Grapevine: Looking into the haredi world

Extraordinary documentary explores the life of the late Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv.

KLEZMER MUSICIANS perform in the succa of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv (photo credit: COURTESY IBA)
KLEZMER MUSICIANS perform in the succa of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv
(photo credit: COURTESY IBA)
Films such as Ushpizin and television series such as Shtisel have made secular Jews more aware of and more empathetic to the haredi community, even though both the film and the TV series are fictitious.
A more authentic glimpse will be provided by Channel 1 on Saturday night, July 16, in an extraordinary documentary about the late Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, widely recognized as one of the greatest halachic authorities in the world, who died on July 18, 2012, at the age of 102.
The documentary includes footage taken in Eliashiv’s home in Mea She’arim. People of stature from all over the world beat a path to Eliashiv’s door to seek his advice, and though he could not help but be aware of his reputation – which in addition to his scholarship had earned him in-laws from the most highly respected haredi families for his many children – Eliashiv shunned adulation and for this reason tried to stay away from crowds. Nonetheless, when he died, some half-a-million people came to his funeral.
In his time, Eliashiv, who was appointed by Israel’s first Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Isaac Herzog, as a member of the rabbinic council that set the tone for Israel’s halachic structure, made some highly controversial rulings that did not sit well in ultra-Orthodox circles.
While he remained scrupulously observant himself, humanity and logic in relation to the situation often guided his halachically inspired decisions. In this very rare documentary, he is interviewed by a secular relative – television personality Ben Bar-Shavit, the son of veteran stage actor Shlomo Bar-Shavit. The film was directed and edited by Ami Dror with photography by Yoram Milo, Yaakov Waldshein and Yinon Kashvitz.
■ IT’S DIFFICULT to imagine a belly dancer gyrating to the strains of live Irish music, but there are plenty of witnesses, including Irish Ambassador Alison Kelly, who can testify to this unique cultural merger. The occasion at the Shamrock Beer Garden in Netanya was more or less the grand finale to the monthlong global Bloomsday festivities throughout the month of June, and the Israel Irish Friendship League was not about to be left out of the party.
Bloomsday celebrates the fictional Jewish character Leopold Bloom in Ulysses, the classic magnum opus by James Joyce. In the book, Bloom spent the whole of June 16, 1904, walking around Dublin.
Kelly revealed that she had grown up in that part of Dublin known as Little Jerusalem due to the large concentration of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants. IIFL chairman Malcolm Gafson, who has the gift of gab and whose Irish brogue remains intact despite his many years in Israel, said an almost simultaneous hello and good-bye to Orli Weitzman, who will soon be leaving for Ireland to take up her post as deputy chief of mission at the Israel Embassy. It was her first IIFL experience and one that was more memorable than she would have imagined.
■ SOME OF the Bastille Day festivities were mentioned in last Wednesday’s Grapevine, but the French Embassy and the French Institute have pulled out all the stops to ensure that July 14 will be an evening of celebration in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Netanya.
In addition to the details of the Netanya festivities that were published on Wednesday, the Tel Aviv event, which will be held in conjunction with the Tel Aviv Municipality, will begin at 7:30 p.m. at Frishman Beach opposite the French Embassy, which will be lit up for the occasion. DJs Lala and Claude Njoya will keep the music going till 11 p.m. In Haifa the fun, in the form of a mega street party, starts at 7 p.m. in the downtown area a two-minute walk from Haifa Port. Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav and French consul-general in Haifa Catherine Crosnier will be joining the merrymakers. In Netanya, as previously announced, the venue is Independence Square.
■ IT HAS to be a very special bride and groom if Rabbi Irwin Kula, who is regularly ranked by Newsweek as one of America’s most influential rabbis, takes time out to officiate at a wedding. Kula is a prolific writer, appears frequently on television and is an internationally sought-after speaker. He’s also very active in interfaith work. Nonetheless, he made time to do the honors for Abby Chiat, daughter of Elayne and Larry Chiat, and Daniel Solow, son of Andrea and Alan Solow, who were married last Sunday in Minneapolis.
The bride is a corporate marketing consultant at TransUnion, and the groom an assistant athletic director at Northwestern University. They are both college sports fans. In fact, their first date was for drinks during the NCAA basketball tournament. The relationship grew from there. Abby graduated from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, and Daniel graduated with a degree in politics from Occidental College, where he was a two-time captain of the golf team. He also earned a master’s degree in sports management at Northern Illinois University.
■ IT MAY not be common knowledge that there are 300 Arab volunteers working as emergency medical technicians with United Hatzalah. But one or more of them is not always the first to respond to a call in the Arab neighborhood of Wadi Qaddum. Josh Wander happens to be the only Jew in the east Jerusalem Arab chapter of the organization. He lives in Ma’aleh Hazeitim, a gated community at the top of the Mount of Olives. Nearly all the calls that he responds to are from Arabs in the surrounding villages.
Wander is an immigrant from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he was the Republican nominee for mayor. He lives with his family in the close-knit community because he and his wife, Tali, felt that it was the best place to raise their children.
He is also happy to work in a neighborhood where he believes he can make a difference. Many of the calls he answers as a first-responder have something to do with terrorism or an internal skirmish in the Arab population. There are times when he knows that his own life will be in danger if he responds, and he then has a conflict as to whether to go or not, but is sure that if he resists responding, one of his Arab colleagues will soon get to the scene.
In being the only Jewish member of the chapter, he feels that he can make an impact both medically and culturally. He is always treated with respect by other members of the chapter and in the Arab neighborhoods when he responds to a call. He has never been attacked by the people who call for help, though he has been attacked by locals when trying to get to the scene of an emergency.
Wander became interested in Hatzalah during a stint in Israel, before settling in the country permanently.
“I was an online editor for The Jerusalem Post at the time, and there were a lot of bus bombings.
We were often sending reporters out to the scene of terrorist attacks, and the reporters were among the first people on scene. What struck me as odd was that while they were able to report about what was happening, they were not able to help the wounded.
I thought that this was a terrible injustice, that we could report but we were unable to help the injured.
I took a basic 80-hour course, and I began to get involved. Over the next 20 years I was involved on and off in emergency medical response, but never to the level of which I am now.”
■ ONE OF the ironies in the case of the young American woman converted by Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the spiritual leader of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan and the former principal of the Ramaz School, is that if she and her Israeli fiancé went back to America to get married by Lookstein and then returned to Israel, and the marriage didn’t work out, their divorce would have to be sanctioned by the chief rabbinate of the city in which they lived.
Converts who marry abroad have a much easier time in Israel because they have little or nothing to do with the rabbinate; and if it was an Orthodox conversion and there is a kosher marriage contract, no one will query the Jewish identity of offspring of the union.