Grapevine: Significant anniversary

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

Chemi Peres, Janice Gillerman, Yoav Igra, Yona Bartal, Prof. Ronni Gamzu.  (photo credit: CHEN SHINAV)
Chemi Peres, Janice Gillerman, Yoav Igra, Yona Bartal, Prof. Ronni Gamzu.
(photo credit: CHEN SHINAV)
Thirty years ago, the fall of the Berlin Wall made headlines around the world and led to the reunification of Germany.
It is interesting that the entrances from East to West Germany were opened on November 10-11, 1989, which happened to be the 51st anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night of the shattered glass, when Jewish shops and synagogues were viciously attacked by Nazi hooligans.
One anniversary commemorates the beginning of the end of flourishing Jewish life in Europe; and the other the end of Communist oppression and the path to liberty for the citizens of East Germany.
For some years now the German Unity Day has been held at Kibbutz Glil Yam near Herzliya, which is a wonderfully spacious venue inside and out with lots of tables, chairs and sofas plus numerous food islands.
Many ambassadors host nonkosher receptions, especially in their residences. But German Ambassador Dr. Susanne Wasum-Rainer, following the example of her predecessor, chose a venue that was more than just kosher. There was also a food island for vegetarians plus something that is quite rare – a counter with sealed boxes containing a full meal such as those served on airlines. These boxes were for those guests who eat only glatt kosher, and whose dietary standards are usually ignored.
In a moving address in Hebrew, English and German, Wasum-Rainer noted that the president of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, would be participating in the 75th anniversary commemorations of the liberation of Auschwitz as well as International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, Germany and Poland. In the latter two cases, he will visit the sites of former concentration and death camps.
Apropos the Israel commemoration, which has been bankrolled by European Jewish Congress president Dr. Moshe Kantor, 29 heads of state, including three monarchs and their entourages, have indicated that they will be attending the conference at Yad Vashem and the special dinner hosted by President Reuven Rivlin. However, there is a major problem in relation to the overall event in that special safety and security standards for heads of state are demanded by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), and all the Jerusalem hotels that meet these requirements are already fully booked. More than a dozen heads of state have yet to be accommodated.
To make matters worse, the Foreign Ministry has thus far distanced itself from the event, according to a senior Yad Vashem official. Last month, ministry employees called a strike in response to severe budgetary cuts which make it almost impossible for them to carry out their duties.
Hopefully, the problem will be resolved in the near future. If not, the additional human resources required to escort visiting dignitaries and to attend to their needs may have to come from another source. Some of the best people recruited for the Eurovision Song Contest would probably be prepared to again serve the country by making everyone feel welcome, but they are not exactly replacements for Foreign Ministry personnel.
Almost in tandem with Wasum-Rainer’s celebration of German Unity Day and the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was being honored in Munich by the World Jewish Congress as the 2019 recipient of the WJC Theodor Herzl Award The award ceremony at the Munich Jewish Community Center was cohosted by Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria and WJC commissioner for Holocaust memory.
In thanking WJC president Ronald Lauder, Merkel said: “It is humbling for me that I, as a German chancellor, can receive the Theodor Herzl Award today. Jewish life in Germany must be supported – and protected.”
Referring to the attack on the synagogue in Halle over Yom Kippur, Merkel called it a “heinous crime that fills us with utmost shame.” She added that such developments are deeply troubling “because they attack us all: Jews and non-Jews alike, everything that our country stands on, our values and our freedoms. They hit at the core of our shared existence, because they flow from a deep hatred of democracy. We must never accept the fact that people in Germany have to live in fear because of their religious convictions. We must do everything in our power to make sure they can live their lives free and safe. Antisemitism and racism do not begin with violent acts; it is much subtler. We must make sure not to wake up only after words have become deeds.”
In presenting the award Lauder underscored the progress made in postwar Germany to rebuild itself and eradicate its dark past. He lauded Merkel as “the icon of this incredible success” and “the symbol of all that is good in postwar Germany.” He also praised Merkel for standing by Israel and for being “the guardian of democracy, the guardian of civilization and the guardian of Europe.” In cautioning against the dangers of rising antisemitism in Europe, Lauder said: “We must stand united against antisemitism, racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and homophobia. We must fight the haters of every people and of all people, and it’s up to all of us to take action, now.”
Wasum-Rainer’s remarks were in a vein similar to those of Merkel, adding that the history of Germany “obliges us to always stay vigilant.” There is no room in Germany for right-wing radicalism, she insisted. When Germany assumes the presidency of the European Union in the second half of 2020, the fight against antisemitism will form part of its policy, she said.
Regarding the fall of the Berlin Wall, the ambassador said that the lesson it taught was that in a nonviolent demonstration against Communist oppression and tyranny, the citizens of East Germany had proved that the impossible is possible and that we must never give up hope.
Justice Minister Amir Ohana, who represented the government, told Wasum-Rainer that he wishes he could be as eloquent in German as she is in Hebrew. Ohana voiced the government’s appreciation for Germany’s fight against antisemitism and the legislation it passed in opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. He hopes that other European countries will follow the German lead and adopt similar legislation.
“We trust that Germany will forever stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel. Our relationship is based not only on a tragic past, but the vision of a shared future,” he said, and emphasized that both countries should strive to learn from the experiences of the other.
■ KEYNOTE SPEAKER at this year’s memorial gathering in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square this coming Saturday night to mark the 24th anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin will be Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. Also among the speakers will be Shimon Sheves, who served as director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office during Rabin’s period of tenure.
Sheves remembers that Rabin and King Hussein enjoyed a close relationship long before the signing 25 years ago of a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan.
■ ONE OF the people who spent the most time with former president and prime minister Shimon Peres in the last quarter of a century prior to his death was vivacious grandmother Yona Bartal. She not only worked with him in Israel but accompanied him on nearly all his trips abroad, including clandestine meetings that have yet to be declassified. When Peres concluded his official years of service to the state and moved from the President’s Residence in Jerusalem to the Peres Center for Peace, located in Jaffa, Bartal was among those members of his staff who moved with him, and she more or less continued in her role as deputy director of his office. Efrat Duvdevani, who had been the director of the President’s Office during the period of Peres’s presidency, became the director of the Peres Center for Peace and continues in that role. After Peres died in September 2016, Bartal, who wanted to remain part of the team that preserves his memory, his ideals and his work, took it upon herself to head the Friends of the Peres Center.
Chemi Peres, the late president’s son who worked closely with his father and who chairs the Peres Center, warned her that she was taking on a very difficult task and that she would not have an easy time. Peres was well known for his optimism and his refusal to give in to failure. When a door closed for him, another always opened. His attitude was contagious, and Bartal therefore took Chemi’s warning in her stride. The upshot is that she has built an ever-growing support network for the Peres Center, and last week many of the Friends of the Peres Center accepted her invitation to a summer farewell party at the Tel Aviv home of inventor and drip irrigation pioneer Rafi Mehudar.
It was an event at which they not only enjoyed a spectacular view of Tel Aviv from the 34th floor, good food and each other’s company, but also a lecture on new medical technologies and a rendition of the “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” from Verdi’s opera Nabucco by the Tel Aviv Chamber Orchestra, plus a medley of songs sung by an a cappella group.
Among those attending were Michael and Adi Strauss, Imad Halachmi, Janice and Danny Gillerman, Galia Albin, Yehudit and Avigail Pearl, Anat and Shmuel Frankel, Ruthie and Avi Goren, Henia and Moshe Nur, Atalia Shmeltzer, Chemi Peres and his sister, Zvia Walden.
Bartal told the guests that since the expansion in 2016 of the Peres Center to its current status of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, it has hosted more than 40,000 visitors from around the world, including people from countries with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations, and has held more than 100 events.
■ IF YOU’VE never seen a coming-and-going cake, then it’s obvious that you were not at the farewell party hosted by Austrian Ambassador Martin Weiss and his wife, Susi, in tandem with the annual Austrian Independence Day reception at the Austrian residence in Herzliya Pituah.
The large rectangular cake frosted in Austria’s national colors of red and white bore two frosted flags – one American and one Israeli. The extremely popular and constantly good-natured Weiss will soon be taking up his new posting in Washington after a four-year stint in Israel.
Weiss provoked a laugh when he said that after four years in the country, he had decided to deliver his farewell speech in Hebrew, but realizing that it would have to be short because his command of Hebrew is inadequate, he had second thoughts and switched to English.
After Israel, he is not sure that his next assignment could be regarded as a promotion, he said.
Yossi Gevir, director of governmental and external affairs and senior assistant to the chairman at Yad Vashem, came with a Yad Vashem delegation to present Weiss with Yad Vashem’s six-branched menorah in memory of the six million Jews who were murdered or who perished during the Holocaust. The gift was in appreciation of what Weiss had done to facilitate access by Yad Vashem researchers to archives that were previously inaccessible. It was also in recognition, said Gevir, “that you understood that the situation is not normal, and that relations are not normal. You haven’t tried to normalize them, but you tried to help us deal with a painful past and to build a better future.”
Weiss recalled that his first meeting in Israel took place at Yad Vashem, and he took it upon himself to gain archival access where it had previously been denied. He said it was hard to imagine why data protection would be imposed on research of this nature. “You can’t have a future if you don’t have a past,” he said.
Yanki Farber, a mainly foreign news reporter for the Orthodox online publication B’Hadrei Haredim, met Weiss two years ago through his Twitter account and asked to interview him. They became friends, and one day Farber asked Weiss if he had ever eaten cholent, the traditional slow-cooking Sabbath stew that stays in the oven overnight. Weiss hadn’t, so Farber took him to Bnei Brak on a Thursday night when restaurants serve cholent to yeshiva students – and Weiss loved it. In fact, the cholent may have cemented their friendship. Farber, who also made friends with Susi Weiss, brought a silver gift for both to ensure that they would remember Jerusalem.
Farber, as a roving reporter who roams around the Jewish world, said that he had been to Austria and had spoken to many Jews who told him that they felt safe and were not afraid to wear a kippah on the street. The Austrian government immediately clamps down on any perpetrator of antisemitism, he was told repeatedly.
Representing the government was Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, who extolled Weiss as having been an ambassador for Austria in Israel and an ambassador for Israel in Austria. Bearing this in mind, he found it difficult to understand why Weiss has been “demoted” and sent to Washington.
Steinitz noted that Austria is coming to terms with its past and is teaching Holocaust history in schools. It is very important for Austrians to know that there was once a flourishing Jewish community in their country, he said.
He is certain that just as Weiss had represented Israel to his own government, he would continue to represent Israel’s interests in Washington. Weiss left no doubt that indeed he will. He also said in private conversations that he would return to Israel as often as possible because he has made so many friends here.
■ LAST MONTH there were several memorial events to honor the memory of Ari Fuld, the larger-than-life New York native, on the first anniversary of his death. Fuld, 45, was stabbed to death by a terrorist near a mall in Gush Etzion on September 16, 2018. Despite the gravity of his wounds, Fuld summoned the last vestiges of his strength, gave chase to the terrorist and neutralized him before he could harm anyone else.
Deeply religious, and with a very strong affection for the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, Fuld, who lived in Efrat, and had himself been a soldier in the IDF, serving in Lebanon, and who continued to do reserve duty in Gaza, was known for defending the IDF against criticism, and for distributing care packages to soldiers stationed along the Strip. His devotion to the IDF was expressed on social media and via an English-language television program that he hosted.
One of his big dreams was to have a hospitality truck that would bring perks for the soldiers to army bases, especially those located in the most sensitive areas. This project, founded in his name and that of Yehoshua Friedberg, was dedicated early this month, in partnership with Standing Together and Fuld’s wife, Miriam, and other members of his family.
Another project that Fuld was very keen on was to ensure that there was a Torah scroll on every IDF base, for the use of religious soldiers as well as nonreligious soldiers who were happy to join their comrades in arms in making up a prayer quorum.
This particular project has long been a standard mission of the Israel branch of the International Young Israel Movement, which is now linked with the Fuld family in acquiring three Torah scrolls for distribution to the army, the navy and the air force in the names of Ari Fuld and Friedberg, a native of Montreal who in 1992 joined the IDF together with Fuld. They served in the same platoon and were friends. In 1993, Friedberg was brutally murdered by terrorists who had kidnapped him. His friends spent almost a week looking for him before they discovered his lifeless body, which had been thrown by the wayside. Fuld never forgot him and wrote memorial texts about him every year, so it was only natural that Friedberg be included in the projects being carried out in Fuld’s memory.
■ ON THE subject of Torah scrolls, Prof. David Newman of Ben-Gurion University, a native of London, who has long been living in Israel, and who served as dean of the university’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences between 2010 and 2016, after having previously established the university’s department of politics and government as well as the Center for the Study of European Politics and Society, is also a student of Anglo-Jewish history.
While on sabbatical in London during the past two years, Newman spent much of his spare time working on the rich Jewish archives of the United Synagogue, the Beth Din, the Office of the Chief Rabbi and the Board of Deputies, all on deposit at the London Metropolitan Archives in Farringdon. This has allowed him to collect much material relating to the history of the United Synagogue.
In addition to collecting historical data about the United Synagogue and its clerical and lay leaders, Newman also collects Torah scrolls from British synagogues that are no longer operating, for lack of congregants, and distributes them to congregations in Israel.
On Hanukkah Newman and his sister will donate two Torah scrolls to Moshav Mevo Betar, which has a mixed Sephardi, North African and Ashkenazi population. Newman’s sister will donate a new scroll in memory of her late husband, who was Iraqi, and Newman will donate an old Torah scroll to the Ashkenazi congregation. The scroll that he is donating comes from Edinburgh, and will be presented in memory of his great-grandfather.
■ IT”S SOMEWHAT of a pleasant change to find the Israeli media united in positive reporting and comments about a member of the Netanyahu family, Avner Netanyahu, the younger son of the prime minister, who has valiantly tried to stay out of the limelight, but who in recent months has found himself in the media spotlight.
In July he sued anti-corruption activist Barak Cohen, who publicly harassed him on the basis of allegations against the prime minister. Before that, it was learned and publicized that Avner, like many young students at the Hebrew University, was working as a waiter in a suburban Jerusalem coffee shop. Over the past few days he was photographed arriving with his girlfriend, Noy Bar, at the Tel Aviv luxury home of London-based international real estate investor and developer Zak Gertler, who hosted the prime minister’s 70th birthday party, at which the guests were primarily personal friends of the prime minister and his wife.
But Avner received the most favorable coverage following his appearance on Monday on the British television quiz show The Chaser, in which he not only acquitted himself well, but also made a good personal impression. The program was prerecorded, and there had been a bevy of reports about one of the contestants who is a reluctant celebrity; but after the program was aired, reviewers had only good things to write about Avner, though some wondered whether he had not been thrust into a place that he didn’t really want to be in, in order to divert attention from his dad.
Apropos Gertler, 63, he is one of Netanyahu’s many super-wealthy friends, such as Joseph Gutnick, Sheldon Adelson, Spencer Partrich, Arnon Milchan and James Packer, who move in circles of great affluence and influence.
Born in Frankfurt, Gertler joined his father, Moritz, a Holocaust survivor, in a real estate company believed to be the most prosperous in Germany. In the early 1990s, Gertler and his wife, Candida, an avid art collector, moved to London, where he opened a very lucrative branch of the family business. He also owns extensive property in Israel, including four boutique hotels. The historic town house on Bialik Street, which is his home away from home, was previously an apartment complex, which he purchased and remodeled, while preserving the outer facade, and to which he added three underground floors.
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