Grapevine: Seeing them for who they are

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN is flanked by Stephen Hoffman (left), chairman of the board of the Mandel Foundation, and Prof. Jehuda Reinharz, president and CEO of the Mandel Foundation, against a backdrop featuring a larger-than-life image of Mort Mandel. (photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN is flanked by Stephen Hoffman (left), chairman of the board of the Mandel Foundation, and Prof. Jehuda Reinharz, president and CEO of the Mandel Foundation, against a backdrop featuring a larger-than-life image of Mort Mandel.
(photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
He who saves a single life saves a whole world – so the Talmud tells us. But many people, especially senior citizens living in retirement homes, are too often forgotten as they slip below the radar. Such people are part of the wonderful series 80 and four featured on KAN 11, in which a group of senior citizens with sufficient mental and physical stamina are thrust back into a childhood, the kind of which most of them never had. Few went to kindergarten, and they hadn’t played the kind of games that four-year-olds play. The series brings a preschool into a sheltered living facility and has the seniors doing the same things as the juniors.
For the seniors, it is a grand adventure in the twilight of their lives, a respite from loneliness and a warm feeling of affection from the tiny tots who are full of empathy and are essentially nonjudgmental.
One of the consultants to the program was Dr. Yoram Maravi, a senior physician in the department of rehabilitation geriatrics at Hadassah-University Medical Center, who last week was interviewed on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet by Geula Even-Sa’ar. Too often, said Maravi, people look at senior citizens without really seeing them as individuals who once contributed to society – and in many cases still do.
Even people like him occasionally tend to overlook the sensitivities of senior citizens. He related a story of a woman in her mid-eighties who had never married and was a resident in a retirement home. The only visitors she had were her dead sister’s grandchildren. One day, when he was visiting the facility, he saw that the grandniece had come with her own children, and they were all sitting with the senior resident, looking through an old photo album. Curious, he joined them to see what the senior citizen looked like at a much younger stage in her life. Then the story of her past was gradually revealed to him.
She and her sister had been engaged during the British Mandate period to Moshe Barazani and Meir Feinstein, respectively, who had been sentenced to hang as punishment for subversive activities against the British. They committed suicide in their prison cell by embracing over an orange in which a hand grenade had been hidden. The explosive orange had been delivered with a small basket of other oranges.
■ AMBASSADOR TO the UN Danny Danon maintained his friendship with Nikki Hailey, the former US ambassador to the UN, after she stepped down from her position. He was among those present last Wednesday when she was officially conferred with the Herzl Award by World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder.
“The UN’s bias against Israel has long undermined peace, by encouraging an illusion that Israel will go away. Israel is not going away. When the world recognizes that, then peace becomes possible,” said Hailey.
As a freshman in the United Nations, she recalled, it became clear to her that certain “outdated customs” of the organization, such as bullying Israel, had become common practice – complete with a “monthly Israel-bashing session” in the Security Council. One of the first lessons she learned, Haley said, was that “the most important thing is to not be afraid to rely on your core values, even when they go against outdated customs... [which] have gone unquestioned for years. One of those core values is standing up for your friends.”
“Some people accused us of favoritism toward Israel,” Haley related, adding: “But what we did was really not about favoritism. In all that we did at the UN, our approach to Israel was tied together by one major idea. The idea is the simple concept that Israel must be treated like any other normal country,” she said. “And that demand is actually a demand for peace.”
Haley also said that amid the rising threats facing Jewish communities around the world, it is absolutely vital to continue to fight against antisemitism. “It is baffling to me that antisemitism is not treated with the same disdain as racism or other forms of hate. It is exactly the same. It must never be tolerated. It must never be excused. It must never be rationalized,” she declared with all the passion that had been a feature of her statements at the UN.
In presenting the award Lauder underscored Haley’s relentless support for the State of Israel, as a leading voice in the fight against the prevailing double standards and biases within the international community. Calling Haley “perhaps the most courageous woman in America today” and a “breath of fresh air” who subjected the UN to “a strong and clear voice of truth,” Lauder said: “The Herzl Award comes with our gratitude, and with our deep appreciation. But it also comes at a price.
You will not be able to rest, because we expect even greater things from you.... Like Herzl, you have championed a cause that has, and continues to have, more than its share of enemies. But it places you on the right side of history. And if there is anyone in this room that has the fire, the courage, and the faith to take on this test, it is you, Nikki Haley.”
Haley brought along a few autographed copies of her book With all Due Respect – Defending America with Grit and Grace, which details her experience at the UN. Danon was naturally one of the recipients.
■ AS HAS been mentioned several times in this column, Israel’s astonishing achievements in many fields would have been close to impossible without the support of the numerous philanthropic foundations and individual philanthropists who have donated to numerous Israeli projects and causes. One only has to look at the plaques on the walls of Israeli medical centers or institutions of higher learning to realize that without the input of the Diaspora and non-Jewish friends of Israel, many of Israel’s accomplishments would still be pipe dreams. The above-mentioned are only two of the areas for which there has been extensive financial support from many parts of the globe. Many individuals and foundations have adopted several projects and causes, but few can equal the Mandel Foundation which was created by the late Morton Mandel and his brothers, Jack and Joseph.
Mort Mandel, who died on October 16, just a month after his 98th birthday, was the chairman and CEO of the foundation and a frequent visitor to Israel. A highly successful businessman, Mort Madel became involved at an early age in civic and philanthropic activities in his native Cleveland, Ohio, and in 1953, together with his brothers, established the Mandel Foundation.
Today, the primary mission of the Mandel Foundation is to help provide outstanding leadership for the nonprofit world through leadership education programs in its own institutions and at selected universities in the United States and Israel.
Among the more recent gifts of the Mandel Foundation were: $25 million for the establishment of a new Bezalel Academy campus in the heart of Jerusalem; $50m. for the development of studies in humanities at the Hebrew University; $25m. toward a children’s museum and other facilities in Beersheba; $13m. to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev for its leadership center, and $7m. to the innovation center in Yeroham.
Last Friday, a memorial gathering was held for Mort Mandel at the Jerusalem Theater, which was packed to capacity by members of the Mandel family, including his wife, Barbara, representatives of the organizations and institutions supported by the Mandel Foundation, as well as the many individual beneficiaries of grants and programs.
Keynote speaker was President Reuven Rivlin, who said: “With the passing of Morton ‘Mort’ Mandel, the State of Israel and the Jewish people have lost a dear and beloved friend, a great Jew and Zionist. Mort used to say that his greatest aim, the most basic goal of all, was to be a mensch first and foremost. Mort was a true mensch, a wonderful human being, well-mannered, easygoing, with a dash of nobility. He built and managed huge and successful businesses with his own two hands and never forgot the people he met along the way. He was a talented manager who knew to find the best people and help them grow and develop.” Rivlin also noted that Mandel’s legacy is to be found in all sectors of Israeli society in all its diversity – Jews and Arabs, secular, Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox.
■ SOMETHING RELATIVELY unusual happened in Israel last week. Near the conclusion of the third annual Christian Media Summit, whose participants were in Israel as guests of the Government Press Office, GPO director Nitzan Chen asked them whether there should be a fourth summit, and whether it should be run on similar lines as the summits to date, or whether there should be a different format. He asked everyone to think about it and submit their ideas. Let’s be honest, in our so-called democracy, the will of the people is often ignored. But here was a case where the will of the people was not only sought but encouraged. Wonders will never cease.
■ THE ANNIVERSARIES of the deaths of Yitzhak Rabin, Yitzhak Navon and Chaim Weizmann all fall within the space of a week, according to the Gregorian calendar, though not necessarily the Jewish calendar.
Interviewed last Friday on Reshet Bet by Kobi Oz, Erez Navon said that his father had always tried to give him and his sister as normal an upbringing as possible, while teaching them to respect people from all walks of life. When the ever-courteous Navon was in the hospital, said Erez, he apologized to the nurse taking his blood pressure, for having to lie down while she was standing. In earlier years, said Erez, his father got up particularly early so that he could offer a cup of coffee to the man who delivered the morning newspapers.
As for Rabin, it is heartwarming to see the affection between his 94-year-old sister, Rachel Rabin Yaakov, who still stands ramrod straight, and her brother’s adoring children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Chaim Weizmann, who was instrumental in lobbying for what became known as the Balfour Declaration, was very frustrated about being sidelined in Israel, and having his presidential position turned into something far more ceremonial than that of Rivlin. His nephew Ezer Weizman, who was Israel’s seventh president, said that his uncle used to complain that the only thing he could poke his nose into was his handkerchief.
Other deaths commemorated in November are those of Leonard Cohen, Jerome Kern, John F. Kennedy, Charles de Gaulle, Dylan Thomas, Shlomo Carlebach and Freddy Mercury, among several other famous personalities.
■ DEPENDING ON who one asks, the intransigence of either Benjamin Netanyahu or Benny Gantz, or both, accounts for the stalemate in the attempts to form a government and avoid a third round of elections. For some odd reason, Avigdor Liberman, who is perceived as the godfather of whoever becomes the next prime minister, is actually the cause of this whole political mess. The ultimatums that he has delivered, though seemingly aimed against Netanyahu, are actually aimed against the inclusion of religious, especially haredi political parties in the Knesset.
But in a true democracy, all sectors of the population should be represented, and just as Liberman sees himself as the protector of the rights of secular Jews and those people who regard themselves as Jews even though they do not meet halachic requirements, so, too, the growing haredi community is entitled to representation.
Under the circumstances to date, either Netanyahu or Gantz or both will pay the price for Liberman’s Machiavellian machinations, which on Wednesday he will try to foist on Rivlin.
■ APPARENTLY, CULTURE and Sport Minister Miri Regev has learned nothing from experience. Every time she raises a hue and cry against a play or a film, it serves only to increase attendance. The same happened over the weekend with the documentary film Advocate about controversial lawyer Lea Tsemel, who consistently represents Palestinians and fights for their rights. In June Regev vehemently objected to the film receiving the Best Film award at the annual Docaviv Film Festival in Tel Aviv. Then, last week, she demanded that the film be removed from the Docaviv Galilee Festival in Ma’alot-Tarshiha.
Mayor Arkady Pomerantz complied, explaining that the Ma’alot-Tarshiha Municipality was not involved in selecting the film, and that it is important to maintain a delicate balance between different factions among the population. Showing the film could shift this balance negatively, he insisted.
Docaviv organizers subsequently screened the film last Saturday at nearby Kibbutz Kabri. It was not a full-house attendance, but there were quite a lot of people at the lunchtime screening, some of whom told reporters that they had not actually intended to see the film, but they had come to demonstrate on behalf of freedom of expression.
Although it is painful to families of victims of terrorism to have Tsemel sympathetically portrayed in the production, and the organizers of Docaviv have apologized for any grief they may have caused to such families, it should be remembered that in most democratic countries, it is accepted that even perpetrators of the most indefensible crimes are entitled to proper legal representation.
The best example of this in Israel is not Tsemel but Yoram Sheftel, who successfully defended John Demjanjuk, who was accused of being a guard at the Sobibor death camp and an accessory to thousands of murders. Eleven Holocaust survivors recognized him as having also been Ivan the Terrible, one of the most brutal guards in Treblinka. Sheftel agreed to defend him because he never believed that Demjanjuk was Ivan the Terrible, and as a result became one of the most hated lawyers in Israel. He continues to arouse controversy. Sheftel was so hated for defending Demjanjuk that Yisrael Yehezkeli, a 71-year-old Holocaust survivor, threw acid in his face. Yehezkeli had attended several sessions of the 14-month trial and had repeatedly disrupted the proceedings. Demjanjuk, who died in a German nursing home in 2012, is the subject of a Netflix documentary.
■ RECOGNIZED AS one of the world’s leading authorities on contemporary antisemitism, Jerusalem-based Manfred Gerstenfeld will be the keynote speaker at the 31st anniversary gala dinner of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research (a nonprofit, independent, internationally recognized think tank), which will be held on Sunday, December 1, at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in Montreal. Gerstenfeld, whose byline has appeared from time to time over the years on op-ed articles in The Jerusalem Post, has been the recipient of several international awards for his research into contemporary antisemitism in different parts of the world. He is highly critical of what he considers to be the unprofessional manner in which Israel deals with antisemitism. His topic in Canada will be “Fighting the Worldwide Resurgence of Antisemitism.”
Among the dinner guests will be former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler, who, when in Jerusalem, attends the same synagogue as Gerstenfeld. There will also be video presentations featuring Rabbi Abraham Cooper, vice dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Los Angeles, and Hillel Neuer, director of UN Watch Geneva.
■ THE CAMPAIGN against antisemitism by the Chelsea Football Club has been nominated for yet another award! During 2019, it was awarded with the Community Project of the Year Award at the London Football Awards and received the Gold award from Ligue Internationale Contre le Racisme et l’Antisémitisme in Paris. Chelsea has now been nominated for the More Than Football Award, and a delegation from Chelsea will be heading to Barcelona this month for the conference and award ceremony. Club owner Roman Abramovich, who now lives in Israel, also supports the new global foundation to combat anti-Jewish hate online, established by Robert Kraft, which will play a key role in countering antisemitism worldwide.
Chelsea has also worked closely with Lord John Mann, the chairman for the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism, and will continue to work with him in his new role as independent adviser on antisemitism to the UK government. Chelsea anticipates that he will continue to support its efforts to fight antisemitism both on and off the pitch.
■ LIFE IS the things we don’t plan for. A delegation of 14 Australian businesspeople, including executives, investors and academics, did not have a meeting, not to mention a photo op, with Netanyahu and former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper on their itinerary. But when they checked into the King David Jerusalem Hotel last week, they spied Netanyahu and Harper and their wives having dinner. The group wanted to send over a complementary bottle of wine, which was politely declined, but the Netanyahus and the Harpers – separately and together, agreed to be photographed with the group, whose members were absolutely thrilled to take this visual memory of their visit back to Australia. Some of them were still talking about it at dinner on Friday night.
The group, which came to Israel under the auspices of the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, and was taken care of by the Israel-Australia Chamber of Commerce, continued with the traditional IACC practice of visiting the Great Synagogue for Sabbath services as guests of Great Synagogue president Zalli Jaffe, an international lawyer with several clients in Australia, who also met them again at dinner, where he explained some of the aspects of Jewish religious customs.
The vast majority of the group – comprising: Bronwyn Fox, Swinburne University; Graham Goldsmith, SEEK; Laura Anderson, SVI Global; John Durie, The Australian; Adam Jacoby, Swinburne University; Michael Langhammer, Pitcher Partners; Michael Oates, Australia Post; David Chuter, Innovative Manufacturing CRC; Con Frantzeskos, PENSO; Ros Hore, Swinburne University; Matthew Lambelle, Wise Employment; Zack McLennan, Lunik; Rebecca Marson, City of Melbourne; and Tracie Sternfeld, AICC – are not Jewish.
For most, it was also a first-time visit to Israel, but not a last. The majority said they were coming back with their spouses. They were absolutely blown away by Israel’s innovation.
When one of the Israelis present praised them for ignoring the negative publicity about Israel that appears in the media, their reaction was “What negative publicity?” This might suggest that Jews are oversensitive, or that in general people don’t take very much notice of foreign news in their local media.
Like other Israelis present, Jaffe was somewhat surprised by this lack of awareness, and in casual conversation several members of the delegation admitted that they knew very little about the Middle East in general and Israel in particular, and said that they had learned a great deal about Israel during their brief time in the country.
Jaffe, who has hosted many such groups, told them that they would be among the last for several months as the Great Synagogue is undertaking a major overhaul of the premises, not only in terms of renovation, but also accessibility, so that congregants with mobility problems will be able to easily access all parts of the synagogue.
■ MEANWHILE, IN Melbourne, the William Cooper Legacy Project, in conjunction with the Richmond Football Club, is organizing the Empowering Diversity annual dinner on December 5, which is the eve of the 81st anniversary of Cooper’s famous Australian Aborigines’ League Protest March to the then-German consulate, which was actually the Nazi consulate, following the Kristallnacht riots, in which Jewish people, synagogues and other Jewish buildings were attacked and Jews were arrested and in some cases killed for no reason other than they were Jewish. The protesters presented a petition to the consul, in which they declared their opposition to the brutal treatment of Jews by the Nazi regime. The project’s slogan is “Be an Upstander, not a Bystander.”
It should be remembered that when Cooper led this moral stand, aboriginals had minimal rights in Australia. But perhaps the indigenous population had a better understanding than the immigrant population and their descendants of what it meant to suffer discrimination and be persecuted. Thus, they were able to empathize with the Jews of Germany.
In December 2010, a delegation of Cooper’s relatives, including his grandson Alfred Turner, came to Israel, courtesy of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, and participated in a ceremony in the Yatir Forest, where a plaque was unveiled and trees planted in recognition of Cooper’s courageous protest.
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