Grapevine: Cantor in chief

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 German Chancellor Olaf Scholz with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on 2/3/2022. (photo credit: KOBI GIDON / GPO)
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on 2/3/2022.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDON / GPO)

Lovers of cantorial music who live within walking distance of the Great Synagogue are in for a real treat this Friday night and Saturday morning when cantors Israel Rotenberg, Israel Nachman and Simcha Rotenberg will officiate at Sabbath services, accompanied by The Voices of Israel Ensemble conducted by Yankele Rottner. The special musical event is in honor of the synagogue’s chief cantor emeritus, Chaim Adler. The Friday evening service starts at 5:20 p.m. and the Shabbat morning service at 7:55 a.m.

■ IT’S AMAZING how many synagogues in Jerusalem go by the name of Ohel Yitzhak, so if you have reason to meet someone in one of them, be sure to take note of the address if you are not the one arranging the meeting, and if you have called the meeting, make sure that you give the address to whomever you have invited. According to Marcel Hess, one of the regular congregants at Ohel Yitzchak at 12 Washington St., Purim this year is going to be something extraordinary. 

Hess, who prior to his retirement, used to be known as the Sausage King, apparently also has a reputation for inventing or acquiring the most striking of Purim masks. He claims that the ones people will be wearing at Ohel Yitzchak are not only creative, but historical. He will happily explain their history to anyone who asks.

■ THERE WILL be lots of Purim activities in Jerusalem. Aside from what will be happening in synagogues, the Ginot Ha’ir Community Center is organizing a special Purim fest for children in Sokolov Park on Friday, March 18. No sooner had the notice been posted on the Talbiyeh Forum WhatsApp account, then there was a query as to what is being done to ensure safety in the park. Some residents are bothered by the fact that there are insufficient safety factors.

■ THE PEOPLE running City Hall are frequently criticized in this column, but sometimes they are deserving of praise, as is the case in the modernizing of the public toilet adjacent to Horse Park on King George Avenue. Even in its former primitive condition, the facility was always clean, with the person in charge taking great pride in keeping it that way. Now with improved amenities, it’s much more appreciated by those members of the public who have to answer calls of nature. 

Jerusalem Great Synagogue (credit: MARTIN VINES MONTREAL/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)Jerusalem Great Synagogue (credit: MARTIN VINES MONTREAL/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

A question to Mayor Moshe Lion: With all the construction that’s going on in the city, why not make one of the conditions for the granting of a building license that the proposed structure include a public toilet very close to the entrance of the building? 

With the glut of new hotels and more under construction, one might imagine that the problem has been solved. But it hasn’t, because most hotels will not allow people who are not guests to enter, unless they are meeting someone in the hotel or attending a function being held in the hotel. In the case of hotels with public restaurants and coffee shops, people who are not guests can say that they’ve come for lunch or dinner, and instead, head for the toilets.

So in the downtown shopping areas, where can one find a restroom? There are health clinics on Jaffa Road (on the corner of Haturim), Ben Yehuda Street and Strauss Street. There’s also a public toilet in Mahaneh Yehuda; likewise, in the nearby Clal building. There’s also a two-cubicle facility on Jaffa Road near the corner of Strauss.

And of course, if one gets to Safra Square and inside the municipal building, there are ample toilets. There are also toilets in the basement of a large building in HaRav Kook Street, but most of the cubicles are usually locked. You can do better in the Bell Mall on King George Avenue, but the building is almost deserted. 

■ BUT GETTING back to the Purim event at Sokolov Park, several people who are linked to the WhatsApp group of the Talbiyeh Forum, wanted to know if there are plans to upgrade the park, and if so suggested that safer equipment be installed in the children’s playground. Some also suggested that in view of the fact that so many children from the neighborhood come to the park, that the playing area be expanded.

One of the good things that City Hall did in the park several years ago was to introduce an enclosure for dogs where they can run freely without supervision on the part of their owners (but behind a wire fence to protect any bashful children). 

Discussion about one park led to conversation about another and the pros and cons of putting a coffee shop in the Rose Garden, which some people said would ruin the character of that particular park, while others said it would be welcome. Curiously, there was hardly any mention of the fact that it would not be permitted to operate on Shabbat.

So long as people are not making a noise that disturbs local residents, there should be no reason to deny secular people the pleasure of getting together in an eatery on a Friday night or Saturday to enjoy each other’s company. After all, these people pay taxes and should have a say in what’s going on, and not be at the mercy of the overwhelmingly Orthodox Jerusalem City Council.

But even on matters that have nothing to do with religion, the will of the public is largely ignored. The Ginot Ha’ir Community Center published a notice regarding the proposal to set up coffee shops in parks, stating that the public could now have a say. 

Something similar happened with regard to the light rail in Emek Refaim. Those who objected voiced their objections and signed petitions. At various meetings, there appeared to be more opposition to the light rail than those who were in favor, but there was no referendum to determine one way or the other, and even if there had been, City Hall would still have found a way to ignore the outcome if it did not fit in with its plans. That’s not democracy. People spend a lot of money to live in a certain environment, and to ignore their wishes when introducing change, is simply an abuse of power.

■ PRESIDENTS, PRIME ministers, foreign ministers and defense ministers of other countries, when visiting Jerusalem, almost always go to Yad Vashem, even if they have been there before as was the case this week with Germany’s recently installed new Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who previously visited Yad Vashem in 2018 in the company of his long-term predecessor, Angela Merkel. 

Though no one would deny the importance of Yad Vashem, there’s a certain amount of diplomatic arm-twisting involved in planning the itineraries of visiting dignitaries. In a sense, it’s a two-way street, as Israeli presidents and prime ministers in their official visits abroad have almost always had to lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier. This event takes only a few minutes, while the Yad Vashem tour takes an hour or more. 

Scholz was accompanied by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Yad Vashem senior historian Dr. David Silberklang. Former chief of protocol at the Foreign Ministry Mordechai Palzur can recall the president of an Eastern European country who absolutely refused to visit Yad Vashem, even though it was listed on his schedule.

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