Grapevine January 1, 2023: A meaningful anniversary year

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant casts his vote in Israel's March 23, 2021 election.  (photo credit: EDUCATION MINISTRY)
Education Minister Yoav Gallant casts his vote in Israel's March 23, 2021 election.
(photo credit: EDUCATION MINISTRY)

Most media reports relating to the appointment of Yoav Gallant as defense minister noted that the man who had been disqualified as Chief of General Staff would now be the higher-ranking minister. This means that he can dictate policy to the incoming Chief of Staff. Reports also dealt with some of Gallant’s military milestones but overlooked the fact that this is a very important anniversary year in the life of Gallant’s family. In 1947, his mother, Froma Gallant, then a 12-year-old girl and a Holocaust survivor, was among the 4,500 men, women and children on the illegal immigrant ship Exodus, (or Aliyah Bet as it is known in Hebrew), that sailed from France to Haifa, and was intercepted by British Royal Navy destroyers as it reached the territorial waters of what was then Palestine. The Exodus was towed to Haifa Port, from where the British Mandate authorities wanted to send the passengers back to France, but France would not accept them, and they were then sent back to refugee camps in Germany. The Exodus was a converted American steamship, originally named President Warfield. This is the 75th anniversary year of that fateful journey that was the basis for a best-selling fictionalized novel by Leon Uris, and a film starring Paul Newman.

In July 2017 some 100 people who had been passengers on the ship came to Haifa Port with members of their families for a commemorative ceremony and the dedication of a monument to the Exodus and the people who had been on board. Among them was Fruma Gallant with her son Yoav, who was among the speakers. His appointment as defense minister, definitely and in a sense definitively marks the closing of a circle in that it points to the fact that while individual Jews may still be victims of hatred and antisemitism, Jews as a collective can fight back as a force to be reckoned with.

The commemorative event at Haifa Port where this time passengers of the Exodus were feted and happily welcomed, was the outcome of a joint initiative by several organizations that included, amongst others, the Jewish Agency, the Israel Forever Foundation, the Jewish American Society for Historical Preservation and the Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

In addition to representatives of the organizers, Holocaust survivors, their families and friends, and representatives of the Haifa Municipality and the Israel Navy, there were also new immigrants, specially brought to Haifa Port on the premise that a nation cannot go forward without knowing its history and where it came from. Some of the stories of the survivors were on wall placards, indicating to new immigrants, that no matter how tough times may be, there is always hope for a better future.

Tzachi Hanegbi - head of the National Security Council

■ WHAT A joy to listen to reactions on the appointment of Tzachi Hanegbi as head of the National Security Council.

 A BABY WITH breathing defect is transported from Schneider Children’s Medical Center.  (credit: UNITED HATZALAH‏) A BABY WITH breathing defect is transported from Schneider Children’s Medical Center. (credit: UNITED HATZALAH‏)

After all the political bad-mouthing on all sides in recent weeks, what a pleasant change it was to hear members of the opposition, including outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz, say that Hanegbi, with his broad knowledge and experience as a member of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, was the right choice.

For whatever reason, members of the electronic media kept trying unsuccessfully to get interviewees from the incoming Opposition to be critical of Hanegbi, but no matter how they phrased their questions everyone said only positive things about him.

Foreign minister should speak English

■ WITH DUE respect to Israel Katz whose English is far from fluent, the person filling the post of foreign minister should be an eloquent English speaker who can think quickly and deal with hard questions posed by foreign journalists and politicians from abroad. That’s one of the reasons that newly installed Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana whose name was on a short list for the portfolio, would have been more suitable; his English is impeccable. Eli Cohen, who will be the alternate foreign minister, also speaks English well. Katz is certainly deserving of a portfolio, but not the one he craved.

Saving a baby's life

■ IT’S NOT often that a one-month-old baby is flown from Israel to America, but in this case, it was a life-saving mission. On Monday of last week, the United Hatzalah Operations Department received a request from one of the UH volunteers Dr. Shlomo Gensler, to transfer a one-month-old baby girl from Schneider Children’s Medical Center for Israel to Ben-Gurion Airport for an urgent medical flight. The infant, born with a rare breathing disability, needed to travel to a hospital in Miami, Florida which specializes in respiratory diseases. The baby’s unique birth defect prevented her from being able to breathe on her own, and she was able to breathe only with the assistance of a ventilator. The transfer from Schneider to Ben-Gurion Airport was carried out by a four-member EMS team, that included a doctor and a paramedic, who had two hours in which to transfer the tiny girl and her parents.

Three volunteers from Modi’in immediately responded to the request and took up the mission of bringing an intensive care ambulance to join Gensler for the transport.

Paramedic Itzik Kara, EMT Adina Raph and ambulance driver Avi Deblinger transferred the baby and carried her cot and medical emergency kits along with the ventilator and other necessary equipment. Another medical team cared for her in the plane throughout the flight, and the family landed safely in Miami.

The UH volunteers are praying that when the baby gets through her procedures, she will be able to live a normal life. They are pleased that they were able to help her towards that goal.

Mount Scopus College

■ WHAT DO Mark Regev, former Israel Ambassador to the UK; Prof. Nathan Cherny, head of pain and multidisciplinary palliative medicine for cancer at Shaare Zedek Medical Center; Dr. Michael Harari from Ziv Medical Center (formerly Rebecca Sieff Hospital) in Safed; Dr. Eve Finkelstein, senior dermatologist at Hadassah Medical Center; and Dr. Deborah Gershov West, head of the emergency department at Samson Assuta Ashdod Hospital have in common? They are all former students of Mount Scopus College, which on January 3 will have its largest-ever Israel reunion when 330 current senior students meet with old collegians who have made aliyah. Mount Scopus College in Melbourne, Australia was founded in the same year as the State of Israel, where many of its former students have opted to live. The reunion will bring together three generations of students including several who were in the first matriculation class and are living in Israel. Mount Scopus old collegians can be found on kibbutzim, moshavim and in urban centers. Many have remarkable achievements to their credit. The event has been organized by the Scopus Foundation, which is largely made up of affluent old collegians.

What's the most important invention?

■ AN INTERESTING party game or at any other social occasion, is to ask those present what they think was the most important invention over the past 150 years. Many will list something related to medicine. Others will opt for something related to travel, while some will talk about communication – the telephone, the radio, gramophone, cinema, television, videos and the progress made in all those categories. The common denominator in these and many other subjects is technology, which can be used both positively and negatively. In the positive sense – especially in the field of communications – it leaves us with the most authentic visual and historical records. Someone who has been actively documenting this history is Aryeh Halivni, born Eric Weisberg, who has an impressive CV of working in various capacities, with major Jewish organizations in Canada, America and Israel. But even more importantly, he is the founder and director of Toldot Israel, whose team of top-ranking cameramen and interviewers record the stories of people who have made history, with particular emphasis on those people who were engaged in the founding of the state. When we read Josephus, who is regarded as the key historian of his era, we don’t have too much else by way of confirmation or comparison. But when watching the interviews of people of a specific project, era or organization, the similarities in their stories bring us closer to historical truth. Just as director Steven Spielberg created a recorded archive of the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, Halivni, through Toldot Israel, is creating an ongoing archive of the stories of people who in one way or another were involved with the creation and development of the State of Israel. The Toldot Israel team, as part of a digital pilot project, is currently translating, and cataloging 150 interviews from its archive in Hebrew and English. The entire archive has been uploaded on YouTube, and to date, the total number of views is in excess of 1,657,570.

Toldot Yisrael plans to launch a new online platform for viewing the interviews in time for Israel’s 75th Independence Day, says Halivni. “For the first time, the video interviews will be fully searchable. Transcripts and subtitles will make these accounts accessible to a much broader audience. By providing a user-friendly way for educators, academics, and general viewers to find what they are looking for, it will open the door for people around the world to experience, study, and learn from the accounts of Israel’s Greatest Generation for themselves.”

[email protected]