Grapevine December 29, 2021: Check mates?

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG pitted against junior chess players Sahar Mansour and Adam Pels.  (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG pitted against junior chess players Sahar Mansour and Adam Pels.
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

It would be presumed that once he won the presidential race, Isaac Herzog’s days of competition would be over, unless, like Israel’s fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, he decides to return to politics at the conclusion of his term and competes for the leadership of both his party and the government.

But it seems that President Herzog enjoys competition, which is why he joined the Kfar Saba chess tournament and played two games against young chess enthusiasts.

The contest brought together 80 Jewish and Arab players up to the age of 14, who represented chess clubs from Tira, Kafr Kassem, Umm el-Fahm, Taiba, Arara, Jaljulya, Kfar Saba, Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Petah Tikva, Kiryat Ono and Ramat Gan.

Herzog played two games against 13-year-old Sahar Mansour from Taiba and 11-year-old Adam Pels from Tel Aviv, who started playing chess when he was four years old. The two youngsters made a united effort to beat the president.

Herzog, who is a dedicated chess player, said that there was something emotionally moving and inspirational in finding young people in 2021 who are as addicted to the game as he is. He also hailed the tournament as a wonderful means of bridge building between Arab and Jewish youth.

 JOSH AND Rebekah Reinstein and their son Ari.  (credit: AVI HAYUN) JOSH AND Rebekah Reinstein and their son Ari. (credit: AVI HAYUN)

Kfar Saba Mayor Rafi Sa’ar said that Kfar Saba was proud to host both the president and the chess tournament, which contributes significantly to coexistence.

■ NOT ALL members of the Likud are such blind supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu that they are willing to go along with unseemly criticism of New Hope MK Bennie Begin, who was once known as a Likud prince.

After leaving a New Hope faction meeting in Beit Shemesh this week, Begin was assailed by Netanyahu supporters who yelled at him that he had betrayed his father’s legacy, and that his father would be ashamed of him and would turn in his grave.

The vulgar verbal assault was condemned by New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar as well as by Likud MKs Miki Zohar and Yoav Kisch. “This ugly attack on veteran MK Bennie Begin will not return us to the leadership of the state,” said Zohar. “Even though we have our differences, this is not the way.” Kisch warned that this kind of verbal violence is dangerous.

■ THE LATE Samuel Willenberg was one of the last survivors of the Treblinka revolt. Like his father, who was a well-known artist in Czestochowa, Willenberg was also an artist. His forte was sculpture, and most of the images he carved were mini monuments to Nazi victims whose faces he remembered. He also designed the memorial to the Jews of Czestochowa who were murdered during the Holocaust.

Willenberg, who lived most of his life in Israel, was highly regarded in Poland, and was the recipient of several awards. He wrote and lectured extensively about his wartime experiences, including fighting together with the Polish resistance forces following his escape from Treblinka.

Willenberg’s burning ambition was to establish a memorial education center-cum-museum on the site of Treblinka where scores of stones of varying size symbolize the once vibrant communities that in most cases are no more, despite the revival of Jewish life in Poland. Willenberg did not want the stories of those communities to be lost in the mist of time.

He died in February 2016, three days after his 93rd birthday. But three years earlier, on August 2, 2013, he unveiled the cornerstone for the project, which he laid in Treblinka at his own initiative and with his own funding. The date of the unveiling was symbolic, because it was on August 2, 1943, that Willenberg had succeeded in fleeing from Treblinka.

After his death, his wife, Ada Willenberg, his daughter, Orit Willenberg-Giladi and Alon Goldman, who heads the Association of Czestochowa Jews and their Descendants in Israel, continued with the effort to fulfill Willenberg’s dream.

This endeavor has not been easy, and the trio was confronted with many obstacles. Nonetheless, they persevered, and are now able to state that, thanks to the help of good people, the project has advanced to yet another stage, following the selection of the winner of the design competition for the new museum in Treblinka.

Approximately 40,000 Jews from Czestochowa were deported to Treblinka, where nearly all met their deaths. The deportations began on September 22, 1942, and continued till October 7. The victims – men, women and children – were sent to the death camp in six cattle car transports for no reason other than the fact that they were Jews.

■ IT MAY not be a world record, but nonetheless there are not too many people who can say that they have worked for the same employer for 63 years, the last 10 in a voluntary capacity.

But that’s not the only reason that Eliyahu Honig received a standing ovation from relatives, friends and colleagues at the conclusion of the ceremony at which he was conferred with an honorary fellowship of the Hebrew University, which he has represented for so many years in Israel and abroad. Aside from a full auditorium at the university’s Senate Hall on Mount Scopus, there was a huge screen depicting Zoom participants from around the world who were heads or simply members of Friends of the Hebrew University associations who had, over the years, enjoyed personal relationships with Honig.

Born in Melbourne to immigrant parents who were born in Jerusalem and Hebron, Honig, 91, is a hiccup in a 10-generation family of Jerusalemites. He first came to Israel in 1950 as the sole representative of Australia in the Maccabiah Games. Returning to Melbourne, where he had been active in Habonim, he completed his university studies, and in 1955 made aliyah with his wife, Helen.

Eager to advance his studies, he enrolled at the Hebrew University, where he also found employment, and where his organizational talents and his gift for public speaking were quickly discovered. Over the years, his positions at the Hebrew University included director of the department of public relations, and associate vice president and honorary member of the board of governors. He was also a university emissary, visiting many countries abroad.

A series of speakers spoke of his phenomenal memory for anything related to the history of the university, the respect and admiration he has earned as a symbol of commitment, his ability to make people fall in love with the university, his friendship in Habonim with Berel Ginges, which in later years resulted in Berel and Agnes Ginges computer centers and libraries throughout the university, his encyclopedic knowledge about people, and his ability to marry donors to projects that genuinely interested them.

Ram Semo, the current director of public relations at the Hebrew University, said he felt strange acting as master of ceremonies while Honig was on the stage, because that had been Honig’s role at so many events in the past.

University Chancellor Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson, who was the fifth of 10 of the university’s presidents with whom Honig worked, delivered a lecture on Maimonides and his philosophy on eight degrees of giving charity, the first rule of which is that the recipient should not know the identity of the benefactor, and the benefactor should not know the identity of the beneficiary.

Though a champion in securing donations for the university, Honig, in addition to working for the university, established the Honig Foundation, which provides scholarships to students of Ethiopian descent.

The general custom relating to recipients of honorary fellowships is that they receive the pin and the certificate from the president of the university, but they don’t make a speech. An exception was made in Honig’s case.

After several thank-yous to his wife and partner of 70 years, Honig noted that four generations of his family were present. He had been fortunate, he said, in having great mentors and learned many things such as “Be sincere and be yourself. Don’t try to emulate others. Listen, because when you listen, you learn. Know when to lead and when to follow. When you want harmony, someone must always play second fiddle.”

■ TO THOSE people who may never have heard of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the founding rabbi of Efrat, a tribute book titled Hokhma LiShlomo (Wisdom for Shlomo) might be mistaken as having something to do with King Solomon, who was noted for his wisdom.

Riskin is noted not only for his wisdom but for his vision, his courage, his leadership and his power of oratory. Highly regarded as one of the preeminent rabbinical figures in the spheres of religious Zionism and Modern Orthodoxy, Riskin was honored this week with the release of the book, which salutes his life’s work.

Riskin spent his early years as a rabbi in New York, where he is fondly remembered for founding the Lincoln Square Synagogue on the Upper West Side. But his legacy is perhaps best known for his accomplishments in Israel, where he established the educational network Ohr Torah Stone, in addition to serving as Efrat’s founding rabbi.

The book, which was coedited by Baruch Sterman and Judy Taubes Sterman, comprises 40 articles in English and Hebrew. Leading rabbis and community figures, many of them Riskin’s students, authored the articles which illustrate his impact on the very face of modern Jewish thought and community-building.

At a book launch event held last week in Efrat, Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, current president and rosh hayeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, described Riskin as someone who changed the very trajectory of the Modern Orthodox movement.

“While Rabbi Riskin defended halachic practice without compromise, he succeeded in revealing religion’s beauty to countless Jews. He recognized that our texts and customs needed to speak to each one of us, or else Judaism threatened to die out as a relic of an ancient past.

“This, perhaps best reflected through his work in creating Ohr Torah Stone, proved to be his overwhelmingly successful approach to making Judaism accessible and beloved by so many. Recognizing his adherence and passion for text and his unparalleled impact on Judaism here in Israel and abroad, there is perhaps no more fitting tribute to Rabbi Riskin’s life and legacy than this book of articles written in his honor.”

In his response Riskin said: “First and foremost, I express my gratitude to the One Above, who gave me the chance to live my life in His vineyard, as a student and teacher of Torah. My greatest blessing is that my students, men and women, will be blessed to continue to learn and be inspired by that Torah. For there is truly no better way to live one’s life.”

Published by Maggid Books in conjunction with Ohr Torah Stone, the book’s many contributors include Yuli Edelstein, Natan Sharansky together with Rachel Sharansky Danziger and Dr. Erica Brown. In one of the final articles, “A crown for all to wear,” written shortly before his death, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks concludes: “Rabbi Shlomo Riskin was born into the crown of priesthood. He has more than earned the crown of Torah by being a model leader, a leader who learns and teaches, who innovates and inspires.... May the Jewish people continue to be the beneficiaries of his exemplary leadership.”

■ IN A distinguished medical career that spans close to half a century, with well over three decades spent at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Prof. Jonathan Halevy, who is currently president of the medical center, has many achievements and many awards tucked into his belt.

The latest, this month, was an award from Jerusalem’s Azrieli College in recognition of his many years of contributing to the development of medical services in Israel in general and Jerusalem in particular.

■ UNITED STATES Ambassador Tom Nides is having a fine time treating his palate in the capital’s various eateries. One that particularly appealed to him was Crave, on Hashikma, one of the streets abutting Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market.

A very popular American-style diner, it was discovered by Nides in the first week of December, at which time he was still walking around in a suit and tie. When he went again last week, the tie was gone. The jacket may still have been a suit jacket, but the business pants had been replaced by jeans.

He was so enamored on that occasion that he tweeted: “Went to Crave an amazing Kosher burger bar last night, but ordered a sandwich. Best Reuben sandwich ever. Thanks Tzvi Maller for a great meal.”

■ ON THE diplomatic rather than the culinary scene, Nides is also making friends and influencing people, especially Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked. In an exchange of tweets, Nides wrote: “Seeing some news in Israel on the Visa Waver Program. We still have a lot of work to do, but I’m thankful to have a great partner for this in @Ayelet Shaked. Looking forward to rolling up our sleeves together to help meet all the requirements.”

In response Shaked tweeted: “Thank you @USAmbIsrael for your partnership and leadership on this important initiative. I’m eager and optimistic to work together and to make this change that so many have waited to see.”

■ WHAT IS believed to be the first meeting of its kind of Israeli developers who are working on the metaverse – with virtual, augmented and mixed reality worlds, took place this week in Tel Aviv. The group was founded with the goal of bringing together experts in the field and establishing a productive forum for sharing information and forming collaborations.

The event was attended by 120 developers, including entrepreneurs from the private sector, innovation managers from the public sector, experts from academia, and leaders of independent communities, who intensified their vision of the metaverse and acquired new tools for developing new reality experiences.

Speakers at the event included Lital Kiperman Vaknin, head of the innovation and strategic partnerships department at the Peres Center; Dudi Gadot, Meta director of development, who leads the company’s reality laboratories in Tel Aviv, and Adi Soffer Teeni, Meta CEO in Israel.

The community of developers was formed several months ago, as part of an ongoing collaboration between the global Metal company and the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, in order to promote innovation and to identify social and economic opportunities in the metaverse.

“We are looking at the beginnings of a new chapter in the history of the network,” said Soffer Teeni. “Internet 3.0 will allow us not only to look at the Internet but to be present within it.

“The generational revolution of the technology levels the playing field for entrepreneurs who want to lead the new era, and now the Israeli ecosystem has a massive opportunity to be at the starting line.

“The first community of metaverse developers in the world was established precisely for this – we want to create an infrastructure for those who will build the future social technology together. If we begin early and work precisely, maybe the next giant in the worlds of AR/VR will come from Israel – and we will be able to celebrate companies that are worth a hundred million dollars.”

“Shimon Peres liked to say, “You can’t just imagine the future; you have to create it,” said Kiperman Vaknin. “The community of metaverse developers is our opportunity to create the future together, to harness technological tools like AR/VR, in order to bridge the gaps that exist in society, to bring the social and geographical periphery closer to the worlds of innovation, and even to create a bridge and a connection with our neighbors; and in doing so we can make sure that we are building a better future for us all.”

■ AMID ALL the complaints about family members who have missed out on life-cycle events due to incoming tourist restrictions, was a happy exception to what unfortunately became a norm. When Ari Reinstein, the second son of Rebekah and Josh Reinstein, celebrated his bar mitzvah last week at a gala affair at Beit Shmuel, his grandmother Susie, who had flown in from the US, was there to kvell.

Her arrival was probably the best present that he received. The bar mitzvah boy’s father is the president of the Israel Allies Foundation and director of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus. In addition to Bubi Susie, guests included rabbis, community leaders, and members of Knesset, including Justice Minister Sa’ar and former Caucus director Gila Gamliel.

■ THE EASTERN Church Christmas is at the end of next week. While most Americans were in last-minute shopping stress over buying Christmas presents, the women of Hadassah – long finished with Hanukkah, which ended on December 7 – found a neighborly way to help Christmas shoppers and support Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem at the same time. They alleviated the pressure on the long lines of shoppers seeking gift wrapping by setting up stands in the local malls.

For example, the members of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, which contributed around $50 million last year to Hadassah hospitals, wrapped Christmas gifts at the upscale Chestnut Hill mall for three weeks before Christmas, turning out fancy packages, be they of pajamas, instant hot pots and running apparel.

“We knew this could be a great fund-raiser. It’s win-win-win,” said Jerusalemite Barbara Goldstein, a former initiator of the project before making aliyah. “The malls and stores can’t even hire enough staff to wrap all the presents, so they’re happy. Wrapping the presents is a burden for most people when they want nice wrapping, so they’re happy, too. This is a good way to publicize the good work of Hadassah and raise money.”

“We’re supporting the hospitals in Jerusalem, so we’re happy, too. In addition, husbands and teens often come to help, and it builds Zionist camaraderie,” said Yvonne Friedman, president of the Camden County chapter of Hadassah.

“Our wrappers wear masks, sign waivers, must be vaccinated and are behind plexiglass dividers. Hand sanitizer is available, and we clean between shifts. We’ve been wrapping at this mall for 40 years.”

■ AN EDITORIAL in Tuesday’s Jerusalem Post was critical of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s failure to find alternate accommodation in Jerusalem while the official Prime Minister’s Residence is undergoing extensive renovations.

At least two of the capital’s luxury hotels which are in frequent use by the Foreign Ministry and by foreign embassies have top security facilities in their presidential suites. There is no reason that the Prime Minister’s Office cannot reach an arrangement with such hotels whereby they could hire these suites when necessary. The two hotels are within easy walking distance of the official residences of both the president and the prime minister, so they are in the right neighborhood. Both president Peres and former prime minister Netanyahu made ample use of one of these hotels when their official residences were undergoing repairs.

■ THE SUICIDE of haredi author and journalist Chaim Walder and the attempted suicide of Yehuda Meshi Zahav, who has been in a coma since April of this year, pose a dilemma for investigative journalists who are looking into allegations of sexual abuse and harassment on the part of prominent figures in the haredi community.

On the one hand, such people should be exposed and brought to justice before they can do any more harm. On the other hand, the damage to their reputations impacts not only on them and their families but on their communities and on haredim in general.

Although the despicable behavior of Meshi Zahav and Walder as well as others was known in haredi circles, it was not until the media published revealing details about the dark sides of their characters that increasing numbers of victims came forward. In a sense, the media passed a death sentence on the two, who opted to take their lives rather than face further disgrace.

Very few journalists would want to be responsible for someone’s suicide. On the other hand, the media reports have broken what was for too long a haredi taboo, and victims are less afraid of coming forward to give evidence on what befell them.

But there’s still another problem, which is the attitude on the part of some police, who refuse to believe victims, religious or secular, accuse them of lying, and, according to some media reports, have themselves been guilty of physically and even sexually abusing such victims. When reports of such incidents appear in the media, with videotaped evidence on television, the public loses its trust in the police, and the few bully boys taint the whole force. They have been seen attacking young haredi boys, women and even a member of Knesset.

One would hope that any recruit to the police force would undergo a psychological examination, but the number of reports about unwarranted violence on the part of the police certainly casts a doubt about their psychological suitability for the job.

[email protected]