Grapevine July 13, 2022: Survival against the odds

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG with Egyptian Ambassador Khaled Azmi. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG with Egyptian Ambassador Khaled Azmi.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

Soon after his arrival in Israel on Wednesday, US President Joe Biden will travel to Yad Vashem, where he will meet three Holocausts survivors, Czech-born Gita Cycowicz, 93, a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau; Polish-born Rena Quint, 85, a survivor of Bergen-Belsen; and chairman of the Yad Vashem Council Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, 85, Israel’s most famous child Holocaust survivor, who, like Quint, was born in Piotrków Trybunalski, and also worked in the forced labor camp in Czestochowa.

Lau was liberated from Buchenwald concentration camp by American forces. After the war, Cycowicz and Quint each went to the United States, where they received an education, got married and raised families, and each is a great-grandmother.

Biden will be accompanied to Yad Vashem by President Isaac Herzog, whose father, as an officer in the British Army, helped liberate Bergen-Belsen; Prime Minister Yair Lapid, whose Hungarian-born father was a child Holocaust survivor; US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, whose stepfather was a Holocaust survivor; US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan; and US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Prof. Deborah Lipstadt, who is an expert on Holocaust history.

The memorial ceremony in which they will all participate will be broadcast live on Yad Vashem’s website and Facebook page from 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

■ HIS NATIONAL day reception, celebrating the 70th anniversary of Revolution Day, was supposed to have been a final event for Egyptian Ambassador Khaled Azmi on completion of a four-year tenure, but happily he received a one-year extension, much to the delight of the many friends that he has made in Israel.

 US PRESIDENT Barack Obama receives the Presidential Medal of Distinction from president Shimon Peres in 2013. (credit: GPO) US PRESIDENT Barack Obama receives the Presidential Medal of Distinction from president Shimon Peres in 2013. (credit: GPO)

That was not the only happy news of the day, which happened to coincide with Eid al-Adha and with the first anniversary of President Isaac Herzog’s taking office.

Invoking the memory of his mother, Aura, who was born and raised in Ismailia, Herzog said that he could not think of a more suitable place in which to celebrate his one-year anniversary as president.

Relating to both the July 1952 revolution in which the government was toppled, King Farouk was dethroned and new reforms were introduced, and that of 1919 with the revolt against the British occupation of Egypt and Britain’s subsequent recognition in 1922 of Egyptian independence when Egypt regained its identity, Azmi said that more reforms are on the way, with Egyptians taking pride in their democracy and nation-state of all its citizens, with respect for ethnic and religious diversity.

In this latter context, he welcomed the presence of Coptic bishops among his guests, and noted that Egypt has now adopted a policy of sustainable reform and the ability to create opportunities for its sons and daughters.

One of Egypt’s major changes occurred more than 40 years ago, when Egypt set out on the path to peace in the Middle East, said Azmi, who praised all those who contributed to the new existence, and welcomed the ambassadors of Abraham Accord countries. Relations with Israel, he said, are not only stable but strong.

Azmi is hopeful that a comprehensive solution will be found to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He underscored that Egypt greatly values the trust it enjoys from both sides.

Catching sight of Israel’s present and former energy ministers, Karin Elharrar and Yuval Steinitz, who, despite their political differences, were together in the room, Azmi thanked them for their cooperation with him.

 FROM LEFT: Karin Sendel, Alice Truman, Merav Michaeli and Adi Sheri. (credit: BEN KELMER) FROM LEFT: Karin Sendel, Alice Truman, Merav Michaeli and Adi Sheri. (credit: BEN KELMER)

Elharrar and Steinitz were not the only past and present officials in attendance. Former president Reuven Rivlin was also among the guests, as were current and past chiefs of protocol Gil Haskel and Yitzhak Eldan.

Azmi also spoke of Herzog’s support for Egypt, which he said he cherishes.

Taking his cue from some of Azmi’s remarks, Herzog said that 40 years of peace between Israel and Egypt had set an example for other Middle East countries. Despite changes of prime ministers and governments, the peace treaty had stood the test of time, he commented.

Herzog declared that he would never forget the arrival of president Anwar Sadat in Jerusalem, adding that he looked forward to welcoming President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to Israel, and said that he wants to pay an official visit to Egypt. He lauded Sisi’s friendship and leadership, as well as the work of Azmi in strengthening relations between the two countries.

Usually, when Herzog attends a diplomatic event, it’s a hit-and-run affair. He arrives just ahead of the official part of the evening, and leaves after the mutual toasts in honor of the ambassador’s country and Israel.

This time, he made an exception and stayed around for quite a long time, kissing old friends, such as Tzipi Livni, on the cheek and greeting many other friends, acquaintances and former political colleagues and rivals.

■ ON THURSDAY, Herzog will welcome Biden to the President’s Residence, before they proceed to Teddy Stadium for the colorful opening ceremony of the Maccabiah Games.

In September last year, Herzog participated in the centenary celebration of Maccabi World Union (MWU) at a festive event at Kfar Maccabiah that was attended by Jewish sports personalities from Israel and abroad.

While at the President’s Residence, Biden will receive Israel’s highest civilian citation – the Presidential Medal of Distinction, which was initiated and inaugurated by president Shimon Peres, who had received so many high honors from the heads of state of various countries, including an honorary knighthood from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in November 2008 and the Medal of Freedom from president Barack Obama in June 2012, that he thought that Israel should have a similar honor to bestow.

For reasons best known to himself, president Rivlin chose not to continue with this award, but in April of this year, Herzog announced that he would revive it.

Though certainly not the only Jew or Israeli to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Peres is the only Israeli leader to be honored in this way, though, in all probability, had he not been assassinated, Yitzhak Rabin would also have received the award. Rabin’s daughter, Dalia, was at the ceremony in the White House together with the Peres family, when Obama said in his speech:

“Among many special guests this evening we are especially grateful for the presence of Shimon’s children – Tsvia, Yoni and Chemi – and their families. Please rise so we can give you a big round of applause.

“We have here someone representing a family that has given so much for peace, a voice for peace that carries on with the legacy of her father, Yitzhak Rabin, and that’s Dalia. We are grateful to have you here.”

■ WHEN PERES came up with the idea of the President’s Medal of Distinction to be awarded to individuals or organizations who have made an outstanding contribution to Israel or to humanity through their talents, services, or in any other form, he did not attach his name to it, because he wanted it to be a perpetual honor given by whoever happened to be the president of Israel at any given time.

The medal, designed by Yossi Matityahu, was awarded for the first time on March 1, 2012, and again in 2013 and 2014. Obama received the award during his 2013 state visit in March 2013, and former president Bill Clinton at the fifth Facing Tomorrow Conference and the celebration of Peres’s 90th birthday in June 2013, though Peres was actually born in August.

■ AS IF the Biden visit will not cause enough traffic snarls in Jerusalem, it coincides with the Maccabiah, which is being attended by thousands of athletes and spectators.

Many Maccabiah athletes have gone on to represent their countries at the Olympic Games, and several Jewish Olympic athletes have also competed in the Maccabiah Games.

Unfortunately not all Jewish Olympic medal winners are remembered, even when they have made history. Although numerous Hungarian, Dutch and American Jewish athletes have distinguished themselves at the Olympics, only one Jewish athlete from Finland has ever done so.

At the Finnish Embassy, they refer to track and field runner Elias Katz, who won a gold and a silver medal in the 1924 Paris Olympics, as the forgotten gold medalist.

Katz later took up a position as a trainer in Berlin, a role he held till the Nazis came to power in 1933 and banned Jews from participating in sporting events.

Katz and his wife decided to migrate to British Mandate Palestine, where Katz got a job as a maintenance man at the Maccabiah stadium. He also worked as a construction laborer before finding employment with the British troops, for whom he operated a movie projector. At the conclusion of a screening in a British camp near Gaza, Katz was killed by an Arab sniper on December 26, 1947.

It is a custom in Finland for the the Champions Association within Finland’s Olympic Committee to attach Olympic rings to headstones of deceased Olympic champions. It’s been a long time coming in Katz’s case, but better late than never.

The Olympic Committee’s rings will be attached to the headstone on Katz’s grave in the Rehovot Military Cemetery on Thursday, July 21.

The event will be attended by Finnish Member of Parliament Sari Essayah as a representative of the Olympic Committee, as well as Michael Ziff, vice president of MWU, members of the Katz family and representatives of the Jewish community in Finland. Finnish Minister of Science and Culture Petri Honkanen will send a video greeting.

Next year, the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation will present a documentary telling the story of Elias Katz.

■ THE BRITISH Embassy, together with ZAZA – Israel’s Women’s Sport Community, last week held a joint reception at Mezizim restaurant in Tel Aviv to mark the opening of the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022.

The event, attended by more than 100 guests, included leading players from Israel’s national women’s soccer team, several government officials, among them Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli; MK Simon Davidson, chairman of the Knesset Subcommittee on Sports Budgets and head of the Caucus for Promoting Professional and Popular Sports in Israel; representatives of women’s organizations and members of the private sector.

Hosted in England, the UEFA Women’s European Championship 2022 is set to be the biggest women’s European sporting event in history. It is anticipated that a global audience of 250 million will tune in to coverage of the matches, and that some 96,000 international visitors will attend. Players from 16 European nations will compete in 31 matches in nine host cities: Brighton & Hove, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Rotherham, Sheffield, Southampton, Trafford and Wigan & Leigh.

Following the VIP reception, the British Embassy, ZAZA and the Tel Aviv Municipality held a public screening of the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 opening match between the national teams of England and Austria on the shores of Mezizim Beach, with more than 250 people who came to watch the game.

Britain’s Deputy Chief of Mission, Alice Truman, voiced the British Embassy’s pride in supporting Israeli women in sport and demonstrating its support for a more tolerant and equal society where women’s sports are celebrated on the same level as men’s.

“Football has always been a big part of my life,” she said. “I went to my first match when I was five and fell in love with it. UK Sport has a strong, proven and ongoing commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion. However, there is a lot more that needs to be done. Even today women who participate in sports still face many obstacles, including lower pay, less media coverage, and different injuries compared to their male counterparts.”

Adi Sheri, CEO of ZAZA, recalled that as a little girl she had a wish, a dream, that all her female classmates would join her and understand the power of sports and what it has to offer, as a girl and later on in life as a women. “Now that all of Europe already understands that women’s football is the next big thing in world sports, our mission is to make sure that this good news reaches Israel in full force,” she said.

Michaeli, true to her feminist image, said: “We are here today for two reasons. One is football and the other is equality, and, believe it or not, they do go together. Moreover, they should go together. Football is an asset that we should strive for every girl, just like every boy, to get the chance to be part of. The skills you gain – to win and to lose together, to run forward and to lead – these are the skills we later find necessary in our world, skills that are part of our fight in this struggle for equality.”

Chairman of the Israel Football Players Association Karin Sendel, who has been playing soccer since she was six, said that she had big dreams and ambitions, “and at the time none of them seemed realistic. However, step by step, I had the honor of seeing this reality changing. Women across the globe started breaking each and every barrier we had faced growing up. Here in Israel, we still have a long way to go for equality. But recently we have made a small history of our own by reaching an agreement for equal pay and equal conditions in women’s football. Football brings people together and football is for everybody. Let that be part of the change we want to see in the world.”

Davidson confirmed that three weeks earlier “a historic agreement in women’s soccer in Israel was signed. And it created a big change, especially because it made everyone aware of it. Hearing these women in the Knesset and seeing the look in their eyes as they talk, you know they are the true leaders of equality in sport. Sport is not about being first; it’s about being strong, it’s about determination and commitment. And that is something I want girls everywhere to learn.”

■ WITHIN THE context of the Australia Day awards in January of this year, social entrepreneur Danny Hakim, who is an Australian citizen living in Israel, was on the list of honorees awarded the citation of the Order of Australia, in recognition of his service to the international community.

Unable to be in Australia at the time, Hakim, who is on friendly terms with Australian Ambassador Paul Griffiths, accepted his invitation to hold the investiture at his residence in Herzliya Pituah.

The event, including a reception, was planned well in advance of the finalizing of the date of the visit of US President Biden. As luck would have it, the date is Wednesday, July 13, which, due to various roadblocks connected with the POTUS visit, will make it difficult if not impossible for many of the invitees to attend. Too late at this stage to change the date, a message was sent out to advise those who had signified their attendance but will now not turn up that Hakim fully understands.

A two-time world karate silver medalist and the holder of a seventh-degree black belt from Japan, Hakim is the founder of Budo for Peace and chairman of Sport for Social Change and the Israel Life Saving Federation. He is a board member of MWU; the Alliance of Middle East Peace; the Azrieli Foundation; and Kids Kicking Cancer. In 2017 he was inducted into the Australian Maccabi Hall of Fame, and in 2019 was the recipient of the Bonei Zion award for Culture, Art and Sport.

The interesting question is, if people will be having trouble in getting to Hakim’s investiture today, how will Hakim get to the opening of the Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem tomorrow?

■ A SMALL group of Australian expats living in Israel like to exchange nostalgic jokes and anecdotes. This one was passed on by Ruth Ainie (née Goldenberg) of Rehovot, and formerly of Melbourne, who has spent the major part of her life in Israel, but cherishes memories of the old country. This was sent to her by someone who received it from someone else, who received it from yet another ex-Ozzie, but all realized how pertinent it is today.

Checking out at the supermarket, the young cashier suggested to the much older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags aren’t good for the environment. The woman apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this ‘green thing’ back in my earlier days.” The young cashier responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.”

She was right – our generation didn’t have the “green thing” in its day. Back then, we returned milk bottles, lemonade bottles and beer bottles to the shop. The shop sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

But we didn’t have the “green thing” back in our day.

Grocery shops bagged our groceries in brown paper bags that we reused for numerous things. Most memorable, besides household bags for rubbish, was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our schoolbooks. This was to ensure that public property (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribblings. Then we were able to personalize our books on the brown paper bags. But too bad we didn’t do the “green thing” back then.

We walked up stairs because we didn’t have a lift in every supermarket, shop and office building. We walked to the local shop and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go half a mile. But she was right. We didn’t have the “green thing” in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby’s terry towel nappies (diapers) because we didn’t have the throwaway kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 3 kilowatts – wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids had hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right; we didn’t have the “green thing” back in our day.

Back then, we had one radio or TV in the house – not a TV in every room, and the TV had a small screen the size of a big handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of Scotland in the kitchen. We blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded-up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn petrol just to cut the lawn. We pushed the mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she’s right; we didn’t have the “green thing” back then.

We drank from a tap or fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn’t have the “green thing” back then.

Back then, people took the bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked, instead of turning their mums into a 24-hour taxi service in the family’s $80,000 “People Carrier,” which cost the same as a whole house did before the “green thing.”

We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances, and we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pub!

But isn’t it sad that the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were, just because we didn’t have the “green thing” back then?

Please forward this on to another selfish old person who needs a lesson in conservation from a smart-arse young person. We don’t like being old in the first place, so it doesn’t take much to piss us off... especially from a tattooed, multiple-pierced smart-arse who can’t work out the change without the cash register telling them how much it is!