Among birthdays being celebrated this weekend are those of former president Reuven Rivlin who will turn 83, actor Chaim Topol who will turn 87, and “Mr. Television” Haim Yavin, who believe it or not will turn 90. Yavin was the founding anchorman in Israel’s television industry, if one doesn’t count Educational Television, which was still experimental at that time.
Yavin, a newsreader and later a filmmaker of documentaries, who was arguably the longest lasting news anchor in the country and is probably best known for announcing the unexpected political upheaval when Menachem Begin led Likud to victory in the 1977 elections, from which the political parties on the left never recovered, barring the short-lived term of Ehud Barak as prime minister from 1999 to 2001.
Ehud Olmert: Still prominent in Israel's social scene
■ WITH REGARD to former prime ministers, Ehud Olmert remains a permanent fixture on the social scene and was among the guests at the opening of the pop art exhibition titled Sukkar (Sugar) a joint project of multi-talented journalist, television personality and author Gil Riba, in partnership with jeweler and silversmith Sara Shahak. Based on the emotions and physical reactions that people have in relation to sugar., the exhibition is contemporary, colorful, meaningful and open to a multitude of interpretations.
The project attracted numerous writers and other creative people who contributed their input. Among them were author Meir Shalev, celebrity chefs Eyal Shani and Erez Komorowski, broadcaster and lyricist Yaron London, singer Shlomo Gronich, television and cooking personality Michal Ansky, columnist Lior Dayan, and many others. The exhibition went on view at the Ofer Mall in Tel Aviv, whose owner, Liora Ofer, is a long-time fan of Riba’s and always purchases items from exhibitions in which he is involved.
Also spotted in the crowd were Avi Weiss, who heads Channel 12 News Company, businessman Roni Fuchs and queen of the fashion model agencies Betty Rockaway.
Celebrating Israel's ties with Brazil
■ IT IS doubtful that any other embassy celebrated a milestone anniversary of its country’s independence, with the number and variety of events that have been undertaken by the Embassy of Brazil, which is currently celebrating the bicentenary of Brazil’s independence.
In addition to a series of cultural events around the country, the embassy together with Brazil’s Investment, Trade and Promotion office – Apex Brasil, opened Casa Brasil at Hangar 11 on the Port of Tel Aviv. For several days, visitors could listen to Brazilian music, taste Brazilian food, watch Brazilian dancers, examine the magnificent Brazilian furniture and get the feel of Brazilian fashion.
On Wednesday, the actual anniversary date, Brazil’s ambassador Gerson Menandro hosted a huge reception at Casa Brasil. On a giant screen, guests were shown the diversity and beauty of Brazil’s gifts of nature, splendid tourist attractions, impressive urban architecture, technological achievements and more.
Israelis who are somewhat dismayed by all the construction that is going on all over the country, with the rapid disappearance of open spaces, will be jealous of the fact that Brazil has a law that states that 30% of its vast territory must remain untouched.
In what he called a break with protocol, the ambassador urged everyone to sing the national anthems of both Brazil and Israel, and did so himself. The crowd followed suit, with one hand on heart during the Brazilian anthem and the other holding up a mobile phone camera to record the proceedings.
Menandro said that 220 million Brazilians at home and around the world were honoring the shaping of their country’s destiny.
The Brazilians who have made Israel their second home, are Brazil’s best ambassadors, he said.
In presenting a few statistics about his country, Menandro said that Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world in area and population, with the 10th largest economy in the world. The food it produces feeds 1.2 billion people and it also produces clean renewable energy. Moreover, it is home to 30 world heritage sites.
Brazil has a very long history with Israel and the Jewish people. The first Jews arrived there when the country was still a Portuguese colony, and today, said the ambassador, more than 400,000 Brazilians have Jewish ancestry.
During the Second World War, Brazil sent troops, including Jewish troops, to fight against the Nazis and two of Brazil’s diplomats of that era, Aracy Moebius de Carvalho Guimaraes Rosa, who headed the passport section of the Brazilian consulate in Hamburg, and Luiz Martins de Souza Dantas, a Brazilian diplomat serving in France. Each issued documents to hundreds of Jews and non-Jews to enable them to flee the Holocaust and find a haven in Brazil. Both have been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous among the Nations.
After the war, Oswaldo Aranha, who was Brazil’s permanent representative at the United Nations, lobbied intensively for the partition plan that led to the creation of Israel and was president of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) when the vote was taken.
Although there are vast differences between Brazil and Israel, said the ambassador, what unites them is their diversity and democracy. Both countries have large migrant populations coming from a variety of backgrounds that are united under democratic administrations. Brazil’s population is also made up of large tribal communities.
The ambassador also noted the first anniversary of Brazil’s joining the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, who represented the Government, surprised the crowd by frequently dropping Portuguese expressions into his speech. It transpires that Horowitz’s family was among those who found a haven in Brazil and were able to escape the Holocaust.
With full throated drama, Horowirz reminded the Brazilians present that exactly 200 years earlier, Don Pedro had stood on the banks of the river proclaiming “Independence or Death.”
Horowitz also referred to Aranha, and remarked that Brazil is home to one of the largest Jewish communities in South and Central America.
He also expressed Israel’s appreciation for Brazil’s support in international forums, especially at the United Nations, and also for opening a Brazilian trade office in Jerusalem.
Commenting that Brazil will hold elections in October and Israel in November, Horowitz was confident that regardless of the outcome in each country, relations between the two countries would continue to flourish.
In a congratulatory video-tape, Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that the first synagogue in the Americas had been built in Brazil.
Remembering the struggle to free Soviet Jewry
■ WHEN HE sent out invitations for the launch of his book Here We Are All Jews: 175 Russian – Jewish Journeys, Rabbi Jonathan Porath did not expect the huge turnout that filled the seat of the Emek Synagogue in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood.
Many of those present had, in one way or another, been involved in the amazingly unifying struggle for Soviet Jewry, which brought Jews of all stripes together, in a contemporary version of the Biblical story of Let my People go. Some had even traveled to Russia with Porath.
Just as Jews continue to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt and the wanderings in the dessert of the ancient Children of Israel, it is no less imperative to tell the story of the Nazi attempt to eradicate Jews from the face of the earth and the establishment of Israel only three years after the Holocaust. It is equally important to tell the story of a large segment of the Jewish people, which had almost been spiritually annihilated by the Communist regime, and which with the support of Jews world-wide decided to reclaim its heritage and succeeded.
Among those in the lead of this reclamation project was Natan Sharansky, who recalled that Soviet Jews had been cut off from the Jewish world and would have known anything were it not for the thousands of Jewish tourists from different countries, but mostly from America, who came bearing books, pamphlets, kosher good products and religious artifacts. “We received our information from them,” he said.
While Sharansky gave a lot of credit to Jewish activists in the struggle to allow Soviet Jews to practice their faith and to leave the Soviet Union, Ilan Greenfield, the director of Gefen Publishing House, which published the book and has published other books on the subject, lauded Sharansky as someone who not only changed Jewish history but changed world history. “The Jewish People owe him a lot,” said Greenfield.
People who know Porath well and worked with him likewise believe that he too was an influential factor in changing Jewish history.
Between 1965 and 2019, Porath visited Russia and the former Soviet Union 175 times. He never abandoned Russian Jewry or Jews of the former Soviet Union. He met thousands of Jews and heard tens of thousands of stories, some of which he recounts in his book and a few of which he repeated at the launch, still full of the enthusiasm that accompanied him on his first trip to the Soviet Union more than half a century ago.
One moving story is about how he led a Yizkor service in Russian with a congregation that had been far removed from anything Jewish, but who wanted to be Jewish in the way that their ancestors had been. The actual Kaddish, however, had been recited in Hebrew, with Porath slowly uttering each word syllable by syllable so that the congregants could follow and repeat.
Porath maintained his contacts with such Jews after they left Russia and mentioned a woman who came to Israel absolutely insisted on keeping a kosher home because to her, this was one of the highest forms of identifying Jewishly, something that she had been unable to do in the Soviet Union.
Another story was about a man Porath met in the Soviet Union, who had taught himself Hebrew in order to be able to pray in the holy tongue.
It is difficult for people living in the free world to imagine how much courage this took.
Just as the Chinese proverb states that the longest journey begins with the first step, so too, the journey of Soviet Jews began with a small group that wanted to speak Hebrew, to learn how to pray and to learn about Jewish history.
That small nucleus continues to mushroom. Even Sharansky marvels to this day how it has become so powerful.