Grapevine March 24, 2023: It’s in the book

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 GALIT GUTMAN and her daughter, Emma, model creations by Aharon Genish.  (photo credit: LENS PRODUCTIONS)
GALIT GUTMAN and her daughter, Emma, model creations by Aharon Genish.
(photo credit: LENS PRODUCTIONS)

After all the media hype about the possible loss of independence of the National Library and the damage such a move could cost if it came under the control of the Education Ministry, the good news is that aside from the retraction of the proposal by Education Minister Yoav Kisch, the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature in Association with the National Library of Israel, will take place in the new National Library building on August 9, 2023.

This will be the first time after three years of virtual Sami Rohr award ceremonies for Jewish literature, that the prizes will be awarded in person.

The list of finalists for fiction.was announced this week and it was heartening to see that while much of Jewish fiction is written in English, among the finalists there are also works translated from Hebrew and Polish.

The list of finalists includes Iddo Gefen for Jerusalem Beach (Astra Publishing House), translated from Hebrew by Daniella Zamir; Max Gross for The Lost Shtetl (HarperVia); Mikołaj Grynberg for I’d Like to Say Sorry but There’s No One to Say Sorry To (The New Press), translated from Polish by Sean Gasper Bye; Anna Solomon for The Book of V (Henry Holt and Co.).

The winner will be announced in May and authors and translators will be honored in Jerusalem in August.

 DR. DAVID Rutstein, secretary-general of the Baha’i International Community (left), with Prof. Meir Ben Asher.  (credit: STEVE LINDE) DR. DAVID Rutstein, secretary-general of the Baha’i International Community (left), with Prof. Meir Ben Asher. (credit: STEVE LINDE)

The $100,000 prize is granted annually, for non-fiction and fiction in alternating years, to an emerging writer who demonstrates the potential for continued contribution to the world of Jewish literature.

The prize was inaugurated in 2006 by the Rohr family in memory of Sami Rohr who loved Jewish literature.


SEEING THE large number of diplomats at the Baha’i New Year reception this week at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, several first-time guests asked to have the Baha’i ambassador pointed out to them. They were surprised to learn that Baha’i is not a country but a philosophical religion with a worldwide following. According to Ariane Sabet, the Deputy Secretary General of the Haifa headquartered Baha’i International Community, there are some eight million members of the Baha’i religion in more than 85 countries, many of which are represented among the Baha’i Community of volunteers, who live temporarily in the north of Israel.

Both Sabet and Secretary General Dr. David Rutstein spoke of the Baha’i New Year which is celebrated at the beginning of Spring and symbolizes new growth, new relationships, the cementing of existing relationships and a mission to bring joy, peace, justice and unity to the world.

A symbol of this was seen in the musical performance by a vocal and instrumental quartet with each of the performers coming from a different country, yet harmonizing perfectly in two lively numbers that had the audience spontaneously swaying and clapping to the music.

Tjireya Tjitender, a senior Baha’i advisor, spoke of the importance that Baha’i places on education and of the hundreds of schools and colleges that Baha’i has opened in many countries, especially in African villages where residents did not previously have access to education.

She also spoke of the thousands of conferences that Baha’i has initiated in a variety of different settings with the participation of a variety of different communities and local political and academic leaders, as well as other dignitaries.

She also showed a video of such events to illustrate the veracity of her remarks.

As always, guests were greeted by volunteers in the entrance lobby to the hotel, on the staircase, in the foyer leading to the ballroom that had been transformed into a segment of the famous Baha’i gardens and in the ballroom itself. At the entrance to the ballroom stood a reception line of Baha’i personalities, the first being the Jerusalem-based representatives David and Tracy Freeman, who made all the arrangements for the reception.

Professor Meir Ben Asher, who three years ago was appointed to the chair of Baha’i Studies at the Hebrew University, succeeding Professor Moshe Sharon, who in 1999 was the first to occupy the chair when it was inaugurated, explained some of the background to the New Year.

In Persian, the New Year is called Naw-Ruz, meaning New Day and is celebrated on the first day of the Baha’i calendar, usually falling in March. The Baha’i religion was founded in the mid-19th century in Iran, which is one of the Moslem-majority countries in which Baha’i followers are persecuted.

Naw-Raz in Baha’i theology is the day that God consecrated the first month of the year – the day that light visited the world. There are 19 months of 19 days each in the Baha’i calendar, adding up to 361 days, with an extra four or five days added in the last month in coordination with the solar calendar.

Ben Asher said that when offered the chair of Baha’i Studies his knowledge of Baha’i history and philosophy was very limited but has increased considerably since then and he has found the study to be both rewarding and challenging.

One of the aspects that particularly interested him was the relationship between theory and practice but he had learned that the principles were not just a matter of theory but were the elements of regular practice.

None of those attending the reception went home driving under the influence of alcohol, which is strictly forbidden in the Baha’i faith. Guests had a choice of delicious and varied fruit cocktails.


WITH PASSOVER, which is also one of the Jewish New Year’s, just around the corner, community seders are being planned by different religious and charity organizations. Despite all the requests that are broadcast on the radio by representatives of social welfare organizations asking listeners to invite strangers to their homes, it is surprising how many people would have nowhere to go on Seder night. For them, a community seder is both a moral and spiritual lifeline.

Community seders are also held in retirement homes for senior citizens, including those where there are facilities for residents with mild to serious cognitive decline. It is very difficult for families and friends to watch a loved one who was intellectually bright lose cognitive abilities. Interestingly, many such people who can no longer recognize anyone they knew or even remember their own names respond very positively to music and can even sing along with the lyrics.

But not every rabbi who officiates at a seder attended by people with dementia knows this and simply mumbles through the seder as if to get it over and done with. This really annoyed Jody Hirsh, whose late mother had Alzheimer’s and lived in a home for the aged. While she was still alive, whenever Hirsh came from the United States to visit her, he brought his ukulele to sing to her. Even when she could no longer remember who he was, she knew the words of the songs and joined in.

One year, Hirsh was with her and other residents for Seder night and was appalled that the rabbi who conducted the seder just rushed through it on the presumption that it didn’t mean anything to anyone anyway because they didn’t remember what it was about.

Hirsh spoke to the director of the Alzheimer’s unit and offered to conduct the seder the following year but by then his mother was no longer living. Hopefully, there will be a lot of singing at seders in Alzheimer units because that will give so many people who have lost the freedom to remember the chance to temporarily regain a part of the joy of yesteryear.


BY THE same token, presumptions should never be made about people with disabilities. Rabbi Uri Yitzhak Shahor was born with severe physical disabilities but according to his teachers, he has a brilliant mind and is a quick learner. Shahor, now 25, is confined to a wheelchair. His ambition is to be a rabbinical judge and he is currently studying for the exam.

Aware of what he, himself can do, he states that no one has the right to treat people with disabilities as if they do not belong in mainstream society. “Ask them how they think they can contribute and what they want to do,” he says. The IDF adopted a similar philosophy several years ago when it was realized that many young people with physical or mental disabilities want to serve in the army. They are taken on as volunteers and given tasks that they are capable of executing and are so proud to be wearing army uniform.

Some with physical disabilities are so bright intellectually that they are integrated into intelligence units. The army experiences of these volunteers give them self-confidence, help them express themselves better and later enable them to find jobs.


ACTRESS AND former supermodel Galit Gutman was among the many models aged considerably more than 20-something who paraded on the catwalks at Kornit FAC Tel Aviv Fashion Week. She and her daughter, Emma, modeled part of the collection of Aharon Genish, a young and very promising designer, who grew up as a yeshiva student in Bnei Brak, where he twice experienced sexual abuse. He is now secular and gay.

His designs incorporate something of his background, yet also convey a sense of history in updated period outfits. His show was sponsored by Ronit Raphael, who is well-known for cosmetic anti-aging products. Gutman, 50, is one of her presenters, as is former television personality Dalia Mazor, 73, who looks nowhere near her age. They all appeared on the catwalk together with cosmetic pharmacist Hila Tzur in a collection based on sexual abuse within the family.

Other not-so-young models who paraded in the creations of other designers included model and actress Sandy Bar, singer Rita and Tzipi Refaeli, who under her maiden name Tzipi Levine was a much sought-after model long before her international supermodel daughter, Bar Refaeli, was born.

According to Ronit Raphael, who is active in trying to prevent sexual abuse against minors, there are more than 220 million children in the world who have suffered some form of sexual abuse within their homes.