Grapevine: Perpetuating her name

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

ZAKA leader Rabbi Yehuda Meshi-Zahav and members of ZAKA, attend a simulation drill on June 21, 2011. Members of ZAKA, most of whom are Orthodox Jews, assist ambulance crews, aid in the identification of the victims of terror, road accidents and other disasters, and where necessary gather body parts (photo credit: YAAKOV NAUMI/FLASH90)
ZAKA leader Rabbi Yehuda Meshi-Zahav and members of ZAKA, attend a simulation drill on June 21, 2011. Members of ZAKA, most of whom are Orthodox Jews, assist ambulance crews, aid in the identification of the victims of terror, road accidents and other disasters, and where necessary gather body parts
(photo credit: YAAKOV NAUMI/FLASH90)

IN LAST week’s In Jerusalem, I wrote a story about Susie Sheiner whose house had been burned in the fire at Moshav Meor Modi’im two years ago. The article mentioned her Italian ex-husband Eliahu Gal-Or, who she had met on a train in Naples. He followed her to America and converted to Judaism, unaware of the fact, that technically, there was no need for him to do so.

After reading the article, Gal-Or asked to clarify the facts and wrote that his maternal great grandmother was Josefa Nehama Oliviero who married a nobleman and converted to Christianity. Her daughter Asunta married Gal-Or’s grandfather.

Gal-Or was born in 1945 and his mother had been so traumatized during the Nazi occupation, that she never revealed her Jewish background to her son.

Gal-Or’s father was a French information officer behind enemy lines and his mother, who spoke excellent French, became his helper. Pursued by the SS, they had to escape to the mountains of Irpinia in southern Italy, hiding in caves during her pregnancy. Afterward, she chose to hide his Jewish ancestry from her son.

“I did indeed convert in the US while still unaware, and on my way to Israel I visited my mother in Napoli to show her the children, and that is when my aunt Miriam revealed the secret to me,” writes Gal-Or.

Yehuda Meshi Zahav, Chairman Israel's Zaka rescue unit speaks at a conference of the Israeli Television News Company in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)Yehuda Meshi Zahav, Chairman Israel's Zaka rescue unit speaks at a conference of the Israeli Television News Company in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

Technically, he was the son of a Jewish mother, and that made him Jewish from birth according to Halacha. As he was unaware at the time, conversion simply solidified his Jewish identity.

■ THIS WEEK, Hazvi Yisrael congregation introduced a morning kollel (Jewish text study group) led by Rabbi Dr. Alan Kimche, founding rabbi of the Ner Yisrael community in Hendon, London, UK. The kollel meets on Mondays and Thursdays from 9.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. There is sufficient variety in the study program to make it appealing to both people with a yeshiva background, as well as novices who were not privy to study Jewish sources when they were boys.

Classes are held at 14 Hovevei Zion Street, Talbiyeh. For further information, contact: [email protected]

■ THE PLAGUE of 2020 – The view from the Israeli Window is the first book in an eight-volume series written by Dr. Steven Sattler who lives in Jerusalem.

The first book was published several months ago, and the second has just been completed. The focus is on Israel, but for the most part, the series deals with the world and selected regions. It is readable for the general public but also serves as a reference for the scientific community, given that it contains data, facts, comments and conclusions. For further information and purchase contact [email protected]

■ EMUNAH JERUSALEM’s Toby Willig Committee together with the English Department of The Emunah Appleman College of Arts & Technology has organized a special event in which students will present course projects, drama skits, art, research and personal innovations. Prizes will be awarded for the most outstanding projects, and people attending the event will gain some kind of understanding of what Emunah College is all about.

Toby Willig, before coming on aliyah from New York, was a national president of Emunah in America. Among the many activities in which she engaged in Israel, was a regular lecture series on topical subjects held at Emunah’s key center in Jerusalem.

Following her death three years ago, it was decided to continue with the lectures and some of the other activities in which she was involved by establishing a committee that perpetuated her name.

The event will be held at Emunah College, 104 Bethlehem Street on the corner of Rivka Street in Baka, which is easily accessible from buses traveling along Hebron Road, There is a bus stop on the corner of Hebron Road and Rivka Street. People with physical disabilities should go to the Emunah College gate and use code 5115 in order to enter, and then proceed to the Dov Sylvestsky room. The event is being held on Monday and Tuesday, December 20-21 from 3:45 p.m. Entry fee each day is NIS 25, payable at the door. For further information telephone 02-5639963 ext.4.

■ SINCE HIS suicide attempt last April, ZAKA founder Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, whose name had appeared in media headlines for years, suddenly slipped below the radar. Following an investigative report by Haaretz in which there were rape and sexual assault allegations against Meshi-Zahav, on the evening of the day that he attempted to hang himself there were further revelations on the Channel, 12 program Uvda (Fact). For many years, he was the anti-Zionist leader of haredi (ultra-Orthodox) young men who threw stones at Sabbath desecrators; then he had an epiphany following a terrorist attack on an Egged bus. He formed the ZAKA search and rescue organization, sent his sons to serve in the Israel Defense Forces and lit a beacon on Mount Herzl on Israel Independence Day. Dressed in typical haredi attire, he was a frequent guest at diplomatic affairs and events hosted by the upper echelons of Israeli society. Then came the coronavirus and within a few weeks, Meshi-Zahav lost a brother and both his parents. Almost to compensate, he was named a recipient of the Israel Prize. He had already been notified by then-Education Minister Yoav Gallant. But after the Haaretz article, he forfeited the prize and resigned from the chairmanship of ZAKA. Soon after, he attempted to take his life. A report last Friday in Yediot Yerushalayim, the local supplement of Yediot Aharonot stated that since April, Meshi-Zahav has been a patient at Herzog Hospital for a little more than seven months in a sedated condition. He does not respond to nursing staff or to members of his family. No one from ZAKA has visited him, but his family comes on a daily basis, especially his wife. According to earlier media reports, police were preparing to arrest him at the end of April or beginning of May. He is unlikely to stand trial unless there is a miraculous improvement in his condition.

This has angered some of his victims for whom there is no closure. They wanted to be in court to hear a judge pass a heavy sentence on him. That is now unlikely to happen. Before trying to hang himself, Meshi-Zahav wrote a long letter denying the allegations against him.

■ THE JERUSALEM Municipality seems to be sponsoring a lot of conferences and other events as the year draws to a close. What is particularly interesting is a conference at the Yehuda Hotel, this Sunday, December 19, on Working from Home. Mayor Moshe Lion is among the participants. If he’s encouraging people to work from home, why is he simultaneously encouraging the construction of many office towers? Does he intend to convert some of them to studio apartments?

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