Grapevine February 8, 2023: Focusing on Ability

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and Prof. Yitshak Kreiss.  (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM/GPO)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and Prof. Yitshak Kreiss.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM/GPO)

February has been designated Disability Awareness Month for Diaspora Jewish communities, and in Israel it includes non-Jews of all faiths.

We are all different from each other, and everyone has a disability of some kind, though it is not always obvious to others.

Dr. Carmit-Noa Shpigelman, who heads the Haifa Forum of Disability Studies, has physical disabilities of her own, which have not prevented her from raising a family or progressing in her academic studies.

Hebrew is actually a much kinder language than English when it comes to discussing people with disabilities. In Hebrew they are referred to as people with limitations, which infers that they have abilities which are limited, rather than an inability to do anything. In fact, they can do many things, but sometimes at a slower pace or using a different technique.

In an interview on KAN Reshet Bet this week, Spiegelman said that people with disabilities are first and foremost human beings and should be treated as such.

 FORMER PRESIDENT Reuven Rivlin with his former longtime bureau chief, Rivka Ravitz.  (credit: COURTESY RIVKA RAVITZ) FORMER PRESIDENT Reuven Rivlin with his former longtime bureau chief, Rivka Ravitz. (credit: COURTESY RIVKA RAVITZ)

Moreover, she explained the need of many people with physical disabilities to be as independent as possible. In her own case, one of the things that bugs her is that she has difficulty in bending down to tie a child’s shoelaces – but she can and does do it, unless some Good Samaritan jumps in ahead of her and takes on the task. She understands that there are people who want to help, but says that those who do should first ask whether a person wants help. Don’t grab them by the arm to steer them across the road. They may be perfectly capable of crossing the road by themselves.

Don’t treat them as objects of pity. Many of them can both outdistance and outsmart you. Just because they have some kind of physical condition does not mean that their brains have been numbed. Don’t congratulate them on academic success as if you never expected them to get that far. Congratulate them by all means – but in the same manner as you would congratulate any mainstream person who had done well.

By the way, many senior citizens also value their independence. Offer them a seat in the bus, but don’t insist, if they politely refuse. Likewise, don’t grab shopping bags out of their hands, and don’t raise your voice when speaking to them. Although hearing does get somewhat weaker with advancing age, it doesn’t mean that all senior citizens are deaf. You want to do a good deed? Ask first whether it’s needed. If not, give the person a smile, wish them a good day and move on.

What will happen to Wings of Zion?

■ WHEN HE traveled to Paris last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew by El Al, which even after it was privatized was known as Israel’s national carrier. Arkia is occasionally used as an alternative to El Al.

Wings of Zion, Israel’s version of Air Force One, which was purchased, fitted with special mechanisms and remodeled at a cost of some NIS 750 million, has never been used by any president or prime minister of Israel. It has been standing idle for several years, partially because of the cost involved in it taking flight, and partially for political reasons.

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman, in a report issued in March 2022, wrote that the cost of takeoff for Wings of Zion would be twice the cost of chartering a private plane. That so much money has already been spent on Wings of Zion, and that it would add to Israel’s prestige if the president and prime minister would arrive on foreign soil on Wings of Zion, have not put a dent in the controversy surrounding it. The whole concept, including the cost factor, has caused so much dispute that there is talk of it being scrapped.

The question is, who would want to buy a secondhand or, more accurately, thirdhand plane that to some extent is already outmoded? The plane was not new when purchased by Israel. Perhaps an emerging nation-state or a developing country might be interested, but it is doubtful that anyone would want to pay the amount that Israel invested.

 ALBER ELBAZ poses near two creations by French fashion designer Jeanne Lanvin as he visits the Jeanne Lanvin exhibition at the Palais Galliera in Paris in 2015. (credit: PHILIPPE WOJAZER/REUTERS) ALBER ELBAZ poses near two creations by French fashion designer Jeanne Lanvin as he visits the Jeanne Lanvin exhibition at the Palais Galliera in Paris in 2015. (credit: PHILIPPE WOJAZER/REUTERS)

On the other hand, both the president and the prime minister are often accompanied by large delegations of businesspeople who could be charged slightly less than it would cost for a first class or business class ticket on a commercial flight, and such income could offset the takeoff cost of Wings of Zion.

Netanyahu lays the stone for a new children's hospital

■ AMONG THE many things on Netanyahu’s agenda on Tu Bishvat was joining Prof. Yitshak Kreiss, the director-general of Sheba Medical Center, in laying the cornerstone for the Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital on the Sheba campus.

The expanded new hospital, which will be built adjacent to the existing facility, will be one of the most technologically advanced children’s hospitals in the world. In addition to new medical technologies that will be integrated into the treatment regimen, the hospital will highlight unique early genetic testing, detection and treatment of rare diseases. It will also treat seriously ill children from throughout the region.

“We are a hospital of peace and a beacon of hope not just for the children of Israel but also for the children of the region, including youngsters from the Palestinian Authority, Gaza, the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco, whom we are already treating. This is the DNA of Sheba,” said Kreiss.

Former Knesset speaker Szewach Weiss dies

■ AT A time of ever-increasing violence and divisiveness in Israel, former Knesset speaker Prof. Szewach Weiss stood out as a symbol of reconciliation. A Polish-born child Holocaust survivor whose family was saved by non-Jews, Weiss returned to Poland as Israel’s ambassador, following an 18-year career as an Israeli legislator. His efforts to promote good relations between Israel and Poland won him respect, affection and recognition in Poland, and he was honored by two Polish presidents, Aleksander Kwasniewski and Andrzej Duda.

On learning that Weiss had died, Duda tweeted his sorrow, and wrote that Weiss had been an outstanding personality, an Israeli Jew and patriot who loved Poland and had contributed greatly to Polish-Israeli relations.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki tweeted: “At the age of 87, Szewach Weiss, a longtime Israeli ambassador to Poland and a great Polish ambassador to Israel, has passed away. A friend of Poland, but also quite simply a good and wise man, who will be greatly missed. Rest in peace.”

Weiss was not only a proud Israeli but a proud Polish Jew, so much so that he adopted the Polish spelling of his first name. He returned to Poland several times to teach at the University of Warsaw, after completing his term as ambassador.

 LIA KOENIG (credit: Moshe Milner/GPO) LIA KOENIG (credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)

Peace Now commemorates murder of Emil Grunzweig

■ THIS WEEK, on February 10, Peace Now and other left-wing Israelis will mark the 40th anniversary of the killing of Emil Grunzweig, an academic participating in a Peace Now demonstration in Jerusalem. Several other demonstrators were wounded by the explosion of a hand grenade thrown by right-wing activist Yona Avrushmi.

Among the wounded was former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg, who was among the founders of Peace Now but curiously was not mentioned by Etti Abramov in the feature story she wrote for Yediot Aharonot. Admittedly, her focus was on the row of arms-linked people who stood on either side of Grunzweig, but she did mention Yuval Steinitz, who identified with Peace Now at the time but moved politically to the Right and became a minister in a Likud-led government. Steinitz was also wounded and to this day bears shrapnel in one of his legs.

While Steinitz moved to the Right, Burg, who in 1988 was elected to the Knesset on a Labor Alignment ticket, is perhaps more of a story in that he is the son of Yosef Burg, who was head of the National Religious Party. Not only was the younger Burg politically to the Left of his father, but he moved even further left, and today identifies with Hadash and believes that Israel should talk to Hamas.

Other than the anniversary of Grunzweig’s death, one of the reasons that the story was written is that the level of hatred and incitement on the two main sides of the political fence is not far from that of 1983. Grunzweig’s death was considered a political murder, and there are many people who believe that the next murder of this kind is imminent. Also, according to surveys, 31% of the population believes that current tensions will evolve into a civil war.

Level-headed individuals and organizations are calling for dialogue, but just as it takes two to tango, it also requires at least two to dialogue, and so far few political figures who identify with the present regime are willing to dialogue.

Presidents and authors

■ ONE OF the perks of being president of the state of Israel is amassing a huge collection of books. Publishers love to come with their authors to present a book to the president and to be photographed doing so. When the publishing house happens to be Yediot Books, the photo is published in Yediot Aharonot. Both President Isaac Herzog and his predecessor Reuven Rivlin have frequently appeared in photographs with authors, though Herzog has yet to catch up with Rivlin in the number of books he has received.

One author Rivlin never expected to meet in that particular capacity was someone he knew well, but as an office and project manager rather than a writer.

For 22 years, Rivka Ravitz, an ultra-Orthodox mother of 12 and grandmother of eight, had been a member of his staff. Starting out as an assistant to Rivlin when he was an MK, she quickly proved her abilities and continued to accompany him in his different roles as his bureau chief.

Following Rivlin’s election as Israel’s 10th president, Ravitz went with him to the President’s Residence and was present at top-level meetings and when policy decisions were being made. She also accompanied Rivlin on his trips abroad and was introduced to US President Joe Biden, who knelt before her after he was informed that she has 12 children. After all, Catholics also believe in large families, and Biden is a Catholic. When Ravitz met Pope Francis, he graciously bowed to her.

After Rivlin completed his presidential term, Ravitz, who had spent almost half her lifetime in his employ, picking up a couple of university degrees along the way, did not remain idle. One of her degrees is in computer science, and she is working on a doctorate at the University of Haifa. She is also teaching computer science operating systems at technical colleges in Jerusalem and Bnai Brak, in addition to which she’s a blogger.

Somehow, she also found time to write her memoir. After it was published, she decided to present it to Rivlin, who was very touched by the dedication that she wrote to him, calling him her bedrock and thanking him for their years together, his ongoing lesson of tolerance, and his ability to create a bridge between different cultures, beliefs and views.

The book recounts the journey of a young ultra-Orthodox woman through the corridors of power in the Knesset, government ministries and presidential palaces and offices abroad. She was a witness to historic events, and sometimes even a participant. During those years she learned a lot about politics, government, law, social welfare and more.

In Rivlin’s current office, she recalled their first meeting in 1999, when he took her on for a probationary period. He never told her that her position had become permanent. She simply stayed on. Just over 23 years later, she asked: “Have I passed the test?”

Rivlin is among those opposed to Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s plan for judicial reform, and has stated this publicly. It is not the first time that he has had a difference of legal opinion. In her book Ravitz describes a heated debate between Rivlin and Prof. Aharon Barak, when the latter was president of the Supreme Court. Today, Rivlin and Barak are in accord over the issue of judicial reform.

Lia Koenig adds a string to her bow

■ ISRAEL PRIZE and Emet Prize laureate Lia Koenig, who has other awards to her credit, last week added yet another string to her bow when she was awarded an honorary degree by the board of trustees and management of the Peres Academic Center.

The veteran and versatile actress, who at 93 continues to perform regularly at Habima, often in three or four different plays in the one week, is renowned not only for her acting ability, but also for her phenomenal memory and her friendly disposition. She is also closely affiliated with the Yiddish stage.

Dr. Yaniv Goldberg, who wrote Koenig’s biography, moderated the conferment event, and also had an onstage conversation with Koenig about her life in the theater. To add to the drama and festivity of the occasion, several close friends and thespian colleagues, including Gila Almagor, Sandra Sadeh, Osnat Fishman, Tatiana Canellis Olier, Shiran Huberman and Erez Regev, spoke of their relationships with her. Koenig has also been a singer throughout her long career, so the event included popular Hebrew and Yiddish songs.

Peres Academic Center President Prof. Amos Drory presented Koenig with her honorary degree, given in recognition of her extraordinary achievements in the field of acting: in theater, cinema and television; her contribution in shaping the identity and character of the Hebrew theater; her contribution to the preservation of the Yiddish language as a language of speech and art; and her many years of contribution to the world of culture and art in Israel.

Michal Herzog is going above and beyond

■ THOUGH NOT an elected official, Michal Herzog, the wife of the president, is increasingly engaging in activities far beyond those of her predecessors, which seems to enforce the idea that she may be doing her internship in the hope of becoming Israel’s first female president, though Dalia Itzik, as speaker of the Knesset, had a taste of that when she took over from president Moshe Katsav, who suspended himself from office after rape allegations against him surfaced.

Last week, Michal Herzog went to visit “good people in the north of Israel and for a moment to remember that we all want to live here and do good.”

Her journey included Kibbutz Tirat Zvi in the Beit She’an Valley. She also met a group of girls who are overcoming personal crises with the help of the warm staff of the Malkishua rehabilitation village.

Herzog then continued to Sakhnin, which she found to be a vibrant and impressive city that supports its weakest groups. Together with the mayor, Dr. Safwat Abu Ria, she had a moving conversation with children with cancer and their families.

Chemi Peres is not leaving Israel

■ INTERVIEWED ON Reshet Bet by Shalom Kittal, who asked about the possibility of a large-scale reduction in foreign investments in Israel in addition to fears that Israeli entrepreneurs will move their investments abroad, Chemi Peres, a veteran venture capitalist long before becoming chairman of the Peres Center, said that he has no intention of leaving Israel.

Sounding very much like his late father, Shimon Peres, with whom he enjoyed a close relationship, Peres expressed confidence in Israel’s economic survival, regardless of the political situation. Shimon Peres was known to be an eternal optimist, a characteristic inherited by his son.

US Ambassador Tom 'Enthusiasm' Nides

■ NICKNAMES ARE often applied to public figures. In the case of US Ambassador Tom Nides, the most suitable would be “Mr. Enthusiasm.” Rarely has anyone shown so much enthusiasm for so many people, places and happenings. As far as Nides goes, it’s not just a matter of diplomatic courtesy. His pleasure is reflected in his facial expressions, his eyes and his body language. He is an extremely positive person. Sadly, that’s not a contagious condition.

Gilad Tocatly premieres his documentary Mandel

■ IN THE last week of February, the Eretz Israel Museum will be the venue for the premiere of Gilad Tocatly’s documentary film Mandel, which tells the story of the work and vision of Mort Mandel, one of the most generous and ongoing philanthropists, whose donations to Israel and to Jewish causes in Cleveland, Miami and New York continue through the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation, which he established with his brothers.

Mort Mandel died at age 98 in October 2019, but his legacy lives on. Born in Cleveland to parents who emigrated from Poland, he and his brothers founded the Premier Automotive Supply Company, which grew into one of the world’s leading distributors of industrial parts and components.

The Mandel siblings were all blessed with longevity. Sister Meriam Ellen died at Age 100, Jack at 99 and Joe at 102.

Mort Mandel first visited Israel in 1967 after the Six Day War. Among the many Mandel gifts to the country are the Mandel Leadership Institute in Jerusalem; $5m. toward the Beersheba Children’s World Museum; $25m. toward the new campus of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem; the Mandel School for Advanced Studies in Humanities adjacent to the Mandel Institute for Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University Jerusalem; the Mandel School for Social Leadership at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; the Center for Leadership in the Negev and many other projects, as well as numerous causes in America. Altogether, the Mandel Foundation, with Mort Mandel at the helm, gave more than $1 billion to Jewish charities in America and Israel.

Mort Mandel also invested in various hi-tech and other business ventures in Israel, providing hundreds of jobs in the process.

Fashion designers in Israel

■ THERE ARE many talented fashion designers in Israel, but few reached the fame of Casablanca-born, Holon-raised Shenkar College graduate Alber Elbaz, who became a legend in his lifetime. Elbaz, who succumbed to COVID in 2021, though idolized in France, where he spent the major part of his adult life, never forgot his origins or where his talents were honed. His frequent visits to Israel always included a Shenkar stopover to look at the creations of fashion design students, several of whom later interned with him in Paris.

In a posthumous tribute to Elbaz, the Holon Design Museum last September opened “Alber Elbaz: The Dream Factory,” an exhibition that closes on February 25. Curated by Ya’ara Keydar, it is the most extensive Alber Elbaz exhibition to date.

Before it closes, there will be another tribute to him in a collaborative effort between Shenkar and the Holon Design Museum on Tuesday, February 14, which is Valentine’s Day, and the special event is therefore called Lessons in Love.

In this case, it is not love in the conventional sense, but love of Elbaz’s legacy by way of a fashion contest inspired by him and overseen by faculty members of the Shenkar fashion design department Moni Mednik, Idit Barak and Ofir Ivgi.

The contest, which will be held at Mediatheque, adjacent to the “Alber Elbaz: The Dream Factory” exhibition, involves the creations of some 20 third-year fashion design students, three of whom will receive scholarships presented Elbaz’s family in recognition of design excellence. Tickets for the event are NIS 130 and can be purchased via the museum’s website at

Former Soviet citizens become musicians in Israel

■ IN THE early years of immigration by citizens of the former Soviet Union, many came bearing musical instruments, and a large number of these musicians were absorbed in orchestras around the country. Others became street musicians, and to this day their income derives from the coins contributed by passersby as the musicians brave wind, rain and sun in order to put food on the table.

These days, all the visual and performing arts are well represented by former citizens of Russia and Ukraine, but here again, many of them are in severe economic straits and can barely make ends meet – if at all.

To try to help them out and simultaneously promote dialogue between the two groups, the Tel Aviv Arts Council is holding what it calls an Art Snob Party on Thursday, February 9, from 8 p.m. on the SNOB TLV Roof Deck at 19 Yefet Street in old Jaffa. The event is geared to people in their 20s and 30s. Admission is only NIS 20, for which participants can indulge in booze and chat in English, Hebrew or Russian with artists, directors, producers, actors, sculptors, writers, screenwriters, composers, instrumentalists, singers, etc.

Among the FSU participants will be Suli Mann, Olga Marshak, Alexander Kozlov, Lina Shender, Philipp Pischik, Tim Ode, Maya Maltseva, Ilya Kagan, Anton Sazonov, Semion Alexandrovskiy and Ilya Rozov.