Grapevine January 11, 2023: The Pollard project

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 SEEN AT Tzomet Bookstore at Hashalom Azrieli Mall in Tel Aviv, Gil Samsonov’s book in English for NIS 750. (photo credit: M. Jay)
SEEN AT Tzomet Bookstore at Hashalom Azrieli Mall in Tel Aviv, Gil Samsonov’s book in English for NIS 750.
(photo credit: M. Jay)

In celebration of the second anniversary of his arrival in Israel at the end of December 2020, long-suffering spy for Israel Jonathan Pollard was feted at Yad Sarah last Sunday night by a diverse representation of people who had supported him during his 30 years in prison, and the five following years in which he was denied permission to leave the United States. These supporters have become part of his extended family.

While there was consensus in Israel and among Diaspora Jews that Pollard deserved to be imprisoned, there was also consensus that his punishment was much harsher than that meted out to other Americans who had committed similar crimes. At least in Pollard’s case, he did not spy on behalf of an enemy country.

Both his first wife, Anne, and his second wife, Esther, to whom he was married for most of the period of his incarceration and for six years afterward, waged fierce battles for his release.

Esther, who for years had been battling cancer, and died a year and a month after their arrival in Israel, chose before her death another life partner for him – Rivkah Abrahams Dunin, a mother of seven and a member of Jerusalem’s Chabad community, who moved to Israel in 1996 and was widowed from her first husband, Eliyahu Dunin, in 2015, and had been one of Esther’s friends. Esther thought that Rivkah and Jonathan were well suited. In September 2022, Pollard announced their engagement. She happens to be the Birmingham-born granddaughter of British Military Intelligence officer Sgt. Karl Louis Abrahams, an Orthodox Jew from Liverpool. Rivkah and Pollard were married in October 2022.

The event on Sunday was not only to mark the second anniversary of Pollard’s arrival in Israel, but was also the preliminary launch of a campaign in memory of Esther Pollard, which is called Pollard’s Children.

 FROM LEFT: Yaki Neumann, Nina Weiner, Ami Moyal and Erel Margalit. (credit: Michael Tomarkin) FROM LEFT: Yaki Neumann, Nina Weiner, Ami Moyal and Erel Margalit. (credit: Michael Tomarkin)

In general, the American prison system does not allow conjugal visits, which means that Pollard was denied the basic human right to father a child. But he and Esther both loved children, and after she died, while he was thinking of an appropriate monument, he recalled her telling him that there would be a war in Israel – a war for the Jewish identity of the state.

As a former military man, Pollard was familiar with wars, with tanks, but not with identity. Esther explained to him that if Jewish children grew up knowing nothing of Jewish tradition, the war would be lost. “No amount of military equipment will save us, if we don’t know who we are,” she declared.

So he decided that the best monument to her would be to carry on her legacy of Jewish education from the earliest possible age. Assisted by supporters, he established an experimental kindergarten in Tel Aviv, with the aim of continuing the Jewish education of the children as they passed kindergarten age. The kindergarten, with 300 pupils, is currently located in temporary premises, but Pollard and his friends hope to raise sufficient funds for a permanent structure, and to eventually branch out to other parts of the country.

When visiting the existing facility, Pollard met a couple who are secular and whose child was in the kindergarten established in memory of Esther. When he asked them how come they were sending their child to an Orthodox kindergarten, they replied that their parents had never taught them anything about Judaism, and they hoped to learn something from their child.

In addressing the gathering, Pollard, who had been danced into the Yad Sarah auditorium, told his audience that even if the students stray from Judaism, they will at least know “who they are, what they are, and what they are here for,” and there would always be the chance that they would return to Jewish observance.

Recalling how he had been helped and what he owed to Esther’s tireless devotion, Pollard, in referring to the effort to carry on Esther’s legacy, said: “It’s the end of a campaign that started with me.”

On Sunday, January 22, the date on which Esther’s children, had she given birth to any, would have completed the year of mourning, the official Pollard’s Children campaign for the Esther’s Children Center will officially be launched at the Ramada Hotel in Jerusalem.

Although the event last Sunday was primarily to create awareness of what will happen on January 22, it was also an opportunity for Pollard to ask his supporters to do for others what they had done for him.

Liat Regev always screams at interviewees she disagrees with

■ IT’S HARD to tell whether the Knesset is influenced by radio interviewers, or whether interviewers are influenced by the behavior in the Knesset. Time and again, interviewees are frustrated by interviewers who don’t allow them to finish a sentence but start to argue with them before knowing exactly what they want to say. Several interviewees have lost their cool and told the interviewer that if he or she wants to listen to themselves, they shouldn’t be conducting interviews.

One of the worst offenders is Liat Regev, who from time to time actually screams at those interviewees with whom she disagrees, and deprives KAN Reshet Bet listeners of the opportunity to hear different viewpoints. Just because one disagrees with someone doesn’t mean that what that person has to say is irrelevant.

Regev has a wonderful radiophonic voice, but it’s not a good enough reason to keep her on air if she continues to offend those with whom she doesn’t see eye to eye.

English translations of Hebrew books cost far more

■ WHILE VISITING the Azrieli Mall in Tel Aviv, a resident of Jerusalem was somewhat taken aback when he entered the Tzomet book store and saw a copy of the English translation of Netanyahu and Likud’s Leaders by Gil Samsonov priced at NIS 750. He had never previously come across a single book that was so expensive. Certain that his eyes had deceived him, he double-checked with the salesman, who confirmed that the price listed on the cover was indeed NIS 750, and that it was not a mistake.

Admittedly, it usually takes fewer words to say something in Hebrew than it does in English, but what a steep jump from the original NIS 89 Hebrew version of the book, which was titled Princes and featured well-known second-generation right-wingers who were or are Likud ministers, members of Knesset, including Benjamin Netanyahu, Reuven Rivlin, Bennie Begin, Dan Meridor, Tzipi Livni, Ehud Olmert, Roni Milo, Tzachi Hanegbi and Limor Livnat.

Samsonov is a well-known public relations and advertising executive who has been involved in numerous election campaigns on behalf of right-wing clients.

The story of Lowy and Barak

■ ALMOST THREE decades have passed since Sir Frank Lowy, chairman of the board of directors of the Institute for National Security Studies, first met former prime minister Ehud Barak. At their first meeting in 1994, Barak, who was then IDF chief of staff, presented Lowy with a commemorative medal in recognition of his participation in a special military operation during the War of Independence.

The two met for the second time last week at the INSS, where discussions were held on national security challenges. Lowy and Barak took time out to exchange memories of their first meeting. The reason that Lowy had received his medal so many years after the war was that things were somewhat chaotic in Israel in the aftermath of the War of Independence, but when the IDF archives were being sorted out, his name appeared on a list of volunteer fighters who had been involved in a specific operation.

Barak, who will be 81, next month, last week tweeted: “The moment of truth has come. The ax is poised on the independence of the judicial system.”

He also warned against corruption and racism, the politicization of the police, and he protested against the usurping of the position of a single commander in chief of the army. The battle, he opined, is “for the kind of state that our children will want to live in, and one that is worthy of the dreams and the sacrifices of the fallen. It will be difficult and will take time, but in the end we will triumph.”

New judges pledge to rule without favor, but will end up favoring

■WHENEVER A new group of judges comes to the President’s Residence to pledge loyalty to the laws of the state, the uniform text of the pledge is partially taken from the Bible, in that the judges undertake to hand down their rulings “without fear or favor.”

How many people in the present government are on trial, or are scheduled to be tried, or have spent time in prison?

Even one would be too many. But the number is somewhat in excess of that, and with the reforms being introduced by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, they might all be acquitted or given a suspended sentence, meaning that they could continue to be ministers, because they will be favored. It will be kosher, but it stinks.

Shlomo Carlebach: Even more popular today than when he was alive

■ EVEN THOUGH he died more than 28 years ago, the music of Shlomo Carlebach, known as the Singing Rabbi, is even more popular today than when he was alive. Carlebach composed music to biblical texts and verses from the Psalms which are sung by Jews of every stripe in synagogues around the world.

Although Carlebach lived as much as possible in accordance with the Jewish calendar, he obviously had to take note of the Gregorian calendar for various purposes. His birthday was not one of them. Nonetheless, his memory will be honored this coming Saturday night, January 14, on the Gregorian calendar date of the 97th anniversary of his birth. Carlebach loved to tell stories and sing related songs as he finished each anecdote. The evening at Heichal Shlomo, 58 King George Avenue, Jerusalem, is the fifth in the annual series organized by Maale Religious Zionist Center under the heading of “How a song was born.”

The event, which begins at 8:30 p.m., will also include a tribute to Rabbi Haim Druckman, one of the great religious Zionist leaders, who died last month at the age of 90. The evening will include a mix of storytelling about love of one’s fellow human being and the Land of Israel, Torah study and Carlebach songs.

Performers will include Chaim-Dovid Saracik and Yehudah Katz, who performed with Carlebach in his lifetime and since then in more Carlebach concerts than probably anyone else on the planet. Also appearing will be the Rabbi Shlomo Katz Circle, Aviel and Haim Ori Kotler, Rabbi Dudi Leibovich, Uriel and Aviya Deutsch and Shmuel Shchinis Hacohen, a grandson of Rabbi Druckman.

Prashkovsky family completes first urban renewal project

■ HEAVILY INVOLVED in construction and investments, the Prashkovsky family celebrated the completion and occupancy of its first urban renewal project, in Haifa’s Naveh Sha’anan neighborhood.

The project, which is close to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, is a luxury 10-building complex comprising 484 residential units, and is believed to be the largest of its kind in the North. In order to create this project, the Prashkovsky Construction Company tore down an existing complex of 126 residential units.

Participating in the festive celebration at Haifa’s Limousine Barbecue Restaurant in Ramat Yishai were Arnon Prashkovsky, the president of the company; chairman Yossi Prashkovsky; Edna Prashkovsky, the company’s chief designer; Sharon Prashkovsky, the CEO of Prashkovsky Investments and co-CEO with engineer Tamir Blaicher of Prashkovsky Construction Company.

They were particularly happy to be able to provide new homes for so many families in a particularly popular Haifa neighborhood.

Israeli public must be allowed refrendums

■ THE LAST thing that Israel needs right now is the growing rift between people on the Left and the Right of the political spectrum, with the worst kind of comparisons being made to a government that was democratically elected some 90 years ago, but which proved to be anything but democratic in its conduct.

While it’s true that, collectively, the majority of voters wanted a right-wing government, it’s far from certain that they wanted the government they’ve got. The level of participation in demonstrations taking place around the country in protest against certain reforms and actions either taken or announced by the new government should be a wake-up call to Prime Minister Netanyahu that he should take up the offer of National Unity leader Benny Gantz to discuss controversial issues such as judicial reform.

Netanyahu should also take note of how mayors and local authority heads – on the Right and the Left, Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, Sephardi and Ashkenazi – have joined forces over the education issue.

Current arguments over interpretations of the law and whether or not the Supreme Court can overrule the Knesset also indicate how badly Israel needs a constitution. Almost 75 years after its establishment, the State of Israel still faces an existential threat, and no amount of advanced technology can guarantee continuity in a house so critically divided.

If new legislation is to be enacted, one of the new laws should provide for a referendum on highly radical issues that affect the population as a whole and should not be decided by 120 people, some of whom were not really voted into the Knesset, but slid in on the coattails of the Norwegian Law.

Admittedly, there is provision for members of the public to raise objections to new laws before the final vote, but judging by how little note is taken at local government level when individuals or groups of individuals protest against changes taking place in their respective neighborhoods, there is very little point in people outside the Knesset presenting opposing arguments unless it is done via referendum.

Shimon Peres was fond of saying that governments should realize that they are not the rulers of the people; they are the servants of the people, and can be voted out of office the next time around.

Margalit, Weiner get honorary fellowships

■ VERY OFTEN, people who are lumped together at ceremonies in which honorary degrees are awarded may have heard of each other, but don’t necessarily know each other or aren’t aware of the work of fellow recipients.

Not so in the case of former MK Erel Margalit, the founder and chairman of Jerusalem Venture Partners, and Nina Weiner, co-founder with the late Lily and Edmond Safra of the International Sephardic Education Foundation (ISEF), which was established in 1977 to make higher education available to immigrant youth living in Israel’s development towns.

Both Margalit and Weiner were the recipients of honorary fellowships awarded by Afeka, the Academic College of Engineering in Tel Aviv, and presented to them by Afeka president Ami Moyal.

Margalit recalled that while he was still completing his PhD at Columbia University, he came across many students who had been helped by ISEF.

Another award recipient was Yaki Neumann, the CEO of Doral Energy. All three honorees received their awards at the Afeka graduation ceremony for 634 alumni.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who attended the ceremony, announced that in two months’ time, the groundwork would begin for the new, innovative Afeka campus. He predicted that Afeka College would become the Technion of south Tel Aviv.

Aryeh Green's annual celebrations

■ TWENTY YEARS ago, Aryeh Green, who was then the founding director of Media Central, instituted a tradition on his 40th birthday by having a daylong celebration in Jerusalem’s famed Tmol Shilshom coffee shop from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., which gave his many invitees the opportunity to drop in at a time suited to their convenience and to partake of refreshments for which he picked up the tab. He has been doing this on an annual basis, with a very temporary change of venue when he tried another coffee shop in the vicinity of the Mahaneh Yehuda market, but returned to Tmol Shilshom, where next week he will celebrate his 60th birthday.

A lot of water has flown under the bridge, with significant changes in his life in terms of job, wife and fatherhood, but what remains constant is the annual celebration at Tmol Shilshom, where Green sits in a throne-like chair in a corner of the establishment to receive his guests.

Thank you, Edith Lieberman

■ ALMOST EVERYONE has either very positive or very negative memories of their teachers. As we move from kindergarten to elementary school, junior high and high school, we have many different teachers who impart knowledge on a variety of subjects. Some are good teachers; some are bad. Some take a genuine interest in individual students and help them to overcome problems, decide on their futures and reach their goals.

In most cases, the connection with the teacher ends when pupil and teacher stop sharing the same classroom, or when students graduate. But sometimes circumstances bring them back together when both are long out of the classroom.

That’s what happened to a group of women who, as girls, were students of Edith Lieberman at the Esther Schonfeld High School and in Yeshiva University High School for Girls in Brooklyn, New York.

For the past decade, members of the group have been reconnecting with their former teacher. Traveling by bus, train and car to Netanya from Jerusalem, Rehovot, Efrat and Telz-Stone, they make their way to Laniado Medical Center, where their beloved former teacher, though now 98 years old, is still employed in public relations and fundraising. These days, they call her by her first name.

On their first visit, Edith gave them a tour of the hospital, and on their most recent visit, she related that an exciting donation of $140,000 had been sent to Laniado in her honor.

Baruch Fellner and his parents had become residents in Netanya 48 years earlier. Edith had befriended the family. Today Baruch is a well-known lawyer in Washington, DC. He recalled a dramatic incident that occurred in Netanya when he was a young boy, and that Edith had saved the lives of his parents.

Now that he is financially able to show his appreciation for what she did, he sent the substantial donation.

Members of the group say that they always enjoyed her lessons in physical education, gym and first aid. Her positive attitude and joy of life made all her classes enjoyable and full of fun.

The school had no gym, so Edith brought mattresses down to the cellar floor to teach her students headstands and somersaults.

She also gave practical advice with a wide worldview on many subjects.

Some of her students had an additional relationship with Edith, working alongside her when she was the head of the waterfront in summer camp.

They were assistant lifeguards. She taught them how to dive in the water in order to help people in distress.

To this day, they state, wherever Edith is, she inspires everyone with her great spirit, enthusiasm and warm concern for each individual.

They love going to her charming house in Netanya, and learn something new each time.

Edith loves teaching and continues to educate her students whenever they are with her. They marvel at her acuity and how her classroom instruction anticipated modern teaching methodology. “We loved being her students, and now we are proud to be her friends,” they say.

Coincidentally, Jerusalem Post health and science reporter Judy Siegel was also a student at Esther Schonfeld High School and in Yeshiva University High School for Girls in Brooklyn, and likewise has very positive memories of Lieberman.

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