Grapevine January 7, 2021: The Moroccan connection

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 SCULPTOR SHMUEL BEN AMI presents President Isaac Herzog with a photograph of his father, president Chaim Herzog, posing for a bust created by Ben Ami. (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
SCULPTOR SHMUEL BEN AMI presents President Isaac Herzog with a photograph of his father, president Chaim Herzog, posing for a bust created by Ben Ami.
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

Just a few days prior to the 61st anniversary of the sinking of the Egoz, the ship carrying illegal emigrants from Morocco to Israel, the executive board of the World Federation of Moroccan Jews met with President Isaac Herzog at his official residence to thank him for his long-standing support of Israel’s Moroccan community and for what he has done for the state.

A British ship, originally named Pisces, and used during the Second World War, was leased by the Mossad in 1960 to transport Jews from Morocco to Israel. This was illegal under Moroccan law. The Egoz made 12 trips, during which it transported 334 Jews out of Morocco during a period of three months. Its 12th voyage proved to be fatal. Forty-four Moroccan Jews and two crew members lost their lives.

Just over a month later, on February 26, 1961, King Hassan II ascended the throne, and agreed to allow Jews to leave under certain conditions, including payment of a fee, and travel via a third country. The negotiations were mediated by HIAS, the American-headquartered Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Since then, Moroccan Jews have held the king in high esteem, and after his death recited prayers for his soul. Many groups of Moroccan-Israelis who travel to Morocco on roots trips, visit his final resting place and light candles in his memory.

Only 22 of the bodies of the Moroccan Jews who drowned were recovered and buried in Morocco. Their relatives in Israel believed that they should be buried in Israel because they were heading for Israel when disaster struck.

The man who successfully negotiated with King Hassan for the transfer of the remains was Moroccan-born Sam Ben Chetrit, the founding chairman of the World Federation of Moroccan Jews, which is currently celebrating its 22nd anniversary year.

 SINISIA TOROMAN prepares to confer the William K. Langfan Prize on Aaron G. Frenkel. (credit: Courtesy IBC) SINISIA TOROMAN prepares to confer the William K. Langfan Prize on Aaron G. Frenkel. (credit: Courtesy IBC)

It was also Ben Chetrit who lobbied for the Mimouna to be recognized as a national holiday in Israel and for the recognition of other Moroccan traditions.

Ben Chetrit told Herzog that the Federation salutes him for his inspiring contribution to the state, and proceeded to outline the activities of the organization. Herzog in turn congratulated Ben Chetrit on his many achievements not only for the Moroccan community but on behalf of the state, adding that he sees great importance in the strengthening of relations between Israel and Morocco and the preservation of Moroccan-Jewish traditions in Israel and beyond.

One of the activities of the Federation is to distribute scholarships to needy students regardless of their national, ethnic or religious backgrounds. Scholarships distributed to date amount to NIS 40 million At one point during the meeting, sculptor Shmuel Ben Ami presented Herzog with a photograph in which Herzog’s father, president Chaim Herzog, was depicted posing for the bust that Ben Ami sculpted. Some of the other people who accompanied Ben Chetrit to the meeting included: Rabbanit Bruriah Zvuluni, Israel Prize laureate Prof. Aharon Maman, former Israel permanent representative at the United Nations Dr. Yehuda Lankry, former MK Dr. Yossi Vanunu, Shlomo Avitan and Ami Savir.

■ ALTHOUGH ARABIC as one of the official languages of Israel partially lost that status a couple of years back, it was always accepted that Arabic could be used in the Knesset, though few Arab MKs availed themselves of this right in the plenum, unless they were engaging in conversations among themselves. A rare exception took place this past week when MK Ahmad Tibi conducted a debate in Arabic with MK Mansour Abbas in the Knesset plenum. Although the Arab sector of the population appears to have gained strength and influence since Abbas joined the government, there are still those who do not give sufficient thought to the inclusion of Arabs in important national conferences.

Case in point is the upcoming conference on climate crisis scheduled to take place at the Tel Aviv Hilton on January 11. The conference is under the aegis of the Environmental Protection Ministry, and its full-page advertisement features the names, faces and titles of almost 60 people. Tibi, on his Twitter account, noted that there was not a single Arab among them.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics there were 1,995,000 Arab residents of Israel on December 31, 2021 comprising 21.1% of the population. This ratio, which in all probability will increase over the next year, demands that Arab representatives be included in national events that affect their future.

■ HOT ON the heels of his having chaired the recent 85th anniversary celebrations of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, billionaire global entrepreneur, businessman and philanthropist Aaron G. Frenkel, who happens to have been born in Bnei Brak, was at a gala dinner in Heidelberg, Germany ,to receive the International Israel Business Club’s annual William K. Langfan Award. Frenkel already has a large collection of prestigious awards, but this one is special, not only because Frenkel and Langfan have engaged in several similar business and philanthropic endeavors, but because this year, Langfan will celebrate his 100th birthday – and he’s still going strong.

The award was presented to Frenkel by IBC chairman Sinisa Toroman, in recognition of Frenkel’s outstanding commitment to Israel and his record for promoting trilateral relations between Israel, Germany and the United States.

Among those attending were CEOs of major German, Israeli and US companies, and senior civil servants including Israel’s outgoing ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff and his wife, communications expert Laura Kamm. The event also included special greetings sent by President Herzog, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, and Ze’ev Elkin who is Jerusalem affairs minister and housing and construction minister.

In addition to promoting trilateral business between Israel, the US and Germany, Frenkel was also recognized for his commitment to promoting friendship between the three countries, which has proved to be extremely relevant and important on many levels, especially at a time when antisemitism is gaining impetus. Frenkel has his finger in so many business, humanitarian, diplomatic, artistic and charitable pies that it’s difficult to imagine that one human being has time for all this, and that he’s not a clone of himself.

Soon after the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, Frenkel was personally involved in the rescue of more than 100 female athletes from Kabul.

As a Sabra, Frenkel has long had a passionate commitment to Israel and the Jewish people. In the ’90s he provided major assistance in immigration from the former Soviet Union, and continues to play an active and major role in various public initiatives worldwide. For his achievements, Frenkel has been the recipient of honors conferred by heads of state of France, Monaco, Russia and more.

His various public roles include among others: president of Limmud FSU, vice president of the World Jewish Congress; chairman of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress; honorary consul of the Republic of Croatia; president of the Monaco Jewish community; member of the Board of Trustees of Tel Aviv Museum of Fine Arts; and member of the Board of Governors of ANU Museum.

In his acceptance speech to IBC, Frenkel said: “Global politics is not poor in big words but too often poor in big deeds. I like to let my actions speak for me and therefore speak to you very openly I say it is our duty to exemplify humanity if we want it to multiply. The International Israeli Business Club sees itself as a proactive bridge of understanding between Israel, the USA and Germany. We believe that the synergies that can be achieved in high-level business contacts between the USA, Israel and Germany are infinite – and we are making those vital connections happen.”

■ WHEN THE cultural attaché  of foreign embassies organize a film week to highlight the films of their respective countries, such events are usually held in the chain of Cinematheques around the country – including Jerusalem, even when Jerusalem is not recognized by some of those countries as Israel’s capital. That’s why embassies are still located in Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan and Herzliya Pituah. Happily, the embassies of the United States, Guatemala, Kosovo and Honduras are now located in Jerusalem, and Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia now have trade offices and cultural centers in Jerusalem with diplomatic status.

Some of the embassies not located in Jerusalem, have nonetheless held their Independence Day celebrations in the capital, and the Japanese Film Festival, which opened at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on January 6 in the presence of Deputy Ambassador of Japan Seiichiro Takahashi, was within the context of events marking the 70th anniversary year of diplomatic relations between Japan and Israel.

Usually, this is calculated from the year of an exchange of ambassadors, but the Japanese prefer to take it from when Japan, in defiance of its close trade relations with Arab League countries recognized Israel in 1952. In 1955, Japan’s ambassador to Turkey became non-resident ambassador to Israel, but it was not until 1963, that Japan actually opened a legation in Israel, and today has an impressive embassy in Tel Aviv’s Museum Tower.

■ ONE LETTER of the alphabet can make a huge difference in an e-mail address. A recent item in this column called for volunteers for the AACI’s Buddy project for new immigrants, but included one letter too many in the e-mail address. The correct address is [email protected]

[email protected]