Grapevine March 23, 2022: P for Patrick and Purim

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG with French President Emmanuel Macron.  (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG with French President Emmanuel Macron.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

In certain Israeli circles, there is a long-held belief that the Irish are negatively disposed toward Israel. However, at the Saint Patrick’s Day reception hosted by Irish Ambassador Kyle O’Sullivan and his wife, Carol, at the Rabin Center in Tel Aviv, many of the guests wore green accessories or green items of clothing in tribute to the Emerald Isle.

Carol O’Sullivan wore a bright green dress topped by a delicate white shawl with an all-over clover leaf print, and the young girls who performed Irish dances to the music of a lively Irish band were all dressed in green. The ambassador’s tie was in Kelly green.

There was plenty of Jameson Irish whiskey and Guinness Irish beer to add to the spirit of the occasion, plus an endless supply of excellent Irish smoked salmon, as well as other fish delicacies and a variety of tempura vegetables

Just as Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, during his visit to Israel last November, gave assurances that despite disagreements over certain Israeli policies, Ireland was well disposed toward Israel, this sentiment was reiterated by O’Sullivan when he said that while Ireland is not always easy to work with, especially because Ireland likes to speak to both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Ireland is nonetheless interested in seeing “a safe, democratic and prosperous Israel.”

Ireland and Israel don’t always agree, he acknowledged, but their two peoples aspire to the same values. He also thanked those Israelis of Irish extraction who had not only been hospitable to him and his family, but had helped them to understand Israel, and who had helped Israelis to understand Ireland.

 GIL LIN, CEO of Kibbutz Industries. (credit: COURTESY KIBBUTZ INDUSTRIES) GIL LIN, CEO of Kibbutz Industries. (credit: COURTESY KIBBUTZ INDUSTRIES)

Before mounting the stage to deliver his speech, O’Sullivan took a sip of Guinness, then greeted his guests in Gaeilge, Hebrew and English. He commented on the fact that Purim and Saint Patrick’s Day, which coincided this year, each has a sense of joy.

At the same time, he could not ignore what was happening in Europe, and the “cruel war” that Russia has forced on Ukraine. “Every war is a tragedy,” he said, as he expressed Ireland’s solidarity with the government and the people of Ukraine who are hiding in bunkers.

Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll, who represented the government, spoke of the similarities between Israel and Ireland in that both countries had fought to gain their independence from the British; revived their ancient languages, built a vibrant economy, and are known for their innovation, research and development, which are characterized by excellence. He also mentioned that Israel’s first Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Yitzhak Halevi Herzog, had previously been chief rabbi of Ireland, where president Chaim Herzog was born, and with which President Isaac Herzog maintains close relations.

 UAE RABBI Levi Duchman, baking matzot at Kfar Chabad.  (credit: SHNEOR SARIF) UAE RABBI Levi Duchman, baking matzot at Kfar Chabad. (credit: SHNEOR SARIF)

Roll commended O’Sullivan and the Irish Embassy in general for promoting good relations between the two countries despite their differences.

After the official ceremony, Dublin-born Malcolm Gafson, chairman of the Israel-Ireland Friendship League, presented O’Sullivan with a specially minted coin, with a wordplay on the Jewish festival, by inserting an apostrophe and an additional letter in its transliteration Pu’Irim – which roughly translates as “Here are the Irish.”

Among the guests, there were several who openly displayed solidarity with Ukraine. Polish chargée d’affaires and acting ambassador Agata Czaplinska wore yellow and blue ribbons on the lapel of her jacket, as did several other people.

In the diplomatic community, the most common language is English, followed by Russian, Spanish and French, but the most common language between Czaplinska and Maciej Kaczorowski, the chargé d’affaires at the embassy of North Macedonia, was Polish. Though born and raised in Poland, Kaczorowski married a native of North Macedonia and moved there 20 years ago.

On its website, the Polish Embassy emphasizes its solidarity with Ukraine and the fact that Poland has taken in more Ukrainian refugees than any other country. It also lists ways in which to help Ukrainians, in addition to which it provides a list of Israeli universities and other institutes of higher education willing to accept and support Ukrainian scholars.

Among the many places in which there are collection centers for Ukrainian immigrants and refugees is ANU – Museum of the Jewish People, where collection trolleys have been set up in the museum lobby. The collection campaign is operating in collaboration with the Friends of Ukraine in Israel organization.

A free entrance ticket to the museum is given for every donation received. The response, regardless of the free ticket, has been heartwarming.

In addition, in collaboration with the Aliyah and Integration Ministry, and with funding from the friends of the museum association, free transport and admission to the museum, with a guided tour in Russian and Ukrainian, is being offered to the thousands of immigrants and refugees who have recently arrived in Israel, in the hope that the museum enables them to connect, find tranquility and inspiration under traumatic circumstances.

 YARDENA ARAZI (right) with  Naama Halevi Peer.  (credit: COURTESY BANK HAPOALIM) YARDENA ARAZI (right) with Naama Halevi Peer. (credit: COURTESY BANK HAPOALIM)

■ IN A report in The Jerusalem Post this month, Judith Sudilovsky wrote about a rare 255-year-old Scroll of Esther written by a 14-year-old girl and acquired by the Israel Museum. Another rare and older Scroll of Esther found its way to the ANU Museum as a gift from Yakov Mimran. The magnificent 500-year-old Scroll of Esther was examined by experts in the National Library of Israel, who confirmed that the scroll, which belonged to the Monsonego family, dates back to around 1492, when the Jews were expelled from Spain. The scroll traveled with the family – a prominent rabbinical dynasty – to Fez, modern-day Morocco and eventually to Israel.

Mimran’s father and uncle would take the scroll to synagogue every Purim and faithfully read from it. “This year was the first in centuries in which the scroll was not read on Purim, but Mimran said he was glad that it will be preserved and displayed at the ANU Museum, where in the future millions of people will see it.

Monsonego is not exactly a common Jewish surname. It is interesting that it is the surname of the principal of the Ohr Torah School in Toulouse, France, which was visited this week by President Herzog, together with French President Emmanuel Macron and former French presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande during the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the school in which one of the victims was eight-year-old Myriam Monsonego, the daughter of Yaacov and Yaffa Monsonego. It is almost a given that Yaacov is descended from the family that originally owned the scroll, and that presumably, on his next visit to Israel, he will find time to visit the museum and touch base with his family’s history.

Although Herzog was not on a state visit to France, in Paris, where he was greeted by Macron, he was given a red-carpet welcome, replete with military honor guard.

■ SUNDAY OF this week, proved to be a very long and mostly sad day, given the funerals of noted sage Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and Guy Peres, the son of Chemi and Gila Peres and grandson of Israel’s ninth president, Shimon Peres, with whom he had been very close.

This was the second tragedy of its kind in the family in a three-year period. Almost exactly three years ago, Guy’s cousin Assaf Walden, the son of Tsvia and Rafi Walden and also the grandson of Shimon Peres, died.

At 6 p.m. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the Knesset via Zoom, but the whole nation had access to the broadcast through a number of different outlets, including Habima Square in Tel Aviv.

In Jerusalem a few days earlier, among the most popular Purim outfits for men and boys was Zelensky’s wartime attire of khaki T-shirt and military pants. It’s also worth noting that since the president of Ukraine has grown a stubble around his chin, many Israeli men have done likewise in yet another show of solidarity.

■ SINCE LEAVING the government and the Knesset some years ago, Dan Meridor has held a number of important positions and is currently president of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations.

Speaking in that capacity in a recent webinar on “The Russo–Ukrainian War: Context and Consequences,” featuring Andrew Nagorski and Dr. Samuel Barnai, Meridor said: “Putin cannot afford anything less than what seems to be a victory,” adding that “the Ukrainians, with the support of the entire world, cannot surrender. I don’t think they will.” He also took the government to task.

“I think the Israeli government made a mistake here.... I am not naive. I don’t think the world is run just by justice and morality; there are interests; there is a power structure, yes, but there are cases where you need to speak out clearly and... this is one case.

“We can’t complain that people didn’t come to our aid [at the time of the Shoah] when we needed it and then, when they need help, say we have interests.... I think we should have spoken clearly.

“We should have been the first to say you’re in trouble, you’re refugees, we’re helping you.”

Meridor said that Israel hesitated, and “by hesitating, you draw more attention to yourself. We should have said what everybody said from the outset: We denounce what Russia did as wrong. It should be stopped.... To speak very clearly was called for.

“I think the Israeli government, with all due respect, made a mistake being too practical – in a way, cynical – rather than giving some room to what you feel in your heart.”

■ SOME COUNTRIES that have diplomatic ties with Israel have neither an embassy nor a resident ambassador in the country. Singapore, whose Foreign Minister Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan was in Israel this week, falls into that category.

On the other hand Bahrain has a resident ambassador in Israel in the person of Khaled Al Jalahma, but does not yet have an embassy. Al Jalahma has a new assistant, Karim Al Ansari, who also happens to be a personal friend, and who in the brief period that he has been in Israel has experienced warm Israeli hospitality.

Al Jalahma, who is showing him around, is in the process of finalizing arrangements for an embassy in Herzliya so that he can avoid the morning traffic congestion from Herzliya to Tel Aviv, which is a daily nightmare for most of his diplomatic colleagues.

■ THE BIG question confronting the government of Israel this week is who will provide the cake? The cake in question is a birthday cake to mark the milestone birthday of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who this coming Friday, March 25, will celebrate his 50th birthday. He’s bound to get a scrumptious birthday cake at home, given that his wife, Gilat, is a professional pastry chef, but the occasion is one that the government cannot exactly ignore.

■ FIFTEENTH-CENTURY monk and poet John Lydgate is credited with saying: “You can please some of the people all of the time; you can please all of the people some of the time; but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” This observation is as true today as it was several hundred years ago.

One example is in the cultural sphere. For decades, Israelis of North African background were treated as inferior by the Israeli-European hegemony, which failed to recognize the rich cultural heritage which Jews from North African countries brought with them to the Holy Land. Not only were the cultural treasures of Jews from North African countries not recognized, but, other than in the Mossad, which required well educated native speakers of Arabic, few organizations and institutions were prepared to give Mizrahim, as they were commonly called, a high-ranking position. But gradually the situation changed as Israelis of North African background distinguished themselves in the army, in academia, in politics and in the world of entertainment.

Sometimes it looks as if the Ashkenazim – Jews of European extraction – are suffering discrimination. It rankled to the extent that Daniel Galay, who heads Leyvik House, which is a center for Yiddish writers and the promotion of Yiddish culture, formed an organization dedicated to advocating Ashkenazi creativity and awareness.

Born in Argentina, Galay, a prolific writer, playwright, composer and pianist, writes in Yiddish, Hebrew, Spanish and English. But the language of his heart and soul is Yiddish, which is considered to be the mama loshen (mother tongue) of the Ashkenazim.

Galay, who is a member of Forum 21, whose main purpose is to preserve the Ashkenazi heritage, recently published a book about Ashkenazi culture, The Ashkenazi Option, and will hold a Zoom launch on Thursday, March 24, at 8 p.m. The book is in Hebrew, only for the sake of attracting a wider readership than his writings in Yiddish. The book contains historic background information, essays and anecdotes gleaned from Yiddish newspapers that long ago ceased publication, and from personalities who still perform on the Yiddish stage. To register for the Zoom launch, send an email to [email protected]

■ THE VENUE of the Israel celebration of the 6th Italian Design Day is Liebling House, a Bauhaus design, which was built in Tel Aviv in 1936. It was designed for Tony and Max Liebling by architect Dov Karmi. Located at 29 Idelson Street, in the White City Center, it received a restoration grant in 2014 from the Getty Foundation’s Keeping it Modern initiative, and operates as an architectural museum under the joint auspices of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality and the German government, which sent young architecture students to engage in the restoration process.

Italian Design Day is dedicated to regeneration design and new technology for a sustainable future, and is a collaborative effort between the Italian Cultural Institute in Tel Aviv and Liebling House.

The speaker will be professor emeritus Fulvio Irace, an architectural historian, who will lecture in English at 7:30 p.m. on the quality and uniqueness of Italian creativity and the impact of “Made in Italy” on furniture design, with particular emphasis on how that was interpreted by Domus magazine in 1966. Irace contributes extensively to architectural publications and has also made a documentary film about architecture.

■ BEFORE FORMER MK and Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich returned to her old profession on radio, the early evening current affairs program was cohosted by Ran Binyamini and Yigal Guetta. Binyamini was transferred to another slot and was also an occasional news reader.

Far more pleasant and far less opinionated than Yacimovich, he returned this week to cohost with Guetta, after Yacimovich made good on her announcement a few weeks back that she was going to step down because at her age she no longer wants to be glued to news broadcasts and bulletins. It’s doubtful that her often strident and accusatory voice will be missed. If there was someone or something that she did not like, she threw objectivity to the wind. At other times, she sounded bored or tired. Binyamini is definitely a pleasant change, though Guetta seems to get along well with either of them.

■ FOR THE past 17 years, Bank Hapoalim, as part of its Passover campaign, has made it possible for the public to visit museums, heritage sites and nature reserves throughout the country free of charge.

This year, the powers that be at the bank decided to enhance the campaign by honoring the memory of author and prolific writer of lyrics for songs Yoram Taharlev, who died in January of this year, by having leading artists record one of his songs, “Not All the Miracles are Completed,” as the musical promo for the campaign.

Artists Yardena Arazi, Shlomi Shabat, Narkis and Liran Danino, who recorded the song, were in the studio with senior bank officials Assaf Azoulai, Naama Halevi Peer, Samar Bshara and Galit Pollak, when they were surprised by a visit from Batia Keinan, who is Taharlev’s widow. She heard this rendition of the song for the first time. It was an emotional experience for all concerned.

■ THE INTERNATIONAL March of the Living, the largest annual international Holocaust education program, which since its inception in 1988 by the late Avraham Hirschson, who died this month, and Dr. Shmuel Rosenman was held annually in Poland, until the outbreak of the coronavirus in 2020, was, in addition, the most unifying element in the Jewish world, transcending geographic boundaries, generation gaps and political and religious affiliations. It has not been held for two consecutive years.

But last Sunday in Greece, there was a silent memorial march to commemorate the 79th anniversary of the first deportation train with 2,800 Jews from Thessaloniki.

More than 2,000 people, led by Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulo, European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas, Thessaloniki Mayor Konstantinos Zervas, Greek officials, Jewish community leaders and the director of the European March of the Living network, marched down the same road from the Jewish neighborhood to the old train station, from where the Jews were deported to Auschwitz.

In her address, the Greek president stressed: “Only if we pass on historical knowledge to the new generations, if we preserve historical memory, if we feel their pain as our own the pain and the suffering of the victims, if we understand that the Holocaust is a universal historical heritage, will we equip ourselves against a new onslaught of evil, possibly in another form, but always threatening and abhorrent.”

Based on that strong commitment, Michel Gourary, the director of the European March of the Living, invited the Greek president to lead a large delegation of young Greeks to the 2023 March of the Living, which will specifically be geared to the 80th commemoration of the deportation and the annihilation of the Jewish community of Thessaloniki.

Also, in the western Greek city of Patras, a street mural honoring Greek Righteous Among the Nations Zakynthos mayor Loukas Karrer and Metropolitan Dimitrios Chrysostomos was inaugurated. At great personal risk, the two protected all the Jews of Zakynthos, after the Nazis occupied the island in 1943.

The mural was painted by Kleomenis Kostopoulos, the creative director of Patras-based Art in Progress, at the initiative of Artists 4 Israel, in partnership with the Combat Antisemitism movement.

■ WHAT ASPIRE to be the largest Passover Seders in the region outside of Israel will be held in the United Arab Emirates, according to the Jewish community’s Chief Rabbi Levi Duchman, who is convinced that they will be the largest ever held in the UAE, given the growing size of the community, the number of Jews with business interests in the UAE and the number of tourists, who will all be welcome, he said.

As a Chabadnik, Duchman is naturally inclined to use products made by, or at least certified by, Chabad. With this in mind, he came to Israel less than a month ago to join in the matzah baking at Kfar Chabad, which will be sending a large shipment of hand-baked shmura matzah to the UAE.

“Together with Dubai community rabbis Mendel Blau and Mendel Duchman, we are preparing for the largest-ever Seders in the UAE. Now, over a year since the signing of the Abraham Accords, and thanks to the warm support we’ve received from our generous hosts, the Emirati leadership, our Jewish community continues to grow, as does the stream of Jewish visitors arriving here from around the globe.

“The matzot that we prepared in Israel will serve us in the Seders we will be holding in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, together with our community, the Israeli Embassy, tourists and visitors – welcoming every person wishing to hold a kosher and festive Seder dinner in the Emirates.

“We will be holding the ceremony in numerous languages, including Hebrew, English, French and Russian, and have already begun with preparations for the grand event.”

■ ALTHOUGH INDUSTRY in most kibbutzim has moved primarily from the field to hi-tech, “We don’t forget where we came from, and how come we’re here,” said Gil Lin, the CEO of the Kibbutz Industries Association, whose members are supporting Israeli farmers in their battle against the proposed reforms that will allow for greater imports of agricultural products.

The farmers say that they earn little enough on their produce, and if they have to compete with imports that may be sold for lower prices, they will not be able to survive. But Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman contends that competition is good for business.

[email protected]