For most of last week, newspapers in Israel were filled with Holocaust survivor stories, Holocaust-related features and op-eds and news stories about the global rise in antisemitism. The vast output has included interviews with second- and third-generation Holocaust survivors, who continue to tell the story of the yet-again failed attempt to exterminate the Jewish people, who like a phoenix continue to rise from the ashes.
Some people question the definition of a Holocaust survivor. Is it someone who left Nazi Germany soon after Hitler came to power, someone who escaped from elsewhere in Europe or North Africa without having been confined to a slave labor camp, someone who was hidden in a country invaded by the Nazis, but never caught – or does the definition apply to anyone who was a potential target? If the latter is the case, every Jew, homosexual, Roma or anyone with a mental or physical disability can define themselves as a Holocaust survivor, because people in all these categories and more, were targets for extermination.
Some Holocaust survivors remain in relative anonymity after rehabilitating themselves, finding employment or starting a business, reuniting with a spouse they thought was dead, or getting married as the case may be, and raising a family. There are people for whom this is more than enough. But also included among Holocaust survivors are social activists, initiators and entrepreneurs. One such person is German-born Jerusalemite Werner Loval, who last week celebrated his 96th birthday. Had he and his sister not been put on a Kindertransport to London, it is doubtful that they would have survived the war. So they too count as Holocaust survivors.
Loval’s parents sent him and his sister on a Kindertransport from Germany to England when he was just 13 and his sister Erica was 15. After reuniting with their parents three years later in Ecuador, Loval eventually became a US citizen, served in the US Army in Panama and joined the nascent Israeli foreign service, where he worked at the Israel Consulate-General in New York. He came on aliyah in 1954 and worked in the economic and other departments of the Foreign Ministry. He met and married his wife, Pamela, in 1956 and was posted to Guatemala in 1960 to open the first Israeli embassy there.
After three years in Guatemala, he was posted to Mexico, returning to Israel in 1965. He left the Foreign Ministry and embarked on a new career – first as head of public relations at Tel Aviv University, then as manager of the Global of Israel travel office in Jerusalem, founded by Sir Isaac Wolfson. Simultaneously, as head of the Jerusalem branch of AACI, (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel), he formed a group of immigrants from English-speaking countries and initiated and developed the Nayot housing project in the capital. Drawing on this experience, he later opened the Jerusalem branch of the Anglo-Saxon Real Estate company, which is today headed by his son Bennie.
Regardless of all the above and more, if he were to be asked today what his greatest accomplishment and achievements are – Loval would immediately say “my family”! He and his wife are blessed with four children, 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren with two more on the way – and all live in Israel. The family gets together not only for Jewish holidays but also to celebrate life events such as births, marriages and birthdays. They now call themselves “Shevet Loval” (the Loval Clan), and some 40 of them came together last week to celebrate the 96th birthday of the chief.
■ THE FREQUENCY of international conferences in which at least a handful of the speakers seem to be either coming from one conference or going to another, makes one wonder how they ever manage to attend to their regular jobs. That also goes for presidents, prime ministers and cabinet ministers. A much in-demand participant in international conferences is Dr. Laurence Weinbaum, director-general of the Israel branch of the World Jewish Congress, and its subsidiary the Israel Council on Foreign Relations. He is also the chief editor of the ICFR’s Israel Journal on Foreign Affairs.
Last week, Weinbaum flew to Warsaw to participate in a tribute conference to the late foreign minister of Poland Wladyslaw Bartoszewski by the Polish Senate. The topic of the conference – Politics and Decency – was in line with Bartoszewski’s values, and Bogdan Klich, who chaired the conference and who is chairman of the Senate’s Foreign and European Union Affairs Committee, had asked Weinbaum in advance of the conference whether he could find a suitable speaker from Israel in addition to himself. Weinbaum instantly thought of former government minister Dan Meridor, who happens to be the president of ICFR.
Meridor was willing, but unable to travel to Poland, so it was arranged for him to make his presentation on the value of decency via social media. In his address, Meridor mentioned that his father had been a graduate of Warsaw University. For that matter, so had prime minister Menachem Begin, whom Meridor had served under as cabinet-secretary. Weinbaum returned to Israel on Tuesday morning in time to be master of ceremonies at the dinner hosted at the Vert Hotel in Jerusalem by the WJC and the ICFR in honor of the members of the Special Envoys and Coordinators Combating Antisemitism (SECCA) forum. The conference in Warsaw was also attended by Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, US Ambassador Mark Brzezinski and Wladyslaw Teofil Bartoszewski, the son of the late foreign minister.
Brzezinski, who is the son of the late Warsaw-born US national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, chose to speak in English, whereas American-born Weinbaum, who received his PhD. from Warsaw University, gave his address in Polish. He recalled Bartoszewski’s gallantry and decency and said that he would have been deeply distressed at the idea of the muzzling of the findings of iconoclastic historians. Weinbaum noted that the muzzling methods were used by Bolsheviks and continue to be used by their successors in the Kremlin. In certain quarters, he said, “we are witness to opportunism, and the grotesque obfuscation of history.” Adding that Bartoszewski’s legacy resonates strongly, Weinbaum said that Bartoszewski taught people that bellicose jingoism and intolerance should not be confused with the true love of one’s country, and that a society that gives way to its basest instincts is doomed to ruin.
■ MAINSTREAM ISRAEL could not change the skin color of the Ethiopian immigrants, but worked hard to change their culture and deprive them of their heritage by mostly substituting that of Ashkenazi Jews. Mass bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah ceremonies were organized by well-meaning white Ashkenazim, who failed to realize that they were committing cultural genocide. It was criminal to attempt to alienate people from their heritage and their traditions.
One such immigrant who came to Israel in 1984 was Danny Adeno Abebe, who was then eight or nine years old. Although a great fuss had been made over Operation Moses in 1984 and Operation Solomon in 1991, it was a remake of the old story: Israel loves aliyah, but not olim (immigrants). Although they had maintained their Jewish traditions for centuries, Ethiopian Jews, by and large, had to undergo conversion to secure their Jewish identities.
These were not the only indignities they endured. Although many distinguished themselves in the army, and some made it into white collar professions such as academia, law and medicine, and others also became journalists and politicians, it was very tough going. But the charismatic Abebe was determined to break all barriers – and he succeeded against all odds, first becoming a journalist at Army Radio while doing his mandatory army service, then working for several years as a journalist with Yediot Aharonot, before becoming the Habonim Dror emissary in South Africa.
He returned to Israel in 2019, and in 2021 was appointed as head of the Spokesperson, Communications and Information Department of the Aliya and Integration Ministry. Meanwhile he had written a book, From Africa to Zion. The book, which originally appeared in Hebrew, was translated into English by Eylon Levy, who is the international media adviser to President Isaac Herzog. Published by Miskal Publishing-Yediot Aharonot, the book, which tells the story of the shepherd boy from a remote Ethiopian village who became the first Ethiopian-born journalist in Israel, is now among the three finalists in the annual Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature in association with the National Library of Israel. The winner will be announced in mid-May, and all three authors will be honored at a virtual ceremony in mid-August.
Now that travel restrictions have been lifted, it’s a shame to not have an in-person event in either Jerusalem or New York. On the other hand, a virtual ceremony can be seen and heard by more people.
■ WHILE ON the subject of books: In a recent Grapevine column, Asher Weill, who is a pivotal figure in Israeli and international literary circles, was credited with having initiated what used to be called the Jerusalem International Book Fair. In a most un-Israeli fashion, Weill sent an email stating that while he appreciated the mention, “In the interests of accuracy, I should point out that the original idea of mounting an international book fair in Israel was actually that of Israel Tarmu, an official of the cultural department of the Histadrut [labor federation]. After visiting the Frankfurt Book Fair with me and others in 1961, he proposed the idea to the mayor of Tel Aviv, who showed no interest at all. Tarmu then approached Mordechai Ish-Shalom, the then-mayor of Jerusalem, to whom the idea appealed, and so the Jerusalem Book Fair came into being in 1963 and became in due course one of the major book fairs in the world.” Fortunately, Teddy Kollek, who served as mayor of Jerusalem from 1965 to 1993, was very enthusiastic about the book fair, and helped it to grow.