Grapevine: Perpetuating the memory of the Holocaust

A round-up of news from around Israel.

RIVLIN RECEIVES a briefing at the Lebanese border. (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
RIVLIN RECEIVES a briefing at the Lebanese border.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
Next week is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Each year, on the day prior to the commemoration, Prof. Dina Porat, head of the Tel Aviv University-based Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry, holds a press conference on the previous year’s worldwide antisemitism. She is doing so again this year, but the event has been expanded, in view of the increase in antisemitic incidents around the globe.
Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, will speak via video on the spike in antisemitism in certain European countries. Porat will deliver an analysis of what has prompted the rise in antisemitism, and Dr. Haim Fireberg will detail the findings and other relevant data. Also present will be TAU specialists in antisemitism and contemporary Jewry in different parts of the world. They include Dr. Irena Cantorovich, whose focus is the former Soviet Union; Talia Naamat, who researches legislation against antisemitism and discrimination; Sarah Rembiszewski, who runs a database on Western Europe and Germany; Dr. Mikael Shainkman who researches Scandinavia; Dr. Rafi Vago, whose specialty is Western Europe; and Dr. Esther Webman, who studies tolerance and intolerance in the Middle East.
EVEN NOW, with the sharp decline in the number of Holocaust survivors more than seven decades after the Second World War, the plaza at Yad Vashem that commemorates the 1943 uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto will be full of survivors, their children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. This continuum is the true victory of the Jewish people over all inhuman tyrants who over the centuries have sought to eradicate them.
One of the most famous of Holocaust survivors was Nobel Prize-winning author, teacher and human rights activist Elie Wiesel, who died in New York last July. An Elie Wiesel memorial conference against the backdrop of the Holocaust will be held on Sunday, April 23, from 8.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Weisfeld Auditorium of Bar-Ilan University.
The conference, under the auspices of the Sal Van-Gelder Institute for Holocaust Instruction and Research, will explore Wiesel’s contribution to Holocaust awareness; the emotional and linguistic differences between the words “Holocaust” and “Shoa”; why Wiesel’s book Night became such a literary success; Wiesel’s sense of mission as an author and documenter of the Holocaust; and the ability to remain religiously observant during and after the Holocaust.
Among the numerous speakers will be BIU president Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz, who is the son of Holocaust survivors, and Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who was a child Holocaust survivor. There will also be the screening of a film on Wiesel’s life, and a theatrical performance, From Hannah Senesh to Elie Wiesel, by Holocaust survivor Shmuel Atzmon and his daughter Anat Atzmon.
AT THE Hebrew University in Jerusalem, there will be a Holocaust memorial event of a different kind at noon on April 24 at Beit Hillel on the Mount Scopus campus. Roger Grunwald will present his one-man play in English: The Mitzva Project – An Exploration of Antisemitism and the Holocaust. Entry is free of charge. The play is about the little-known horror stories of people of mixed Jewish and non-Jewish parentage or grand-parentage who until 1940 served in Hitler’s military forces.
Most were discharged in 1940 and sent to forced labor camps, concentration camps and death camps.
The performance will be followed by a discussion featuring Hebrew University faculty experts on history, theater studies, and antisemitism. The event is under the auspices of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry and the Theater Studies department with the support of the Posen Foundation.
AMONG THE Holocaust survivors living in Israel are at least three centenarians. Dutchborn Mirjam Bolle, who celebrated her 100th birthday in March, is a survivor of Bergen- Belsen, who kept all the letters she wrote to her fiancé while she was a camp prisoner, and a few years ago published them under the title Letters Never Sent. Bolle is amazingly fit, walks without a cane, does volunteer work and regularly attends synagogue, where she has to climb the stairs to the women’s gallery.
Another three-digit survivor is Czech-born Livia Shacter, who celebrated her 100th birthday on April 2. Sent to Auschwitz in 1944, and afterward to a slave labor camp in Germany, Shacter was the sole survivor of her family. She married another survivor, whom she met in the DP camp, and moved to the United States, where she lived for 63 years. After raising two daughters and reaching retirement age, she spent a lot of time as a volunteer at the Simon Wiesenthal Center and at the Holocaust Museum at the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles. After living in Los Angeles for 53 years, she moved to Baltimore, to be close to one of her daughters. She stayed there for 10 years, living independently.
While in her early 90s she fell and broke her hip. Her family prepared for the worst, but she surprised them and recovered, after which she decided to realize her lifelong dream of moving to Israel. She made aliya at age 93, and lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with her daughter Leiba Brown.
According to The Guinness Book of Records, Israel’s oldest Holocaust survivor is Polish- born Israel Kristal, 113, who lives in Haifa and is an Auschwitz survivor. His first wife, Chaje Faige, who was also deported from Lodz to Auschwitz, did not survive, and after the war he remarried to Batsheva, a fellow survivor, and they came to Israel in 1950 with their infant child, Chaim. A daughter, Shula, was born in Israel. Having been an expert candy maker in Poland, Kristal continued with his profession in Israel.
Unable to celebrate his bar mitzva during the First World War, Kristal’s family arranged for him to make up for the lost opportunity, and he duly celebrated his bar mitzva in September 2016, surrounded by children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He is believed to be not only the oldest Holocaust survivor but also the oldest man in the world.
ON THE last day of Passover, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, who has much more to his credit than the conversion of Ivanka Trump, conducted the morning service at the Hazvi Yisrael Synagogue in Jerusalem’s Talbiyeh neighborhood. Whenever he comes to Israel – which is at least once a year – Lookstein conducts a service at Hazvi Yisrael, and always with such energy and verve that the congregation is simply swept up. This year was no exception.
Members of the Trump family have inadvertently caused the good rabbi needless trouble. First it was the conversion of Ivanka, which was questioned by some Israeli religious authorities, who refused to recognize Lookstein’s qualifications, even though he is the rabbi emeritus of the Orthodox Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York and the former head of the Ramaz School. Lookstein was asked by Ivanka to deliver the opening prayer at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last July. He had initially agreed, but following pressure from Ramaz alumni, many of his congregants and other Modern Orthodox circles, who urged him not to give public support to Donald Trump, he bowed out, explaining that, like his father before him, he had never been involved in politics, because politics divides people, and his whole life had been devoted to uniting people.
There are rumors that Lookstein, who last month celebrated his 85th birthday, is contemplating aliya. His many friends in Israel, including Ramaz alumni, would welcome such a move wholeheartedly. His was not the only star attraction at Hazvi Yisrael. President Reuven Rivlin, who frequently joins the congregation and acts like any regular congregant, but for the fact that his security detail makes him leave a few minutes before everyone else, read the haftara with the aplomb of a professional – and not for the first time. Congregants are most appreciative when the president not only joins in the service but leads part of it.
JUST A day before the Passover Seder, Rivlin visited IDF soldiers of the Givati Brigade’s Shaked Battalion, who are stationed at the Lebanese border, safeguarding the freedom of the population in the north of the country. Rivlin conveyed greetings for the festival, wished them all Happy Passover, and joined the soldiers in a toast in honor of the Passover holiday.
During his tour, Rivlin received an intelligence and military update on developments along the northern border. Afterward, he spoke with the soldiers about their various operations in the area, and also discussed events in Syria, stressing the humanitarian aspect.
“What is happening in Syria, first and foremost from a humanitarian perspective, demands the attention of the whole world,” he said, underscoring that the atrocities against civilians “go beyond a local conflict, or a clash of forces. These are things that humanity cannot comprehend. As for us, who find ourselves in the eye of the storm with such events occurring around us, and as a people that established our country and lives together despite the difficulties, we know that struggles have limits. I think that what is being done in Syria requires the attention of the world, and certainly our attention,” he said.
Referring to issues currently preoccupying the international arena, and prompting disputes between the US and Russia, Rivlin said that the question is being raised as to whether a dictator should be able to treat his people as he wishes. “How, in the 21st century, can one think he is able to use chemical weapons at all, let alone against human beings?” said Rivlin, who also mentioned questions being raised about whether there should be Israeli intervention in the fighting in Syria. Rivlin did not rule out the possibility, but advocated caution and Israel’s need to stand together with the whole world and perhaps as leaders of the world. “I am confident that those responsible in the State of Israel will consider what we can do and how we can intensify what we are already doing, in order to alleviate the suffering of innocent people,” he said.
After thanking the soldiers and their commanders for their dedication, Rivlin added: “The IDF is ready and prepared for any danger that could threaten us. I must tell you that this year, more than ever, we feel safe because you are here.”
From the border area, Rivlin traveled to the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya and met with the medical staff. He was accompanied by Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov, and hospital CEO Dr. Masad Barhoum. Of the 3,000-plus wounded Syrians who have been treated in Israel since March 2013, more than 1,500 have been brought to the medical center by IDF soldiers. Approximately a third of the wounded have been children and infants, often accompanied by a parent who cannot believe that Israel, which they have always thought of as the enemy, is welcoming them and providing for their well-being. Rivlin met some of the patients and voiced his pride in what the hospital staff is doing for them.
Alluding to American action in Syria only two days earlier, Rivlin said: “The United States proved that there are redlines that cannot be crossed in a civilized world, and I hope it will serve as an example for the entire free world. We, who have risen from the ashes of the Holocaust, know very well that silence cannot be an option.”
Barhoum, who had been invited to the US to speak at the AIPAC conference, told Rivlin: “It was an opportunity for me to present what we are doing to 14,000 people and a few million others who were watching the various channels of communication. I was able to explain how we turned those wounded Syrians from enemies to friends. The treatment of the wounded Syrians has turned our trauma center into one of the most experienced in Israel, and one of the world leaders in providing care for complex and difficult war casualties, which is a matter of great pride.
“But it is inconceivable that the Galilee Medical Center will bear the burden of the cost of a national project that came about through a government decision,” he said, stressing that the government must meet its financial obligations in this great humanitarian cause, because the cost of treatment comes to hundreds of millions of shekels.
MUCH HAS been written about Itta Glicksberg’s comprehensive documentary Today it’s us, which tells the story of the three years of agony and uncertainty experienced by employees of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which is now in the final stages of being dismantled.
Another very interesting documentary series, Spirit of Freedom, was made almost concurrently for and by the documentary department of Channel 1, with journalist Einat Fishbain in the role of moderator.
Where Glicksberg’s documentary was more on the emotional side and devoted to all IBA employees, Fishbain focused on Channel 1, with input from Britain’s Channel 4, Britain’s fourth television service and third public service television, in addition to the BBC’s two services BBC One and BBC Two. Unlike the BBC, which is funded by license fees, Channel 4, launched in 1982, relies on commercials, and while it is in many respects similar to the BBC, it is more innovative and creative.
Fishbain looked at the extent to which a public broadcasting service should be independent, what its role should be, and the history of the mismanagement of and political interference in the IBA. She also heard opinions that the Israel Broadcasting Corporation, which according to law is supposed to be free of political pressure or influence, will be in an even worse pickle than the IBA. The series was first screened toward the end of last December, and was screened again during the Passover holiday period.
Fishbain interviewed Channel 4 founder Sir Jeremy Isaacs, who said that public service broadcasting must be educational, informative and entertaining.
Former IBA television and radio personalities Dan Shilon and Yaron London each said separately that Tommy Lapid, as the director- general of IBA, was the beginning of the ruin of the IBA, because he was the servant of the politicians who appointed him, as were all the other political appointees. Lapid would not permit Palestinians to be interviewed on air, even though it was in the interest of the Israeli public to know their views.
Shilon said that when he was heading the news division of Channel 1, he had been advised by a political activist that Rafik Halabi, who was then reporting on Palestinians, was actually in cahoots with them, and that there was plenty of evidence to support this. Before taking the matter up with Halabi, Shilon checked the information with the head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), and was told that there was absolutely no suspicion of Halabi, who is today the mayor of Daliat al-Carmel.
TO THE great surprise of many people, the central Mimouna celebrations this year were in Petah Tikva and Tiberias. In principle, there’s nothing wrong with that, except that this happens to be the 50th anniversary year of the reunification of Jerusalem, in which the World Federation of Moroccan Jewry is located, and where conventional wisdom would have assumed that federation head Sam Ben-Shitrit would organize this year’s main celebration.
Interestingly, Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went to neither. Rivlin went to the home of Nurit and Pini Sabach in Ashkelon, and Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, enjoyed the hospitality of the Levy family in Hadera. Both the president and the prime minister were plied with moufletas. At the Sabach home, Amir Eliyahu, a singer of the liturgical songs that are popular in the Moroccan community, sang “Shabehi Yerushalayim” in Rivlin’s honor.
At the Levy residence, Netanyahu, who has taken all the jokes and less than flattering comments about his hair color in good spirit, reiterated a message posted earlier during the holiday period on his Facebook page, in which he said he had finished with color and was going back to gray.
WHILE THE stage play Oslo, based on the secret diplomacy that led to the 1993 Oslo I Accord, is currently a hit on Broadway and is being adapted for a movie, in Israel Daniel Sivan and Mor Loushy are putting the finishing touches on a documentary, The Oslo Diaries, which for the first time discloses details from the personal diaries of the key Israeli and Palestinian players in the failed drama on the stage of history.
Sivan and Loushy directed Censored Voices, the highly acclaimed prizewinning documentary that portrays some of the heroes of the 1967 Six Day War as people of conscience who were troubled by some of their own wartime actions. Sivan and Loushy have been working on their current documentary for the past two years.
CONTROVERSY IS the middle name of Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev. As if she didn’t cause sufficient angst among certain sectors of the population when she announced that a non-Israeli would be included among the beacon lighters at the opening of this year’s Independence Day festivities on Mount Herzl, her non-Israeli of choice was the controversial Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, a local branch of which is under construction in Jerusalem within a large section of a deconsecrated Muslim cemetery.
The project, which is almost directly opposite the Friends of Zion Museum, has been mired in protests and court cases, and has locally been labeled the “Museum of Intolerance” – primarily because of its location.
In 2008 the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, ruled in favor of building the museum at the site.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the museum was held with great fanfare in 2002.
In his keynote address, then-California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “We are not building a bunker here. Israel is looking forward past the suicide bombers, the terrorists, past the blood, the violence and the hatred to a time people can live side by side in peace and coexistence. I am not doing anyone a favor by coming to Israel now. It is my duty and obligation to be here, to promote peace, inclusion and tolerance around the world....
“Rabbi Hier is a man of great faith and vision, a fighter against hatred and intolerance.
Frank Gehry is the greatest architect of our time. It is amazing what a rabbi and an architect can dream and do together.”
Since then, Gehry quit the project, which was scheduled for completion in 2007 and is still under construction 10 years after the target date. The building has been going up in secrecy and is surrounded by a high enclosure.
However, due to progress, scaffolding and the exterior of the top three unfinished floors are visible above the top of the fence.
A report in Globes, in the first week of April this year, indicates that both the Jerusalem Municipality and the Simon Wiesenthal Center are reluctant to share information about the planning and content of the museum beyond the somewhat sparse details on the US website of the SWC, which states that the building will house experimental museums for children and adults, a center for art seminars, an educational center, and a theater.
After Gehry’s withdrawal from the project, Bracha and Michael Chyutin, who have considerable experience in designing public buildings, won the SWC’s design competition, but after two years, they, too, bowed out. The SWC claimed that it owned the rights to their proposed design, but the work continued with international architectural firm Aedas, in cooperation with Jerusalem architect Yigal Levy.
Hier was reportedly selected by Regev because, as the first Orthodox rabbi to recite a benediction at the inauguration of a US president, he chose for Trump’s inauguration the verse from Psalm 137 that is recited at Jewish weddings: “By the rivers of Babylon we wept as we remembered Zion. If I forget thee O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill....”