Grapevine May 14, 2023: A crisis of another kind

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 ANGELA MERKEL, then German chancellor, arrives with her spokesman Steffen Seibert for a news conference after a meeting with governors of former East German states at the Chancellery in Berlin, in 2020.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
ANGELA MERKEL, then German chancellor, arrives with her spokesman Steffen Seibert for a news conference after a meeting with governors of former East German states at the Chancellery in Berlin, in 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

War is never convenient, because people get killed – both soldiers and innocent civilians. But one can’t help thinking that Operation Shield and Arrow came about at a very convenient time for Israel, proving yet again, that when faced with an existential threat, Israelis close ranks and put their differences on the back burner.

The crisis that caused such a huge schism in the nation, may be revived in days to come, but there’s a greater likelihood of the crisis becoming history, and possibly so will the issue of judicial reform which may be suspended indefinitely.

Israelis rallied to help

But so many things depend on the security situation that making predictions is a foolhardy exercise. It was truly heart-warming to see how many individuals, institutions and business enterprises rallied to give help, accommodation, food and entertainment to the thousands of people evacuated from homes in the south.

Quite a large number were accommodated by hotels in Netanya, where their spirits were lifted by singer Raheli Wollstein, who sang numerous upbeat songs which prompted some of the evacuees to spontaneously join in.

Wollstein, who started singing publicly when she was 16, happens to be the daughter of Jerusalem Post restaurant reviewer Gloria Deutsch and her husband Alex, who is often the companion mentioned in her reviews.

 RAHELI WOLLSTEIN sings to Sderot evacuees in a Netanya hotel. (credit: ALEX DEUTSCH) RAHELI WOLLSTEIN sings to Sderot evacuees in a Netanya hotel. (credit: ALEX DEUTSCH)

Alex Deutsch was not happy about his daughter becoming a professional singer. He was worried that she would fall into bad company. But she met Oren Wollstein from a good Hadera family, whom she married 30 years ago. Now, at age 54, she is the mother of four, and grandmother of three, and her father is her biggest fan.

Netanya Mayor, Miriam Fierberg Ikar visited the hotels and distributed gifts to the children.

The essential goodness in people has also been seen throughout the war between Russia and Ukraine, with countless numbers of people in many countries, including Israel, supporting Ukrainian refugees with transport, shelter, accommodation, food, clothing, education, employment, money and more.

It’s a shame that it takes a war to bring out so much goodwill.

■ JOURNALISM CAN be a dangerous profession, and certainly one in which tensions abound. A bald, bearded man wearing dark glasses, was caught in a live broadcast last week, as he pepper-sprayed Channel 13 reporter Talia Cohen and her cameraman, yelling as he did so: “You’re worse than Al-Jazeera!”

He was subsequently apprehended by motorcycle police. That was one of the more unpleasant scenarios to which journalists are subjected. But television journalists, reporting from the field, suffer constant disquiet due to an Israeli obsession to appear on camera.

The culprits are usually minors, who push their way behind or in front of the broadcaster, wave, make funny faces or display posters. Many adults are more considerate and quickly get out of range, but there are also those who push their heads into the camera’s focus.

It would be bad enough if the report was about the growing number of bikes in the street or the number of people crowding the beach. But when it’s about a terror attack or a terrible motor accident in which lives were lost or are hanging in the balance, such behavior is totally inexcusable, and points to flaws in both the education system and in what parents teach their children.

■ NEARLY ALL American ambassadors to Israel, regardless of their political status, have been good guys, affable, cooperative and active. But few, if any, have garnered so much affection in so short a time as Tom Nides, who will not complete his four-year appointment, but will return to America in the summer. One can understand that despite all the friends he’s made, Nides feels lonely without his wife, his son and his daughter who did not accompany him to Israel.

Although he’s been frequently commuting to the US, visiting your family or having them visit you, is not the same as living with them. His cheery Shabbat Shalom on Twitter, made many people, whether religiously observant or not, feel good. He always looked as if he felt good saying it, and hopefully, it’s a practice that he won’t relinquish once he gets back to America.

Who will succeed him? The news of his impending return home is still too fresh, but if he agrees, the best choice would be Dan Shapiro, who though he too is on a frequent commute to the US, has remained in Israel so that his daughters can continue their education in a familiar environment.

Shapiro knows nearly all the important people in government and the Knesset. He’s familiar with Israel’s business world, having been a key figure at meetings of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. He’s also familiar with Israel’s Arab communities and their leaders, and better still, he speaks both Hebrew and Arabic. 

In short, he would make a good fit. Whether he would be willing to return to diplomacy for two and a half years, is another story.

■ NOT ALL ambassadors are career diplomats. Some, such as German Ambassador Steffen Seibert, were plucked out of other professions. Seibert, a former long-term journalist, later served as head of the German Federal Government’s Press and Information Office and as Angela Merkel’s government spokesperson from 2010 to 2021. During his tenure, Seibert was officially ranked as a Secretary of State.

He previously worked as a reporter and presenter for ZDF television, and hosted its popular Heute-Journal.

As a journalist, he covered many political issues, and as a diplomat, he is curious about everything in Israel and has even been to Bnei Brak on a Thursday night to eat cholent and freshly baked Challah.

In addition to German-Israel relations, there are many subjects on which he can speak – and he will on Tuesday, May 23 at 7 p.m. when he addresses members of the Tel Aviv International Salon at the Contento, Carlton Beach Lounge, 10 Eliezer Peri Street. He will also field questions.

Israeli-African relations

■ AS FOREIGN Minister, Golda Meir, was undoubtedly Israel’s best-known woman at home and abroad. She fell in love with Africa, and was quick to establish diplomatic ties with several African states.

Israel had relations with some African states even before they attained independence. Since then, Israel has been involved in training programs in agriculture, energy, public health, economic growth, food security, education, communications technology, entrepreneurship, empowerment and more.

There has been assistance and investment on the part of both the public and the private sectors. Israelis have helped to build hospitals and have brought water and electricity to African villages, among other benefits that have contributed to an improvement in their quality of life.

But for all that, hostilities still spring up and rage in certain parts of Africa, and many of the refugees from this turmoil find their way to Israel. A relatively large number have settled in South Tel Aviv, where unfortunately they are not wanted.

It’s a bit like aliyah. Israeli officials talk of the importance of aliyah, but Israelis don’t like olim. Being granted observer status at the African Union, forming or upgrading diplomatic relations with African states, and trading with them is important to Israel, but having citizens of those countries relocate to Israel is not a welcome prospect.

The Mitrelli Group, founded by Haim Taib, has been active in Africa for more than a decade, helping Africans to overcome the different challenges confronting their communities.

On May 16, the Mitrelli Group will host a gala evening at the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem in celebration of the decade-plus of its activities in Africa. Senior Israeli figures with ties to Africa will be among those attending, together with African officials who have specially come to Israel for the occasion.

Among them will be Senegal’s Minister and Special Envoy for Agriculture and Industry Dr. Srigin Joy Diop, Angola’s Minister for Energy and Water, Joya Baptista Borges; former President of Israel Reuven Rivlin, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, ambassadors of African states, CEOs of Israeli companies operating in Africa, and of course Haim Taib, and Mitrelli CEO Yaron Tchwella.

■ IN LAST Sunday’s Grapevine, there was an item regarding the dispute over the origins of Yiddish Theater. Michele Mazel, who lived in Romania in the twilight of the Ceausescu era, when her husband Zvi was serving as Israel’s ambassador in Bucharest, asserts that the State Jewish Theatre in Romania, inaugurated on August 19, 1876, at Yassy, in the famous summer garden, The Green Tree, has a tradition dating back 140 years. Founded by artist and writer Avram Goldfaden (1840 – 1908) it was the first professional Jewish theater in the world.

Without detracting from Goldfaden, who has an honored place in the history of Yiddish theater, there were a number of amateur Yiddish theaters in Warsaw in the 1830s. In the early part of the 20th-century, Yiddish Theaters abounded in Poland, Russia, Lithuania,  America (primarily New York), France, Romania, Canada, Australia, England and elsewhere.

A reader who grew up in England and requested that her name not be published, wrote to say: “Two Yiddish theaters flourished in Whitechapel London during the Second World War, the Adler Hall and the Grand Palais. In fact in December 1943, the play The King of Lampedusa opened at the Grand Palais. It had the Zionist storyline of a Jewish RAF pilot who is washed up on the island of Lampadusa and is asked to become its ruler and declares it a Jewish state. It ran until June 1944 for 10 performances a week to packed houses. William Joyce known as Lord Haw in his Nazi propaganda broadcasts made threatening comments about it.

“The Grand Palais continued with its Yiddish play performances until 1970 when it finally closed.”