Grapevine April 19, 2023: Nostalgia for the Iran that was

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 Reza Pahlavi, Crown Prince and son of the late Mohammad Reza Shah of Iran, attending the Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony 2023 in Yad Vashem. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Reza Pahlavi, Crown Prince and son of the late Mohammad Reza Shah of Iran, attending the Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony 2023 in Yad Vashem.

The notice released by the Government Press Office about the visit to Israel by Reza Pahlavi, the crown prince of Iran, was worded in such a way as to suggest that this was not his first visit to the country, though it was his first public visit. One can’t help wondering whether his meetings include one with Ofer Nimrodi, who was born in Iran in 1957 during the reign of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the late shah of Persia, when Nimrodi’s father, Yaakov, was Israel’s military attaché there.

Nimrodi, a lawyer and businessman by profession, is a former owner, publisher and editor of Maariv, which today is part of The Jerusalem Post Group.

Someone else with whom the crown prince may have been interested in meeting was former IDF chief of staff and later defense minister Shaul Mofaz, who was born in Iran in 1948.

That the Baha’i Gardens are on the prince’s itinerary does not come as a surprise. The Baha’i faith originated in Iran, though those of its practitioners who live in Iran face constant persecution.

■ WHOEVER STILL has their faculties when at a very advanced age is not too old to do something for the first time. Alber Hayoun, a 91-year-old native son of Tunisia, who happens to have been a child Holocaust survivor, participated for the first time in his life in Zikaron BaSalon, the ongoing project in which Holocaust survivors share their stories with groups of up to 50 people. But it wasn’t just any group of people. It was at the President’s Residence, where he and his wife, Giselle, shared a platform with President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal.

 CARMELA MENASHE (credit: Moshe Milner/GPO) CARMELA MENASHE (credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)

Hayoun, who also goes by the surname of Chen, acquitted himself very well but confessed, in an interview with Ilil Shahar on KAN Reshet Bet the following morning, that he had been very nervous, and that his mouth was so dry that he had to stop and drink a glass of water. In the past, he said, he had shared his Holocaust memories only with his family.

At the President’s Residence, there was nothing in Hayoun’s body language or his voice that betrayed his nervousness. If anything, he proved to be a symbol and an example for other very senior citizens who are Holocaust survivors and who have not yet told their stories.

■ US PRESIDENT Joe Biden has steadfastly condemned rising antisemitism in the United States. He did so again this week.

Deborah Lipstadt, the US special envoy to combat and monitor antisemitism, describes antisemitism as “the canary in the coal mine of democracy.”

■ THERE HAS been a lot of political back-and-forth between Israel and Poland over which Holocaust memorial sites Israeli students on educational tours in Poland should visit.

Holocaust historians Yehuda Bauer, Shimon Redlich and Dina Porat, while all believing that Israeli youth going to Poland should have some experience of what Poles who were not Jews suffered during the Nazi invasion of Poland, concede that the issue is complicated because some of the people honored as heroes by Poland were rabid antisemites who murdered Jews. But there are many memorial sites in which there are no tributes to such people, and which commemorate acts of great courage and humanity.

 EHUDA BAUER (right) at the Mengele twins trial at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem in 1985.  (credit: Herard Reogorodetzki/GPO) EHUDA BAUER (right) at the Mengele twins trial at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem in 1985. (credit: Herard Reogorodetzki/GPO)

Porat suggests the village of Markowa, where a monument was erected in 2004 in memory of Josef and Wiktoria Ulma and their six children, who were murdered by the Nazis for giving shelter to Jews. The Jews were murdered with them. Wiktoria was pregnant with her seventh child.

Josef and Wiktoria were honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

While most of the peasants in Markowa and surrounds were antisemitic and happily revealed the hiding places of Jews to the Germans, the Ulmas were different. They looked on Jews simply as other human beings, and wanted no part in the atrocities to which Jews were subjected.

Jozef, a farmer, who liked to take photographs and seldom went anywhere without his camera, had witnessed and documented the executions of Jews in their village in the summer of 1942. The Jews were forced out of their homes, shot and buried in an area that been set aside for the burial of animals.

In late 1942, the hunt for Jews spread from Markowa to the whole surrounding area.

In the fall of 1942, a Jewish couple accompanied by two sisters knocked at the Ulmas’ door and asked for shelter. The Ulmas agreed and took them all in.

As far as is known, the Jewish refugees were not hidden. In appreciation for the generosity of spirit of the Ulma family, they helped out on the farm, but their presence was noticed, and Polish researchers believe that they were denounced by a local policeman.

On the night of March 23, 1944, Germans stormed the Ulma farm, which was on the outskirts of the village, found the Jews, shot them to death, and then killed the Ulma family.

■ ANOTHER HISTORIAN, Shimon Briman, in an article in Haaretz last week, wrote of the village of Sydorovychi in Ukraine, where Jews have not lived for approximately a century. But in the late 19th century this village was part of the Russian Empire’s Pale of Settlement, where Jews were permitted to live.

Among the residents was a man called Nehemiah Rabichev, who in 1904 left for the United States, where he changed his surname to Rabin. In 1917, he moved to Ottoman-ruled Palestine, where his son Yitzhak, destined to be a future prime minister, was born in Jerusalem. In 2011, Chaim Chessler, as head of the Limmud educational program, proposed putting up a memorial board in Sydorovychi in memory and in honor of Nehemiah Rabichev and his family. The dedication ceremony was attended by Yuval Rabin, Nehemiah’s grandson; and Israeli books and memorabilia were presented to the local house of culture.

Last year, to mark the centenary of Yitzhak Rabin’s birth, on March 1, the house of culture’s director, Mykolaivna Mukhoid, had planned a special event, which did not take place due to the occupation by Russian troops who invaded the village on February 24, 2022, and looted, vandalized and destroyed everything in their path. They stole washing machines and the Israeli flag that had been displayed in 2011.

There was a severe shortage of food, and the population had neither electricity nor water. Local residents saved the memorial board and moved it to the library, which served as a shelter.

■ HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE week is an appropriate time to pay tribute to the memory of Regina Jonas, who, as far as is known, was the first woman rabbi. Although she became an inspiration for the Reform and Conservative movements, which have since ordained many female rabbis, Jonas remained quite Orthodox in her belief and practice. She did not reject Halacha with its detailed myriad of rules, but in her in-depth research into Halacha was unable to find anything that could convince her that women could not be spiritual leaders – namely, rabbis.

At one stage she was actually supported by Orthodox rabbis, but, fearful of the repercussions, they stopped short of ordaining her.

She was eventually ordained by Liberal rabbis, but in practice she remained essentially Orthodox.

On November 6, 1942, Jonas and her mother were deported to Theresienstadt, where she continued her rabbinical work and counseled other prisoners.

On October 12, 1944, Jonas and her mother were deported to Auschwitz, never to return. It is believed that they were killed on the day of their arrival.

The Terezin archives contain a handwritten note by Jonas, listing 24 topics for lectures plus notes on a sermon that she delivered in Terezin.

It would seem that this is all that is left of her, but that is not so. Every female rabbi in the world owes her position to the determination of Regina Jonas, whose ambition, even as a child, was to become a rabbi. She persevered – and she succeeded.

■ DIRECTED BY Uri Barabash, Nitza’s Choice, which was screened by KAN 11, tells the story of Nitza Kaplan, a child Holocaust survivor adopted by a Haifa couple who lost their only son in the War of Independence. The film is based on a court case that took place in 1952. Nitza, now an octogenarian, has no recollection of what happened to her in the Holocaust or even of being on the ship that brought her to Israel. But a Holocaust survivor claimed that the little girl was her daughter Lucia Borenstein.

Nitza did not search for her identity while her adoptive parents were alive, because she didn’t want to hurt them. They gave her affection and a good home – but she always knew she was adopted, and even though she has raised a biological family of her own, she continues to search for her true identity in archives and through other means.

But the film does not indicate whether she has tried DNA testing. It has been known in genealogical circles that relatives have found each other through DNA testing. Admittedly, it can be costly, and it doesn’t always produce desired results, but sometimes it can also be rewarding.

■ WHILE PRESIDENT Herzog and his wife are in Warsaw today, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Steffen Seibert, the German ambassador to Israel, will officially open a unique exhibition under the title “Humans of the Holocaust.”

This project, on view at the German Embassy building, 2 Hashlosha Street, Tel Aviv, tells the story of the Holocaust through the medium of digital storytelling. Visitors will see thought-provoking photographs and will be privy to remarkable life stories of more than 30 Holocaust survivors. The purpose of the project is to better inform and educate the public, especially the younger generation, about what happened during the Holocaust, by showing the human stories behind the atrocities of the past in an unexpected and moving way.

“The ‘Humans of the Holocaust’ project is an excellent tool for both engaging and making a memorable impact on students, community members and others interested in using the lessons of the past to create a better tomorrow. In an increasingly visual world, the photographs and the stories that go with them provide a powerful and relatable medium,” said Seibert, who added: “With the last living survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust meanwhile at a very high age, we need to find new ways to engage the public and especially the younger generation. It remains our responsibility to preserve the memory of the past and to live by its lesson: that we all need to stand together and strengthen our societies and institutions in the fight against antisemitism and hatred. When we speak of victims of the Holocaust, we speak of millions of individual human beings. Showing their faces and highlighting their individual life stories for the digital age is an innovative and fruitful contribution to this effort.”

Photographer Erez Kaganovitz, who created “Humans of the Holocaust,” said that he had been prompted to do so after seeing a survey conducted by the Claims Conference that revealed that more than two-thirds of millennials have never heard of Auschwitz, and that half could not name a single concentration camp or ghetto.

“Those numbers sent a shiver down my spine, and I realized that I have to do something in order to better inform and educate people about the universal lessons of the Holocaust. I realized that we have to ignite a great spark of curiosity in those millennials and Gen Zers when trying to better educate and inform them about the Holocaust, and this is exactly what I’m trying to do in this project,” he said. “The stories that I collected are inspiring and optimistic, and they are portrayed in ways that are unexpected and moving. There is a global message where you don’t have to be Jewish in order to engage with it.”

The exhibition, in the foyer of the German Embassy, will be open to the public from April 19 to May 17. Entry is free of charge.

Although Israel and Jews in general commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day in accordance with the Jewish calendar, Poland and several other countries do so on the Gregorian calendar of April 19, which adds to the grim reminder of man’s cruelty to man, as Hitler’s birthday is on April 20.

■ SEVERAL EVENTS are taking place in Israel on that date – further proof of the failure of the “Final Solution.”

One of these events is the ongoing Zikaron BaSalon project. Not all those who are telling their stories in Israel actually live in the country. Miryam Mimi Wise has led a nomadic existence. She was born in Italy. During the war her family relocated to Strasbourg. She lives in Sydney, and is currently visiting Israel. She has shared her story at the Sydney Jewish Museum on many occasions, and, under the auspices of Courage to Care, travels through rural New South Wales and Queensland to speak to people who seldom come to the big city. She will speak at 7:45 p.m. at World Mizrachi Headquarters, 54 King George Avenue, Jerusalem, adjacent to the Great Synagogue.

■ TWO FORMER editors-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post are featured in the anthology of 75 essays published by Yediot Aharonot on behalf of the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), which will be launched on Thursday, April 20, at the institute’s Givat Ram Jerusalem campus.

The two are Bret Stephens, who worked a long stint at The Wall Street Journal before moving to The New York Times, where he is now, and Yaakov Katz, who was the Post’s editor-in-chief until the end of last month. Katz is currently in the process of adding to the number of books that he has authored.

Being the editor of a newspaper is not an easy task, and takes a tremendous toll of a person’s time, patience and effort. It is not uncommon for some editors to take time out when completing their tenure at one publication before they go on to another. The launch of the JPPI book, titled 75 Faces of the Jewish State, will include a conference on visions for the future, memories of the past and realities of the present, taking public opinion into account.

Speakers will also relate to coexistence despite some of the less-than-harmonious forecasts for the future. President Herzog will be among the speakers, who include academics, jurists and politicians, most notably MK Moshe Arbel, who this week was appointed health and interior minister.

The conference will be held from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Would-be participants are required to register at

■ GRANDMOTHERS FOR Democracy, a group of dynamic English-speaking women who have been among the demonstrators protesting judicial reform, are going into action again on Thursday, April 20, but are using a hybrid Hebrew-English expression and are calling it a Savta Sit-In. They will be getting together in Habima Square at 6 p.m. Because they don’t have the funds with which to hire chairs, each participant is asked to bring her own.

Anne Berkeley, who conceived this initiative says that the grandmothers don’t want to hear bubbe meises from Bibi. In other words, “we won’t let Bibi continue to feed us lies,” says Berkeley, who is inviting all native English-speaking grandmothers to join them, to wear blue and white and to carry an Israeli flag. The group includes Hasida Peil, a Palmah veteran.

■ IT OFTEN happens that the death of a well-known personality is accompanied by a flood of obituaries in both the print and electronic media, as well as on social media platforms – but only for a couple of days, and then it all subsides.

In the case of author, columnist and lecturer Meir Shalev, who died last week, editorial space and time continued for much longer than usual, and will be revived again next month. The reason: Even when he knew that he was dying and that his time was very limited, Shalev, whose final column in Yediot Aharonot was published just a few days before he died, continued to be creative, to maintain his sense of humor and to tackle something new.

He had never written a play before, and he decided to write a biblically-based satire. Shalev, though completely secular, knew the Bible by heart, chapter and verse, and could always instantly come up with a quote suitable for any occasion or situation. He turned to writer, playwright and translator Roy Chen for help in how to write a play, was always ready to listen and to learn, and the end result was Patriarchs and Matriarchs, which will premiere on May 24 at the Gesher Theater. No doubt, the reviews will continue for several days, and will spark more comments about Shalev and what he might have written had he lived longer.

■ VETERAN MILITARY reporter Carmela Menashe, who was Israel’s first female broadcast journalist to report on military affairs, was exceptionally angry last week, so much so that she was reduced to tears. What prompted her on-air outburst was a news item about girls at the Horev School in Jerusalem who had made a Purim video in which they disguised themselves as stereotype Mizrahi girls, and uploaded it to a YouTube channel, from which it has been removed. What has been widely interpreted as a racist project has been condemned in the highest circles, but that doesn’t lessen the pain for those like Menashe, who vividly remember the humiliations they suffered in their youth.

Menashe had been a good student in school, but because she was born in Iraq, she was treated as if she was inferior. When she wanted to study for higher education, she was discouraged from doing so, and was all but pushed into a menial profession. She resisted all the pressures against her, and over the years has not only earned admiration and respect, but has also won prestigious prizes.

Sadly, Mizrahi students still suffer discrimination in Ashkenazi yeshivot and seminaries for girls, despite the fact that people of North African birth or background have risen to high positions in government, in the army, in academia, in business and in the arts. Prejudice is one of the worst of human ills.

■ THERE IS something in the Israeli psyche that identifies more with victims of terrorism and their families than with any other deceased person and their grieving relatives.

This was seen recently with the Dee family of Efrat, whose multiple tragedy of the loss of two daughters and sisters followed by the loss of a wife and mother was covered by the global media, especially in England, from where the family came on aliyah. Here in Israel, it wasn’t just the ordinary Israeli who in a sense became a member of the extended Dee family. They were engulfed by Anglophone communities from all over the country. President Herzog and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and their wives came to offer their condolences, and Lucy Dee’s secret recipe for chicken soup was widely distributed.

But Jews were not the only ones offering condolences. Among the many letters of sympathy that Leo Dee and his family received was one from British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who wrote that he had been incredibly moved by Leo Dee’s decision to donate Lucy’s organs and thus save five lives. “It is a testament to the character of you and your family that you were able to find compassion in the darkest moment,” he wrote.

Relating to the terrorist attack, he added: “There can be no justification for such senseless and abhorrent violence, and I unequivocally condemn this act of terrorism. The UK remains steadfast in our commitment to work with the Israeli authorities and all parties in the region to bring an end to the terrorism that Israel faces, and to the cycle of violence which, as we have seen all too clearly, is so destructive.

As heartening as it may be to receive such messages from elected officials and other dignitaries, one cannot escape the rise in antisemitism and physical attacks against Jews in the UK, the US, Germany and elsewhere.

 FROM LEFT: Hanna Rovina and Chaim Topol with Sean Connery and Stanley Baker before the inauguration dinner of the Variety Club of Israel in Tel Aviv in 1967. (credit: ILAN BRUNER/GPO) FROM LEFT: Hanna Rovina and Chaim Topol with Sean Connery and Stanley Baker before the inauguration dinner of the Variety Club of Israel in Tel Aviv in 1967. (credit: ILAN BRUNER/GPO)

■ THE GUEST speaker of the Commerce and Industry Club at the Tel Aviv Hilton at 10 a.m. on Friday, April 28, will be Uri Slonim, the longtime negotiator for the release of captive Israeli soldiers and those missing in action, who simultaneously headed the Israeli branch of Variety, which serves the interests and well-being of children.

Slonim was a close friend of actor Chaim Topol, who died recently. After his death, it was revealed that Topol worked hand in glove with the Mossad and, because he was an international celebrity, was able to reach people in countries that were hostile to Israel and others with which Israel likewise did not have diplomatic relations. Slonim and Topol often worked together, and Slonim may one day be able to tell more of Topol’s clandestine activities.