Grapevine March 25, 2022: Voices of spring

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 MEMBERS OF the Israel Allies Foundation put their signatures beneath the flags of their respective countries. In the foreground is Likud MK Yuli Edelstein signing beneath the Israeli flag.  (photo credit: AVI HAYOUN)
MEMBERS OF the Israel Allies Foundation put their signatures beneath the flags of their respective countries. In the foreground is Likud MK Yuli Edelstein signing beneath the Israeli flag.
(photo credit: AVI HAYOUN)

Just as Passover signifies the beginning of spring and one of four new years in the Jewish calendar, so Naw Ruz also spelled Newruz and Nauryz, plus several other variations, is New Year and spring for certain countries in the northern hemisphere, and depending on where and by whom it is being celebrated, signifies new life, friendship, love, peace solidarity, renewal of the spirit and of nature, hope and unity. 

It is celebrated in several Muslim countries, including Iran and Turkey, and in addition to which it is celebrated by members of the Bahá’í faith throughout the world. Although their key shrines are in Haifa and Acre, it has been a long-held tradition for the Bahá’í international community to celebrate Naw Ruz in Jerusalem at the David Citadel Hotel, where as in years gone by, Bahá’í volunteers built a beautiful floral garden in the lower lobby of the hotel leading to the banquet room, where there was quite a feast. Among the guests was Kazakhstan Ambassador Satybaldy Burshakov, who two nights earlier, had hosted a similar event at his residence in Herzliya Pituah.

In Jerusalem. Dr. Ariane Sabet, deputy secretary-general of the Bahá’í International Community, said 300 million people in the world celebrate Naw Ruz. The Bahá’ís came to the Holy Land in the 19th century, she said, and formalized its relationship with Israel in the 1980s.

She also mentioned the continued persecution of the Bahá’ís in Iran and voiced appreciation for the incredible support the Bahá’ís have received from religious and government leaders around the world.

Dr. David Rutstein, secretary-general of the Bahá’í International Community, was thrilled that after a two-year hiatus of the coronavirus imposing its will on everyone, the Bahá’ís were back in Jerusalem celebrating with friends and colleagues. It was a joyous time, he said, and noted that Bahá’í volunteers from all over the world come to the Bahá’í centers to bring joy to the people in their host country in gratitude for the incredible assistance they receive in Israel.

 20 FOREIGN PARLIAMENTARIANS, in Israel as members of the Israel Allies Foundation, present Foreign Minister Yair Lapid with a resolution confirming their support for the Jewish state and the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. (credit: AVI HAYOUN) 20 FOREIGN PARLIAMENTARIANS, in Israel as members of the Israel Allies Foundation, present Foreign Minister Yair Lapid with a resolution confirming their support for the Jewish state and the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. (credit: AVI HAYOUN)

Tjireya Tjitendero, senior adviser to the Bahá’í International Community Secretariat, presented a wide-screen photo-illustrated review of what Bahá’í communities in their various countries accomplished during the pandemic. Her report indicated a huge diversity of activity including social issues, science, environment, music, gender equality, education, calls for peace and equality, religion, including the inauguration of new temples, and journalistic ethics and morals.

In Israel, Bahá’í volunteers worked closely with the Haifa and Acre municipalities in food distribution and the promotion of coexistence as part of the Bahá’í tenet to work for the betterment of the human race.

Adv. Eran Davidi, the director-general of the Justice Ministry, is the government liaison to the Bahá’í community. He described the relationship as “special and unique” and gave assurances that he would continue to enhance the close ties. He also pledged that the ministry would do all in its power to protect holy places and to guarantee freedom of religion in Israel.

Though primarily active in the North, the Bahá’ís are represented in Jerusalem by Dr. David Freeman and his wife, Tracy, who organized the Naw Ruz reception, which also included a musical performance by a wind, string and keyboard trio from Belarus and the US who are members of the Bahá’í community.

Although Israel constantly warns of the dangers of a nuclear Iran, Israel has nothing against the Iranian people per se. Its quarrel is with the Iranian government. Thus, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, using social media, wished the Iranian people a happy Naw Ruz and IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ran Kochav went a step further and sent a greeting in Farsi on Twitter.

■ THE TERRORIST attack in Beersheba this week was a grim reminder that little has changed over the years in the sphere of irrational terror. In fact terror is not always irrational. Sometimes it’s systematically planned, although its purpose may be irrational.

On the day prior to the attack, several leaders of different faiths gathered in Moscow Square in Jerusalem to urge Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to stop the senseless war against Ukraine. There were Jews, Christians, Muslims and people of color among the participants. The scene was reminiscent of a similar 43-member interfaith group of community leaders, business executives and politicians from Argentina, who in February 2014, visited president Shimon Peres, who told them at the time that leaders of all religions should speak out against the killing of innocent people. He reminded them that the killing of innocent people is against the Torah, the Koran and the New Testament. “Today all religions have an enemy, and that is terror, which is destroying countries in the Middle East,” he said, adding that 15 terrorists can kill 3,500 people in one fell swoop.

Just over two years later, in June 2016, Peres travelled to Rome to meet with Pope Francis, against the backdrop of intensified terrorist killings in the Middle East and other parts of the globe.

Peres voiced regret that since their last meeting on the lawns of the Vatican nearly two years earlier, much blood had been spilled in the Middle East and beyond. Instead of seeing a waning of terror, the world was witnessing an intensity of terrorist activity against innocent people, said Peres, adding that terrorist fanatics are blaspheming the name of God as a reason for murder and killing. “One cannot remain indifferent to tens of thousands of refugees, victims and abused children who have lost their families and their homes,” he said. The two issued a statement in which they declared that no one has the right to kill in the name of God.

■ JOURNALIST AND author Sybil Kaplan is best known for editing, writing and reviewing cookbooks, but she has a few other strings to her bow. In her younger years, she was the first leader of Hatzaad Harishon, a youth group of black Jewish youth that was formed in the 1950s in New York by white and black Jews. She led the group for five years. At some stage in the 1970s, the organization ceased to exist. Because she regards it as an important chapter in American-Jewish history, Kaplan has written a book about Hatzaad Harishon, but would like to augment it with the memories of some of its former members from the 1960s. She is hoping that some of them may have moved to Israel, or even if not, and wish to correspond by email to share some of their recollections. She would love for them or anyone else familiar with Hatzaad Harishon, to be in contact with her at [email protected]

■ SINCE BIBLICAL times, Israel has been referred to as a nation that dwells alone. That’s not quite true given the triple digit number of countries with which Israel enjoys diplomatic relations, plus collaborative projects with countries with which diplomatic relations have yet to be formalized. While it’s true that Israel fights her own battles in areas of actual warfare, in verbal conflicts, Israel has many friends and supporters who stand with her against antisemitism, BDS, all forms of racism and xenophobia and threats. Some of those friends who are parliamentarians were in Israel this week, under the auspices of the Israel Allies Foundation. Representing 20 countries, they met with ministers and legislators such as Yair Lapid, Ze’ev Elkin and Yuli Edelstein, among others. They also pledged to uphold the IHRA working definition of antisemitism and to urge parliaments worldwide to adopt it.

■ A SURPRISE announcement this week was the resignation by Hebrew-language expert Avshalom Kor from his role as master of ceremonies at the annual Bible Quiz held on Independence Day. Kor has been identified with the Bible Quiz since 1988, though he was almost ousted in 2016 when the Education Ministry advertised for tenders for the position. Popular religious broadcaster Sivan Rahav Meir asked for a lower fee, and was duly appointed. She had not realized at the time she was competing against Kor. When this became obvious, plus the fact that Kor had been notified via SMS that his services were no longer required, Rahav Meir, astounded by the lack of sensitivity in giving Kor his marching orders, decided that she did not want to replace him, and he was duly reinstated, though not without a degree of outrage at the way he’d been treated. Kor will not be leaving the limelight entirely. He will still continue with his regular Hebrew language corner on Army Radio.

■ IT SEEMS to be a season for resignations, as veteran American immigrant Yoel Parness, who has been the managing director of the Gevatron Choir since 1989, has decided at age 86, that he wants to spend more time with his family. His association with Gevatron is actually much longer, He started as a singer in 1961. Also resigning is Elisheva Mazia, the director of Jerusalem’s Khan Theater, after a five-year stint. Originally from Nahalal in the North, she and her husband have decided to return to their roots. She will miss the Khan and the wonderful people with whom she has been working, but she misses her former home more. Last month, Noa Regev, the CEO of the Jerusalem Cinematheque, resigned to take up a new position as CEO of the Israel Film Fund.

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