Grapevine March 27, 2022: Added meaning to Festival of Freedom

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 UNITED HATZALAH volunteers with refugees en route to Israel (photo credit: UNITED HATZALAH‏)
UNITED HATZALAH volunteers with refugees en route to Israel
(photo credit: UNITED HATZALAH‏)

Okay, it’s true that during the pandemic, some people broke the rules and had family and friends seated around their Seder tables, but the vast majority of Israelis had lonely Seders in which the Festival of Freedom lost some of its meaning. This year, despite fresh fears about the virus and its variants, the Festival of Freedom will have a dual meaning for Polish-born Holocaust survivor Moshe Barth, 96, who lives in Jerusalem. Barth survived Auschwitz and other camps and was eventually liberated from Bergen-Belsen. This year, the anniversary of his liberation coincides with Passover. After the war, he moved to the United States where he raised a fine family. Two of his sons and their wives live in Israel, but another son, daughter in-law, their children and grandchildren live in the US. Barth moved to Israel 15 years ago, and this year, all his immediate family will be in Israel for a proper family Seder and reunion. Some 25 people are expected to sit around the Seder table for the double celebration. For Holocaust survivors, there is no greater revenge against the Nazis than living to see grandchildren and great-grandchildren. There’s a big difference between seeing them on social media and seeing them in the flesh. Barth has just over two weeks to wait. Not only that, but unlike the biblical Moshe, he got to enter the Promised Land.

■ DURING THE most critical period of the pandemic when so many people were dying, so many business premises were closed, restaurants operated mostly on a takeaway basis, admitting only those patrons with proof of having been inoculated, hotels were bereft of clientele and severe travel restrictions were imposed, media outlets ran opinion pieces in which the general belief was that the world would never be the same again. 

But the world recovered from previous plagues and from cruel and protracted wars, and it looks as if the world is once again showing its resilience and is definitely on the road to recovery. Coffee shops and restaurants are well patronized. On Thursday nights in Jerusalem, one can see long lines of people waiting outside restaurants for a vacant table, and several countries have already started promoting tourism, as can be evidenced this week at the IMTM International Tourism Fair at the Tel Aviv Expo

At least two of the participants will be holding additional events in other venues. On March 30, the Azerbaijan Tourism Board will host an event to mark the opening of a representative office in Israel; and on March 31, the Trnava Region in Slovakia will introduce the unique tourist attractions of the Danube Delta, at the foothills of the Little Carpathian Mountain Range. This event will be attended by Slovak Ambassador to Israel Igor Maukš; the president of the self-governing Trnava Region, Jozef Viskupic; as well as tourism wholesalers and travel agents from both Israel and Slovakia.

At past tourism fairs, ambassadors from all the participating countries could be seen at events held by tourist representatives of those countries. There are several new ambassadors who have arrived in recent weeks and will be presenting their credentials in the first week of April. For some of the departing ambassadors, it is a frustrating experience in that they cannot see the completion of bilateral projects they have initiated, and their successors will receive the kudos.

■ APROPOS AMBASSADORS, many will be invited to Passover Seders, and to save them from saying or doing the wrong thing, the Israel branch of the World Jewish Congress, headed by Gad Ariely, and the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, whose director-general Laurence Weinbaum is also director-general of WJC Israel, will host a model seder for diplomats in which they explain the background, customs and traditional foods. Last year they did so on Zoom and followed up with large gift boxes containing wine, matza, the ingredients for haroset, a translated Haggada – and a kippah.

■ CELEBRITY CHEF Assaf Granit, who with his business partner Uri Navon founded the Machneyuda restaurant in Jerusalem and went on to found other popular restaurants in Europe, is usually seen in the white outfit of a chef on television and in still photographs and of course in one of his restaurants. But last week, he was a picture of sartorial splendor in his elegant business suit as he stood on the red carpet in Paris for a Michelin star awards event. In January 2021, his Shabour restaurant in Paris received its first Michelin star for its creative cuisine. The restaurant was also named the best restaurant in Paris by Figaroscope, the food and culture guide published by French daily Le Figaro. Granit and his partners have every intention of maintaining Shabour’s reputation.

■ SINCE THE current crisis in Ukraine, one of the busier government ministers has been Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai, who not only went to Poland to personally see how immigrants and refugees were processed and to hear some of their stories first-hand, but even before that, Shai was personally involved in helping Ukrainians. 

Sergei, a veteran Ukrainian immigrant who is Jewish, has a non-Jewish wife by the name of Anna. When the war broke out, Anna was visiting her family in Ukraine, and Sergei moved heaven and earth to arrange for her, her mother and her 13-year-old niece to come to Israel. Anna and her niece were separated, and the niece was sent to Poland. 

Somehow the two found each other again and came to Israel at a time when first-degree relatives who were not Jewish could be brought in if a deposit was paid for them. Sergei was at the airport to greet them. Anna and her mother were permitted to enter, but Anna’s niece was not and the intention of the Israel authorities was to deport her back to Ukraine.

Anna was desperate. The child had already suffered traumatic experiences. To be sent back on her own was the height of emotional cruelty. Sergei was willing to pay any price to keep her here, but the problem confronting him and many others was that all deposits had to be paid in cash, and few people carry that much around with them. The banks were already closed, and there was no way that he could get the required sum. 

Miraculously, he was able to reach Shai, who was able to settle the matter, and the niece was once again reunited with Anna. Since then, the draconian regulation has been modified. What is ridiculous is that if such a situation continues – and it does when foreign caregivers are joined for a couple of weeks by relatives from abroad, who haven’t gone through the necessary bureaucratic procedure, that there is no facility that will enable them to withdraw the required amount of money regardless of the bank in which they have their accounts. 

After all, in a digital age, it’s easy to check their solvency. If an Israeli whose passport has expired is going abroad, it’s easy to get a new temporary passport at the airport for almost three times what it normally costs, but people are willing to pay if they need to leave. Attending to Anna’s problem could not have been easy for Shai, even though he knows whom to call and which buttons to push – but his willingness to help is what counts.

He will have a much more pleasant experience on April 4 at the Jerusalem International Convention Center (Binyenei Ha’uma) at the central event of Diaspora Week, which will be broadcast live to Jewish communities around the world.

In the Diaspora itself, various Israel emissaries, focusing on different subjects, will hold discussions with the aim of drawing their listeners closer to Israel and each other.

■ UNITED HATZALAH volunteer paramedics are well known as first responders to emergency situations. But during the current conflict in Ukraine, the organization has sent volunteers to Europe to not only provide medical services but to help bring refugees to Israel. So far the organization has brought more than 2,000 such people to Israel, as part of Operation Orange Wings. The specially chartered series of rescue flights have brought Ukrainian refugees from Iasi, Romania, Chisinau, Moldova, and Vienna, Austria, to Israel.

Operation Orange Wings will soon be expanding to other locations in order to bring more Ukrainian refugees to Israel in the coming days.

Each flight has between 100-160 refugees on board and is staffed by United Hatzalah medical personnel who accompany the refugees as well provide humanitarian aid and medical aid mid-flight when necessary.

United Hatzalah President and founder Eli Beer has expressed pride in what the organization has done through its volunteers. “The need for humanitarian assistance and medical care for the refugees is immense,” he says. “We are doing our part in providing that assistance to hundreds of thousands of refugees who have made their way into Moldova. Our teams will remain on the ground providing aid in Moldova and bringing refugees to Israel from Moldova and the surrounding countries as long as there is a need to do so.”

■ WHEN YOU’RE a superstar, you might slow down somewhat with the passage of time, but the light is not extinguished. Champion basketballer Tal Brody, who was instrumental in putting Israel on the world map of sport is now 78, but that’s not too old to be signed up as a brand ambassador for the 60+ Club, which provides quality of life events for people of the third age, so as to keep them young in spirit.

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