Grapevine April 1, 2022: Reaching out to minorities

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 FROM LEFT: Yohanan Plesner, Reuven Rivlin, Joan and Irwin Jacobs. (photo credit: COURTESY IDI)
FROM LEFT: Yohanan Plesner, Reuven Rivlin, Joan and Irwin Jacobs.
(photo credit: COURTESY IDI)

Although he cut short his visit to the United States, Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy did manage to keep his appointment with the Sela Public Charter School in the Washington, DC metro area. Sela is a Hebrew immersion school teaching in both English and Hebrew and is proud of its inclusive and diverse community, serving students from all backgrounds, including students with special needs. The school’s student body comprises Jews, Afro-Americans and students from Latino backgrounds.

“It is important for us to speak with value-driven students and listen to how they analyze the world around them. Children often have a different point of view than adults; they can shape the world as much as the world can shape them. We definitely want to spread the message of acceptance of others, respecting multiculturalism and aspiring to be good and do good,” said Levy.

Part of his reason to visit this school in particular was his understanding that an ocean exists between Israel and the non-Jewish minorities in the US. The Jewish community historically stood with the ethnically oppressed communities in the US and part of Levy’s declared mission is to start reaching out to these communities, something that Israel has neglected over the years. This may be one of the reasons for increasing vocal expressions of antisemitism from among people coming from US minorities who see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a racist perspective and Israel as the “white oppressor.”

Levy believes that children are key to shaping a better future, which is why he made a point of visiting this school.

■ IT’S BEEN a grand year for former US ambassador David Friedman, who launched his book at the beginning of the year and not long afterwards received an honorary doctorate from Ariel University. Now he’s about to receive the Guardian of Zion award from Bar Ilan University’s Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies. Friedman has received numerous awards in recent years but this one has special meaning. Firstly because Friedman holds respect for the Rennert family, and they respect him as one of the key figures in transferring the US embassy to Jerusalem and in bringing the Abraham Accords to fruition. But also because his great uncle, Pinchas Churgin, was the first president of BIU, so the award cements a family connection.

 ITALIAN TOURISM MINISTER Massimo Garavaglia with Roberta Garibaldi of the Italian National Tourism Agency. (credit: ROTEM BARAK) ITALIAN TOURISM MINISTER Massimo Garavaglia with Roberta Garibaldi of the Italian National Tourism Agency. (credit: ROTEM BARAK)

The recipient of the Guardian of Zion award, traditionally delivers the Distinguished Rennert lecture, which Friedman will do on April 19 at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. His topic will be America’s Biblical Roots.

The Rennert Center has a new director in the person of American-born Prof. Aren Maeir, who will host the event for the first time. It will be interesting to see whether invitees will include current US Ambassador Thomas Nides and former US ambassador Dan Shapiro. It would be one of those extremely rare occasions in which three US ambassadors to Israel might be sitting at the same table. The three all know each other.

■ MOHAMMED VI Polytechnic University (UM6P) President Hicham El Habti led a delegation of 10 UM6P senior managers and researchers to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev this week. The visit follows an agreement signed between the two universities last October to collaborate on research after the Abraham Accords relaunched diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The delegation included high-level researchers in the areas of cyber, medical services, agriculture, business, economics and more. The two universities will collaborate in several fields critical to human survival: food security, ecological restoration, smart agriculture in a changing climate, water, remote sensing, alternative energy, entrepreneurship and venture capital among others.

Ben-Gurion University President Prof. Daniel Chamovitz: noted that “the two universities are well suited to collaborate on projects in sustainability and climate change. Both universities are committed to thriving in the desert in a ‘Green’ environment, and both look outward – focused on helping their regions, countries and the world.”

Habti was confident that UM6P’s partnership with BGU, a leading research university, will contribute to the research priorities of both. “We have a joint vision to advance innovative research and technologies critical to the Earth’s future, he said.”

■ SECURITY CONSIDERATIONS notwithstanding, several ministers of tourism arrived in Israel this week to attend the International Mediterranean Tourism Market at Expo in Tel Aviv and were wined and dined both by the ambassadors of their countries and by the tourist enterprises representing their countries. Italian Ambassador Sergio Barbanti hosted a dinner at his residence in Ramat Gan for Italian Tourism Minister Massimo Garavaglia. Among the other guests were Roberta Garibaldi, CEO of ENIT – the Italian National Tourism Agency – and Ron Benatoiff, the honorary president of the Israel-Italy Chamber of Commerce. The gastronomic honors were done by Italian celebrity chef Pierluigi Fais of the famed Sardinian restaurant Josto, who specially came to Israel to participate in IMTM – but good food, like charity, starts at home, and the home of the Italian ambassador has a very inviting kitchen.

■ DURING THE period in which he served as president of the state, Reuven Rivlin established Israeli Hope (Tikva Israelit), a nationwide initiative aimed at uniting diverse communities and thereby strengthening Israeli unity. Rivlin used to call them the tribes – but they were not really, because haredim for instance, may have appeared to be the same to people outside their orbit, but there are many divisions – some of them very sharp – within haredi society, with various movements having their own traditions and leaders. Be that as it may, Rivlin’s vision was not mothballed when he left office.

Quite the opposite, it received a $21 million boost from Joan and Irwin Jacobs, whose landmark gift to the Israel Democracy Institute is for the creation of the Center for Shared Society which will bear their names. As part of its activities, the Center will have Distinguished Fellowships for former policymakers, to ensure that people who have made significant contributions to Israel’s democratic values, are not put out to pasture. Rivlin, who at every opportunity declared that there is no conflict between a Jewish and democratic state and a democratic and Jewish state, will serve as the inaugural Joan and Irwin Jacobs Distinguished Fellow at IDI. Together with its distinguished fellows, the Center will focus on bringing Israelis together and strengthening their commitment to core democratic values and institutions.

The Jacobs are internationally renowned philanthropists and signees of the Giving Pledge. Their support has helped to strengthen institutions of higher education in the US and Israel.

■ JUST BEFORE winding up her term as Germany’s ambassador to Israel, Susanne Wasum-Rainer has overseen the transfer of the German embassy from Daniel Frisch Street, just off Ibn Gvirol Street in Tel Aviv to 2 Hashlosha Street in Tel Aviv’s Yad Eliyahu neighborhood. The embassy had been located in its former premises for 33 years. Its new home in a brand new building has been constructed in line with its current needs. According to the ambassador, the former premises were no longer suitable, and in its new venue, the embassy will be better equipped to continue its work in enhancing German-Israeli relations. The two countries work together at numerous levels and on many diverse projects.

The embassy will be open to the public from April 6.

■ AUSTRIAN MINISTER of Foreign Affairs Alexander Schallenberg, during his visit to Israel this week went to Yad Vashem as is customary for most visiting heads of state and government and senior government officials. But the fact is that Schallenberg did not need to tour Yad Vashem to be reminded of the evils of the Holocaust. Last November, on the 83rd anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night of the shattered glass, Austria unveiled its Shoah Wall of Names in Vienna, which is engraved with the names of some 64,440 Austrian Jews – men, women and children – who were murdered during the Holocaust. Schallenberg, who was then-Chancellor of Austria, was among the many dignitaries who attended. This is not the only Shoa Memorial in Vienna; there is also a Holocaust Memorial in Vienna’s Judenplatz which was unveiled in 2000. Vienna is such a compact inner city, that it would be difficult to ignore either of the memorials. Schallenberg was accompanied at Yad Vashem by Austrian Federal Minister for Digital and Economic Affairs Margarete Schramböck. The two ministers were guided by Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan.

■ IT DID not take the Education Ministry long to find a replacement for Avshalom Kor as Quizmaster of the World Bible Quiz which takes place annually on Israel Independence Day. Kor – who resigned last week after holding the fort since 1988 – is succeeded by veteran Channel 12 newsman Ofer Hadad, 38, who is the product of a religious Zionist environment with a Bnei Akiva and Yeshivat Hesder background. During his army service, he served in an intelligence unit. Just a few days following the announcement of Hadad’s appointment, Racheli Elihai, a 12th-grade high school student from Moshav Shavei Darom, won the National Bible Quiz contest triumphing over 32 outstanding students. This means that she will be representing Israel in the World Bible Quiz. That may not seem such a big deal considering that there have been previous female contestants and winners. But Racheli Elihai happens to be autistic, and the school she attends is a special school for youngsters with autism. She had to work much harder than anyone else just to make the grade, let alone win. She’s naturally thrilled, both to be a girl who did better than boys, and also because as an autistic contender she beat out her mainstream rivals. “If you try hard enough,” she said after her victory, “you can achieve almost anything. Everyone can discover their particular strengths and work on them.”

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