Grapevine March 31, 2023: Chaos causes cancellations

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 PRESIDENT SHIMON PERES hosts a festive dinner to break the Ramadan fast (iftar) with Muslim leaders and public figures, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem in 2012.  (photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)
PRESIDENT SHIMON PERES hosts a festive dinner to break the Ramadan fast (iftar) with Muslim leaders and public figures, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem in 2012.
(photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)

It’s a tradition for the President of the State to host an annual Iftar Dinner during Ramadan to which all Muslim Ambassadors stationed in Israel are invited, along with municipal and Regional Mayors of Arab villages and towns. President Isaac Herzog had planned to host such a dinner on Monday night, but decided on Monday morning, in view of the chaotic situation, to cancel.

All the food prepared for the dinner did not go to waste, however. Usually varied and plentiful, it was donated to needy individuals and families for whom the chaos turned out to be a real boon.

■ THE IFTAR dinner was not the only event canceled this week. It’s difficult to know exactly how many there were, but certainly a lot in areas where demonstrations were held and at venues where access roads were blocked by demonstrators.

It’s easy to blame Justice Minister Yariv Levin, Simcha Rothman, or National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, but whether he was directly or indirectly involved, the buck stopped with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The discomfort caused by demonstrators throughout the nation can be attributed to things he did or did not do or things he said or did not say. Much fades with age, and the once brilliantly manipulative Netanyahu is losing it, if he hasn’t lost it already.

■ AMONG OTHER cancellations was a wonderful concert which Italian Ambassador Sergio Barbanti had planned to hold at his residence to mark the 100th anniversary of the Arena di Verona Opera.

 Protests break out for 12th consecutive week across Israel. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV) Protests break out for 12th consecutive week across Israel. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

Singers from the Verona Opera Festival Gilda Fiume, Sofia Koberidze and Simone Piazzola, accompanied by pianist Federico Brunello, had been scheduled to present works by Bizet and Verdi. Invitees might still get a chance to hear them. There is always a concert of some kind at the Italian Ambassador’s Republic Day reception in June, and perhaps this quartet or another group from Verona will do the honors then.

■ ALL US ambassadors to Israel have been extremely active and involved in many local activities, but none, with the exception of the late Samuel Lewis, has been as visible as present incumbent Tom Nides. Lewis, who served from 1977-1985, was deeply involved in the Camp David Accords, and remained an enduring friend of Israel until his death nine years ago.

But Lewis was in office in a pre-twitter era. The Twitter account of Tom Nides, is almost like a diary of where he’s been and what he’s done. Last week, after speaking at a SHEKEL event, he tweeted: “A genuine pleasure to speak at the SHEKEL event yesterday. I am proud to see the impact the Americans for Disabilities Act has made on the rights of people with disabilities in the US, but it has also strongly influenced Israel’s policymakers.”

The tweet was followed up with another which featured a photograph of Nides with a group of SHEKEL people with various disabilities joining him in his weekly “Shabbat Shalom” greeting. In the latter tweet, Nides refers to the continuing battle for the rights of people with disabilities. It’s doubtful that on such an issue, anyone would dare to tell him to mind his own business.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with mental or physical disabilities in everyday activities. The text of the legislation includes a long list of such disabilities in order to ensure that the people who have them are protected by law.

■ ONE OF the more significant things we read in the Haggadah is a verse beginning Kol Dichfin, which comes directly after the showing of the matzah and the reciting of: “This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. All those who are hungry, let them enter and eat. All those who are in need, let them celebrate the Passover.”

Food security is a vital factor, even in affluent countries, because no matter how economically sound a country may be there is always a sector of the population living in poverty. Israel is certainly no exception. But it’s not just at Passover that the poor are in need of nutritious food, or in need of food – period.

A MAN wraps fresh matza during Passover in Ashdod in 2016 (credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)A MAN wraps fresh matza during Passover in Ashdod in 2016 (credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)

■ ANYONE LOOKING for Chef Tali Friedman, the first ever woman chair of the Machane Yehuda Merchants Association, will not find her in Jerusalem on April 1. She will be in New York for a Spotlight on Jerusalem Dinner at the Ristorante Il Gattopardo in support of the c.a.t.a.m.o.n Dance Group. Guests will pay $1,000 per head at the Jerusalem food and dance event which is under the auspices of The Jerusalem Foundation Inc.

Friedman, a mother of four, is collaborating with the restaurant to give guests a Jerusalem market culinary experience. The dance group will perform excerpts from Somewhere choreographed by the c.a.t.a.m.o.n Dance Group’s Artistic Director Elad Shechter.

In her gastronomic Atelier in the market, Friedman hosts workshops, parties and other events to which she sometimes invites other market chefs to meet with chefs from overseas, to share culinary secrets and to experience new tastes.

Friedman’s passion for cooking began when she was a child in the bustle of her grandparents’ guesthouse, where there were always bubbling pots on the stove in the kitchen.

Her grandmother was a superb cook and used fresh products from her own garden.

When she was 19, Friedman enrolled at the cooking school at Hadassah College, and later continued her studies in Paris. When she returned to Israel, she worked with some of Israel’s leading chefs Ezra Kedem, Eyal Shani, and Rafi Cohen in the respective restaurants that they managed.

But she was drawn to the atmosphere and history of the market where she set up her own enterprise and won the admiration and respect of so many others for whom Mahaneh Yehuda, or Mahaneh as they call it, is not only a place of work, but literally a home away from home.

■ ALSO ON April 1 in Mitzpe Ilan, a religious community settlement in the north of Israel near Umm al Fahm, named in memory of Ilan and Asaf Rimon, there will be a very special bar mitzvah celebration.

Around some 80 years ago, Rabbi Shimon Dassberg smuggled a miniature Torah Scroll into the Bergen Belsen concentration camp, where he conducted a secret bar mitzvah for Yoachim Yosef, now an emeritus science professor at Tel Aviv University, with a changed spelling of his surname.

Rabbi Dassberg gave him the miniature Torah as a gift on the condition that he promise that if he survived, he would tell the story. The boy survived, and so did the Torah Scroll, which he brought to Israel. Many years later, when Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut was contemplating what he would take with him to space, he visited Prof. Joseph, and while talking to him, noticed a wooden box on the mantelpiece.

Ramon, the son and grandson of Auschwitz survivors, asked what was in it and heard the story. He immediately asked if he could take it with him, because it symbolized Jewish survival. Joseph agreed. The Columbia Space Shuttle on which Ramon was a crew member, disintegrated on February 1, 2003, as it re-entered Earth.

No one survived, nor did the Torah Scroll.

Neil Rubinstein, a Modi’in businessman, originally from South Africa, was so moved by the story that he mounted a successful global campaign to have a replica made of the miniature scroll. Uri, the great grandson of Rabbi Shimon Dassberg, will read his bar mitzvah portion from that scroll, while his grandfather, Rabbi Tuvia Dassberg stands alongside him. For Rubinstein, this is the closing of many circles.

FINANCE MINISTER Bezalel Smotrich has been dubbed in some quarters the Minister of Chaos. The same appellation could easily apply to National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and to Justice Minister Yariv Levin who have each sowed the seeds of national fragmentation, discontent, and incitement. Ben-Gvir has gone so far as to demand the dismissal of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who has devoted the major part of his life to Israel’s security.

Further, Gallant demonstrated courage and leadership, when – at the risk of being fired by Netanyahu, thereby putting an end to his own political career – he nonetheless spoke out and asked for a delay on the reforms until there was dialogue and consensus moderated by President Herzog.

Both he and other Likud members are unhappy about the manner in which the whole issue of reforms has been rapid-fired into legislation. They are also aggrieved by the fact that the mass demonstrations against judicial reform, which have weakened the economy and the security of the nation, had been ignored by the architects of the reforms.

Well, Ben-Gvir got his wish, even though Israel would have been better off had Netanyahu fired Ben-Gvir, Smotrich and Yariv Levin. In firing Gallant, Netanyahu may very well have committed political suicide as recent surveys indicate significant waning in his popularity.

If he wants to commit political suicide that’s fine, but he’s going to take the rest of Likud with him, stampeding like cattle chasing a bale of red rags. The temporary halt to judicial reform was welcomed by various world leaders, but many political commentators noticed that in his address to the nation, Netanyahu did not revoke the firing of Gallant.

He didn’t even mention him, whereas members of the Opposition were so supportive of Gallant that a casual bystander would have thought that Gallant was one of them. But it was an encouraging sign that even when people have different political viewpoints they can appreciate each other’s abilities and integrity.

THE FIRING of Gallant created shock waves among leading Jewish community figures abroad. Abe Foxman, the former, long-time national director of the Anti-Defamation League, tweeted: “What a sad day for Israel and the Jewish People. Thank you Yoav Gallant for your courage and leadership. In my wildest dreams I would not have imagined that PM Netanyahu could act so irresponsibly. We need a miracle.”

Meanwhile, as of Thursday morning, Netanyahu had not yet sent a letter of dismissal to Gallant, and political pundits were wondering when, or if he would.

■ WHILE HIS father was hearing shouts of “Shame! Shame!” in the three European capitals that he visited over the past month, Yair Netanyahu tweeted: “How lovely to see Israeli emigrants demonstrating shoulder to shoulder with Palestinian and BDS activists. Reality is greater than the imagination.”

Events this week indicated that this may be true in more ways than one.