Grapevine February 15, 2023: He'll be 64

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG places a wreath during the memorial ceremony for prime minister Ariel Sharon.  (photo credit: Gregory Bado)
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG places a wreath during the memorial ceremony for prime minister Ariel Sharon.
(photo credit: Gregory Bado)

On Friday, February 17, Shas leader Arye Deri will celebrate his 64th birthday.

Even though it’s unlikely that Deri has ever heard of the Beatles, much less listened to them, the occasion brings to mind their song, written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “When I’m Sixty-four.” The refrain of the song – “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?” – seems to be most appropriate in Deri’s case, as he tries to cling to the clout he previously enjoyed.

Even without his ministerial position, Deri wields plenty of influence. To restore his portfolios would simply be a mark of approval for corruption. The essential difference between him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is that Deri is a triple convicted felon, whereas Netanyahu, who is on trial, has not been convicted.

If nothing else, the plethora of national flags and the diversity of demonstrators in the various protest demonstrations against judicial reform and the attempts to restore Deri’s ministerial status, prove that the Right does not have a monopoly on patriotism.

JEWISH PUBLICATIONS in the United States report on a pro-Israel legislative initiative that will be introduced to the House this coming Friday by Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida) and Andrew Garbarino (R-New York), in honor of Golda Meir, the first and only woman to serve as prime minister of Israel. The legislation is also being proposed in honor of Israel’s 75th anniversary of independence.

 SHLOMO ARTZI, flanked by Rakefet Iluz and Alex Alter. (credit: Courtesy JICC) SHLOMO ARTZI, flanked by Rakefet Iluz and Alex Alter. (credit: Courtesy JICC)

Although Meir was born in Ukraine, she spent most of her childhood and young adulthood in Milwaukee, where she not only became an American citizen, but picked up a pronounced American accent, which remained with her till her dying day, regardless of whether she spoke in English or Hebrew.

She died in Jerusalem in 1978 at age 80. A heavy smoker, she had been battling cancer for several years, but continued to work, even when she was ill.

“Golda Meir’s story is a testament to the progress of the Jewish people, and that of Jewish women in particular,” Wasserman Schultz said. “As a founder of the State of Israel, she modeled leadership for future generations and was fundamental in strengthening the United States-Israel partnership. I’m proud to sponsor this legislation to cement her place in history.”

If the bill passes, the intention is to mint a series of commemorative coins. Garbarino said that the coins would be a “fitting commemoration of the critical relationship between the United States and our friend and ally, Israel.

“Prime minister Golda Meir was a trailblazer and remarkable world leader who is deserving of this recognition and more. Under her leadership, Israel became the free, democratic nation it is today,” he continued.

Before the proposal can be put to the vote, it must receive support from two-thirds of a chamber of Congress.

If the bill passes, the intention is to mint a series of coins which would be sold, with the proceeds transferred to the nonprofit Laniado Medical Center in Kiryat Sanz, Netanya.

ITALY IS known as a very creative country, so much so that many of the brand names of its products are well known all over the world, such as Ferragamo shoes, Missoni colorful knitwear, Versace, Prada, Armani and Fendi fashion, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Maserati cars and, of course, Olivetti typewriters.

It is the latter that will attract the interest of visitors to the Vitrina Gallery at the Holon Institute of Technology at an exhibition that will be officially opened on February 21, in the presence of Italian Ambassador Sergio Barbanti. The exhibition is curated by Ivry Baumgarten, under the title of “Olivetti – Beyond the Typewriter.”

The exhibition will be on view from February 16 to May 2 under the subtitle of “Typist A.” It is described as a text-based performance, where a poem or a poetic fragment is improvised on the spot and typed on an Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter by Amir Harash and Amir Atzmon. This will no doubt fascinate people under 20 who grew up without typewriters, gramophones, ground-line telephones and a host of other products that were so familiar to people who lived most or all of their lives in the 20th century.

LET’S NOT kid ourselves. There are people with extreme views and short fuses on both sides of the political divide, and most people who subscribe to logical thought will agree that neither side is more patriotic than the other. They simply differ on what needs to be changed and how change should be approached.

Extreme attitudes are bad enough when announced or published, but they are untenable when words lead to provocative action, as happened on Sunday.

Even though Netanyahu put an immediate stop to a Shas proposal for arrests and fines of women who came to the Western Wall immodestly dressed, one woman demonstrated her protest to the proposed penalty by coming to the Western Wall and peeling off her outer garments until standing in her underwear.

For Jews, the Western Wall is regarded as a holy site, and therefore should be treated accordingly, though there might be some debate over what constitutes immodest garb. For instance, in Jewish tradition, women are not supposed to wear men’s garments, and men are not supposed to wear women’s garments. Long before women in the Western world wore trousers under their dresses or tunics, and men wore robes very similar to a dress, such attire was perfectly acceptable in the Middle East, and even in ancient Rome and Greece, where men wore togas and skirts.

In contemporary circles, pants under dresses have become almost uniform among women in the religious-Zionist community, who have also in many cases relaxed the rules pertaining to the covering of a married woman’s hair. The wigs came off and were replaced by voluminous head scarves mounted on high headdresses. The headdresses are gradually being discarded, and the big scarves are replaced by smaller, symbolic varieties, which are tied in such a manner as to reveal most of the natural hair. Are these women immodest? Certainly not by Western standards, but possibly by halachic standards. At least one major American halachic authority, more than half a century ago, gave women permission to wear trousers on condition that they did not have a fly front.

The lady who exaggerated her protest was arrested, but what she did was perhaps even worse than entering a mosque without removing one’s shoes. Observing the rules in both cases is a matter of simply respecting a holy site, and what even the mildest violations mean to countless people of faith.

After all, one doesn’t yell “Fire” in a theater, so why create panic in a holy place?

BUT ONE doesn’t have to go that far to squirm over the behavior of some of our legislators. Miri Regev used to be the Likud screamer, but compared to Tally Gotliv, she’s like Snow White without the seven dwarfs. Gotliv, who is rude, arrogant, aggressive and abrasive, is an embarrassment both to Netanyahu and to the legal profession. A novice legislator, she had fancied herself chairing the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

Inasmuch as opposition members of that committee complain about MK Simcha Rothman, he is infinitely preferable to Gotliv, who would turn meetings into a nightmare. Aside from shouting like a shrew, she speaks at an incredible speed, with her voice rising on a near-hysterical crescendo, and when interviewed on radio or television, she does not allow the interviewer to get a word in edgewise. Rothman’s behavior is much more civilized, despite his unpopular viewpoint.

THE RAMAT Gan Municipality has a tradition of taking its eighth grade students from throughout the city to Mount Hermon for a snow happening, to mark their rite of passage from elementary school to high school. It’s an event that causes great emotion and excitement. For many of the participants, it is their first confrontation with snow, so it lingers in their memories long after they graduate from school and even from university.

This year, the 2,000 students who went to Mount Hermon were accompanied by Ramat Gan Mayor Carmel Shama Hacohen. The students eagerly rode the famous Mount Hermon cable car and played all the games that youngsters play in the snow. They also caught a Golan Heights performance by Noa Kirel and Shahar Saul.

The mayor had nearly as much fun as the young people, noting that they came from schools all over the city, ranging from the most haredi to the most liberal secular.

Wearing identical sweatshirts, to ensure that anyone who got lost would be easily found, they left their homes at 5 a.m. for a day in the snow, and they all got along just fine.

FOREIGN DIPLOMATS stationed in Israel get caught up in Jewish traditions and customs. On major Jewish holidays they tweet greetings in Hebrew and English. They partake in Sabbath dinners and Passover Seders. They develop a liking for matzah and haroset, and even for gefilte fish, kneidlach and cholent, not to mention fresh challah.

But Swedish Ambassador Erik Ullenhag and his wife, Maria Valesco, are going a step further and are hosting a pre-Purim party, coupled with an exhibition of “Swedish Music Moments.” Guests have been asked to wear Purim costumes, and it has been suggested that the costumes should reflect their favorite music artist.

It can only be presumed that many of the men will be dressed in Elvis Presley-style white suits, and that women will recreate costumes worn by Madonna, Lady Gaga, Billie Eilish and Beyoncé. Maybe some with a strong sense of pride and patriotism will come in one of the dramatic outfits worn by Ofra Haza, Shoshana Damari or Yaffa Yarkoni.

EVERY EMBASSY has different rules and customs. Most embassies have websites which are bilingual, with the languages being English – the most common language in the diplomatic community – and the other, the language of the country that is represented. Some embassies don’t use English, such as the German Embassy, whose website is in German and Hebrew, though the ambassador’s Twitter account is mostly in English, with a little German here and there. The Hungarian Embassy, likewise, does not use English, nor does the Italian Embassy.

All the Asian embassies use English, and the Japanese Embassy, out of consideration for its invitees, includes an easy-to-follow map of how to get to the residence of Ambassador Mizushima Koichi, who, together with his wife, will this month host a reception in honor of the 63rd birthday of Emperor Naruhito.

WHILE former US president Donald Trump’s legal problems are on the rise, with a case of alleged rape, which is due to be heard in court in April, Eric Trump, 39, the youngest of the three children of Donald Trump and his first wife, Ivana, was in Israel last week at the invitation of local real estate company YBox for the inauguration of its residential tower Gat Rimon, in Tel Aviv.

The younger Trump is a former reality television presenter, and also served as boardroom judge on his father’s television program, The Apprentice. Together with his older brother, Donald Jr., Eric Trump is a trustee and executive vice president of his father’s business interests. He has been involved since boyhood in his father’s real estate projects.

During his visit, Eric Trump and several of his partners who accompanied him stayed at the Dan Hotel, Tel Aviv, where they were greeted by general manager Ilan Ben Hakoon, and met with a series of Israeli entrepreneurs and investors to discuss the possibility of introducing Trump Hotels to Israel’s hospitality landscape. Locations proposed were Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Eilat.

AT THE President’s Residence in Jerusalem, there is a built-in sophisticated sound system, a video cameraman almost constantly on hand, and a huge video screen. What is lacking is an electronic prompter.

This was clearly evident last Sunday when the president made his speech to the nation. Instead of looking straight into the video camera throughout his address, he kept either looking down at the printed page or turning to the next page. Had there been an electronic prompter or monitor, he would have been looking straight out of the television screen as if to make eye contact with viewers around the country. Because he was unable to do so, his message, though important, lost some of its impact, even though it was being endlessly discussed and analyzed on Sunday night and throughout the day and night on Monday – and even for most of Tuesday. US Ambassador Tom Nides loved it and tweeted afterward: “Great speech by a great leader. Thank you President Isaac Herzog.”

The president who has made strenuous efforts to avoid conflict and achieve some form of national unity with room for disagreement and dialogue, has so far been unsuccessful, and not surprisingly so.

Former chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, in a radio interview, said that Jews have been in conflict with each other ever since the biblical Children of Israel left Egypt. He gave several examples of this and of the disasters that ensued – most notably the destruction of the Second Temple.

A child Holocaust survivor and former chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, Lau did not mention that during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, left-wing and right-wing Jewish resistance groups fought separately against the Nazis, rather than together. Unfortunately, both groups perished, though the names of their leaders are commemorated in Warsaw and in Israel as well as many parts of the Jewish world.

The 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising will be commemorated in April of this year.

DESPITE THE time that he has devoted in trying to persuade politicians from different camps to settle their differences, Herzog has also had to go about his regular duties and to host or attend many events in and out of Jerusalem, including the commemoration ceremonies marking the anniversaries of the deaths of past presidents and prime ministers. The 30th anniversary of the death of his father, president Chaim Herzog, is coming up just before Passover.

But last Friday, Herzog delivered a eulogy for prime minister Ariel Sharon on the ninth anniversary of his death following long years in a coma, following his collapse. On February 26, Sharon’s family will again have cause to come together to honor what would have been his 95th birthday.

Herzog went to the Sycamore Farm where Sharon is buried alongside his wife, Lily, who died 23 years ago, and eulogized them both. The anemones which Lily Sharon loved so much are in full bloom on her grave.

Herzog said of Ariel Sharon that beyond the man who was known as a bulldozer, who could make difficult decisions, was a very special person, who was deeply devoted to the land, and a farmer in all his being, who dearly loved to be in his home at the Sycamore Farm with his family, in whom he took great pride.

In the many roles that Sharon fulfilled over the years, said Herzog, he knew how to work and to execute, but above all he was a man of values and principles, with extreme loyalty to his comrades in arms and an abiding love for the State of Israel.

Aside from anything Herzog said, it should be remembered that Sharon was the prime minister who in 2005 ordered Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the dismantling of 21 Jewish settlements. Some of the residents of those settlements have still not come to terms with how their lives were changed, and many are still trying to determine why Sharon, a longtime military officer, courageous fighter and a former defense minister, could have made such a decision.

IF ANYONE is looking for former prime minister Naftali Bennett in the last week of February, they’ll find him Down Under. Bennett has been invited to the island continent as the feature attraction of the gala United Jewish Appeal celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel.

Bennett is traveling south together with an IDF musical ensemble and will be speaking in Western Australia on February 23, New South Wales on February 26, and Victoria on February 28. That’s a very legitimate reason for getting away from it all.

IN THE very near future, in advance of the 75th anniversary celebrations of the proclamation of the state, Israeli media and Jewish media abroad will inundate the public with newspaper articles and documentary programs on radio and television pertaining to the rebirth of a nation.

Several of the countries that lobbied and voted for the partition of Palestine, or voted against partition but subsequently entered into diplomatic relations with Israel, are also friends of Palestine.

A case in point is Australia, which cast the first yes vote in the United Nations General Assembly on November 29, 1947.

Nablus-born Izzat Salah Abdulhadi is listed as the ambassador to Australia of the state of Palestine, and is an active member of the Council of Arab Ambassadors in Canberra, where he currently holds the post of general secretary of the Council.

In 2006, Abdulhadi was appointed to head the Embassy of the state of Palestine to Australia, New Zealand and the nations of the Pacific.

In Australia there is a large Palestinian and Arab diaspora community, which has been integrated into many walks of life, though in predominantly Arab neighborhoods it is hard to believe that one is not in the Middle East.

Curiously, at the very interesting Immigration Museum in Victoria, the pictorial histories of Jewish and Arab migration to Australia are featured side by side.

Israeli dignitaries who visit Australia are invariably subjected to anti-Israel demonstrations by Palestinian expatriates and their supporters. It started with president Chaim Herzog, who in 1986 was the first Israeli president to visit Australia, and has continued with his successors. President Isaac Herzog is due to visit Australia in 2024.

LAST WEEK Rodica Radian-Gordon, Israel’s ambassador to Spain, was invited to Complutense University of Madrid to talk about the Oslo Accords during this, the 30th anniversary year of what began as a promise for peace but eventuated into the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and intensified terrorism.

Radian-Gordon had to be quickly evacuated from the auditorium when it was stormed by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activists and Palestinians.

Most of the key players in the negotiations that led to the Oslo Accords are dead or elderly. Rabin, Shimon Peres, who was foreign minister, PLO leader Yasser Arafat, historian Ron Pundak, who initiated the talks that led to the Oslo Accords, Uri Savir, who was Israel’s chief negotiator, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, a former IDF chief of staff, who was deeply involved in peace talks with the Palestinians, are dead. Nabil Shaath, who later became prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, is 84; and Ahmed Queri, who was a senior negotiator and held various high-ranking positions, will celebrate his 86th birthday in March. Yair Hirschfeld, who, with Pundak, was one of the key architects of the Oslo Accords, is 78, and Yossi Beilin, who was deputy foreign minister during the negotiations, and was deeply involved from the very outset, is 74.

Not only has peace not been attained between the Israelis and the Palestinians in the three decades since then, but friction among the Israelis themselves has exacerbated. Tensions between Left and Right are perhaps worse than they were when Rabin was murdered.

IT WAS a double celebration for Dan Hotels CEO Shlomi Dahan, when he was joined by members of the chain’s executive and management at the cocktail reception that the Dan Eilat hosts annually at the start of the Eilat Chamber Music Festival. Dahan was also celebrating the first anniversary of taking up his appointment in February 2022. Joining him in hosting the event were Dan Eilat general manager Guy Adiran and immediate past chairman of the board of the Dan Hotels group, Michael Federmann and his wife, Liora.

IT’S DEFINITELY nostalgia time in Israel’s entertainment industry, where numerous singers and actors aged 70 and more are celebrating milestone anniversaries of their careers, or are simply continuing to appear on stage.

Among them is singer Shlomo Artzi, who at age 73 looks increasingly like his late father, Yitzhak Artzi, a politician who served on the Tel Aviv City Council and as a member of Knesset.

At a recent concert that he gave to a packed house at the Jerusalem International Convention Center, Shlomo Artzi was pleasantly surprised to receive a photograph taken at the 1970 Israel Song Festival in the very same hall. He had entered the contest while doing his mandatory service in the IDF, and had come wearing his white naval uniform, not expecting to do particularly well. He won. Artzi was extremely moved when presented with the photo by JICC deputy CEO Alex Alter and Rakefet Iluz, the deputy head of marketing at JICC, and said he hoped to give as good a performance in 2023 as he had done in 1970.

In the photo he had more hair and less weight. But his voice is as good as ever.