This may be the year of positive change. Aside from the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and finally recognizing IDF veterans who, while in service, swam in polluted waters of the Kishon River and developed cancer as disabled soldiers, the long awaited visa waiver for entry to the United States (US) looks as if it will become a reality, not today or tomorrow, but quite possibly this year. An eight-member delegation will arrive from the US next week to hold talks with relevant officials, including Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who never misses an opportunity to praise US ambassador Tom Nides for his cooperation on the issue. The delegation will visit Israel’s various ports of entry and exit, including Ben Gurion Airport and the Allenby Bridge. Among the conditions in return for the waiver will be permission for Palestinians returning home from abroad to do so via Ben Gurion Airport.
■ AMONG THE most frequently aired topics in global Jewish organizations and movements is the rift between Israel and diaspora Jewry, which is widely attributed to assimilation, intermarriage and the refusal by Israel’s chief rabbinate to recognize any stream of Judaism, other than Orthodox, which has led to ongoing delays in making provision at the Western Wall for non-Orthodox Jews who want to pray there in mixed gender family and community groups. Israel’s Nationality Law stipulates that Israel will work in the Diaspora to preserve the connection between Israel and the Jewish people. Numerous Zionist and non-Zionist entities send envoys from Israel to work in Jewish communities abroad as rabbis, teachers and group leaders, but are such people just preaching to the converted or are they forging connections which otherwise might not exist?
For instance, most members of a Zionist youth movement would have joined it with or without an emissary from Israel. On the other hand, someone who would not feel comfortable in a Zionist youth movement, would be unlikely to join, even if he or she had friends in such a movement. So other than a war which threatens Israel’s continued existence, what kind of out-of-the-box thinking can restore the enthusiasm that diaspora Jews had for Israel in the first twenty-five years of the state?
That will be part of the discussion at a joint Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) and B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem think tank event on Tuesday February 15 at JPPI headquarters at the Givat Ram Campus of the Hebrew University. Obviously, leading figures from both organizations as well as the World Zionist Movement and the Jewish Agency will be among the speakers, as will Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai, who spent several months teaching about Israel at American universities before returning to the political arena. Long before that, he had served inter alia as senior vice president and director general in the Israel office of the Jewish Communities of North America, and before that as press advisor to the Israel Embassy in Washington. In addition, during previous stints in the Knesset, he chaired committees on US-Israel Relations, Strengthening of the Jewish People, Promotion of Israel’s Public Diplomacy and Struggle against the delegitimization of Israel, so his credentials for contacts with American Jewry are beyond dispute.
The think tank meeting had initially been scheduled for January on a date that clashed with something else that Shai was doing and as he was eager to participate, the date was changed. Among the subjects to be discussed are: What is the State of Israel doing to preserve relations between Israel and the Diaspora? What does the Nationality Law stipulate? What is the responsibility of the State of Israel? What do Diaspora Jews think? Whether this will lead to anything remains to be seen, but at least it indicates that there are people in Israel who care.
■ MORE THAN a hundred mayors and heads of regional councils spent two days in the capital this week at the invitation of Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion in cooperation with Haim Bibas, who in addition to being the mayor of Modi’in-Maccabim-Reut, is chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities.
During their two-day visit, the mayors met with members of the Jerusalem City Council, toured the length and breadth of the city, and learned of different activities and plans for the future.
Inasmuch as there were examples and ideas that they took home with them, the highlight of their visit was a meeting with President Isaac Herzog at his official residence, who emphasized the importance of public trust in the local authorities.
Lion, who is changing the face and character of Jerusalem, said how happy he was to introduce his colleagues to these changes.
Urban renewal is on the agenda of most municipalities and regional councils. Aware of this, Bibas said the best way to introduce change is through dialogue, listening, learning and cooperation. “That is the way to build trust and achieve goals,” he said, adding that the FLA must learn from local authorities at all levels. He said public service is a difficult and challenging mission. Among the challenges confronting local authorities are threats, the elimination of verbal and physical violence, and the invasion of privacy through the hacking of mobile phones.
■ MOST FORMS of gambling are illegal in Israel. The exceptions are Mifal Hapayis, the National Lottery, currently headed by Avigdor Yitzhaki, a former director general of the prime minister’s office, and the Israeli Sporting Council, through which gamblers bet on the outcome of soccer games.
Last month, Labor MK Ibtisam Mara’ana proposed a bill for the permanent abolition of slot machines and Mifal Hapayis booths on the grounds that they attract people from the lowest income groups who hope that whatever they invest will bring them a bonanza. As most gamblers know, the unwritten rule in gambling is that in the final analysis, the house always wins. Of the eight various gambling options offered by Mifal Hapayis, Lotto is the most tempting, albeit not necessarily the most popular. For a smaller fee, there are various games with instant results, but these are perhaps more dangerous to the poor man’s pocket than Lotto, because when the gamblers don’t win anything, they keep trying in what is too often the belief that they will eventually hit the jackpot. These gambling forays are often at the cost of food and medicine, which is why some children are under-nourished and live below the poverty line. Their parents are gambling away their health and nutrition.
Established in 1951 as a means of raising funds for the construction of a hospital in Tel Aviv, the lottery became so popular that it expanded to the extent that it funds local authorities, builds classrooms, school buildings, day-care centers, sports facilities, theater auditoriums, parks and more. This is all very noble, except in most cases, the profits come from that sector of the public who can least afford it. In the bid to increase its revenues, Mifal Hapayis advertises on various media outlets, which serves to attract more poor people.
It’s a joy when one becomes a winner, but last Saturday night the NIS 80 million prize which been mounting up for several weeks when there was no outright winner, was won by someone who is quite well off, who went to work the next day and who has no intention of changing his life style, though he may spend on couple of things that will improve the quality of life for him and his family. By the way, he doesn’t get to keep it all. When Silvan Shalom was Finance Minister, he pushed through a bill whereby winners of big monetary prizes have to pay a 25% tax, which may have increased since then. So the government not only persuades the public to support the state lottery, but when someone wins big time, they take back at least a quarter of the winnings. There’s something corrupt in such a system.
■ IT LOOKS as if the itinerary of every Israeli official who visits the United Arab Emirates (UAE) must include a meeting with members of the Jewish community. That’s par for the course when President Herzog or Prime Minister Bennett go to any country that has a Jewish community and sometimes this also applies to high ranking ministers or the Speaker of the Knesset. However, now it’s almost mandatory for every minister and Member of Knesset who visits the UAE. The most recent case was Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov, who more or less had no choice other than to accept the invitation of Rabbi Levi Duchman to write a letter in the first Torah scroll written in the Emirates for the use of the growing local Jewish community. That’s another given, as the first letter of the scroll was written by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, during his recent visit to the UAE.
Together with Nave Shachar, the KKL-JNF managing director of the Israel Pavilion Expo 2020, and Alec and Sonia Sellem the philanthropic founders of the Jewish educational campus established by Duchman, Razvozov was captivated by the tiny tots who are part of the UAE’s growing Jewish community.
Over the past seven years, Duchman has established a number of community services which are enjoyed by the resident UAE community, as well as by visiting Jewish business people and tourists.
The Jewish Education Campus encompasses a kindergarten, Hebrew school and youth club serving nearly a hundred 1-16 year-old children.