Grapevine May 10, 2023: A historic rescue operation

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 A JUBILANT Carmel Shama Hacohen holds up a pack of diapers, as an amused Idan Raichel attempts to calm a laughing audience. (photo credit: ILAN SAPIRA)
A JUBILANT Carmel Shama Hacohen holds up a pack of diapers, as an amused Idan Raichel attempts to calm a laughing audience.
(photo credit: ILAN SAPIRA)

Swedish Ambassador Erik Ullenhag will, on Wednesday, May 10, host a seminar and reception in commemoration of the White Buses, a Red Cross rescue operation during World War II by Count Folke Bernadotte, who negotiated with the Germans, most notably Heinrich Himmler, the key architect of the Holocaust, for the release of Scandinavian prisoners.

The White Buses initiative was a Swedish humanitarian operation aimed at freeing Scandinavian prisoners incarcerated in Nazi concentration camps in Germany. In actual practice, half the people rescued were from other nationalities. The white buses were painted with large red crosses on all sides to ensure that Allied bombers would not mistake them for military targets. The prisoners were transported to Lubek, a German port city, and from there to Sweden on Swedish ships. The Danes among the freed prisoners continued by land in white buses to Denmark.

Although Swedish volunteers succeeded in rescuing more than 25,000 prisoners, there is no factual record as to how many were Jewish, as prisoners had been listed in accordance with their nationalities and not their ethnic or religious affiliations.

The commemorative event will include a photo exhibition of the documented arrival of the white buses to Sweden which was photographed by K.W. Gullers.

World War II end and Europe Day

■ AMONG THE points of disagreement between the Russians and the Americans is the date on which the Second World War ended. The Americans celebrate the Victory in Europe on May 8, and the Russians celebrate Victory Day on May 9, the date of the official German surrender.

 BRITAIN’S KING Charles chats with President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal, during a reception for overseas guests attending his coronation, at Buckingham Palace last week. (credit: REUTERS) BRITAIN’S KING Charles chats with President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal, during a reception for overseas guests attending his coronation, at Buckingham Palace last week. (credit: REUTERS)

May 9 is also Europe Day, celebrating peace and unity in Europe, and this is the date on which Ambassador Dimiter Tzantchev, head of the European Union Delegation, intended to hold a reception, but for the fact that National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir threw a spanner in the works, resulting in the cancellation of the diplomatic event. If Ben-Gvir had familiarized himself with the rules of the game and had learned to play politics, he would have simply feigned a face-saving illness and left it to another minister to represent the government at the reception. Instead, he chose to tell the EU that it can’t dictate to the Israeli government who its representatives will be. In point of fact, the EU dictated who they won’t be, not who they will be.

German Ambassador Steffen Seibert tweeted: “I wish this hadn’t been necessary – but it was.”

Yad Vashem honors Soviet citizens who fought Nazis

■ THE MAJORITY of Jewish partisans who formed resistance groups that fought the Nazis and sabotaged their plans, were Soviet citizens – among them, the late Dr. Yitzhak Arad, who many years later served as the director of Yad Vashem, from 1972 to 1973.

Arad, a historian by profession, with a multifaceted career, was an author, a brigadier-general in the Israel Defense Forces, and a person dedicated to preserving and disseminating the history of Jewish partisans who resisted the Nazi aggressor. Arad died on May 6, 2021, at the age of 94.

For a long time, Yad Vashem, which in August of this year will celebrate the 70th anniversary of its establishment by an act of Knesset, focused only on non-Jews who had sheltered or rescued Jews during the Holocaust. Relatives of Jews who saved Jews made numerous futile appeals for their humanism and heroism to be publicly acknowledged, but it was only in the past 15 years or so that Yad Vashem relented and began giving Jewish heroes their due.

This week, Yad Vashem held a seminar on Jewish heroes of the Soviet Union who resisted the Nazis, and to honor Arad on the second anniversary of his death. Among the speakers was his daughter, Orit Lerer.

Kumkum: A British tea house in Jerusalem

■ THE NAME of the tea shop is Kumkum – definitely Israeli. But everything else about it is British, including its proprietor, Elisheva Levy.

Generally speaking, Bethlehem Road in Jerusalem is dead on a Saturday night, and most of the coffee shops are closed. But that was not the reason that Levy had a full house plus people waiting in line last Saturday night. Most of the men wore kippot, which meant that they had not watched the coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla on television earlier in the day. Levy had recorded the whole event, and reran it on a mammoth video screen in one part of her establishment, and on a large laptop screen near the entrance to the tea shop, where the window display was a plethora of coronation-related photographs and other relevant items.

Jon Immanuel, one of the copy editors of The Jerusalem Post, who lives in the vicinity and passes Kumkum quite often, was so enchanted by the display that he photographed it in its totality and in its individual bits and pieces.

At Kumkum on Saturday night, conversations at the different tables were in English in a variety of accents, as was the case with participants in the actual ceremony. There were Union Jacks on every table as well as strung across the ceiling together with Israeli flags.

The menu included typical British beverages such as gin and tonic; coronation quiche as determined by the monarch and his queen; Camilla’s Bowles of soup, a wordplay on the queen’s surname before her marriage (Parker Bowles); scones with jam and cream, trifle, Eton mess, Victoria sponge and a coronation tower of fruit, cream and cake in a bowl of chocolate. The scones and the soup appeared to be the most popular orders of the night.

The royal family is known for its love of dogs, so Fiona Kanter brought her white poodle. Daniel Rotenberg was able to identify nearly all the who’s who in the ceremony, and was a mine of ongoing information, as was Aviva Belfer, who had seen the televised ceremony earlier in the day and gave a running commentary.

One of the male patrons wore a scarf and cap in royal tartan, but a woman sitting at the same table went totally overboard with a tall Union Jack hat, a large woven scarf with the Union Jack integrated into the pattern, a large Union Jack on the front of her T-shirt and Union Jack socks.

At one stage, Levy wanted everyone to join her in singing the British national anthem, but although people waved their flags, and in some cases took them home as souvenirs, they stopped short of singing “God save the King,” and Levy started to sing it solo, but didn’t finish when she saw that no one was willing to join her.

With a feast for the eyes, a feast for the palate and the totally British ambience, it was definitely a fun night, even if it was a little crowded.

Of course, it wasn’t just in Jerusalem that Brits gathered to salute the king. A festive ceremony attended by numerous Brits of the king’s peer generation who reside at the Ra’anana Palace residence for retirees, which is part of the Azrieli Group, on Thursday of last week celebrated the coronation in a manner similar to that in Jerusalem. They had photographs of Charles and British flags in abundance, and toasted the king and queen, not with Pimm’s whisky or gin, but with that British staple – milk tea and a biscuit.

They also recited blessings, in which they noted the yearslong friendly relations between Britain and Israel. In sending their congratulations to the royal couple, they did so with love and three chants of “God Save the King!”

Although Danna Azrieli, who chairs the Azrieli Group, was not present, it’s on the cards that both she and her husband, social entrepreneur and martial arts champion Danny Hakim, were just as happy. In addition to being Israelis, they are citizens of Commonwealth countries. She’s originally from Canada. He’s from Australia.

Separately and together, they are engaged in a variety of philanthropic causes, and, as members of the Commonwealth, were naturally delighted that the coronation had taken place in their lifetimes.

Was Joe Biden too busy to go to the coronation?

■ THAT US President Joe Biden was too busy to attend the coronation ceremony and sent his wife to represent him should make Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu feel somewhat mollified at not yet having received an invitation to the White House. Admittedly, the judicial overhaul and fears that this will have a negative impact on Israel’s democracy are the main reason for the invitation being on hold, but nonetheless Netanyahu is in good company, if Biden was too busy to honor the king of England and the Commonwealth.

But there may have been another reason for Biden’s failure to attend. Biden is a Catholic of Irish descent, and the Irish republicans who fought against British rule were mainly Catholics. Perhaps a vestige of that remains in Biden’s psyche.

Prince Harry's struggles

■ IT MUST have been emotionally painful for Prince Harry not to wear a uniform and not to sit in the same row as his brother, but he did at least display his medals on his dark Dior business suit, as he sat in the third row. He was demoted even more than his disgraced uncle Andrew, who was seated in the second row. Immediately after the ceremony, Harry left to return to Los Angeles.

The time difference between London and Los Angeles meant that he could be at both the coronation and the birthday celebration of his son, Archie, who was born on May 6. Curiously, Harry bears a much greater resemblance to some of the kings of yore than his brother, William, who will be the next king of England providing that the monarchy survives. Although deprived of his former rights, Harry is still in line for the throne, and is in fifth place after his brother, his two nephews and his niece.

Herzog honored to attend the coronation – and take an opportunity

■ FOR PRESIDENT Isaac Herzog, the invitation was more than just an honor. It was also an opportunity to deepen diplomatic connections, which is what happened when he was in London last year to attend the funeral of Queen Elizabeth.

Following the arrival of Herzog and his wife in London, Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s ambassador to the Court of St James, tweeted: “I was proud to present President Isaac Herzog and Mrs Herzog with their official invitation to attend the Coronation of His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen Consort.”

Among the many dignitaries whom Herzog met were Crown Prince Theyazin bin Haitham Al Said of Oman, King Abdullah of Jordan, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar, President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, Prime Minister Salman Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain, British opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer, who heads the Labour Party, Roberta Metsola, president of the European Parliament, and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU Commission, with whom he discussed their mutual commitment to Holocaust remembrance.

Fashion news from King Charles's coronation

■ FOR JOURNALISTS covering the coronation and the lead-up to it, fashion provided a modicum of relief from repetition. Shades of blue and pink proved to be popular among first ladies and other female dignitaries. Jill Biden, whose favorite color is blue, wore a classic Ralph Lauren two-piece outfit that was close in color to lilac, but which could definitely be characterized as blue, and added yet another Jewish element to the event – albeit indirectly. Ralph Lauren’s original name was Lifshitz.

Akshata Murthy, the wife of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, also chose blue but in a soft pastel hue. Brigitte Macron and Sophie Trudeau each wore pale pink. The ever elegant Macron wore a slim-fitting dress with matching coat, while Trudeau opted for a fuller silhouette.

But the choice of attire that stood out in the crowd, and was noticed by the media, was that of Michal Herzog, who wore a royal blue pants suit that provoked some rather caustic comments on social media. Some Jews were mortified that she should walk down the street on Shabbat in pants – and to Westminster Abbey yet. But let’s face it, she’s an Israeli, and Israelis are known for defying convention. Herzog seldom wears dresses. She’s a pants suit person, and has quite a collection in a variety of fabrics, patterns and colors. After all, women now wear pants to parliamentary sessions, to the theater, the opera and to court – so why not to a Westminster Abbey coronation?

At the coronation concert, the king’s daughter-in-law and future queen, Kate Middleton, also wore a pants suit in a flattering shade of coral red.

Polish students studying Hebrew

■ SEVERAL YEARS ago, following the renewal of diplomatic relations between Poland and Israel, visitors to a reception hosted by the Polish Embassy were surprised by the fluency in Hebrew of a recently arrived Polish diplomat. Not only did he speak Hebrew perfectly – he had no trace of an accent.

When asked where he had learned to speak Hebrew so well, he replied with remarkable candor: “At the Soviet school for spies.”

In future, Polish students who want to study Hebrew will not have to go to any espionage institute. The Institute of Jewish Studies in Poland offers BA and MA courses, and the Jagiellonian University has long offered courses in Jewish history, literature, science, linguistics and more. Warsaw University also has a comprehensive course in Jewish studies.

Polish high school students gearing up for their matriculation exams will, for the first time this school year, have the option to take the Hebrew exam as a national minority language. This exam, according to Poland’s Education Ministry, is not like typical foreign language exams. It requires a deeper understanding of Jewish and Hebrew culture, as well as reading comprehension of texts ranging from biblical literature to modern authors such as Etgar Keret. The question remains: will brave students be willing to take on this challenge?

The initial Hebrew exam for matriculation has been prepared by a team that includes Dr. Kinga Białek and Dr. Angelika Adamczyk, head of the Hebrew department at the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Warsaw University. Both have extensive knowledge of Hebrew and Jewish culture, ensuring that the exam will be comprehensive and challenging.

Topics covered by the exam include Hebrew grammar, literature, and history. Students must have a solid understanding of the language, as well as the ability to read and comprehend texts in Hebrew.

Eli Cohen replaced by Naftali Bennett

■ A LITTLE less than a month ago, the Foreign Press Association, which traditionally has a high-ranking guest speaker to address attendees at its annual general meeting, announced that Foreign Minister Eli Cohen would be the speaker. In the interim, Cohen had to attend to affairs of state, and the speaker last week was former prime minister Naftali Bennett.

Outgoing association chairman Guillaume Lavallée, the former bureau chief of Agence France-Presse, who had already gone to Canada, specially returned for the meeting, and had high praise for Bennett, who he said had made the Prime Minister’s Office much more accessible to representatives of the media. During the Q and A session following Bennett’s very frank address, several foreign correspondents who approached the microphone to ask a question also expressed their thanks for his willingness to talk to them.

On the evening prior to the meeting, Bennett’s security team from the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) insisted on strict security measures, which meant that last-minute messages had to be sent out to ask people to arrive earlier than they would do otherwise, in order to pass the security check, which included metal detector apparatus.

This was something that Bennett himself had not anticipated, and he apologized several times before, during and after his address for the inconvenience that had been caused.

Long-term bodyguards constitute one of the prices that former presidents and prime ministers have to pay for the privilege of being in high office. In Netanyahu’s case, given his age, he may be plagued with lack of privacy for the rest of his life.

Though many political pundits believe that Bennett is on his way back to the political arena, the former prime minister is not letting the cat out of the bag one way or the other.

Meanwhile, the association has a new chairwoman, Tania Kraemer, of Deutsche Welle DW-TV, who has made history as the first female to hold the post in the association’s 66-year existence. She was preceded by 32 males, even though several females have been association board members over the years.

US diplomats mark completion of Youth United Against Racism program

■ US EMBASSY chargé d’affaires Stephanie L. Hallet as well as US Embassy acting head of mission Jessica Zaman, and Eyal Betzer, head of the Jezreel Valley Regional Council, were among the participants at the Ein Dor Museum in the Galilee last week, who gathered to mark the completion of a Youth United Against Racism program in which Arab and Jewish youth are engaged.

Also present were members of the Bustan al-Marj Regional Council, school principals and teachers from most of the 12 schools that participated in the program, young people from every year of the program from both communities, and their parents.

Sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development, the program brings together young Arab and Jewish Israelis to learn about each other and to talk about how to tackle racism in their respective communities. The program’s impact stretches from young Israeli-Arabs and Jews, to their families, schools and broader communities. On Thursday evening, program participants watched the movies they had made together during the past five years and committed to their ongoing friendships.

Since September 2018, the US-funded program has brought together 100 Jewish and Arab teens each year, to jointly fight racism by sharing in creative processes and producing video clips and films together.

Speaking after the screening of the videos, Hallett said: “The United States is proud of Ein Dor, the participants of this activity, and the work you have achieved together. It is our fervent hope that the youth from this project continue to believe in peace and coexistence and pass it on to future generations.”

Located at the foot of Mount Tabor, the Ein Dor Museum for Archaeology is directed by Adi Nissenbaum. It is a multicultural and educational center, utilizing art and archaeology to build peace and advance a shared society for the diverse communities of the Galilee, including Arab, Jewish, Druze, Circassian, Bedouin and other populations. In addition to the program, there are other multicultural encounters, which have earned some of Israel’s most prestigious awards.

Israeli fashion adviser appointed honorary consul of Albania

■ FORMER FASHION adviser and good friend to Sara Netanyahu, the wife of the prime minister, Nicole Raidman has been appointed honorary consul of Albania in Israel.

Reacting to some of the raised eyebrows at the news, Rani Rahav, one of Israel’s most successful public relations executives, and himself an honorary consul of the Marshall Islands, defended Raidman, saying: “There are two Nicole Raidmans, the one in the media and the real one – a patriotic woman, to whom Israel’s image is important.” Rahav is confident that Raidman will succeed in bringing the Albanians closer to Israel’s business and political communities.

For that matter, there’s more than one side to Rahav, who knows no bounds when defending the reputations of his clients, yet has a heart of gold when someone asks him for a favor.

Ramat Gan mayor gives visiting celebrity diapers

■ IT’S NOT uncommon for a mayor to present a visiting celebrity with a bouquet of flowers, a symbolic key to the city, a small menorah or a large mezuzah. But a package of diapers? Who would think of such a thing? The mayor who did was Carmel Shama Hacohen, the mayor of Ramat Gan, who presented the diapers to Idan Raichel and almost stole the show.

Raichel was performing last week at the rededication of the upgraded Rambam Square in Ramat Gan in the presence of thousands of residents. He was a little worried that by the time that he and his group would conclude the performance, the pharmacy stores in the area would be closed, and he would be unable to fulfill his wife’s request that he purchase a package of diapers for their very young children.

Shama Hacohen overheard the concern in Raichel’s voice and took the initiative of rushing to the nearest pharmacy to procure the much needed package. In addition, two other people who were present did the same, and presented him with their purchases at the end of his performance, unlike Shama Hacohen, who leaped onstage before the performance was over.

South African, Australian olim

■ TELFED, WHICH takes care of new immigrants from South Africa and Australia, reports that between Lag Ba’omer last year and Lag Ba’omer this year, there were 470 new immigrants from South Africa and 200 from Australia. Telfed CEO Dorron Kline and Moriah Ben-David, the director of the Israel Office of the Zionist Federation of Australia, last month welcomed 97-year-old Ruth Tarlo, who was one of 20 immigrants from South Africa and Australia. Another group is expected to arrive from South Africa on May 15, in time to celebrate Jerusalem Day.