Grapevine March 13, 2022: The departing pillar of democracy

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 THE FOUNDING team of the Haifa Women’s Business Club. (photo credit: TALI COHEN)
THE FOUNDING team of the Haifa Women’s Business Club.
(photo credit: TALI COHEN)

It was on International Women’s Day that a moving farewell event was held at the Knesset in honor of Knesset Secretary-General Yardena Meller-Horovitz, who is leaving at the end of March after 45 years in a series of ever-important positions, her current and last over the past 12 years. She is the first woman to hold the post but will be succeeded by a man – Dan Marzouk.

Knesset Speaker MK Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid) told her: “You succeeded in every post you filled. You broke glass ceilings and over the years did your job in the best way possible. You made a great and crucial contribution to the power and resilience of Israeli democracy. You were present in the important decisions that shaped the future of the country. When one sees you, one sees the Knesset plenum, the courtesy, the balance and the fairness, the seriousness, the honesty and the professionalism.”

Prime Minister MK Naftali Bennett (Yamina) said: “You have been through an unbelievable period in the Knesset, from 1977 until today. Forty-five years in the Knesset, from the political upheaval of Menachem Begin until today. You were the first woman in this role. We were privileged to have you, your talents and your temperament. Always attentive, always professional and always pleasant, even in the pressure cooker and during the sleepless nights. During your tenure in the Knesset, the peace treaty with Egypt was laid on the Knesset table, as were the Abraham Accords.”

Former president and Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin declared: “I am a feminist. But I didn’t choose you because you’re a woman. You were chosen because you were the best. You were one of the people who shaped the Israeli parliament. You did the job and in a big way. I loved you.”

“How can one sum up 45 years of involvement, influence and good sense?” queried Knesset Director-General Gil Segal. You are a pioneer in every field that you touched throughout your life.

 President Isaac Herzog and First Lady Michal Herzog prior to boarding a plane to Turkey ahead of a meeting with president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on March 8, 2022 (credit: ANNA RAIBA BARSKY/MAARIV) President Isaac Herzog and First Lady Michal Herzog prior to boarding a plane to Turkey ahead of a meeting with president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on March 8, 2022 (credit: ANNA RAIBA BARSKY/MAARIV)

Opposition leader and former prime minister MK Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) lauded Meller-Horovitz by saying: “You’re a superstar. You did the job in a wonderful way and with absolute professionalism. I always came to you for help, and I knew that you could be relied on, with a level-headed, well-grounded and helpful opinion.”

In acknowledging the accolades, Meller-Horovitz said: “Thank you for the confidence and the shared work. It was sacred work for me. This house was sometimes my first home.

“The Knesset today is different in almost every way from the one I entered in the upheaval of 1977. The past two years were particularly challenging, due to four rounds of elections and the COVID-19 outbreak. We were called upon to produce creative solutions, and contrary to other parliaments around the world, the Knesset did not stop working for even a single day. My love for the Knesset was love at first sight. I will continue to love it from afar.

“As Knesset secretary-general, it was my privilege to announce the Abraham Accords. Upon entering in 1977 and upon my departure in 2022, peace was brought upon us. My blessing to the Knesset is ‘Peace be within your walls, and prosperity within your palaces’ [Psalms 122:7].”

■ WHILE THEIR husbands were engaged in rapprochement and regional issues, Michal Herzog and Emine Erdogan got to know each other as they toured the Presidential Library in Ankara. The library’s Hebrew-language collection has been augmented by Michal Herzog’s gift of several books of poetry and prose by some of Israel’s leading literary figures including S. Y. Agnon, Leah Goldberg and David Grossman. She also presented the library with a copy of the Hebrew Bible and a Hebrew translation of the Koran. In return, Emine Erdogan gave Herzog a book of Turkish poetry in Hebrew translation.

■ APROPOS POETRY, the Gardner Simon Hebrew poetry prize, which was created as a joint initiative of Nechama Rivlin and outgoing administrator-general Sigal Yaakovi to fulfil the legacy of Dr. Gardner Simon, who left a considerable sum of money for the purpose of promoting and encouraging writing in the Hebrew language, has since Nechama Rivlin’s death in 2019, been named in her memory, but continues to be a partnership effort between the President’s Office and the Administrator-General.

In another sphere of literature, a high-level delegation from the National Library and Archives of the UAE, last week visited the National Library (NLI) in Jerusalem, and entered into a joint project to expand digital access to rare documentation relating to the history of the Persian Gulf region.

The materials, held by NLI, include part of the archive of Hermann Burchardt, a German-Jewish scholar and photographer who traveled extensively around the Middle East in the 1890s and 1900s. The collection contains hundreds of pages of correspondence, notes and official documents, as well as dozens of photos from the region.

A digital copy of the collection was presented to the delegation, as well as a special facsimile copy of a page from one of Burchardt’s journals, where he records details about his 1904 meeting with Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa, the grandfather of UAE founder Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan.

■ AS FOR the highly publicized meeting between President Isaac Herzog and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States (ARIS), composed of rabbinical leaders from 14 states, was pleased that the meeting was taking place so soon after its recent inaugural rabbinical summit in Istanbul and Ankara. Commenting on the significance of Herzog’s visit, ARIS Chairman Rabbi Mendy Chitrik stated: “At a sensitive time for our world and region, meetings between Jewish and Muslim leaders help pave a path toward peace and mutual respect. We saw this when ARIS Rabbis met President Erdogan in December, together with the leadership of the Turkish-Jewish community, and we see this again during the visit of President Herzog.”

Ahead of the festivals of Purim and Ramadan, ARIS rabbis are currently engaged in a series of interfaith welfare and educational projects. Advancing Muslim-Jewish relations is part of the routine efforts of ARIS Rabbis who help to provide solutions for the needs of local Jewish communities, while providing a global support network for Jewish leaders and creating a living bridge with their Muslim neighbors. “When we come together, learn and listen to each other, we not only reduce hate, we also create the conditions for collaboration and growth,” said Chitrik.

■ THE YEAR 2022 or, to be more accurate, the period from December 2021, is a most propitious period for Israel’s first Olympic gold medalist Yael Arad. In December, she became the first female president of the Israel Olympic Committee. Last week, she featured in conversation with Michal Herzog in an International Women’s Day event that honored women who are involved, who influence and who inspire. Later in the day, she was among the honorees awarded the Medal of Distinction by the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation.

She is also one of eight outstanding women, who on May 22, will be conferred with honorary doctorates by Bar-Ilan University. In a rare departure from the norm, Bar-Ilan, which annually confers honorary doctorates on both men and women, has made this year’s ceremony a women’s-only affair in terms of the honorees. As senior faculty members participate in the ceremony, as do the families of the honorees, somewhere along the line, it had to be mixed-gender.

For Arad, this latest honor will be a slightly delayed birthday gift. She will celebrate her 55th birthday on May 1, and in July, the 30th anniversary of her Olympic medal.

The seven other honorees are ageless singer Chava Alberstein, who veers easily between nostalgia and the latest music trends; Rabbanit Malke Bina, a pioneer in higher Jewish education for women and the founder of Matan, which teaches Torah to women on the same level as it is taught to men; scientist, businesswoman and hi-tech entrepreneur Orna Berry, who in 1996, was the first woman to serve as chief scientist at the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry; Gail Propp, a philanthropist and member of BIU’s Board of Trustees, who has contributed significantly to the university, and to education in Ethiopia and other African countries; author Galila Ron-Feder-Amit, who through her contribution to Israeli literature, has become a household name; scientist Prof. Joan Steitz for her pioneering influence on RNA research; and Julia Zaher, social activist and proprietor of Al Arz Tahini, one of the largest of Israel’s producers of the popular sesame paste, where tradition merges with innovation and development.

■ JUST AHEAD of International Women’s Day, some 150 female proprietors of businesses in Haifa got together to launch the Haifa Women’s Business Club, which will operate out of the premises of the Haifa branch of WIZO, whose CEO Vardit Dosler Tangi commented that in the past, career women had to choose between motherhood and a career. But today, it’s no longer a matter of choice – young women combine both in the struggle for equality in the workplace. In addition to the business owners and entrepreneurs, several women who hold high positions in various Haifa-based organizations also attended the launch, illustrating that despite the need to continue the battle for gender equality, the newly formed club in its wide diversity represents women’s empowerment in Haifa. Meetings will be held monthly, and will include lectures, workshops and networking.

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