Grapevine June 7, 2023: An example set by King Hussein

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 FROM LEFT: Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai, Ambassador Khaled Yousif Al Jalahma and Ennis Center CEO George Mansour. (photo credit: Courtesy Ran Rahav Communications)
FROM LEFT: Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai, Ambassador Khaled Yousif Al Jalahma and Ennis Center CEO George Mansour.
(photo credit: Courtesy Ran Rahav Communications)

During this past week, media outlets have been filled with photos and reports about the wedding of Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein and Saudi Arabian architect Rajwa al-Saif, to which neither President Isaac Herzog nor Syria’s President Bashar Assad were invited. But on the Saturday after the wedding, one could not help but think of the late King Hussein, for whom the bridegroom is named.

In March 1997, King Hussein came to Israel to kneel before the parents of seven eighth grade Israeli schoolgirls who had been chased and shot down by a rogue Jordanian soldier. The king came to apologize and beg forgiveness, though the massacre was not of his doing. Nonetheless, he accepted responsibility, and did the most decent and humane thing that he could under the circumstances.

One cannot help wondering whether Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has the best relationship with Israel of any president of Egypt, will emulate King Hussein and personally come to ask forgiveness of the parents of Israeli soldiers Sgt. Lia Ben Nun, St.-Sgt. Ohad Dahan and St.-Sgt. Uri Itzhak Ilouz, murdered last weekend by an Egyptian policeman. No one is asking Sisi to go as far as King Hussein and get down on his knees. But it would be a meaningful gesture if he would visit the parents in their homes or pay a hastily organized state visit to Israel and meet them at the President’s Residence, where Herzog, who speaks Arabic, could act as interpreter. The Egyptians are cooperating with Israel in the investigation, but it would greatly enhance bilateral relations if Sisi should decide to go that extra mile.

Returning silver stolen by the Nazis

■ THE WHEELS of justice grind slowly. It has taken more than 80 years for silver items, plundered in Germany by the Nazis in 1939, to be returned to the heirs of those who owned those items at the time that they were looted.

Currently in Israel, to return 19 individual pieces to six families, is Dr. Matthias Weniger, head of Provence research at the Bavarian National Museum.

 SHAUL MOFAZ, surrounded by WIZO leaders. (credit: COURTESY WIZO)
SHAUL MOFAZ, surrounded by WIZO leaders. (credit: COURTESY WIZO)

Weniger will hold a press conference on Wednesday morning, June 7, at the German Embassy in Tel Aviv, where he will tell the stories behind the restored items, which include Sabbath candlesticks, a kiddush cup, a soup ladle and other objects. Weniger has also brought some items that have not yet been returned. He will talk about tracing provenance and the general practice regarding the restitution of Jewish property.

Blavatnik Awards to be held at the Peres Center

■ IN PAST years, the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists ceremonies have been held either at the President’s Residence or at the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. But this year the awards ceremony will be held on Wednesday, June 7, in Jaffa, at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, but, as always, the president of the state will be in attendance. In fact, most of the meetings and events that are on Herzog’s schedule this week have something to do with science and technology.

The Blavatnik prizes are donated by Ukrainian-born self-made billionaire Sir Leonard Valentinovich Blavatnik, an American-British business tycoon and philanthropist, who gives to numerous causes in various countries. He was knighted in 2017 in recognition of his outstanding philanthropic support of Britain’s Tate Gallery, the British Museum, the Royal Opera House, the National Portrait Gallery and other cultural institutions. He is believed to be the greatest supporter of cultural institutions in Britain. The Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists were established in 2007 by the Blavatnik Family Foundation as a means of recognizing and encouraging the talents of outstanding young scientists in the US, UK and Israel.

Blavatnik also supports the Colel Chabad food bank in Kiryat Malachi, which sends monthly shipments of food to 5,000 families throughout Israel. In addition, Blavatnik supports cyber research at Tel Aviv University, and his finger is in a number of other Israeli pies.

Herzog's mediation accomplishments – judicial reform notwithstanding

■ GIVEN HIS great and proven talent as a mediator, it’s rather sad that Herzog was unable to make much headway in resolving the judicial reform controversy.

In March of this year, Fidaa Kiwan, a resident of Haifa, came home after almost a year’s imprisonment in Dubai. Kiwan had been caught with a large quantity of cocaine in her possession and had been charged with drug smuggling. Her family maintained frequent contact with Herzog, in the hope that he could use his influence to secure her freedom. Herzog appealed to UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed, who as a personal gesture to Herzog acquiesced to his plea, granted Kiwan amnesty and allowed her to return to Israel.

This week, Herzog saved Angel’s Bakery from going bankrupt. Early last month, former public security minister Omer Bar Lev, who is now chairman of Angel Bakeries, participated in a demonstration outside the home of Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, the 100-year-old spiritual leader who won respect from all strains of religious and secular Judaism. In response, there was a call by prominent figures in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community to boycott Angel’s products. The monthlong dramatic decline in sales was economically devastating. In the interim, Edelstein died, and Herzog arranged for Bar Lev and Yaron Angel, the company’s CEO, to go to Bnai Brak and pay a condolence call on Edelstein’s family, and to simultaneously apologize for whatever harm the demonstration may have caused. The apology was accepted, and the boycott was ended.

Who knows on what other issues Herzog has intervened and succeeded in dispelling hostilities. There’s more to being a nation’s so-called ceremonial president than meets the eye.

Ramat Gan celebrates with twin cities

■ IN CELEBRATION of the city’s centenary, the Ramat Gan Municipal Council, headed by Carmel Shama Hacohen, sent invitations to representatives of cities that are twinned with Ramat Gan. The four-day Twin Cities Conference included shared wisdom and experiences with each other and their Israeli counterparts, by representatives from Phoenix, Arizona; Kassel and Wanheim in Germany; Wroclaw in Poland and Szombathely in Hungary. Within the context of the conference, the visitors from abroad toured the city, visited educational institutions, including Bar-Ilan University and Shenkar Academic College; an animal rehabilitation hospital and more. As a bonus, they were also taken to Jerusalem.

The conference opened at the Man and the Living World Museum, where participants viewed an exhibition under the title of “Seeing the Greater Picture,” which featured emotionally moving photographs of animals and their carers at the Ramat Gan Safari. The emphasis in the photographs was the strong connection between animals and human beings, with the idea that there is room for both in the world.

In addition to twin cities, Ramat Gan has cultural and economic ties as well as student exchange programs with another 14 cities around the globe.

Shama Hacohen emphasized the importance of these relationships, not only by way of what they contribute to each other’s cities, but also on a wider scale to each other’s countries in cooperation in areas of health, education, security and technology. He also made the point that, beyond signed treaties, the most significant cooperation is on a people-to-people basis.

Shaul Mofaz takes in nostalgia

■ AT ANOTHER centenary celebration, former defense minister and, before that, IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz came to join in the merrymaking and shared nostalgia at WIZO’s Nahalal Youth Village, where he had lived and studied as a boy. Also present was former Israel Air Force commander Amikam Norkin, who met his wife at Nahalal.

The director of the youth village is Galia Alef, who happens to be the daughter of the late Rafael “Raful” Eitan, a former IDF chief of staff and later a government minister. Alef took in a number of Ukrainian refugee children, who adapted well to their new environment and in a relatively short period began to enjoy full days of activities and a feeling of familiarity.

Also present were Eyal Betzer, the head of the Jezreel Valley Regional Council; World WIZO president Esther Mor; WIZO chairwoman Anita Friedman, as well as other high-ranking WIZO officials.

Honorary doctorates dolled out

■ ONLY A few weeks ago, Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi (ret.), the immediate former IDF chief of staff, received an honorary doctorate from Bar-Ilan University, and this week he received another from Reichman University. Presumably, there will be more in store before the year is out. Among the other recipients of honorary doctorates from Reichman University were David and Dorin Arison, proving that the apple did not fall far from the tree. David Arison is the grandson of prominent businessman and philanthropist, the late Ted Arison. David’s mother, Shari, is also an astute businesswoman and a generous philanthropist. David is an impact investor and philanthropist, CEO of The Doing Good Model at the Arison Group and vice president of global relations at Arison Investments and the Ted Arison Family Foundation.

Yoav Kisch: An expert in making mistakes

■ WE ALL make mistakes, but Education Minister Yoav Kisch is developing expertise in this realm. Early in the year he tried unsuccessfully to put the National Library under the control of the Education Ministry. This caused such a flurry in academic and political circles that Kisch was forced to back down. More recently, he’s at odds with the Council for Higher Education. According to a report in Haaretz, Kisch wanted Prof. Dudi Schwartz of Ono Academic College to serve as the council’s deputy chairman. But when it came to the vote, several council members contended that Schwartz did not have the proper academic qualifications to serve in such a high-ranking position, given that his whole academic career had been spent in a private college and not at a university. According to the rules, he needed an outright win in order to take up any position on the council – and this, he did not have, taking into account the votes against his nomination and the two abstentions.. A second round of elections was held, and the hapless Schwartz did not fare any better. Miffed by what he considered an act of defiance, Kisch canceled the next meeting of the council. The report states that this was confirmed by members of his staff. It also states that Kisch is not ready to concede defeat and will continue to fight to put his man in the upper echelons of the council.

Not only is Kisch spitting in his own face, but he is causing embarrassment to the man he has endorsed. No one likes to be rejected. To have been rejected once was bad enough. To be rejected twice was embarrassing. To be rejected three times is utter humiliation. Doesn’t Kisch care?

Apropos the National Library, in August, it will be the venue for this year’s Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature ceremony, with members of the late Sami Rohr’s family coming from America to Israel for the event, along with members of the Jewish Book Council.

Jeris Hayen: The multitalented sommelier/dishwasher

■ IT’S SOMEWHAT difficult to imagine a man in a smart brown suit and a spotless white shirt washing dishes. But seeing is believing, and if you want to see someone doing not just a perfunctory rinse under the tap but a careful wash on both sides of the plate and a proper cleansing of cups and glasses, visit the lounge bar at the new Theatron Jerusalem Hotel, where you can observe Jeries Hayen in multiple roles – making cocktails, serving drinks, clearing used plates and glasses from the bar and, yes, washing dishes.

Hayen is much more than a barman and dishwasher. He’s also a polished sommelier who knows the true professional technique of pouring wine at the table. He also knows the rules of how to serve food, and speaks several languages – a prerequisite in the hotel industry for people who deal with the public. To top it off he has film star looks and a charming smile. In a country not particularly renowned for service, he’s a real gem.

Bahrain's ambassador caught unawares judging a talent show

■ DIPLOMATS ARE not always prepared for some of the things they are asked to do when representing their countries abroad. It is doubtful that Khaled Yousif Al Jalahma, the ambassador of Bahrain, envisaged, before coming to Israel, that he would one day be asked to serve as a judge in the finals of a talent show. But that’s what happened last week at Jaffa Super Talent 2023, a Tel Aviv Municipality talent show that was held at the Ennis Cultural Center. Each year, 10 finalists who passed preliminary auditions take to the Ennis stage to compete for the title of Jaffa’s New Talent.

The ambassador was this year invited to take his place alongside professional judges, performers and artists, including the Israeli-Arab rapper Saz, director Ariel Krizopolsky, lyricist and composer Hai Meirzada and Ella Zaharno, the artistic director at the Ennis Cultural Center. It was one of many diverse experiences that the ambassador of Bahrain has had since coming to Israel.

He's from Gedera, she's from the Bronx: The story of the Schachnes

■ HE WAS born in Gedera, where he spent his early years before moving with his parents to Brooklyn. She was born in New York and was raised in the Bronx, but it was not in the Big Apple that Esther and Gary Schachne met a little over half a century ago. Each was visiting Jerusalem, and they met at the Jaffa Gate. Romance blossomed quickly, and they were married in New York on June 3, 1973. They honeymooned at Grossinger’s famed resort hotel in the Catskill Mountains, which at the time was a favorite vacation spot for members of the Jewish community, and where some of America’s most successful singers, musicians and comedians began their careers, working as waiters in the daytime and performing at night.

Over the years, the Schachnes returned to Jerusalem many times with their children, but it was only in February last year that they came as immigrants and not as tourists. A few days before their 50th wedding anniversary, they went for a second honeymoon – or it may have been their fifth, considering that they celebrated every milestone anniversary. But this time they did so in Israel and chose the rustic setting of the Carmel Spa hotel. They returned to Jerusalem in time to have dinner at the Theatron Hotel – a nice way to keep romance going.

JNF-UK House of Excellence

■ LAST MONTH the cornerstone was laid for the establishment of the JNF, UK House of Excellence in Acre. Among those attending the ceremony were JNF-UK chairman Samuel Hayek, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund chairwoman Ifat Ovadia-Luski, and Acre Mayor Shimon Lankri.

This is the second JNF-UK House of Excellence co-founded by JNF-UK and KKL-JNF, following the successful establishment of the JNF-UK House of Excellence in Kiryat Malachi.

The £3 million, 585 sq.m. state-of-the-art building, situated in Israel’s periphery, aims to provide much-needed after-school academic support and preparation for matriculation exams to teenagers. These centers are designed to offer equal opportunities to youth in peripheral communities, while fostering educational enrichment and encouraging social involvement, thus empowering them to become leaders in various initiatives.

“We are dedicated to empowering the youth and helping them realize their full potential. Our goal is to witness the integration of youth from the periphery into various fields of employment and academia, enabling them to fulfill their capabilities,” said Hayek.

The center will primarily function as an after-school informal education, empowerment, and enrichment facility for high school students from Acre and its surrounds, and will be fully accessible to individuals with disabilities. In addition to having classrooms of various sizes, it will include a multipurpose hall that can accommodate 90 people. The hall will serve as a venue for workshops, lectures, performances and film screenings.

Benjie Herskowitz: A proud Jewish father

■ WE OFTEN hear of proud Jewish mothers, but few things beat proud Jewish fathers. Benjie Herskowitz, a well-known figure in Israel’s tourist industry, is brimming with pride and joy over the appointment of his son Eli Herskowitz as the spokesman for the Communications Ministry. The younger Herskowitz previously worked as a spokesman for former MK Michael Oren, and recently was political consultant to the British Embassy in Tel Aviv.

His dad didn’t stop at that but also characterized him as “a great guy, terrific husband to Elisheva and father to one-year-old Mia.”

Danae Marx leaves the IDI for Hebrew University

■ AFTER ALMOST six years as the spokeswoman for the Israel Democracy Institute, Danae Marx worked her last day for IDI at the end of last week. One would have thought that she would take time out for a short vacation before tackling her new job. But no. On Sunday she was already sitting at her desk at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as director of international communications – a job no less challenging or rewarding than her previous position. But a change is always as good as a holiday. Meanwhile, anyone with requests related to IDI should be in touch with Marianne Matyash, Elie Bennett or Noa Barak.

Remembering Israel's Black Panthers

■ MORE THAN half a century has passed since then-prime minister Golda Meir said of the Black Panthers that they were not nice people. She dismissed them, as did many Ashkenazi Jews, who regarded their North African brethren as inferior. Led by Charlie Biton, Sa’adia Marciano, Reuven Abergel, Kochavi Shemesh, and others, the Black Panthers were mostly residents of the congested Jerusalem neighborhood of Musrara, which had once been an upper-class Arab bastion, but had fallen into disrepair, and attracted the poorest of the poor and the least educated. The overwhelming majority were immigrants from North Africa who suffered cruel discrimination. Less docile than their elders, the younger generation rose up to stage demonstrations in Zion Square and to organize what they perceived as more equitable conditions for their families and neighbors.

In those days, households still received home deliveries of milk and ice. The Black Panthers frequently stole milk, not because they were thieves as such, but because they saw themselves as Jewish Robin Hoods. Members were often arrested, especially when participating in demonstrations. Police refused to grant the Black Panthers a license to demonstrate, so they demonstrated illegally and paid the price.

Biton and Marciano were elected to the Knesset, where they were able to create awareness of the social injustice perpetrated against the Mizrahi population. Marciano did not spend much time as a legislator, but remained a passionate social activist despite deteriorating health and dwindling finances. He died in December, 2007, at the age of 58. Biton was elected to the Knesset four times, and lives quite well on a Knesset pension.

Recently, some of the remnants of the Black Panthers gathered in Musrara, which has been considerably upgraded since the time when they were young men. The reason for the get-together was for the naming of a street as Black Panthers Street. Before the street sign, in Hebrew, Arabic and English, was put in place, it was lovingly held by Albert Marciano, the brother of Sa’adia Marciano, who would have been so proud that the Black Panthers had traversed the social divide and had been transformed in the eyes of the public from not nice people to very nice people, deserving of a street to be named after them.

Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade

■ EXACTLY A week after all the publicity given to the gay pride parade in Jerusalem, which happily concluded without much incident, Tel Aviv will, on Thursday, hold its gay pride parade on a somewhat larger scale and with much more fun than fear. Even though the numbers keep increasing in Jerusalem, there is always an undercurrent of fear that some extremist will attack someone. But Tel Aviv has been called “the gay capital of the Middle East,” and although its LGBT community has known difficult times, by and large, the community is accepted and lives well with its mainstream brothers and sisters. Among entertainers listed for events on Thursday and Friday are both gays and heterosexuals. They include Iggy Waxman, Chen Aharoni, Maya Bouskilla, Miri Mesika, Noa Tishbi, Netta Barzilai, Ivri Lider, Shlomit Aharon and Ran Danker.

Despite the fact that a number of public figures have come out of the closet and are openly gay, there are still people who are afraid of the possible negative reactions by family and community, and so live with their secret still intact – but painful. When one sees how many people identify as LGBT, anyone who is not extreme in their thinking can only sympathize with generations of gays around the world who had to live a lie because their natural sexual orientation was for centuries regarded as illegal, though allowances were occasionally made for great visual and performing artists. In a similar manner, we claim non-halachic Jews as our own once they walk through the gates of global fame.