So many American values that are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence have their roots in the Bible. Anyone who doubts this should have been at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on Tuesday night as former US ambassador to Israel David M. Friedman, in quoting from the essentials of the US Declaration of Independence, followed up with chapter and verse from the Bible as the source of each quote, and to ensure that everyone in the room understood this, he made his biblical references both in Hebrew and English.
The occasion was the awarding of the Ingeborg Rennert Guardian of Zion Award, which was being presented for the 24th time after a two-year hiatus. Prior to the pandemic, the award was presented annually by Bar-Ilan University’s Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies, which is supported by American philanthropists Ira and Ingeborg Rennert, who not only have a great interest in Jerusalem, but also have a home in the capital.
In light of Friedman’s extensive role in promoting Jerusalem and moving the US Embassy to Israel’s capital, after every president from Bill Clinton onward had pledged to do so – but didn’t till the Trump era, no one else could be considered more deserving in the post-pandemic era. Indeed, Friedman’s own guiding light may have been the prophet Isaiah, who he said is recognized as a prophet in all three great monotheistic faiths. It was Isaiah, he said, who declared: “Out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (“Ki mi’Zion teitze Torah u’dvar Hashem mi’Yerushalayim)” (Isaiah 2:3).
The choice of topic for Friedman’s lecture was sparked by antisemitism. One of the most common forms of antisemitism in America, he explained, is the accusation that Jews have dual loyalty, that they support Israel more than America. In the four years that he was ambassador to Israel, he continued, he had been on the receiving end of that terrible canard more than a few times – “oddly enough, often by groups of Jewish Americans.” He described such allegations as “shameful” and “nonsense,” stating: “Not only does support for Israel by American Jews not compromise or undermine support for our host country, but support for Israel is actually a quintessential American value. Indeed, the Bible, so much of which is predicated upon God’s covenant to our forefathers to install, and then later to restore, the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, is foundational to the principles upon which America was founded.”
Friedman reminded his audience in the large, packed dining room of the hotel that the Declaration of Independence provided that every human being was created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “The notion that essential human rights came from God and not man was a revolutionary concept,” said Friedman. “It made those rights permanent, undeniable, non-negotiable and immune from the vagaries of politics.”
He also noted that the Pilgrim Fathers had referred to the New World as the New Jerusalem and that some of America’s great universities have biblical quotes on their coats of arms. Moreover, the United States opened a consulate in Jerusalem in 1844, 104 years before the establishment of the State of Israel.
Friedman said he was particularly gratified to receive the reward because his great uncle, Pinchas Churgin whom he never knew, was the founding president of BIU, and Churgin’s daughter Batya, a Harvard graduate in musicology, had moved to Israel to found BIU’s music department, which in recent years has found a way to communicate through music with young people with autism and other disorders. In fact, a quartet of autistic musicians and singers provided the entertainment for the evening, and sounded totally professional and received enthusiastic applause.
Among the guests were former Israel ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon and current US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides. Notwithstanding their political differences, Friedman and Nides are good friends – and each loves Jerusalem.
■ THE EXTENSION of the Passover holiday due to Shabbat coming in directly after the last day of Passover, may cause some people to forget that the Festival of Matzot is directly followed by Mimouna, the goodwill national festival that was brought to Israel by Moroccan immigrants. In Tel Aviv, Mimouna, replete with moufletas and other traditional Moroccan foods will begin at 8 p.m. on Saturday night at the Atlas Shapira restaurant at 15 Mesilat Yesharim St. In Ashdod, the Mimouna Academy will hold its 14th conference at the Ashdod Performing Arts Center with the participation of Mayor Yehiel Lasri and Moroccan Ambassador Abderrahim Beyyoudh, who also participated in the Mimouna festivities in Ashdod last year.
Aside from lectures and panel discussions, the event will include a concert by the popular Andalusian Orchestra conducted by Rafi Bitton with soloists Raymonde Abecassis and Emil Zrihan. In Morocco itself, the Mimouna Association, whose honorary president is Andre Azoulay, a senior adviser to King Mohamed VI, is marking its 15th year of perpetuating and promoting Moroccan Jewish cultural heritage, and making it better known to the Muslim population.
■ FORMER POLISH ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski, who is currently ambassador to the United States and the Bahamas, has never hesitated to admit that there were individual Poles who collaborated with the Nazis, but stresses that the Polish Government did not, and that by and large, Poles resisted the Nazis in many different ways and that more than 7,000 Poles have been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations for having risked their lives and those of their families in their efforts to save the lives of Jews during the Holocaust and some lost their lives as a result.
Magierowski, a former long-time journalist before entering the foreign service, is an expert on Polish-Jewish relations and on Polish-Israeli relations. He will elaborate on both as well as on Polish-American relations on Thursday, May 5, in an online conversation with Dr. Jeffrey Herbst, the president of the American Jewish University. As such events are usually recorded and left online for some time afterwards, the many friends and acquaintances that Magierowski made in Israel who are interested in what he has to say, will be able to catch up at their own convenience.
■ JERUSALEM-BASED Polish-born Holocaust survivor Moshe Barth, 96, had several emotional reasons for celebrating Passover this year. One was that it coincided with the anniversary of his liberation from Auschwitz. Another was that there were no restrictions this year on family get-togethers for Seder night. Thirdly, three generations of his progeny living in Israel and America had come together to be with him on the Festival of Freedom; and fourthly, he could pose for photos with them so that there would be permanent visual evidence of his revenge against the Nazis. The Germans had sought to exterminate the Jewish people, but Barth has not only lived a long and productive life, but he has added to the Jewish people through his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. “This is my revenge against the Nazis,” he said with satisfaction.
■ BANK HAPOALIM hosted hundreds of its clients who subscribe to Poalim PRO, the digital banking service that sets new standards in financial transactions. Senior members of the bank, including deputy general manager Dalit Raviv, who is head of retail banking, and Pazit Garfinkel, who is responsible for direct banking services, attended the event at Zappa Midtown in Tel Aviv. Guests wined and dined at food and drink stalls, and the special attraction was international singer and songwriter Noga Erez.
■ IT WAS no laughing matter for comedienne Hana Laslo, 68, who suddenly felt unwell this week, and was taken to Ichilov Hospital, where she will remain under observation in the emergency ward during the tail-end of Passover.
■ BRITISH AUTHOR Julian Barnes is the recipient of the Jerusalem Prize for literature, which will be awarded next month at the Jerusalem Book Forum, and which will be presented to him by Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion at a festive ceremony at the city’s YMCA. The forum is a revamped version of the Jerusalem International Book Fair, which was founded by Asher Weill in 1963 and directed for many years by the late Ziv Birger, with the support of legendary Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek. The forum, which will be held at the Y and Mishkenot Sha’ananim, under the directorship of Yoel Makov, will take place from May 15-18, and will be conducted in conjunction with the International Writers’ Festival. Among the foreign writers who are expected to arrive in the capital is Polish Nobel Prize literature laureate for 2018 Olga Tokarczuk.