Grapevine March 18, 2022: A surprise family reunion

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 PRESIDENT TSAI ING-WEN of Taiwan lights six memorial candles at  the International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in Taipei. (photo credit: Courtesy the office of the President of Taiwan)
PRESIDENT TSAI ING-WEN of Taiwan lights six memorial candles at the International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in Taipei.
(photo credit: Courtesy the office of the President of Taiwan)

Every cloud supposedly has a silver lining – even in times of war. A heart-warming example was published in Yediot Aharonot this week. Two Ukrainian-Jewish sisters who did not know of each other’s existence discovered each other in a hotel in Poland after having been processed for aliyah by an Israeli consular official.

Fortunately for both, they retained their maiden names on various official documents, and while waiting to learn whether they had been approved for a flight to Israel, each turned her head when the name Warszawski was called out twice by a Jewish Agency representative. The two women got to talking and discovered that although they had different mothers, they had the same father. Marina, 53, is the older of the two sisters. Her parents divorced when she was still a small child and her father disappeared out of her life. Her father remarried in Kyiv, and that union produced Valentina, who is now 46. 

On the third day of the Russian invasion, both sisters packed a small suitcase and headed from Kyiv to the Polish border, with the intention of continuing on to Israel. Marina’s son Pavel, 26, became very involved with Judaism and Zionism and moved to Israel four years ago. He is a resident of Ramat Gan. 

Valentina is the mother of a son and a daughter, Her son Nikita, 23, moved to Israel five years ago, and lives in Haifa. Her daughter Masha 14, left Kyiv with her and the two arrived in Israel together. The miracle was that of all the refugees who left Ukraine, Marina and Valentina were sent to the same hotel in Warsaw, and were placed on the same Jewish Agency plane, which brought some 150 new immigrants to Israel. Throughout the flight the sisters caught up with each other’s histories, and although they are now in different parts of the country, they promised to stay in touch with each other. Not only did the two sisters discover each other, but their children now have new cousins.

■ IN A condolence notice to colleagues at FOX News, the Foreign Press Association in Israel in mourning the deaths of cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski and journalist Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova in Ukraine, who were killed by incoming fire while news-gathering in Horenka, outside of Kyiv, also expressed sincere wishes for a speedy recovering to FOX correspondent Benjamin Hall, who was with them and was badly wounded. The condolence notice underscored that “Pierre and Sasha had worked closely in recent weeks” with other FPA colleagues Trey Yingst, Yonat Frilling, David Gamliel and Ibrahim Hazboun, from the FOX News Jerusalem bureau, who traveled to Ukraine to report on the war. “Pierre was a seasoned war correspondent who reported from Israel and the Palestinian territories many times, including in Gaza in May 2021.”

 Russia's invasion of Ukraine, near Lviv (credit: REUTERS) Russia's invasion of Ukraine, near Lviv (credit: REUTERS)

Many foreign press colleagues based in Israel and the Palestinian territories have traveled to Ukraine and Russia, most of them risking their lives to report on this devastating war, the message continued, and concluded with the words: “Reporting the truth is dangerous, and vital. We embrace our colleagues at this difficult time.”

■ IT’S NOT only the Chelsea Football Club that is tackling antisemitism and racism. The DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga is also on the ball, and together with the World Jewish Congress and the Central Council of Jews in Germany, will hold an all-day conference on Antisemitism and Professional Football Challenges, Opportunities and Network. The conference will take place on Wednesday, March 30, at Signal Iduna Park, which is home to Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund. The program will be in German and will be live-streamed. 

Speakers will include: Mahmut Özdemir, parliamentary state secretary at the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community; Hans-Joachim Watzke, chairman of the Board of Management of Borussia Dortmund and chairman of the DFL Supervisory Board; Dr. Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany; Dr. Maram Stern, executive vice president of the WJC; and Dr. Felix Klein, federal government commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the fight against Antisemitism. There will also be additional speakers and workshops.

With surging antisemitism in Germany, it has become increasingly import to raise awareness of what it is, and understanding of how it manifests.

German football clubs, including the DFL football association, are already engaged in various Holocaust remembrance projects and other educational efforts. Last year, the DFL Members Assembly, the 36 clubs of the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2, unanimously decided to adopt the working definition of antisemitism of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), opposing antisemitism in all its forms in the realization that a commonly accepted understanding of antisemitism is needed to fight it effectively.

■ WHILE ISRAELI medical personnel, journalists, Foreign Ministry, Jewish Agency and JDC officials, along with numerous volunteers in diverse fields are heading for Ukraine, Poland, Germany, Moldova, Romania and Bulgaria, 23 parliamentarians from different parts of the world, including ministers, senators, congressmen and other legislators from Uruguay, Colombia, US, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Romania, England, Wales, Kenya, Liberia and more, will next week attend the eighth annual conference Israel Allies Foundation. The conference will take place at the King David Hotel, Jerusalem, from Sunday, March 20 to Tuesday, March 22.

The parliamentarian who is likely to attract the most Israeli media attention will be Joyce Chitsulo, who is expected to announce the date on which her country will be moving its embassy to Jerusalem.

In November, 2020, Malawi’s Foreign Minister Eisenhower Mkaka visited Israel and reiterated Malawi’s intention to open an embassy in Israel’s capital. The original plan was to do so in the summer of 2021, but the pandemic put thew final date on hold.

Malawi, previously known as Nyasaland, provided shelter for Jews fleeing from the Holocaust.

Discussions with past and present Israeli ministers and legislators will focus on antisemitism, anti-Zionism, how to counter delegitimization of Israel, the Iranian nuclear deal, construction in Jerusalem and the situation in Ukraine.

Even before the conference, Israel was busy cementing ties with foreign countries. A delegation of young political leaders from 10 European countries was in Israel this week, as the guests of NGO ELNET Europe-Israel and Israel’s Foreign Ministry. The aim of the visit was to enhance Israel-Europe ties and to expose young European politicians to the complex reality of Israel.

“The visit of these young political leaders to Israel at such a significant time marks another important milestone in our relationship with Europe,” said ELNET-Europe-Israel CEO Shai Bazak. “It is crucial that we continue to promote joint activities that will guarantee a fruitful and important relationship between Israel and Europe. I believe that the best way to start is by empowering the leaders of tomorrow.”

■ ALTHOUGH MOST of the world marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, in Taiwan it is commemorated in March. President Tsai Ing-wen, who attended the Remembrance Day event last week, said that history teaches us that unity is the key to overcoming obstacles, and that unity has indeed never been more important as we seek to overcome the challenges we face today. She also emphasized the importance of protecting the values of democracy and human rights, and said Taiwan will work together with its democratic partners in order to leave a better world to future generations.

Prior to her address, a rabbi and other representatives of Taiwan’s Jewish community each recited prayers, and were then joined by the president and other distinguished guests in lighting candles in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. The president said the event was not only in memory of the victims but also in tribute to those who survived. She acknowledged the suffering of all the families affected by the Holocaust, and made special mention of child Holocaust survivor Rena Quint, who lives in Jerusalem and who shared her experiences via social media.

“As we gather here to remember the victims of the Holocaust – the six million Jewish people and many others who were murdered – we pledge to never forget this period in history, when human dignity was cast aside for ideology,” said the president, adding, “we should also never stop fighting against the scourge of bigotry.

“In Taiwan, we are working to ensure that we also address the injustices of our past and uncover the atrocities committed under the authoritarian rule,” she said. 

In relating to Ukraine, Tsai said “Ukraine is experiencing destruction on a scale not seen since the Second World War.” She warned that If we do not remember the mistakes of the past, we are bound to repeat them. “While we are all shocked and saddened by the recent events in Ukraine, we can be heartened by how the international community has come to the support of the Ukrainian people. We have also been deeply moved by the Ukrainian people’s resolve in defending their country and their democratic way of life. By speaking out together against the invasion of Ukraine, we stand united behind the values that we share: democracy, freedom, transparency and peace.”

Among other dignitaries in attendance were Legislative Yuan President and Taiwan Foundation for Democracy Chairman You Si-kun, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, Israel Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei Representative Omer Caspi, and German Institute Taipei Director General Jörg Polster.

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