Grapevine December 30, 2022: A time to remember

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 A MIXED ethnic and religious gathering at the home of  Sawson Natour  Hassan, Israel’s Minister for Diplomacy at the Israel Embassy in Washington DC. (photo credit: SAWSON NATOUR HASSAN)
A MIXED ethnic and religious gathering at the home of Sawson Natour Hassan, Israel’s Minister for Diplomacy at the Israel Embassy in Washington DC.
(photo credit: SAWSON NATOUR HASSAN)

One cannot help wondering whether the Sultan’s Pool in Jerusalem, which is due to undergo a NIS 100 million renovation, will continue to bear the Hassenfeld name on its amphitheater once the work is completed. Opened in 1978 and named after Merrill Hassenfeld, whose father Henry and uncles, Hillel and Herman founded Hasbro Toys in 1923, the amphitheater was officially launched a year prior to Merrill Hassenfeld’s death in 1979. Hassenfeld’s widow Sylvia, who was a great friend of Mayor Teddy Kollek, remained committed to Jerusalem, which she visited often in her philanthropic and leadership roles .

She was involved with numerous organizations and held leadership positions in many of them. She was national chairwoman of the Women’s Division of the United Jewish Appeal, Vice chair of the Jerusalem Foundation, a member of the executive board of trustees of the United Israel Appeal, the Jewish Agency, Brandeis University and the Israel Museum. She was also the first female president of the Joint Distribution Committee. As president of the Hassenfeld Foundation, she supported a variety of Jewish causes – hospitals, medical centers, educational and academic institutions as well as homeless children and their families around the globe.

The recipient of numerous awards including honorary citizenship of Jerusalem, Sylvia Hassenfeld died in August, 2014 at the age of 93.

The Hassenfeld Foundation continued to support projects in Jerusalem, but now that some of its key figures have passed away, it’s possible that the Hassenfeld name in relation to the amphitheater at the Sultan’s Pool will fade. It evokes memories of Sallah Shabati and the changing placards in the JNF Forest.

By the same token, although Teddy Park may remain Teddy Park, what will happen to his mini-memorial museum in the Artists’ Colony?

 An illustration of the new-look Sultan's Pool site in Jerusalem (credit: JERUSALEM FOUNDATION) An illustration of the new-look Sultan's Pool site in Jerusalem (credit: JERUSALEM FOUNDATION)

People who worked with Kollek, who among other achievements, was the founder of the Jerusalem Foundation, will continue to honor his memory. But what will happen when they are no longer around.?

There are so many changes taking place in the physical structure of Jerusalem, that the day may come when a real estate developer will take down the Western Wall in order to build a residential and hotel complex.

■ A RECENT item in Israel Hayom about the martyrdom of a Christian family in Poland, who paid with their lives for sheltering Jews, (both they, and the Jews were shot by the Nazis) contains a paragraph which the Polish Government should read carefully.

The paragraph states: “Poland was the first country invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany in World War II. Members of Poland’s resistance and government-in-exile warned the world about the Nazis’ mass killing of Jews, and thousands of Poles risked their lives to help Jews – even though other Poles murdered or victimized their Jewish compatriots.”

That absolves any Polish government from blame, yet tells the truth that while there were humane and heroic Poles, there were also evil Poles who were no less cruel than the Nazis.

Next week is the 10th day of the Hebrew calendar month of Tevet, a fast day to honor the memories of people whose final resting place is unknown. Initially introduced in memory of the siege of Jerusalem in 587-589 BCE, during which time the First Temple and the city were destroyed and many of the residents were exiled to Babylon, in modern times, it applies more to people murdered in the Holocaust.

People of all faiths are urged by the United Nations to remember all victims of the Holocaust on January 27, which is the anniversary date of the liberation of Auschwitz, the most notorious of the Nazi death camps. It is somewhat ironic to also give thanks to the Red Army which liberated Auschwitz at a time when President Putin is conducting a war against Ukraine in which there have been close to quarter of a million casualties, including approximately 100,000 Russian soldiers.

According to the German Red Cross, 3.1 million Wehrmacht soldiers lost their lives during World War II, and 1.2 million went missing, believed dead. Putin’s attitude to Russian forces is no better than Hitler’s was to German forces. Ukrainian President Vlodymyr Zelensky has no option but to send Ukrainian soldiers to fight.

■ PASSAGES, A Christian organization similar to that of Birthright, strengthens the faith of Christian students, and connects them to Israel and their Biblical heritage, just as Birthright connects young Jews to Israel.

Israeli embassy in DC

The Israeli Embassy in Washington DC, recently hosted an intimate gathering of 25 Passages alumni at the home of Israel’s Minister for Public Diplomacy, Sawson Natour Hassan. Jewish employees of the embassy were also present. The alumni who live and work in Washington DC and Baltimore, represented diverse professions. Among them were people who work in government, diplomacy, business, technology, education, social work and public health.

They had been invited for the purpose of cultivating greater cooperation between Passages and the Israeli Embassy, and to discuss the importance of alumni advocating for enhanced Jewish-Christian relations.

In the course of their get-together, Natour-Hassan invited the alumni to join with the embassy in celebrating Israel’s 75th anniversary of independence.

“We look forward to partnering with the embassy to commemorate the founding of the State of Israel,” said Serena Hudson. “It furthers our mission of building up the US-Israel relationship through engaging the next generation of Christian leaders.”

She was pleased to be part of a gathering of Christian, Jewish and Druze friends.

■ IF EVER there was a stereotypical British gentleman, it was Sam Alexander Lewis who died this month. Tall, courteous, dignified, yet friendly, Lewis who died last week, wore many hats. Born in Whitechapel in London’s East End in 1936, he was a musician by profession, and a community activist by inclination. He chaired the Israel branch of the Association of Ex-Servicemen and Women (AJEX) which included a number of British expats who had served in Their Majesty’s Forces. He attended services for British soldiers who had fallen in battle in the Middle East and were buried in one of the Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries in Israel, carrying the AJEX banner as a reminder that Jews fought alongside their non-Jewish comrades in arms. He initiated the founding of an orchestra, and now and then was invited to play at receptions hosted by the British ambassador. He was also a vice-chairman of the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association (IBCA).

In his AJEX capacity, he annually visited the graves of every Jewish ex-serviceman and woman, who had served in the British army and was buried in a Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in Israel.

In terms of music, as a young boy, he played the violin and was in the school orchestra and the National Youth Orchestra. At age 18, he was conscripted into the British Army where he trained for the Royal Artillery. But his commanding officer, who soon became aware of the musical talents of the young man, sent him to the Royal Artillery Symphony Orchestra (ASO), where he exchanged his violin for a viola. His first public performance with the ASO, was in honor of the 80th birthday of then Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

After learning that many of his fellow musicians were enrolled at the government’s expense at the Royal College of Music, Lewis followed suit. Following his discharge from the army, he spent a year in college, and then at the ripe old age of 21, was accepted as a viola player, by the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO).

In the seven years that he was with the LSO, he toured many countries and was privileged to get to know many great internationally renowned conductors. But he didn’t want to live out of a suitcase for the rest of his life, so he quit and went to New York to study orchestration.

On his return to London, he was appointed musical director of the Drury Lane Theater.

It was a good job, but in the course of time, he became bored with the idea of playing the same show night after night. After learning that the Haifa Symphony Orchestra (HSO) was looking for a general manager, he decided that he might as well give it a go. He had spent two weeks in Israel with the LSO and enjoyed the experience.

In 1968, he came on aliyah with his wife, Rhona and their two small children.

He spent four years in Haifa, and then noticed that there were many musicians in the first wave of immigrants who had been permitted to leave the Soviet Union, and they needed a livelihood.

Using his special brand of charm, he helped to found the Netanya Orchestra, and persuaded the musicians to expand their repertoires to include lighter music alongside the classics, so that there would be something for everyone in their concerts.

He subsequently established the Hundred Strings orchestra which played at weddings, bar mitzvahs and other happy occasions.

Some time after his divorce from Rhona, he met Batsheva, a Dutch immigrant who worked as secretary to the Nigerian ambassador. They were together for almost thirty years.

Sam Lewis who was very popular among British expats, was eulogized at his funeral by current IBCA chair Brenda Katten.

Wishing a happy and healthy new year to all.