Grapevine December 22, 2021: Yet another career move?

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

President Isaac Herzog with El Salvador Ambassador Susana Gun de Hasenson (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog with El Salvador Ambassador Susana Gun de Hasenson
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

One would think that a mother of 12 who is in her mid-40s would have enough on her plate without nursing any career ambitions. But Rivka Ravitz has been a career woman for a major part of her life. Originally planning to continue as a teacher, she was persuaded by her late father-in-law, Avraham Ravitz, who was a prominent member of Knesset, to come to be his assistant. She was not yet 20 at the time, and in those days it was permissible for MKs to employ their relatives.

She soon proved to be a talented manager and strategist, working quietly and efficiently, living proof that still waters run deep. When the law changed some three years later, and she could no longer work for her father-in-law, she was already firmly entrenched in the Knesset and was asked by Reuven Rivlin to come and work as his parliamentary assistant. She remained with Rivlin when he was a minister and speaker of the Knesset, and was his chief of staff during his presidency.

If she were not ultra-Orthodox, Ravitz would consider running for the Knesset herself. But because she would not do anything that goes against the grain of the community to which she belongs, she is competing for the next best thing, which is to be the Knesset secretary – a position more powerful in many respects than that of an MK or even a minister.

Secular people might wonder how she manages to combine motherhood and running a household with a career. For one thing, she had good role models. She is one of 10 siblings, and her husband, Yitzhak, who heads the Kiryat Ye’arim Council, is one of 12 siblings.

Though one should not generalize, ultra-Orthodox women are, by and large, multitaskers, looking after their large families and their homes, working to contribute to the family income, volunteering for various community charities, participating in study circles and entertaining guests on Shabbat and Jewish festivals. They take it all in their stride, but not all are as fortunate as Ravitz in having a totally supportive husband who took over her chores when she had to travel abroad with the president.

Ravitz has met numerous Israeli and world leaders, including Pope Francis, US presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden and former German chancellor Angela Merkel. On meeting them, she usually stood with her hands behind her back, because, as an ultra-Orthodox woman, she doesn’t shake hands with men.

She is one of three contenders for the role of Knesset secretary. The others are lawyers Guy Marzuk, who was a senior member of the Knesset’s legal department, and Guy Bosi, an expert on laws relating to political parties.

Though ultra-Orthodox, Ravitz has degrees in management, computer science and business administration from the Open University.

■ APROPOS RIVLIN, he excited a lot of attention at Habimah Theater this week when he and his significant other, Sarit Tzemach, attended a performance of Bustan Sephardi, which was written by Israel’s fifth president, Yitzhak Navon.

Romance has had not only an emotional effect on Rivlin, but also a physical one. Israel’s 10th president has slimmed down considerably, and his shirts and suits now hang loosely on his frame. Rivlin, who loves to sing, when he went backstage to join singer Einat Sarouf in celebrating her birthday, put his heart and soul into the sing-along.

■ AMONG THE 12 UN ambassadors who toured Israel with Gilad Erdan, Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, was Ilana Seid of Palau, who happens to be Jewish, and is one of 12 Jews living on the Pacific island paradise. Seid has considerable experience in investment banking, and was an analyst at Lehman Brothers Asia.

Also in the group was Nauru’s Margo Deiye, who, in addition to being her country’s permanent representative to the UN, is also nonresident ambassador to Israel, and was able to kill two birds with one stone and to meet President Isaac Herzog twice in the space of less than a week – the first time when she presented her credentials, and the second when she and her colleagues met him as a group.

On both occasions she told Herzog how impressed she was with Israel, and that she intended to return with her family. A photograph of her in The Jerusalem Post last Friday was wrongly captioned with the name of El Salvador Ambassador Susana Gun de Hasenson, and to make matters worse, former Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales was mistakenly described as the president of El Salvador, when the actual former president in question was Antonio Saca, who despite having moved his country’s embassy from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, insisted during a visit to Israel in May 2009 that even though his schedule was packed tight, he wanted to go ahead with a tree planting ceremony in Jerusalem’s Grove of Nations, which is located at the foot of Mount Herzl, and the Yad Vashem Museum. This was his first visit to Israel, and he was visibly excited about planting a tree in the soil of Jerusalem.

Saca, who was later convicted and imprisoned on corruption charges, is of Palestinian background, as is current President Nayib Bukele. Saca spoke enthusiastically about the love and admiration that his fellow countrymen feel for the democratic State of Israel and its achievements, noting shared areas of initiative in the fields of development and the environment.

■ AT THE meeting of the UN ambassadors with Herzog, the president was introduced by Erdan to Deborah Isaac and Herbert Block, respectively president and executive director of the American Zionist Movement, which sponsored the visit by the diplomats. When Herzog looked momentarily surprised, Erdan said: “Do you think the Israel government would sponsor something like this?” Past visits of this kind were sponsored by the International March of the Living.

Coincidentally, Isaac is the first woman to lead the American Zionist umbrella organization, and on the day she met Herzog, he announced less than an hour later the appointment of the first woman military attaché to the president of the State of Israel.

■ BECAUSE HE is religiously observant, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has managed to include something of a religious nature in all of his trips abroad in his current role.

His recent visit to the United Arab Emirates – the first by a prime minister of Israel – was no exception. Bennett found time to accept the invitation of UAE Rabbi Levi Duchman to write the first letter of the Torah scroll that is being written in the Emirates.

The Torah scroll will serve the local Jewish community and the many Jewish visitors who enjoy a variety of Jewish institutions and extensive community services led by Duchman since 2015, and enabled by the warm welcome and cooperation of the Emirates’ key authorities.

For several years prior to the Abraham Accords, Duchman was able to establish kashrut, Jewish education, business networking and a rich community life. Since the signing of the accords, Jewish UAE under Duchman has received thousands of requests from Jews around the globe for assistance and information on various matters regarding Jewish life in the Emirates.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with UAE Rabbi Levi Duchman (credit: JEWISH UAE)Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with UAE Rabbi Levi Duchman (credit: JEWISH UAE)

■ AFTER years of careful planning and 66 years after the initial opening of the Mount Herzl complex, the World Zionist Organization and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, in a joint initiative, held a cornerstone-laying ceremony for the new entrance to the complex. The entire entrance structure will be upgraded, but the original symbolic seven-gate structure will be preserved as a reminder of the seven years in which Theodor Herzl served as leader of the Zionist movement.

In addition to the general renovation of the entrance gate, an underground visitors’ center will be built beneath the entrance plaza, and will include an auditorium, classrooms, a display area, a cafeteria, offices, and a visitor welfare center.

Yaakov Hagoel, chairman of the WZO and acting chairman of the Jewish Agency, said that the WZO is proud to lead the renovation of the entrance to Mount Herzl together with KKL-JNF, because Mount Herzl, as a national Zionist center, is one of the most important sites of the State of Israel.

JNF Chairman Avraham Duvdevani noted that the project is taking place during the 120th anniversary of KKL-JNF, which was established by Herzl in 1901.

The planning of the complex took place during 1950-51, soon after the establishment of the state, during a period of austerity. The country is in a completely different situation today, he said, and the renewed entrance complex will be adapted to the current environmental reality. Among those attending the ceremony was Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion.

WZO Chairman Yaakov Hagoel, flanked by Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion (left) and JNF Chairman Avraham Duvdevani (credit: ODED ANTMAN)WZO Chairman Yaakov Hagoel, flanked by Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion (left) and JNF Chairman Avraham Duvdevani (credit: ODED ANTMAN)

■ BARRING LAST minute cancellation due to stormy weather or new health restrictions, the 27th Shlomo Song of Songs Festival will be held at the Jerusalem International Convention Center on Saturday night, December 25. Tickets are NIS 20 each, and the doors open at 8:30 p.m. The concert begins at 9 p.m. to enable those followers of Shlomo Carlebach who live in distant parts of the country to get to the venue on time.

In the past, these concerts have been sellouts, because even though Carlebach died in October 1994, his music has become increasingly popular and is sung in synagogues, concert halls and at jam sessions around the world.

Although some of the people who performed with him are no longer living, there are still those who performed with him such as Yehuda Katz, Chaim Dovid Saracik and even the Solomon brothers, who as children performed with Carlebach and continue to melodiously preserve his memory. Among other singers and musicians who regularly perform at Carlebach concerts are Aharon Raziel, Yitzhak Meir, Benyamin Steinberg, Bini Landau, Dvir Spiegel and Israel Nachman, who are scheduled to appear on Saturday night.

Lion has indicated that he will attend, as will Deputy Mayor Aryeh King. Master of ceremonies at the event will be Yedidya Meir.

There is always a degree of spontaneity at these concerts in which young boys get up and dance together, shoulder to shoulder, and sometimes girls do the same in another part of the hall. This is something that would definitely bother health authorities, but with an audience of that size, it would be difficult to control events and put a stop to the dancing. Even if the actual program comes to a halt, the dancers all know the extensive Carlebach repertoire and will simply sing as they dance.

■ AMONG THE full-page advertisements in the religious media that are castigating Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana and Labor MK Gilad Kariv on issues of reforms and conversion, is a cartoon of the two of them hacking away at the tree of Jewish pedigree with quasi-photographs of sages on the branches. Whoever ordered the cartoon should have examined those images a little more closely because they are in several cases stereotypical of antisemitic images of Jews. This raises the question of who exactly is chopping down the tree?

■ IN A low-key ceremony outside the Binyamin Regional Council offices in Judea and Samaria this past Sunday, Israel Magen Fund co-founders David Rose and Mati Goldstein presented a fully equipped firefighting ATV to the volunteers in the Binyamin Security Division.

The ATV, one of four to be donated by the Israel Magen Fund, is the first vehicle of its type to be made available in the region, which lies in Israel’s biblical heartland.

The fund is dedicated to supporting Israel’s medical and military sectors through transparent, direct and communicative giving.

Binyamin Regional Council head Israel Ganz expressed appreciation for the donation of “this state-of-the-art ATV, equipped with special firefighting and rescue tools, which can negotiate the hilly terrain and valleys in our region in times of emergency.”

Ganz added that the ATV, which will be based in Gush Talmonim, will be operated by the dedicated Binyamin Security Division volunteers “who are on call every day of the year.”

Binyamin Security Division volunteer Yaacov Dolev, who participated in a firefighting demonstration at the ceremony, noted that, “thanks to the Israel Magen Fund, our security capabilities have gone up a notch. Now, what was once out of reach is no longer, and what was once complex and challenging is now possible.”

Rose said that it was “heartwarming to see the excitement among the volunteers, the men on the ground, who realize that their efforts to fight fires and save lives in the region will be that much more effective with this ATV.

“Israel Magen Fund will continue to partner with the Binyamin Security Division, and we will work hard to raise funds to buy another three ATVs for the region.”

Yaacov Dolev, Israel Ganz, David Rose and Mati Goldstein at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on delivery of an ATV fully equipped firefighting vehicle (credit: ISRAEL MAGEN FUND)Yaacov Dolev, Israel Ganz, David Rose and Mati Goldstein at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on delivery of an ATV fully equipped firefighting vehicle (credit: ISRAEL MAGEN FUND)

■ ONE OF the negative aspects of human behavior is that when someone dislikes a public figure or a former public figure, that person is treated with disdain and suspicion no matter what they do, say or write.

Even though his greatest detractors may recognize the leadership qualities of Benjamin Netanyahu, they won’t have a good word to say about him. The attitude toward Ehud Olmert is even worse, because Olmert spent time in prison on charges of corruption. When Olmert wrote a weekly column for the Post, there was glaring criticism from certain readers.

Last week, Olmert published an article in the Post about Israel and Kazakhstan celebrating 30 years of diplomatic relations and cooperation. It was a fairly balanced article explaining how Kazakhstan has developed, how its democracy does not quite conform to the Western definition, and to whom credit belongs for the Kazakhstan success story.

The article elicited a letter to the editor, purportedly asking, in the interests of transparency, whether Olmert had recently traveled to Kazakhstan, perhaps as a guest of the government. Is he now an official publicist for the country, salaried or not? Did someone with greater knowledge assist him in writing this piece?

It is not usually the purpose of this column to defend former prime ministers, though it has occasionally drawn attention to unfair treatment of Netanyahu. But in this particular case, the snide inference that Olmert might be on the payroll of the Kazakhstan government demanded that someone defend him, even if he himself chose to ignore the fact that he was being regarded with suspicion.

There is nothing amiss in a former prime minister reflecting on a milestone anniversary between his country and any other country. Diplomacy is, after all, an important factor in international relations.

Olmert mentioned in the article that he has been to Kazakhstan’s capital, Nur-Sultan, and that he has met several times with Kazakhstan’s founding president, Nursultan Nazarbayev. What he didn’t write was that for several years he has enjoyed personal friendships with a series of Kazakhstan ambassadors who continue to invite him to the Kazakhstan residence, where the writer of this column has personally exchanged greetings with him.

He has also been invited to receptions hosted by the Russian ambassador and by other ambassadors, who, unlike so many Israelis, take the view that Olmert has paid his debt to society, and does not have to be penalized indefinitely.

■ CONVENTIONAL WISDOM has it that if the head of a foreign embassy chooses to hold his or her country’s national day reception in Jerusalem, this is somehow related to actually moving the embassy to Israel’s capital. But that isn’t quite the case.

Former Australian prime minister, the late Bob Hawke, who was for years a strong supporter of Israel, before he went sour after leaving office, celebrated Australia Day in Jerusalem in January 1987, at a dinner hosted by then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir. Australia has not moved its embassy to Jerusalem despite more than a century of activity in the country, and a crucial role in the outcome of the vote on the partition of Palestine by the United Nations General Assembly.

The closest Australia has come to representation in Jerusalem is the opening of a trade office by the State of Victoria. This, despite the fact that Hawke, as leader of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, had many close friends in the Histadrut labor federation and among the Zionist leadership of the Australian Jewish community.

At the dinner hosted by Shamir, Hawke said: “Today is an historic occasion for Australia and Israel and a very important one for me.

“During my earlier visits to Israel, I formed not only close friendships but also a deep appreciation of the great achievements of the Israeli people.

“I was therefore especially pleased to be able to accept the renewed invitation conveyed by president Herzog during his successful visit to Australia last November.

“My visit to Israel is the first by an Australian prime minister. Like that of president Herzog to Australia, it symbolizes the close and warm links between our peoples.

“Australia has always been a friend of Israel. The Australian people and, I might add, the Australian Labor Party, had a special affinity with Israel from the time of your establishment, in which our then-foreign minister, Dr. Evatt, played an important role.

“As I told president Herzog in Canberra, we are proud of the fact that the first ‘yes’ vote for Israel’s right to exist was cast by Australia, at the direction of the Chifley government. That government was one of the first to extend recognition to the new State of Israel.

“So despite the geographic distances which separate us, Australians are deeply committed to your welfare and closely attentive to developments in the Middle East.

“We are certainly not a party principal in the resolution of the issues which separate Israel and its neighbors. yet we are sensitive to those issues and have endorsed clearly defined principles which we believe contain the elements of a peaceful and durable resolution.

“We remain fundamentally committed to the security of Israel and its right to exist within secure and recognized boundaries in accordance with Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.

“The Australian government believes that a resolution of the Palestinian question is central to any Middle East settlement. We acknowledge the right of self-determination for Palestinian people, including the right, if they so choose, to independence and the possibility of establishing their own independent state.

“That possibility was open before 1967, but at that time there was no acceptance of the concept of a Palestinian state which did not involve the disappearance of Israel. The world knows that Israel is not going to disappear.”

Turning aside from Middle East problems and politics, Hawke said: “I am happy to say that the Australian parliament, on October 23, called for the overturning of the United Nations General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism. I might add with pride that in a parliament often noted more for its confrontation than consensus, this resolution was passed unanimously.”

Although the Australian Embassy remains in Tel Aviv, and the Australian residence in Herzliya Pituah, other countries have relocated their embassies, their residences or both, or have established cultural or trade offices in Jerusalem.

The Americans and the Guatemalans have done both. The Georgian ambassador moved his residence to Jerusalem after hosting a national reception in the plaza of the Tower of David. The Hungarians have a trade office, and the Czechs a cultural center.

There are currently four embassies in Jerusalem: US, Guatemala, Kosovo and Honduras. Will Ukraine be next?

Ukraine Ambassador Yevgen Korniychuk announced at the reception that he hosted at the Jerusalem Cinematheque last week that when Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky visits Israel in early 2022, he will inaugurate a branch of the embassy in Jerusalem.

This must have been particularly pleasing to Construction and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who was there as the representative of the government. Elkin, who is also Jerusalem affairs minister, was born in Ukraine, so the news should have been doubly welcome, but it was not mentioned on any of his social media accounts.

However, on the previous evening, Elkin had been among the guests at the first-ever national day reception of Bahrain to be held in Israel. He was not the representative of the government. That honor was given to Agriculture Minister Oded Forer. But like so many other guests, Elkin had himself photographed with Ambassador Khaled Yousef al-Jalahma, and published the photo in a large format on his Facebook page.

Herzog sent a message to the Bahrain reception, but on the following day spoke on the phone with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and congratulated him on his country’s 50th anniversary of independence. They discussed the commonalities between Bahrain and Israel, in particular the desire for peace and prosperity for the whole region.

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