Grapevine: Now we’re talking Turkey

Shlomo Riskin
If ever there was a sign of the resumption of normalization in Israel’s relations with Turkey, it was the invitation sent out by the Turkish Embassy for a reception toward the end of this month to celebrate Turkey’s 93rd anniversary as a republic.
The last reception of this kind was hosted in 2009 by then-Turkish ambassador Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, a little over two months before he was publicly insulted and humiliated by then-deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon. This, followed by the Israeli commando raid on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara in May 2010 served to considerably downgrade relations between the two countries, though Turkey continued to maintain an embassy in Tel Aviv, and trade between the two countries was barely affected.
The invitation for the reception this month was not issued in the name of an ambassador-designate or charge d’affaires. The event is being hosted by the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey.
■ THE ENGLISH is a little flawed, but there is so much sincerity and sadness in the Facebook message lodged by Ferdz Capacia on September 28 that any grammatical failings can be excused.
Capacia was caregiver to Israel’s ninth president, Shimon Peres, who in an article in Yediot Aharonot around the time of his 93rd birthday acknowledged that he and his caregiver didn’t communicate too well due to language barriers, but added that the caregiver makes great soup.
After Peres died, Capacia posted a photo of the two of them on his Facebook page and wrote:“Farewell, Mr. president, Mr. prime minister of [the] State of Israel, Shimon Peres. Until now I can’t believe that I am working for you; day and night we are together. I will miss your big voice, your smile, the way you said ‘Laila tov, Freddy’ before you sleep at night. Thanks for everything, thanks for making me part of your history, thanks for trusting a Filipino like me. And I can proudly say on behalf of [the] Filipino community here in Israel: We love you. I will never forget you for the rest of my life. Good-bye my boss, my VIP boss....”
Philippines Ambassador Neal Imperial said after reading the moving obituary, “We didn’t even know that he was working for the president. He never told anyone.”
Condolence notices for Peres are still flowing into the Peres Center for Peace and the Israeli media.
Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, in a message to the Peres family wrote: “I had the great honor of meeting him, along with Chemi, last year when I visited Israel. He was so vibrant and thought-provoking, and his energy was boundless. I was the one who had to work hard to keep up with him!” In relation to the former president’s work in promoting peace and advancing science, technology and innovation, Cook said: “President Peres was a colossus, a world statesman who strove relentlessly for peace and brotherhood.
He was also a giant of innovative industries, ahead of his time in his vision, especially in the field of technology.
“I join so many others in mourning his loss. All who knew him were warmed by his absolute devotion to the State of Israel and its citizens.
He has touched the lives of millions of people, and he has touched my life.”
Last Friday, Volkswagen published full-page condolence notices in some Israeli broadsheet newspapers headlined: “The Volkswagen Group joins the Peres family, the people of Israel and the citizens of the world in mourning the loss of president Shimon Peres.”
The notice continues: “As a statesman, a visionary and a leader, there were few who could match his record of accomplishment and the work he did for the entire global community. From the central role he played as one of Israel’s pioneers to his enduring commitment to peace, he showed the world the importance of dreaming big and having the strength and fortitude to follow those dreams.
“The example he set has been a guiding light for us all. His words, deeds and eternal optimism about the future live on.”
Yet for all that, Peres, who throughout his long political career appeared to court controversy, which abated somewhat during his presidency, but not entirely, has again become the subject of controversy in death – and not only because his funeral was boycotted by the Joint List. There were Jews on both the left and right of the political spectrum who made disparaging statements about him, and there were individuals who did not necessarily identify publicly with any political ideology but who simply did not like him, and saw no reason to pretend otherwise.
■ THERE ARE a lot of retired North American rabbis who came to live in Israel only after their pulpit days were over. But there are also some younger rabbis who left fairly lucrative jobs with large congregations because they wanted their children to grow up in Israel.
One such rabbi is Ari Berman, the director of Heichal Shlomo, the Jewish Heritage Center, Jerusalem, who, when he came on aliya in 2008 in a planeload of Nefesh B’Nefesh immigrants from North America, believed that he was in Israel to stay, and established a tradition of giving lectures in English each year on Shabbat Hagadol and Shabbat Shuva at Jerusalem’s Yeshurun Synagogue. The arrangement was in conjunction with Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue, which is half a block away on the same street. The lectures delivered after Saturday morning services in both synagogues also attracted people from other nearby congregations.
However, unless he decides to return to Israel twice a year, last Saturday’s lecture was Berman’s swan song before he goes back to New York to take up his position as president of Yeshiva University, succeeding Richard Joel, who just over a year ago announced that he was stepping down.
Berman, 47, spent a year at the Har Etzion Yeshiva in Alon Shvut after graduating high school; and after receiving his rabbinical ordination at YU, he spent another year in Israel as a fellow of YU’s Gruss Institute in Jerusalem.
A highly successful, long-term pulpit rabbi at The Jewish Center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, before making aliya with his wife, Anita, and their children, Berman’s was an almost instant aliya success story. He is also a member of the executive leadership council of Herzog College in Alon Shvut.
If Berman did not have such an outstanding record in spiritual leadership and management of community affairs, there might have been suspicions that his appointment as the fifth president of the financially ailing, 130-year-old YU, which was one of the Bernie Madoff victims big-time, was secured by nepotism.
His uncle Rabbi Julius Berman is a former chairman of the board of YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and an influential YU board member. He is also a former chairman of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany and honorary president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, and has been president or chairman of several national Jewish organizations and institutions, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and the American Zionist Youth Foundation.
But Ari Berman’s credentials are such that he didn’t need his uncle’s endorsement.
He sees himself as an emissary for Israel, and intends to return – but he didn’t say when.
■ ANOTHER RABBI who came to Israel when he was still a young man is Shlomo Riskin, who was the founding rabbi of New York’s Lincoln Square Synagogue, which he led for 20 years before settling in Israel in 1983 and becoming the founding rabbi of Efrat and the Ohr Torah Stone educational network of schools, colleges, seminaries and rabbinic institutions.
Riskin also has a tradition of delivering Shabbat Hagadol and Shabbat Shuva lectures, but he gives his at night and attracts a larger crowd, because people who don’t live within walking distance of the Great Synagogue can drive or take a bus. He used to give his lecturers at Yeshurun, but there was such a huge turnout that he had to relocate to the Great Synagogue, which has a far greater seating capacity.
If the Great Synagogue had notified its members that the morning service on Shabbat Shuva would be attended by President Reuven Rivlin, there might have been more congregants to do him honor and to appreciate his reading of the haftarah. But the synagogue was three-quarters empty, in sharp contrast to the huge attendances on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
The dearth of congregants on Shabbat prompted a visitor who does not usually frequent the Great Synagogue to remark, “Gee, they have a lot of empty space here.”
■ ADJACENT TO Yeshurun Synagogue is Beit Avi Chai, which practices a subtle form of outreach by having mostly Jewish-content programs that appeal to both secular and religious. As an experiment in this direction, director David Rozenson organized a midnight tisch last Friday night, which attracted more than 100 people – both secular and religious. The success of the event, which included both secular and Orthodox speakers, plus a lot of singing to mostly Carlebach melodies, has prompted Rozenson to consider running a monthly tisch, because it was obvious to him that there are secular people in Jerusalem who are thirsting for something spiritually Jewish that may not necessarily cause them to become observant but enables them to connect with their heritage.
On Saturday evening Riskin worked hard to get across the message of judgment with compassion, first basing his talk on the story of Jonah and the whale, which is part of the Yom Kippur afternoon service, and then going into other examples based on teachings handed down from the Rambam and other great Jewish scholars.
Though Orthodox, Riskin has a reputation for going against the grain of certain Orthodox set attitudes.
Last year, he spoke about zera Yisrael, blood descendants of Jews who halachically are not considered Jewish. This year, toward the conclusion of his address, in which he kept emphasizing the importance of compassion and God’s abiding love for His people even if they have sinned, Riskin – pardon the pun – took a risk in asking this particular audience, the vast majority of whom were religiously observant, for compassion for the LGBT community.
In introducing the subject, he quipped that someone once asked him if the initials stood for Lubavitch, Ger, Belz and Telz. He then went on to note the biblical concept of family and the prohibition of homosexual cohabitation, but subsequently explained that homosexuals simply cannot live in a heterosexual relationship, and that they, too, are loved by God.
This was too much for some members of the audience. “I thought he was going to come out of the closet,” remarked one woman in reference to the 76-year-old Riskin, who has been married for 53 years and is a father and grandfather.
After the lecture, some of Riskin’s admirers queued up to wish him well, but outside in the lobby, and later in the street, there were many disapproving comments. On a Saturday night between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, compassion was absent in Jerusalem.
■ WHILE EXTOLLING the courage of the Australian Light Horse regiment which 99 years ago played such a decisive role in the Battle of Beersheba, Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma, who on October 31 will deliver the keynote address at the annual commemoration service for the victorious Australian and New Zealand soldiers, will do so with a hint of sadness, because this will be the last time that he presides over the annual service hosted by the Australian Embassy. Sharma is due to return to Australia in June.
Australian Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove, who came to Israel as Australia’s representative at Peres’s funeral, is expected to return next year for the centenary commemoration in which venues will include the Park of the Australian Soldier, which was planned and funded by the Pratt Foundation, and was officially launched in April 2008 by then-Australian governor- general Maj.-Gen. Michael Jeffery and then-president Peres.
Jeffery, a military man, recounted the history of the battle as if he had been there. Peres listened to him intently, then said it made him wonder “what would have happened to our country and our history if this did not take place.”
The success of battle in fact led to the Balfour Declaration and ultimately to the establishment of the State of Israel, despite efforts by the British to renege on the specifics contained in Lord Balfour’s letter.
Cosgrove is another military man for whom the Park of the Australian Soldier will have special meaning.
Cosgrove fought in the Vietnam War as a platoon commander, and was awarded the Military Cross in recognition of his conduct and personal courage. Later, promoted to major-general, he led the international peacekeeping mission to East Timor. The success of that operation led to another promotion and his appointment in 2000 as chief of the army. Two years later, he was named chief of the defense forces.
During their visit to Israel, for which they flew half way around the world at short notice, Cosgrove and his wife, Lynne, found time to meet with Australian Embassy staff and members of the Australian representative office in Ramallah, and happily posed for photos with them and their families. Sir Peter also met with Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Battle of Beersheba commemoration and the annual Anzac Day commemoration in Jerusalem are always attended by representatives of the Turkish Embassy, as a sign that former enemies can become friends and allies. In fact, James Larsen, a former Australian ambassador to Israel, is currently Australia’s ambassador to Turkey.
■ ACCORDING TO a tweet by Zionist Union MK Shelly Yacimovich, Netherlands Ambassador Gilles Beschoor Plug has a frustrating problem. He hasn’t come across any non-Dutch person in Israel who knows how to properly pronounce his name.
People who get their names mispronounced all the time can empathize with him, but it’s even more frustrating when telephone callers automatically presume that the man they’re calling is a woman, or the woman they are calling is a man.
That kind of embarrassment occurs in written correspondence in English, in which gender errors can be based on unisex names such as Yona, Simha, Adi or Gabi, but not in speech, because unlike most European and Semitic languages, English grammar does not emphasize gender distinctions.
■ VETERAN NEWS anchorman and television presenter Yaakov Eilon resigned from Channel 1 a couple of weeks back, which means in effect that he has resigned from the Israel Broadcasting Authority. Eilon was a rolled-in-one substitute for Mr.
Television, Haim Yavin, who for decades was Channel 1’s key news presenter (even though he has been absent for several years), and for Ayala Hasson, whose departure from Channel 1 more or less coincided with Eilon’s arrival.
Eilon, born Yaakov Pijada in 1961, has worked for more electronic news outlets than just about any other Israeli. His next career move is to Walla, which was one of Israel’s first Internet portals, and remains one of the country’s most popular websites. After spending a year with Tevel Cable TV, Eilon was the founding news anchor, together with Miki Haimovich, on Channel 2, Israel’s first commercial television station, and for some time was also the significant other of the Channel’s current news anchor, Yonit Levy.
In 2002, he and his co-news anchor, Haimovich, transferred to Channel 10, leaving a news anchor vacancy at Channel 2.
Levy was almost instantly promoted, and Eilon was reportedly so furious with her for stepping into Haimovich’s shoes that he severed their relationship. Levy went on to become the star news anchor at Channel 2, dropping out temporarily on maternity leaves after her marriage.
Haimovich resigned from Channel 10 in June 2011, and in February 2012, when Channel 10, under political and legislative duress, moved its news division to Jerusalem, Eilon resigned, ostensibly because while the news studio was in Jerusalem, producers, editors and reporters were in Tel Aviv and beyond, which, he claimed, made it impossible to produce a top-quality news program.
But the real reason was the channel’s financial failings.
Eilon had not received his January salary on time and, as one of the superstars of the television news media, was being paid a much higher salary than many of his colleagues. But what may be closer to the truth is that Channel 10 was about to institute a 15% pay cut across the board, which would have made Eilon even more unhappy.
After quitting Channel 10, which he did via an email to CEO Uri Rozen, Eilon was next seen on I24, then on Channel 9; he freelanced here and there, and in January 2015 joined Channel 1 as the host of the weekend Mabat prime time news program, which had previously been hosted by Hasson, who had been a passionately vocal opponent to the demise of the IBA and its projected replacement by a new public broadcasting entity known as the Israel Broadcasting Corporation, but calling itself Kan, which means Here. Eilon quickly became chief Mabat presenter as well.
In the absence of a director-general of the IBA, which is now in the process of being dismantled, Eilon sent a letter of resignation to Yoram Cohen, the head of the Channel 1 news division, in which he reminded him that in accordance with article 12 in his employment contract, he has to give 30 days notice of his intention to leave and is therefore notifying him that he will wind up his work with the IBA on November 15. He thanked Cohen for allowing him the privilege, under the most difficult of circumstances, not to give in, not to rest and not to despair. It was a paradigm that he would take with him forever, he wrote.
He asked Cohen to thank management on his behalf for allowing him complete journalistic freedom and independence without interference of any kind, something that, he said, was of the utmost importance.
The management of Channel 1 wished Eilon well on his new path in the private market, saying that it has great respect for his professionalism.
There was no mention of the fact that even though the IBA has several permanent correspondents in the US and Europe, Eilon was permitted to go and report from the US and Europe at the expense of the taxpayer.
Eilon’s specialty is in his body language, leaning forward into the camera so that the viewer gets the impression that Eilon is speaking directly to him or to her.
He also raises his eyebrows, flings his hands in the air and resorts to other expressive gestures not common among his colleagues.
Before becoming a roving star in Israel’s television industry, Eilon spent nine years working in radio, television and the print media in New York, where he was known as Jacob, not Yaakov.
Meanwhile, almost simultaneously with Eilon’s resignation, the projected IBA replacement, the Israel Broadcasting Corporation, announced that journalist Yaakov Eichler, a brother of MK Yisrael Eichler, who also worked as a professional journalist before becoming a United Torah Judaism legislator, is the newest addition to its staff. Eichler, who is a presenter and commentator on the Knesset Channel, will join the IBC news team. He is particularly savvy on the shortcomings of MKs, and prior to joining the Knesset Channel was the political reporter for haredi publications.
Even though the brothers Eichler are opposed to haredim serving in the IDF, their father, Rabbi Mordechai Eichler, fought in the War of Independence and later became a paratrooper.
■ ON SUNDAY morning of this week, Reshet Bet’s early morning anchorman Aryeh Golan bid farewell to one of the station’s stalwarts, veteran broadcaster Pe’erli Shahar, editor and presenter of numerous news, social welfare and economic programs who is leaving Israel Radio. Hers is one of many familiar names that have disappeared from the airwaves and from the television screen over the past two or three years.
■ PEOPLE ALL over the world are thrilled when they discover that film stars and television personalities are staying in the same hotels as they are. It happens a lot with patrons of the Dan Boutique Jerusalem Hotel, whose general manager, Ben Janover, makes a point of hosting celebrities over the weekend. Israeli patrons last weekend did a double take when they saw Channel 10’s Gadi Sukenik and Limor Filo perched on stools at the bar. The couple split up two years ago but decided to give romance a second whirl to see if it would work permanently, on the premise that absence makes the heart grow fonder.
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