Grapevine February 21, 2021: The silver lining behind the cloud

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

NAHUM GUZIK, photographed by his friend Erwin Shenkelbach, with whom he worked together at a TV station in Jerusalem. (photo credit: ERWIN SHENKELBACH)
NAHUM GUZIK, photographed by his friend Erwin Shenkelbach, with whom he worked together at a TV station in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: ERWIN SHENKELBACH)
No matter how trite, old adages contain a grain of truth, an example being that every cloud has a silver lining. An immediate example is a year of record sales by Kibbutz Industries at a time when much of the world has been undergoing a devastating economic crisis.
According to Kibbutz Industries CEO Miriam Druk, sales in 2020 reached an all-time record high of NIS 47 billion, which amounted to a 2% increase in sales over those of 2019 in the pre-Covid 19 era. Druk made the announcement at the annual Kibbutz Industries conference, which this year was held in a virtual format, and was attended by some 440 CEOs and other executive personnel from around 250 kibbutz industries.
Curiously, despite the difference in lifestyles and ideologies, Deganya, the first kibbutz, was founded in 1909, the same year in which Tel Aviv was founded. Initially bastions of Zionist socialism, kibbutzim have waned in their ideology, which has changed, to the extent that many kibbutzim have been privatized and, in several cases, appear to be capitalist enterprises in a community environment.
■ WHILE MANY organizations and institutions whose existence depends largely on charitable donations have complained over the past year of an extreme fall-off in funding, there are always exceptions to the rule – one of them being a $25 million gift to the American Associates of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, which is the second-largest financial commitment ever received by AABGU.
The donor is Silicon Valley entrepreneur and philanthropist Nahum Guzik, who has earmarked his gift for the university’s new iconic Guzik Cultural Center, which will future a 900-seat, state-of-the-art music hall and auditorium, an art gallery, and a new visitors’ center.
This important addition to the physical structure of the university will enable BGU to host more national and international conferences, business meetings and graduation ceremonies on a larger scale than at present.
A long-standing supporter of BGU, Guzik has for several years been thinking of a performing center for the campus. He discussed it with BGU’s former president Rivka Carmi as well as with current president Daniel Chaimovitz, and now it is about to become a reality.
Trained as an engineer in Odessa, Ukraine, Guzik, at age 38, migrated to Israel in 1972. In 1973, he moved to the US, where he worked for a couple of leading hi-tech companies prior to establishing Guzik Technical Enterprises for magnetic data recording in 1982.
■ ALSO BORN in Ukraine was Tel Aviv-based social activist and poet Alex Rif, who came to Israel with her family when she was still a child.
Like all citizens of the former Soviet Union, Rif’s family was imbued with Russian culture and language. Whether they immigrated to Israel, the US or anywhere else in the world, the children of such immigrants, desperate to belong in the societies of their new countries, did everything possible to shake off the cultural heritage of the lands of their births and to become true Israelis, Americans, Canadians and Australians.
Rif, who at age five came to Israel in 1991, was no exception. She didn’t want to hear Russian, and she didn’t want to know about Russian culture. In fact, she continued to repress and even deny her Russian identity for the next 20 years. She was as Israeli as they come, volunteering, serving in the army, becoming an officer and later studying at the Hebrew University, from which she graduated with a BA in business and political science and an MA in public policy. After that she worked as an adviser to the senior deputy director-general in the Economy Ministry.
And then she had an epiphany, realizing that an essential part of her identity was missing. There was a very creative streak in her character, and she began writing, and enrolled at the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School to learn about screenwriting. Simultaneously, she joined Generation 1.5, a group of young activists whose mother tongue was Russian, and who felt sufficiently secure as Israelis to return to their cultural roots. Together they initiated Russian cultural events for Hebrew-speakers in order to create awareness, through the arts, of the true stories of Russian immigration.
She is currently one of the leaders of The Million Lobby, which aims to draw attention to the needs of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, but also campaigns for all immigrants who are not sufficiently aware of their rights, or who even when they are aware, are not receiving them.
The Million Lobby is disturbed by the fact that very few of the parties running for the Knesset have mapped out a clear policy of where they stand on various issues and what they intend to do for the weaker sectors of society. Delegations from The Million Lobby have already met with leading politicians from some of the parties, in addition to which they have written an identical letter to nearly all the parties to protest some of the indignities to which people born in the former Soviet Union, or born in Israel to parents from the FSU, are subjected, most often the question of their Jewish identities when they register to be married. This kind of indignity is also foisted on immigrants from other countries.
The Million Lobby insists that such humiliation must cease, and its only solution for that is to permit civil marriage in Israel. This will save a lot of heartache and expenditure. These days couples who cannot marry in Israel because one or both are not accepted by the rabbinate, even though they have grown up as Jews, have to go abroad to get married. Their marital status is subsequently recognized in Israel, so it seems illogical, under the circumstances, not to have civil marriage.
Another issue is that of immigrants from the FSU who came to Israel as senior citizens without savings or pensions. It is impossible for them to live in dignity on the pittance they receive from the National Insurance Institute. Those who manage to find work to supplement their meager pensions are penalized because, as wage earners, their pensions are reduced.
The lobby wants pensions to be raised rather than lowered, and not to be tampered with in such instances in which a senior citizen goes to work. Many are Holocaust survivors who had great difficulty in being officially recognized as such, and when they finally were, they received smaller pensions than those that are paid out to Holocaust survivors from the rest of Europe. The Million Lobby wants all Holocaust survivors to be treated equally and fairly.
The members of the lobby also want all public notices published by government ministries to be published in several languages, including Russian. Consideration must be given, they say, to people who cannot read Hebrew, or whose command of Hebrew is not at a level that enables them to understand official notices and documents.
■ OVER THE past few weeks, President Reuven Rivlin has been visiting hospitals around the country to express appreciation and encouragement to medical teams working around the clock to treat coronavirus patients, as well as patients with a variety of other ailments.
But his visit last week to Jerusalem’s Herzog Medical Center had special meaning for him personally. The medical center, previously known as Ezrat Nashim, was established in 1895 to care for the chronically ill, primarily geriatric and psychiatric patients. These days, there is also a children’s unit for youngsters suffering from chronic respiratory illnesses.
Among the hospital’s founders were two members of the Rivlin family, Asher and Yosef Rivlin. Some years later, the president’s mother, Rahel Rivlin, joined the board of directors, serving in this capacity for 40 years. His father, Prof. Yosef Rivlin, was asked to write a history of the hospital to mark its 75th anniversary. The hospital was renamed the Herzog Hospital in honor of Rabbanit Sarah Herzog, who was one of its most ardent supporters and advocates. She was the grandmother of Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog.
President Rivlin was escorted around the hospital by medical director Dr. Yaakov Haviv and chairman of the board Shamai Keinan, who introduced him to various physicians and nurses, including those treating coronavirus patients.
Haviv emphasized that proof of the benefits of inoculation against coronavirus can be seen in the fact that there are very few new cases of infection in nursing and retirement homes around the country, because senior citizens were the first priority when the vaccines arrived in Israel.
■ MUSEUMS ARE opening up again, and the staff of Museum on the Seam, located opposite the Mandelbaum Gate through which foreign officials entered into Jordan, are excited to welcome the public to a series of new exhibitions, the first of which will open on Tuesday, February 23, under the title of “Wasteland.” A group exhibition that includes works by German artists Christoph Puschner, Dodi Reifenberg and Helmut Schwarzbach and American artists Chris Jordan and Henry Fair, it examines reality in the light of behavior and its influence on the grave natural phenomena that threaten the existence of planet earth.
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