Grapevine June 8, 2022: A note of harmony between Russia and Ukraine

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG and his wife, Michal, speak with Netzach elementary school students in Beit Shemesh (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG and his wife, Michal, speak with Netzach elementary school students in Beit Shemesh
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

As a grand finale to Senior Citizens Week in Tel Aviv, political and territorial differences between Russia and Ukraine will be put aside in a mega concert of Russian and Ukrainian melodies under the title “Hayu Yamim, Haver” (Comrade, Those Were the Days) The event, at Hangar 11, Tel Aviv Port, on Saturday, June 18, at 9:45 p.m., will comprise 50 performing artists, including soloists, dancers, musicians and a 35-member choir. Most of the performers are immigrants from Ukraine, and organizers hope to bring additional immigrants to be part of the audience and enjoy the show.

Most of Israel’s veteran and most beloved songs are based on Ukrainian and Russian melodies that were brought to Israel by people who came on the First, Second and Third Aliyot. The lyrics were translated into Hebrew, though more recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union continued to sing them in Russian or Ukrainian.

Happily, everyone involved in the concert can separate culture from politics. It would be wonderful if Russian Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov and Ukrainian Ambassador Yevgen Korniychuck could sit alongside each other and join in the community singing. It would be a delightful relief for both, but it’s unlikely to happen. Then again, Israel is the land of miracles, in which one must always be ready for the unexpected. If there is a miracle, presenter Efrat Lachter of Channel 12 will have a scoop, as she will be able to witness the miracle from her position on stage.

■ SENIOR CITIZEN week in Jerusalem was held on a somewhat smaller scale, but there was plenty of nostalgia, with media interviews with people who fought in the Six Day War, or the First Lebanon War, as well as entertainment industry veterans who, at one time or another, had worked with Uri Zohar.

On a national level, KAN Reshet Bet held a five-hour marathon honoring composer, musical arranger, conductor and Israel Prize laureate Nurit Hirsh in advance of her 80th birthday, which will actually be in August. In a country in which insults are traded so often, it was pleasant to the ear to hear nothing but compliments between Hirsh and well-wishers Yehoram Gaon, Chava Alberstein and Ruthi Navon and many other singers who have sung Hirsh’s compositions.

For Jerusalem Day, Yediot Yerushalayim published a mainly nostalgia supplement, which included once iconic, pre-millennium coffee shops, restaurants and bars that no longer exist. The ones they mentioned included Atara, Alaska, La Belle, the Red House, Café Nava, the Hut, Carvel and Gillis. But there were others not mentioned, such as Ta’amon, Finks, Cafe Europa, A la Gondola, Chez Simon, Feferberg’s, Tarabulus, Kapulsky, Richie’s Pizza and Savoy, to name but a few. Jerusalem was not quite as provincial as reputed.

Among the eateries still in business after half a century and more are Hatzot, Sima, Mandarin and Café Rimon. So are Jerusalem bakeries such as Berman’s, which is approaching its 150th anniversary, Angel, which this year celebrates its 95th anniversary, and Neeman, which was founded 78 years ago.

■ FORMER CHIEF Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau has an amazing memory for names, places and details, and seems to have had personal contact with almost every famous Israeli, including Zohar, who died last week. In the course of his transformation from a secular to a religious lifestyle, Zohar frequently visited the Lau home in Tel Aviv, Lau said in an interview on Reshet Bet last Friday.

It seems that religion was already in Zohar’s DNA. His parents migrated from Poland before the Second World War and settled in Tel Aviv. They were descended from Gerrer Hassidim. Zohar’s original surname was Dziadek, which means grandfather in Polish.

Zohar was a great proponent of social justice and could not understand how a country like Israel, with such a high ratio of Holocaust survivors among its population, could ignore the massacre of the Igbo people of Biafra. He shared his concerns with Lau; the late Simcha Holzberg, who, like Lau, was a Holocaust survivor and was known as the “Father of the Wounded Soldiers”; and international human rights and peace activist Abie Nathan. The four staged a protest demonstration just before the Six Day War. Nathan subsequently flew to Biafra and organized humanitarian aid from Israel to Biafra.

■ THE ANNOUNCEMENT last Friday that French President Emmanuel Macron had named World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder a commander of the Legion of Honor gives rise to the hope that after announcing in April that he was reviving the President’s Medal of Distinction, President Isaac Herzog will likewise see fit to bestow Israel’s highest civilian honor on Lauder.

It is ludicrous that heads of international Jewish organizations are given honors by leaders of other countries but not by leaders of Israel, especially in view of the fact that so much of the work of these leaders involves fighting antisemitism and guaranteeing the rights of Jewish communities throughout the Diaspora. That Israel should ignore the efforts of such people is beyond belief and beneath contempt.

■ HERZOG HAD quite a busy week last week, including several Jerusalem Day events, a tour of Beit Shemesh, the Jerusalem Unity Prize awards ceremony and learning of the extent to which some Israelis do not enjoy food and nutrition security.

In escorting the president and his wife, Michal, to the Netzach Yisrael, ultra-Orthodox elementary school, Beit Shemesh Mayor Dr. Aliza Bloch said that she had deliberately chosen to showcase this school because of its record of inspiring and encouraging immigration to Israel from English-speaking countries. The school also has high standards of education. The Herzogs were introduced to a robotics class where they were shown a project that the school robotics team had recently presented in a national technology competition.

Like Herzog, the school’s principal, Rabbi Shaul Miller, is the grandson of a very famous rabbi, the late Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, who died 10 years ago at the age of 102 and who was internationally revered as so great a Torah scholar that few Orthodox Jews ever questioned his rulings. Miller presented Herzog with a framed letter that Elyashiv had sent to Herzog’s grandfather, chief Rabbi Yitzhak Halevi Herzog. As he has done in other schools he has visited, Herzog lectured to the students in a civics and citizenship class, and on this occasion chose to speak about his grandfather.

Miller and Herzog met up again in the early evening at the President’s Residence, where the Netzach Educational Network was awarded this year’s Jerusalem Unity Prize in Education along with the Achi School in Tekoa and the Efshar Acheret organization which promotes encounters between Jewish and Arab students.

Rabbi Menachem Bombach, founder and CEO of the Netzach Educational Network, was thrilled with the recognition given to Netzach’s groundbreaking work toward the integration of the ultra-Orthodox community into mainstream Israeli society. Through Netzach’s 10 schools and its online Eshkolot program, the next generation of ultra-Orthodox students will be able to participate fully in Israel’s higher education system and employment market, without compromising their central religious values.

In the summer of 2014, Israelis and Jews of all stripes came together in their mutual concern for the fate of three yeshiva boys, Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah, who were kidnapped at a bus stop by terrorists who murdered them.

The outpouring of sympathy and offers of help that came from around the world were a source of inspiration to the grieving families and to certain officials, most notably Nir Barkat, who was then mayor of Jerusalem. Together with the Gesher movement and the families, the Jerusalem Unity Prize in memory of the three boys was established at a ceremony at the President’s Residence, where it has been annually awarded ever since.

The underlying goal and vision of the prize is to acknowledge the efforts and accomplishments of those who work to advance the critical importance of Jewish unity and inspire tolerance and mutual respect throughout the Jewish world, promoting acceptance of those who think, act and live differently.

Relating to some of the harsh expressions that opponents to certain ideologies and actions use against each other, Herzog said that words have the power to connect and create, but also to sow destruction and ruin. “Some expressions we cannot tolerate – neither in politics nor in the public sphere, nor in the media,” he said, as he appealed for cessation of accusations of treason, Israel-hating, insults to individuals or groups on matters of faith or lifestyle and the introduction of the word “Nazis” into the Israeli cultural discourse. “These are redlines which must not be crossed,” he said.

 THAI AMBASSADOR Pannabha Chandraramya with Leket Israel founder and president Joseph Gitler (credit: ROYAL THAI EMBASSY) THAI AMBASSADOR Pannabha Chandraramya with Leket Israel founder and president Joseph Gitler (credit: ROYAL THAI EMBASSY)

■ IN A separate meeting, which in a sense is related to national unity rather than specifically Jewish unity, Herzog met with Leket Israel’s founder and chairman, Joseph Gitler, along with CEO Gidi Kroch and senior management of the organization, who presented the president with the National Food Waste and Rescue Report. Findings indicate that the volume of food waste in Israel is 2.5 million tons, valued at NIS 19.1 billion. The environmental cost of food waste is NIS 3.42b. annually, and it causes about 6% of Israel’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Rescuing 20% of the wasted food would close the food security gap in Israel. This is done with Leket’s economic efficiency and budgetary leverage of 1:4. Kroch noted that every shekel allocated by the state for food rescue would become food worth at least four times as much.

Food insecurity is accompanied by a low level of expenditure, mainly on fruit, vegetables, meat and fish of high nutritional value. The Health Ministry estimates that the costs imposed on the health system due to chronic diseases caused by poor diet is about NIS 20b. per year.

Herzog, a former welfare and social services minister, said that he had long been engaged in the problem of Israel’s food security.

■ THIS WEEK, Thailand’s vivacious Ambassador Pannabha Chandraramya led a team of diplomats, embassy staff and their families from the Royal Thai Embassy in joining Leket in the field as a volunteer activity in celebration of the birthday of Queen Suthida. Braving the grueling heat, the Thai group handpicked more than 30 buckets of kohlrabi, which will be used in nutritious meals for 250 needy families. “It was a very gratifying experience,” the ambassador said afterward. “All of us enjoyed it very much, because we know we were doing a good deed.”

What is particularly important is that the ambassador was not approached by Leket. The connection was made at her initiative after reading in The Jerusalem Post about a similar field activity by French Ambassador Eric Danon.

That is not the end of the Thai relationship with Leket. Next month, the Thais will be working in the organization’s logistics department.

■ SWEDISH AMBASSADOR Erik Ullenhag and Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai each made impassioned pleas on behalf of Ukraine at the Swedish national day reception held at the ambassador’s residence in Herzliya Pituah. While Ullenhag did not neglect to mention the dramatic improvement in relations between Sweden and Israel, despite disagreement on certain Israeli policies; Sweden’s gift for innovation and entrepreneurship; and Sweden’s fight against racism and antisemitism, he devoted much of his speech to Ukraine, which was music to the ears of Ukrainian Ambassador Korniychuck, who was among the many ambassadors present.

Ullenhag said that his thoughts were with the people of Ukraine who were suffering under a terrible war. He urged Korniychuk to tell the people in Kyiv that Sweden supports Ukraine’s fight for freedom, democracy and independence.

Ullenhag noted that the flags of Sweden and Ukraine are the same colors – yellow and blue, and that the two countries share the same values. He also emphasized that Sweden has known peace for 200 years, and is a country that values diversity. Twenty percent of Sweden’s population is foreign born, he said. The color of a person’s skin should not matter, nor whether a person does or does not believe in God, he said. That Sweden is opposed to the expansion of settlements, believes in a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and stands up for Palestine does not mean that Sweden is anti-Israel, Ullenhag explained. Sweden believes in a secure State of Israel for the Jewish people, and that it is crucial to fight antisemitism. He regrets that antisemitism and racism exist in Malmo, Sweden, all over Europe and around the globe. It is the right of every Jewish individual to live proud Jewish lives where they are, he said. “These words need to be said,” he declared. “We have to raise our voices, because 

silence is worse than evil itself.”

Shai stated that he wholeheartedly supports what Ullenhag had said about Ukraine. He had personally witnessed lines of Ukrainian refugees at the border crossing from Ukraine to Poland. “Everyone who believes in freedom must help Ukraine,” said Shai.

He also lauded Sweden’s full adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism.

Both Ullenhag and Shai noted the improvement in bilateral relations since the visit last October by Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde, who was the first high-ranking Swedish official to come to Israel in more than a decade.

■ MEANWHILE, RUSSIAN Ambassador Viktorov is preparing for the reception he is hosting next week in Jerusalem to mark his country’s national day. The venue is Sergei’s Courtyard, where he first hosted a national day reception, almost immediately after his arrival in Israel four years ago. This led to speculation that given the vast properties that Russia owns in Israel’s capital, it might also move its embassy. But that is not yet in the cards.

■ MORE THAN 250 female supporters of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) came together at the New York Tri-State Women’s Brigade luncheon to honor Israel’s soldiers and the woman known as the Mother of Israeli Soldiers, Israel Prize laureate Miriam Peretz.

The group designates its female-earned dollars to worthwhile projects and initiatives. The top priority this year is to collectively finance a retreat for 200 family members of fallen soldiers. It will give them an opportunity to bond, heal and move forward with their lives. The group also focuses on raising funds for lone soldiers and other soldiers in need.

“Every day the IDF soldiers protect our Jewish homeland for its citizens as well as all of us in the Diaspora,” said Tri-State Women’s Brigade chairwoman Shari Yardeni. “I’m proud to be part of the FIDF community that is dedicated to supporting them.”

Peretz, who has devoted her life to the well-being of Israeli soldiers, spoke of how she rose from the pain of losing her two sons during their service to a place of thanks, optimism and hope, in their honor. She chose to live a life with meaning, with a passion for peace, and love for the people of Israel, she said.

“My children have fallen so that you can live peacefully, knowing that you will always have a home,” said Peretz. “As supporters of the FIDF, you deserve to feel proud of the opportunities you have given to the young men and women of the IDF who are the future of Israel and the Jewish people.”

Lt. Jessica, a female commander in a coed battalion, shared her experiences of serving in the IDF, and also related to the significance of the financial support received from the FIDF and the profound impact of such support on the lives of soldiers.

■ FEW THINGS are more frustrating to journalists than having to abide by Chatham House rules when attending an extremely newsworthy event.

For the enlightenment of the uninitiated, Chatham House rules permit use of everything stated at the event, but without attribution. In other words, none of the speakers to whom certain comments would ordinarily be attributed can be identified. This seems illogical in view of the fact that participants can be named in advance, so if quoted accurately, those who are frequently quoted by the media can be easily identified by the style and content of their speech.

This would probably apply to some of the speakers at Wednesday’s conference hosted by the Law Faculty at Bar-Ilan University (BIU) in conjunction with the Association for the Study of European Integration.

The topic is Hungary and Poland’s illiberal policies and their challenge to the European Union. The event is somewhat unfair in that Poland does not have an ambassador in Israel and, for whatever reason, the name of Agata Czaplinska, the Polish chargée d’affaires, is not listed, which means she is either not participating or may attend but will not speak.

On the other hand, Hungarian Ambassador Levente Benko will have the opportunity to comment on remarks made by Dr. Peter Klotz of the Faculty of Public Governance and International Studies at Hungary’s University of Public Service.

Happily, Chatham House rules did not apply last week in a discussion on Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon.

■ THE PAST few week have been full of accolades for Israeli author Galila Ron-Feder-Amit. First, she was one of eight women to receive honorary doctorates from BIU. Days later she was awarded the honor of Yakir Yerushalayim (Worthy of Jerusalem) by the Jerusalem Municipality. Most recently she participated in BIU’s academic parley held in conjunction with the 22nd anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon.

In her most recent work, a new addition to her “Time Tunnel” series of children’s books, Ron-Feder-Amit focuses on the aftermath of the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon among the families of members of the South Lebanese Army. The book, published by Modan Publishing House, was the focus of the special academic parley initiated by Bar-Ilan’s Center for International Communication.

On the night of the withdrawal, SLA members who cooperated with Israel and their families fled their homes and loved ones for what they thought would be a short time in Israel. But they haven’t returned since that night in May 2000.

Maryam Younnes, now a graduate student in political communications at BIU, was just five the night she last stepped foot in her village. “The discussion about the experience of women and young people during the withdrawal is marginal in Israeli discourse,” said Younnes, whose interviews with Ron-Feder-Amit were used as a basis for the new book.

Younnes was joined by her mother, Rola Naddaf, and Marian Nahra, who was 14 when she arrived in Israel. The three spoke of their memories of life in Lebanon, the day of the withdrawal, and their experiences as women in the SLA community. “I am excited to share the memories and experiences from the day of the withdrawal and our assimilation in Israel, and to hear about it from my mother’s perspective,” said Younnes. “This is the story of every child in the SLA community, and it is important that our voices be heard.”

“This gathering aims to restore public recognition and appreciation to the SLA community for its contribution to Israel’s security, and to jump-start an accounting of Israel’s own betrayal of allies who were its brothers in arms in its war against Hezbollah, two messages that haven’t yet penetrated into the annual observance of the withdrawal from Lebanon,” said Prof. Udi Lebel, director of Bar-Ilan’s Center for International Communication, and host of the conference. “At the Center for International Communication, we have chosen to conduct top-notch research on the SLA, build an SLA archive, and place the SLA on Israel’s academic and public agenda. Israeli discourse on the SLA focuses on suffering, demands, dependence and welfare, rather than betrayal by the IDF and Israel and the community’s sacrifice for Israel’s security. These are the topics we will work to return to public discourse regarding the SLA community.”

Yair Ravid, former head of the Mossad’s operational branch in Beirut, spoke about the SLA’s contribution to Israel’s security, and added a message of hope combined with reality: “To the SLA people living with us, do not stop your dream of ever returning to the land of your ancestors in Lebanon, but at the same time, build your life here and continue to integrate into life in the State of Israel.”

Author Ron-Feder-Amit reflected on the process of writing the book. “There is no point in teaching children history in the conventional way. It makes more sense to present them with historical experiences. In history, heroes belong to the past, but in Time Tunnel books the heroes belong to the present and return to the past together with the readers,” she said.

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