In the 13 years that Ruvik Danilovich has been mayor of Beersheba, the southern city has grown by leaps and bounds. Anyone who has not been there for a year or more will not recognize this high-rise metropolis that was once a sleepy backwater with single- and double-story housing.
There are still areas where such housing can be seen, but for the most part, Beersheba keeps growing and changing. In the controversy over Ukrainian refugees and fears that Israel cannot absorb the anticipated numbers, Danilovich says that however many come – whether Jewish or non-Jewish – will be welcome in the Negev, where there is plenty of room in which to absorb them and help them to integrate.
In an interview he gave to Reshet Bet Radio, Danilovich said Israel has a moral duty to take in refugees. What it can do is to declare a specific number and ask those who are not eligible to stay under the Law of Return to guarantee that they will leave once the war is over. Meanwhile if the rest of the country is too crowded, Beersheba will guarantee a warm welcome for both immigrants and refugees.
There have been some harrowing stories of the harsh bureaucratic reception that some of the refugees received on arrival – something that should have been avoided at all costs considering the ordeals they experienced before they were able to cross the Ukrainian border.
Aside from any moral obligation Israel has, considering that its population when the state was established was largely made up of refugees, is to remember the biblical injunction to “be kind to the stranger within thy gates.” Ukrainian refugees can get better treatment closer to home from countries such as Sweden. They already know this, and because they are patriotic, they will prefer to be as close as possible to Ukraine, and the vast majority are unlikely to opt for Israel. But even if more come than is anticipated, Israel should remember that it had far fewer resources when it absorbed a million immigrants from the Soviet Union.
■ BOTH EMPATHY and fear that Poland may be next in line in Russia’s quest for regional hegemony have prompted Poland to launch a campaign in which it appeals to Russian women to try to bring the war to an end. The initiative came from the office of the President of Poland Andrzej Duda, and the campaign is being led by his wife, Agata Kornhauser-Duda, who having had a Jewish grandfather would qualify for immigration under Israel’s Law of Return.
In an International Women’s Day (IWD) appeal to women all over the world, she said: “We cannot remain indifferent in the face of the war in Ukraine, which is claiming a growing number of victims every day, including civilians.” Emphasizing that IWD is one of the most important holidays in Russia, Duda asked that IWD be used as a special opportunity to appeal to the women of Russia – mothers, wives and daughters of Russian officers – to stop the war and to speak up for life and peace and against further bloodshed.
Duda proposed that women around the world utilize social media to post a self-portrait of themselves with a message in English and Russian reading “Stop the War!” She is convinced that the campaign will go viral around the globe and will break through Russian censorship to reach the hearts and minds of thousands of Russian women. “Acting together, women can make things happen – they can even stop the war in Ukraine,” she said.
The organization of Poland’s hospitality in taking in Ukrainian refugees has been nothing short of remarkable. Local municipalities have asked families to register if they are willing to host refugee families for an unlimited period, and the response has been overwhelming. Not only that, but special classes were instantly set up to provide lessons for Ukrainian children in their own language. This is an instance in which not only Israel but much of the world can learn from Poland.
■ ON INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day, the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation awarded its second annual Medal of Distinction to groundbreaking women from Israel and around the world. The award, which was initially for both men and women, was introduced by president Shimon Peres in 1996 as Israel’s highest civilian accolade. Unfortunately, neither president Reuven Rivlin nor President Isaac Herzog yet followed through, seemingly not realizing its value as another tool of diplomacy. So the Peres Center took it up to ensure its continuity.
This year’s recipients were: actress and comedienne Tzipi Shavit; military affairs journalist and unofficial ombudswoman Carmela Menashe; the first transgender soccer referee in Israel Sapir Berman; judoka champion and the first Israeli winner of an Olympic medal, and the first female president of the Israel Olympic Committee Yael Arad; war correspondent Efrat Lichter, who has covered conflicts from inside Syria, Iraq and Ukraine; Dean of the Faculty of Biotechnology & Food Engineering at the Technion Prof. Marcelle Machluf; entrepreneurs Hani Sabag and Amira Jabar Qassem, who are helping to prepare haredim and Arabs to enter the job market; Eynat Guez, the first Israeli woman to found a unicorn company; cardiologist and medical innovator Dr. Roni Postan-Koren; Ben-Gurion University Prof. Sarab Abu-Rabia-Queder, feminist activist and the first Beduin professor in Israel; Racheli Tedessa Malkai, social entrepreneur and chair of Empowering Ethiopian Women; Gal Luski, founder and chairwoman of Israel Flying Aid (IFA), which gives assistance to people in conflict zones and places of natural disasters in countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel; and Ayalon Highways directorate chairwoman Maxine Fassberg, who for many years was the face of Intel Israel.
This year, there was also a Future Medal of Distinction awarded to a groundbreaking young woman and role model – Aviya Ana Barokas, an 11th-grade student who has written about animal therapy and activism for the Makor Rishon newspaper.
Peres Center Director-General Efrat Duvdevani, in addition to praising the awardees as inspirational role models, referred to the invasion of Ukraine and said how difficult it was to see the disquieting scenes of instant refugees and to hear the voices coming from Central Europe. “It is hard to believe that leaders in our times are using violence and aggression,” she said, noting that the Peres Center has been working for more than quarter of a century to promote peace, innovation and coexistence.
■ OF THE numerous events held on International Women’s Day was one at the Knesset co-hosted by Knesset Speaker MK Mickey Levy and MK Aida Touma-Sliman, who chairs the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality. Among the invitees was restaurateur Reena Pushkarna, who over the years has hosted some of the most important Israeli and Palestinian politicians, every Indian ambassador and numerous other diplomats in one of her restaurants. While walking through the Knesset portrait gallery Pushkarna stopped to admire a large photograph of Golda Meir, whom she described as “the most powerful lady ever,” momentarily forgetting that in her native country of India, there was a very powerful lady called Indira Gandhi.
■ SEVERAL YEARS ago, the old Jerusalem Central Bus Station was destroyed to make way for a new, larger and more modern facility on the same site. The South Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, known as the new station though it has been operating for almost 30 years, is slated for evacuation and destruction in approximately two years’ time, and the site will in all probability become an upscale residential area. Given the fact that the North Tel Aviv bus terminal has expanded considerably, and that construction there is still going on, coupled with light rail and metro infrastructure throughout the city, it’s doubtful that there will be a replacement for the South Tel Aviv terminal.
In Herzliya, the municipality is converting the old central bus station, built in the 1950s, into Tomorrow’s Compass: a groundbreaking, innovative center for climate change study, which is designated to be a national- and international-standard cultural and community focal point.
Planned as a multi-disciplinary facility to attract people of all ages and interests, it will form the foundation for climate-related technological, business and research work, relating to all issues concerning life in a city under climate challenges, with special emphasis on the sea and on urbanism. This will include an advisory center for family and community climate change initiatives, a commercial floor suited to environmental concepts, urban nature, an outreach unit and more.
The soon-to-be-vacated Central Bus Station has been an important landmark in Herzliya’s development and history. Tomorrow’s Compass is part of an approved urban construction plan that includes residential, commercial and public buildings, as well as garden surrounds, a city plaza and green roofs.
“The Herzliya Municipality has set itself the goal of promoting sustainability and, for the benefit of its residents, to create a better, healthier urban environment,” says Herzliya Mayor Moshe Fadlon.
■ WITH ALL the construction taking place in the capital, Jerusalem does not yet have an opera house, but it does have an opera company that will celebrate its 10th anniversary with a gala evening at the Henry Crown auditorium within the Jerusalem Theatre complex on Tuesday, March 15. Opera singers performing arias by Verdi, Rossini, Donizetti, Bizet, Johann Strauss, Richard Strauss, Dvorak and Rimsky-Korsakov will be accompanied by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra conducted by Omer Arieli.