Grapevine January 12, 2022: A matter of opinion

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

Moshe Kantor (left) with then Austrian  Chancellor Sebastian Kurz  in 2018. (photo credit: EUROPEAN JEWISH CONGRESS)
Moshe Kantor (left) with then Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in 2018.

■ IT’S DEFINITELY different strokes for different folks. A Reuters report in Monday’s Jerusalem Post about former Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who resigned last October following allegations of corruption against him, revealed that he is now in a new role as co-chairman of the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation.

The European Jewish Congress, whose President Moshe Kantor, is also president of the ECTR, put out a press release about Kurz’s new position, which he shares with former British prime minister Tony Blair, in which it was careful to avoid any reference to allegations of corruption, and emphasized that “Sebastian Kurz is widely known for his dedication in fighting all forms of antisemitism, terrorism, extremism and radicalization with a particular focus on preventing youth radicalization during his almost 10 years in leadership roles.”

Also noted about Kurz in the press release was that “He has also been very vocal in addressing Austria’s role in the Shoah and in supporting educational projects for younger generations to learn about this dark chapter of Austrian history and making sure that history does not repeat itself.”

Additionally, the press release quotes Kantor as being very excited that someone of Kurz’s standing and experience has agreed to join the ECTR. Kantor’s enthusiasm also spilled over to his Twitter account, where he tweeted: “I am delighted that my dear friend Sebastian Kurz has joined the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation as co-chairman. We could not have found a better person with passion, wisdom and determination against today’s global challenges.”

By noon on Monday, the tweet had received 690 likes, 126 quotes and 234 retweets in several languages. Not everyone was in agreement with Kantor and some of the negative responses were quite virulent, but the overwhelming majority were in favor.

Kantor has a very solid reputation in Austria where he has received several awards and many accolades, but he has also presented some of his own, including to Kurz, to whom he presented the “Navigator of Jerusalem” Award in November 2018 at a conference in Vienna on the fight against antisemitism and anti-Zionism. The conference, which took place a week after the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, included a video address by then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who thanked Kurz, the Austrian Presidency and the Council of the European Union for convening such an important gathering in Vienna. Netanyahu said Kurz was a true friend of Israel and of the Jewish people, and commended him for taking such a strong moral stand on antisemitism and being unyielding in his efforts to record history and to defend the truth.

The Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, said Netanyahu. It began with words, burning books and shattering store fronts. The lesson of the Holocaust, he added, is that we must never forget the importance of fighting hate, barbarism and radicalism – and to do so early.

■ ANTI BIBI-ISTS are fond of saying that Netanyahu has no friends and that if anyone gets too close to him, he drops them like a hot potato. But that’s not quite true. In the days when Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, were courting, they used to frequent the Tandoori restaurant in Tel Aviv, which is owned by Reena Pushkarna and her husband, Vinod.

In the years that followed the Netanyahus would drop in from time to time at the restaurant where Pushkarna had initially provided them with Indian cuisine, which appeals to their palates, and later went to the more upmarket Tandoori restaurant in Herzliya Pituah. Over the years, they have seen the Pushkarna children grow into adults, who are now parents themselves. In July 2017, when Netanyahu was still prime minister and hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Prime Minister’s Residence, Reena Pushkarna was invited to do the culinary honors. 

It’s a relationship that has remained solid throughout the years. So last week, when Netanyahu wanted to spend some quality time with his younger son, Avner, he brought him to Tandoori in Herzliya Pituah. In a perfectly normal gesture by a mother-in-law who is proud of her son-in-law, Pushkarna showed Netanyahu a book, DAP Strategy, which her son-in-law Raj Sundarason, who is married to Sarina Pushkarna, had recently published. The couple and their children live in Singapore. 

DAP stands for Developmentally Appropriate Practice, and as far as this book is concerned, it deals with an effective and new way of working to de-risk and accelerate digital transformation. Sundarason is recognized as a world expert in the field. A previous book that he wrote was devoted to the evolution and revolution of hi-tech.

■ ON THE Israeli version of the popular international quiz show The Chaser, one of the contestants was asked who wrote the most books out of a choice of the prime minister, the alternate prime minister and the leader of the opposition. The contestant, who had answered nearly all the other questions correctly, almost automatically chose the last of the three, who happens to be Benjamin Netanyahu, who is known to be both a writer and a voracious reader. Most people would most probably have done the same, But it was the wrong answer. The amazingly knowledgeable Itai Hermann aka The Chaser, who is Israel’s king of game shows, knew that it was alternate prime minister Yair Lapid, who has 12 books to his credit, and who may find time to a write a 13th while he is in isolation after having tested positive for the coronavirus.

 BENJAMIN AND Avner Netanyahu. (credit: REENA PUSHKARNA) BENJAMIN AND Avner Netanyahu. (credit: REENA PUSHKARNA)

■ WHEN POPULAR singer Ivri Lider had a three-night engagement to sing with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium, he decided that he deserved a couple of perks, and booked himself into the Dan Hotel Tel Aviv for the duration. One night, while at the bar, he encountered the hotel’s new general manager, Ilan Ben Hakoon, who invited him for a drink. Lider in turn invited Ben Hakoon to one of his concerts. Hard to tell who got the better deal, but what counts is that they were both happy.

■ DIVORCE CAN be a very messy business, especially when there are children who need to be supported, and the parents can’t agree on financial arrangements. Fortunately, singing star Eyal Golan maintains a friendly relationship with the mothers of all his children, because he genuinely is a good and loving father, as was the late Dudu Topaz, who despite all his shenanigans, adored his three sons, loved to spend time with them, and brought them together as often as possible to develop a true sense of brotherly love, even though they were half brothers, each born to a different mother. 

Golan, who was initially married to fashion model Ilanit Levi, who is the mother of his two eldest children, did not move out of the neighborhood after the divorce, but remained in Rehovot to be close to the children. Then came another fashion model, Ruslana Rodina, who bore him a son, but that didn’t work either. His marriage to wife number three Daniel Greenberg, with whom he has two children, broke up just a little after three years, but when they came out of the family court this week after settling their divorce agreement, they were arm-in-arm, and they embraced.

Greenberg later wrote on her social media account that parting is not a simple matter, and divorce is even more difficult but that she and Golan will continue to be close friends for the sake of their children “because they are our world, and we will do everything for them.” If only more divorced or divorcing couples could think along similar lines, the world would be a much happier place and children would not have to endure the trauma of being kicked around like emotional footballs. 

People who married because they fell in love with each other, should remember that when they fall out of love, they should find a way to resolve their issues in an amicable manner.

■ TWO IMPORTANT anniversaries are coming up in March. The first is the centenary of the birth of Nobel Peace Prize laureate, former ambassador to Washington, former IDF chief of staff and Israel’s first assassinated prime, Yitzhak Rabin; and the second, a week later, is the 30th anniversary, according to the Gregorian calendar, of the death of Menachem Begin, the first Israeli prime minister to reach a peace agreement with an Arab state.

As yet, there hasn’t been much noise about Rabin’s centenary, but at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, they are honoring Begin’s memory and his legacy with a series of online lectures and conversations, the first of which will be delivered by Dan Meridor, a former justice minister, who was cabinet-secretary during Begin’s administration, and who as one of the princes of Likud, had since his childhood, had a personal acquaintance with Begin.

The Zoom program with Meridor, will be in English, on Wednesday, January 12 at 8:30 p.m. The legacy conversations will focus primarily on Begin’s belief in the rule of law, and how this is perceived by different people.

Faced with opposition within his cabinet to the Supreme Court ruling that determined that the new settlement of Elon Moreh was illegal, Begin refused the demands of his ministers that he ignore this judicial ruling, famously declaring, “There are judges in Jerusalem.” He had an unshakable commitment to the rule of law, and he understood that democracy requires not just rule of the majority, but a strong judiciary able to protect the rights of the minority.

While not everyone would agree with this outlook, and Israel’s Supreme Court judges have more than once been accused of basing their rulings on leftist ideologies, there are still people on the right of the political spectrum who concur with Begin’s approach to democracy and liberalism. Meridor is one such person and is therefore eminently suitable to discuss Begin’s legacy.

Meridor was born in Jerusalem in 1947. A lawyer by profession, he served as cabinet-secretary under both Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, before being first elected to the Knesset in 1984. He was a cabinet minister in several governments, serving as justice minister (1988 to 1992), finance minister (1996 to 1997), minister without portfolio responsible for national defense and diplomatic strategy (2001-2003), and intelligence and atomic energy minister and deputy prime minister (2009-2013). Since 2014 he has served as president of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations. To listen to the conversation, register at:

■ WHEN WE anticipate something, time seems to stand still until the grand moment arrives. When we look back, time seems to have moved much too quickly. It’s hard to believe how much time has passed since the last annual Jerusalem conference sponsored by the religious-Zionist media group Besheva, or for that matter, for how many years it has brought people from all over the country to Jerusalem. This is the 19th successive year.

The two-day conference, which is taking place at the Vert Hotel (formerly Crowne Plaza), February 7 and 8, is almost upon us. But this time it will be a little different in terms of the issues tabled for discussion, as for instance the Netanyahu trial, a modern State of Israel, whether there is justification in continuing with Army Radio (Galei Tzahal), settlement and development under the new government, life in mixed cities in the shadow of riots. Although Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli is included among the speakers, there seems to be less political balance than there was in the past in the selection of speakers, but things can change over the next few weeks, and the program can be amended if necessary.

■ APROPOS MICHAELI, through her ministry, and in coordination with the Defense Ministry, she initiated a project that would ensure that all Golani soldiers have a seat on the bus when traveling to the base, and to make sure that this is was being implemented, Michaeli and her team went out early in the morning to speak to soldiers who were waiting at the collection point. She was happy to learn that the plan is working and that soldiers can ride in greater comfort. 

“At last, there’s somewhere to sit on the bus,” she was told by one Golani soldier. Michaeli wants to expand the project so as to ensure that soldiers in all units can have a seat on the bus when traveling to their bases, and has put out the word that any soldier who has something bothering him or her, should write to her.

■ THESE DAYS, unless you’re speaking to a member of the Druze community, if you say Jethro, the immediate association is with the classic rock band, Jethro Tull. But the biblical Jethro, who is holy to the Druze, was a Midianite priest who was the father-in-law of Moses, and who counseled him on the sharing of responsibility and on the appointment of judges. Some of the things Jews attribute to Moses may actually be credited to Jethro.

It seems that it’s not only the Druze who revere Jethro, but also Jews of Tunisian background, who on January 20 will gather at Heichal Shlomo adjacent to Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue for what has been advertised as Jethro’s Feast with appropriate musical entertainment, comprising Tunisian melodies, provided by Adal Amir, Ramzi Mabruk, Rubi Chen and Shai Maimon.

There will also be an address by Rabbi Achikam Getz, who is the co-founder and head of Mechinat Avner, the pre-IDF academy in Acre, which was established in 2014 in memory of Getz’s uncle, who with his family came to Israel from Tunis in 1949, and was killed in the Six Day War.

■ AT AGE 82, Yehoram Gaon, who celebrated his birthday on December 28, is still going strong and is scheduled to perform some of his most popular songs in addition to songs in Ladino, together with the Hiba Orchestra, at the Jerusalem Theater on January 26. In view of the financial difficulties that many people have encountered during the pandemic, tickets are being sold at the reduced price of NIS 50.

Although he has not lived in Jerusalem for many years, Gaon, a native son of the capital, a former contestant for mayor, and a 10-year member of the municipal council, often returns to perform, to help promising young artists and to maintain contact with friends of long standing.

■ IN THE blurb about itself on its website, the New York-based YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, which describes itself as an online museum, informs web surfers that YIVO is the great repository of Eastern European Ashkenazi culture, of which American Jewry is the heir. The YIVO Archives and Library represent the single largest and most comprehensive collection of materials on Eastern European Jewish civilization in the world. The YIVO Archives contain some 23 million items, including sound and music collections, theater and art collections, communal and personal records, photographs and films, manuscripts, diaries, memoirs, personal correspondence, and much more.

Its holdings span Jewish civilization from the 15th to 21st centuries, with an emphasis on the Jews of Eastern Europe and their descendants. There is a special focus on Yiddish language and culture, Jewish life in Europe, the Holocaust and its aftermath, and Jewish life in the United States.

The YIVO Library has nearly 400,000 volumes in all European languages, and is the world’s only academic library specializing in the history, languages, literature, culture, folklore, and religious traditions of Eastern European Jewry. It has books in many languages, but also constitutes the largest collection of Yiddish-language books, pamphlets, and newspapers in the world.

Collecting materials documenting the life and creativity of Eastern European Jewry has been a major focus of YIVO’s mission since its inception in 1925. During the 15 years of YIVO’s existence in Vilna, it gathered an extensive array of records, manuscripts, books, and artifacts, thanks to the efforts of an international network of professional scholars and amateur zamlers (collectors).

World War II and the Holocaust forced YIVO’s relocation to New York in 1940. Its collections in Vilna were looted by the Nazis. With the help of the US Army, YIVO was able to recover some of these materials and begin its work anew in America.

Today, YIVO’s collections are the primary source of the documentary history of Eastern European Jewry and the surviving record of millions of lives of Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The archives and library receive over 5,000 on-site visits, and email and phone requests annually.

JNS, the Jewish News Syndicate, reports that the YIVO digital archives have become even more extensive with the completion of a seven-year project – the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections Project (EBVOCP) – a $7 million initiative to process, conserve and digitize YIVO’s divided pre-World War II library and archival collections. According to YIVO, the project is the first of its kind in Jewish history, and sheds new light on prewar Jewish history and culture throughout Eastern Europe and Russia.

“It’s very difficult to understand how little we truly know, especially in the United States, of what that past was. For most of us, what we know is handed down from our grandparents or great-grandparents who may have come from Eastern Europe,” Jonathan Brent, CEO of YIVO, told JNS reporter Mike Wagenheim. “That is to say that most of us know a family history. And even that, in my case for instance, was confined to the fact that I knew my one set of grandparents came from Zhytomyr and another from Chernigov. They lived basically in mud holes and were humiliated most of the time, and that was it. That was the culture that I came from.”

Many Jews know even less than that about their family backgrounds.

“We now can reveal for Jewish people of Ashkenazi descent all over the world what the real splendors of that civilization were for 1,000 years – a civilization that took pride in itself, a civilization that had aspirations, that had ambitions, that had tremendous driving force and a civilization that encompassed not just the pious and not just the victims of antisemitism, and not just the poor and impoverished people from whom so great a proportion of America Jewry derives, but rather, a people that spanned the entire gamut of human experience,” said Brent.

The completed project is the outcome of an international partnership between YIVO and three Lithuanian institutions: the Lithuanian Central State Archives, the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania and the Wroblewski Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences.

Stefanie Halpern, YIVO director of archives, told JNS that as recently as 2019, completing the project on time seemed insurmountable. The institute decided then that it was time to open an in-house digital lab rather than contracting out the work. The move coincided with the pandemic, giving YIVO staff the opportunity to continue their work from home with fuller control over the process.

■ ALTHOUGH MANY people have become impoverished during the pandemic, and charitable donations to institutions and organizations have taken a plunge, there are exceptions. The University of Haifa has received a NIS 50 million gift from the Kadas Family Charitable Fund, which is operated by international financier and philanthropist Peter Kadas and his wife, Gyongyver, who have chosen important causes in different parts of the world, particularly in educational institutions , which they consider worth supporting.

They have donated generously to the University of Haifa in the past, but the current gift is the largest in the university’s history. It will be used to support the creation of an International Faculty Initiative of Global Climate Change, with an initial emphasis on marine and coastal ecology research.

Born and raised in Hungary, Peter Kadas came to Canada in 1982 and graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in economics and political science. Four years later, he obtained an MBA from Dartmouth College and embarked on a highly successful business career, most notably co-founding the first private Russian bank, Renaissance Capital, and the investment group BXR Group. Kadas, who is based in Barcelona, now serves as a senior adviser at BXR Partners. Both his alma maters have benefited from his philanthropy, as have several other universities..

In June, 2016, Kadas and his wife were awarded honorary doctorates by the University of Haifa in recognition of their significant contribution to the advancement of higher education and scientific research in the world in general and in Israel in particular, and on their contribution to the establishment of the Kadas Green Roofs Ecology Center at the University of Haifa and their support for cancer research.

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