GRAPEVINE: Way to go, Shalva

Movers and shakers in and around Israel.

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN with some of the 400 lone soldiers with whom he shared Seder Night. (photo credit: CLICK PHOTOGRAPHY)
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN with some of the 400 lone soldiers with whom he shared Seder Night.
(photo credit: CLICK PHOTOGRAPHY)
Rehearsals on the Sabbath precluded the Shalva Band – Israel’s musical sensation, whose members each has some kind of disability – from competing in the Eurovision Song Contest, but organizers refused to give up on the band entirely, and it will be among the non-competing guest performers.
But even before that, it will be launch its first single, in conjunction with Bank Hapoalim, the Association of Community Centers, the Shalva National Center and YouTube. The launch will take place on Monday morning, April 29, at the Bank Club on Hanegev Street, Tel Aviv. The occasion will also be used to put out a nationwide call for the integration of people with disabilities into the manifold activities of mainstream society.
If Tel Aviv previously had a reputation as the city that never stops, that image will certainly be reinforced before, during and after Eurovision, as ambassadors of countries whose performers are competing are hosting cocktail receptions to introduce and honor their respective contestants. The venues for such events are scattered all over Tel Aviv and Jaffa, which means that overseas visitors who receive invitations, tag along with someone who has one, or simply gate-crash will get a splendid introduction to Tel Aviv in its many guises and will take home a series of positive impressions.
It is to be hoped that a large number of the visitors will also avail themselves of opportunities to see other parts of Israel in order to appreciate the diversity in such a small but vibrant country.
■ THE KEY financial backer, according to the press, of Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, is Ukrainian oligarch and media czar Ihor Kolomoisky, who has been living in Israel and is currently under investigation by the FBI on suspicion of money laundering and other financial crimes. Moreover, Kolomoisky’s personal lawyer Andrei Bogdan is also Zelenskiy’s legal representative. This could create a few problems for Ukraine’s head of state-elect.
One of the reasons that Petro Poroshenko was not reelected was that he failed to quash corruption. The very fact that his successor is tied to an influential oligarch does not auger well for Zelenskiy’s foray into politics, especially as rumor has it that Kolomoisky will now return to Ukraine.
■ IN PAST years, it was customary for the president of Israel to host lone soldiers at his Seder table. This year, it was the other way around, and President Reuven Rivlin went to join lone soldiers at their Seder, largely because his wife, Nechama, is still hospitalized, recuperating from a lung transplant. It was difficult enough for him to go to vote without her at his side. To host a Seder without her would have been too painful, so Rivlin went to Givat Olga, where Yahad-United for Israel’s Soldiers hosted a Seder for 400 lone soldiers from 35 countries. Also attending were UFIS chairman Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yoram Yair, Chief Education Officer Brig.-Gen. Zvika Faireisen and CEO of UFIS Brig.-Gen. (res.) Ilan Tal.
There are actually two groups of lone soldiers – one from abroad, and one from Israel. The Israeli group in a sense needs more attention than the volunteer soldiers from overseas, who in most cases will return home to loving families. The Israeli lone soldiers are either from low-income dysfunctional families or from haredi families who have disowned them because they left yeshiva to serve in the Zionist army. These soldiers need surrogate families more than any of the other lone soldiers because, when they finish their army service, they have no trade, no profession, no money and no place to call home.
■ UP UNTIL recently, troublemakers in the government coalition were primarily Avigdor Liberman and Naftali Bennett, but judging by his behavior to date it looks of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s big headache will be Bezalel Smotrich, who seems determined to throw his weight around in order to get either the Justice or Education portfolios. If he gets the Justice Ministry, he will institute even tougher reforms than those introduced by Ayelet Shaked, to the extent that even her greatest opponents will miss her. And if he gets the Education Ministry, covert racism will be introduced into the curriculum. After all, if his wife could not bear the thought of sharing a maternity ward hospital room with an Arab woman, one can only imagine with dread what the next generation of children will learn about Arabs.
■ FILIPINA CAREGIVER Charmaine Fernandez last week received a special citation from Philippine Ambassador Neal Imperial at a modest ceremony at the Philippine Embassy in Tel Aviv for her bravery and speedy action, which resulted in saving the life of her employer, a Holocaust survivor, from being run over by a wayward vehicle. Fernandez was walking on a pedestrian lane with 95-year-old Missa Schindler when a speeding vehicle came toward them. Fernandez quickly shielded Schindler with her own body, protecting her from harm, while risking her own life. The driver succeeded in bringing the car to a halt within inches of the two women, crushing Schindler’s walker. He was later detained by the police.
Dr. Avraham Schindler, Missa’s son, later contacted the Philippine Embassy to report the incident and convey his gratitude. Fernandez’s instinct to protect his mother had brought back memories of his own touching encounter with Filipinos, he said. He had been attacked by a mob in Libya in the 1960s and had received urgent care from Filipino medical personnel.
When Fernandez came to the embassy at the ambassador’s invitation, she was accompanied by Dr. Schindler and his mother, who proudly witnessed her receiving the citation. Imperial commended Fernandez for her “selfless display of courage beyond the call of duty,” adding that her example “has elevated the dignity of Filipino caregivers in Israel and has given honor to all Filipino workers in the world.”
The ambassador later said: “Our workers are the Philippines’ best ambassadors of goodwill here in Israel, and we are lucky to have about 24,000 living and working here at the moment. They fulfill a vital role here, helping Israelis care for the elderly and infirm members of their families. Ms. Fernandez is an outstanding example of how, on a daily basis, Filipino caregivers do their best to make sure that their patients are given the best of care.”
During their visit, the Schindler family found it heartwarming to hear the story of how the Philippines provided a safe haven for Jews fleeing persecution in the 1930s through the open door policy of president Manuel L. Quezon. Missa Schindler was brought from Italian-occupied Libya to a concentration camp in Germany in the 1940s.
The Filipino-Jewish collaboration is enshrined today at the Rishon Lezion Monument Park and remains a symbol of Filipino humanitarian policy and assistance during the Holocaust.
■ IN THE philosophy of you win some, you lose some, the downgrading of the South African Embassy is countered by the opening a year ago of the Tanzanian Embassy. Tanzanian Foreign Minister Augustine Mahiga came to Israel for the occasion.
Just a week earlier, Shaked had led the Israel delegation attending the fifth Tanzania-Israel Business Forum, where she said: “Israel is a superpower in technology, and Tanzania is the superpower in natural attractions and resources. I think we can combine our endowments.”
Tanzania was one of the African nations that severed diplomatic ties with Israel in 1973, in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War. Relations were reestablished in 1995, but for many years Israeli contacts with Tanzania had been conducted solely through Nairobi in Kenya. Until the appointment of Job Daudi Masima as Tanzania’s ambassador to Israel, all of his predecessors were nonresident, and Tanzania’s sole representative in Israel was honorary consul Kasbian Nuriel Chirich.
Union Day, which is Tanzania’s national day, will be marked for the first time in Israel next week, when Masima hosts a reception in celebration of the 55th anniversary of the union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, which resulted in the creation of Tanzania.
■ MEANWHILE, IN South Africa, the Community Security Organization sent out a Passover message stating: “With freedom comes responsibility.” The message urged members of the Jewish community to be alert to strangers loitering around Jewish communal facilities; never to allow anyone they don’t know to enter their synagogue, and to report any such attempt to the head of security; to report anyone asking too many questions, taking notes or repeatedly driving past the synagogue; to refrain from disclosing sensitive information to people who may be asking about the synagogue; to ensure that all congregants know how to close and lock the gate to the synagogue; to report any suspicious bags, boxes, parcels or vehicles; and to avoid congregating in the street outside the synagogue. Further warnings urge being aware of any person or vehicle that may be following a member of the Jewish community or acting suspiciously in any way; walking together in a group, particularly at night; never to allow children to walk anywhere alone; wearing an item of reflective clothing at night so as to be seen by passing motorists; to avoid using secluded paths and short cuts; to provide additional keys to all family members and invited guests so as to avoid them having to wait outside the house; to lock all doors and gates as soon as guests arrive.
For many South African Jews reciting the traditional verses at the Seder, it was not a matter of “Next year in Jerusalem” but this year in Jerusalem or elsewhere in Israel.
■ REPORTS OF Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party faux pas in including a halla loaf in its Passover greetings tweet were published not only in the Jewish media worldwide but also in the general British media. The mistake was rectified, but then Corbyn was further criticized for featuring only a Star of David in the amended message instead of matzah, which is the traditional Passover symbol.
But if truth be told, Jews themselves are responsible for the original mistake. In the not too distant past, there were all sorts of traditional foods associated with Passover, which have somehow disappeared from the menu and have been replaced by unleavened imitations of foods we eat during the rest of the year. This includes fairly tasteless Passover rolls and bread. How can a non-Jew be expected to know the difference, if he only sees it but doesn’t eat it? During the rest of the year, traditional Jewish cuisine is put aside in favor of kosher shrimp and kosher bacon, in the ongoing loss of Jewish culinary pride and the assimilation of the kosher palate.
■ IN THE classic movie Blossoms in the Dust starring Greer Garson and Walter Pigeon, there is a wonderful line: “There are no illegitimate children, just illegitimate parents.” The film is a fictionalized account of the life of Edna Kahley Gladney, an early advocate for the rights of children born out of wedlock. Her sister Charlotte, who was taken into the family by Edna’s parents, is about to be married, but when her future mother-in-law discovers that she was a foundling, she puts an end to the wedding, and Charlotte, suddenly reduced to shame, commits suicide. Several years later, Edna, who lives in Texas, starts a home for orphans and children born on the wrong side of the blanket, and tries to match them with couples who will give them a warm and loving home. She also campaigns to have the word “illegitimate” removed from birth certificates in Texas. Julie Fisher, who is married to former US ambassador Dan Shapiro, goes one further and wants to remove two words from the lexicon: “adopted” and “adoptive.”
An educator, social media manager and founder of the Consortium for Israel and the Asylum-Seekers, Fisher and Shapiro have created an ethnically mixed family, in which “family” is the operative word. Because of the obvious ethnic differences in its members, Fisher and Shapiro are often asked intrusive questions about their daughters.
Enough is enough in terms of disapproval or lack of understanding, so last week Fisher posted on her Facebook page: “The educator in me can’t resist, based on a number of recent conversations: Adoption is an event, not a lifetime description of a person or family. Adoption is a way that someone enters a family. It is a part of a person’s story, just as a birth is a part of someone’s story (everyone’s story, actually). Some people have foster care and orphanage stays as a part of their story. Once a person enters a family in whatever manner they get there, they are a child, daughter, or son in a family. Period. They are not an adopted child, daughter or son. They are child, daughter or son. Full stop. Children are children are children, and each one has a story of how they came to be in their family. Next: Parents are parents are parents. We are not adoptive parents. We are parents who adopted. Adopting a child is a story of creating a family, just as giving birth is a story of creating a family. Next: ‘Are those your real children?’ Yes, all children are real. ‘Are those your natural children?’ Yes, all children are natural. Children are children are children. Parents are parents are parents. We all have interesting stories about how we entered a family or created a family. We are always happy to talk about adoption and open to any questions you have.”
■ IN A somewhat different context, Shapiro also mentioned adoption in tweeting about haroset, which is part of the traditional Passover meal on Seder Night.
“Like many Ashkenazi Jews growing up in the US, all I knew was the traditional version of haroset our ancestors brought from Europe.... It is tasty and serviceable, but nothing special once you have tried other kinds. Nevertheless, we always make it as a tribute to our great-grandparents, who in the early 1900s made the scary journey from their homes in Poland, Russia, Belarus, & Lithuania to a new land, crossing an ocean & saying good-bye to all they knew....
“But when I lived in Israel during a gap year in 1987, I discovered the joys of haroset done the Sephardic/Mizrachi way.... I lived with an Algerian/Moroccan Jewish family in south Jerusalem, adopting their customs as my own, even a Moroccan-accented Hebrew. I learned the story of their own journey to freedom in Israel from lands that had been their families’ home for centuries, but turned hostile.... So to honor their stories, we add a Moroccan haroset....
“Finally, we make a Guatemalan haroset that we discovered while in the process of adopting our 2 younger daughters from Guatemala.... The completion of our family was a different kind of journey, but we cannot imagine our lives without the two girls Guatemala blessed us with, and that completeness is another kind of freedom. So we try to honor Guatemalan traditions when we can, including at our Seder....”
■ AMBASSADOR TO Germany Jeremy Issacharoff, who happens to be Sephardi, in response to Shapiro’s haroset thread, wrote: “Indeed, one of the true paths to freedom and redemption is when fellow Ashkenzi Jews discover the delights of Sephardi and Middle Eastern Jewish cuisine. This is also one of the true paths to weight watchers. Hag Same’ah. May our diversity continue to enrich us.”
Issacharoff and his wife, Laura Kam, were delighted to have their children Dean, David and Ella join them for Seder along with a bevy of other guests, who included US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, who experienced his first-ever Seder.
■ PRIOR TO receiving the news of the arrest in Pakistan of the last terrorist involved in the killing of his son, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was murdered in Karachi in 2002, Prof. Judea Pearl, a laureate of New York University’s Turing Award, given to him as a distinguished alumnus, dissociated himself both from the prize and from NYU. His reason for doing so was in reaction to NYU’s decision to award its chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine with a citation, commending its “extraordinary and positive impact on the university community.” Pearl, who received his doctorate in engineering from NYU in 1965, was named a distinguished alumnus in 2013. He currently lives in Los Angeles, where he is a chancellor’s professor of computer science at the University of California. He also heads a foundation named in memory of his son.
In renouncing his relationship with NYU, the 82-year-old Pearl, who is an Israeli-American who served in the Israel Defense Forces, wrote in a letter to NYU president Andrew Hamilton: “In the past five years, SJP has resorted to intimidation tactics that have made me, my colleagues and my students unwelcome and unsafe on our own campus. The decision to confer an award on SJP renders other NYU awards empty of content and suspect of reckless selection process.”
Over the years, Pearl had tried talking to university officials regarding his concerns over SJP operations, but stated that efforts “have been met with platitudes about ‘free speech,’ despite the fact that the US State Department now includes in its definition of discrimination: intimidation based on race, religion and ethnicity.”
Pearl added that as someone who has been in academia for almost 50 years, he knows the difference between free speech and campus norms.
He suggested to Hamilton that his office should distance itself from SJP, based on the fact that it is entrusted with the mandate of maintaining a climate of learning and mutual respect.
Hamilton is known for his opposition to boycotts against Israel, which he says are “contrary to our principles of academic freedom, antithetical to the free exchange of ideas and at odds with the university’s position on this matter.”
Nonetheless, SJP continues to promote boycotts of Israeli academic institutions as well as Israeli goods produced in “the occupied territories,” ignoring the fact that so many Palestinians earn their livelihoods by helping to produce those goods.
As far as is known, NYU has not rescinded the award to SJP, despite the fact that Pearl’s contention has been supported by numerous students and faculty members.