Grapevine February 2, 2022: Maintaining tradition

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 ISRAEL AMBASSADOR to Egypt Amira Oron and Rabbi  Joshua Berman.  (photo credit: SANDOR JAFFE)
ISRAEL AMBASSADOR to Egypt Amira Oron and Rabbi Joshua Berman.
(photo credit: SANDOR JAFFE)

People unfamiliar with Jewish tradition may have noticed, in the few photos or television images of President Isaac Herzog when he is not wearing a mask, that he is sporting a beard. It’s not a new fashion trend or something designed to give him a more macho appearance. In Jewish tradition, male mourners of direct relatives do not cut their hair or their beards for 30 days following the death of a loved one. The president is still within that 30-day mourning period for his mother, who died last month.

■ WHEN THE wives of heads of state or government accompany their husbands on official visits, the itinerary that is set for the wives is usually a visit to the children’s ward of a hospital, or a kindergarten run a by a women’s organization, an occupational therapy group of people with disabilities, a botanical garden, a zoo, and of course a meeting with her counterpart, if there is one.

All that is changing as women become increasingly visible in high-ranking positions in government, in the armed forces, in academia, in medicine, in hi-tech, in legal circles, in journalism and other professions.

Thus, when Herzog was engrossed in conversation with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi on Sunday, his wife was meeting with UAE Minister for Advanced Technology Sarah bint Yousif Al Amiri, who is not only a woman but her country’s first-ever minister for advanced technology. Michal Herzog, as has been mentioned several times before in this column, is an experienced criminal lawyer.

■ UNLIKE AMERICA and some other countries, Israel has no official first lady position, and the law regarding the president does not specify spousal responsibilities. When her husband first took up his duties, Michal Herzog was unsure and undecided as to what her role would be. But the Herzogs are a team, and he frequently refers and defers to her. She sits in on most public meetings and conducts several of her own.

On Tuesday of this week, on the morning after returning from the UAE on Monday night, she hosted a large group of diplomatic spouses, who included Stephanie Baric, the wife of Jonathan Shrier, who is the deputy chief of mission at the

A meeting discussing the plans to develop the US embassy in Jerusalem, January 13, 2021. A meeting discussing the plans to develop the US embassy in Jerusalem, January 13, 2021.  (credit: JERUSALEM MUNICIPALITY)A meeting discussing the plans to develop the US embassy in Jerusalem, January 13, 2021. A meeting discussing the plans to develop the US embassy in Jerusalem, January 13, 2021. (credit: JERUSALEM MUNICIPALITY)

■ DURING THE Herzogs’ visit to the UAE, Yemen’s Houthi rebels on Sunday launched a foiled missile attack on the Gulf state, and threatened future attacks. Shortly before midnight on Sunday, the president’s spokesman Naor Ihia issued a statement to the effect that Herzog was not in danger and was continuing his visit as planned.

Earlier in the evening Herzog met with representatives of the Jewish community, including Rabbi Elie Abadie, a senior rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates.

In an interview with i24, Abadie was asked about the attacks, and replied that the Jewish community feels very safe in the UAE. This also applies with regard to the global increase in antisemitic incidents. Abadie said that the UAE is one of the safest countries for the Jewish community.

He described the meeting with President Herzog as “very moving” due to its historic significance.

In his address to the community, Herzog made no effort to hide his admiration for Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, with whom he spent several hours, and whom he called “a bold and amazing leader” from whom he drew immense inspiration.

Herzog also took pains to give credit where it’s due, to the architects and implementors of the Abraham Accords, listing the crown prince, the king of Bahrain, former US president Donald Trump and his administration, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, who “all made the peace treaty a reality.”

It is now being taken further by the current US administration, headed by President Joe Biden, the government of Israel under Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and the new president of Israel, who are all working together with so many others to make this reality something sustainable for the future, said Herzog.

WE ALL make mistakes, and some of those mistakes are embarrassing, as was the one made by veteran broadcaster Shalom Kittal in the course of a telephone interview with singer Harel Skaat, who recently recorded a new song.

Skaat and his life partner, Idan Roll, who is deputy foreign minister, were videotaped dancing without masks at a crowded New Year’s Eve party. Toward the end of the interview Kittal chided Skaat, who, precisely because he is a celebrity, should be conscious of the fact that the example he sets will be followed by his fans.

Skaat sounded sufficiently contrite to satisfy Kittal, who in concluding the conversation bid farewell to Harel Moyal, who is also a well-known singer. Skaat didn’t correct him, though he sounded somewhat bemused. But presumably someone in the studio did, because Kittal, speaking louder than he had previously, said that of course he meant Harel Skaat. But by that time Skaat was no longer on the phone to hear him.

■ THE ENTERTAINMENT lineup for the state ceremony on Mount Herzl that will launch the official opening on May 4 of Israel’s 74th Independence Day festivities keeps growing. New additions to the list include Izhar Cohen and the band Hapil Hakahol.

Cohen, an Israeli icon, has a career that spans well over half a century. In 1978, he was the first Israeli to win the Eurovision Song Contest. He is a member of the famous Cohen family of community singers, but decided to try his luck by branching out on his own and proved to be very successful. Hapil Hakahol first came to public attention in 2009. After a few years the ensemble faded from the spotlight, but more recently reinvented itself and has gigs all over the country.

Beacon lighters at this year’s Independence Day ceremony will be people who have contributed to making Israel a better society.

■ IN ONE of those strange ironies that defy explanation, Esther Pollard, who fought so long and so hard for the release from prison of her husband, Jonathan Pollard, and eventually succeeded in helping him to realize his dream to live in Israel, died three days after Yediot Aharonot published new revelations about his espionage activities, and two days before KAN 11 screens its investigative documentary The Pollard Saga, which can be seen after the main news program this Wednesday night.

Much of the information in both the newspaper and the television broadcast has been classified for years, but the veil of silence has now been lifted, and readers and viewers will get as close as they will ever get to the true and complete story, which over the years underwent several distortions. There are bound to be thought-provoking disclosures that Esther Pollard would have found upsetting, and perhaps it’s just as well that she never got to read them or to hear them.

The huge turnout for her funeral in Jerusalem on Monday was indicative of the fact that whatever people may have thought one way or the other about Jonathan Pollard, they regarded his wife as a woman of valor.

■ WITH REGARD to Yediot, it is currently celebrating the 75th anniversary of its thick and glossy women’s magazine LaIsha, which first came off the press a year before the establishment of the State of Israel. The 75th anniversary edition features 75 of the best and most memorable magazine covers, chosen by well-known Israeli women from varied walks of life.

Although the anniversary cover features supermodel and television presenter Galit Gutman, not all the covers are of beauty queens, models or celebrities from the world of entertainment. Even Aura Herzog, the late mother of President Herzog, graced one of the covers in 1986, and smiles happily in a delightful photograph.

Of the entertainers who were featured on the covers, not all were female. There is an extraordinary 1975 cover of a young and handsome Svika Pick, whose hair was not straggly as it has been in recent years, but was full and well styled. This particular cover was chosen by actress and comedienne Hannah Laszlo. Actress and soldier Kim Or Azulay chose the 2021 cover that featured Shira Isakov, who is rebuilding her life after a failed murder attempt by her husband, who will spend most of the rest of his life in prison. A 1956 cover of a female soldier with a gun was surprisingly chosen by singer and peace activist Ahinoam Nini.

One of the most striking covers was of the late, sensuous Tami Ben-Ami, posing in a super-sexy, snakeskin print swimsuit by Gottex. Ben-Ami, who was one of the tallest models in the business, was the Gottex house model. She had a superb, statuesque figure, long shapely legs, and a naturally tanned complexion all year round, which made her a perfect swimwear model, particularly for the dramatic designs by Gottex founder Leah Gottlieb. Ben-Ami, who was Israel’s top model in the 1970s and 1980s, died of cancer in 1995. The particular cover was chosen by model, actress, film producer and author Noa Tishby, who said that aside from the fact that Ben-Ami was one of the most beautiful women in Israel at the time, the whole appearance of the cover was iconic.

Gutman, who in September this year will celebrate her 50th birthday, looks nowhere near her age. She is not the prettiest of models, but she has a chameleon ability to change her appearance, as can be seen on the 28 covers on which she has appeared since 1990. In fact, she holds the record for LaIsha cover appearances, and she still looks great.

■ NOT SO long ago, women freaked out when the first gray hair made its appearance. Older women, who allowed themselves to go gray without resorting to hair dyes, nonetheless used blue, pink and purple rinses. But now gray hair is the in thing, and fashionistas such as reality TV star Kim Kardashian have deliberately gone gray – and it looks fantastic. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow has also gone gray, but in a less dramatic shade. Somewhat older actress Helen Mirren, who is playing Golda, allowed nature to take its course, and when she went gray, she made no effort to return to her previous natural color. Part of her hair is now white, but it harmonizes nicely with the gray. Another actress, Jamie Lee Curtis, used to dye her hair, but one day, while sitting in the beauty parlor, she asked herself what she was doing putting all those chemicals in her hair and on her scalp, and decided promptly that she would allow the gray to grow and would stick with it. The super glamorous Jane Fonda, who even at 84 looks ravishing, has platinum gray hair.

Meryl Streep, the most versatile actress in Hollywood, had white hair when she starred in The Devil Wears Prada, and on the local scene Amanda Weiss, the former director of the Bible Lands Museum, used to have pitch-black hair, which is now snow-white and makes her look so sophisticated that one might mistake her as having walked off the set of Streep’s movie.

■ CLAD IN blue plastic coveralls with a mask over his face, MK Moshe Gafni, who chairs the United Torah Judaism Party in the Knesset, could have easily been mistaken for one of the medical staff at the new Raphael Hospital in Kiryat Atidim, Tel Aviv. The hospital claims to be one of the best private hospitals in the country, using the most advanced medical technology, and providing the best professional service to patients.

 MK MOSHE GAFNI (center) with physicians from Raphael private hospital.  (credit: Courtesy) MK MOSHE GAFNI (center) with physicians from Raphael private hospital. (credit: Courtesy)

Last Friday, in view of the general crisis in hospitals, Gafni went to see for himself, at the invitation of the hospital’s management. He was taken on a tour of the premises and escorted by senior physicians, who were heads of different units. Gafni and his entourage were impressed with what they saw, and marveled at some of the innovative technologies.

■ A FAREWELL breakfast for former president and CEO of the Dan Hotels chain Ronen Nissenbaum was hosted at the Dan Accadia hotel in Herzliya by Ami Federmann deputy chairman of the board of the Dan chain, who noted that it was difficult to part from Nissenbaum, not only because of his professionalism, but also because the Dan chain has a tradition of maintaining its senior staff for many years. He praised Nissenbaum for being a fantastic human being – a legacy that he leaves behind him as he rejoins his family overseas. Federmann thanked Nissenbaum for his valuable contribution to the company’s success.

Nissenbaum, who gave notice five months ago, was emotionally moved by the special effort that chef Golan Israeli had put into the breakfast, as well as by the many accolades he received. In responding to Federmann’s remarks, he spoke in English rather than Hebrew, for the benefit of his wife, Karen, who had specially come from the United States for the occasion.

He said that he had been treated like an extended family member by the Federmanns. Throughout his long career in the hotel industry, he had worked for various companies in Israel and abroad, he said, but had never encountered anything that could compare with the exceptional organizational culture of the Dan chain. He was convinced that he would not find anything of its equal in the future. Despite his vast experience, he added, he had learned a lot while once again working in Israel, and he was returning to his home in Atlanta a changed man. He was sad to leave the Dan family, he said, but he was sure that it would continue to run a successful operation, and he is proud of the fact that he had a part in that success.

 FROM LEFT: Ronen Nissenbaum, Ami Federmann, Karen Nissenbaum. (credit: GUY YEHIELI) FROM LEFT: Ronen Nissenbaum, Ami Federmann, Karen Nissenbaum. (credit: GUY YEHIELI)

■ THE STRONG bond between the Zionist Federation of Australia and Israel is evidenced by the number of Israelis who appear on ZFA Zoom programs to discuss various issues that are of common concern.

Coming up on Sunday, February 6, at 8 p.m. Australian Eastern Daylight Time and 11 a.m. in Israel is a conversation about fighting the campaign to delegitimize Israel. This is one of the problems confronting Australian Jewry. Another is a spike in antisemitism and the sale of Nazi emblems and relics on social media platforms.

The Israelis on this occasion will be Gerald Steinberg, founder and CEO of NGO Monitor, and Anne Hertzberg, the organization’s legal adviser.

■ IN MID-JANUARY, The Jerusalem Post featured an interview with Rabbi Prof. Joshua Berman, who is convinced, contrary to the opinions of certain cynics, that the Exodus really happened. Based on his own findings and specific biblical references, Berman, a Bar-Ilan University Bible scholar and leading authority on ancient Egypt, has discovered a series of inscriptions that, he says, are the strongest proof for the historical accuracy of the Exodus, including drawings that are astonishingly similar to the Tabernacle.

For years Berman dreamed of visiting the sites in Egypt where these inscriptions are located. That opportunity arose in January 2021. Between COVID-19, the airport opened “like the parting of the sea,” and he was finally able to get there.

Berman was so enthusiastic about what he saw that, upon his return to Israel, he began contacting tour operators. At the height of the pandemic, most didn’t want to hear anything about travel until “after corona.” But one operator took him up on his suggestion. As reported in the Post, Berman led a group to the relevant sites in Egypt to see these inscriptions firsthand. The trip was run by Shai Bar-Ilan Tours.

The tour revisited the world of the forefathers of the Jewish people from the period of the Exodus, enabling participants to touch authentic mud bricks with straw from the period of enslavement, read the name “Miriam” in hieroglyphic inscriptions, visit the temples of the Pharaoh of the Exodus, Ramses II, and discover inscriptions that pertain directly to the story of the Exodus.

One of the highlights of the trip was a meeting with Israel’s Ambassador to Egypt Amira Oron, who underscored the unprecedented stability of the current regime in Egypt, and how President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has leveraged this to lead to an equally unprecedented expansion of the Egyptian economy. The extremely close ties in the area of security between the two countries has now paved the way for greater trade and Israeli know-how, particularly in the field of agriculture, which is poised to be of great benefit to Egypt.

As far as Berman is aware, this was the first organized kosher tour to Egypt from Israel in more than a decade. The idea of conducting the trip is an outgrowth of the climate created by the Abraham Accords and warming ties with Egypt. Once COVID fears become history, Berman is hopeful that such tours will be conducted with far greater frequency.

■ THERE’S NOTHING unusual about a baby coming into the world in an ambulance transporting its mother to hospital, but it’s rare to see a bride and groom travel from their wedding in an ambulance – especially if neither is sick or hurt. But unusual situations call for unusual measures.

During last week’s Elpis snowstorm hundreds of people in the North were stranded, and in Jerusalem and surrounds highways were closed due to heavy snowfall, and here, too, people were stranded, among them a newly wedded bride and groom who were stuck in the Sequoia wedding hall in Ma’aleh Hahamisha, together with hundreds of guests who had arrived before the snow began to fall in earnest. As so many roads were either closed or dangerous to drive on, the couple was unable to go back to Jerusalem to their new home after the wedding festivities.

The hapless newlyweds tried to find a solution to their problem, and someone had the bright idea to reach out to emergency services to assist. The person on duty at United Hatzalah’s dispatch center who received the alert did not hesitate for a moment and sent volunteers with an emergency all-terrain vehicle to assist. Braving the heavy snowfall, the volunteers traveled from Jerusalem to Ma’aleh Hahamisha and succeeded in solving the problem for the bride and groom.

As the couple walked out to the United Hatzalah vehicle, they were escorted by the guests who were singing and dancing. After all, snow notwithstanding, a wedding is a wedding, and it’s a happy occasion.

The bride and groom embarked on their journey and were brought safely to their home in Jerusalem’s Bayit Vagan neighborhood to conclude this momentous day in their lives.

Moshiko Moskowitz, who heads the United Hatzalah operations division, said in relation to the humanitarian rescue operation: “As soon as we received the call about the bride and groom stuck at the wedding hall, I rushed out with the van to help. We felt that it was important to help the bride and groom, and that this was no less important than saving lives, not to mention that it is a great mitzvah to make a bride and groom happy on their wedding day.

“I wish the dear couple the biggest congratulations, and I was honored to be part of helping them on their special day.”

After the bride and groom were safely home, United Hatzalah volunteers expanded the rescue operation and were able to perform a similar service for some 40% of the guests. Most of the guests whom they transported were either elderly or families with babies and young children.

As for the newlyweds, they could not stop thanking the volunteers for their kind gesture. “I have no words,” said the groom, “Thank you so, so much. We returned home to our apartment in Bayit Vagan thanks to you, even with the heavy snow. It’s unbelievable what you did to help us. You are truly angels who came to our rescue.”

Just as a matter of interest, United Hatzalah volunteers also traveled through the snow to deliver babies.

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