Wedding joys between Jerusalem and Rome

Popular singer Kobi Aflalo went all the way to Rome for his marriage to dancer Emily Meghnagi.

HINDEL SWERDLOV with fellow traveler Olympic medalist Ori Sasson (photo credit: FACEBOOK)
HINDEL SWERDLOV with fellow traveler Olympic medalist Ori Sasson
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
Hundreds of guests, among them President Reuven Rivlin, were delighted at the beginning of this week to join the Shaer family in celebrating the marriage of Shirel Shaer to Itamar Fishfeder. The bride is the sister of yeshiva student Gil-Ad Shaer, who, together with Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah, was murdered two years ago by Palestinian terrorists. The three boys had hitched a ride home from Alon Shvut in Gush Etzion, not realizing the intentions of other occupants in the car. The wedding ceremony at Moshav Shoresh, just outside Jerusalem, was conducted by Shai Abramson, the chief cantor of the Israel Defense Forces, and Rivlin was among those invited to recite one of the seven blessings as the bridal couple and their parents stood beneath the wedding canopy.
The bride’s parents, Ofir and Bat-Galim Shaer, together with the parents of the other two murdered yeshiva students, have maintained contact with the president and his staff within the context of the annual unity prize in memory of the three boys, which is awarded in cooperation with the President’s Office. On returning to Jerusalem, Rivlin wrote on his Facebook that he had been moved and honored to have been asked to recite a blessing and how glad he was to be able to participate in the family’s great joy after it had endured such tragedy.
■ ON THE subject of weddings, popular singer Kobi Aflalo went all the way to Rome for his marriage to dancer Emily Meghnagi. Usually, when Israelis go abroad to get married, it’s because one of the partners is not halachically Jewish.
That was not the case on this occasion.
The couple simply wanted to make it a family and close friends affair without the intrusion of excited fans. So they opted for the synagogue adjacent to the Great Synagogue of Rome in which the bride’s parents had been married. The ceremony was conducted by Rabbi David Ifargan, who specially arrived from Israel for the occasion.
■ AT LEAST two active nonagenarians – but probably more - will attend a tribute to former MK and Israel Prize laureate Geula Cohen at the Begin Heritage Center Sunday night. Cohen, who is the mother of Minister-without-Portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi, actually celebrated her 90th birthday last December, but the festivities in honor of her entering her next decade have continued into the current year.
Cohen, who was an acclaimed member of the Stern Group, was always a very passionate individual, so much so that the late Mark Segal, who was both the political reporter and society columnist of The Jerusalem Post, frequently wrote about her and invariably referred to her as “La Passionata.”
A great beauty in her younger years, Cohen bewitched many of the MKs who served with her in the legislature and even attracted the attention of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, who reportedly told Shimon Peres that she has beautiful eyes and feminine charm.
Another nonagenarian and former MK who will be on the program is former education minister Aharon Yadlin, who may feel as though he were Daniel in the lion’s den, in that he may well be the only leftist in the auditorium, aside from some members of the media. Yadlin will engage in a discussion on the Knesset and Settlement with Benny Katsover, a former chairman of the Samaria Regional Council. Among others appearing on the program will be Yair Stern, the son of Avraham Stern, who was the founder of the Stern Group, and Ron Shoval, the chairman of the Uri Zvi Greenberg Heritage Center which was founded by Cohen. Rivlin, who has known Cohen for a large part of his life, will also be in attendance.
■ THE KNESSET Labor, Welfare and Health Committee is advancing legislation to increase the ratio of people with disabilities in the workforce, especially in public institutions and organizations.
People with various disabilities can be found among the Knesset’s employees as well as in the Knesset plenum.
The Post can take pride in the fact that it was among the pioneers who employed people with disabilities. Some 40 years ago, Lea Levavi, a blind, highly talented journalist with a brilliant memory that compensated for her blindness, had stories published in the paper almost daily. She did not use a tape recorder or Braille device, yet was able to unerringly remember names, titles and statistics. On one occasion, due to a communications mix-up, one of Levavi’s Post colleagues attended the same press conference as Levavi. The keynote speaker had a complicated Romanian surname which Levavi’s colleague had to check three times before she got it right. Levavi asked for the spelling just once – and wrote it accurately in her story. She used to get very angry if anyone referred to her blindness.
She neither asked for nor wanted special consideration. It was a daily challenge for her to prove that she belonged in the mainstream world and that her blindness was not an impediment. More recently, wheelchair-ridden Gershom Gale was employed by the Post as an editor. He didn’t need the use of his legs in order to edit magazines. There was nothing wrong with his brain and he did a fine job for many years.
Nadav Attia, founder and CEO of Studio and Joy, which specializes in flower arrangements and gift packages, primarily employs people with disabilities and pays them by the hour and not by the volume of output.
It’s a mistake to dump all people with disabilities in one basket, he says, because it’s different strokes for different folks, and even though two or more people may appear to be suffering from the same disability, it affects each of them differently in terms of what they can do and what they can’t do. Attia prefers to encourage them to make the best use of what they can do.
Work is quite plentiful; it provides his employees not only with an income but with a social network and a sense of pride and dignity in that their income is derived from their skills and their ability to work.
They are not the beneficiaries of charitable endeavors or government handouts.
They earn their way. Indeed Studio and Joy, the outfit that employs them, refuses to accept donations or grants, and functions entirely like a business operation.
Attia says that because it is generally difficult for people with disabilities to find jobs, when they do succeed, they are loyal, devoted and customer oriented.
The success of the enterprise means as much to them as it does to its proprietor.
■ YOU CAN go home again – at least while it’s still there. When Israel Radio’s Adi Meiri was on maternity leave, she was replaced by Shalom Kittlal, who for many years served as Israel Radio’s Knesset reporter before becoming head of Channel 2’s News Corporation, a position he held from 1995 to 2006. During the three months that he co-hosted “It’s All Talk” with Benny Teitelbaum, Kittal seemed to thrive.
Currently on vacation, Yoav Krakovsky, Israel Radio’s political reporter, who on Thursdays has his own program called “Hamiznon” (the Cafeteria), has been temporarily replaced by another former Israel Radio veteran, Haim Zisovich, the spokesman of Bar-Ilan University.
In his first broadcast last week, Zisovich announced that he would focus on communications more than on politics, and had a riveting conversation with Channel 1 foreign news editor Oren Nahari, who also has a foreign news program on Israel Radio.
Nahari is well versed in many subjects, and the two spoke about changing attitudes to what constitutes a news story, particularly in the face of so much competition from commercial stations as well as from social media. Before the advent of social media, there was a fairly universal definition of what constitutes news; but now, what used to fall into the category of gossip has become news.
Nahari cited the example of two news items in which there was initially a ban on the publication of the names of the people concerned. One was the questioning of a soldier on suspicion of corruption; the other, the arrest of a man who had assaulted a police officer. In the first case it was publicized that he was the brother of a very famous model. In the second case that he was the father of a very famous model. It didn’t take much intelligence to guess that the model was Bar Refaeli. This was subsequently confirmed when the ban in both cases was lifted. Nahari pointed out that Refaeli had nothing to do with either case, and had she not been related to the two people concerned, it is unlikely that either item would have made news headlines, and at best would have received the briefest of mentions – if at all.
Zisovich then brought up the issue of Refaeli’s change of status to motherhood, saying that he was aware that there had been heated discussion as to whether the fact that she had given birth to a daughter was newsworthy. From Nahari’s perspective, it’s news when Kate Middleton gives birth, but not so in the case of Refaeli.
■ MR. TELEVISION, Haim Yavin, who will celebrate his 84th birthday on September 10, a day after Rivlin celebrates his 77th birthday, spent 10 years at Israel Radio before spending 40 years as Mabat chief news reader, from which he took occasional breaks to serve as the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s Washington correspondent, head of the news division at Channel 1 and director of Channel 1.
Yavin appeared on the “Shishi Ishi” (Personal Friday) radio program of fellow veteran broadcaster Moshe Timor, in order to correct what he referred to as memory lapses on the part of Prof. Shlomo Aronson, a Hebrew University professor emeritus of political science.
Earlier in his career Aronson had been a correspondent and news and current affairs director at the IBA. He had appeared as a guest on Timor’s show the previous week and had claimed to be the first editor of Mabat, which, according to Yavin, he was not. Moreover, he said that when Yavin was appointed chief news anchor of Mabat, there were doubts as to his ability to fill the role.
Yavin bristled over both comments. The first editor of Mabat, he said, was Moti Kirschenbaum. In fact it was Kirschenbaum who had appointed him as Mabat anchor. It was true, Yavin acknowledged, that Aronson had been the news and current affairs director of the newly created Israel Television, which later became Channel 1, and that he was ultimately responsible for Mabat; but the editor and the person who decided on its content and style was Kirschenbaum. It was originally presented in a magazine format, which partially remains the case today, because the visuals were always late in arriving, and television could not compete with radio. It was therefore decided to give more depth to the news, said Yavin, who prided himself that, while in Washington, he sent the first satellite broadcast to Israel in real time.
As for uncertainty as to whether he could fill the role of Mabat anchor, Yavin reminded listeners that he had come to television after 10 years in radio, during which time he had also directed and broadcast live, unedited documentaries.
After being part of the team that established Channel 1, Yavin had thought he would direct live documentaries on television. It had never occurred to him to audition for chief news anchor until someone suggested it to him. Yavin waffled somewhat in the telling of the tale, and Timor gently tried to interrupt and draw his attention to the time factor, but Yavin carried on, until Timor had no option but to tell him in mid-sentence that he had to either wind up or wait till after the commercials had been broadcast.
Yavin chose to wait.
■ APROPOS COMMERCIALS, Yehoram Gaon, in his current affairs program on Reshet Bet on Friday, conceded that he has to be careful because his livelihood to some extent depends on commercials.
But in the next breath said he can’t stand them, especially when reading news on line. He quoted a news item that he had started reading but that was suddenly blocked by a commercial.
Not so long ago, he said, if one clicked on the X in the commercial, one could skip it. Not any more. Clicking on the X now brings the commercial into full focus on the computer screen. Then there is a video designed to create further interest in the product. But it has the opposite effect on Gaon, who wants to continue reading the news item The intrusion into his reading would not only deter him from buying the product, he said, but he wouldn’t accept it, even if it was given to him free of charge.
Similarly, commercials on radio and television – many of them with inane texts that insult the intelligence of listeners and viewers – intrude just when an interview or news item is at its most interesting point. Sometimes the commercial simply overrides the item, the remainder of which does not go to air. Gaon was getting really worked up when he suddenly had to stop to make way for a commercial featuring Steimatzky CEO and advertising guru Gimmel Yafit (real name Yafit Greenberg), whose unchanging commercial for the bookstore chain coupled with Isracard is broadcast every few minutes.
■ OLYMPIC MEDALISTS Yarden Gerbi and Ori Sasson brought pride and joy not only to Israel but to Jimena, the San Francisco-headquartered organization of Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa. Why? Because according to the Jimena website, “Yarden comes from a Libyan Jewish background and Ori from an Iraqi Jewish family.”
Jimena, founded in 2001, is dedicated to the preservation of Mizrahi and Sephardi culture, and its regular functions include oral history projects, Mimouna celebrations, Mizrahi Shabbat dinners, cooking classes and henna ceremonies, to increase public awareness of the traditions of the Jewish communities of Turkey, Yemen, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Morocco, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Iraq.
■ ON HIS return flight to Israel, Sasson happened to be sitting next to Chabad emissary Hindel Swerdlov, who, with her husband, Rabbi Yossi Swerdlov, and their children, lives in Jerusalem. Swerdlov, who originally hails from California, wrote on her Facebook: I’m on the plane, catching my second leg of the flight from LA back to Israel. Living in Israel for 19 years, I was on one of many visits to family back home. Dad isn’t feeling well, and I had the privilege to hang out with him for five days. Shlomo Yitzchok ben Esther Fayga. As one of 12, it’s a huge deal to get alone time with him and I was floating and glowing. He’s my modern-day hero, no doubt. But this blurb isn’t about him. I would need a book to write about my dear father, Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz, aka Schwartzie.
This is about the best distraction ever, and the pride that Jewish brethren have for each other.
So I’m sitting at my window seat and getting comfy for the short flight from Frankfurt to Israel, when the Israeli Olympic judo winner – whose hand would not be shaken by his loser Egyptian opponent – comes in and scoots down in the aisle seat. His coach sits down between us. I grew up in LA and really don’t get all caught up in the hoopla of Hollywood.
But I found myself honored and humbled to be in the presence of Ori Sasson and his coach, Oren Smadja. It’s eye-opening and fascinating to have these modern-day heroes of Israel sitting in economy, folding their massive legs into these tiny spaces. I hate to be a stargazer, so I introduced myself, congratulated them and said I would not bother them – but only after one request. I asked Sasson to record a video for my dad and tell him to be a fighter and get better faster!! Sasson did it beautifully and with sensitivity.
But every Israeli is family, and so of course we get to talking and laughing and sharing family secrets within five minutes.
Coach told me that when Ori’s handshake was refused, he knew it would be awesome for the world to see that. He wanted the world to see with their own eyes that even in an Olympic sport where politics should be excluded, the hate is overwhelming toward the Jews, even though, as usual, the Jew comes to the Muslim with outstretched arms of peace.
He then proudly went through his iPhone pictures showing me the sequence of events how this went down. They got hundreds of FB messages that Arabs will kill him if he touches the Egyptian. And as he was approaching the pillar they go up to before they get in the ring, all the Egyptian’s mates and coaches were pounding their chests and saying “Allahu akbar!” This hulk of a guy Ori is refined and talks gently. He smiles easily! He’s young and single and super good-looking – which of course is ridiculous. Where’s a nice Jewish girl when you need one? Coach continues to show me pics of his family. (His 12-year-old son is a model, oldest is about to go into the army; he’s training his nine-year-old in judo, and his wife looks like a blonde model. I know so much, I now feel related.) He’s showing FB posts about them and also blurbs from the likes of Mayim Bialik that he was impressed with and wondered who the hell she was – popular or not? I assured him she’s hot on the Hollywood press these days (since, of course, my sister Aura Rosenblatt writes for Mayim), and he was totally honored. He also mentioned his brother who was hurt badly in an accident and died not too long ago. He started to cry. Then, of course, I told him he’s in good company with my Shula, who also died in an auto accident. We all laughed, total strangers, and agreed to keep the conversation happy.
In the middle of all this, of course, I squeeze out the word “Chabad” and the Rebbe whenever I can in the conversation, and everyone knows and loves or has been part of Chabad somewhere.
I asked Sasson about his involvement in Judaism, and he was proud to say he put tefillin on the day of the winning match. He consented when I told him he also must put tefillin on tomorrow, in showing thanks to the same God. I mentioned what the Rebbe said in regard to the fact that tefillin protects the land and people of Israel. He also said his favorite line from the Rebbe is “The will of a person shows his personality.” Who knew? I’m working on this team to get involved with Chabad’s Victims of Terror. Coach gave me his cell number and both coach and Sasson said they would be “honored and it would be a pleasure” to visit hospitals and wounded soldiers or other victims to the senseless terrorism that’s been rampant in our land. They were excited to do it. God willing, I’m gonna orchestrate and make this happen. Yossi Swerdlov, Menachem Kutner, gonna make this happen!! The flight’s almost done and they’re all getting into the team spirit. There will be a big welcome at Ben-Gurion. Can’t wait.
There’s nothing like the feeling of Israelis who are proud of the homeland. The happiness and pride is tangible. Everyone is abuzz and feeling like we all just won the medal.
Ori’s joy is our joy. Jews are one big family.
No doubt he fought hard to win the medal for himself, but I believe he worked equally hard to be a champion for his country and his people! Oh man! It’s like a fraternity in here.
They’re getting ready to land and the guys are spraying deodorant, dabbing cologne, putting on their team tee shirts and passing around spearmint gum. I got in on the latter.
We’re landing and I see the nerves are getting activated. Oren and Ori are a bit quieter now and legs are tapping back and forth.
Heads are leaning on seats in front of them and eyes are squeezed shut. They’re quiet for the first time in two hours.
These are representatives of the Land of Israel and everything we stand for as a nation of Jews. May Hashem watch over them and protect them. Keep making this country proud. Am Yisrael hai.
■ SINCE RETURNING home, Sasson also celebrated his 26th birthday and proved that he also has talent as a stand-up comedian when he appeared on Channel 10 on the iconoclastic, satirical program Back of the Nation, whose moderator, Lior Schleien, declared that Sasson had “put the Jew in Judo.”