Grapevine, November 24, 2022: A salute to the chief of staff

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG at a Sigd ceremony in Jerusalem (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG at a Sigd ceremony in Jerusalem
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

Among the final honors to be accorded to outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi during the month and a half before he steps out of uniform, is one at the annual awards ceremony hosted by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev on Ben- Gurion Day, which this year falls on November 30, a day after the 75th anniversary of the passing of United Nations Resolution 181 that enabled the establishment of the State of Israel to be transformed from a dream to a reality, and paved the way for Ben-Gurion’s dream to watch the desert bloom. 

In the interim, the Negev has bloomed, not only in terms of the agricultural produce of kibbutzim and moshavim in the southern region, but in population enhanced by immigration and the massive relocation of army bases, replete with the families of IDF personnel and the required community infrastructure and services. 

At around the same time as the IDF was finalizing its plans for the Negev, the Lauder Employment Center in conjunction with BGU and the Jewish National Fund-USA was launched with the aim of keeping BGU graduates in the Negev. As a result, many who would have sought work in Tel Aviv or one of the other big cities in the country, are living in or near Beersheba and are working and raising families somewhere in the Negev. Construction has moved at a rapid pace, and the population keeps growing.

In addition to receiving an award, Kohavi will be the keynote speaker at the ceremony, to be held at 5.30 p.m. at the university’s Joya Claire Sonnenfeldt Auditorium on the Marcus Family Campus.

BGU embodies Ben-Gurion’s vision of a “beacon of science and knowledge for the Negev, Israel and the nations of the world” through its incorporation of all the academic, scientific, social, educational and communal activities that are part of the legacy of Israel’s founding prime minister.

Kohavi is being honored in recognition of his historic contribution to the future of Israel as the chief of staff who signed off on moving the IDF’s communications and intelligence branches to the Negev.

■ IN A week fraught with tragedy, uncertainty and fear, the good news in the pre-dawn hours of Thursday morning was that the body of Druze ‘teenager Tiran Ferro from Daliat al-Carmel abducted from a hospital in Jenin, where he was taken in a critical condition following a traffic accident, had been returned to his family. Jewish Israelis can learn a lot from the Israeli Druze community in terms of attitude and consideration for others. 

Had it been a Jewish boy who had been cruelly removed from a life support system and kidnapped, there would have been a huge hue and cry for the army to go into Jenin full force. The victim’s father Hossam Ferro said that the family did not want anyone else to be sacrificed in their effort  to bring Tiran home for burial, and asked that the army hold off for a few days to see if Tiran’s body could be recovered by diplomatic means. Thankfully, diplomacy worked, and there was no need for force which would have undoubtedly led to needless bloodshed.

Reaction by Israel’s outgoing government, proved that despite the strong streak of ultra-nationalism pervading the incoming government, Israel cares about her non-Jewish citizens. It may also have helped that Daliat al-Carmel Mayor Rafik Halabi, is a former prize winning broadcaster who held senior executive positions with the now defunct Israel Broadcasting Authority. Former colleagues who now work for the IBA’s successor, the Israel Broadcasting Corporation, gave him as much air time as he wanted to make the story known to an ever wider public.

During his broadcasting years, Halabi had excellent connections in the Palestinian Authority, and was often criticized for being too friendly with them. Presuming that Halabi had maintained these contacts, Reshet Bet current affairs anchor Arieh Golan remarked that these contacts should have served him well in the Ferro case, to which Halabi responded that things had changed and that he had no-one to talk to among the Palestinians. Nonetheless, the Palestinian leadership cooperated in the diplomatic effort to return Tiran Ferro to his family.

■ DIFFERENT ETHNIC groups which have migrated to Israel over the years maintain certain customs from the old country, which, in some cases, have become national holidays. The prime example is the Moroccan Mimouna, but Sigd, the religious holiday of Israel’s Ethiopian Jewish community, is gaining traction in the wider community, partially due to Ethiopian music festivals and the success of Ethiopian singers in the general community.

When thousands of Ethiopian Jews set off on their dangerous trek across the desert, their main objective was Jerusalem, which they viewed as some kind of Garden of Eden. They eventually discovered that Israel is not the paradise which they envisioned, but this did not shatter their dream, and once here, they chose to stay and to rebuild their lives while preserving many of the customs and traditions which they brought with them from Ethiopia. Sigd, held on the 29th day of the Hebrew calendar month of Heshvan is one of them. 

Held 50 days after Yom Kippur, it represents the renewal of the covenant between the Divine Creator and the Jewish people. Members of the Ethiopian community, wherever they live in Israel, come to Jerusalem for Sigd, and the Kessim – the spiritual leaders of the community – come dressed in their ceremonial robes.

It is customary for the President of the State to attend the Sigd ceremony which in 2008, was signed into law as a national holiday. In addressing the crowd that gathered in Jerusalem on Wednesday, President Isaac Herzog said that Ethiopian Jews had not come to Israel – to Jerusalem – with empty hands. In their long and difficult journey, they brought with them the spirit of Jerusalem and their own nobility of purpose. They overcame the harshest of tests along the way after long years of expectation and longing.

Herzog also paid tribute to the Kessim for their continued leadership, and did not forget to say that the journey has not yet been completed because there are still thousands of Ethiopian Jews waiting to come to Israel to be reunited with their families. He also referred to Avera Megistu who has been held in captivity in Gaza since September, 2014. “Fate has made him the son of all of us, and we pray for his speedy return home” said Herzog.

■ VETERAN HABIMA Theater actress Lea Koenig, an Israel Prize laureate, who is currently appearing in the Habima production of Women’s Quorum (Minyan Nashim) was given an on-stage surprise birthday party at the end of the performance this week, even though her actual birthday is not till November 30. At age 93, Koenig is believed to be the oldest working actress in Israel. Among those who joined forces to surprise her, was fellow actress Miriam Zohar, who is 91, but looks much younger. Koenig is currently playing in four different Habimah productions in any given week, and thanks to her phenomenal memory, she does not mix up or forget the texts.

Obviously delighted that her birthday was remembered by friends and colleagues, Koenig told the crowd that she was so busy that she generally didn’t have time for celebrations. As for the secret of her longevity: she attributed it to the affection she received from her audiences, and from her colleagues at Habima which she regards as her home, her family and her life.

■ CANCER CUT short the life of multi-talented actress, dancer, screen writer and film director Ronit Elkabetz, who died six years ago at the age of 51. Early in her career she also appeared from time to time on fashion runways. Her exotic appearance and the aura of drama that she exuded, made her a must for the presentation of certain kinds of fashion collections. Her personal fashion wardrobe was divided between Tel Aviv and Paris.

A cinematic essay in tribute to her titled Je t’aime Ronit Elkabetz was shown at this year’s Jerusalem Film Festival.

A premiere screening for commercial purposes was held this week at the Tel Aviv Museum of the Arts.

■ ANYONE WITH Polish roots who wants to spend part of January in the snow, can join Pardes Dean Emeritus Dr. David I. Bernstein in a heritage tour that goes far beyond the usual roots trip to the cities and towns of parents and grandparents, but explores centuries of Jewish history in Poland. Bernstein has led many such trips which have proved to be an enriching experience for participants. The trip from January 15-19 costs $1,325 not counting airfare and travel insurance. Bernstein who is the son of Polish Holocaust survivors, says that Polish-Jewish history is much more than Shoah, and has a beautiful vibrant side to it. For further information contact: [email protected]