Grapevine December 21, 2022: Blending with Bahrain

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 AMBASSADOR OF BAHRAIN Khaled Yusef Al Jalahma and his wife Nouf pose with US Ambassador Tom Nides (photo credit: Ofer Matityahu)
AMBASSADOR OF BAHRAIN Khaled Yusef Al Jalahma and his wife Nouf pose with US Ambassador Tom Nides
(photo credit: Ofer Matityahu)

There was a very long line of people in the lobby of the Tel Aviv Hilton leading to the ballroom. The occasion was the National Day celebrating the establishment of the modern state of Bahrain as an Arab and Muslim State, the founding of Bahrain in 1783 by Ahmed Al Fateh and the anniversary of the accession to the throne by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. All invitees had to produce the bar code received when confirming their attendance and this was checked electronically before they were able to proceed into a softly lighted reception area which had been turned into an elegant display area for works by Bahraini artisans.

Then onto another long line of guests waiting to congratulate Ambassador Khaled Yusuf Al Jalahma and his wife Nouf Ali Al Khaja, who were standing inside a large, box-like section of the wall, with a bevy of photographers on hand to photograph every guest who shook hands with them. The guests were then presented with a bar code with which to access their photos the following day.

If this seemed to be a little over the top, it was in line with something the ambassador later said in his speech. When speaking of the privilege of being at the forefront of a new reality in relation to the Abraham Accords, he said that by their presence at his reception, each of the guests was contributing to building a better relationship between the Emirates, Morocco, Bahrain and other countries in the region.

Something else he said, was perhaps more meaningful when he referred to some of the fruits of the Abraham Accords, such as allowing the Arabs from the Gulf states to realign with their Arab brothers and sisters and their Jewish cousins (in Israel). Jews often refer to Arabs as cousins – sometimes derisively so – but it is rare to hear Arabs refer to Jews as cousins, even though Isaac and Ishmael were, in fact, half-brothers.

This was the second consecutive year in which Al Jalahma celebrated his country’s national day in Israel. He also did so last year, just a brief period after his arrival in the country. He had invited far fewer guests then, despite having organized a breathtaking museum-style exhibition of some of the country’s treasures. All in all, he had taken far less space in another part of the Hilton complex. Since then, he has made numerous friends and has important connections in industry, academia, culture, the arts, the diplomatic community and more.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC Herzog and his wife Michal with Circassian dancers at Kafr Kama.  (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO) PRESIDENT ISAAC Herzog and his wife Michal with Circassian dancers at Kafr Kama. (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

The estimate is that close to a thousand people attended and feasted on traditional Bahraini cuisine prepared by Hilton chefs, who kept supplementing the plates and the platters. There were no alcoholic beverages because Bahrain is a Moslem country whose representatives maintain Moslem rules and traditions both inside and outside their borders.

Al Jalahma did not overlook the Palestinian problem. The Palestinian cause has always been a priority in Bahrain’s foreign policy, he said, and resolving the Israeli-Palestinian problem would contribute to a sustainable and stable future for all in the Middle East.

Representing the government was Issawi Frej, the Minister for Regional Co-operation, and the 2nd Muslim Arab to hold a ministerial portfolio in a government of Israel. The first was Raleb Majadla.

For Frej, who is not only leaving the ministry but also the world of politics, this was by way of a grand finale. He first entered the Knesset on a Meretz ticket, in 2013.

Frej also spoke of the need to resolve the Palestinian problem and while insisting that, “we must not forget our neighbors the Palestinians,” Frej called on other states in the region to join in creating a new Middle East.

With regard to the Palestinians, he said: “The better their lives, the better our lives will be.” In this context, he proposed that everything be done to aid the integration of the Palestinians into positive developments in the region.

Of the flourishing relationship between Bahrain and Israel, Frej noted that since the establishment of diplomatic ties, more than 40 agreements and Memoranda of Understanding have been signed.

Politicians from across the spectrum had been invited to the event but few could attend in view of the intensive coalition negotiations that were taking place at the Knesset. Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu sent a congratulatory video. President Isaac Herzog, who sends many videos to events that he cannot attend, did not do so on this occasion, despite his recent visit to Bahrain, and was otherwise occupied. Although there was no president or past president of Israel in attendance, there was the son of a president in the person of Chemi Peres, the son of the late Shimon Peres. Among the many diplomats was US Ambassador Tom Nides, which was as it should be, considering America’s role in the genesis of the Abraham Accords.

A gap in the schedule

■ BECAUSE PRESIDENT Herzog has such a busy schedule, Chief of State Protocol Gil Haskel thought that new ambassadors would not be able to present credentials to him before February. But apparently, there was a gap in the president’s January calendar and on January 11, Turkish Ambassador Sakir Ozkan Torunlar will present his credentials and will be the first diplomat to fill the role of Ambassador since the downgrading of relations between Turkey and Israel, in 2018.

Also presenting credentials on January 11 will be the ambassadors of Australia, the Philippines and South Korea. According to protocol, ambassadors cannot fully carry out their duties until after presenting their credentials, which is why it is important for them to do so as soon as possible after their arrival in Israel.

The perfect candidate for conducting rabbinical diplomacy

■ IN LAST Friday’s The Jerusalem Post, Zvika Klein introduced readers to potential candidates for election next summer as Ashkenazi and Sephardi Chief Rabbis, once the 10-year term of the present incumbents is completed. Among the rabbis mentioned, the one who appears to be most highly qualified is Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the ultra-Orthodox Zionist President of the Conference of European Rabbis, who studied in some of the most prestigious yeshivot in Israel and the United States and pursued his academic education at John Hopkins University.

He is fluent in seven languages, has lived in several countries, is well-versed in Jewish Law, and has access to political leaders and other people of influence in most European countries and in the US. He is a perfect candidate for conducting rabbinical diplomacy. But these attributes might prove to be a burden rather than a blessing.

Goldschmidt is living proof that secular studies do not encroach on Torah studies and that the two can complement each other. As Chief Rabbi, he would in all probability advocate for core subjects, such as English and math, to be incorporated into the curricula of ultra-Orthodox schools. This would not go over well with Knesset representatives of ultra-Orthodox parties, who have long been battling against the inclusion of core subjects, refusing to recognize that they are perpetuating poverty by denying students access to knowledge that will help them to get good jobs and improve their quality of life and that of their families.

Pilot program for teaching English as a second language

■ MEANWHILE, THE Jerusalem Municipality has announced that a pilot program for teaching English as a second language will be introduced in March in 50 compulsory kindergartens throughout the city and if it proves to be successful, it will be expanded to include all 150 compulsory kindergartens in the capital.

The project, initiated by outgoing Education Minister Yfat Shasha Biton in February of this year, was eagerly embraced by the Jerusalem Education Administration and by Deputy Mayor Hagit Moshe, who holds the municipal education portfolio. Teachers will receive special training in teaching English as a second language to young children and will include university students and retirees for whom in most cases, English is a first language. The program will not only contribute to the ability of Jerusalem children to communicate with people who do not speak Hebrew but also to bridge generation gaps.

Hanukkah celebrations in Israel's capital

■ ON ANOTHER Jerusalem Municipality subject, there has been a blitz of spending money on print and electronic media advertising to promote Jerusalem as the city of Hanukkah happenings. The frequency with which Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion is heard on the radio, urging the public to come and enjoy the vast entertainment offerings in the capital during Hanukkah, is mind-blowing, particularly in relation to the low-key promotions of Hanukkah events by mayors of other cities. One can’t help wondering whether Lion is using Hanukkah as a springboard for his election campaign for the October 2023 mayoral elections.

Internationally acclaimed cartoonist launched popular political cartoon in the Post

■ ON JANUARY 1, 1973, internationally acclaimed cartoonist Yaakov Kirschen launched his popular political Dry Bones cartoon in The Jerusalem Post. While many political cartoons are offensive, Kirschen’s aim was to seduce rather than offend and to get people to think about the comments of his cartoon characters and possibly re-examine their own political outlooks.

Although the Post was for many years the main outlet for Dry Bones, it was also reprinted and quoted by The New York Times, TIME Magazine, Los Angeles Times, AP and Forbes has been syndicated in North America, and has been picked up by Jewish publications elsewhere whose editors and readers appreciate the semi-humorous pictorial commentary on current events in Israel and the Jewish World.

There is also a Dry Bones Facebook account with a fresh and timely cartoon every day. Kirschen is also an excellent lecturer and a patient, informal teacher who will go to great lengths to explain a point that any of his listeners may not comprehend. He has also produced several books including an illustrated Passover Hagaddah.

His wife, Sali Ariel, is a well-known painter whose artwork is displayed in many homes in Israel and abroad. Several of her clients have been diplomats. The couple has worked on various projects together and while much of Israel will be celebrating New Year on January 1, Kirschen and his wife will also be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the debut of Dry Bones.

Changing political leanings

■ IT’S POSSIBLE to change one’s political leanings but not one’s history, which may explain why Tzipi Livni, who moved from the right of the political spectrum to the center-left, will be among the speakers at a panel discussion at ZOA House, Tel Aviv, on Sunday, December 25. The event, which was primarily organized for the launch of a new book of ideological essays by Revisionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, will be jointly hosted by Yossi Ahimeir, chairman of the Jabotinsky Institute, and Herzl Makov, head of the Begin Heritage Center.

In addition to discussions on ideas in the book, the event, which begins at 5:30 p.m., will also focus on the 100th anniversary of Betar, the Revisionist Youth Movement that was founded in Riga, Latvia, in January 1923. Livni’s parents Eitan and Sara were both fighters in the Irgun Zevai Leumi, the right-wing Zionist paramilitary organization that fought the British Mandate occupation, and the first couple n the Irgun, to get married.

 YAAKOV KIRSCHEN and his wife Sali Ariel (credit: Kirschen family) YAAKOV KIRSCHEN and his wife Sali Ariel (credit: Kirschen family)

Their daughter spent her adolescent years in Betar and her experiences there cemented the political DNA, which she had inherited from her parents. Joining her in the panel discussion will be Herzl Makov, Yaakov Hagoel, chairman of the World Zi0nist Organization and Sallai Meridor, former chairman of the Jewish Agency and former Israel Ambassador to the US and currently chairman of the board of the National Library of Israel.

King Charles III and Holocaust survivors

■ PERHAPS BECAUSE as a very long-term prince, King Charles III could engage in activities that his mother Queen Elizabeth may have considered undignified as befitting a monarch of the realm. He had no qualms last Friday about dancing the hora with Holocaust survivors, one of whom was Eva Schloss, the stepsister of Anne Frank.

Unlike his great uncle, the Duke of Windsor, who was pro-Nazi, Charles has great sympathy and empathy for Holocaust survivors, some of who were among his teachers when he was at university. Charles also came to Israel in January 2020 for the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Last week at the pre-Hanukkah celebration at the North London JW3 Jewish Community Center for arts, culture and entertainment, the King entered into conversations with survivors and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself during the dancing. Given the horrors experienced by the survivors in their youth, none of them could have imagined that one day they would be dancing hand-in-hand with the King of England.

German ambassador Steffen Seibert and Holocaust survivors

■ SOMEONE ELSE who has deep emotional feelings each time that he meets with Holocaust survivors is German ambassador Steffen Seibert who has restored German citizenship to some, and who was deeply moved when he visited Pinchas Rosen’s parents’ home in Ramat Gan, last week, and held conversations in German during which he heard many stories of survival and strength.

This week, he was happy to report that Europe’s largest hanukkiah had been lit in front of the Brandenberg Gate by Germany’s minister of Finance. Seibert regards this particular candle-lighting ceremony as “a beautiful symbol for the vitality of Jewish life in Germany and the global appeal of Hanukka.”

In expressing Happy Hanukkah wishes in Hebrew, Seibert said that all those who celebrate shine a light into the world. German President Frank Walter Steinmeier, though not Jewish, lights Hanukkah candles in the Presidential Palace for much the same reason as expressed by Seibert. He sent a photograph of his candle lighting to Herzog.

Life changing experiences

■ LIFE CHANGING experiences are always unanticipated and take us along paths we never thought to tread. That’s what happened to Irish-Jewish genealogist Stuart Rosenblatt more than 30 years ago, after receiving a phone call from his sister. Their father had died and Rosenblatt’s sister, when sorting through her father’s papers, came across his birth certificate. The woman listed as the father’s mother was not the grandmother whom the Rosenblatt siblings had known.

It was a traumatic unnerving discovery. No one in the family had ever told them. It was a subject never raised or discussed. They were ignorant of family history, a factor that caused Rosenblatt to explore his family’s past and learn that his biological grandmother had died in childbirth.

In the course of his research, he came across a lot of family information that he hadn’t known before and was so bitten by the genealogical bug that he began researching the history of the Jews of Ireland, never realizing how far this would take him and how it would affect his life and the life of his family.

The upshot was that 30 years of research led to a 22-volume magnum opus on the genealogical history of the Irish Jewish community, which became a true labor of love to the extent that Rosenblatt became president of the National Archives and the Genealogical Society of Ireland.

The Jewish community of Ireland has never numbered more than somewhere in the 5,000s and yet it has a long and rich history.

The National Archives date back to 1555 when most Irish Jews were refugees from Spain or descended from Jews who had been expelled from Spain. Over the years, the Sephardi community has waned and most Irish Jews today are Ashkenazim, with the majority descended from Lithuanian immigrants who came to the Emerald Isle in the 1870s.

Rosenblatt, who has donated copies of the 22-volume set to various institutions in Ireland, was persuaded by Malcolm Gafson, the chairman of the Israel Ireland Friendship League to donate his personal set to the National Library of Israel, where it would have a permanent home and could be inspected by Irish expats in Israel and visiting Irish expats or people with Irish roots, not to mention scholars of Jewish population dispersions throughout the ages.

The idea of bringing the books to Israel was supported by Irish ambassador Kyle O’Sullivan and other members of the Irish Embassy, as well as by Rachel Misrati, the director of collections at the National Library of Israel.

So in a united effort between Gafson, Irish Embassy staff and NLI staff, the 22 volumes arrived in Israel and so did Rosenblatt for the official presentation ceremony, which to a large extent, was by way of a reunion. Gafson, who personally knows most of the Irish expats in Israel, said that there were many people present who hadn’t been seen at Irish events in 20 years or more.

In his own case, he was reunited with two friends of his youth with whom he went to school and university but who had not been together in one place for at least 20 years. While growing up they called themselves the Three Musketeers and were almost inseparable. Today, Gafson lives in Ra’anana, Altyer Moher lives in Elkana, and Roger Hirsch in Seattle Washington. He was not the only Irish expat currently visiting Israel to come to the event at the NLI.

Ambassador O’Sullivan observed that just as Jews value books, so do the Irish. He began his address in Hebrew, then continued in English. Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Yossi Havilio did the opposite, starting in English and continuing in Hebrew, stating that because he was not very fluent in English, “In Hebrew, I say what I want. In English, I say what I can.”

NLI chairman, Sallai Meridor, a former Israel ambassador to the US, recalled wryly that when he used to look at the diplomatic lists, there was some degree of comfort in that under the letter I, Ireland came between Iran, Iraq and Israel.

Praising Rosenblatt’s achievement, Meridor said that he had never heard of any similar effort by one individual in documenting the history of a community so that its descendants could connect to their roots.

Misrati, who happens to have an Irish family connection, looked up the name, found it and sent the information to another relative who supplied additional knowledge. This is quite likely to be the case with many other Irish expats or extended families of Irish Jews.

Excerpts from Rosenblatt’s findings were read out by Hazel Rubinstein, descended from a very well-known Jewish family in Ireland, and Nir Briscoe, the Jerusalem-based, Israel-born great-grandson of Robert Briscoe, the first Jewish mayor in Ireland, who was active in fighting for both Ireland’s and Israel’s independence. Nir Briscoe’s English carried an Irish lilt.

Irish-Klezmer music, a locally arranged genre, was provided by The Jonathan Miller trio.

At the reception prior to the formalities, Rosenblatt, with notebook and pen in hand, wandered amongst the guests jotting down names of people who are not recorded in the books and learning something of their backgrounds. This was a lot easier than traveling around Ireland and finding material in archives, museums, synagogue records of circumcisions, bar mitzvahs, marriages and deaths, tombstone inscriptions in cemeteries, midwives’ records of births, school records, newspaper clippings and other resources.

In the case of midwife Ada Shulman who between 1887 and 1915 delivered some 1,400 babies, the birth dates in her records were related to what her family had eaten for dinner. Apparently, there were certain foods on certain days of the week, which was how the date of birth was estimated.

In a closing remark, Rosenblatt said: “What a person does in life is history. What they do now is a legacy.”

Hebrew press readers

■ READERS OF the Hebrew press may have noticed large-scale advertisements aimed at enticing domestic tourism to Druze and Circassian towns and villages. The country’s number one citizen may not necessarily have been responding to these advertisements last week when he visited the Circassian town of Kafr Kama in Lower Galilee. It was the first time in a decade that a president of Israel had set foot there but not the first time that Herzog had met with Kafr Kama Mayor Zakaria Nabso. The two had met a year and a half previously at the Haifa Interfaith Summit.

Last week, the two, together with Herzog’s wife Michal, inaugurated a new cultural center and the Herzogs were treated to a large dose of Circassian culture. The Circassian community in Israel is known for its traditional dances, which even very young children execute with exquisite synchronization. This amongst things caused Herzog to thank the younger members of the community for the important contribution that the Circassians have made to Israel’s cultural mosaic.

French influences in Tel Aviv-Jaffa

THERE HAVE been French influences in Tel Aviv Jaffa for decades. The Residence of the French Ambassador is in Jaffa and some great French citizens have been immortalized in Jaffa’s street names. The French Embassy and the French Institute are in Tel Aviv. There are French restaurants and patisseries, and now there is also a new hotel with a distinctly French aura.

The Elkonin built on the ruins of the first hotel in Tel Aviv’ a two-story structure with a tiled roof that was built in Neve Tzedek in 1913, has retained the name but is far larger and more elegant not to say more Parisian. Owned by French entrepreneur Dominique Romano with the ambiance created by French interior decorator Adrianna Shor, it is managed by French management and franchise company Accor, which is one of the largest multi-brand hotel management companies in the world.

Neve Tzedek, which is a very fashionable part of Tel Aviv, has acquired additional chic with the opening of the Elkonin hotel.