Grapevine August 24, 2022: Influencing history

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG with Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Shalom Cohen. (photo credit: SHLOMI COHEN)
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG with Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Shalom Cohen.
(photo credit: SHLOMI COHEN)

Back in Israel after a long absence is Australian mining tycoon Rabbi Joseph Gutnick, who is best known to Israelis for having bankrolled the highly successful “Bibi is good for the Jews” election campaign in 1996, in which Benjamin Netanyahu defeated front-runner Shimon Peres in a surprise win that changed the history of Israel.

In 2018, Gutnick told Gil Hoffman, the then-political correspondent for The Jerusalem Post, that he sees Ayelet Shaked as Netanyahu’s natural successor. Since then, Shaked’s political luster has faded, and most polls do not see her as a member of the next Knesset. Gutnick believes that sooner or later she will return to the political limelight, but he is presently somewhat disappointed in her for having let down the people who voted for her.

Last year, Gutnick called on Netanyahu to step down and run for president, in the hope that he would appoint a right-wing candidate as Israel’s next prime minister. Netanyahu preferred the role of a statesmanlike politician to that of a politically influenced president.

During this current visit, Gutnick, who would like to see Netanyahu return to office, has already met with him, and will meet with him again. He also had meetings lined up with other political leaders, including Shaked, whom he still admires, Benny Gantz and Itamar Ben-Gvir.

He isn’t bankrolling any politician this time around, explaining that it’s so difficult, given Israel’s new monetary regulations. But he is interested in what is happening in Israel politically, and is keen to meet influential figures whose politics lean to the Right.

 BENJAMIN NETANYAHU with Joseph Gutnick. (credit: EZRA LANDAU) BENJAMIN NETANYAHU with Joseph Gutnick. (credit: EZRA LANDAU)

A Chabadnik and a mega philanthropist who credits his good fortune to blessings that he received from the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Gutnick also had a period in which he fell on hard times and received little help from others. This caused him to think that perhaps he had invested in too many buildings in terms of charitable funding, and not enough in helping individual people. Lady Luck smiled on him again, and in thinking of his own experiences and what he wanted to do for others in the future, he commissioned a book, Gratitude, by way of thanking those who had helped him by giving public recognition to their kindheartedness.

Attaining gratitude in an age of entitlement can be a real challenge, he said, as he wondered whether it is truly possible to see everything that we have as a gift.

In a foreword which he himself authored, Gutnick wrote: “I believe gratitude, appreciation and acknowledgment are the most fundamental principles in our relationship between God and man.”

In paying tribute to the Rebbe, Gutnick wrote: “The Rebbe’s goal is to spread goodness and kindness to humanity.”

Among Gutnick’s many charitable endeavors are the construction of mikvaot (ritual baths) in many parts of Israel, the United States, New Zealand and Tasmania, the southern island state off Australia, separated from the coast of Victoria by the Bass Strait.

■ GUTNICK WAS the international mikveh man, long before Ruthy Leviev-Yelizarov launched her mikveh campaign through her She’asani Isha organization.

In the daily morning blessings men thank God for not making them a woman – shelo asani isha. The negative interpretation of this is that women are inferior. The positive interpretation is that men would never be able to endure the labor pains that women experience in childbirth.

She’asani isha (that I was created a woman) points to at least the equality, if not the superiority, of women, in that they were chosen by God to give life. Moreover, in the Jewish religion, it is the mother who determines the religious identity of the child. If the mother is halachicly Jewish, the child is automatically Jewish, regardless of the identity of the father. If the father is Jewish and the mother is not, the child is not Jewish, other than in some non-Orthodox streams of Judaism – this despite the fact that most biblical characters are mentioned as the offspring of their fathers, and only a few as the offspring of their mothers.

Israel and Ukraine

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 24 is Ukraine’s 31st Independence Day, and although Kyiv has banned rallies as a protective measure against possible Russian strikes, doubtless elsewhere in the world there will be sympathy displays with blue and yellow banners, floral arrangements and illuminations in the form of the Ukrainian flag.

Israel and Ukraine recognized each other de facto in May, 1949, but it was not until December 1991 that de jure diplomatic relations between the two countries were established soon after Ukraine gained independence.

There are more than half a million people of Ukrainian background living in Israel, and, prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there were some 300,000-400,000 Jews living in Ukraine. Many have come to Israel either as immigrants or refugees, and several Ukrainian-born Israelis returned to Ukraine to join in the fight against the Russians. Other Ukrainian Jews went to Poland, Moldova and other parts of Europe to wait out the war.

Jews have lived in Ukraine for more than a thousand years, with Odessa as the cradle of Jewish culture. Though suffering pogroms and intense antisemitism, Ukrainian Jewish communities over the centuries produced great religious and lay leaders, politicians, writers, musicians and athletes.

In the latter category, Ukrainian-born Israelis Artem Dolgopyat and Hanna Minenko this past week won gold and bronze medals, respectively, in the European Championships in Munich.

 ISRAEL’S ARTEM Dolgopyat (center) celebrates on the podium after winning the Men’s Floor Exercise Final in the European Championships, alongside Hungary’s Krisztofer Meszaros (left) and Britain’s Jake Jarman, in Munich earlier this week. (credit: KAI PFAFFENBACH/REUTERS) ISRAEL’S ARTEM Dolgopyat (center) celebrates on the podium after winning the Men’s Floor Exercise Final in the European Championships, alongside Hungary’s Krisztofer Meszaros (left) and Britain’s Jake Jarman, in Munich earlier this week. (credit: KAI PFAFFENBACH/REUTERS)

Among the religious leaders who, many years after their deaths, continue to attract thousands of Jews to their gravesides is Rabbi Nahman of Breslov, though there may be fewer people in Uman this year than in the past, with many being deterred by the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.

Among Israeli leaders born in Ukraine were Golda Meir, Levi Eshkol and Natan Sharansky. Ze’ev Jabotinsky was also born in Ukraine, as was Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky. Writers Sholem Aleichem (whose real name was Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich), Isaac Babel and Chaim Nachman Bialik were born in Ukraine, and so were world-renowned musicians Vladimir Horowitz, David Oistrakh, Gregor Piatigorsky and Isaac Stern. Sophie Tucker, perhaps best known to Jewish audiences for her rendition of “My Yiddishe Mama,” was also born in Ukraine.

Few people outside of Chabad circles are aware that the last of the Chabad rebbes in the seven-generation Chabad dynasty, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, was born in Ukraine in 1902. This year marks the 120th anniversary of his birth. 

■ ON THE subject of anniversaries, the more time passes, the more the number of historic events. It’s difficult to remember them all, and even when they are remembered, there are simply not enough days in the year or hours in the day to commemorate each and every one, though perhaps a week in every month should be set aside for commemorating all the significant events that took place during that month throughout recorded history.

As antisemitism is once again on the rise, it is very important to examine past major incidents of antisemitism to see what can be learned from them.

Earlier this month, on August 12, Jews of Russian origin remembered to honor Peretz Markish, the Ukrainian-born Russian Jewish poet and playwright who, from 1939 to 1943, headed the Yiddish section of the Soviet Writers Union. He was also an executive member of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and, together with Ilya Ehrenberg and Yitskhok Nusinov, sat on the editorial board of its Eynikayt journal. During the Holocaust years, his writings, both directly and indirectly, related to Jewish suffering and martyrdom. He also wrote plays about Soviet Jewish life, which were performed in Yiddish theaters throughout the USSR.

After the war, when Josef Stalin intensified his antisemitic policies, Solomon Mikhoels, the chairman of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, an actor and artistic director of the Moscow State Jewish Theater, was assassinated on Stalin’s orders, though officially his death was attributed to a car accident. Markish wrote a poem about Mikhoels, in which he declared that Mikhoels had been murdered. Stalin sought to get rid of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and all activities that contributed to the preservation of Jewish culture. Markish was duly arrested in 1949, imprisoned under harsh conditions, subjected to a mock trial and sentenced to death. He was executed on August 12, 1952.

With the help of various individuals and organizations, his widow, Esther, and sons Shimon and David continued to publish his works in order to keep his memory alive. David Markish, who is a journalist and poetry and prose writer, lives in Israel and was married here. His wedding was officiated by former chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau.

■ IN A recent antisemitic incident in Australia that was reported in both the Australian and the British media, a bartender was fired from his job at the Irish Times pub in Melbourne for spitting into the beer of neo-Nazi Jimeone Robertson. The incident occurred after the bartender noticed that Robertson, who was with four friends, had a large “black sun” tattoo on his arm. The black sun was the symbol used by the SS during the Nazi era. Robertson and his friends lambasted the bartender for ruining his beer, and the bartender asked them to leave because he didn’t want to serve Nazis. There was an exchange of expletives and verbal abuse. The group eventually left, but the pub’s management, unhappy that the bartender had allowed his personal political views to interfere with his job, terminated his employment and published an apology, which didn’t go over well with a lot of Australians, who characteristically side with the underdog – in this case the bartender. They expressed their displeasure with management on social media.

“If your bartenders spit in a Nazi’s beer, they deserve a pay rise and a bonus,” stated one post.

“The young fella deserves solidarity,” another wrote.

Others condemned his behavior, adding there was no place for an unhygienic act in the middle of a pandemic.

SO FAR, all negotiations aimed at ending the education crisis in time for school to start on September 1 have ended in a stalemate. It defies belief that the government is so blind and deaf to the importance of teachers in the nation’s future.

Aside from the obvious reasons, Prime Minister Yair Lapid is particularly interested in the problem being resolved in advance of September 1, because he has a special family event coming up on September 2. His eldest son, Yoav, the eldest of his three children, and the only one from his first marriage to Tamar Friedman, is getting married to Shay Alalo, to whom he proposed in October last year, when the two were vacationing in Paris. The wedding is taking place at Kibbutz Hulda, where the bride, who is the daughter of Orit Cohen-Alalo and Benny Alalo, lives with her family.

Kibbutz Hulda, which was founded 92 years ago, is where Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai was born and raised. His Polish-born father, Ozer Obarzanski, based his new Hebrew surname on that of the kibbutz, on which he had made his permanent home.

■ AGAINST THE backdrop of the boycott of the 50th anniversary ceremonies of the Munich Olympics by families of the 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team who were murdered there by Black September terrorists, Israel’s new ambassador to Germany, Ron Prosor, accompanied by his 90-year-old mother, Nechama, his sister Sigal and his wife, Hadas, presented his credentials to President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who has been active in trying to resolve the dispute between the families of the victims and the German authorities.

For Prosor, who is of German descent, his serving as ambassador to Germany represents the double closing of a circle. He had served in Germany previously as an Israel Embassy spokesman, so it was good to return as an ambassador. But more important than that was his returning as Israel’s ambassador to a country that his grandparents had left after the notorious burning of the books in May 1933 under the Nazi regime. The “Final Solution,” though horrendously implemented in part, was never completed, and Prosor, the ambassador of Israel, the Jewish homeland, was able to walk calmly and freely through the streets where his grandparents and their children had lived.

■ UNLESS THERE is a significant change, it is unlikely that President Isaac Herzog, who had been invited to Munich, will be going there in September. But there is another overseas trip in the offing within the next few days– this time to Basel in Switzerland, for the 125th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress, which will be held on August 28-29 at the Stadtcasino and at the Basel Congress Center. More than a thousand representatives of Jewish organizations and institutions from around the world are expected to attend.

Ahead of the festive event, KAN 11 recently featured a documentary about the Zionist Archives in which a considerable amount of memorabilia related to Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl was featured. Also shown in the documentary was a photograph of Israel’s sixth president, Chaim Herzog, in a pose similar to that of the iconic photograph of Herzl leaning on the railing of the Hotel Les Trois Rois, where stayed during the First Zionist Congress in 1897. Presumably, Israel’s current president will emulate his father.

Of the 22 Zionist Congresses that took place prior to the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, 10 were held in Basel, where the decisions on Israel’s national flag and national anthem were taken.

This month also marks the 73rd anniversary of Herzl’s reinterment in Jerusalem on August 17, 1949. Herzl died in July 1904, at the age of 44. He was buried in the Herzl family plot in Vienna’s Central Cemetery. In his will he had asked to be buried in a metal casket alongside his father and to remain there until such time as the Jewish people could bring his body to the Land of Israel. He also requested the transfer to Israel of the remains of his parents, his sister Pauline and other close family members.

The last of these, Stephen Norman, Herzl’s only grandson, who had been a captain in the British Army and an ardent Zionist, after learning that all of his Austrian family had been murdered by the Nazis, out of a deep sense of depression that he had been unable to help them, committed suicide in 1946 by jumping off a bridge in Washington.

■ AT THE President’s Residence, the staff is certainly burning the midnight oil. Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Shalom Cohen died in the predawn hours of Monday morning, and by 6:30 a.m. the president’s staff had released a message accompanied by a photograph of Herzog with Cohen. Herzog expressed his grief over Cohen’s death, saying that he was not only a great Torah scholar but also a spiritual leader who, with courtesy and modesty, led a large and important public in Israel and the Jewish world.

Herzog added that he and Cohen had met many times, and that at each of these meetings Herzog had detected Cohen’s connection to, and love for, Jerusalem, and how he had constantly considered the people and the individual human being. Herzog regretted that this year, he would not be able to fulfill the annual tradition of visiting Cohen in his sukkah.

■INTERNATIONALLY ACCLAIMED Paris-based Israeli fashion designer Alber Elbaz, who died from coronavirus in April 2021 at the age of 59, used to say that he does not do retrospectives. But when someone of his fame and talent is no longer in the land of the living, the only way to pay tribute to his creativity is through a retrospective of his work.

Before founding the AZ Factory in 2019, Elbaz, who was a Shenkar alumnus, worked for Geoffrey Beane, Guy Laroche, Lanvin and Yves Saint Laurent.

In his lifetime, Elbaz never had a fashion show to equal that which will be exhibited at Design Museum Holon from September 15, when a large contingent of Shenkar lecturers, students and graduates will be greeted by Mediatech and museum director Danny Weiss, chief museum curator Maya Dvash and curator of the exhibition Yaara Keydar.

Among the items to be seen at the exhibition are some from Love Brings Love, suggested by Alex Koo, Elbaz’s longtime partner, who worked with him at Lanvin. Some of the items in the exhibition have never before been seen by the public.

■ EVEN THOUGH she missed out on being elected to the spot reserved for a woman in the Likud primaries, and before that was unsuccessful in her bid for the chairmanship of the Jewish Agency, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum still had something to smile about. Josh, the oldest of her children, successfully completed the IDF’s boot camp, and his mother posted a photograph of him with his parents on social media platforms telling Josh and the world how proud she and his father, Adam, are of him.

■ THE ASSOCIATION of Israeli Friends of the Israel Museum has a new chairwoman in the person of attorney Adina Shapira, who succeeds Philippe Weil in the position. The association supports the museum’s activities through ongoing involvement, encouraging relationships with art and culture lovers, and fostering greater public awareness of the museum.

For nearly a decade, Shapira served on the Israel Museum’s “Here and Now” Committee for Acquisition of Contemporary Israeli Art. She was also involved in other museum activities.

She is a partner attorney at the Herzog, Fox & Neeman law firm and specializes in representing clients in mergers and acquisitions as well as international investment transactions.

Aside from her legal work, Shapira is involved in several associations, programs and philanthropic organizations. She serves as the director of the Bader Philanthropies family foundation and founded the philanthropic office Mubadarat. In addition, she is a member of the Israeli board of directors of the Donors Network association as well as the international board of the Jewish Funders Network. She is also chairwoman of the Jerusalem International YMCA and a member of the executive committee of the Jerusalem Cultural Season Association. More in line with her profession, Shapira is a member of the International Bar Association’s mergers and acquisitions committee.

■ ICHILOV Hospital director Prof. Ronni Gamzu will be the guest speaker of the Commercial and Industrial Club on Friday, September 16, at 10 a.m. at the Tel Aviv Hilton. Cost is NIS 200 for members and NIS 220 for nonmembers. Gamzu, who specializes in obstetrics, gynecology and healthcare management, before taking up his position in 2015, served as director-general of the Health Ministry. In 2019, he also chaired the committee that determines how public funds are allocated for medications and medical treatments.

In April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gamzu took a leave of absence from Ichilov to become the project coordinator dealing with the pandemic. Most media referred to him as the coronavirus “czar.” Although he was involved in a wide array of activities designed to protect the public and to isolate the sick, Gamzu, aware of the vulnerability of senior citizens, was particularly concerned about protecting the residents of retirement homes. He returned to Ichilov in November 2020.

■ AS IF residents of Tel Aviv are not suffering from an overdose of stress due to the construction of multistory towers and light rail infrastructure, which causes closure of roads and streets and adds to congestion in those places that can still be traversed by motor vehicles, the city planners are now discussing a huge urban renewal plan in which several buildings will be destroyed in a number of adjoining streets, to make way for additional towers that will be used for commercial, public and residential purposes.

All that was once familiar is disappearing from Tel Aviv, and in the urban renewal program under discussion so will several familiar sites on Leonardo da Vinci, Laskov, Kaplan and Hauptman streets. The land on which new buildings will be constructed belongs to the Tel Aviv Municipality and the National Lottery Mifal Hapayis.

Although some buildings in these streets will be preserved for their historic value, the Mifal Hapayis building and that of the Federation of Local Authorities will be destroyed. In the quest for modernity, the Tel Aviv Municipality has time and again ignored the feelings of residents or former residents in buildings earmarked for destruction.