Grapevine: A sin of omission

Newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Meni Mazuz is a prime example of “Yes we can.”

NEW SUPREME COURT Justice Meni Mazuz is congratulated by President Reuven Rivlin as Justice Minister Tzipi Livni looks on (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
NEW SUPREME COURT Justice Meni Mazuz is congratulated by President Reuven Rivlin as Justice Minister Tzipi Livni looks on
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
At the swearing-in ceremony for judges this week, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni – alluding to public figures whose names have been linked with corruption – said she could not understand why the pledge made by each of the judges had been abbreviated.
Taken from the Book of Deuteronomy, the current version is: “I (name of judge) pledge myself to be in allegiance to the State of Israel and to its laws, to dispense justice fairly, not to pervert the law and to show no favor.” The biblical injunction from which the pledge derives also includes not taking bribes, and Livni said she could not comprehend why this promise was omitted from the pledge.
Newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Meni Mazuz, who as attorney-general showed no favor to people in high places that were in breach of the law, is not only an example of integrity – for which he was roundly commended by President Reuven Rivlin, Supreme Court President Asher D. Grunis and Livni – but an inspiration to people who live in development towns.
One of the younger justices on the Supreme Court, Mazuz, 59, was a middle child from among nine siblings who grew up in the southern development town of Netivot and rose to the pinnacle of the legal profession – a prime example of “Yes we can.”
■ THE CURRENT tug-of-war between the Supreme Court and the Knesset, over which has the greater authority, is nothing new.
Since day one of statehood, politicians have obstructed the judicial process.
Ya’akov Shimshon Shapira, Israel’s first attorney-general who later served as justice minister, resigned from the government after the Yom Kippur War because his demands that Moshe Dayan be dismissed as defense minister went unheeded. After the Six Day War, Shapira was opposed to the annexation of east Jerusalem, where his opinion was also in the minority.
Haim Cohn, as attorney-general before his appointment as a judge, outraged religious legislators by refusing to press charges against the practice of homosexual relations between consenting adults, even though such relations were illegal at the time. He outraged them again in 1966 when he married divorcée Michal Smoira, since as a member of the priestly tribe, divorcées were among the women he was forbidden to marry.
When Yitzhak Zamir was attorney-general, he wanted to prosecute Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Avraham Shalom for having ordered the death of two Palestinian prisoners, but was prevented from doing so by then-prime minister Shimon Peres, who fired him and replaced him with Yosef Harish.
Aside from that, there were many issues on which the Knesset did not see eye to eye with the attorney-general or the Supreme Court.
■ AGE IS no deterrent to Treblinka survivor Samuel Willenberg, 92, and his wife, Ada, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto who is in her mid-80s.
Although both speak fluent Hebrew, they have remained intrinsically Polish Jews, conversing with each other in Polish, attending almost every Polish event in Israel, accepting speaking engagements in Poland, Germany and the US, and attending important Holocaust-related events in those countries and elsewhere. As has been previously mentioned in this column, the Willenbergs were on the president’s plane when Rivlin traveled to Poland to join in the opening of Polin, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
Just over a week earlier they had been in Miami, for the premiere screening of Treblinka’s Last Witness – which is, of course, Willenberg’s story. The powerful documentary has garnered rave reviews and when it was shown in Florida, the audience was unaware that the hero of the film was sitting among them until it was announced by Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum.
Willenberg says of the eight documentaries made about him so far, this most recent one is the best.
Needless to say, the Willenbergs were in attendance last Thursday at a Polin event at Tel Aviv’s Einav Culture Center and as usual, attracted the attention of many other invitees.
The two have embraced life, and are almost always smiling and full of good humor and enthusiasm – traits which are almost magnetic in their relations with other people.
Conversations at the reception prior to the musical performance and panel discussion were carried out in Polish, Hebrew and English, and the Polish roots of second- and third-generation Israelis came to the fore.
Just as there were lapses on the invitation list for the opening in Warsaw of the Polin Museum, there were lapses in the invitation list for the Polin event in Tel Aviv. Although Polish-born former ambassadors Gershon Zohar and Zvi Rav-Ner were seen in animated conversation with Polish Ambassador Jacek Chodorowicz, Polish-born Mordechai Palzur, who was Israel’s first ambassador to Poland following the renewal of diplomatic relations; and Szewach Weiss, who was also born in Poland and rarely fails to attend a Polish event in Israel, were conspicuous in their absence. So were Polish-born Yiddishpiel founder Shmuel Atzmon, who has performed in Poland several times, and Israel Council on Foreign Relations director Laurence Weinbaum, who was a student in Poland, is often invited to international conferences there and has written extensively about the country.
Several people associated with the Polin Museum specially came from Poland for the occasion, among them Marian Turski, chairman of the Museum Council and vice chairman of the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland. In introducing him, Israel Radio’s Arye Golan, who was moderator for the evening, used his birth name of Mosze Turbowicz.
Realizing that some people in the audience might think he was being offensive, Golan was reassuring: “It’s okay. I used to be Leon Skurnik.”
Turski, a Holocaust survivor whose father and brother were murdered in Auschwitz, is multilingual and said that although he could speak in English for the benefit of those who don’t understand Polish, he felt that in Tel Aviv he must speak in Hebrew – because his father, who was a great Zionist, would want him to do so. His Hebrew was flawless and on a high level.
As the night went on, Dan Almagor – playwright, lyricist, translator and professional raconteur, who makes history entertaining – discovered he was distantly related to Rivlin. Almagor, who is of Polish parentage, told the story of Rabbi Szaul Wahl Katzenellenbogen, who in the 16th century had been king for a day. Almagor said that he and some 3,500 others are direct descendants of King Szaul Wahl; he was told by Prof. Hanoch Gutfreund and journalists who had been in Warsaw for the Polin opening ceremony that Rivlin had made the same claim. Almagor had not been aware that he and the president were distantly related.
The true test of Polish ancestry, he said, is the ability to pronounce the Polish word for sheet: przescieradło.
NECHAMA RIVLIN passed her first real test as first lady with warmth and dignity, when receiving Akim’s report on society’s attitude to people with intellectual disabilities.
Speaking to an audience of some 200 Akim activists, parents and intellectually challenged children, Rivlin made the point that each and every one of us suffers from some kind of a disability, and that what was important was not to look at the disability but at the person who has it – because every human being is a world unto themselves and deserving of dignity.
Akim chairman Ami Ayalon, who spoke after Rivlin, admitted to having a vision impairment, but announced his refusal to disclose his other disabilities.
■ IN THIS part of the world, when people raise a glass to peace, they are either referring to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict or to Israel and the Arab world. But when Olga and Anna clinked glasses in a toast to peace this week, they weren’t referring to Israel and her neighbors.
Olga Vakalo is from Ukraine and Anna Smoliarova from Russia, and what they were toasting was peace between their two countries.
The two young women were among a group of 25 Russian-speaking journalists from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, who came to Israel this week under the joint auspices of Nativ, the Genesis Philanthropy Group and the Jerusalem Press Club, to participate in an eight-day seminar at Mishkenot Sha’ananim. There, they will learn about the multifaceted composition of Israel in terms of ethnic and national backgrounds, political loyalties and cultural pursuits. All are of Jewish descent, though this does not necessarily make them halachically Jewish. Some had been to Israel before and were happy to come again.
Ukrainian-born Naomi Ben-Ami, who is head of Nativ, the liaison bureau between Israel and the Jewish communities of the former Soviet Union; and Anna Perelman, the Israel director of the Genesis Philanthropy Group, who was born in Minsk – which is currently the capital of Belarus but was once part of Poland and Lithuania, and was also under Russian rule – welcomed the participants and told them they would learn about the realities of Jerusalem and Israel, which have much more to them than what appears in the media. They would also learn about how Jerusalem is rapidly becoming a hi-tech hub, and that it is a city of diverse and fascinating cultures. Seminar organizers also voiced the hope that during their stay in Jerusalem, participants would discover more about themselves and their Jewish identities.
■ POSSIBLY BECAUSE this is the 100th-anniversary year of the outbreak of World War I, and the 75th-anniversary year of the outbreak of World War II, there seems to be a greater interest than in previous years in honoring soldiers who fought and fell in both wars. This was seen at the end of last month, at the gathering at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery in Beersheba to commemorate the 1917 Battle of Beersheba, which was basically the triumph of Australian and New Zealand soldiers; and again this week, when British Ambassador Matthew Gould hosted the annual Remembrance Sunday event at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery in Ramle.
Among the hundreds of people who came to pay their respects to the fallen were politicians, ambassadors, army veterans and current military personnel, and various dignitaries from Israel and abroad. Two Chelsea Pensioners in full uniform and Kevin Jones, an MP and the Commonwealth War Graves commissioner, flew in from the UK to take part. Joining them were more than 40 World War II veterans, who fought in British units in the British Armed Forces or in the Jewish Brigade.
More than 30,000 Jews in Mandate Palestine had volunteered to fight against the Nazis; Gould paid tribute to their contribution and laid the first wreath on behalf of Queen Elizabeth.
Representatives from British youth movements on their gap year in Israel were among those who also laid wreaths. The remembrance ceremony was followed by a second service at the graves of Jewish soldiers. Following the ceremony, veterans gathered at the ambassador’s residence in Ramat Gan for a reception in their honor.
At the ceremony itself, Gould said Sunday’s event was one that was shared in Commonwealth cemeteries around the globe, in remembrance of those who fought for Britain and her allies, those who volunteered, those who served and those who died – all for the cause of freedom, in the fight against tyranny.
Referring specifically to the service in Ramle, Gould continued: “We do so in a country whose young people have also had to come to its defense, and that has also buried too many of its dead at too young an age. Israel understands the necessity of remembrance, and the gratitude we owe those who defend us and defend our values.”
■ SECOND-GENERATION Holocaust survivor and outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz was last night the recipient of the Decoration of Light, awarded by the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel.
The award ceremony, in the presence of President Rivlin, took place at Kfar Hamaccabiah in Ramat Gan.
Gantz received the award on behalf of the IDF, in recognition of what it has done for the welfare of Holocaust survivors; Avi Dichter, the foundation’s chairman, is also a second-generation Holocaust survivor. Other recipients of the award included Haim Erez, chairman of the Friends of the IDF Armored Division; writer and illustrator of children’s books Alona Frankel, who was a child Holocaust survivor; fellow survivor Shlomo Pearl, who works toward deepening knowledge of the Holocaust; former partisan fighter, retired IDF brigadier-general and former director of Yad Vashem Dr. Yitzhak Arad; attorney Yosef Hayut, who established a clinic for survivors; Dr. Yitzhak Chen, chairman of the Israel Dental Association; and Labor Pensioners on behalf of survivors Shoshana Shaham, Vered Kahti and Carmel Talya.
For Arad, the award was also by way of a birthday present: it was his 88th birthday. He was born in a part of Poland which is now Lithuania, on November 11, 1926.
■ MEMBERS OF The Ambassadors Club were last Friday treated to a screening of Diplomatie, a 2014 Franco-German historical drama directed by Volker Schlondorff which depicts the dramatic turn of events that saved Paris from total destruction during World War II.
The plot focuses on Hitler’s decision to tear down the French capital’s landmark buildings in the final year of the war. Preparations are made to destroy the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Place de la Concorde, Notre Dame and more.
Given the responsibility to oversee the ruination of Paris is Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz, who is headquartered at the Hotel Meurice; he is supposed to issue the final order on August 24, 1944. The Allies are on their way to liberate Paris and Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling takes on the task of stalling the Nazi general until such time as Allied forces enter the city. Nordling finds his way to the general via a secret passage, and attempts to persuade him to disobey orders.
Attending the screening at Tel Aviv’s Lev Cinema were numerous foreign diplomats and honorary consuls, including the ambassadors of Sweden, Kazakhstan and Slovenia, Carl Magnus Nesser, Bolat Nurgaliyev and Alenka Suhadolnik.
There was also representation from the French Embassy, but none from the German Embassy – where presumably more attention was being paid to the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Ironically, the Hotel Meurice – which once served as the headquarters of a Nazi general – now belongs to Israeli businessman Alfred Akirov, whose name is in the news for reasons other than his manifold real estate holdings in different parts of the world. Akirov happens to be one of the very good friends of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, whose reputation is being shot to pieces by his former bureau chief Shula Zaken.
■ MANY WORLD leaders rise in the ranks from other public service positions; in their earlier posts, they have visited Israel at the invitation of the Foreign Ministry, one of Israel’s economic organizations or their counterparts at the time. Among them is Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who hosted former president Shimon Peres in New Delhi last week.
In 2006, when he was chief minister of Gujarat, Modi visited Israel and asked his hosts to take him to David Ben-Gurion’s house in the Negev, where he was amazed to see a photograph of Mahatma Gandhi next to Ben-Gurion’s bed. Modi told Peres that there were great similarities between Ben-Gurion and Gandhi, symbolized by the values shared by the two leaders.
Peres was in India to join with Modi and Anthony Pratt of the Australian Pratt Foundation, in launching the joint Israeli-Indian- Australian project for the development of “Food Security,” hi-tech infrastructure for food and water, at an event attended by government representatives and hundreds of businesspeople. Peres also visited Congress President Sonia Gandhi at her residence. In his discussions with Indian leaders, Peres emphasized the need for global cooperation in fighting terrorism.
■ MANY AMBASSADORS and lower- ranking diplomats involve themselves in Israeli activities that are not entirely of a diplomatic nature.
Those ambassadors, who happen to be Jewish, are more drawn to certain activities that may be Holocaust- or terror victim-related than are their non-Jewish colleagues.
A case in point is Canada’s Ambassador Vivian Bercovici, who joined close to 50 fellow Canadians and more than 100 Israeli victims of terror on part of a five-day OneFamily cross-Israel hike to raise funds and create awareness for Israeli victims of terror. The theme of the trek was “Hiking for Israel IN Israel.” Part of the purpose of the hike, now in its eighth year, was to convey the symbolic message that no matter how tragic their experiences, Israelis must continue to move forward.
They are aided in this not only by their shared suffering, but also by a sense of family and camaraderie.
For Bercovici, a first-time participant, it was an emotional event and she was close to tears when she addressed the group, praising OneFamily for its “important and life-altering work.”
One of the reasons Canadians are so supportive of OneFamily is because it is led by the Jerusalem- based Belzberg family, headed by businessman Marc Belzberg, who was born and raised in Canada.
■ ASIDE FROM boasting four of Israel’s 12 Nobel Prize laureates among its faculty and alumni, the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology is also proud of the fact that many of its alumni have achieved prominence in their respective fields, both in Israel and abroad. A case in point is civil engineering alumnus Dr. Michael Horodniceanu, who is now president of New York’s MTA Capital Construction Company, which manages mega-projects, system expansion and lower Manhattan transit infrastructure initiatives, such as the completion of the Second Avenue Subway.
Horodniceanu was invited to participate in a working meeting of Netivei Israel in Or Yehuda, where he spoke of his experiences with regard to New York City’s residents when constructing the subway infrastructure, and the recent establishment of a special department where members of the public could lodge their complaints and suggestions.
Netivei Israel is responsible for the planning of road and railway networks that support the development of the Negev and the Galilee, through the construction of road and rail facilities that will make access to and from the center of the country easier and faster.
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