Grapevine March 19, 2022: In his grandfather’s footsteps.

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG with his ‘gregger’ at the Ahavat Zion synagogue in Beit Shemesh. (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG with his ‘gregger’ at the Ahavat Zion synagogue in Beit Shemesh.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal, who will be in France on March 20-21, traveled a little closer to home on Wednesday night when they went from the President’s Residence in Jerusalem to the Ahavat Zion synagogue in Beit Shemesh to participate in the evening service and the reading of the Scroll of Esther.

Herzog blessed the congregation from the same platform on which his grandfather Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac HaLevi Herzog had stood and blessed a congregation before the president was born.

At the time, the platform, or bima as it is called in Hebrew, was not located in the Holy Land, but in Ireland where the president’s grandfather served as chief rabbi before making aliyah and becoming the chief rabbi of British Mandate Palestine, before he became chief rabbi of the State of Israel.

The bima came too. Curiously, this year, Ireland’s national holiday of St. Patrick’s Day and Purim coincided on the calendar.

Following the president’s address to the congregation, worshipers were addressed by Rabbi Menachem Cooperman and Beit Shemesh Mayor Aliza Bloch, who was unable to sit alongside the president during the service because Ahavat Zion is an Orthodox synagogue.

Herzog said it gave him great pleasure to sit with the congregation because he felt as if he was part of it. He and his wife have a great affection for Beit Shemesh, he said.

Herzog did not rest on presidential dignity, but at every mention of Haman, the evil grand vizier, who wanted to exterminate the Jews of ancient Persia, the president shook his gregger vigorously as any child in the congregation.

Next week, when he hosts a meeting with some 100 members of the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association (IBCA), Herzog will be reminded of his father, president Chaim Herzog, who among his many other roles, served as chairman of IBCA and was also a speaker at one of its annual Balfour Day dinners.

He also presided over the gala dinner at the Knesset to mark the 50th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. The current President Herzog and his late mother, Aura, were frequent honored guests at IBCA events, so there’s bound to be a lot of reminiscing.

■ THERE ARE two kinds of people in Israel – those who will forgive just about anything, and those who will forgive nothing. We saw this after former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who had been convicted of corruption, had served his prison sentence, and we are seeing it again with prize-winning actor Moshe Ivgy, who was convicted of sexual harassment and who last week obtained an early release.

There are all kinds of reasons for early release: good behavior, evidence of rehabilitation, expressed remorse, severe illness and, perhaps most important, the lack of space for an intake of prisoners who have committed more serious crimes.

The non-forgiving sector of the population, in every reference to Olmert, called him a criminal, and during the brief period in which he wrote a column for The Jerusalem Post, a number of readers were offended by the inclusion of his byline.

Now, the non-forgivers are protesting against Ivgy returning to his profession and appearing in a film that is being produced by United King, which is headed by Moshe Edery, who has done more for Israel’s film industry than anyone else. 

Protesters, including a lot of members of the entertainment community, don’t want to see Ivgy return to the screen, and have also turned against Edery, ignoring the fact that some of them owe their fame to Edery’s having had faith in them. If Ivgy has to work, they want him to find employment in another field.

Edery, who likes to help people, argues that Ivgy should not have to pay for his sins for the rest of his life. He went to prison, he’s out and at 68, he’s too old to find another means of livelihood. If he’s not a recidivist, he should be allowed to put his past behind him. Otherwise, what’s the point of letting any convicted individual out of prison?

■ IT’S DOUBTFUL that any Israel Prize laureate has been greeted with as much enthusiasm by the Israeli media as Avihu Medina, composer, arranger, songwriter, singer and television personality who made Mediterranean music kosher.

For many years, Israeli DJs ignored what is better known as Mizrahi music, but Medina’s compositions, many of which are based on traditional biblical texts, became popular even without the help of the DJs, and his television programs not only encouraged singers of North African background, but made the general public much more conscious of another musical genre. 

Last year, when Independence Day celebrations were largely on social media, then-president Reuven Rivlin, invited Medina to come and join him in a pre-recorded program.

Last week, Medina’s songs were published in print media and played on radio and television; he was interviewed many times; and various Mizrahi singers were lavish in their praise of him and in their congratulatory remarks.

In the first week of May, when Israel celebrates the 74th anniversary of its independence, Medina will again meet the president of Israel – but this time it will be Herzog.

■ IT’S NOT every day that Mickey Federmann,who heads Elbit Systems and the Dan Hotel chain, is a guest in his own hotel. But the occasion was the monthly meeting at the Dan Tel Aviv of the Israel-Switzerland & Liechtenstein Chamber of Commerce hosted by Gideon Hamburger, president of the Harel Insurance and Finance Group.

Guest of honor Swiss ambassador Urs Bucher, whose duties inter alia include comparing Israeli and Swiss taxation systems, was particularly pleased that the speaker for the occasion was CPA Roland Am Shalem, the deputy senior director-general of the Tax Authority, who updated his listeners on Israeli tax reforms, as well as the duplication of global taxation and its implications in relation to Israeli companies.

The meeting happened to take place on the same day as Bank Leumi released its annual report, but that did not prevent the bank’s president and CEO Hanan Friedman from joining Chamber of Commerce colleagues. Also present was Bruno Bräm of the Zurich Insurance Company, who specially came to Israel to hear what Am Shalem had to say.

■ HERZL ACOLYTE Gol Kalev, whose book Judaism 3.0 informs readers of Judaism’s transformation to Zionism, is going full-steam ahead in promoting his theories, both orally and in writing.

After a pre-launch party in Jerusalem several weeks ago, he held an official launch last week in the same venue – the old Shaare Zedek hospital – which was taken over by the now-defunct Israel Broadcasting Authority, and which currently serves as a multi-disciplined cultural center.

Hot on the heels of these two events is another at the Capella Cocktail Bar in Tel Aviv on Monday, March 21, to be followed at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem on Wednesday, March 30.

Kalev theorizes that Judaism is going through an historic transformation, and Zionism is becoming its organizing principle. “This is the primary way Jews and non-Jews relate to Judaism – in positive and negative alike,” he contends. To boost this argument, he cites Israel-bashing, which has replaced traditional antisemitism.

He also argues that Israeli public relations is insufficient, given the depth and popularity of the Israel-bashing culture, “Herzl mocked committees against antisemitism, since you cannot convince people who have dogmatic thinking. The same goes for Israel-bashing today.

The Israel-bashing ideology is too entrenched in mainstream society, and rational arguments are of limited use,” says Kalev. declaring that a radical approach is needed - the change of global consciousness of what Judaism is. “Once there is a broad recognition that Judaism has transformed to Zionism, then Israel-bashing becomes Jew-bashing, and that alters the nature of the threat.”

Anyone who wants to learn more about this can either buy the book, or attend one of the above mentioned events – or both. Presumably there will also be other opportunities to agree or disagree with [email protected]