The initial candidates for chairmanship of the Jewish Agency were not holding their breaths regarding a decision. Each and every one of them has proven leadership, organizational and entrepreneurial qualities, which individually and collectively counted for less than political affiliations.
One of those candidates, Michael Oren, an American-born and educated former Israel ambassador to the US, has been busy. The founder of Israel 2048, Oren – who is also a former MK, deputy prime minister, historian, novelist, visiting professor at Harvard, Yale and Georgetown universities, former lone soldier, and Maccabiah Games gold medalist – is looking a quarter of a century ahead. He is engaging Israelis of all political and religious persuasions to discuss vital issues, some of which are a hangover from the pre-state period, and others which have evolved but have not been solved.
He is not looking for people to agree with him, and stresses the need for dialogue so that the diversity of opinions can be brought to the table in preparation for Israel’s second century of independent statehood.
Oren is drumming up interest at a series of 10 parlor meetings, the first of which was held at the magnificent, tastefully furnished Herzliya Pituah home of Ariella and Charles Zeloof.
The Zeloofs have been involved in numerous social, cultural and religious activities in Israel and London, and have opened their art-filled home to numerous causes. Ariella said that she loved having guests, and had been frustrated by the inability to do so over the past two years. She was delighted that COVID restrictions had been lifted and that the house could once again be filled with people. Charles, the genial host, made sure that guests’ glasses were filled and remembered what they had chosen the first time around.
Ariella reminded everyone that while they were sitting in the warmth of her home, people in Ukraine were freezing. As for Israel and the Jewish people, she said, the biggest challenge is unity. Recalling the past, she remarked: “We had differences, but at the end of the day, we were united.”
Underscoring that modern Israel’s first 74 years have been “extraordinary,” Oren was surprised by the fact that Israelis take less pride in the year 1948 than do Americans of the year 1776, in which they achieved their independence. In the US, he said, many people put 1776 on buildings, but it is rare to see 1948 stamped onto buildings in Israel, where one of the most important of many amazing accomplishments is that Israel, despite the lack of natural allies, has made it, with more people now speaking Hebrew than a lot of other languages.
Relating to current challenges, Oren cautioned that if these are not faced now, if political and economic conditions in Israel become intolerable, Israel may not be the place for the children and grandchildren of the present generation, who will migrate elsewhere.
One of the controversial issues that Oren mentioned was the army, which some people want to turn into a voluntary army. If this were to happen, he said, it would be a disaster, because soldiers would come from the lowest levels of society.
Another issue is sovereignty, which Oren believes has not been properly defined.
Bedouin living in voluntary poverty in illegal villages are subjected to Palestinization, he warned. Because they continue to practice polygamy, they have many children, don’t work, and live on government subsidies paid out in accordance with the number of children they have.
With taxes based largely on earnings, 20% of Israel’s population pays 90% of the taxes, Oren claimed.
He also touched on conversion and pluralism. If certain conversions are not recognized, if non-Orthodox streams of Judaism are marginalized, large segments of the Jewish people are excluded from their roles in the nation-state.
Oren did not omit Ukraine, declaring: “It is our democratic responsibility to stand up for Ukraine.”
Realizing that there are people who are convinced that it is impossible to bring about change, Oren reminded them that four mothers of soldiers were responsible for Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 after 18 years of fighting.
■ TEL AVIV peace activist Alice Krieger is well known for her Friday night dinners at which she brings together foreign diplomats with representatives of NGOs and, where possible, Palestinians. So it came as no surprise that, among the guests at the consecration of the mobile Torah scroll that she donated to Yakar Synagogue in Tel Aviv in memory of her parents, Fanny and Tommy Krieger, there were diplomats and Jewish and Arab representatives of the peace camp (some of whom wrote a letter in the Torah scroll).
Diplomats included Dutch Ambassador Hans Docter, who has become a close personal friend of Krieger, and Spanish Ambassador Ana Maria Salomon Perez, who is also a close friend.
For many years now, Krieger has been a member of Yakar, regularly attending services and involved in the congregation’s activities.
The rabbi at Yakar is Hananel Rosen, the son of the late Rabbi Michael (Mickey) Rosen, who in 1978 founded Yakar in England as a center of tradition and creativity, opened its Jerusalem branch in 1992, and its Tel Aviv branch in 2007. He named the centers after his father, Rabbi Yaacov Kopul Rosen, who in 1948 founded Carmel College, a Jewish boarding school which was initially for boys, and where Krieger’s brother had been a pupil. Yakar, which is an acronym of Yaacov Kopul Rosen’s name, means precious or dear in Hebrew. Yakar promotes important Jewish values such as hospitality and kindness to others, human rights and traditional Torah study.
Yakar in Tel Aviv is quite a large synagogue, with plush, red seats similar to those in Britain. At the back is a large space for outdoor gatherings, as well as a picnic area with tables and benches. Thus, after the writing of the scroll was completed, there was dancing in the synagogue, with the dancers eventually making their way outside, as the scroll was passed from hand to hand. The outdoor dancing comprised separate circles of men and women, with the scroll being passed between the two circles.
Surprisingly, in the period in which Yakar has been operating in Tel Aviv, this was actually the first time that a Torah scroll had been donated to the synagogue by one of its congregants.
Krieger explained that she was following a family tradition in that her father had done the same in memory of his parents. In fact, he had been dedicated to the Torah until the last day of his life, when he wrote a letter in a Torah scroll and, four hours later, died in his home. Krieger deliberately chose to donate a smaller than usual scroll so that it could easily be transported to the homes of mourners who were sitting shiva or to the homes of people who were housebound, but wanted to hear the Torah reading from an actual scroll.
Although her niece and many cousins attended the dedication ceremony, as well as friends from London, her brother was unable to come, but his best friend, Bill Wilson, was present among the many people who filled almost all the seats, and was given the honor of writing the first letter. Altogether, some 40 people helped to complete the letter writing, among them Krieger’s relatives and rabbis Hananel Rosen, Yehoshua Engelman and Moshe Yehudai.
Among the NGOs and peace enterprises that were represented were Peace Now, Breaking the Silence, Physicians for Human Rights, Road to Recovery (comprising thousands of compassionate Israeli volunteers, driving Palestinians requiring treatment – mostly children – from crossings between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, to hospitals in Israel), and the Palestine-Israel Journal.
As a peace activist, Krieger is primarily involved in efforts to resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but the night before the Torah consecration, she joined Israelis of Ukrainian background in the mega demonstration they held in Tel Aviv with the demand to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he stop the war. At the Torah ceremony, she made an impassioned plea in the synagogue, outside during a lull in the dancing, and later at the dinner celebrating the completion of the scroll, for peace for Ukraine.
At the dinner, Rosen, standing in front of a lectern (known as a shtender in Jewish religious circles), noted that this, too, had been donated several years earlier by Krieger. He said that his job that evening was to fill the space between the soup and the steak. But the space that he actually spoke about was one that could be holy one moment and lose its sanctity the next, due to the fact that the Children of Israel were wandering in the desert and took the Tabernacle with them. He also spoke of the importance of the spaces between the letters in the Torah, and of how Torah study reveals new meanings and impressions each time a section is revisited.
In relating to the new Torah scroll, he said that it was typical of Krieger to differ from the usual dedication text and instead to choose “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” which he characterized as the centerpiece of all monotheistic faiths.
The final speaker at the dinner was Avner Gvaryahu, the executive director of Breaking the Silence, the product of a religious-Zionist family and a former sergeant in the IDF special forces, in which he served from 2004 to 2007. Gvaryahu, who speaks out as a Zionist patriot, reminded his listeners that Abraham is the patriarch of both the Jewish and the Muslim faiths, and that he received visitors in a tent that was open on all sides. Gvaryahu hopes that this will one day be characteristic of Israeli behavior toward people of all national, religious and ethnic backgrounds. He made particular reference to Hebron, which is home to Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims, and said that he had been welcomed into Palestinian homes and treated with friendly courtesy.
■ THE DAY prior to President Isaac Herzog’s important visit to Turkey, which in many diplomatic, political and even academic circles is regarded as historic, happened to be International Women’s Day. Herzog and his wife, Michal, participated in separate events highlighting women’s achievements during the 20th and 21st centuries.
■ INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S Day, which started out more than a century ago as a battle for women’s rights and women’s suffrage, has over the years developed into a day of celebration of achievements by women.
In some countries, women are still treated as inferior creatures, and suffer discrimination in education, marriage laws, the labor market, and more. But generally speaking, women are on a par with men in nearly every field of human endeavor, and in some areas have even surpassed men, although numerically there are still wide gaps in salaries.
Nonetheless, there has been considerable progress. In a paper by Prof. Ofer Kenig, published this week by the Israel Democracy Institute, data provided indicate that the current Knesset has a record number of women members – 35, and nine women ministers in the government, though only one political party is headed by a woman.
Kenig also looks at what is happening in OECD countries, and writes: “The number of women who have reached the highest political office in their country (prime minister or president) has grown significantly over the last two decades. Now that Angela Merkel has stepped down as chancellor of Germany, women currently serve as leaders of seven out of the 38 OECD states. These include Jacinda Ardern (New Zealand), Mette Frederiksen (Denmark) and Magdalena Andersson (Sweden). Women have served as prime minister or president in more than half the OECD countries since 2012 (21 out of 38). This list includes countries in which the glass ceiling was shattered for the first time during this period (Germany, Belgium, Austria and Sweden) as well as countries in which women had already held this role previously (United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand). In 14 of the 38 OECD member states, women have never been appointed to the highest political position.”
Aside from prime minister Golda Meir, women from other countries who made international headlines – albeit not always in a positive light – included Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, who served three terms as prime minister; Indira Gandhi of India; Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan; Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina; Corazon Aquino and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines; and Yulia Tymoshenko of Ukraine. Women served as president or prime minister in more than a dozen other countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and South and Central America, and have made headway in numerous professions in most countries of the world.
It was important to highlight women’s achievements when they were cracks in the glass ceiling, but when women are elected to head political parties, are appointed as heads of banks and other financial institutions, reach the rank of brigadier-general in the army, are in the forefront of medical research, run hi-tech companies, occupy the highest positions in the legal system, win Nobel Prizes, Israel Prizes and other prestigious awards, compete in global sports events, and are among leading journalists, is it still necessary to hold an International Women’s Day?
There are pros and cons for continuing with what has become a worldwide tradition, but the story of women gaining power and influence has to be told with greater honesty and transparency.
■ AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR Paul Griffiths has extended International Women’s Day, and will have an IWD event at his residence on Thursday. A few days ago, accompanied by Sarit Fishbane, business and development manager for the agribusiness sector in Israel at the Australian Trade and Investment Commission, he visited the Arava, whose farmers and Arava International Center for Agricultural Training have a strong connection with Australian Jewry. The couple met with Meir Tzur, head of the Central Arava Regional Council, as well as with farmers and AICA students, and participated in a farm-to-table event which combined agriculture with culinary workshops.
■ IN TANDEM with Herzog’s visit to Turkey, the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University will, at 4 p.m. Israel time on Wednesday, March 9, conduct a symposium on the diplomatic and political issues related to the meeting between Herzog and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and will explore the timing of the visit, the considerations of each country, and the implications of the event.
There will be two sessions. The first will be moderated by former ambassador Mark Regev, INSS senior visiting fellow, who writes a regular column for The Jerusalem Post; and the second by Dr. Gallia Lindenstraus, INSS senior research fellow, who specializes in Turkish foreign policy. Members of Israeli and Turkish think tanks will participate in both sessions, which will be livestreamed on the INSS website and Facebook, YouTube and Twitter accounts.
■ NOTWITHSTANDING THE various ups and downs in relations between Turkey and Israel, the two have a long common history that goes back for centuries. The Land of Israel was under Ottoman rule for just over 400 years. In his quest to establish a Jewish state, Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl met the sultan of Turkey in May 1901, after having sent emissaries to the sultan during the five preceding years. Herzl himself visited Constantinople five times, the last being in July 1902. Both David Ben-Gurion and Israel’s second president, Izhak Ben-Zvi, studied law at the University of Istanbul, and Ben-Gurion, a gifted linguist, learned to speak, read and write Turkish within a period of eight months. Turkey’s first diplomatic legation in Israel was set up in January 1950, and upgraded to an embassy in 1980.
Erdogan began making overtures to Herzog soon after Herzog took office last July, and there was great speculation about a rapprochement. In December of last year, Erdogan invited Turkish Jewish leaders and a delegation of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States to join him for dinner at the Presidential Palace, where the kitchen was made duly kosher. In his remarks to them, Erdogan spoke out against antisemitism and intolerance of people of different faiths. He also said that despite Turkey’s differences with Israel over matters related to the Palestinians, relations between Turkey and Israel are vital for the stability and security of the region.
■ THE FAMILY of Israel Prize laureate for Medical Research Prof. Michel Revel showed up in force at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem for the launch of his book Face to Face, which delves into kabbalistic and hassidic mysticism and in-depth interpretations of Jewish law and tradition in the spirit of Jewish humanism.
Revel, a youthful 83, is also the chief scientist at Kadimastem, a biotechnology company which develops cell therapies for ALS and diabetes.
Revel, together with Prof. Meron Isaacson, Rabbi Dr. Ariel Picar, Prof. Elisheva Revel-Neher, Hebrew University emeritus professor of art history, author Hayuta Deutsch, and Rabbi Shlomo Vilk of Yeshivat Machanaim, participated in a panel discussion, to the enthusiastic reception of the author’s wife, Claire, his son Ariel and his daughter, Shoshana Revel-Vilk.
Isaacson focused on the meeting between Torah and science, which he said helps toward closer relations between religious and secular individuals. He also referred to the paradox of living in an era in which humankind has all the scientific tools for self-exploration, but fiercely resists personal discovery.
Revel emphasized that the Torah does not specifically relate to reality or the accomplishments of the patriarchs, but uses such tales to teach, to educate and to influence the inner human being. The challenge is always to reveal the message and to have it reinforced.
■ FOR SOME 10 centuries there was a common belief that all roads lead to Rome. But these days, at least as far as Israelis are concerned, all roads lead to Dubai. Even Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau paid an official visit to the UAE and met with Minister of Tolerance Sheikh Nahyan Mubarak Al Nahyan as well as with other Emirati officials, Israel Ambassador Amir Hayek, Consul-General in Dubai Ilan Sztulman, Elazar Cohen, commissioner-general of the Israel Expo Pavilion, and members of the Jewish communities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Lau was invited to the UAE by Rabbi of the UAE Levi Duchman, who accompanied him to his various meetings.
■ AMONG THE former citizens of what till just over three decades ago was the Soviet Union is Moscow-born Nina Khrushcheva, professor of international affairs at the New School, New York. If the surname seems familiar, it’s because she is the great-granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev, the former premier or first secretary of the Soviet Union. A contributor to Project Syndicate: Association of Newspapers Around the World, she wrote last week:
“I cry as I watch heartbreaking scenes of the people of Kyiv sheltering in subways under Russian President Vladimir Putin’s harsh attack. On a Thursday evening, the world witnessed Europe’s largest nuclear plant burning, as officials warned of catastrophic danger.
“Yet Moscow’s missiles raining down on the Ukrainian capital are a grim historical joke: The Russians are devastating the city that my great-grandfather, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, lovingly rebuilt after the Nazis’ destructive occupation during World War II.
“History shows that, across the centuries, Ukrainians have been trying to escape the control of a larger, dominant Russia. They fiercely sought to be free of Russian supremacy – even arguing that the founding of Kyiv, almost 400 years before Moscow, gives them the upper hand. You can see elements of this since the 880s, at the time of Kievan Rus, a proto-Slavic state for both Russians and Ukrainians. Consider that the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko became a national hero in the 19th century as he extolled his people’s ardent desire for freedom.
“Positioned between West and East, early Kyiv maintained a degree of independence under the princely Russian dynasty of the Ruriks through the 1300s. In the 1600s, the territory then known as Zaporizhian Sich, a semiautonomous Cossack warrior polity, established a sort of ‘association’ agreement with the Russian Empire.
“This continued until Tsarina Catherine the Great decided she had had enough of the Zaporizhian Cossacks’ unruly disobedience and their proud independence. In 1775, she ordered the liquidation of the Sich, declaring the region officially part of the Novorossiya (territories to the Russian west). It is this Novorossiya that Putin seeks to recreate today – following the legacy of Catherine.”
This is an excerpt from a much longer article.