Grapevine: They went to vote

Movers and shakers, how Israeli people shape the places of this country.

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN embraces Nili Oz (right) and Fania Oz-Salzberger (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN embraces Nili Oz (right) and Fania Oz-Salzberger
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
It would seem that voting regulations for presidents and prime ministers who actually live in Jerusalem, and are not temporary residents in the capital by virtue of their office, call for them to vote at the polling stations closest to their private homes, and not those that are closest to their official residences.
Shimon Peres did not go to Tel Aviv, Moshe Katsav did not go to Kiryat Malachi, Ezer Weizman did not go to Caesarea, and Chaim Herzog did not go to Herzliya Pituah. They all cast their votes at the Jerusalem School for the Arts, which is just behind the Inbal Hotel and within easy walking distance of the President’s Residence, in the event that they desired to walk to the polling station, and less than a three minutes’ drive away by car. But President Reuven Rivlin did not vote there or at the nearby municipal high school on Kaf-Tet B’November Street, which is also fairly close to his official residence. Instead, he voted at the Yefeh Nof School in Beit Hakerem, which is close to his private home.
Whereas most of the prime minister’s immediate neighbors voted at the school on Kaf-Tet B’November, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, voted at the Paula Ben-Gurion School in Rehavia, which is not far from their private home.
■ ON SUNDAY morning, Rivlin hosted the signing of an agreement of cooperation between the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and its American counterpart. He told delegations from the two academies that the next ceremony taking place at the President’s Residence would be in honor of the establishment of a new government.
However, on Sunday night, he hosted his monthly Bible Circle, which goes by the name of 929, which is the total number of chapters in the Bible. On this occasion, it was a ceremony of sorts in that it was dedicated to the memory of prolific writer, lecturer and peace activist Amos Oz, who had been a friend of Rivlin’s since their youth, during which they had been together in the Scouts, with eminent author A.B. Yehoshua, fondly known as Buli, as their leader.
Yehoshua was among the many people present, as were Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, Rabbi Benny Lau and journalist Gal Gabai (co-founders of 929) and members of the Oz family, including the writer’s widow, Nili, and his daughter Fania Oz-Salzberger, who had just returned from a memorial tribute to her father in Washington that had been attended by US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The Bible discussion at the President’s Residence was devoted to Joshua, the new leader of the Children of Israel.
Rivlin could not help but refer to the election campaign, which he said contained “too many films, words and reports that filled us with a feeling of fear; fear of each other, fear of the future. I think we can learn from it that, even if we are sovereign, our sense of sovereignty is not absolutely established. It’s as if we remained in the desert a moment before entering the Land of Israel and did not know which way to go – to the land of milk and honey or to the land that devours its inhabitants.” But the remark ended on an optimistic note, with Rivlin saying: “I know that this is the land of milk and honey.”
The late Uzi Narkiss, who was the commander of the central region during the Six Day War, and later held senior positions in the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, also spoke of a land of milk and honey, but often added the codicil: “Sometimes the milk goes sour.”
Rivlin later tweeted that he had been emotionally moved in greeting Nili Oz, her daughter and Buli, and with regard to Amos Oz stated: “How much we mis him, and how much his presence is still with us.” Oz-Salzberger, who spoke at the Bible Circle of the qualities of a leader, was presumably referring to Benny Gantz, whom she later mentioned in her own tweet, stating that he and her father had been “respectful friends,” even though Gantz was politically to the Right of Oz, whom he visited frequently during his illness, and with whom he had long talks. Her father had told her that a good leader must understand human nature, read the map and have courage and compassion. “That’s Gantz,” Oz-Salzberger summed up.
■ ON MONDAY, Rivlin had his first meeting with the committee that he has appointed to select this year’s recipients of the President’s Prize for Volunteerism. The committee is chaired by Noam Semel, who a year and a half ago stepped down from a 25-year career as producer and director of the Cameri Theater, which he had built into a cultural empire.
The occasion brought to mind a similar meeting that took place not long after Gantz had completed his tenure as IDF chief of staff and had returned to civilian life. Rivlin had appointed him as chairman of the same committee, and Gantz had sat alongside the president at the ceremony for the recipients, and had posed for onstage photos with Rivlin and each of the winners.
As chairman of the public council of the Israel Trauma and Resiliency Center, Gantz was again sitting alongside Rivlin when the organization celebrated its 20th anniversary at a ceremony at the President’s Residence.
Small wonder that Netanyahu was paranoid with regard to whom Rivlin would favor when deciding whom to appoint to form a government. It was the old story of just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that your fears are groundless. Although Rivlin has consistently said that he will follow the time-honored traditions of his predecessors in considering the recommendations of all the parties represented in the Knesset, he has made no secret of his fondness for Gantz or of the fact that he and Netanyahu used to be friends, but that this friendship no longer exists. Nonetheless, both are extremely respectful of each other at state ceremonies and have even been seen whispering to each other, putting national priorities above personal egos.
■ FORMER LIKUD MK Moshe Feiglin, who was more or less given the cold shoulder by his fellow Likudniks when he was previously a member of the legislature, is now, in his role as leader of the Zehut Party, being madly courted by the Likud and other parties that need him to tip the scales to guarantee that a united right-wing majority will recommend to Rivlin that he task Netanyahu to form the next government.
Feiglin has already voiced the conditions for his support, but the truth is that he doesn’t have to recommend anyone. During previous campaigns, delegations of the various parties that crossed the election threshold into the Knesset, after meeting with the president, came out and told waiting journalists whom they had recommended. In some cases they had not recommended anyone. This is usually the case with the Arab parties, and sometimes with the ultra-Orthodox.
■ APROPOS FEIGLIN, on Saturday night, he participated in a political program with Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg on Channel 11. The two were fairly polite to each other, with Zandberg even agreeing to support his bill on the use of medical cannabis. Feiglin is almost always soft-spoken, and generally follows the rules of civilized discourse. He usually has a half smile playing around his mouth, as if amused by a constant theater of the absurd, and he very seldom loses his cool. But Saturday night was one of the exceptions.
Moderator Dov Gilhar, who is overbearing at the best of times, was particularly so on this program, and angered Feiglin by quoting out of context something that he had said 20 years earlier in an interview with Haaretz. At the time, he was giving an example of how the democratic process can also lead to the most negative outcome, and instanced the democratically elected Nazi Party in Germany, which notwithstanding its vile policy, was nonetheless cultured and disciplined. Quoting from the article, Gilhar took Feiglin’s statement out of context and made it sound as if Feiglin had admired the Nazis and approved of their conduct.
Feiglin bristled, told Gilhar that he should be ashamed of himself, and demanded an apology. But Gilhar persisted. “You’ve done it again,” shouted Feiglin. “But that’s what you said,” retorted Gilhar. Feiglin yelled that he should read the whole quote and not just part of it. The over-garrulous Zandberg looked as if she was in shock, and was momentarily silent. It seemed as if she wanted to defend Feiglin but wasn’t sure of exactly what he had said 20 years earlier. Gilhar realized that he’d gone too far, changed the subject and spoke in a more conciliatory tone.
■ THE JUST-CONCLUDED election campaigns earned themselves a sobriquet that future political historians may find quaint and even amusing, but which in actual fact is no laughing matter. Several media outlets ran headlines and stories in which reference was made to Netanyahu’s so-called gevalt campaign. “Gevalt” is a Yiddish word, the meaning of which has been watered down “oh dear” or “OMG.” Literally, “gevalt” means might or violence, and if it should revert to its literal definition, future journalists and political historians will get a distorted idea of how these elections were conducted.
It was bad enough that the verbiage on nearly all sides was punctuated with fake news and libelous statements that crossed every redline. But at election time, the motto is often “All’s fair in love and war” – and this was war.
All the parties spent time and energy on foot and phone. On Monday, this columnist was phoned by six different parties, three of which had contacted her on at least three different occasions. This demonstrates an extraordinary lack of efficiency. If the same lists were being used by all the people who were engaged in soliciting votes by phone, surely these lists could have been divided alphabetically, and after that redivided, so that known members of political parties would be on one batch of lists and nonmembers on another. That’s basic common sense. And this is supposed to be the Start-Up Nation.
“Gevalt” was not the only word that may have been misused. Oren Aharoni, broadcasting several times a day on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, ran a most interesting series on previous election campaigns, bygone political figures and political parties that no longer exist. Whether the teaser name of the series was deliberately chosen to convey the wrong idea or whether the people at the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation simply didn’t realize the obvious is anyone’s guess. The title of the series was “Kach Baharnu,” which translates as: “This is the way we elected” or “Thus we voted.” But it could also mean “We voted Kach.”
It may be remembered that would-be candidate Michael Ben-Ari of the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party was disqualified by the High Court of Justice due to his incitement and what was perceived as his racist ideology. Ben-Ari had been an ardent follower of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the militant, ultra-right-wing nationalist party Kach, which was eventually banned.
■ STATUESQUE FASHION model and former Miss Israel Yityish “Titi” Aynaw, who won the title in 2013, has been selected to be the presenter for a pre-Eurovision television series in which she will interview contestants as they arrive from Europe. Over the years, Aynaw has met many celebrities, so this should not be a daunting experience for her. Within a month of becoming Miss Israel, the striking beauty met Barack Obama during his first visit here as president. He had been her hero ever since she had arrived in Israel as a 12-year-old orphan from Ethiopia to stay with her grandparents. One of her first invitations as Miss Israel was to a state dinner hosted for Obama by President Shimon Peres. With her grace and her beauty, she almost stole the show from the two presidents.
■ IT SOUNDS too utopian to be true. There is a solution for the heavy traffic congestion that clogs Israel’s roads. Netanyahu disclosed it during a campaign rally in Dimona toward the end of last month when he said that he’d had breakfast that day with Elon Musk, whom he described as “a genius” and “perhaps the greatest technological visionary of our time.” Musk, who is a technology entrepreneur, investor, pioneer in space travel, an engineer and a rapper to boot, is known as a global game changer who in 2018 was ranked 25th in the Forbes list of the World’s Most Powerful People.
Among the topics raised in their conversation was Israel’s transportation system, which Musk said could be largely improved by creating underground tunnels. He suggested that one of the companies he controls could dig those tunnels and thereby free up many roads. One of the excuses given for the reason that it took so long to build rail links from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and other parts of the country was that it was difficult to penetrate the hard basalt rock. Given the number of tunnels that have been plowed into hillsides, that problem appears to have dissipated with the help of technological advances. If trains, buses and delivery trucks were to travel underground, many of the crisscross bridges that have been built to accommodate the constant increase in traffic could be taken down, so that the landscape will be restored to its former beauty.
■ IN OCTOBER 2016, Michael Genniges, a publisher and owner of the largest bookstore in Bamberg, Germany, was sitting in the audience at Bamberg University, listening to a native son of the Bavarian city tell the story of his life – the life of a Jewish boy who had been expelled from school in 1938 simply because of his faith. The boy and his sister fortunately escaped the Final Solution to the Jewish problem. They were sent on a Kindertransport to England. Luckily, their parents survived, and the family was reunited three years later in Ecuador.
The boy was a multigenerational German Jew or, as he preferred to call himself, a European. Although he was an adolescent when he left Germany, there was a constant pull to return to his birthplace, his heritage and his traditions. It took 15 years before that happened. Since then, Werner Loval, a longtime resident of Jerusalem, has returned to Bamberg many times with his wife, Pamela, their children and their grandchildren, because he wanted his offspring to understand what it means to be European.
Now in his early 90s, with a mind still sharp as a tack, Loval has had an extraordinarily diverse career as a journalist, a diplomat, a real estate agent and developer, one of the founders of the Reform movement in Israel, an active and literally constructive member of AACI, the head of Jerusalem Rotary, and so much more. He has traveled widely in Europe and South America, and became an amateur historian when searching for his roots.
A wonderful raconteur who, like a true yekke, does not lose track of what he’s saying, Loval in 2016 went to his hometown to present his book, We were Europeans, to the university. He had been asked to give an address, and he spoke of the deep connections that his family, both on his mother’s and his father’s sides, had to Germany in general and Bamberg in particular.
Genniges was impressed with both the lecture and the book, and asked whether he could have a consignment to sell in his bookstore. The book generated considerable interest among his regular clientele, so much so that Genniges decided to publish it in German because he wanted more Germans to be aware of not only what happened in their country in the period leading up to the Second World War, but what it was like for Jews who had lived a good life to suddenly find themselves ostracized persecuted and impoverished. But more important, he wanted to show how a man who had been in that position as a youth had been able to raise a family, build a fascinating career and remain permanently optimistic.
Genniges who is also chairman of the Bamberg branch of the German-Israel Friendship Association, came to Israel with his wife, Elke, to present the Lovals with the German edition of the book. They also brought additional copies to distribute to the Loval offspring and friends.
When Pamela and Werner Loval were married at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1956, theirs was the first kosher wedding, and most of the who’s who in Israel at the time were among the guests. The Lovals have since hosted many guests in different parts of the world, but when they’re in Jerusalem, the King David is the venue for nearly all the special events that they host. Thus, when they held a dinner last week to celebrate the launch of the German edition of the book, the King David was the natural choice. There was also another reason for the dinner. They were celebrating the birth of their first great-grandchild, whose name is Yiphtach.
Among the guests were Ilan Greenfield, the CEO of Gefen Publishing House, which published Loval’s original memoir in English, along with his nonagenarian but still feisty father, Gefen Publishing founder Murray Greenfield, who is mentioned several times in the book and who has known Loval for more than 60 years. The two worked together when both were on the AACI executive.
Among the family members present was one of the many Loval grandchildren, Ori, who said that he had inherited his grandfather’s passion for family research and is now working for My Heritage, which has produced some amazing results in reuniting families, because it has gone to the next level in tracing family histories, and is using DNA testing.
Loval himself spoke of the rich, recorded Jewish history of German Jewry, which spans back more than a thousand years, but not many people know about it. He also spoke about searching for the graves of his great-grandparents who were buried in some remote village in Bohemia. No one else in his family had been able to locate the graves, but when he and his wife went in search of them, they found a local villager who took them to the obscure overgrown and neglected Jewish cemetery, and the first tombstone that they cleared turned out to be that of his great-grandfather.
Loval also spoke about another branch of his family which had owned the Aufhauser Bank in Munich, which was established in 1870 and confiscated by the Nazis in 1938 and renamed. Some years after the war, the descendants of the bank’s original owners were offered a large stake, and the bank reverted to its former name. The family later sold its shares to a non-Jewish banking firm, on condition that the name be retained, and that company in recent years sold the bank to a Japanese firm, which has also preserved the title.
Genniges commented that while Germany mourns its dead Jews, it doesn’t do anything for the living. He regretted the growing strength of the far Right, not only in Germany but in the rest of Europe. “The old antisemitism is a reality,” he said, though he doubted that Nazism as it was in the 1930s and 1940s will return, even though the German government is now voting against Israel and with the Islamic bloc in the United Nations.
Explaining his reason for translating the book, he said that it was important for him to show Jews in Germany as Europeans – “as they were and how they are now,” because the book is more than just a family biography.
■ ANTISEMITISM HAS spread way beyond Europe and not only to the United States, but also to Australia, where vandals drew Hitler mustaches and devil’s horns on election posters featuring Federal Treasurer and deputy leader of the Liberal Party Josh Frydenberg, who happens to be Jewish and who is one of the highest-ranking Jewish politicians in Australia’s history. The graffiti attack on Frydenberg was widely reported and condemned in the Australian media. Frydenberg has been a frequent visitor to Israel and was in the delegation of then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull when he came to celebrate the centenary of the Battle of Beersheba.
There have long been pockets of antisemitism in Australia, but, with the exception of the stock exchange, which was late in opening its doors to Jews, there were very few restrictions on people of the Jewish faith. They were accepted and made valuable contributions to law, medicine, academia, business and the arts. In fact, there were two Jewish governors-general of Australia. The first was Sir Isaac Isaacs, who took office in January 1931, and the second Sir Zelman Cowen, who took office in December 1977. A forest in Cowen’s memory was dedicated in November 2013 in the western Negev. Cowen, who died in December 2011 at the age 92, was one of Frydenberg’s mentors.
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