Grapevine February 5, 2023: Staying in the dark

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

MAHAMAT DÉBY, the president of Chad, signs the guest book at the President’s Residence, as President Isaac Herzog looks on. (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM/GPO)
MAHAMAT DÉBY, the president of Chad, signs the guest book at the President’s Residence, as President Isaac Herzog looks on.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM/GPO)

It is difficult for a sighted person to imagine what it would be like to be blind. Even when we are told to close our eyes for a few minutes and meditate, a lot of people find this disturbing. It’s much easier imagining what it is like to be deaf, because all of us at one time or another find ourselves in situations where we can’t hear or perhaps understand what other people are saying. 

But at Na Laga’at, the theater-restaurant and cultural center at Jaffa Port, nearly all the staff and performers are deaf or blind or both. Guests who come to dine at Na Laga’at (Please Touch) often eat in the dark to experience what it means to live in a world they can’t see.

The current production, There is Someone Else in the Room, is an exciting audio experience based on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Recorded with innovative sound equipment, this 90-minute murder mystery created by Or Mazza and Alexa Lerner features the voices of Guy Lowell, Sarah von Schwarz, Gil Frank, Haim Zanati, Salva Nakara, David Blanka, Suliman Husaisey and Yiftah Kaminer.

The audience sits entirely in the dark, listening to the dialogue through headphones, and not knowing why the strange group of characters whose voices they can hear have been assembled, or whether there is also someone else in the room.

■ THE END of January and the beginning of February proved to be quite a diplomatic week for President Isaac Herzog. Last Sunday, he sent a letter of congratulations to Czech President-elect Petr Pavel, and invited him to visit Israel. Herzog also recalled the assistance Czechoslovakia had given to Israel when the nation was struggling for its independence, and added how impressed he had been last July in the course of his state visit to the Czech Republic, where he had met with government officials, businesspeople and members of the Jewish community. Last week, Herzog also welcomed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and Chadian President Mahamat Déby.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO) PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

In a little diplomatic one-upmanship, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met with all of the above, also met with President Emmanuel Macron when he went to France last Thursday. Herzog met with Macron in France in March last year, when the two went together to Toulouse to mark the 10th anniversary of a terrorist attack against a Jewish school.

■ DIPLOMACY ASIDE, Herzog was very pleased that Prof. Yoram Dinstein, under whom he had studied international law at Tel Aviv University, has been named as one this year’s recipients of the Israel Prize. Dinstein is a globally recognized expert on international law and a leading authority on the laws of war. Dinstein is also a former president of Tel Aviv University, having served in that capacity from 1991 to 1998. In addition to his academic career, Dinstein was also a diplomat who served as Israel consul in New York, and as a member of Israel’s permanent delegation to the United Nations. Even when he devoted himself entirely to academia, he continued to represent Israel at international conferences – especially those pertaining to international law. He was also involved in ceasefire negotiations when Israel was at war, and has advised military commanders on laws related to war.

■ ARE EXTREMISM and corruption marketing tools in drumming up interest in Israeli politics? After many fears that Diaspora Jewish communities are drawing away from Israel, the inclusion of people with reputations for extremism and corruption in Israel’s current government coalition has generated a flood of comments and debates on social media platforms. Coming up on Thursday, February 9 is a Zoom discussion hosted by CIJA, the Canadian Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs, with former Labor MK, author and political commentator Dr. Einat Wilf, and Mark Regev, chair of the Abba Eban Institute for Diplomacy and Foreign Relations at Reichman University, who is also a former Israel ambassador to the UK and a former adviser on foreign affairs and international communications to Prime Minister Netanyahu, presenting their views, which are unlikely to be similar.

Regev also writes a weekly column for The Jerusalem Post.

What has been characterized as a “Town Hall Meeting” between Wilf and Regev, will be moderated by Yaron Deckel, the senior Jewish Agency emissary in Canada, who has taken time out from being a veteran broadcast journalist for various Israeli media outlets, and who was known in Israel for asking very penetrating questions on talk shows that he hosted.

The underlying issue in the CIJA Zoom program is what the priorities of the present Israel government mean for Canadian and other Diaspora Jewish communities. For further information and the Zoom link, contact

IMMIGRANTS TO Israel continue to contribute to the country’s development, as did those who came before the proclamation of the state and others who came after. Case in point is Shimon Uzan, a United Hatzalah EMT who was on his way to work at the Defense Ministry when he answered an emergency call in Jerusalem. Fortunately, he was on his ambucycle and sped to the scene where he met another paramedic with whom he worked to restore the pulse of a person who had collapsed. Their efforts were successful and the patient’s vital signs resumed. In the interim, an intensive care ambulance arrived and transported the patient to a nearby hospital.

Afterwards Uzan said that cardiac arrest, which had caused the death of his brother-in-law in France, had spurred him to become an EMT. After making aliyah, Uzan learned all that he could about emergency medicine and what to do in different emergency situations so that he could spare others the loss of loved ones. This was not the first time that he had been involved in saving someone’s life, he said, “but each life I save is in a way in honor of my brother-in-law. I’m happy to do him proud.”

■ A SONG frequently played on Israeli radio stations this week was “Hatishma Koli?” (Will you hear my voice?) This was the first Hebrew song ever played in space. It was the song selected by Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, and his wife, Rona, to wake up sleeping astronauts on board the Space Shuttle Columbia on January 18, 2003.

When the Columbia disintegrated on entering Earth on February 1, causing the deaths of all on board, “Hatishma Koli?” became the theme song for anything related to Ilan Ramon, and was frequently played on radio on the anniversary of the day that should have been a triumph but became a tragedy. Rona Ramon, who died of pancreatic cancer in December 2018, continued to be in close contact with NASA after her husband’s death, and both she and NASA continued to honor Ilan Ramon’s memory through educational programs, social projects and space conferences.

Together with the Israel Space Agency and the Fisher Institute, she initiated the annual Ilan Ramon International Space Conference, which has evolved into one of the most important events for Israel’s space community.

Haunted by tragedy

Though a woman of strong character, Rona Ramon was haunted by tragedy. In September 2009, her eldest son, Capt. Asaf Ramon, a combat pilot, who wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and one day complete his father’s mission, was killed in a flight training mishap.

Though grieving, Rona Ramon refused to allow herself to sink into her grief. Instead, in 2010, she created the Ramon Foundation, and in the spirit of Ilan and Asaf Ramon, encouraged young people to aim for high academic achievement and social involvement.

The foundation promoted numerous projects in this context, including a social-ethical leadership program for 5th- to 8th-grade students, with Israel Air Force operational squadrons adopting schools from peripheral towns and cities, and pilots acting as mentors throughout the year.

More than 100,000 children participated in the various programs and projects, which gave them much broader horizons than had been previously available to them.

In 2016, Rona Ramon was selected to light an Independence Day beacon on Mount Herzl.

In July 2018, just a few months before her death, when she could barely stand, Rona Ramon was among those present to witness the landing of the Arkia test flight on Runway 19 of the new Ramon International Airport in Eilat named for Ilan and Asaf Ramon.

In 2019, she was posthumously awarded the Israel Prize.

Incidentally, this year not only marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Ilan Ramon, but also the 70th anniversary of the Israel Prize, which was first instituted in 1953, and which will on Independence Day this year be awarded on the 75th anniversary of the founding of the state.