GRAPEVINE: Who will be mayor of Jerusalem?

The race for the position of mayor of the capital is on.

YOSEF MENDELEVICH (right) with Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
YOSEF MENDELEVICH (right) with Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
With less than seven months left till the municipal election, more names are now being added to the list of potential successors to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who has decided to run in the next Likud primaries for the Knesset.
Coalition chairman David Amsalem, who was born in Jerusalem and lives in Ma’aleh Adumim, has made no secret of the fact that he would like to be mayor of his native city, and former deputy mayor Kobe Kahlon, the brother of Finance Minister and Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon, is being pressured to throw his cap into the ring. Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria, who is another former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, is rumored to be weighing the possibility of being the capital’s first female mayor.
But while there’s a lot of hemming and hawing, only a few of the potentials – among them Moshe Lion, who was defeated by Barkat in the last election – have actually announced that they’re running.
Attorney Avi Salman, who announced more than a year ago that he would run in the next election, did not waste any time in launching his campaign after Barkat’s announcement and placed double-page advertisements in local Jerusalem publications.
EVERYONE HAS their own take on Judaism and how they identify as members of the tribe. President Reuven Rivlin describes himself as secular Orthodox, meaning that although he is secular by inclination, he feels at home in Orthodox synagogues, and is familiar with all the rituals, which he is passing on to his progeny.
On the night before Passover, he and his 10-year-old grandson Shai engaged in the traditional search for leaven with feather and candle.
GIVEN ALL the security problems confronting Israel, one would think that people would avoid creating a storm in a teacup.
But apparently the Israeli media thrives on artificial crises. Case in point is veteran Army Radio broadcaster Kobi Medan, who on his Facebook page last weekend posted that he was ashamed (given what is going on in the country) of being an Israeli. He’s not the only one who doesn’t want to be tarred with the brush of needless violence, scandal and corruption.
But the media made a big deal out of it, speculating that he would be fired or suspended, and in no time there were people defending him and others calling for his dismissal. Army Radio chief Shimon Alkabetz had a face-to-face meeting with Medan, who apologized, pointing out that he had not been critical of the IDF, and that was the end of the matter.
IN JANUARY, EU Ambassador Emanuele Giaufret hosted an event at his residence marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Holocaust obviously weighs on his mind, especially in Israel, where there are so many Holocaust survivors compared to other countries. A historian by training with a deep passion for both modern and ancient history, Giaufret is quite familiar with Holocaust history, and fascinated by the personal stories of Holocaust survivors.
Last Thursday, on the day prior to the Passover Seder, he and other members of the EU Delegation joined Kvutzat Shorashim in Tel Aviv in delivering food parcels, flowers and various necessities to the homes of elderly Holocaust survivors and other needy people, in the tradition of kimha de Pis’ha (charity given before Passover).
On the following day, he tweeted: “We heard many stories of Holocaust survivors who made the best of their lives and felt honored to take part in the charitable tradition of kimha de Pis’ha.” Giaufret said he was “touched by the spirit of community in the Jewish Passover tradition,” and that taking part in this tradition had been “a moving experience.”
In his tweet Giaufret also wrote that he had met two remarkable men, Dov and Charles. “I listened to their heartbreaking stories of childhood marked by the Holocaust, and then how they made the best of their lives.” In relation to the brutal murder in Paris of 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll, Giaufret emphasized that antisemitism must be fought on all fronts.
AMONG THE Israel Prize laureates this year is former MK and expert in mathematics Prof. Alex Lubotzky, whose son and grandson participated in a Jabotinsky Museum event that was titled “Betarim on the edge of the abyss.” The evening was actually in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the uprisings in the Warsaw and Vilna ghettos and of the brave but futile battle in Warsaw that was led by Pawel Frenkel, one of the senior commanders of the Jewish Military Union.
Up until 2006 very few people had ever heard of Frenkel. All the credit for the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising had been given to Mordechai Anielewicz, without any mention of the role played by other groups, particularly the Jewish Military Union, until former Polish president Lech Kaczynski paid a state visit to Israel in September 2006. His attention to the other fighting forces in the Warsaw Ghetto resulted from his reading of articles written by former foreign minister and defense minister Moshe Arens, who two years later, in 2008, spoke about Frenkel at a lecture in Herzliya, and followed up with the publication of his book Flags over the Warsaw Ghetto (Hebrew), which was released in 2009 and was subsequently published in English and Polish.
There was bad blood between Hashomer Hatzair followers of Anielewicz and Betar members led by Frenkel. Negotiations toward a united effort failed, partially because the Hashomer people were hostile to Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and Frenkel and his comrades were Jabotinsky disciples. When Hashomer Hatzair survivors of the uprising came to Israel, they either failed to mention Frenkel and his followers, who all fell in battle, or they spoke of them in the most derogatory terms. Major Holocaust historians went along with this, even after Arens published his book, but later admitted that it is a book that should have indeed been written.
Arens, who recently published his autobiography, In Defense of Israel, had the satisfaction a few years back of being present when the municipality of Warsaw, in an impressive military ceremony, put up a plaque on Grzybowska Street on the site where Frenkel and his comrades fell. The ceremony was attended by the mayor of Warsaw and representatives of the Polish government, as well as Israel’s education minister and ambassador.
It stands to reason that Arens was present at the 75th anniversary commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. But he was not the main speaker. The event focused on Dr. Asael Lubotzky, who was a Golani Brigade platoon commander during the Second Lebanon War, in which he was critically injured when an advanced antitank missile smashed through his armored vehicle, pierced his body, partially severed one of his legs and crushed the other. In addition, he was severely burned, and there was a lot of shrapnel in his body. Leaning on his crutches, the doctor, who is the son of the Israel Prize laureate, recounted details of his long rehabilitation process, while his five-year-old son clung to him as he spoke, and wouldn’t let go.
Much of Lubotzky’s address was devoted to his late grandfather Isser Lubotzky, a member of Betar in Vilna, a partisan who fought the Nazis and was likewise badly wounded, and later become a legal adviser to Herut and Likud in Israel. It was basically about him that Lubotzky spoke.
While he was in the Tel Hashomer rehabilitation unit, his grandfather came to visit him. Asael Lubotzky had at that time already undergone 15 surgeries, and in a medical miracle, his severed leg had been restored. Relating to his wounds, his grandfather said to him: “At least it happened to you here, not there.” His grandfather, the wounded partisan, had initially treated himself and, in the absence of bandages, had used leaves to cover his wound. “Here, in independent Israel,” he said, “we have fantastic medicine. Over there, in Lithuania at the height of the Holocaust, we had to improvise, and it was miraculous when our efforts were successful.”
The senior Lubotzky also told his story to the attending physician, Dr. Siev-Ner, and then suddenly asked: “Can you guess who treated me?” Seeing the baffled expression on the physician’s face, he said “Your mother, Hannah-Anka.”
And so, alongside the bed of his grandson, Isser Lubotzky had closed a circle. The son of the nurse who had saved his leg, had saved the leg of his grandson. Meanwhile, the grandson recovered, studied medicine and closed another circle from Holocaust to redemption, where both the grandfather and the grandson were each severely wounded in their legs, and had to spend time on crutches, a factor that did not impede their progress in their chosen fields.
Asael Lubotzky also wrote a best-selling book, From the Wilderness and Lebanon (Hebrew), recording his wartime experiences and their aftermath. His second book, which tells the story of his grandfather, is titled Not My Last Journey (Hebrew) – the story of a partisan who came from the forests of Lithuania to the State of Israel.
HAD SHE not appeared as the devious mother in the Israeli version of The Golden Girls, it would be difficult to believe that Rivka Michaeli is sitting on the cusp of her 80th birthday. Michaeli, who has been performing on radio, stage and screen since the age of 14, is a Jerusalem-born announcer, interviewer, singer, dancer and actress, who as a child spent a lot of time in the original Jerusalem Post offices on the capital’s Havatzelet Street, where her mother was employed.
Although she has spent most of her adult life in Tel Aviv, Michaeli returns periodically to Jerusalem, where she will celebrate her birthday on April 14 with an intimate family gathering at the Alegra Boutique Hotel in Ein Kerem. Before that, she will be interviewed by Yuval Ganor in a program to be aired this coming Friday morning on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, and many of her popular recordings will be played, including “Never a Dull Moment,” which is the name of the program.
There will also be mention of fellow Jerusalemite, the late Yossi Banai, with whom Michaeli began her stage career, and with whom she frequently appeared in skits and songs. The multitalented Banai, who died from cancer at age 73, on May 11, 2006, was six years older than Michaeli and was likewise born in April. His birthday was on April 13. Next month Michaeli will have another cause for celebration, when she receives a life achievement award at the Israel Theater Prize gala at Habimah Theater on May 25.
MULTIGENERATIONAL JERUSALEMITE David Moonshine is a well-known, prolific storyteller, who often injects himself into the tales he tells, and listeners and readers can never be quite sure whether he is presenting them as fact or fiction. Last Friday, on Yaron Enosh’s program on Reshet Bet, he told the following story, which seemed a little far-fetched but, even so, could quite possibly be true.
One of the characters of Mea She’arim was Leibele Weisfisz, who, in addition to being a Torah scribe and running a small workshop for manufactured goods, also had a store in which he sold records. Most of the youngsters who frequented his store could not afford to buy a record, and even if they could, they wouldn’t dare take home a record from Weisfisz’s store, because it was not the kind of music that could in any way be identified with the population of Mea She’arim. So Weisfisz charged a symbolic fee for just listening. He also sold single cigarettes to people who couldn’t afford a whole pack.
One day, when Moonshine was in the store, there was a shabbily dressed young boy of around 15, listening to a record, when suddenly the boy’s father burst into the store, began beating the boy and berating him for being there, as he dragged him out.
A few weeks later, Moonshine was walking down the street in Mea She’arim when he saw the boy, whose name was Shai, standing in front of a blind musician and listening, entranced, as he played. Moonshine approached him and asked if he remembered him. The boy did remember, and told Moonshine that he was frequently beaten by his father, and that in advance of Passover, when other youngsters in the neighborhood received new clothes or new shoes or both, he received worn hand-medowns from a local charity store. The clothes did not fit properly and the color was faded. Moonshine told him that he could free himself from all that, if he took his destiny into his own hands.
On Seder night, Shai was the one among his siblings who stole the afikoman and quietly disappeared from the house. It was only when the time approached to conclude the Seder that his absence was noticed, and everyone began to wonder where he was. The afikoman was more important than Shai’s whereabouts, declared his father, because without the afikoman, he could not finish the Seder.
But no one knew where to find Shai, who, taking the afikoman with him, had made his way to the home of his mother’s sister who lived in Beit Hakerem, which was quite a walk from Mea She’arim. When he told her how cruel his father was to him, his aunt responded that she would make up a bed for him and would take care of him in the future. She enrolled him at a yeshiva, where it turned out that he was not only a good student but a genius.
A few months later, a well-known rabbi was looking for exceptionally good students to take with him to America, to become the nucleus of a yeshiva that he was establishing there. Shai came to his attention and was included in the group.
Several years later, Moonshine, on a visit to New York, was walking along a street on the Lower East Side when he saw a large record store with a window display of record covers featuring famous cantors. A lover of cantorial music, Moonshine entered the store and purchased several records. The bill came to $170, which was a lot of money in those days, and Moonshine asked if he could pay with a credit card. The store owner looked at the details on the card, recognized the name, and promptly gave Moonshine a $100 discount. He also invited him to his penthouse home for dinner that evening and told him that there would be popular cantors among the other guests.
When Moonshine arrived, he saw a table lavishly laden with the best of traditional Jewish delicacies, and as his eyes swept the room. The furniture and furnishings indicated the affluence of the owner of the apartment. After a while, Moonshine was invited into another room, where his host, opening a safe that contained jewelry and banknotes, reached into a box and took out a grimy rag and unfolded it. Wrapped inside the rag was the afikoman.
“You can take the afikoman back to Jerusalem and give it to my father, so that he can finish the Seder,” he said, adding that if Moonshine had not advised him to take his destiny into his own hands, he would still be living a miserable existence in Mea She’arim.
IT’S NOT uncommon for senior government employees, when they leave the civil service, to find top-notch jobs in the private sector. That’s what happened to Mordechai Paltzur, a former chief of protocol at the Foreign Ministry, who was hired by the late international business tycoon Shaul Eisenberg as his personal adviser.
Like a number of wealthy Israelis with influential contacts around the world, Eisenberg did business with countries that not only had no diplomatic ties with Israel, but, to all intents and purposes, were hostile to Israel.
Eisenberg had a private plane with an Israeli crew in which Paltzur was frequently a passenger. He is quietly amused by all the fuss that is being made about Air India’s flights to and from Tel Aviv over Saudi airspace.
Eisenberg, both with and without Paltzur, used to visit Saudi Arabia quite often in his private plane. Although Eisenberg had more than one passport, Paltzur had only an Israeli passport, which didn’t matter when he flew with Eisenberg in the latter’s private plane, but would have barred him from entering Saudi Arabia on a commercial flight. The Saudis knew that Eisenberg’s plane was registered in Israel.
All they asked for was that it land somewhere else en route, and take off again, so that the pilot could say that he had just come from somewhere other than Tel Aviv.
So they spent half an hour at the airport in Oman before continuing to Riyadh.
Although Eisenberg and Paltzur dined with Saudi government officials, and were even photographed with them, the visits remained secret. When the Saudis had to meet Paltzur without Eisenberg, due to Paltzur’s passport problem the meetings were in Paris.
Today, there would not necessarily be such a problem, as Paltzur, who was born in Poland, is entitled to a Polish passport.
Incidentally, he was Israel’s first ambassador to Poland when full diplomatic relations, which were severed in 1967, were restored in 1990. Paltzur returned to Poland as early as 1987 to head Israel’s special interest office there.
In November 1987, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was on tour in Poland, and, according to reports in the American press, conductor Zubin Mehta and one of the musicians had upset the Polish government for much the same reason as that which prompted the controversial law regarding Polish involvement in Nazi war crimes. Mehta and one of the musicians told a reporter that the IPO was visiting Poland with “mixed feelings” because of the treatment of Jews by Poles during World War II and the collaboration by many Poles with the Nazis at that time.
Despite complaints that were then made to Paltzur, the two IPO concerts in Warsaw were sold out.
FOR FORMER Prisoners of Zion and for Holocaust survivors, the Festival of Freedom is particularly poignant. As prisoners, first of the Nazis and then of the Communists, many Jews doubted that they would ever know freedom again. What both Holocaust survivors and former Prisoners of Zion have in common is that, in Israel, very few people are interested in their stories.
Prisoners of Zion whose names were once household words, as Jews around the world symbolically linked arms in the struggle for Soviet Jewry and left empty places for them at their Seder tables, are remembered by people who were active in the movement but by and large were forgotten or ignored by Jews in general, and Israelis in particular.
Who would ever have imagined that people such as Natan Sharansky or Yosef Mendelevich would ever again set foot on Russian soil after having spent years in prison before finally attaining freedom and making their homes in Israel? But both have done so, as have other lesser-known former Prisoners of Zion, who went back to visit as free men and women. Sharansky even toured the prison in which he had been incarcerated.
Mendelevich went back last Hanukka as the guest of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, which annually awards prizes to Russian Jews for achievements in various fields mostly related to the arts.
This time the Federation also presented a Heroism Award, and Mendelevich was the recipient at a ceremony in the Congress Hall of the Kremlin attended by 6,000 people.
Mendelevich, who had been a Zionist underground activist during the Communist regime, was among the key figures in the foiled hijacking of a plane in 1970. He was accused of treason and spent almost 11 years in prison.
In his acceptance speech at the awards ceremony in the Kremlin, Mendelevich said: “Who am I that I should receive an award for Jewish heroism? Some of the activists paid with their lives in the KGB dungeons. I am standing here to represent them. For me, heroism is not only our struggle to open the gates and let our people go. Such heroism can be temporary and fleeting. Therefore, for me, true Jewish heroism is to remain a Jew, to keep Shabbat and mitzvot in every situation and every day, to light the light of faith in Hashem in the heart of the Diaspora. True heroism is to remain a Jew under any circumstances, even in prison, and even after release from prison, and to be vigilant in retaining your identity.
“After I made aliya, the Lubavitcher rebbe instructed me to continue being a hero, and to serve as an example for the Jews in Russia and in the free world, and to be involved in aliya and education. It is especially meaningful for me to be here in Russia at this time of the year, because we were sentenced to prison during Hanukka. I remember that, after several years in prison, I lit a menorah made out of slices of bread and wicks made from linen threads.
When we recite the blessing at candlelighting and say ‘in those days, at this time,’ we are referring to this time, in our days.”
Mendelevich would have preferred to receive the award in Israel, but could appreciate the irony of receiving it in the very hall where the Communist Party politburo used to meet.