Grapevine: Music as a bridge

At age 90, and with difficulty walking, Lia Van Leer – the grande dame of Israeli cinema – has nonetheless been a frequent presence at events organized by the Jerusalem Press Club.

David Broza (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
David Broza
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
At age 90, and with difficulty walking, Lia Van Leer – the grande dame of Israeli cinema – has nonetheless been a frequent presence at events organized by the Jerusalem Press Club.
Her attendance at the JPC event in honor of singer/composer, guitarist and coexistence activist David Broza last Wednesday night, was yet another example of her determination to keep on going on. The occasion was an introduction to the documentary East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem, which premiered at New York’s Woodstock Film Festival last week to a standing ovation and decidedly favorable reviews.
The film – directed by Erez Miller and Henrique Cymerman, and produced by Gidi Avivi of Vice Versa Films – to a large extent proves Broza’s contention that music can be a bridge between people, breaking down the political walls which divide them.
Indeed, in a period of only eight days, he succeeded in winning the trust and friendship of many Palestinians – recording a new album in a Palestinian studio in east Jerusalem’s predominantly Arab Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. One of the musicians, who grew up in the Shuafat refugee camp, says in the film that the only Israelis he knew in his youth were soldiers with guns.
Broza was introduced to the audience who filled the auditorium at the Konrad Adenauer Conference Center by JPC director Uri Dromi, who was his commander in the air force close to four decades ago. Despite the many heartwarming scenes in the film, Broza was quick to make the point that he’s not out to paint a rosy picture of Israeli-Palestinian relations, but simply to show that people with different cultural backgrounds can relate well to one other when freed of political shackles. “I could have recorded the album anywhere in the world,” he said, “but I had to do it in Jerusalem.”
Mira Awad, who has been in the US with Broza to launch the album, and has sung with him many times in Israel, did so again on Wednesday. The two harmonize extremely well and their rendition of “Ramallah-Tel Aviv” is a musical delight. When it was suggested that they perform it at Eurovision as it is a sure winner, Awad, who previously appeared on Eurovision with Achinoam Nini, replied that one Eurovision experience was enough, while Broza said, “Who needs Eurovision? We have the world.”
Broza concluded the musical part of the evening by singing his signature song “Yihiye Tov” (It Will Be Okay), for which he wrote the music and Yonatan Gefen the lyrics very early in Broza’s career. Many people in the audience softly sang along with him.
Referring to Palestinians and Israelis making music together, the Israeli-Arab Awad conceded that no story, play or movie will change the world, “but I always hope it will.”
■ TWO OF the significant events of October 1949 were the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and the birth of a second son to Benzion and Cela Netanyahu.
In those days, no one would have imagined that China would become one of the world’s most important economic forces or that the baby boy would not only become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, but would also be greeted as an honored guest in the radically reformed China of the 21st century.
The Chinese Embassy delayed its National Day celebration by three weeks due to the Jewish holiday period, and thus the celebration of the 65th anniversary of the PRC happened to coincide with the 65th birthday of Benjamin Netanyahu, who though he was not able to attend sent a congratulatory video, after which he was congratulated from the podium of the Tel Aviv Hilton.
Among the Israeli dignitaries who did attend the event hosted by Chinese Ambassador Gao Yanping were President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, former prime minister Ehud Barak, former foreign minister Moshe Arens, Deputy Finance Minister Mickey Levy, Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir, opposition leader Isaac Herzog, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein and Ran Cohen, chairman of the Israel-Asia Chamber of Commerce and former industry and trade minister.
Every ambassador celebrates his or her country’s National Day differently, but what all Chinese ambassadors have in common is finding ways to show off their country’s culture – not with one or two songs or dances, but with dancing, singing, musical performances, a martial arts demonstration and an exhibition of paintings. This year’s celebration included several artistic presentations by students from Beijing and Peking Universities.
The ever-elegant Ambassador Gao, who during her tenure has hosted two Israeli presidents, was particularly gracious in welcoming President Rivlin, who though relatively new to his post is no stranger to China – having visited there three times, including during his term as communications minister.
He is also no stranger to China’s National Day celebrations, having attended various such receptions during his two periods as Knesset speaker.
Rivlin, who addressed the crowd after Gao delivered her oration, cut his speech short, proving that he practices what he preaches.
Rivlin frequently points out that one of the first steps towards solving the nation’s problems is for people to genuinely listen to each other – which is something he does. He therefore took note of the fact that three-quarters of what he wanted to say about relations between Israel and China had been mentioned by Gao in her address, so contrary to usual practice in diplomatic circles, he abbreviated his own speech.
What generally happens when a member of the government rather than the president of the state is the guest of honor at a national reception is that both the host and guest make almost identical points in their respective speeches. Rivlin obviously believes this is a waste of time, and therefore did not repeat what Gao had already said, beyond referring to the ancient but differing cultures of the Chinese and the Jews.
With regard to ancient Chinese culture, Rivlin said he was particularly impressed by the “Terracotta Warriors and Horses,” a magnificently sculptured army dating back to Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China some 200 years before the Common Era.
Whenever she has the opportunity, Gao refers to the extraordinary growth of China’s economy and its contribution to the world economy. China contributes almost 30 percent to world economic growth, she said, and since its entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001, has recorded annual imports of $750 billion, creating more than 14 million jobs for the global economy. Gao said that within the next five years, China expects its imports to increase to $10 trillion.
In 2013, China became the largest trading partner of 128 countries, and is currently Israel’s largest trading partner in Asia and Israel’s third-largest trading partner in the world, after the US and UK. Two-way trade between Israel and China has increased from $50 million in 1992 to $10.8b. this year.
While trade is an important aspect of Israel- China relations, Gao noted that Beijing’s relations with Jews can be traced back 1,000 years to the Song Dynasty, when there was a small Jewish community in Kaifeng. She also recalled that during World War II, China was one of the few countries which opened its arms to welcome Jewish refugees fleeing from the Nazis. Jews not only found shelter, she said, but sweet homes. When she first took up her post in Israel, Gao noted, among the Jewish friends who helped her to acclimatize were those who remembered what the Chinese people had done for them.
■ HISTORY IS made every day of the week, but we’re not always aware of it. Fatan Nasraldin this week became the first Druse woman to complete an officers’ course in the police force, thus making history in terms of the Druse population and in the achievements of female representatives of minority groups in Israel. Nasraldin, 34, comes from a family of military and police commanders, and it was almost a given that she would follow her father into the police force and become a commander herself.
At the ceremony on Mount Masada in which 102 new officers received their badges, Police Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino observed that a generation fades and a new generation takes its place. Looking at the new officers, he expressed confidence that Israel could indeed take pride in its police force, which he said can meet any challenge.
■ APOLOGIES ARE due to Irene Gee and her family, for mistakenly referring to her late husband, Malcolm Gee, as Michael, in last Wednesday’s Grapevine. Our names are very important to all of us, but more important to bereaved relatives when their loved ones are gone. Malcolm Gee was a keen supporter of Musicians of Tomorrow, which gave a memorial concert in tribute to him and the late David Clayton, who was equally keen to encourage the talents of young musicians living in northern peripheral communities .
■ DIWALI, THE ancient Hindu festival – which celebrates the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil and hope over despair – is usually hosted in Israel by the Indian ambassador, regardless of the ambassador’s own religion.
This year, the Israel Diamond Exchange in Ramat Gan – in recognition of its extremely close and warm relations with the Bharat Diamond Bourse in Bombay – decided to hold its own Diwali festival, at which Indian Ambassador Jaideep Sarkar was the guest of honor.
The event was hosted by Diamond Bourse president Shmuel Schnitzer, together with managing director Moti Besser. Among the guests were chairman Cohen of the Israel- Asia Chamber of Commerce; Kobi Koren, president of the Israel Diamond Manufacturers Association; Israel’s Diamond Controller Shmuel Mordechai; and various representatives of the Indian community, including businesspeople who are living in Israel temporarily, and members of India’s Jewish community who over the years came on aliya.
Members of the Indian Diamond Bourse were also present.
Both Schnitzer and Sarkar commented on the ties of friendship between Israeli and Indian diamond merchants, and wished members of each bourse continued success in the new year.
■ THE AVERAGE period of tenure for a foreign ambassador ranges from two to five years.
Some stay a little longer because they may be completing a specific project, or their replacement is not yet ready to come to Israel; and some stay for shorter periods because they may receive unexpected promotions from their Foreign Ministries, or there has been a change of government in the countries they represent. Some stay on for very long periods, as their Foreign Ministries think they are doing a good job in Israel.
A case in point is Jose Joao Manuel, the ambassador of Angola who left last week after nearly 14 years here. His wife, Antonia, was given a farewell by the International Women’s Club some weeks earlier. Long though his stay in Israel may have been, Manuel could not beat the record of Cameroon’s Henri Etoundi Essomba, the dean of the Diplomatic Corps who last week marked the 16th anniversary of the presentation of his credentials, and had previously served in Israel in a lower diplomatic ranking.
■ ISRAEL’S THIRD president Zalman Shazar would be dumbfounded by the crises in humanities in Israel today, said Israel’s 10th President Rivlin at the state ceremony in Jerusalem marking the 40th anniversary of Shazar’s death.
A yeshiva graduate and respected scholar, Shazar was the first president to occupy the current President’s Residence. His predecessor, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, lived in what became known as “the hut,” a somewhat more modest complex in the heart of Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood.
In eulogizing him, Rivlin made particular mention of the great store set by Shazar in matters of education, and also dwelt on Shazar’s political career prior to his election to the presidency. Shazar had been one of the trailblazers in formulating the law on free compulsory education, said Rivlin, adding that this was one of the most important pieces of legislation enacted by the Knesset.
There is a crisis in academia today in which great Talmudic scholars are migrating to the US, said Rivlin, in addition to which biblical research in Germany is being carried out by Israeli researchers. Rivlin considers this a scholastic failure which must be rectified.
■ THERE ARE not too many prizes in Israel specifically awarded to so-called Anglos, in recognition of their contributions to the development of the State of Israel – though a perusal of the history of the country since the Declaration of Independence brings more than a few to mind from 1948 to the present day.
Though not born in the US, Golda Meir grew up there, and to all intents and purposes qualifies as an Anglo; she certainly retained the accent.
Others of note included and include: Abba Eban; Dov Joseph; Simon Agranat; Chaim Herzog; Abraham and Zena Harman; Bernard Cherrick; Louis Pincus; Israel Goldstein; Harold “Smoky” Simon; David Hartman; Yehuda Avner; Shlomo Riskin; Louis Guttman; Daniel Elazar; Benny Landa, whose family migrated from Poland to Canada when he was two; Alice Shalvi, who though born in Germany was raised in England; Richard Hirsch; Pesach Schindler, who spent his childhood in Nazi Germany but his youth and early adult years in New York, where he received his rabbinic ordination; Murray Greenfield; Faigie Zimmerman; Tal Brody; Mark Regev; Michael Oren; Tal Becker; Ron Dermer; Daniel Taub; Jeremy Issacharoff; Mark Sofer... and the list goes on.
Though there has obviously been no dearth of Anglos making valuable contribution to Israel’s development, there is a common misconception that Anglos have stayed in the background. Nefesh B’Nefesh has sought to remedy this by establishing the annual Bonei Zion Prize, which recognizes outstanding Anglo immigrants – be they veterans or relative newcomers – who embody the spirit of modern-day Zionism by significantly contributing to the development of the State of Israel. The public is invited to submit nominations by Monday, December 15. The awards of $10,000 will be made in six categories: Science & Medicine, Education, Community & Nonprofit, Young Leadership in the IDF & National Service, Entrepreneurship & Technology, and Arts, Culture & Sports.
Candidates must be immigrants from English-speaking countries such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, the US and UK, who have made a significant impact on the State of Israel. The deadline for submitting nominations is December 15; nomination forms are available for download at
Winners will be selected by a committee of distinguished individuals and announced February 25, 2015.
Of the above mentioned, Yehuda Avner cannot be nominated because he is one of the adjudicators. Also on the panel is Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde, along with several other well-known personalities in different fields of endeavor.
■ RECENT STRIKES and sanctions by postal workers resulted in the late delivery of mail, meaning many people missed out on certain events because invitations arrived when such events were already history. Likewise, the Rosh Hashana edition of ESRA Magazine also arrived late, but nonetheless proved to be a most interesting read.
The magazine, which is written, edited and produced by members of the various branches of the English-Speaking Residents Association, gives native English speakers who simply cannot master Hebrew a sense of community and belonging. Although the content may be somewhat more parochial than that of an English-language newspaper, it certainly gives an indication of the variety of activities in which English-speaking immigrants engage, and of the high caliber of immigrants who collectively come with a wealth of experience and a multitude of professions at their fingertips.
It is also interesting to see how many different subgroups there are under the ESRA umbrella, and to realize that for many people for whom English is a mother tongue, there remains a need to mix socially in English-speaking circles, regardless of the length of time lived in Israel.
Among the current crop of contributors are Belfast-born Barbara Abraham-Vazana, who has lived in Israel since 1958 and has worked in various branches of the tourist industry; and pharmacist Frankie Cronin, who came from the UK in 1977, has webmaster skills, helped computerize ESRA’s database and edits ESRA’s e-magazine.
Another veteran whose place of birth is not stated is Siri Jones-Rosen, who came to Israel in 1965. And of course there’s Merle Guttmann, the editor of the magazine and founder of the organization, who came from Zimbabwe in 1962; and Gloria Deutsch, a member of the editorial board, whose byline appears regularly in the Post, and who came from Liverpool, England, in November 1973.
There are literally hundreds if not thousands of people connected with ESRA who operate thrift shops or secondhand bookstores, and give their time and money to food or educational projects, arts and crafts fairs, lectures, educational trips, solidarity visits to southern communities, teaching English to Ethiopian schoolchildren in Netanya, knitting, Zumba, folk dancing, book clubs, support groups for caretakers of family members with disabilities, and more.
Unfortunately, not enough attention is paid to Anglo contributions or needs.
The worst example of this is in the brochures that come with electrical appliances giving directions in Hebrew, Arabic and Russian – but not in English, even when the appliance was manufactured in an English-speaking country. Furthermore, people who pay their bills by phone will often find that the company which they’ve called has voice messages in the above three languages – but not in English.
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