Grapevine: Presidential perk

Archeology, Holocaust survivors and the Italian embassy.

President Reuven Rivlin (photo credit: REUTERS)
President Reuven Rivlin
(photo credit: REUTERS)
LAST WEEK, on the same day that media outlets in Israel and abroad published reports of the discovery by archeologists in Jerusalem of the royal seal of King Hezekiah, dating back to the period of the First Temple, President Reuven Rivlin visited the Ophel excavation site at the southern foot of the Temple Mount to see the find for himself.
Rivlin toured the site and chatted with members of the Hebrew University’s archeological team, headed by Dr. Eilat Mazar. As a native son of Jerusalem, he said he was extremely moved by the discovery of the seal, which added weight to existing proof of a sovereign Jewish presence in Jerusalem so many centuries ago. The history of Jerusalem is very complex, said Rivlin, who praised the archeologists for their patient determination to reach into the solid remains of history and to make Israelis more aware of their heritage.
■ WHEN THINKING of Holocaust survivors, one doesn’t usually associate them with English speakers, although many Holocaust survivors went to English-speaking countries after the war and learned to speak English fluently, albeit with an accent. But the big surprise comes when one encounters Holocaust survivors with British, American, Australian or South African accents. There is a tendency to forget that child Holocaust survivors who came to any of these countries and went to school, generally lost their European accents and sounded more or less like their native-born classmates.
One such survivor, Rena Quint, who was born in Poland, went as a nine-year-old to New York and speaks English with a distinct American accent. She neither speaks nor understands Polish.
When her son David was a small boy attending a Jewish school, his teacher asked the class if there were Holocaust survivors in the family and he said that his mother was a Holocaust survivor. The teacher did not believe him, because his mother did not conform to the stereotyped image of a survivor. But when the teacher contacted his mother to suggest that David had too vivid an imagination, Rena Quint confirmed that he was telling the truth.
Now living for many years in Jerusalem and a regular guide at Yad Vashem, Quint is also a regular participant in the activities of English-speaking Holocaust survivors who get together under the aegis of the Jerusalem branch of Café Europa, an international network of community centers for Holocaust survivors that takes its name from a café in Stockholm, Sweden, where Holocaust survivors congregated in the aftermath of the war in the hope of finding relatives and friends, or at least finding someone who could provide them with information about the fate of their loved ones.
The capital’s Café Europa, which is supported by the Jerusalem Foundation and the Claims Conference, amongst others, has five branches throughout the city, including an English-speaking branch at the Ginot Ha’ir community center at 12 Emek Refaim Street. The English-speaking branch is relatively new and will celebrate its second anniversary with a festive lunch on December 20.
In addition to Quint, some of the regulars include Walter Bingham, Jenny Weil and Dolly Tiger Chinitz.
While those who attend have for the most part enjoyed productive lives, successful careers and loving and in some cases large families, there is still a psycho-social need to get together with people with a common, tragic past – even if they don’t necessarily talk about it.
Those survivors who are married or in a relationship are often accompanied by their spouses or partners, who add an additional social dimension to Café Europa, because not all are survivors themselves.
In addition to social networking and activities, Café Europa is a valuable source of information about survivor and senior citizens’ rights as well as new findings in Holocaust archives.
■ THE ITALIAN Embassy, together with the Italian Cultural Institute in Tel Aviv, is hosting a Christmas concert on Sunday, December 20, at 6.30 p.m. at the Church of the Visitation in Ein Kerem.
The program by the New Mediterranean Baroque Quartet – featuring Drora Bruck and Giorgio Matteoli, recorders; Alessandro Andriani, baroque cello; and Marina Minkin, harpsichord – will include Fatto per la notte di Natale by Arcangelo Corelli and Pietro Antonio Locatelli, along with other virtuoso pieces byAntonio Vivaldi, Dario Castello, Georg Friedrich Händel, Girolamo Frescobaldi and Francesco Barsanti.