Last week, the official visit to Morocco by Defense Minister Benny Gantz made headline news. It was considered to be a historic visit, because it was the first non-secret visit by an Israeli defense minister. Moshe Dayan as defense minister had met secretly in Morocco with the late King Hassan II, who has a warm place in the hearts of Moroccan Jews and Israelis of Moroccan background.
Another historic event in the Moroccan-Israeli relationship will take place on December 12 when Fatima Zahra Khayat will compete in the 70th Miss Universe contest in Eilat. This is the first time the contest will be held in Israel, which makes it not only a double historic event, but also a triple historic event in that it will be the first time that Miss UAE will also be competing.
There has not been a contestant from a North African country since 1978, when Majida Tazi, the Miss Morocco of her day, was among the beauty queens competing for the title. Casablanca-born Khayat was one of 80 young women who vied for the title of Miss Morocco.
But that’s not all there is in the Moroccan-Israeli connection at the Miss Universe contest. Khayat’s gown will be designed by internationally celebrated Israeli costume and fashion designer, stylist, actor, dancer and ballet teacher Aviad Arik Herman, who over the years has designed gowns for several Miss Universe contestants, and to his credit, no two of the gowns have been alike.
On home turf, Herman came to wide attention in May 2017 after he designed the Jerusalem themed gown that then-culture minister Miri Regev wore to the Cannes Film Festival. Herman had incorporated scenes of east Jerusalem in the print on the fabric, something that did not go over well with many of the left-wing in attendance. The dress caused a sensation, but not in the way that either Regev or Herman had envisaged.
The dress was later auctioned off with proceeds dedicated to the strengthening of cultural initiatives in Jerusalem. There was a lot of interest in the auction, and Regev later said she hoped the dress would eventually find its way to a museum.
Incidentally, Regev’s father was born in Morocco.
There’s also some Moroccan DNA in the system of singer, actress, dancer, television hostess and model Noa Kirel, who will be performing at the Miss Universe pageant. Kirel’s mother is of Moroccan background.
■ THE SINGER in the Mask is a reality show on Channel 12 in which a panel tries to guess the identities of well-known actors and singers disguised in animal or bird costumes, and wearing masks that fully cover their faces. The voices of the singers are slightly distorted by the masks. The panel, which inter alia includes Ofira Assayag, Tzedi Tzarfati and Static and Ben El Tavori, apparently did not take note of the diminutive height of one of the singers who performed for them, and among the celebrity names that they threw out was that of Miri Mesika, who is somewhat taller. When none of them came up with the correct answer, the singer removed her mask, and everyone on the panel went into shock. Surprise was registered on all their faces. The singer was former Labor MK Stav Shaffir, who did such a professional job not only with her voice, but also her stage and camera presence that Tzarfati almost exploded when he saw who she was. “Why didn’t you tell us?” he asked in amazement. The consensus was that she was great, and Shaffir thought the whole thing was one big laugh.
■ RETURNING GUESTS to the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv will be surprised not to see Rama Oram, who has been general manager of the hotel for the past 10 years, but is now interested in pursuing a career change. She is being replaced by Ilan Ben Hakoon, who is returning to the Dan after an absence of a decade. When he left the Dan Tel Aviv 10 years ago, he had been working as deputy food and beverages manager. In his new role, Ben Hakoon will manage both the Dan Tel Aviv and the Link hotel and Hub, which were managed by Oram, who also managed the Dan Panorama in Jerusalem.
Ben Hakoon’s return to the hotel was welcomed by Dan Chain CEO Ronen Nissenbaum. The appointment becomes effective on December 9.
It is not unusual for Dan chain employees to return after spreading their wings elsewhere in Israel and abroad. Tamir Kobrin, the general manager of the Dan flagship hotel King David Jerusalem, returned after more than 20 years after working in key positions in hotels around the world.
■ AFTER ROME, one of the most Catholic cities in the world is Czestochowa, Poland, the home of the famous Black Madonna. But Czestochowa is also important to certain segments of ultra-Orthodox Jewry because several great rabbis are buried in the Jewish cemetery there. During the year of the most crucial period of the pandemic, their descendants and followers were unable to visit their graves. But this year in mid-November, the sound of Jewish voices lifted in prayer could once again be heard in the Jewish cemetery.
Alon Goldman, chairman of the Association of Czestochowa Jews in Israel and vice president of The World Society of Czestochowa Jews and their Descendants, is delighted that Jews are once again visiting the city of their ancestors, especially as the Jewish community of Czestochowa is very few in number, though local authorities have done a great deal to preserve and teach about Jewish life in Czestochowa.
In mid-November, some 50 descendants and followers of Rabbi Pinchas Menachem Elazar Justman, the Rebbe of Pilz, arrived at the cemetery, and prayed alongside his grave to mark the 101st anniversary of his death.
Members of the Fundacja Chrzescijanska Adullam of Czestochowa directed by Elzbieta Ferenc, maintain the integrity and cleanliness of the tomb and the area surrounding it, and also recently repaired the candle box and the tomb tent.
In the pre-COVID years, Israeli students and other volunteers annually visited the Jewish cemetery, and in addition to cleaning it, documented the names on the tombstones.
■ EVERY UNIVERSITY is proud when its students and faculty members win prestigious awards. At Reichman University in Herzliya, they’re basking in the knowledge that Eden Raviv, 25, originally from California, who moved to Israel after finishing high school, is the recipient of a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University. Soon after her arrival in Israel, Raviv joined the IDF and two years later began her studies in Government at the Raphael Recanati International School at Reichman University, which was then still known as IDC Herzliya. In her third year she was accepted into the Argov diplomacy program and was head of the debating club.
She hopes to study International Relations at Oxford University, where she looks forward to meeting scholars from around the world and learning from their unique perspectives.
■ AT BAR-Ilan University, it’s a faculty member rather than a student, who is an immediate source of pride.
Prof. Eric Lawee, of the university’s Zalman Shamir Bible Department, is the finalist in the prestigious Jordan Schnitzer Book Awards competition of the Association for Jewish Studies for 2021. Lawee’s book, Rashi’s Commentary on the Torah: Canonization and Resistance in the Reception of a Jewish Classic (Oxford University Press), is being recognized in the Medieval and Early Modern Jewish History and Culture category.
The book sheds light on the great 11th-century Jewish Bible commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki – known by his Hebrew acronym “Rashi” – who for almost a thousand years, has influenced more than any other commentator the way in which Jews understand the Torah. Although Rashi’s exegetical classic has been extensively researched, few studies have dealt with the reception of this most important commentary, let alone with the surprisingly fierce resistance to its canonization that Lawee uncovered as such resistance arose in other cultural milieux.
Lawee’s book uniquely explores these issues, presenting diverse outlooks on Judaism that emerged from the encounter between various commentators and thinkers with Rashi’s commentary to the Torah. In 2019, Lawee received a National Jewish Book Award in the Scholarship category for the same volume, which just this year appeared in a paperback edition.
“Rashi’s commentary may have shaped Judaism and the Jewish people more than any other work, but for the Bible and the Talmud,” says Lawee. “It has been a fascinating journey across countless dimensions of Jewish thought, literature, history and education to discover how this work achieved its supremely influential status.”
The incumbent of the Asher Weiser Chair for Research into Medieval Jewish Biblical Interpretation, Lawee directs Bar-Ilan’s Institute for Jewish Bible Interpretation. Prior to joining Bar-Ilan, was a faculty member at York University in Toronto and Stanford University in California, and was Shoshana Shier Distinguished Visiting Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto in 2018.
The Schnitzer Book Award was established by the Association of Jewish Studies in 2007 to recognize and promote outstanding scholarship in the field of Jewish studies and to honor scholars whose work embodies the best in the field: innovative research, excellent writing, and sophisticated methodology. Awards are given in eight categories of Judaic scholarship, four areas per year. In each category there is a first prize and finalist prize. The award will be presented in an awards ceremony in Chicago on December 20 at the annual conference of the Association for Jewish Studies.