Grapevine December 18, 2022: Crossing redlines

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 JEWISH MOTHERS from different countries meet in Israel under the Momentum banner. (photo credit: AVIRAM WALDMAN)
JEWISH MOTHERS from different countries meet in Israel under the Momentum banner.
(photo credit: AVIRAM WALDMAN)

According to the Basic Law, the President of the state is supposed to be apolitical. In many ways he is but nearly all the Presidents of the state had political careers before their elections to the presidency and they are elected by the Knesset which is a political entity.

During his term as president, Reuven Rivlin did his best to maintain objectivity and to steer clear of politics, somewhat difficult given the number of consultations he had to have with delegations of political parties after every Knesset election. Once in a while, the former Speaker of the Knesset could not hold back his anger and disgust over some of the outrageous statements that emanated from the throats of legislators and some of the injustices perpetrated against certain sectors of the public. He then made statements that were in direct conflict with the neutrality of his office.

Now, as the honorary chairman of the Israel Democracy Institute, he is free to say whatever he wants. A lawyer by profession, who has a profound respect for the law and the judiciary, Rivlin is appalled by attacks on the court system in general and the Supreme Court in particular by legislators who seem to have no understanding of the role of the Supreme Court in a democracy. What may upset him even more is that some of the legislators who are bent on destroying the existing system are also lawyers. Speaking on Monday at an IDI conference on the implications of proposed judicial reforms by members of the incoming coalition, Rivlin, while acknowledging that every democracy needs reforms and balances between its branches, said that the proponents of the reforms had crossed a redline in their quest to override the decisions of the court. He was also bothered by the rhetoric enveloping the proposals, saying that it reeked of revenge, even to the extent of denying the Supreme Court’s very legitimacy. Rivlin warned that concentrating all power within the political system in the name of governance is very dangerous.

It is also unfortunate that members of opposing parties cannot find a way to have a civilized, meaningful dialogue without hurling insults and screaming at each other. The common denominator is, after all, a mutual concern for the future of the country. The opposing sides may have different visions of the future but unless they learn to compromise and find a middle road, Israel’s enemies will be a blessing because they will be the only cause for interludes of national unity.

■ SEVERAL HEADS of state and government are expected to visit Israel next year during the country’s 75th anniversary of independence celebrations. Among them is British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who was reported in Britain’s Jewish media as having told a crowded meeting of the Conservative Friends of Israel that he will visit at this time. At the event attended by three former prime ministers, Liz Truss, Boris Johnson and Theresa May, Sunak pledged Britain’s support for Israel in the United Nations and said: “I will fight very hard for the security of the Jewish State.”

■ “YOU ARE the faces of Israel’s Security,” outgoing Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi told recipients of the Chief of Staff’s Prize for excellence at an awards ceremony at the Dayan Base in Glilot, last week. Units from all branches of the Israel Defense Forces were represented among the prize winners, including those engaged in a relatively recent initiative, Be’Netivei Udi, which is part of the Nitzavim unit and was established seven years ago by the Elgrably family of Jerusalem, in memory of their son Udi, an IDF communications officer who fell in Lebanon.

The initiative named for him identifies and trains youth from the Negev and the Galilee who have the potential and technological orientation for cybersecurity research. The number of candidates for the special course has increased annually and during the past year, more than 50% of the graduates were integrated into key positions in technological units of the IDF, with women accounting for 68% of the graduates.

The Nitzavim unit promotes a number of programs aimed at promoting leadership in the army and society. In recognition of this, the Beersheba Municipality has given it four dunams of land near Ben Gurion University to serve as a base for Nitzanim’s activities.

Groundbreaking for the project will take place in the near future.

APROPOS BGU, The UJA Federation of New York, represented by former MK Itzik Shmuli, the director general of its Israel office, and Yael Israel-Cohen, has launched the first cohort of the Benin Scholars Program at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, thereby adding a significant presence to the Program in the South which aims to have national impact. It is currently being piloted in three institutions, reaching 180 students. The scholarships cover tuition, room and board, combined with a comprehensive set of services and a psycho-social support network. The program will function under the guidance of the Office of the Dean of Students and the dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences.

The Benin Scholars Program of the UJA Federation of New York each year grants hundreds of students from the periphery an extraordinary breakthrough opportunity. The financial and professional support rids them of external pressures and enables them to focus on their studies and succeed. “We are very proud of our partnerships with the academic institutions and especially with the new connection with Ben Gurion University, whose unique approach of combining scientific excellence with community action is a source of inspiration and one that will propel the Negev forward,” said Shmuli.

 ELI KAY’S family meets Yoni Ben Shimol (right) at the dedication ceremony in Eli’s memory.  (credit: UNITED HATZALAH‏) ELI KAY’S family meets Yoni Ben Shimol (right) at the dedication ceremony in Eli’s memory. (credit: UNITED HATZALAH‏)

Albert Benin was a man of vision who recognized that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine) studies would be critical for the future of Israel. He believed in the ability of higher education to create social mobility and therefore created the Scholarship program under the framework of the UJA Federation of New York and named it after his parents, Rachel and Selim Benin.

Albert Benin passed away in Jerusalem, in 1999, but his legacy continues to provide opportunities for outstanding candidates who come from the socio-economic periphery, many of them the first in their families to attend college and pursue STEM careers.

NOTWITHSTANDING HOSTILITIES, Momentum, a global movement that unites Jewish mothers from around the world, promotes Jewish values and believes in fostering unity without uniformity, brought 200 women from Ukraine, Russia, Latvia, Estonia and Germany to Israel, this month, to tour the country, meet with Israeli counterparts and form a network of sisterhood.

Working in partnership with the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, Momentum undertook the complex task of coordinating the logistics and asked participants not to bring any national symbols in their luggage so as to ensure that politics would be kept out of the loop.

Though marked by emotional highs and lows, the trip proved to be an amazing success. “We couldn’t imagine how we could possibly bring the Ukrainian and Russian groups together,” said Momentum founding director Lori Palatnik, “but courageously and with sensitivity, we did and the women quickly found their commonality as Jewish mothers striving for the same values and united as part of a people. We did more for healing, peace and unity than any geopolitical summit. Women are the key.”

One of the highlights of every Momentum eight-day journey is to give Jewish names to participants who don’t have one. The ceremony, which is held atop Masada, generates great excitement and a feeling of belonging.

Since its inception in 2009, Momentum has brought more than 20,000 Jewish women of diverse backgrounds and lifestyles from 35 countries to Israel. During these trips, many have bonded with fellow participants regardless of their differences, and have built strong and lasting friendships.

■ ONE OF the best ways in which any family can commemorate a loved one in perpetuity is to establish or donate to a project which benefits other people.

South African immigrant Eli David Kay, 26, who worked as a Western Wall guide, was shot dead by a Palestine gunman while walking in Jerusalem’s old city. Last week, to mark the first anniversary of his death, his family unveiled a new ambucycle in his name that had been given by an anonymous donor to United Hatzalah for emergency medical response use in Jerusalem.

The recipient of the ambucycle is United Hatzalah volunteer Yoni Ben Shimol, who was the first to arrive on the scene after the shooting and tried unsuccessfully to save Kay’s life. Unfortunately, Kay died soon afterward.

After making aliya on his own, Kay studied for two years at Yeshivat Tomchei Temimin in Kiryat Gat and subsequently enlisted in the IDF, where he served as a paratrooper. On completion of his army service, he became active in Hashomer HaChadash and had been working with the Western Wall Heritage Foundation for three months prior to his murder. A memorial plaque was placed at the exact location of the murder in the presence of his family and friends, Yoni Ben Shimol, United Hatzalah CEO Eli Pollak, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion and Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinovich.