Grapevine September 4, 2019: The start of a new decade

A roundup of news from around Israel.

President Rivlin talks at influencer conference in Tel Aviv (photo credit: KOBI RICHTER/TPS)
President Rivlin talks at influencer conference in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: KOBI RICHTER/TPS)
Just eight days ahead of the elections, President Reuven Rivlin will celebrate his 80th birthday, according to the Gregorian calendar. Rivlin prefers the Hebrew calendar date of 25 Elul, which will be in the last week of September. But the president’s transition into his next decade will be nothing like that of his predecessor Shimon Peres, whose 80th birthday bash in September 2003 was hosted by president Moshe Katsav, who had defeated Peres in the latter’s first run for president. Rivlin also missed out on his first run, but that’s where the similarity ends. Rivlin will have a very low-key affair, if he has one at all. Guests at the gala Peres event at what was then the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv (now the Charles Bronfman Auditorium) included Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev, actress Kathleen Turner and prime minister Ariel Sharon, among many other dignitaries and celebrities.
The entertainment included teenage superstar Liel Kolet, who was 14 years old at the time. She had been scheduled to sing John Lennon’s “Imagine” together with a choir of 40 Jewish and 40 Muslim children. Knowing that Clinton was musical, she invited him to join her on stage and to sing the song with her. The clip of their performance went viral and helped to springboard her international career. She is not only a great singer, but an ardent peace activist.
■ APROPOS PERES, whose vision for the future included the establishment in 1996 of the Peres Center for Peace: following the completion of his presidential tenure, it was expanded to its present role as the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, and has exceeded the expectations of its founder. Its venue is in Jaffa, one of the few mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhoods in Israel. In addition to promoting a prosperous Israel, a shared living space and lasting peace between all of Israel’s citizens and all of Israel’s neighbors, the Peres Center also serves as a venue for diplomatic and other international events, sporting events that illustrate the possibility of coexistence, and the launch of innovative products and projects.
On Wednesday, for instance, the Peres Center will be the venue for the launch of an innovative program that uses creative design methodologies to solve problems at the municipal level. Keynote speaker will be Facebook Israel CEO Adi Soffer Teeni.
This initiative is a joint venture of Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Interior Ministry and the Peres Center. The purpose is to create “i-teams” to work with 12 Israeli municipalities to improve the lives of their residents through design thinking.
Bloomberg Philanthropies has run similar programs in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beersheba (as well as other cities around the world) to address a range of issues, from at-risk youth to improving cost of living for families and creating an environment enabling entrepreneurs to thrive.
The “i-teams” will apply Bloomberg Philanthropy’s models for innovation and problem-solving for issues identified by each selected city’s mayor.
■ OVER THE centuries, various parts of Europe have been carved up and annexed by empires and totalitarian regimes. There were residents of countries who went to bed with one national identity, and woke the next day with another. In some cases, there were people who had lived in four countries without ever taking a step outside their village. Poland was one such country, regaining its independence at the end of the First World War, in November 1918, after 123 years of partition.
In September 1939, Poland was again invaded by aggressors – first by the Germans on September 1, and second by the Russians on September 17.
While there is no denying that antisemitism existed in Poland for centuries, and that many Jews with brilliant minds were denied access to universities due to a numerus clausus policy, Jewish life in Poland flourished, and Poland boasted the largest pre-World War II Jewish community in Europe.
There have been distortions of history both by Poles and Jews with regard to World War II and the Holocaust. The fine line of debate, as far as the Poles are concerned, lies in claims by many Jewish survivors and their descendants that Poland was in cahoots with the Nazis. Poland does not deny that there were individual antisemitic Poles who killed or betrayed Jewish neighbors. But the Polish government in exile did whatever was possible to bring the plight of the Jews of Europe in general and Poland in particular to the attention of world leaders. Such information was inter alia gleaned from firsthand reports by non-Jewish Poles who had been imprisoned in concentration and death camps and had managed to escape.
Count Edward Bernard Raczynski, the foreign minister of the London-based Polish government-in-exile, in a note dated December 10, 1942, sent a nine-page letter to the governments of the member states of the United Nations, outlining what was happening to the Jews and urging these governments to act in order to prevent further killings.
Readings of extracts from what is known as Raczynski’s Note, which was originally written in English, were videotaped by the Polish Embassy, with Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski reading from the original text, and Kan 11 Reshet Bet current affairs anchor Aryeh Golan reading a Hebrew translation. Golan, the son of Holocaust survivors, was born in Poland soon after the war, and returns there frequently. The video can be seen on the website of the Polish Embassy.
This past Sunday morning, on the 80th anniversary of the German invasion of Poland, Golan interviewed Magierowski in Hebrew on his early morning radio show. Magierowski made the point that Poland’s history with its Jews was not limited to the six-year period of the war, but goes back for nearly a thousand years. When three million Polish Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, he said, “we lost part of our Polish culture.”
When Golan asked him about latter-day antisemitism in Poland, Magierowski replied that it has to be viewed in proportion to what is happening in the rest of Europe, where antisemitism is on a much greater scale.
Following a survey commissioned by the embassy, Magierowski and his team realized that much is lacking in knowledge about Poland in Israel. Yes, many people, especially high schoolers, visit Poland, but it is essentially to become more familiar with what happened during the Holocaust. There is so much more to Poland, said Magierowski, who sees it as his mission to fill in the gaps and teach Israelis about Polish culture, Polish cuisine, and Polish film personalities.
This year, in addition to commemorating the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, Poland is also celebrating the 100th anniversary of the regaining of its independence, the 30th anniversary of semi-free elections in which Solidarity won and formed the new government taking Poland out from under the Communist yoke, and the 100th anniversary of Poland’s film industry, which will include Polish Film Month under the heading of Polish Zoom, which will include screenings of Polish films during September-October at cinematheques in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Holon, Herzliya and Sderot, with leading figures from Poland’s film industry coming to Israel to converse with audiences.
Polish Zoom is being held under the joint auspices of the Polish Institute in Tel Aviv and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute in Poland.
The films date from 1917 to 2018. The oldest film is Beast, starring Pola Negri, one of the greatest stars of the silent cinema. It is the only remaining Polish film in which Negri stars. A stage and screen actress and singer, she decided to broaden her career horizons by going to Germany, and from there to the United States. She was the first European actress or actor to sign a Hollywood contract.
One of the particularly interesting films is The Last Stage, directed by Wanda Jakubowska, which was the first feature film about what it was like to live in Auschwitz, where Jakubowska had herself been a prisoner.
■ JERUSALEM’S FABULOUS Shalva Band, which wowed the world during the Eurovision semifinals, this week released its second single under the title “I see something good in you.” The band, whose members are all young people with varying special needs, is extremely talented, proving that no one should be judged on what they can’t do, but on what they can do. The song was written by Anael Khalifa, one of the blind singers in the band, and the melody that tugs at the heartstrings was composed by guitarist Sara Samuels.
The Shalva Band is popular all over the country, and is signed up with Zappa for at least three appearances in October. The first of these performances will be at Zappa Jerusalem on October 16, followed by Zappa Herzliya on October 23 and then Zappa Tel Aviv on October 31.
■ IN JULY 2016 and May 2018, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Rivlin each made history as, respectively, the first prime minister and president of Israel to visit Ethiopia. Rivlin, during his visit last year, met with several dignitaries, including Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whom he greeted this week as the first Ethiopian prime minister to visit Israel.
Earlier in the day, Netanyahu told Ahmed that this was the first time since the days of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba that the leaders of their two countries had exchanged visits. (Emperor Haile Selassie had come to Jerusalem twice before the establishment of the State of Israel, and the Empress Menen Asfaw had come in 1961 to spend Holy Week in the Old City of Jerusalem.)
Because the Ethiopian New Year and the Jewish New Year are within less than three weeks of each other, and because Ahmed celebrated his 43rd birthday on August 15, Netanyahu offered congratulations in Amharic and then asked whether he had used the correct pronunciation. He was assured that he had.
Ahmed reciprocated by opening his address in Hebrew. Later when sitting with Rivlin, he said “thank you” in Hebrew, after Rivlin had reviewed the centuries-old relationship between their two countries, underscoring the fact that during the visit of the Queen of Sheba, Jerusalem had been the capital and is still the capital.
The meeting was attended by two Ethiopian-born members of Knesset, Pnina Tamano-Shata and Gadi Yevarkan, who was head of Be’eri Military Academy and a prominent activist in the Campaign for the Equality of Ethiopian Jews before becoming a legislator following last April’s elections.
Ahmed told them that he respects them, is very proud of them, and sees them as ambassadors for Ethiopia in Israel. Tamano-Shata was quick to point out that Ethiopia has an official ambassador in the person of Reta Alemu, who was also present, but at the same time acknowledged that she has a foot in each camp.
Ahmed said that he knew of Ethiopian-born Israelis or those of Ethiopian descent who were serving in the army, in politics, doing well in business “and changing the country.”
Rivlin introduced Yevarkan as the MK known by everyone in Israel for kissing his mother’s feet before taking the oath of allegiance as a legislator.
Rivlin stressed Ethiopia’s importance to Israel, especially with regard to Ethiopia’s potential in Africa.
While the meeting was taking place, a small but very noisy protest was being held across the road from the President’s Residence, with remarkably loud shouting through a megaphone – the sound penetrating the walls of the presidential complex. The demonstrators, holding and wrapped in Ethiopian national flags, called Ahmed a criminal and yelled that there are homeless, starving children in Ethiopia.
At the meeting inside, Tamano-Shata, speaking in English, said that it was an honor to be present and that Ethiopian-Israelis will continue to enlarge the cooperation between the two countries. What bothered her was that there was still no word of what has happened to Avera Mengistu, who crossed into Gaza five years ago, and as far as is known is in Hamas captivity; the fate of 150 young Jewish men who served in the Ethiopian army before the revolution; and what is happening to those Ethiopian Jews who have been left behind.
Yevarkan chose to speak in Amharic, which he said was his first language. He explained that the Jews of Ethiopia were not migrants in the usual sense of the word, but prayed for centuries to return to Jerusalem. “However, we remain Ethiopians,” he clarified.
Relating to the demonstration taking place outside, as well as the violent demonstrations that took place in July based on what many members of the community perceived as needless, discriminatory police violence based on color prejudice, Rivlin said that like all other Israeli citizens living in a democracy, those of Ethiopian background have the right to demonstrate, though he suggested that they show some restraint. Alluding to the sweeping political and economic reforms that Ahmed has introduced since taking office in March 2018, Rivlin said that Ethiopia could do a lot to help Israel reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Under Ahmed’s administration Ethiopia reached a peace accord with neighboring Eritrea, including renewed flights, port services and road transport between the two countries.
“Israel needs a signed peace treaty, declared Rivlin, adding that this can be attained only through mutual building of confidence. “The Palestinians have to understand that we are here, and we have to understand that they are here,” said Rivlin. “We are not doomed to live together. We can live together in harmony.” He charged religious people on both sides with provoking animosity toward the other. “We must create the ability to live in a federation. We have the need to cooperate,” he stated.
Rivlin described the present situation as “volcanic,” fueled by talk of Muslims needing to protect themselves against Jews, and Jews talking about the need to protect themselves against Muslims. Ahmed responded that Ethiopia is committed to not only fostering bilateral relations but also to regional and global peace and would work toward the realization of this aim.
Ethiopia’s first female president Sahle-Work Zewde, who is currently the only female head of state in Africa, was elected last year and has been invited to Israel. Rivlin said that he looks forward to hosting her.
■ FORMER PRIME minister Ehud Olmert has added his name to the growing list of prominent business, political, cultural, and entertainment personalities who are doing whatever possible to prevent the deportation of Israeli-born children of Filipino mothers. The current policy, they claim, runs counter to policies of previous governments of Israel.
The signatories to the petition have asked El Al, whose insignia includes the national flag, to refuse to fly such children and their mothers out of Israel. Among the other signatories are Colette Avital, Nachman Shai, Gila Almagor, Ron Ben Yishai, Ehud Banai, Aviv Geffen, Yael Dayan, Dov Weissglas (who was director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office during the term of Ariel Sharon), Rabbi Michael Melchior, Ohad Naharin, Ahinoam Nini, Joseph Cedar, Eli Finish, Chemi Peres, Roni Kuban, Dani Karavan, Ephraim Shamir, Ra’anana Raz and former education minister Prof. Yuli Tamir.
■ IT’S EXTREMELY rare for left-wing Israeli peace activists to place a large advertisement in a religious right-wing publication that supports Israeli annexation of the West Bank. But strange bedfellows sometimes have mutual interests, which may account for the fact that last week Besheva, which is considered to be an organ of the settler movement, ran a near full-page advertisement in which the public was urged to not under any circumstances add their names to the Noam Party signature campaign.
The possibility of mutual anti-Noam interests may have fallen by the wayside given that a Noam advertisement that took roughly one-fifth of the page was placed directly below that of the peace camp, with the Noam election sign actually overlapping the left-wing advertisement.
■ VETERAN JOURNALIST Yaron Enosh, one of the leading experts on Greek music and culture, fell in love with the music of Mikis Theodorakis when he was six years old, and saw Zorba the Greek for the first time. The youngest of three siblings whose parents were Holocaust survivors from Poland, Enosh had an idyllic childhood in that his father either owned, was a partner in, or worked for, cinemas, which meant that the young Yaron saw a movie every single day, and was able to get his friends into the movie theater free of charge, a factor that enhanced his popularity.
Even at the tender age of six, Enosh was entranced by Greek music and one of the many memorable Zorba quotes, in which he said to Basil, his young intellectual companion, “You have everything but one thing: madness. A man needs a little madness or else he never dares cut the rope and be free.”
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of his Israel Radio Reshet Bet program Kol Shishi, which transitioned from the now defunct Israel Broadcasting Authority to Kan 11, Enosh, in conjunction with Kan 11, is hosting a tribute to Mikis Theodorakis at the Herzliya Cultural Center on September 25.
Readers who listen to Kol Shishi could well ask why Herzliya, if Enosh, who lives in Jerusalem, frequently talks on air about his forays into the Mahaneh Yehuda market. The answer is simply that it was in Herzliya, where he was raised, that Enosh discovered Theodorakis, and through him developed a love for things Greek – the islands, the food, the people and the music so often heard on his program. He is a frequent flyer to Greece, has befriended philosophers, entertainers, restaurateurs, diplomats and others, and has occasionally broadcast from Greece.
■ READERS OF last Friday’s Jerusalem Post may have taken note of the fact that the John Pritzker Family Fund has donated the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection to Israel’s National Library. One of the leading photographic collections in the world, it not only traces more than a century of the history and development of photography, but also contains some of the most important images of the 19th and 20th centuries. The John Pritzker Family Fund will support the continued digitization of all of the library’s photographic holdings so that they can be available to a wider public and used in various exhibitions.
For readers who may be unaware of who the Pritzkers are, they own the majority stock in the global Hyatt hotel chain, which used to have properties in Israel, but for several years now there have been no Hyatt hotels in Israel. However, the Chicago-based family, which is among the wealthiest in America, and is also active in politics, continues to support Israel in many ways, especially Israel Bonds, which they support to the tune of at least $500,000 each year.
Another famous family member is Jay Robert Pritzker, popularly known as “J.B.” He currently serves as the governor of Illinois and is the third member of the Jewish faith to hold that position. His estimated personal wealth is $3.2 billion, and financial publications have listed him as the second-wealthiest politician in America after Michael Bloomberg.
Another family member who is politically active is Penny Pritzker, who enjoys a longtime friendship with former US president Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle. She was one of his financial supporters in his 2004 Senate campaign, a major fund-raiser in his 2008 Democratic primaries campaign, and was the national finance chair of his 2008 presidential campaign. Obama subsequently nominated her to serve as US commerce secretary, a position in which she served from 2013 to 2017. She is a major player in the various and varied Pritzker enterprises.
John Pritzker started his working career with Hyatt hotels, and rose on the basis of merit to top executive positions, but left to branch out on his own – something that he has done with great success.
■ WOMEN WAGE Peace is not fielding candidates of its own in the September 17 elections, but its members are making it their business to meet candidates, to learn of their commitments to peace and to put forward WWP proposals.
WWP, in the belief that women should be part of the decision-making process regardless of their political affiliations, is hosting a peace conference on Friday, September 6, at 9 a.m. at Talkhouse at Tel Aviv Port to exchange views with Eli Avidar from Yisrael Beytenu; Stav Shaffir, the Democratic Union; Amir Peretz, Labor Party; and Ofer Shelah, Blue and White.