Grapevine: A worthy ‘Hatan Torah’

Following on the heels of Japanese Culture Week in Jerusalem comes Austrian Culture Days in Tel Aviv.

Rencontre Netanyahou Gantz Yaalon (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Rencontre Netanyahou Gantz Yaalon
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
■ ONCE A journalist, always a journalist. Hyam Corney, a former deputy editor of London’s Jewish Chronicle, who for several years has been living in Netanya, still has the nose for a good human interest story.
“Who was the oldest person in Israel – and probably in the world – to be given the honor last week of being chosen Hatan Torah on Simhat Torah?” he asked in an email, adding that he doubted there was anyone older than Dr. Bernard Fisher, who at the age of 99 was so honored at the Young Israel of North Netanya.
Fisher, who was born in Gateshead in northern England on September 1, 1915, had a colorful life before making aliya in 1982. After earning a BA in French and English, he became a teacher; his posts included headmaster of the King David High School in Liverpool and principal of the City of Leicester College of Higher Education. During World War II, he served as an intelligence officer in the British Army.
“Today, following the recent death of his wife, Zelda, he lives alone. And even at his advanced age, he still give lectures in Netanya, usually without the aid of notes, and his gait is as upright as it ever was,” wrote Corney, who noted that Fisher was naturally able to fulfill his duty as Hatan Torah by holding a Torah scroll as he made the traditional circuit of the synagogue.
Considering Fisher’s age, this was a truly remarkable feat, because some men 10 and even 20 years his junior can no longer hold a scroll for the time it takes to do the circuit.
■ FOLLOWING HOT on the heels of Japanese Culture Week in Jerusalem comes Austrian Culture Days in Tel Aviv, under the auspices of the Wien-Tel Aviv Association. Events within the framework of the culture days will be held at the Felicja Blumental Music Center, from Monday, November 3 to Saturday, November 8, and will focus primarily on sources of Austrian Jewish culture in Vienna and Lower Austria.
For lovers of Austrian music and literature, the days of culture offer a large dose of nostalgia. Austrian Jews, like Jews in other countries, like to claim famous members of the Mosaic persuasion as their own, even if they are not strictly speaking Austrians, but have only an indirect link – as in the case of singing rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, whose father was the chief rabbi of Baden, which at the time was Austria’s third-largest Jewish community. Carlebach and his twin brother celebrated their bar mitzva in Baden.
Borrowing an old Yiddish folk song, Chief Rabbi Paul Chaim Eisenberg, who often stood on stage with Carlebach, will on Wednesday, November 5, relate some of his anecdotes and sing some of his songs. The choice is appropriate in view of the fact that the 20th anniversary of Carlebach’s death will be commemorated on November 9 according to the Jewish calendar.
The festival will include a lot of singing, not only of liturgical songs but also a presentation by Shmuel Barzilai, chief cantor of Vienna’s Jewish community, of songs from the golden age of Jewish musicals including works by Viennese Jewish composers. In addition to the city’s different musical aspects, the nightly programs will include many tales of Vienna and surroundings. The Friday program will begin at 2 p.m.; the festival will include a Wiener Kaffeehaus, where the house specialty will be apfelstrudel.
■ ALTHOUGH THERE were no central hakafot in Jerusalem this year, Tel Aviv continued with a tradition that dates back to before the creation of the state. Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who participated in the second hakafot in Rabin Square, said the tradition had been initiated 72 years earlier by Rabbi Yedidya Frankel, who was then chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, a post he held for 50 years. He had searched for a means of promoting identification with the plight of the Jews of Europe, many of whom had been rounded up by the Nazis on Simhat Torah.
Lau himself was a young child at that time and was an inmate at Buchenwald concentration camp, from which he was liberated in 1945. He eventually became Frankel’s son-in-law.
■ DEFENSE MINISTER Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz attended a special ceremony at which Prof. Amiram Katz, director of Beit Loewenstein Rehabilitation Hospital, received a special citation in recognition of the treatment provided for soldiers wounded during Operation Protective Edge.