Grapevine February 12, 2023: Tracing roots

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 ARTHUR RUBINSTEIN congratulates prime minister Menachem Begin on his Nobel Peace Prize at the premier’s home in Jerusalem in 1978. (photo credit: YAACOV SAAR/GPO)
ARTHUR RUBINSTEIN congratulates prime minister Menachem Begin on his Nobel Peace Prize at the premier’s home in Jerusalem in 1978.
(photo credit: YAACOV SAAR/GPO)

Yad Vashem, which in August will mark its 70th anniversary, has succeeded in recording 4.8 million names of victims of the Holocaust and hopes to be able to add to this number, although there is little hope of being able to record the names of all victims.

Even before the establishment of Yad Vashem, the Mormon Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints was collecting names of Holocaust victims and posthumously baptizing them out of a belief that baptism after death saves souls. This obviously did not sit well with Jewish communities inside and outside of Israel. For many years, even though Mormon leaders had agreed to stop the practice, they blocked access to their massive genealogical database, which also includes the names of Jewish and non-Jewish notables. The practice still continues to some extent, even though Mormon leaders have banned it.

Despite certain hostilities, Jews interested in genealogy continue to attend the three-day Roots Tech conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, US, which is best defined as the Mormon Capital.

Among the Jews who will be there from March 2-4 is Daniel Horowitz, who is well known to subscribers of My Heritage.

Due to the pandemic, Roots Tech went virtual for the past two years, but this year will be a hybrid of virtual and in-person.

 An aerial view of Yad Vashem (credit: ANDREW SHIVA/WIKIPEDIA) An aerial view of Yad Vashem (credit: ANDREW SHIVA/WIKIPEDIA)

The event includes 200-plus new on-demand class sessions and classes; main stage presentations and keynote speakers; chat support and online research consultations; connection with cousins using Relatives at RootsTech and messaging; plus a Virtual expo hall.

■ WHEN YOU are a public figure, you can visit just about anyone, regardless of how high or low they are on the social totem pole. Your secretary or personal assistant simply calls to make an appointment, and the other side usually agrees. Veikko Kala, the ambassador of Estonia had a yen to meet Chief Rabbi of Moscow Pinchas Goldschmidt, who is living in voluntary exile in Jerusalem. Kala, who was deputy head of mission at his country’s embassy in Moscow tweeted: “We’ve both been Muscovites. That made our conversation more exciting. I’m impressed how Rabbi Goldschmidt keeps standing firmly for his values, and [so like] people under heavy pressure from the Kremlin. So do we, till the victory.”

■ LAST WEEK, President Isaac Herzog released a video in which he extolled the virtues of Public Broadcasting, noting that many of the programs seen on KAN 11, cannot be seen elsewhere. Herzog was essentially issuing a message that it would be a big mistake to do away with Public Broadcasting. Whether this will have the desired effect on Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi and members of Knesset remains to be seen. When the Israel Broadcasting Authority was under threat of closure, then-President Reuven Rivlin also sought to come to the rescue – but to no avail. The only weapon that Public Broadcasting journalists and their colleagues on commercial channels have at their disposal is to join forces in a boycott against interviewing or reporting on legislators or ministers. When they’re not being chased for interviews, explanations and comments, and broadcasters and print media put a blackout on them, they might realize just how much they need the media. Journalists would also be much freer to report corruption in the lawmakers’ nest, if it doesn’t mention names. Just as MK David (Dudi) Amsalem can put the screws on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to create a previously nonexistent ministerial portfolio in the Justice Ministry, removing the broadcast microphone from legislators and keeping their names out of print, would put the screws on the Knesset when it comes to the vote. If they want to broadcast their opinions, the only option they may have is the Knesset Channel, whose staff might also side with their KAN 11 colleagues.

■ APROPOS PUBLIC Broadcasting, veteran news anchor Rina Matzliach, who last November resigned from Channel 12, saying that her job no longer excited her and that she had gone as far as she could go reporting on and interviewing politicians, soon after returned to where she had begun her career as a sports reporter more than three decades earlier. She cohosts a weekly radio program with Akiva Novak on Reshet Bet. Although she no longer reports on sports, Matzliach remains an avid soccer fan, and last Thursday briefly referred to recent results of soccer matches, after which she interviewed Simcha Rothman, who chairs the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. The two got into a heated argument over the speed and manner in which Rothman wants to introduce judicial reform. Rothman kept trying to put words into Matzliach’s mouth, and in reply to her questions, used the personal pronoun with such frequency, as to give the impression that he is on a political ego trip to boost his own power rather than that of the nation.

■ AS FOR judicial reform, given the size of protest demonstrations around the country, the very least one would expect in a democratic society, would be a referendum, as everyone in Israel – both citizens and non-citizens – will be affected. Calls for dialogue between the coalition and the opposition have gone unheeded. Herzog’s repeated requests for dialogue and for the vote to be postponed, have been denied. Former prime minister Ehud Barak, who today, Sunday, February 12, celebrates his 81st birthday has been a vocal, electronic, and print media opponent of judicial reform, but believes that dialogue is not the answer. Israel is confronting the worst internal crisis in its history he contends and suggests that tomorrow, Monday when the Knesset votes on judicial reform, the largest number of demonstrators ever, congregate outside the Knesset, plus at rally points in different cities and that all the members of the opposition walk out and hold a press conference. Though known as a brilliant strategist, Barak must surely know that in the present political climate, that particular strategy won’t work.

■ LOVERS OF classical music will get a special treat during the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition, which is held every three years and brings some of the world’s most talented young pianists to Israel.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the competition – conceived in 1973 at the initiative of Jan Jacob Bistritzky – and was held for the first time in 1974.

Like Rubinstein, Bistritzky was born in Poland, where he had been the director of International Cultural Affairs in Poland’s Ministry of Culture, director of the Chopin Institute and the Chopin Competition in Warsaw.

In 1971, he relocated to Israel, where he quickly found his place in the country’s musical and cultural circles.

Because Rubinstein was Jewish, he had paid several visits to Israel, and most importantly was acknowledged as the world’s greatest exponent of Chopin’s music. Bistritzky, who was also Rubinstein’s friend, proposed that an international piano contest be established in his name.

Rubinstein enthusiastically gave his consent and attended the first two contests.

Bistritzky was the Artistic Director of the Rubinstein Competition for thirty years. He was succeeded by pianist Idith Zvi, who retired in 2020. Since then, the artistic director has been Ariel Cohen.

Because this is a milestone year in the competition, audiences will receive an additional treat by way of a special tribute recital performed by former child prodigy Evgeny Kissin, the Russian-born piano virtuoso and composer who lives in Britain. Kissin has both British and Israeli citizenship. This year also is the 10th anniversary of his becoming an Israeli citizen.

As a concert pianist, Kissin has a large repertoire that includes Schubert, Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Beethoven – and, of course, Chopin.

His first-ever concert in Israel in 1984, was also a benefit concert for the competition, although he, himself, has never been a contestant. In his recital for this year’s competition, he is paying tribute not only to Rubinstein, who is one of his heroes but also to Bistritzky whom he knew well and regarded as a friend.

His performance on March 28, will be in the Bronfman Auditorium of the Lowy Concert Hall (formerly known as the Mann Auditorium) in Tel Aviv.

■ THE NATIONAL Library of Israel recently received a gift of books from the Embassy of Guatemala, one of the few embassies located in Jerusalem. Guatemala, represented by Dr. Jorge Garcia Granados, was a member of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) which investigated and recommended the partition of Palestine, which was adopted by the UN in the historic vote of November 29, 1947. In 1956, Granados became his country’s first ambassador to Israel. He also wrote a book called The Birth of Israel: The drama as I saw it. Guatemala’s Minister Counsellor in Israel, Elvira Santizo, presented books by Guatemalan authors to Dr. Raquel Ukeles, the NLI’s head of collections.

■ IT SEEMS that not all is well in Jerusalem’s Old City. Christians are under attack by both Muslim and Jewish radicals. Aside from vandalism of Christian Holy places, especially the Armenian Church, and attacks on Armenian residents, many of whom are members of families who have lived for generations in the Old City, there’s good news for people who frequent the Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion.

The Dormition Abbey – renowned for its musical services, especially at Christmas – belongs to the Benedictine Order and is run by Abbot Father Nikodemus Schnabel. Over the years, the Dormition Abbey, like other Christian places of worship, has been violated by Jewish radicals, who ignore the fact that without a letter penned in November 1917 by a practicing Christian, Lord Arthur Balfour, there might not be a Jewish state, and they might be living in countries in which antisemitism is rampant.