Grapevine April 13, 2022: Not part of the blame game

Movers and shakers of Israeli society.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG with Druze spiritual leader Mowafaq Tarif. (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG with Druze spiritual leader Mowafaq Tarif.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai refused to be drawn into the blame game following the terrorist attack last week in the city that never stops. Interviewed on KAN Reshet Bet, he said that he was more interested in restoring normal life to the city than in pointing a finger of blame.

One of the most moving moments for him, he said, was going to the site of the attack and seeing a large group of people who had gathered to sing the national anthem, “Hatikvah.” It was a sign, he said, that people still have hope for a better world.

■ POLITICAL COMMENTATORS have for the most part criticized Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for spending more time and effort on diplomatic trips abroad and meetings with world leaders than on members of his own party, with the result that the government is now at its most fragile point.

But it has to be remembered that Bennett, who for many years all but worshipped Benjamin Netanyahu, also set himself the goal of being better than Bibi. In some respects, he may have even succeeded, especially in the aim to rise from comparative anonymity to an international figure. It’s unlikely that he will ever reach the “King Bibi” level, but he has done things that eluded Netanyahu, and as a would-be honest broker and peacemaker between Russia and Ukraine, his name and photograph have been splashed across the international media.

If the government doesn’t fall, he still has another year an four months in office before Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid takes over. It will be interesting to see what Bennett can accomplish in that time frame.

 FROM LEFT (foreground): Yehuda Blau, CEO, Bukharan community in Israel; Deputy Education Minister Meir Yitzhak Halevi; MK Sharren Haskel, chairwoman of the Knesset Education Committee; and Ze’ev Elkin, construction and housing minister. (credit: PHOTO NISSIM) FROM LEFT (foreground): Yehuda Blau, CEO, Bukharan community in Israel; Deputy Education Minister Meir Yitzhak Halevi; MK Sharren Haskel, chairwoman of the Knesset Education Committee; and Ze’ev Elkin, construction and housing minister. (credit: PHOTO NISSIM)

■ JEWISH POLITICIANS are not the only ones who found it odious that Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh called on Arabs not to serve in Israel’s security forces.

Nail Zoabi, who, at the beginning of 2021, became the first Muslim Arab to be included in the Likud Knesset list, albeit too low on the ladder in the 39th slot to make it into the current Knesset, has come out against Odeh and has urged those Arabs currently serving in Israel’s security network to continue with their service, because when terrorism strikes, it doesn’t bother to separate Arabs from Jews. Everyone is vulnerable.

■ IT’S A known fact that opposition leader Netanyahu, during his long stretch as prime minister, managed somehow to indulge in two of his passions – reading books and watching movies – this despite an almost around-the-clock schedule.

President Isaac Herzog, who is equally busy running around the country and traveling abroad, is likewise a voracious reader, and last week, when receiving the credentials of new ambassadors, told Austrian Ambassador Nikolaus Lutterotti that he was reading The Ratline, which, inter alia, is about Nazis in Austria. The book, by Philippe Sands, has received rave reviews.

Somehow, Israeli leaders, when they meet Austrians and Germans, have to introduce some aspect of Nazism into the conversation.

But getting away from this subject, Herzog told Lutterotti that he had arrived in Israel on the eve of Ramadan, Passover and Easter, so he was getting a crash course on what Israel is all about. Herzog could not have known, at that time of the morning, that in the evening the crash course would include a terrorist attack. Almost immediately afterward, Lutterotti also witnessed the beginnings of a political crisis, which gave him the opportunity to experience many facets of Israel in a remarkably short period of time.

■ A MAMMOTH debt, which spurred his exodus from Israel to London and later to the US and Russia, has not impeded Lev Leviev’s strong philanthropic streak. Leviev, who is the founder of the Bukharan Jewish Congress, and head of the Jewish communities of the Commonwealth of Independent States, has made a point of funding Jewish organizations in the CIS and Israel, in line with something that was told to him by the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who assured him that if he kept giving, he would continue to get.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG shakes hands with retired Supreme Court judge Salim Joubran.  (credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO) PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG shakes hands with retired Supreme Court judge Salim Joubran. (credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)

Indeed, Leviev has done very well in Angolan diamonds; and through the Bukharan Congress’s Ahdut 365 organization, and the Ohr Avner Foundation, named in memory of his father, he has given extensive, continuing support to Chabad institutions and projects, as well as to other Jewish organizations in the CIS, Israel and the US, particularly ahead of Passover and Rosh Hashanah.

This year, the Leviev Group kimha d’pis’ha (Passover charity) project of the Bukharan Jewish Congress raised approximately $2.4 million contributed by Bukharan Jews in Israel and abroad, of which $1m. was contributed by the Leviev family.

Construction and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin, MK Sharren Haskel, who chairs the Knesset Education Committee, Deputy Education Minister and former mayor of Eilat Meir Yitzhak Halevi and MK Zvi Hauser, who is a deputy speaker of the Knesset, visited Bukharan Jewish Congress House, where they were briefed on activities by CEO Yehuda Blau, and were greatly impressed by what they heard.

■ ASHKENAZI CHIEF Rabbi David Lau is busy fighting the reforms that Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana wants to introduce.

Lau is particularly angry with proposed reforms on conversion and kashrut supervision, and has stated that he will not accept conversions by rabbis who have not been authorized by the Rabbinical Court that he heads.

 MICHAL HERZOG (sixth from right) at the iftar dinner of the Eshkol Galil and Valleys Women’s Forum. (credit: JEZREEL VALLEY LOCAL COUNCIL) MICHAL HERZOG (sixth from right) at the iftar dinner of the Eshkol Galil and Valleys Women’s Forum. (credit: JEZREEL VALLEY LOCAL COUNCIL)

If the government does not fall, Lau may be fighting a losing battle, because Kahana is not ignoring Halacha. He just wants to make Judaism more accessible, and conversion by rabbis ordained by major rabbinical authorities anywhere in the world irrevocable.

Lau’s term expires in 14 months’ time. But then again, his successor may be even more stringent in matters of conversion and kashrut supervision than Lau.

■ BETS ARE on as to when the first Chabad center will be established in space. Wherever there are Jews on planet earth, regardless of how remote their communities may be from city centers or the closest town, Chabad will find a way to get to them. Once Jews discover the beauty of living beyond planet earth, Chabad will be there with a school, a mikveh (ritual bath) and food packages imported from earth, until they figure out what, if any, space products are kosher.

This may sound facetious, but much of the science and technology that came from the fertile minds of sci-fi writers are no longer mere products of their imaginations, but part of the realities of our lives.

According to the Chabad news site, Israeli commercial space traveler Eytan Stibbe, 64, a former Israel Air Force fighter pilot and a philanthropist, was given a box of handmade shmura matzah as well as other provisions for Passover by Rabbi Zvi Konikov of Chabad of the Space and Treasure Coasts.

“It’s very exciting,” said Konikov. “As a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary for 31 years, I’ve given out matzah in every single place and every single scenario. Now, to provide matzah to a Jew who is boarding this space flight and connecting with the International Space Station is quite different.”

Not only did Stibbe take a symbolic piece of Judaism with him to space, he will have the opportunity to fulfill the commandment of eating the matzah there as well, which, said Konikov, “is to me out of this world.”

That Stibbe wanted to have the matzah with him at the International Space Station “sends a powerful message,” the rabbi continued. “If it’s important that an astronaut, with so much on his mind, just three days before the start of his mission, is getting matzah, that sends a powerful message to every Jew, wherever they are, that they should also make sure they have everything they need for Passover.”

■ IN ADDITION to the iftar dinner they are hosting tonight at the President’s Residence, Herzog and his wife, Michal, on Monday attended separate iftar dinners in the Galilee. She went to one in Zarzir, which was essentially a women’s affair, while he went to Nazareth, to a dinner hosted by the Northern District Bar Association.

At both events, the Herzogs made their opening and closing remarks in Arabic. The president actually speaks Arabic quite fluently, so he understood the buzz of conversation around him, regardless of the language. Among others attending were Supreme Court President Esther Hayut; Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar; Druze spiritual leader Mowafaq Tarif; Israel Bar Association head Avi Himo; Nof Hagalil Mayor Ronen Plot; and retired Supreme Court judge Salim Joubran.

The president, who was welcomed by Northern District Bar Association chairman Muhammad Na’amana, said that he was happy to be among friends and people whom he has known for a long time, and that it was important for him, as someone who knows and recognizes the beauty of Islam and the rich heritage of its leaders, to be at an iftar dinner during the month of Ramadan.

One doesn’t have to be a Muslim to identify with the concept of togetherness, solidarity, partnership and faith, and perhaps even more importantly, with understanding and tolerance toward the other, he continued.

Emphasizing that festive iftar dinners provide an opportunity to meet and to unite, Herzog underscored the importance of working together, shoulder to shoulder, to eliminate hatred and incitement and to focus on those issues in which Jews and Arabs have a common interest.

In the village of Zarzir, which is some 10 kilometers from Nazareth, Michal Herzog joined the Eshkol Galil and Valleys Women’s Forum, which comprises representatives of 18 councils within the region, 12 of them Arab and six Jewish. The forum came into being several months ago and meets on a monthly basis. Its main goal is to influence change in the region.

Among the very few men present were the village imam, Sheikh Salaam Eidat, who blessed all the arrivals and spoke of the core values of Ramadan; Amir Mazarib, head of the Zarzir Council; Migdal Ha’emek Mayor and chairman of the Galilee Development Authority Eli Barda; and Jezreel Valley Regional Council head Eyal Betzer. Jezreel Valley Deputy Mayor Dalia Eyal is one of the founders of the forum.

Herzog said that she was delighted to be among the members of the forum and was very pleased to observe the spirit of cooperation. She looks forward to being invited to further meetings, and urged the forum to have as many meetings as possible in order to cement the relationships that have been formed.

■ THE ACTOR who played Akiva Shtisel in the popular television series Shtisel about a haredi family in Jerusalem’s Geula neighborhood, Michael Aloni, was among the participants in the Israel Democracy Institute’s online conference on ultra-Orthodox society.

Aloni, who grew up in a secular family, said that members of the cast spent a Shabbat with an ultra-Orthodox family and also spent time in the area, studying customs, traditions and even body language, with the aim of making the series as authentic as possible.

He was particularly fascinated by the matchmaking customs, and how young couples behave on their first date, which is always in a very public place. Initially, they are very shy, but then their body language signifies whether this will be a onetime encounter, or whether they will meet again. In no way can it compare with secular dating.

■ A FESTIVE conference marking 60 years of diplomatic relations between South Korea and Israel was hosted by the Sir Naim Dangoor Center for Universal Monotheism in the Faculty of Humanities at Bar-Ilan University.

“If, in the past, Korea was a mystery to the majority of the Israeli public, in the last two decades Korea has become present in almost every home in Israel. Korean cars, electronics and cellphones have revolutionized Korea’s image and status in Israel,” noted Dr. Danielle Gurevitch, director of the Dangoor Center.

“Korea was the first country in Asia with whom Israel signed a free trade agreement, an agreement that made it possible to upgrade the volume of trade and economic cooperation between the two countries, and significantly increase trade,” added Gurevitch.

“The Abraham Accords will make it possible to build economic cooperation between Israel, South Korea and the Gulf states, and will expand Israel’s presence in the region,” said Haim Hoshen, former ambassador to Korea and guest of honor at the conference.

Hoshen also noted Korea’s cultural presence in Israel, reflected in the popularity of Korean drama and particularly Korean K-pop.

In early March 2022 a new president of Korea was elected. “President Yoon Suk-yeol’s entry to the Blue House opens the door to furthering relations between the two countries,” concluded Hoshen.

Additional participants in the event included Dr. Ira Lian, of the Hebrew University, and Korean studies specialist Dr. Alon Levkowitz, from Bar-Ilan’s Faculty of Humanities, who organized the event. Musician Nava Klil Hahoresh gave a recital of Korean music.

■ GIVEN THE horrendous death toll during the pandemic, it becomes somewhat difficult to believe that every cloud has a silver lining. But even during COVID, when so many people were victims not only of the virus itself, but of lockdown policies in their places of residence, many discovered interests that they never had previously embraced, and talents of which they had been unaware.

One of the places where lockdown was most acutely felt was in Melbourne, where the writer of this column was born, and where she still has many relatives.

One of her cousins, Leonie Grynberg, began taking Zoom classes in Yiddish, and says she’s learned to love it, and she’s making progress. Curiously, when her parents were alive, she wasn’t terribly interested in Yiddish, nor in Polish, which was another language frequently spoken in our family. But mama loshen has finally gotten to her. However, Leonie is not only studying, she’s also teaching, in a distance program that to some extent closes gaps between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.

The English lessons that she and other volunteers give to children in Israel are through a WIZO program called Click and Connect.

Distance learning, which really came into its own during the pandemic, is far from new. It dates back to somewhere in the 1800s when correspondence courses were introduced via laboriously written texts, in addition to printed material. As technology advanced, so did the demand for distance learning, especially from people in outlying areas. Students received their lessons through radio and television, and then by computer, through various stages of digital development. The most popular method at this time is Zoom, which is how Leonie and other volunteers in Melbourne teach their Israeli students at a school in Israel called Yachdav.

The in-person English teacher sends a weekly Zoom link to the volunteers. Each volunteer teaches for one hour a week at a regular time slot, namely 6 p.m. in Melbourne on Thursday evening, which corresponds to 9 a.m. in Israel on Thursday morning. The time differed slightly with the introduction of daylight saving time in Israel, and the end of daylight saving in Melbourne, because they were not on the same date.

Each volunteer teaches four students on a one-on-one basis, allocating 15-20 minutes to each student. The in-person Israeli teacher organizes the students and decides which student goes to which specific volunteer teacher.

Leonie spent part of her adolescence and her early adult life in Israel, and also attended a Jewish day school in Melbourne, so her Hebrew is fluent. For this reason, she is allocated the weaker students, simply because she can explain something to them in Hebrew when they don’t understand some aspect of the lesson. Sometimes she receives the same students week after week, and when this happens, she develops relationships with them. The students are elementary school youngsters aged 10-12.

The volunteers receive a weekly package from the Click and Connect coordinator in Melbourne. The package contains the topic that they are to discuss with their pupils, along with pictures which the teachers are asked to hold up on screen for students to view.

Before getting down to the topic, Leonie starts with a little casual chitchat in basic English. This helps her to gauge the student’s level of English.

Though each of the volunteer teachers is given a script, Leonie does not stick to it, but uses it merely as a guide. She prefers to learn about the student’s interests, chats to them about those subjects, and finds that they are more responsive when she does that.

■ THE KNESSET, whose members vote into practice the laws that affect various segments of society, and society as a whole, has taken the lead in recognizing that age should not be a key factor in determining whether someone is employable. Some months ago, it introduced a program under the title of “Working till 120,” and called for senior citizens to apply for the position of Knesset guide.

Out of approximately 200 applicants, the Knesset selected 11, whose two most common attributes are that they are very knowledgeable on a broad range of subjects, and that they are fluent in at least one language other than Hebrew.

Among them are a medical clown, a retired diplomat and a veteran Government Press Office photographer, who has captured the unfolding history of the state, including its relations with other countries, in the lens of his camera.

Moshe Milner, 75, is probably more familiar with the Knesset than his 10 new colleagues. Over the years, he photographed nine prime ministers and several presidents, as well as chiefs of staff, foreign ministers, leaders of other countries, et al. He not only photographed Israeli leaders in the Knesset, the Prime Minister’s Office and the President’s Residence, but also traveled abroad with them.

His first photographs in the Knesset were taken in the former Knesset building in the heart of Jerusalem’s King George Avenue. The building, which in the interim served, among others, the Tourism Ministry and the Chief Rabbinate, is designated to become the Knesset Museum, but progress in that direction has been very slow, and was nowhere near meeting its opening date target, which is long past.

Like so many top photographers, he started out photographing weddings while still a teenager. He did his army service in the IDF Spokesman’s Office, and was the one-man photographic unit.

In 1967, he joined the GPO and took numerous historic photos of Israeli presidents and prime ministers with world leaders – even photos that Israel’s leaders preferred not to be taken, let alone published, such as then-prime minister Netanyahu shaking hands with PLO leader Yasser Arafat. But the photograph was taken and published. On a more positive note, some of Milner’s most historic photographs were those taken at Camp David, especially an early morning shot of prime minister Menachem Begin with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.

Milner subsequently left the GPO to work for foreign news outlets. When he returned to the GPO 15 years later, he was in charge of establishing the National Photo Collection, an easily accessible digital archive which has proved invaluable to media outlets on anniversaries of major events. Many of his photographs are also in the archives of the National Library.

At a farewell for Milner in January 2014, then-president Shimon Peres, whom Milner taught to use a camera, credited Milner with making Israel look good. Milner presented him with a series of photographs that had never been seen in public before, and Peres lauded him as a photographer who never compromises on the quality of the photo.

As a Knesset guide, Milner will in all probability be asked by tourists to photograph them against certain backdrops or with an internationally recognizable MK. Unless he actually tells them, none will realize that the man to whom they handed their cellphones so that he could photograph them is the former chief photographer of the Government Press Office.

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