Grapevine June 1, 2022: A different Moshe has his say

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 FROM LEFT: Shmuel Zakai, director, Ben-Gurion Airport, Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, US Ambassador Tom Nides and Esty Herskowicz, Israel manager, Delta Airlines, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the inauguration of Delta’s Tel Aviv-Boston route. (photo credit: ITZIK BIRAN)
FROM LEFT: Shmuel Zakai, director, Ben-Gurion Airport, Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, US Ambassador Tom Nides and Esty Herskowicz, Israel manager, Delta Airlines, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the inauguration of Delta’s Tel Aviv-Boston route.
(photo credit: ITZIK BIRAN)

Even a disgraced president has a number of attributes to his credit. Since his release from prison in December 2016 after serving five years of a seven-year sentence for rape and obstruction of justice, Israel’s eighth president, Moshe Katsav, has kept a fairly low profile, except in his home city of Kiryat Malachi.

Few people in Kiryat Malachi believed that his sexual encounters were anything other than consensual. He was, after all, the most handsome of Israel’s government ministers and presidents. The Iranian-born Katsav was a prime example of local boy makes good.

He was the first member of his family, possibly the first resident of Kiryat Malachi (which had been a transit camp when his family first arrived there), to earn a university degree. He graduated from the Hebrew University with a BA in economics and history.

Politically active from a young age, he joined the Likud, and in 1969, at age 25, was elected mayor of Kiryat Malachi. In 1977, he was elected to the Knesset. He subsequently held various ministerial portfolios. He also served on numerous committees dedicated to either supporting or investigating a large number of causes.

He has not been idle over the past six years. He has frequently been seen pruning his garden or going to synagogue, but he has arguably been busier writing his autobiography, in which the main focus is on the period in which he served as president. He also relates to Jewish life in Iran and deals with the evolutionary changes in Israeli society.Although the role of president is essentially ceremonial, the president actually works very hard. What he says and how he relates to people, have connotations all over the country and abroad.

 THEN-PRESIDENT Moshe Katsav receives a gift from high school students on a visit to Nazareth in 2005. (credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO) THEN-PRESIDENT Moshe Katsav receives a gift from high school students on a visit to Nazareth in 2005. (credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)

Katsav had a particularly good relationship with very senior citizens and with leaders of Arab municipalities and civil society organizations, who actually kissed him when they visited him in Jerusalem.Even people who have a very negative attitude toward Katsav should read the book, because it offers a specific individual’s perspective from the inside of the presidency with the hindsight of someone, who for almost seven years, was the president of the State of Israel.In writing the book, Katsav returns to what was his earliest profession – a journalist with Yediot Aharonot.The book, published by Sifrei Tzameret, is in a sense inspirational.All immigrants who came to Israel at around the same time as the large Katsav family had a very tough time. But they persevered and helped to make the country what it is today. Katsav refers to the many obstacles that he had to overcome and, in so doing, makes the book inspirational. It simply proves that if you want something badly enough and strive hard enough to get it, chances are high that you will succeed.

■ EQUALITY WAS the name of the game when Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, US Ambassador Tom Nides, Esty Herskowicz, manager of the Israel branch of Delta Airlines, and Shmuel Zakai, the director of Ben-Gurion Airport got together last Friday to inaugurate Delta’s Tel Aviv-Boston route. Each had a pair of scissors with which to cut the ribbon, meaning that all four were equally important.Michaeli characterized the new route as another sign of recovery from the coronavirus. She noted that developing ties in civil aviation is an important way of demonstrating the deep friendship between Israel and the US.Nides praised Michaeli for what she is doing as a government minister, and noted how gratifying it was to see that tourism is back. He later tweeted that events of this kind are the best part of his job. Someone who was not present at the launch, but who will be particularly pleased by this new link between the US and Israel, is Israel’s Boston-based Consul-General in New England Meron Reuben, who will no longer have to take a connecting flight when returning home.

On a much more serious note, whether the government stays the course or not, Michaeli should immediately put into motion moves to improve the infrastructure on Highway 90 in the Arava, so as to make this dangerous stretch of road safer. Scores of people have been killed or injured on Highway 90, and successive governments have done nothing to ameliorate the situation. The death of a soldier at the hands of a terrorist becomes a nationwide tragedy, but deaths resulting from traffic accidents have become just another ho-hum for the general public, while anguished families are left to mourn the loss of children, siblings, parents and grandparents. What happened to that old Jewish aphorism, “He who saves a single life is as one who saves a whole world”?

To be fair, Michaeli did call an urgent meeting this week following yet another fatal accident on Highway 90 on Saturday, and she is sincere in wanting to introduce safety measures, but these cost money – a lot of money – and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, in response to various demands, is bleeding the nation’s coffers dry.

■ ACADEMY AWARD-winning Hollywood actor and producer Leonardo DiCaprio landed in Israel this week, after an absence of some 12 years. It was his third visit to the country, and no, he did not come to relive memories with former significant other Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli, with whom he had a longtime on-and-off romance. DiCaprio disrupted a vacation in France to come by private plane for the wedding of his good friend Israeli-born American actor Danny Abeckaser to May Almakaies, an Instagram model. The bridal couple, who have been an item for the past two years, have not allowed the age gap between them to get in the way of Cupid’s bow and arrow. The groom, professionally known as Danny A, is 49 years old, and the bride 22. The wedding took place at Soho House in Jaffa.

There had been rumors that DiCaprio was coming to Israel, after someone spotted his name on the invitation list for the wedding. He had hoped to enter the country incognito on Sunday, but paparazzi were waiting at Ben-Gurion Airport and again at the wedding venue to capture the star in the lens of their cameras. Also among the celebrity guests was Madonna’s manager Guy Oseary. The bride and groom were serenaded under the bridal canopy by Omer Adam with the song “You Love Me Truly.” Many other members of Israel’s entertainment industry could be seen among the guests.

In 2018, it was announced by the Hagag Group that DiCaprio, a committed environmentalist, was joining the company in its project to construct a green energy hotel in the Herzliya Marina.

■ FORGET ABOUT formal. Tuxedos and suit jackets don’t sit well with Kobi Oz, the lead singer of Teapacks. Oz and the band were hosted by Matan Lerner, general manager of the Dan Accadia Hotel in Herzliya. The group had a gig at the hotel, and Lerner, in chewing the fat with Oz, dispensed with his usual business suit.

 KOBI OZ (left) and Matan Lerner. (credit: GIL AVIRAM) KOBI OZ (left) and Matan Lerner. (credit: GIL AVIRAM)

Aside from the musical entertainment, hotel guests experienced joy to the palate with the culinary creations of master chef Ezra Kedem, who joined the hotel’s executive chef, Golan Israeli, in preparing a once-in-a-lifetime festive meal.

On Friday morning, true foodies got an extra treat when celebrity food reviewer David Kishke had a public one-on-one conversation with Kedem.

■ IT’S NOT every day that a Holocaust survivor gets to tell her story to a princess, but that’s what happened when Ruth Berlinger, like so many other Holocaust survivors, was in Yad Vashem last week to tell her story. Survivors seldom know much in advance to whom they will be speaking. Sometimes it’s a large group. Sometimes it’s just two or three people. What’s important is that the story should be told, in the belief that at least some of those who hear it will repeat it.

Some royals, such as the British royals, are constantly in the public eye as they perform royal duties, but there are countries in which royals maintain their titles even though the monarchy no longer exists, and work in professions taken up by commoners. One such example is Princess Anna of Bavaria, who is married to Prince Manuel. She is the daughter of Prince Ludwig Ferdinand of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg. Her mother is also from a family of nobles. The princess is a well-known German journalist and author who writes under the name of Anna von Bayern.

A history and politics graduate of Stanford University, the princess later received an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia. She began her journalistic career in Paris, and continued it in Germany.

She is a patron of the German-Swedish Association, and when she married Manuel in August 2006, the wedding took place in a Swedish village, and guests included Swedish royals King Carl XVI Gustaf, Queen Silvia and their daughters, princesses Victoria and Madeleine.

The princess came to Yad Vashem with one of her three children, her 12-year-old daughter, Alva, and a group of close friends from Germany.

She is very interested in what Berlinger (née Pizyc), a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, had to relate.

Berlinger and her older sister had been destined for deportation, but the German officer who had to decide their fate had done business with their father before the war, and had several times been a guest in their home. He spared the lives of the two sisters. Somehow, miraculously, Ruth Berlinger’s whole family survived. Following the liberation of Warsaw in January 1945, the family moved to Stockholm in Sweden, where Berlinger’s father had prewar business connections.

Ruth met her German-born husband, Shlomo, in 1949 when he was serving in the Swedish military. In December, they will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary.

Ruth’s parents moved to Israel in 1951, and although the Berlingers visited them frequently, they opted to remain in Stockholm.

In 1997, the Berlingers purchased an apartment in Israel, and although they officially made aliyah, they continued to live in Sweden till 2016, when they retired and relocated to Jerusalem.

The princess, who paid close attention to everything that Ruth Berlinger had to say, found a common link in that both speak Swedish fluently. Another reason for both the interest and the sympathy expressed by the princess was the fact that certain members of her family were anti-Nazi and were actively resistant during the war. They were arrested and sent to concentration camps, including Oranienburg and Dachau.

So many German visitors to Israel come out of a sense of guilt as descendants of Nazi officers. Sometimes it’s good for both sides when a visitor from Germany can tell a different story to a Holocaust survivor.

■ STILL ON the subject of Germany and the Holocaust, the German government has given €1 billion to the Association of Israelis of Central European Origin for the purpose of rebuilding and modernizing the Hecht Museum at the University of Haifa. The museum is often referred to as the Museum of German-Speaking Jews. It was inaugurated in 1984 by Belgian-born, Swiss-educated industrial visionary Dr. Reuben Hecht, who was the founder of the Dagan Silos.

The existing museum has hundreds of items that reflect the contribution of Central European German-speaking Jews to the nation’s development. Many were prominent in the spheres of law, architecture, medicine, science, industry, economics, journalism, culture and art.

In addition to the museum exhibits and items in storage, there are more than a million archived documents that tell the stories of Jews from Germany, Austria and the former Czechoslovakia. The Association of Israelis of Central European Origin has undertaken to safeguard the traditions and customs of their forebears, and to make them known to a wider public.

The German Foreign Ministry is also facilitating the transfer of works from the former open museum in the Tefen Industrial Park to the renewed museum, to be constructed by the association on the campus of the university.

Chairwoman of the association Dvora Haberfeld is enthusiastic in her praise of German Ambassador Susanne Wasum-Rainer, Foreign Ministry representative Irmgard Maria Felner and German Embassy cultural attaché Richard Siegfried Hayato for their deep involvement in the project.

■ ALTHOUGH ISRAEL is not the only country in the world in which the behavior of the people contradicts the policy of the government, it was shocking beyond words on Monday to see the front-page photo in Haaretz of a young man with flowing peyot (sidelocks) kicking a Palestinian woman who was on her knees, in the Old City of Jerusalem, which is supposed to be a focal point of coexistence with Jews, Muslims and Christians rubbing shoulders every day of the week. There were reports in several newspapers, including The Jerusalem Post, about the violence and racism that marred Jerusalem Day festivities.

President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett repeatedly said at the various ceremonies that they attended that Jerusalem belongs to everyone – but unfortunately not everyone agrees with that, and too many ignore the message of history that hatred, incitement, violence and humiliation could well lead to yet another exile – or even worse. Yes, hatred, incitement and violence are a two-way street, but not all Palestinians, and certainly not all Arabs, are guilty of the above, nor are all Jews. To generalize and further fan the flames of intolerance is illogical, unintelligent and immoral. Inasmuch as we find fault with rock-throwing and knife-wielding Palestinians, how about dealing with the worms in our own apples, such as La Familia and Lahava?

We even have racism among ourselves, with certain Ashkenazi factions constantly denigrating Sephardim and people of African and North African heritage; ultra-right-wing political affiliates accusing moderates and left-wingers of treason; and ultra-Orthodox factions denying the legitimacy of Conservative and Reform Jews, even when these can prove generations of matrilineal descent, which guarantees their Jewish identities.

Our leaders keep talking about Jewish and Israeli unity, and the more they talk about unity, the more fragmentation we see at ground level. A truly disgusting example of this was the failure to invite Bennett to participate in the Jerusalem Day grand finale at Mercaz Harav. It was a day on which political and religious differences should have been ignored. But instead, they were exacerbated. The deliberate failure to invite Bennett was not just a personal insult, but an insult to the office of the prime minister, which should be considered a criminal offense. If we can’t respect our own, how can we expect respect from the nations of the world?

■ FORMER JUSTICE Minister Moshe Nissim, who is now well into his eighties, still holds the record for being the youngest person, at age 24, to be elected to the Knesset.

Nissim, the son of former Sephardi chief Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim, was the speaker last Saturday at the festive Jerusalem Day celebration of Jerusalem’s Hazvi Yisrael Synagogue, and spoke to a packed house.

 CHIEF RABBI Yitzhak Nissim prays at the Western Wall in October 1967.  (credit: ILAN BRUNER/GPO) CHIEF RABBI Yitzhak Nissim prays at the Western Wall in October 1967. (credit: ILAN BRUNER/GPO)

He recalled that a few years prior to 1967, his father had begun to speak about returning to the Western Wall. This did not sit well with the political administration, and he was asked to desist. But he refused, and continued to imbue people with hope that one day they would stand in front of the Wall instead of trying to imagine it from afar.

Nissim himself had been there as small boy. “It was only 4 meters wide,” he recalled, “but there was always room for everyone.”

As for the return of the Jewish people to their ancestral homeland and to Zion, which is another word for Jerusalem – it had been ordained centuries earlier, he said, and read from the Book of Isaiah to give weight to his words. It was not man who decided the time of the return, said Nissim, it was God, and Herzl was his envoy to prepare the Jewish people for mass return.

Similarly, said Nissim, no group or individual can decide if or when the Third Temple should be built. That, too, will be God’s decision.

The real challenge facing the Jewish people is a demographic one, he said. The demographic gap between Israel’s Jewish and Arab populations is narrowing year by year, he emphasized, and warned that unless the Jewish world wakes up and takes radical steps, the day may not be long in coming when Jews will be a minority in their own homeland.

Among the people listening to him was Holocaust survivor Mirjam Bolle, 104, who was incarcerated in Westerbork and Bergen-Belsen. Bolle was perfectly groomed as always. Amazingly, she is straight-backed, and moves around unaided by a walking stick or a walker, including going up and down stairs and can often be seen as she goes shopping, independent of any caregiver.

■ HERZL WAS also mentioned at the annual Jerusalem Day party hosted by Amnon and Lynn Gimpel in their delightful Jerusalem apartment.

The two have been brushing up on Herzl’s vision, and said that the party was not only in honor of Jerusalem Day, but also to mark the 120th anniversary of Herzl’s famous work Altneuland. For Jerusalem-born Amnon, there was also a personal reason to celebrate. It was the 120th year since the birth of his late father. In coming to the Holy Land, he said, his father had been inspired by Herzl.

Lynn was dismayed by the growing hostility between people of different political persuasions and levels of religious observance. The ultra-Orthodox should be hugging secular and non-Orthodox Jews, she said, because they were the ones who made it possible for the ultra-Orthodox to pray at the Western Wall. The Jews who are being ostracized by the ultra-Orthodox are the ones who fought in the Six Day War, and marched with Mordechai Gur when he made the historic statement: “The Temple Mount is in our hands.”

■ DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS between two countries are often preceded by economic relations, especially when there is a major political and diplomatic impediment to full bilateral relations, as is the case with Taiwan, which is represented in Israel by an economic and cultural office, but which cannot get beyond that in the foreseeable future, due to objections raised by China.

In the case of Suriname, whose foreign minister, Albert Ramdin, imparted the good news on Monday to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid that his country plans to soon open an embassy in Jerusalem, the notice tweeted by Lapid and disseminated by the Foreign Ministry neglected to note that there has been a religious and cultural Suriname presence in Jerusalem for well over a decade.

The Tzedek v’Shalom Synagogue has been on permanent loan from the less-than-200-strong Jewish community of Suriname to the Israel Museum for many years now. It is one of four reconstructed synagogues in the museum’s Judaica collection.

This reconstruction, which was completed in 2010, was made possible by Suzanne Perlman, of London, in memory of her husband, Henry Perlman, who prayed in this synagogue whenever he was in Suriname. Edmond J. Safra, who was heavily involved in saving synagogues worldwide, and the Raphael Recanati Foundation also contributed handsomely to the reconstruction project.

Suriname, which will be the fifth country to open an embassy in Israel’s capital, is situated on the northern coast of South America, just above Brazil. In the mid-17th century Jews of Spanish and Portuguese origin, who had fled to Holland during the Inquisition, were among the early Europeans who moved on to South America, and some of them settled in Suriname, where they established a village which they called “Jerusalem on the Riverside.” It was also known as the Jewish Savanna.

■ MEMBERS OF the diplomatic community are going to be hard pressed next week to decide where to go and in what order.

Katarzyna Dzierzawska, the dynamic director of the Polish Institute, is completing her four-year term and is going home. “These four years have passed all too quickly,” she says. “It was truly a very good time in a fascinating country with excellent companions along the way.”

Unfortunately, her farewell party coincides with a Norwegian Fish Festival, as well as a summer concert hosted by the ambassador of Finland – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg, if one can use that expression at this time of the year.

The Polish party will also be an occasion on which to bid farewell and voice appreciation to Yasmin Harel, who is leaving the Polish Institute after a five-year period during which she earned a lot of admiration and respect.

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