Grapevine August 19, 2022: To whom does the credit belong?

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 SCHINDLER’S LIST survivor Roman Lesniak celebrates his 100th birthday.  (photo credit: SUZANNE LESNIAK)
SCHINDLER’S LIST survivor Roman Lesniak celebrates his 100th birthday.
(photo credit: SUZANNE LESNIAK)

It’s somewhat difficult to know exactly where to give credit for the resumption of full diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey. The restoration of ambassadors was something that both countries were working towards, but much of what they were doing in this direction remained under the radar. Yet in December 2021 months before the visit of President Isaac Herzog to Turkey in March of this year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a group of visiting rabbis and lay leaders that inter alia included members of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States, that relations with Israel were vital for the security and stability of the region. During that meeting, Erdogan was also optimistic that relations between the two countries would improve. Such optimism from someone of his status was obviously based on knowledge about the progress in making improvement not just a goal but a reality. The question is: Who started the ball rolling?

■ ONE OF the great saviors of Jews during the Holocaust was industrialist Oskar Schindler, who saved 1,200 Jews by employing them as essential labor in his factory, and whose exploits became known to the world through the prize-winning book Schindler’s List by Australian nonfiction novelist Thomas Keneally. First released in October 1982 as Schindler’s Ark, the book was subsequently made into an award-winning film by Steven Spielberg in 1993.

Very few of the people who were on Schindler’s List are alive. One of those who is still in the land of the living is Roman Lesniak, whose original surname was Goldberger, and who was number 548 on the list. Believed to be the last Schindler survivor in Canada, he celebrated his 100th birthday on August 10 and according to his daughter-in-law Suzanne Lesniak he plays golf, drives, plays bridge and almost always wins, cooks and cleans. At the age of 94, he stopped riding a horse. He is sharp as can be, she asserts and can discuss anything from politics, stocks, construction or who won the latest tennis match. He reads the local and Israeli news daily and he danced at his birthday parties.

Originally from Krakow, Poland, he moved to Israel after the Holocaust and fought in the War of Independence. His Israeli passport number is 975. He later moved to Montreal, Canada, where he raised his family. He has spoken many times about his experiences during the Holocaust and can recount every detail. Together with his grandson he returned to Poland for the opening of Oskar Schindler’s Factory of Enameled Vessels and was in Israel for Schindler’s funeral. Schindler died in October 1974 in Hildesheim, Germany, and was buried on Mount Zion. In 1993, he and his wife Emilie were recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. Schindler, who had been a member of the Nazi Party, had retained his sense of compassion and human decency.

For his 100th birthday, Lesniak had three parties, where he danced and spoke and just enjoyed what was happening around him. Declining gifts, he asked for donations to be made to Beit Halochem which cares for wounded army veterans in Israel.

 PANNABHA CHANDRARAMYA, ambassador of Thailand (left) with members of her staff at the presentation of gifts to Mothers Make a Difference and to Mesila.  (credit: Courtesy Thai Embassy) PANNABHA CHANDRARAMYA, ambassador of Thailand (left) with members of her staff at the presentation of gifts to Mothers Make a Difference and to Mesila. (credit: Courtesy Thai Embassy)

Charitable activities

■ SEVERAL FOREIGN embassies in Israel engage in charitable activities. Among them is the Thai Embassy, whose ambassador Pannabha Chandraramya, ahead of a decision by the Finance Ministry to help pay for the cost of food for infants in single-parent families, led Embassy officials and staff in an initiative to provide milk formula, diapers, other necessary supplies and toys to Mothers Make a Difference. This is a group of volunteer mothers who provide essential aid to needy mothers and children in Israel. Included in the donation from the Labor section of the Embassy’s Office of Commercial Affairs, were Thai nationals living and working or studying in Israel, was Mesila, a unit under the auspices of the Tel Aviv Municipality that provides assistance and social services to asylum seekers and undocumented people, especially children under the age of 18.

This “good deeds activity” donation by the Royal Thai Embassy was in honor of the 90th birthday Anniversary of Queen Sirikit, The Queen Mother, and in line with Her Majesty’s unwavering efforts to promote the well-being of mothers and children in need. Chloe Sandler, founder of Mothers Make a Difference and Abigail Hurwitz, Director of Mesila, welcomed the Embassy’s team, for the donation and presented a short briefing about the organizations and expressed their appreciation, which will help children and mothers in need. Mesila currently provides direct assistance to approximately 10,000 children in Israel.

Mahmoud Abbas's comment

■ PAINFUL THOUGH it is to realize, outrageous comments about Israel, Jews and the Holocaust that are made by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his ilk are a unifying factor for Jews. The anger that such comments generate among Jews of all stripes, leads to a closing of ranks as differences are temporarily put aside.

Even so, few would agree that Abbas is deserving of appreciation. The general condemnation that he received from Jews and non-Jews in reaction to what he said in Germany this week, should provide a lot of food for thought for the Palestinian people.

40 years of Jerusalem's Great Synagogue

■ THE SPIRITUAL uplift that accompanies services in some synagogues and houses of worship of people of different faiths, is enhanced when the congregation has something to celebrate in addition to the Sabbath. Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue is currently celebrating its 40th anniversary, and in addition to this event, congregants this coming Saturday will also celebrate the bar mitzvah of Eitan Hoffman, and the calling up to the Torah of bridegroom Michael Bachner. Services on Friday night and Saturday will be led by Cantor Zvi Weiss accompanied by The Great Synagogue Choir conducted by Elli Jaffe, as will services for the High Holy Days. The synagogue Board invites the public to come and join in the celebrations.

■ APROPOS JERUSALEM, Susan Bellos, a former editor of the youth series of Jerusalem Post magazines, celebrated a milestone birthday and of the invitees to her home in Ramat Eshkol – approximately half were born in August – and a special toast was drunk to all of them. The vast majority of all present were native English speakers, mostly from the UK but also from the US and Australia. Those who were from other countries spoke English without a trace of an accent. What was interesting was that nearly everyone including Bellos, has lived in Israel for much longer than in the countries of their birth but the language that flowed between them was English. Bellos belongs to a writers’ group whose members write poetry and prose – novels and short stories. Bellos read out two poems she had written in tribute to deceased friends. This brought to mind to the writer of this column the names of some of the deceased editorial staff of The Jerusalem Post, who in their day were media stars who will be remembered by some of the veteran readers of the paper. Among them were Ari Rath, David Bar-Illan, Asher Wallfish, Louis Rapoport, David Krivine, Devora Getzler, Martha Meisels, Alec Israel, David Landau, Helen Rossi, Jerrold Kessel, Dvora Ben-Shaul, Moshe Kohn, Yossi Goell, Robert Rosenberg. Philip Gillon, Alex Berlyne, Bernie Josephs, Mike Ronnen, Helen Kaye, Shuki Cohen, Sam Orbaum, Dora Sowden, Joe Blumberg, Aryeh Dean Cohen, Matt Nesvisky, Joel Bainerman, Joe Hoffman and Helga Dudman among others.

Some readers who in last Friday’s Magazine may have read about Miryam Sivan’s book 50 of Tel Aviv’s Most Intriguing Streets – The Lives Behind the Names may have recalled that in 1982, Helga Dudman’s book Street People in which she wrote the biographies of people who had streets named for them, drew considerable attention. In 1991, Dudman, who lived in Tiberias, wrote a book in which she chronicled the histories of people who throughout the centuries had made an impact on the city.

■ BELLOS WAS not the only Jerusalemite who was celebrating a milestone birthday. Way across the other side of town in Abu Tor, Barry Weiss was celebrating his 90th birthday surrounded by four generations of family and many friends. Weiss and his wife, Dorraine, came to Jerusalem from California and brought their aging parents with them. His mother and her father were then well into their golden age, but lived for several years in their new environment to which they adapted very well. Socially active in California, Dorraine and Barry brought part of that lifestyle with them, frequently entertaining privately and on behalf of different organizations in their home and going out a lot to the events of other people and organizations. They both love to dance and are also fond of vintage clothes. They proved on Tuesday night that they still have all the dance moves, and Barry looked very dapper in a sky-blue vintage summer suit.

Retirement

■ FOR MANY people retirement is just a word in the dictionary. They may leave the place of their long-term employment due to certain rules regarding civil servants. Judges in Israel, for instance, must retire at age 70, though in some other countries, an appointment to the bench is a lifetime commitment. When Knesset Secretary-General Yardena Meller-Horowitz, at the end of March completed 45 years of service to the Knesset, including 12 as secretary-general, it was presumed that she might go home and tend to her garden, or join a senior citizen’s group. But Meller-Horowitz was looking for something a little more challenging. At the general meeting of members of the Jabotinsky Institute, Meller-Horowitz, along with Merav Grossman, was elected to the Board which is headed by former MK Yossi Ahimeir. Their inclusion brought the number of Board members to 11.

Meller-Horowitz comes from a staunch Netanya-based Betar family. Her parents were both members of Irgun, the right-wing paramilitary organization that operated against the British Mandate. Prior to her last Knesset role, she was secretary of the Likud faction in the Knesset and manager of the Knesset Speaker’s office. Merav Grossman comes from a veteran Revisionist family, and is noted for her managerial skills. She is the CEO of an institute dedicated to industrial innovation.

Meller-Horowitz has been succeeded as secretary-general at the Knesset by attorney Dan Marzouk.

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