Grapevine: Two Jews, three opinions?

When Rivlin was in India three years ago, he planted a sapling, which Singla told him is now an eight-foot-high tree.

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN with Sri Lankan Ambassador Saddha Waruna Wilpatha and his wife (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN with Sri Lankan Ambassador Saddha Waruna Wilpatha and his wife
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
One suspects that now that former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has entered America’s presidential race, someone will start trotting out all those timeworn jokes about two Jews, three opinions. Bernie Sanders, who is also running on the Democratic ticket, is likewise Jewish but, other than having volunteered on a kibbutz in his youth, does not have as strong a Jewish identity as Bloomberg, who was raised in a pro-Zionist environment and has not only contributed handsomely to projects in Israel but has also invested handsomely in Israel. In their relationship to Israel, Bloomberg and Sanders are as different as chalk and cheese.
■ INTERNATIONAL RALLIES this week protesting violence against women, though extremely important, tended to present women as weak creatures who couldn’t hit back. If martial arts were a compulsory part of school curricula from preschool onward, fewer women would need to fear the men in their lives, even though the men would also have expertise in martial arts. Simply knowing that women were equally trained might prove to be a deterrent to violence.
Women who were treated like chattels in some societies are now coming into their own and are in the top ranks in politics, banking, law, journalism and other professions.
In Israel, they’re still battling in the army, with religious leaders objecting to women serving in combat units, or serving at all, even though women were combat fighters in the War of Independence. There have been some revolutionary developments, such as when Roni Zuckerman became the first woman fighter pilot in 2001, Orna Barbivai became the first woman major general in the IDF in 2011, and in 2014 Maj. Oshrat Bacher became the first female commander of a combat battalion. In the same year a woman was appointed as the first female combat doctor in an elite counterterrorism unit.
There have been several other female firsts in the IDF, and now there may be another, which is related to, but not part of, the IDF. Yad Lebanim, the organization of bereaved parents whose sons and daughters lost their lives during army service, may have a woman head following the Yad Lebanim national elections in January. Lt.-Col. (res.) Varda Pomerantz this week announced that she will run against Eli Ben-Shem, who has held the position for the past 20 years.
Pomerantz, who chairs the Ramat Gan branch of the organization, will have to relinquish the role if she wants to compete in the national elections. In her last position in the IDF, Pomerantz was head of the casualties department, and it was her job to visit the families of fallen soldiers to inform them of the tragedy and to care for them afterward. Her son St.-Sgt. Daniel Pomerantz, who served with the Golani Brigade, was killed by an anti-tank missile in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge. Ben-Shem lost his son, Kobi, in the 1997 helicopter disaster when two transport helicopters collided in midair, killing 73 soldiers.
■ WHILE IT might appear that the Democratic Party is no longer supportive of Israel, this is not true, as evidenced by a visit last week by three United States governors who are members of the Democratic Governors Association. Coincidentally, they were all female, led by Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island. The other two were Michele Lujan Grisham of New Mexico and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan. The trio was on an economic policy development mission. While in Israel they met with President Reuven Rivlin, as well as policy experts, elected officials, BGU president Daniel Chamovitz, various hi-tech innovation entrepreneurs and experts in cybersecurity.
Among the highlights of their visit was a meeting with the Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow, a group that brings together Israeli and Palestinian business leaders who are jointly committed to using technology for social change. They also caught up with some fellow Democrats currently living in Israel, most notably former US ambassador Dan Shapiro.
■ FEMALES ARE also becoming much more visible on the diplomatic circuit, including at the ambassadorial level. German Ambassador Susanne Wasum-Rainer was a panelist at the annual Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference last week, but other female ambassadors that were seen included Nepal’s Anjan Shakya, Latvia’s Elita Gavele, Lithuania’s Lina Antanaviciene, Croatia’s Vesela Mrdan Korac, and Finland’s Kirsikka Lehto-Asikainen, who next week will host a reception marking her country’s Independence Day.
Lehto-Asikainen, who is Finland’s third consecutive female ambassador, says that today in Finland more than 40% of ambassadors are female, and that female public servants earn the same salaries as their male counterparts.
Also present was Austrian Ambassador-designate Hannah Liko, who is due to present her credentials to Rivlin sometime in mid-December. She missed out on the presentation by five of her new colleagues, which took place on the same day as the Jerusalem Post event.
The new envoys are Ambassador Igor Mauks of Slovakia, Costa Rica’s Marco Vinicio Vargas Pereira, Sri Lanka’s Saddha Waruna Wilpatha, South Korea’s Suh Dong Gu and India’s Sanjeev Kumar Singla.
Asian and African ambassadors make a point of wearing their national attire when presenting credentials, and the Sri Lankan and Indian ambassadors were no exception, adding just a little extra to their respective presentation ceremonies. Costa Rica was one of the last countries to remove its embassy from Jerusalem, and Rivlin voiced the hope that the embassy would return. In his conversations with the Korean and Indian ambassadors, Rivlin reminisced about his visits to their respective countries, and with Wilpatha he spoke about the strengthening of relations between Israel and Sri Lanka. He told Mauks that he is pleased that Slovakian President Zuzana Caputova will attend the conference in Jerusalem in January marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
When Rivlin was in India three years ago, he planted a sapling, which Singla told him is now an eight-foot-high tree.
■ LONDON’S EDGWARE Adath Yisroel Congregation celebrated its 80th anniversary last week by holding a gala dinner in London. In Israel former members of the congregation also got together and held a parallel dinner in Modi’in, which can vie with Ra’anana as an enclave for British expats. Given that expats are spread out all over the country, Modi’in appeared to be the most central location. Former congregants swarmed in from Zichron Ya’acov, Netanya, Ra’anana, Ma’aleh Adumim, Tel Mond, Even Shmuel, Yad Binyamin, Beit Shemesh, Jerusalem, and even from the territories north of Pisgat Ze’ev.
There were glad cries of recognition from people who had not seen each other in years. Some were veteran immigrants who have been living in Israel since the late 1970s, and some were recent arrivals – but what they all had in common was English as their mother tongue, Edgware as the area in which they had lived in the old country, and Adath Yisroel as their former place of worship.
The event was also a tribute to the congregation’s current spiritual leader, Rabbi Zvi Lieberman, who has held the position for 30 years.
Simcha and Rifka Stemmer, who moved from Edgware to Israel in 2012 to be near their daughter Yael and their grandchildren, were delighted to catch up with old friends, and each of them said how nice it was to be able to reminisce.
■ WHILE BRITS are coming on aliyah, it seems that for Israelis, all roads lead to London. The Friends Circle of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation is expanding to London and – this coming Thursday, under the direction of Yona Bartal, who worked closely with Peres for more than half her lifetime – will launch its UK branch at the home of Batia Ofer, who is a member of the Peres Center’s international board of governors.
Among those who have indicated their presence at the event are former British prime minister Tony Blair, who met Shimon Peres on numerous occasions and attended his 90th birthday celebrations in Jerusalem in 2013, Peres Center chairman Chemi Peres, Israel Ambassador Mark Regev, and opera singer Katerina Mina, who will sing “Avinu Malkeinu,” which was one of the songs that Peres loved best. The UK launch will be another important link in the chain of close connections and cooperation between the UK and Israel. Batia Ofer is married to billionaire Israeli-born international businessman Idan Ofer.
■ RIVLIN, WHO is currently in London, will be back in time to join in Habimah Theater’s celebration on Friday of the 90th birthday of Lea Koenig, who has absolutely no intention of retiring, unless forced to leave the stage because Habimah’s NIS 75 million deficit brings down the final curtain on Israel’s national theater.
The recipient of many laurels, including the Israel prize in 1987, Koenig, who was born in Poland to parents who were actors, moved with them to Romania after the Second World War. She studied drama in Bucharest and began appearing on the Yiddish stage at age 17. In 1961, she came to Israel and joined Habimah. She has played in many and varied productions, from Shakespeare to slapstick comedy. She also sings.
Though mainly linked with Habimah, where she sometimes appears in three and even four different plays in one week, she has also appeared in Beit Lessin and Yiddishpiel productions, as well as in several television series, including Shtisel.
Koenig has received honorary doctorates from Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Bar-Ilan University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. She was also awarded the Rosenberg Prize and the prestigious EMET Prize, and was one of the beacon lighters on the 70th anniversary of the state.
■ IT’S BEEN an up-and-down period lately for Yiddishshpiel. On the one hand it is celebrating that fact that veteran actors such as Yaakov Bodo, 88, are still delighting audiences, but last week it also mourned the passing at age 78 of popular actress, Romanian-born Anabela Yaakov, who was an inspiration to a new generation of actors and actresses on the Yiddish stage. Several such thespians from the former Soviet Union who found it difficult to break into Hebrew theater were given a chance to appear in Yiddishpiel productions, and some even learned to understand and speak Yiddish along the way.
There have also been actors from the Hebrew stage who expanded their repertoires on the Yiddish stage – among them current Yiddishpiel director Sassi Keshet, Gadi Yagil and more recently Dubi Gal, who at age 70 made his Yiddishpiel debut early this year and is currently appearing in another Yiddishpiel comedy, Laughing Hysterically.
■ THERE HAVE been so many exchanges of vitriol on both social and traditional media that casual visitors from abroad who might be exposed to a large chunk of this toxic verbiage might be under the impression that they were in Sodom and Gomorrah rather than in Israel. But for the record, there are a lot of good people in Israel.
For instance, Ra’anana Mayor Chaim Broide led a busload of people to Sderot to make purchases in stores there to offset the losses suffered by shopkeepers as a consequence of the security situation. The people from Ra’anana were not the only ones who traveled south in a display of solidarity, but what made their trip important was that the mayor was setting an example.
■ RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR Anatoly Viktorov last week hosted a gala dinner dedicated to the first Russian-Africa summit that was held in Sochi on October 23-24. The dinner was attended by diplomatic representatives of countries of the African continent accredited in Israel.
In welcoming his guests Viktorov emphasized that the Sochi summit had opened a new page in relations between Russia and African countries. He noted that the participation at the forum by 54 heads of African states pointed to confirmation of the desire to build mutually beneficial cooperation. Viktorov recalled a resolution initiated at the United Nations by the USSR that had laid the foundation for the liberation of Africa from colonialism, and the formation of independent countries of the African continent. The Russian ambassador underscored the effective cooperation of Russia with African countries on international platforms, especially in the UN, where proximity on many issues on the international agenda enabled the finding of mutually acceptable solutions. He was appreciative of the support for Russian draft resolutions at the UN on countering the glorification of Nazism, non-deployment of weapons in outer space, the prevention of an arms race in outer space, transparency and confidence-building in space activities and international information security.
He also pointed out the closeness of the positions of Russia and African countries on a Middle East settlement, aimed at creating two states – Israel and Palestine, peacefully coexisting with each other on the basis of well-known, agreed-upon international approaches and resolutions of the UN and its Security Council.
■ IN JERUSALEM on Wednesday, November 27, Israelis of Ethiopian background will be holding the Sigd, which began Tuesday night and is similar in many respects to Simhat Torah. Although Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, wanted to turn Israel into a demographic melting pot, time has shown that it’s difficult to separate people from their traditions, some of which have become national holidays. The Moroccans gave the nation Mimouna, the Kurds brought with them the Seharane, and the Ethiopians introduced the country to the Sigd.
One of the best-known members of Israel’s Ethiopian community is journalist Danny Adeno Abebe, who came to Israel on Operation Moses. Back in Ethiopia, he had been an illiterate shepherd boy. He does not know exactly when he was born, but estimates that he must have been around nine years old when he left his village and walked across the desert to Sudan, from where he was airlifted to Israel. He was sent to Kfar Hassidim, a religious youth village, where he quickly caught up on his education. He later did his army service at Army Radio, where he was both a reporter and editor. After completing his mandatory army service, he worked as a reporter for Yediot Aharonot.
In mid 2017, he was appointed as a Habonim and World Zionist Organization emissary to South African Jewry. While in South Africa, he wrote his autobiography, The Journey is not Over, which also deals with the discrimination to which Ethiopian Jews have been subjected in Israel. The book was officially launched within the framework of the Sigd. Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev was there as one of the speakers.
Regev had a tough time on Tuesday night because she had also promised to attend a Georgian cultural event in Lod, and she wasn’t sure if she could make it to the pro-Netanyahu rally. In an interview on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet early on Tuesday morning, Regev, who is Netanyahu’s loudest and most loyal cheerleader, said that if she didn’t make it to the rally, she wouldn’t be missed, because there would be so many other people there.
The Israeli media were more interested in those Likud stalwarts who didn’t show up rather than who did.
■ GOVERNMENTS AROUND the world are enacting legislation against antisemitism and other forms of racism, incitement and hate crimes, and yet antisemitism in the world is rising – even in far-off Australia, were there have been two Jewish governors-general; the governor of the State of Victoria is Jewish; there are Jewish parliamentarians, including Treasurer of Australia Josh Frydenberg, Jewish judges in the Supreme Court and lower courts, Jewish doctors who are leaders in their respective fields; and yet antisemitism in Australia is rising, despite the fact that Australia has laws against hate speech and racial vilification, and there are non-Jewish Australian legislators such as recently elected former Australian ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma, who are decidedly pro-Jewish and pro-Israel.
At a higher level, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was last week awarded the Jerusalem Prize by the Zionist Federation of Australia. The award ceremony in Sydney was attended by Sharma, Israel Ambassador to Australia Mark Sofer, Gusti Yehoshua-Braverman, head of the department of Diaspora affairs at the World Zionist Organization, and prominent members of the Australian Jewish community. Morrison won high praise for his outspoken comments regarding the United Nations’ treatment of Israel.
In his acceptance speech, Morrison reiterated his criticism of the UN, saying that Australia is taking a strong stand against the targeting of Israel at the UN General Assembly.
“The UN was born out of the horrors of World War II, born out of an ethos of never again. An institution born to do so much good has allowed antisemitism to seep into its deliberations, all under the language of human rights, and we are not buying that, my government is not buying that, our government is not buying that,” he declared.
ZFA president Jeremy Leibler, lauded Morrison’s steadfast and tireless support of Israel and his moral courage in recognizing west Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and in changing Australia’s voting pattern at the UN General Assembly, by voting against resolutions that deny the Jewish relationship to Jerusalem.
The prize is awarded annually by the ZFA, the Zionist Council of New South Wales and the World Zionist Organization to an individual who has been exceptional in strengthening Australia-Israel relations.
■ CONTRARY TO much of what it supposedly stands for, the United Nations is notorious for Israel bashing and anti-Jewish sentiment. On November 10, 1975, Chaim Herzog, who was then Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, delivered a historic address in which he denounced the General Assembly’s resolution equating Zionism with racism, and then tore up his copy, declaring: “For us, the Jewish people, this is no more than a piece of paper, and we shall treat it as such.”
The UN resolution, which chillingly coincided with the 36th anniversary of Kristallnacht, was adopted by a large majority. Herzog spent many years trying to have it revoked. It was not until 1991 that his efforts and those of numerous other people succeeded. But since then there has been Holocaust denial, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, the UNESCO resolution rejecting the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, and other distortions of historical records.
November is an important month in the history of contemporary Jewry. On November 29, 1947, the UN approved Resolution 181 which called for the partition of Palestine, and was a major forward step for the creation of the State of Israel. Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, was born and died in November.
The establishment of a Jewish state was looked on with great disfavor by neighboring states in the region, whose governments and people made life very difficult for the Jewish communities within their borders. Most Jews living in Arab lands either fled or were expelled. They could take very little with them, and the assets they left behind were appropriated by the governments of the countries in which they were born, and never returned to them.
To commemorate the departure and expulsion of Jews from Arab lands and Iran, JIMENA, together with Israel’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations and with the cooperation of the World Jewish Congress, will hold a special event at UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday, December 4. Participants will include Ambassador Danny Danon, Israel’s representative to the UN; human rights activist and former Miss Iraq Sara Idan, and Elan Carr, US special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, who happens to be the son of a prominent leader of the Jewish community of Iraq. Carr has ben quoted as saying that his family lived through and saw antisemitism, and this is what has informed his entire life and his passion for public service.
■ IN ISRAEL, on Sunday, December 1, the Jewish Agency will host a Journey to Roots, an evening for Jews from Arab lands featuring speakers of Tunisian, Yemenite and Moroccan backgrounds. Even Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog has a close link to Jews from Arab lands, in that his mother was born and raised in Egypt.
One of the highlights of the evening will be a documentary film by Chanel 12 journalist Rina Matzliach, who is of Tunisian background, and who accompanied a group of Tunisian expatriates to the land of their birth.
For many years now, the Tunisian government has permitted people with Israeli passports to come to Tunis for 10 days to celebrate Lag Ba’omer in Djerba, where there is an annual pilgrimage attracting hundreds of Jews. The local Moslem population is very welcoming, and the Jewish pilgrims visit their old homes and places of business, the synagogue and the Jewish cemetery, as well as other Jewish sites, and are simply ecstatic for the whole of the 10 days, even to the extent of nostalgically taking up Tunisian Arabic, and barely speaking in Hebrew.
The group with which Matzliach traveled met with the Tunisian Minister of Tourism Rene Trabelsi, who happens to be Jewish, but who made it clear that no one should mistake the warm reception given to the Israelis as a sign of normalization.