Grapevine: Demos, kiddushes and videotape

Jerusalemites do not appreciate what the settlers have done in terms of limiting their freedom of movement and raising the noise level to a deafening crescendo.

Yariv Levin
■ While most people understand the anger and frustration of settler and east Jerusalem Jewish communities in the aftermath of ongoing terrorist attacks and the recent fatal results, Jerusalemites living in the vicinity of the Prime Minister’s Residence do not appreciate what the settlers have done in terms of limiting their freedom of movement and raising the noise level to a deafening crescendo.
If nothing else, Monday night’s Second Hakafot (following Simhat Torah) in Ramban Street just around the corner from the Prime Minister’s official abode proved more than any other previous demonstration that it is a travesty to have the prime minister live in a residential neighborhood.
Aside from streets being cordoned off on this occasion and for other prior reasons, such as official visits by foreign heads of state, who come to dine with the prime minister at his home, his neighbors have to put up with police sirens at all hours of the day and night, depending on his comings and goings, and are subjected to all the negative elements of protest demonstrations. They should not have to suffer these inconveniences, which affect literally hundreds of people who are paying high-scale rates and taxes.
Although the Second Hakafot organized by the leadership of Judea and Samaria was not a demonstration against the prime minister per se but, rather, against lack of security and the policies of his government, as one speaker after another was quick to point out, the underlying message was “You’re the one we elected, and you are responsible for our safety.”
The two large stages on the sidewalk were constructed on Sunday with workmen still busy after candlelighting for Simhat Torah. There were also vehicles on both sidewalks, which forced people who were going to synagogue services to walk in the road in the face of oncoming traffic.
Very few demonstrators who set up a tent or some other structure around the corner from the Prime Minister’s Residence get a chance to personally make their point to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
One of the rare exceptions to the rule was Yossi Dagan, the chairman of the Samaria Regional Council, who, after returning from the Henkin funerals last week, told his wife that he wasn’t going to be home for the foreseeable future. He was going to stage a sit-in adjacent to the Prime Minister’s Residence, and he intended to stay there until the government did something concrete to guarantee the safety and security of the residents of Judea and Samaria. Dagan’s wife and children gave him their blessing and their full support and told him to stay for as long as it takes.
Dagan and other Yesha council (Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip) leaders were visited by Transportation Minister Israel Katz, who was acting prime minister while Netanyahu was in New York, and by deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely. The visits indicated the seriousness with which the government regards the escalation in terrorist activity.
■ MOREOVER, FOLLOWING his return from New York, Netanyahu invited Dagan and Malachi Levinger, who heads the Kiryat Arba local council, to meet with him in his home.
Unfortunately, from Dagan’s perspective the meeting yielded no results. Addressing the mammoth throng of mostly young people at the Second Hakafot celebration-cum-demonstration, Dagan declared that the demand for a guarantee of security was made not to US President Barak Obama, not to the European Union, and not to a bunch of officials, but to the prime minister himself. While aware of the heavy burdens shouldered by Netanyahu, and with great respect for him, said Dagan, enough was enough. It was time to build up Judea and Samaria, he said, adding: “You build with deeds, not with words.”
Dagan repeatedly stated that Netanyahu was the person who had been elected by the Israeli public and that he was therefore responsible for its security.
Welfare and Social Services Minister Haim Katz and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin were among the speakers. Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin also came to hear what the settlers had to say but declined to join the speakers.
Most of the evening was taken up with singing and frenzied dancing, which kept going till close to midnight. There were large security contingents in all the adjacent streets. Traffic was diverted to the annoyance of many drivers who did not know that the streets were closed. Quite a number of pedestrians were also unaware and could not understand why there was so much commotion and why their paths were blocked by ever-widening circles of flag-waving dancers, baby carriages and wheelchairs.
Katz said that he had been asked by several journalists whether he was demonstrating against the prime minister and his response had been an unequivocal no. He was demonstrating for security all over Israel, he said, and for construction throughout Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. Levin attributed the current wave of terrorism to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whom he characterized as an arch terrorist.
On Tuesday the sit-in nucleus was enlarged by Davidi Pearl, the head of the Gush Etzion Council, who brought his whole operation to Jerusalem and announced that, like Dagan, he would sit it out for the duration. The Yesha leaders invited concerned citizens of Israel to join them.
Interviewed on Israel Radio the following day, opposition leader Isaac Herzog said that if the position was reversed and he was prime minister and had taken such decisions as those taken by Netanyahu at the emergency meeting of the security cabinet on Monday night, Netanyahu would have howled him down. Herzog stated that Netanyahu’s words were just empty rhetoric.
■ IT WAS only natural for those on the left of the political spectrum to oppose collective punishment such as destroying the homes of terrorists. Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On, partially basing her argument on past experience, said that destroying the homes of Palestinians was not a deterrent and served no purpose other than to increase hostility against Israelis.
What might work, in the view of this columnist and people to whom she floated the idea, would be for the prime minister to publicly declare that each time there is a terrorist attack, a new settlement will be built, with a huge signboard at its entrance proclaiming in Arabic, Hebrew and English that this settlement owes its existence to (the name of the terrorist and his or her parents). The shame of being responsible for the construction of yet another Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria may cause Palestinian hotheads to think twice.
■ THERE ARE several ironies in the relations between Palestinians and Israelis. Former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) agent and journalist Dr.
Roni Shaked of the Truman Institute, in an interview with Uri Levy on Channel 1, observed that surplus Israeli T-shirts sell in the Palestinian villages for a shekel each. Thus, children bearing Hamas banners were photographed wearing T-shirts with Maccabi Tel Aviv logos. But even more amusing were the photos of masked rioters whose keffiyehs were tied around their faces and whose T-shirts were emblazoned with the words “Miri Regev, We love you.”
■ ONE LAST comment for the time being on the security situation and hostility between Jews and Palestinians or Jews and Arabs. It’s no secret that racist elements are at work whenever the fans of Beitar Jerusalem and Bnei Sakhnin sit across from one another at sports arenas when their respective teams are pitted against each other.
Fearful of clashes, the police limited Monday night’s game in Doha Stadium to 400 tickets for Beitar fans. But La Familia, the Beitar supporters’ group, let it be known that every Beitar fan who shows up will have a seat. So one side of the stadium was packed with Beitar fans waving Israeli flags and the other with Sakhnin fans waving Palestinian flags.
Sportscasters held out little hope for Beitar, which last won a match in Doha in 2006. But this is the land of miracles and this is the time for them, and Beitar scored a 3-1 win.
Beitar has just signed Australian international striker Nikita Rukavytsya, who plays for the Sydney Wanderers, and whose parents-in-law migrated from Ukraine to Israel and live in Haifa. The decision to sign with Beitar was spurred by the fact that Rukavytsya and his wife recently became first-time parents and wanted the grandparents to be part of the baby’s life.
■ ARGUABLY, THE most effective method of teaching is by personal example. This was demonstrated to two of his grandsons by President Reuven Rivlin, who took them for Simhat Torah services to the Hatzvi Yisrael Synagogue in Talbiyeh, which is conveniently close to the President’s Residence. Rivlin, a lifelong Beitar Jerusalem fan, was given the honor of being Hatan Torah, and congregants were thrilled to see him dancing with the Torah beneath the canopy.
But then he stopped, because out of the corner of his eye he saw wheelchair-bound Rabbi Yomtov Herzog looking in from the doorway. Rivlin immediately descended from the bima and danced over to the doorway with the Torah scroll in his arms and bent forward so that Herzog could kiss it.
■ AT THE Great Synagogue the Hatan Torah was Chilean mining tycoon Leonardo Farkas, whose generosity knows no bounds. Not only did he dedicate a Torah scroll in a moving ceremony last week, but on Simhat Torah footed the bill for a sumptuous kiddush for the whole congregation. Bearing in mind that aside from the gigantic Belz synagogue, the Great Synagogue is the largest in Jerusalem, just a regular kiddush would have cost a pretty penny.
But Farkas is known for not doing anything by half measures, and his kiddush was a banquet in itself.
Caterer Binyamin Yurovich, generally known as Yumi, is a superb professional. In the days when a kiddush or any other catered event at the Great Synagogue was held in the basement banquet hall, it was relatively easy to keep the gluttons at bay by locking the doors until starting time. But the banquet hall has been out of commission for a couple of years now, and catered events are held in the synagogue foyer, which though quite spacious is not large enough to hold as large a crowd as can be accommodated in the synagogue proper. To make matters worse, the Great Synagogue had advertised the kiddush on billboards throughout the city, and people came from other congregations whose services ended earlier than those of the Great Synagogue. Many of the latter sat around in the foyer, eyeing the buffets which had been barricaded in order to prevent undue assaults on the food.
Yumi kept moving from one buffet to the other, to make sure that everything was as it should be, issuing authoritative but very polite instructions to his staff along the way, and at the same time keeping his ear tuned to the pace of the prayers so as to know exactly when to open the barriers.
If the buffets adorned with tall, silver, five-pronged candelabras were impressive, the long table for specially invited guests was something straight out of Hollywood. There were six tall, nine-pronged lead crystal candelabras, all with candles already lit, plus more than a dozen extravagant floral arrangements all made up from the same flowers but at different heights, with the tallest standing even higher than the candelabras.
The extensive menu included baked and smoked salmon, gefilte fish, herring, various kinds of rolls, chopped liver, cold cuts, a choice of hot meats, salads, quiches, pastas, desserts and beverages, served with genuine crockery and flatware and not with disposables.
The kiddush would have had a lot of class but for the fact that certain people couldn’t wait for it to start and began sneaking things from the buffet when the waiters were not looking. They didn’t even have the decency to desist until Farkas made an appearance, which he did way after the crowd had simply bulldogged its way to the platters. Many people had actually tired of waiting, especially because the Great Synagogue service went on for more than an hour than had initially been scheduled. But those who stayed and those who came at the conclusion of the service fell upon the food like birds of prey.
Were it not for the yeshiva boys, the spirit of Simhat Torah would not have permeated the congregation.
They were the ones who danced with Farkas when he held aloft the new Torah scroll with its huge gold crown, and they kept dancing with him later.
They also danced him into the kiddush.
One man who had snuck some food earlier and had subsequently persuaded a kindhearted waiter to give him some more, kept returning to the buffet to stare at its contents and, somehow defying the pushing crowd, managed to be among the first to get a full plate. A woman pushed through from the back of the crowd and piled her plate with a week’s supply of schnitzel.
Another woman who had come from another synagogue said that she never eats at a kiddush there nor would she eat at this one. Needless to say, she ate her words and a lot more than mere words. A man with a taste for smoked salmon grabbed nearly half a platter’s worth on his own plate, which meant that a lot of other people missed out.
Next door, at Heichal Shlomo, there was also a kiddush, and though quite plentiful it could hardly compare with that in the Great Synagogue.
■ IN SEPHARDI circles, unlike Ashkenazim, it is not uncommon to name a child after a living grandparent.
In fact, it is considered a great honor – even more so when the grandparent in question is also a person of influence who holds high office. Thus it came as no surprise that the most recent of the 19 grandchildren of Shas leader and Economy Minister Arye Deri was given the name Arye Mahlouf at his circumcision ceremony on Sunday. Deri conducted the ceremony himself. The infant is the s n of Deri’s daughter Tehilla and her husband, Aharon.
■ SOME PEOPLE see no reason to mark milestone anniversaries. But milestones give us an opportunity to stop and take a backward look to see how far we or some important figures have come, to learn from our and their mistakes and to profit from our and their successful ideas.
This happens to be the 80th anniversary year of the election of David Ben-Gurion to the chairmanship of the Jewish Agency. It took another 14 years for him to become Israel’s first prime minister. During the holiday period that has just passed, Channel 1 screened a wonderful documentary made not long before Ben-Gurion’s death in which he revisited his own and the state’s history, in the company of some of those who had walked that difficult path with him – personalities such as Yitzhak Navon, Shimon Peres, Abba Eban, Pinhas Sapir, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Yigal Yadin, Arik Sharon, Haim Laskov, Aryeh “Lova” Eliav and Isser Harel – in making biblical prophecy a reality on the ground.
Ben-Gurion, who was born in Plonsk, arrived in Jaffa in 1906, and was asked by the Jewish community living there at the time to join them. “Jaffa was worse than Plonsk,” he says in English in the film. In fact, all the dialogue in the film is in English – and good English at that. One scene shows Ben-Gurion looking at a sign at the entrance to the previous site of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipal building and saying that when he came to Israel, there was no Tel Aviv, there was just Jaffa.
From Jaffa he went to Petah Tikva, and from there to Rishon Lezion, where he developed a lifelong aversion to wine. Next, he went to Sejera, where he said he spent the three happiest years of his life.
The camera follows him around the country, including to the military cemetery on Mount Herzl, where he stood for long moments alongside some of the graves. Six thousand soldiers fell in the War of Independence, representing one percent of the Jewish population of Israel at the time. It hurt him that so many young people had paid with their lives for Israel’s independence, but this time, he said, Jewish blood had not been spilled in vain.
Laskov, recalling his feelings on executing Ben-Gurion’s orders, said it was a task and an inspiration.
Ben-Gurion did not know the meaning of the word “impossible.”
Navon revealed that Ben-Gurion was actually a shy and modest man who genuinely believed that he had gained something from every conversation that he had with anyone.
Peres credited Ben-Gurion with having the foresight to make Israel agriculturally and industrially independent.
Yadin, who was Israel’s foremost archeologist, was shocked by Ben-Gurion’s desire to knock down the wall surrounding the Old City of Jerusalem, but Ben-Gurion’s argument was that the wall was built by the Turks, so there was no sacrilege in tearing it down, and the absence of the wall would strengthen the concept of a united Jerusalem.
Dayan said of Ben-Gurion that all of Jewish history and the history of the State of Israel is concentrated in this one man. People who worked with Winston Churchill say that they walked in his shadow, said Dayan, but those who worked with Ben-Gurion walked in his light.
Films such as this one remind us not to take Israel for granted, and to remember that it’s not so long ago that Israel as a sovereign state was an impossible dream, for which survivors of the Holocaust were prepared to lay down their lives as warriors and not as lambs led to the slaughter.
■ ALTHOUGH HE did not live to see the fall of the Iron Curtain and the mass immigration of Soviet Jews, Ben-Gurion did witness the first trickle, and was at the airport to greet those who had found their way to freedom, speaking to them in Russian and patting the heads of children destined to grow up as Israelis.
One of the world’s great campaigners on behalf of Soviet Jewry was Jerusalem Post columnist Isi Leibler, who as a leader of Australian Jewry had forged significant contacts with some of Australia’s most influential politicians, including prime minister Bob Hawke, who supported his efforts.
Because Australia is the world’s southernmost continent, the actions and achievements of its people are not widely known other than in the world of sport. But Australia has chalked up major forward strides in medicine, technology, opera, literature and more.
Australian Jewry’s role, and Leibler’s in particular, are recorded in the book Let My People Go - The untold story of Australia and the Soviet Jews 1959-89. Leibler was arrested by the Soviet authorities; his life was frequently at risk, and yet he could not abandon the mission that he had taken upon himself. The book will be launched Wednesday night at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem. Leibler will be among the speakers, as will Australian historian Susannze Rutland, who researched the material for the book, Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who was the most widely known Prisoner of Zion of all time.
Rutland, who Leibler considers to be a top-class researcher, is currently researching material for his biography, which promises to be even more exciting than the book on Soviet Jewry.