Grapevine May 18, 2022: A matter of significance

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 COMMUNICATIONS MINISTER Yoaz Hendel offers his condolences to President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed on the death of his brother, as President Isaac Herzog and Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej look on (photo credit: PRESIDENT'S OFFICE)
COMMUNICATIONS MINISTER Yoaz Hendel offers his condolences to President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed on the death of his brother, as President Isaac Herzog and Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej look on
(photo credit: PRESIDENT'S OFFICE)

The importance that Israel attaches to its relationship with the United Arab Emirates was evidenced not only by the visit of President Isaac Herzog to the UAE to convey Israel’s condolences to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed on the loss of his half-brother president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, but by the fact that the press release informing the public that he was going was not only in Hebrew and English, as is the norm, but also in Arabic, which is the third most spoken language in Israel, even though Arabs comprise the second largest demographic group. As a common language, English is spoken by more people, although Arabic also appears on many official signs, but seldom in press releases.

While Herzog was on his way to the UAE, Labor Party leader and Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli paid a condolence call on UAE Ambassador Mohammed Al Khaja at his official residence.

Herzog was accompanied to Abu Dhabi by Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel and Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej. Collectively, the three represented the state, the government and the Arab community. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed is now the president of the UAE.

 FRENCH AMBASSADOR Eric Danon (second from left) and his wife, Marie, with Leket personnel with whom they engaged in food rescue (credit: LEKET ISRAEL) FRENCH AMBASSADOR Eric Danon (second from left) and his wife, Marie, with Leket personnel with whom they engaged in food rescue (credit: LEKET ISRAEL)

■ READERS WHO may have wondered why Ruthie Blum’s column did not appear in last Friday’s issue of The Jerusalem Post should know that she was in the United States for the funeral of her mother, Midge Decter, the esteemed acerbic intellectual neoconservative, who in her writings was not afraid to tackle any subject and was a fearless critic of movements and opinions with which disagreed, while faithfully supporting Israel, even at times when she found the government’s policies abhorrent.

Decter died in her home, in Manhattan, New York City, on May 9. She was 94. She was married for 66 years to celebrated, prizewinning editor and writer Norman Podhoretz, who was the longtime editor of Commentary, which is now edited by their son, John Podhoretz.

In addition to being survived by her husband, Ruthie and John, she is also survived by her daughter Naomi Decter, a product of her first marriage to Moshe Decter, whom she divorced, 13 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. Another daughter from her first marriage, Rachel Decter Abrams, who was married to former US national security advisor Elliott Abrams, died in 2013.

■ INTERVIEWED ON KAN Reshet Bet following the death last weekend of Uri Savir, one of the key architects of the Oslo Accords and considered by many to be a brilliant diplomat, former justice minister and deputy foreign minister Yossi Beilin, when asked about Savir, who was a second generation diplomat, whose father had been among the founders of Israel’s diplomatic service, said that when Shimon Peres was prime minister the first time, Naphtali Lavie, the older brother of former Ashkenazi chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, and the father of Rabbi Benny Lau, was Israel’s consul-general in New York, where Savir was spokesman for the consulate. Lavie was so impressed with Savir that he sent a message to Jerusalem recommending him for a senior position in the Prime Minister’s Office. Peres sent Beilin and another trusted loyalist to New York to meet with Savir. They were so taken with him that they immediately contacted Peres to tell him that he must not miss this opportunity. Peres gave them the green light, and they told Savir that he should pack his bags because he was to return to Israel with them. Peres became very fond of Savir and respected his wisdom. Savir, in negotiating with the Palestinians, also won their trust. Beilin explained that although Savir was a true Israeli patriot, he had enormous empathy and understanding for the pain of the other side, and was able to convey this.

■ AN INTERESTING and informative article last Friday by former US ambassador David Friedman made Post readers aware that this year’s Israel Independence Day was special because it was “the longest period that Jews have governed this land from a capital in Jerusalem since biblical times.”

What Friedman, who was the key architect behind president Donald Trump’s decision to transfer the US Embassy to Jerusalem, neglected to mention in his article, or perhaps deliberately omitted, was that Independence Day 2018 was also very special in that it was not only the 70th anniversary of the Gregorian calendar date of the birth of the State of Israel, but it was also the date on which the US Embassy was officially inaugurated in Israel’s capital.

Friedman will be among the distinguished speakers at the Tikvah Fund’s Israeli Conservatism Conference taking place on Thursday, May 26, at the Jerusalem International Convention Center. Also listed among the speakers is Bahrain Ambassador Khaled Yousif Al-Jalahma.

Some of the topics to be discussed are: an Arab minority in a Jewish state; lessons from the war in Ukraine; the State Attorney and Israeli politics; the end of haredi politics; setting the tone for an Israeli Constitution; energy, environment and war; has the age of an impartial media ended? and whether Israel’s relationship with the Diaspora can be saved.

The character of Israel’s relationship with the Diaspora may have changed, but as long as Jews are interested in having a foothold of any kind in Israel, in walking in the land of their forefathers, in rubbing shoulders with Israel’s Who’s Who and in taking advantage of, and pride in, Israeli brainpower, the relationship, despite its ups and downs, remains secure.

■ MANY SOUTH African Jews were angered by the cruel injustice of apartheid and the harsh deprivations to which members of the indigenous population were subjected. Some openly joined the anti-apartheid struggle. Some were active behind the scenes. The Jewish involvement in the anti-apartheid movement is a source of pride to South African Jewry, and should also be to anyone who values democracy.

Some of the Jewish involvement is recorded in a book, Mensches in the Trenches, by well-known author and journalist Jonathan Ancer, who has given credit to some of the lesser known activists who worked in the shadow of anonymity.

Published in South Africa last December, the book will have its Israel launch on Tuesday, May 24, at 7 p.m. at the Shivtei Synagogue, 17 Har Sinai Street, Ra’anana. Zev Krengel, president of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, and SAJBD Director Wendy Kahn are specially coming to Israel for the occasion to cohost the event with Telfed, the umbrella organization for immigrants from South Africa. SAJBD chairwoman Prof. Karen Milner will interview Paul and Nicholas Goldreich and Rabbi David Benjamin, sons of two of the people whose stories have been documented in the book – Arthur Goldreich and Rabbi Meyer ‘Sonny’ Benjamin. The book contains a foreword by former South African president, international politician and longtime ANC activist and leader Thabo Mbeki.

■ IN CELEBRATION of the 59th Africa Day, which was established in May 1965 by the Organization of African Unity, which was the precursor of the present-day African Union, the ambassadors and heads of mission of Angola, Cameroon, Congo DRC, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Rwanda and Zambia will host a reception at the residence of Nigerian Ambassador Nart A. Kolo, who was the last ambassador to present credentials to then-president Reuven Rivlin in June 2021, just before the conclusion of Rivlin’s seven-year term in office.

With rare exceptions, the Africa Day celebrations are traditionally held at the residence of the Nigerian ambassador because the grassy grounds of the residence are among the largest in all ambassadorial residences, and can comfortably cater to the large number of invitees.

■ FRENCH AMBASSADOR Eric Danon and his wife, Marie, came to volunteer with Leket Israel last week in the Leket Israel fields in Rishon Lezion. The pair joined a group of French volunteers, headed by French Friends of Leket president Robert Karsenty, to pick fresh kohlrabi for Israel’s needy. The group was also joined by Leket Israel founder and chairman Joseph Gitler.

“Israel and France are partners in fighting food waste, and we appreciate the ambassador taking the time to not only learn about Leket’s operations but also work in the fields, helping to rescue food that will be distributed to our nonprofit partner agencies,” said Gitler. “We invite other ambassadors to join us in our fields or logistics centers to help pick produce in Rishon Lezion, or [help] with sorting and packing in the logistics centers. It is a wonderful way for people to connect with the cause and help provide food to Israel’s poor. People see they can make a true difference, even with limited time.”

■ A 19-MEMBER delegation of leaders of American Hellenic and American Jewish organizations completed a fifth, three-country Leadership Mission to Greece, Cyprus and Israel, to explore the major political, economic and security developments that are under way in the Eastern Mediterranean and to advance the interests of the United States in the region.

Meetings were held with more than 30 high-ranking government officials, military officers, and policy analysts from the three countries and the United States between April 26 and May 4, 2022.

Participating organizations included: American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, American Hellenic Institute, B’nai B’rith International and Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The delegates noted that their meetings clearly affirmed that the trilateral partnership between Israel, Cyprus and Greece is strong and vibrant and is well positioned to sustain that course. Together with the United States, the 3+1 framework is committed to achieving peace, stability and prosperity in the Eastern Mediterranean and broader region.

The group also believes that this trilateral partnership possesses the potential to allow the Eastern Mediterranean to become a community of nations based on shared common values and aspirations. Its approach anticipates that the partnership is neither exclusionary nor exclusive, and the hope of all concerned is that it expands to like-minded countries that respect democratic values, international law and sovereign rights.

As dedicated supporters, the American Hellenic and American Jewish communities reiterated their commitment to advancing the trilateral partnership and 3+1 framework, and pledged to continue to work to foster closer cooperation with the United States and support the common efforts to achieve tangible and measurable outcomes across all areas.

The delegates commended initiatives to combat antisemitism, joint response efforts to natural disasters, and innovations to bolster commerce, tourism and green technologies.

Dignitaries whom they met in Cyprus included: Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides; Presidential Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs and Overseas Cypriots Photis Photiou; US Ambassador to the Republic of Cyprus Judith Garber and Israel Ambassador to Cyprus Oren Anolik; President of the House of Representatives Annita Demetriou; and Lt.-Gen. Dimocritus Zervakis, who is chief of the National Guard.

Among places and monuments that the group visited in Cyprus was the Israeli Monument, which commemorates 2,200 Jewish children born in Cyprus to Jewish Holocaust survivors detained there by the British Mandate authorities between 1946 and 1949.

In Israel they met with Herzog; Hellenic Republic Ambassador Kyriakos Loukakis; Foreign Minister Yair Lapid; Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar; MK Ram Ben Barak, chairman, Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee; and Foreign Ministry officials Ori Rothman, director of Southern Europe Department; Shuli Dovidovich, head of the Bureau for World Jewish Affairs and World Religions; David Levy, acting director, US-Israel Political Relations Department; and Ambassador-designate to Greece Noam Katz.

High-level security briefings were received from Prof. Efraim Inbar, president, and Dr. Eran Lerman, vice president, of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.

In Greece they met with Foreign Minister Nikolaos Dendias; National Security Adviser Dr. Thanos Dokos; Senior Adviser to the Prime Minister for EU and US Affairs Thanasis Bakolas; Deputy Minister of National Defense Nikolaos Chardalias and Chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff Gen. Konstantinos Floros, as well as Chief of the Hellenic Army General Staff Lt.-Gen. Charalambos Lalousis, Chief of the Hellenic Navy General Staff V.-Adm. Stylianos Petrakis, Chief of Hellenic Air Force General Staff Lt.-Gen. Themistoklis Bourolias, as well as other high-ranking military officers.

On a more academic level, they also met with Athanassios G. Platias, professor of strategy at the University of Piraeus, who spoke of “The Geostrategic Changes in the Mediterranean and their Consequences,” and there was also a meeting with former tourism and culture minister Geroulanos Pavlos, whose family founded the Benaki Museum.

■ POLITICAL DISAGREEMENTS between Israel and Poland, coupled with distortions and misinterpretations of history, have happily not marred the cultural relations between the two countries. Polish culture per se and Polish-Jewish culture are respected, admired and explored in Israel.

Three current examples include two that are related to Nobel Prize and Man Booker Prize laureate Olga Tokarczuk, who is one of the distinguished guests at the International Book Forum taking place in Jerusalem, and the other to a literary event taking place at the University of Haifa and jointly organized by its unit of Polish interdisciplinary studies and Nawa, the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchanges.

Tokarczuk’s writings have been translated into close to 40 languages. Among her most controversial works is The Books of Jacob, which delves into the life of 18th-century Polish-Jewish heretic Jacob Frank.

At the Library Auditorium 146 at the University of Haifa, Polish Jewish culture in translation will be examined by Israeli literary figures Agi Mishol, Anat Sharon-Blais, Ronny Someck, Zvika Sternfeld, Prof. Moshe Itzhaki and Dr. Gilad Meiri. The event, which takes place on May 17 and 18, will be chaired by Prof. Rafi Weichert.

■ IN HONOR and in advance of Jerusalem Day, Yeshivat Simchat Shlomo and Ohel Shlomo, which are dedicated to the teaching of the late Singing Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, will present his teaching on Jerusalem on Sunday, May 22, on several social media platforms.

Participants, who include Yehudah Katz, Mimi Feigelson, Rute Yair-Nussbaum, Sam Intrator, Shlomo Katz, Avraham Arieh Trugman, Simchah Hochbaum, Tobie Weisman, Chaya Adler Poretsky and Srulli Solomon, can be heard and seen on Facebook and on the Yeshivat Simchat Shlomo website at 8 p.m. Israel time, 1 p.m. on the US East Coast and 10 a.m. on the West Coast.

■ TRADITIONALLY, THE Jerusalem Great Synagogue always has a special service to mark Jerusalem Day, and this year, the 55th anniversary, is no exception, and is somewhat easier because it falls on Shabbat and can be comfortably integrated with the Shabbat service. On Saturday morning, May 28, the service will be led by internationally renowned cantor and opera singer Yitzhak Meir Helfgott, together with Cantors Zvi Weiss and Avraham Kirschenbaum, who regularly lead services at the Great Synagogue. For lovers of cantorial music, this promises to be a very special and memorable Jerusalem Day event.

■ THE OPENING of the International Council of Jewish Women’s (ICJW’s) Quadrennial Convention will take place on Sunday, May 22, at the Shalva National Center with Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion and other dignitaries.

The convention, which continues to May 25, inclusive, will culminate with a gala dinner, at which the guest speaker will be Jerusalem’s dynamic Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum.

Sessions will take place at the Lady Stern Hotel, a newly upgraded boutique hotel near the Mahaneh Yehuda Market and the Jerusalem central bus and train stations, and only two doors from the Post building.

Among the main discussions will be the situation in Ukraine and Central Europe and the future of Jewish communities in Central Europe. There will also be a panel discussion on empowering women to deal with violence and abuse.

The ICJW is composed of representatives of National Council of Jewish Women chapters in different parts of the world, and several of these chapters have projects in Israel or support projects in Israel, such as NCJW Canada, which since 1971 has supported ALUMA (formerly the Israel Family Counseling Association) in Tel Aviv. Debbie Wasserman, the national chairwoman of NCJW Canada, will make it her business to visit ALUMA before the convention. She will be escorted by fellow Canadian Carol Slater, who was chairwoman of ALUMA for 15 years.

■ LAPID, SWEDISH Ambassador Eric Ulenhag, US Ambassador Thomas Nides and Hungarian Ambassador Levente Benko will be the speakers at an event, hosted by the Swedish Embassy to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, one of the great humanitarian diplomatic heroes of the Second World War, who, together with fellow diplomats in Budapest, put himself at great personal risk in his efforts to save Hungarian Jews from the Nazis and deportation to Auschwitz. Collectively, thousands of Jews owe their lives to diplomats representing different countries, who often defied orders as they issued false papers to Jews and found safe houses in which to give Jews temporary shelter. Wallenberg is greatly revered in Israel, where his name has been immortalized in various memorial projects, including a street in the heart of Jerusalem.

Wallenberg was posthumously made an honorary citizen of Australia, Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States.

There are also committees in various countries, especially the United States, that confer awards on people who emulate Wallenberg’s humanitarian values. The campaign in the US to memorialize Wallenberg in perpetuity was led by the late Tom Lantos, a Hungarian-born Jew, who was the only Holocaust survivor to serve in the US Congress. Lantos was one of the people saved by Wallenberg.

In January, 1945, during the Red Army’s siege of Budapest, Wallenberg was captured on suspicion of being a spy for the United States. He was never seen again, but over the years many rumors surfaced about his incarceration and his death. He is believed to have died in the KGB’s Lubyanka prison in Moscow in July 1947. His relationship to US intelligence remains a matter of speculation, on which Nides may shed some light.

■ HOT ON the heels of examples given in last Sunday’s Grapevine of large philanthropic gifts to Israeli projects and institutions, comes another from the San Francisco-based Koret Foundation, which has provided a $10 million grant to establish the Koret Center for Jewish Civilization at Tel Aviv University, in partnership with ANU – Museum of the Jewish People, which is located on the university’s campus.

Through an enhanced understanding of Jewish peoplehood from a global and historical perspective, this partnership seeks to strengthen the identity and education of Jews in Israel, the US and globally.

Koret Foundation president Anita Friedman stated: “As a Jewish people, we’ve never before faced the types of 21st-century challenges we now face. But we are more hopeful than ever about the future. We know we are on the right path when we see a global Jewish philanthropy, Israel’s largest university, the world’s Museum of the Jewish People and the Israel government all coming together in cooperation with many other Jewish organizations in common cause.”

TAU President Prof. Ariel Porat noted: “Along with deepening Tel Aviv University’s dedication to fostering diversified and pluralistic Jewish studies curricula, this new collaboration aligns with TAU’s mission to expand joint programs with leading academic and cultural institutions around the globe.

Prof. Youval Rotman, chairman of the Chaim Rosenberg School of Jewish Studies and Archaeology at TAU, made the point: “While many top universities house research institutes for Jewish studies, the Koret Center will draw on TAU’s interdisciplinary strengths to fill the void when it comes to the study and teaching of Jewish civilization and its historical significance.

Irina Nevzlin, chairwoman of the board of the ANU Museum, said: “A bright future for Israel and the Jewish people depends on how strong and fruitful the relationship between the Diaspora and Israel will be. An internal divide is our biggest strategic threat. The only way to guarantee the resilience of this bond is through education, which strengthens our identity and connection to our roots.”

Her remarks were echoed by Dan Tadmor, CEO of the ANU Museum, who added: “When a leading university, a world-class museum and a global educational center join forces, the possibilities are simply exhilarating.”

■ KNESSET SPEAKER MK Mickey Levy, on Monday, welcomed Austrian National Council President Wolfgang Sobotka at the Knesset to sign a historic agreement between the Knesset and the National Council. The two sides pledge to strengthen their interparliamentary relations on a variety of topics, such as sustainability, innovation and strategic security, and to promote dialogue between representatives through mutual visits and joint meetings.

“I am delighted to sign the new bi-parliament agreement that will advance Israel and Austria’s special and warm friendship to new heights,” said Levy. “The agreement reflects on the understanding that by working together we can enhance the ties between our peoples, and is a further testament to the contribution of parliamentary diplomacy to Israel’s global standing.”

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