971, and in some Swiss cantons, they remained disenfranchised till 1991. In Saudi Arabia, women were finally permitted to vote in 2015 – but only in municipal elections. But all that, with only a few exceptions, is a relatively recent phenomenon, and there are still countries in which women are treated not as equals but as chattels.
Rachel Elior, who is Hebrew University professor emerita of Jewish philosophy, has written a book under the title “Grandmother did not know to read and write” (Hebrew). Elior notes that president Yitzhak Navon’s mother was illiterate and Haim Be’er’s Orthodox grandmother stubbornly taught herself to read. His mother who grew up in Batei Ungarin, one of the most ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem, was also self-educated.
While Jewish men were always encouraged to study, Jewish women were for centuries denied that right.
■ WHILE BETS are still on as to whether the train will finally start running from Jerusalem during the intermediate days of Sukkot, as promised by Transportation Minister Israel Katz, people interested in the history of public transport in Israel can get a large dose of nostalgia at the Egged Museum in Holon, where they can review 85 years of public transport, see how buses have changed in shape, style and size, and marvel at the fact that they weren’t always air-conditioned. The name “Egged” was coined by national poet Bialik, and each of the buses on display has a history of its own. The history of Egged is intertwined with the history of the state, as Egged buses have also been used to transport soldiers to and from the front.
The really good news is that entry and parking are free of charge. The bad news is that the museum is open only from 8 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and closes on Friday at 12 noon. For further details telephone (03) 914-2361.
■ DIRE PREDICTIONS about the demise of Yiddish have all been premature.
Avi Koren, who writes a nostalgia column in the weekend supplement of Maariv, the sister publication of The Jerusalem Post, last Friday devoted an article to Yiddish, writing mainly about Dzigan and Schumacher, the Yiddish comedy team, who found a way around a law forbidding Yiddish theater performances in Israel in the early years of the state. The law was limited to resident performers, so Dzigan and Schumacher used to perform for six weeks and then go on long tours abroad. Koren felt uncomfortable writing about them in Hebrew, likening such a travesty to “eating gefilte fish in a pita.”
Most of the duo’s audiences were Holocaust survivors who had seen them in Poland or Russia and for whom they were symbolic of an era erased by the Nazis. Aware of this, Dzigan would always open the show with the sentence “Jews, the most important thing is that we meet each other” and a consensual roar would rise up from the crowd. At the performance in Ohel Shem Theater on Tel Aviv’s Balfour Street in the early 1950s, there was such a huge crowd that it was impossible to accommodate everyone in the theater’s 1,000- seat auditorium. So loudspeakers were put up along Rothschild Boulevard to enable the overflow to at least hear Dzigan and Schumacher, even if they couldn’t see them.
Until their unfortunate split in 1960, they were perceived in the same light as Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello. The draconian anti-Yiddish law was eventually amended with the proviso that a third of the program would have to be in Hebrew.
So a Hebrew singer was brought on to fill in time between sketches, and that was considered to be a third of the show in Hebrew. Schumacher died a year after the breakup, and Dzigan continued to appear for another 20 years.
One of the frequent writers of his comedy sketches was Ephraim Kishon, who did not speak Yiddish and who wrote in Hebrew. The material was then translated into juicy Yiddish.
On one occasion, wrote Koren, Kishon, who was curious about the Yiddish stage, went to see a Dzigan performance, in which all the material had been written by Kishon. The crowd was absolutely convulsed with laughter, stamping feet and clapping hands. Kishon knew what he had written, and although it was humorous, he didn’t think it was that funny.
He turned to the woman next to him to query what everyone was laughing about and asked her to translate the joke. “I’m sorry sir,” she apologized, “but it’s almost impossible to translate Yiddish humor.”
■ DIPLOMATS WILL have a tough time next month in doing justice to both Korean Ambassador Choi Yong Hwan and Ukrainian Ambassador Hennadii Nadolenko, who are each celebrating the national days of their respective countries on the same date. The Korean reception is in Herzliya Pituah, whereas the Ukrainian reception, which starts a half hour later, is in Tel Aviv.
■ AMONG THE milestone anniversaries taking place this year was the 70th anniversary of the assassination on September 17, 1948, of Count Folke Bernadotte, the Swedish peace mediator between Israel and the Arabs.
He was the first envoy appointed by the United Nations, and as such the first envoy to the Middle East, a region in which he had no experience and very little knowledge. Moreover, he attempted to change the resolution taken by the United Nations on November 29, 1947. Under his newly formulated plan, there would not be two states; there would be only one mixed-population country, ruled by King Abdullah I of Jordan. Jerusalem and the Negev would be under Arab control, and while Arabs who fled during the War of Independence would have the right to return, Jews who fled during the War of Independence would not have such rights, and young Jews, some 10,000 of whom were in Cyprus, would not be permitted to immigrate to Israel.
Fearful of the possible realization of Folke Bernadotte’s plan, the Stern Group, the most right-wing of the resistance movements against the British, decided that the Swedish diplomat should not be permitted to continue, and that the only way to stop him was to assassinate him. Yitzhak Shamir, who was the group’s leader at the time, is believed to have given the order, and the assassin is believed to be Yehoshua Cohen, though this was never openly proved or confirmed, and his son chooses not to confirm or deny. However, following Cohen’s death in 1986, two of the members of his assassination team, Yehoshua Zettler and Meshulam Markover, confessed to having conspired with him and said that he had been the one to fire the fatal bullet. But Cohen was no longer around to slam down or support their confessions.
After the establishment of the state, Shamir spent a decade as a Mossad agent and later entered politics and rose to become Israel’s seventh prime minister. Cohen was never charged and went on to become one of the founders of the Sde Boker kibbutz, where Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, chose to spend his twilight years. Despite their political differences, Cohen was Ben-Gurion’s bodyguard, and the two became close friends.