Grapevine June 14, 2023: A major move

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 An architectural rendering of the new National Library of Israel building designed by the prestigious Swiss firm, Herzog & de Meuron. (© Herzog & de Meuron; Mann-Shinar Architects, Executive Architect) (photo credit: NLI)
An architectural rendering of the new National Library of Israel building designed by the prestigious Swiss firm, Herzog & de Meuron. (© Herzog & de Meuron; Mann-Shinar Architects, Executive Architect)
(photo credit: NLI)

The National Library is finally moving from the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University to its nearby permanent and much larger home.

While governing board members, staff and regular visitors to the library are understandably excited, there are some who say that they will miss Mordecai Ardon’s stained glass windows inspired by Isaiah’s vision of eternal peace and elements from the Kabbalah.

Some people confuse Ardon with Marc Chagall, whose stained glass windows can be seen at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem, while others confuse Reuven Rubin with Chagall. Reuven Rubin’s stained-glass triptych takes up most of a wall in the main hall of the President’s Residence.

Exhibition of Reuven Rubin paintings

■ ON SUNDAY night, at the Reuven Rubin Museum in Tel Aviv, President Isaac Herzog attended the opening of an exhibition of paintings by Rubin to mark the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Israel and Romania. Born in Romania, Rubin was sent back in 1948 as Israel’s first ambassador to the country of his birth, and served in that capacity till 1950. This year is also a landmark year in relation to the artist himself. He was born in 1893, which signifies that this is the 130th anniversary year since his birth. He died in 1974, a month prior to his 81st birthday. Rubin was one of Israel’s leading artists, and is still considered as such. In 1924, he was the first artist to hold a solo exhibition at the Tower of David in Jerusalem.

The home in which he lived with his family on Bialik Street in Tel Aviv was opened to the public in 1983, and since then has functioned as the Reuven Rubin Museum. In addition to those of his paintings that are in the museum’s permanent collection, and are regularly on display, there are also exhibitions by guest artists.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG enjoys gourmet alternative food produced by Israel’s hi-tech industries.  (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG enjoys gourmet alternative food produced by Israel’s hi-tech industries. (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

■ GETTING BACK to the National Library. It will host a series of farewell events in its Hebrew University complex under the title of Epilogue. The date is Wednesday, June 21, with ongoing laughter and nostalgia from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Among the participants will be Dana Modan, Yair Nitzani, Haim Be’er and Uzi Navon.

In recent weeks, the library received a rare and important collection of 37 Kabbalistic manuscripts and ilanot (kabbalistic trees) – the diagrams that illustrate the Jewish esoteric teachings of the Kabbalah. The new addition, acquired from collector William Gross, means the library now has the world’s largest collection of ilanot, with over 60 scrolls, dating between 1660 and 1920, some illuminated in color, and one measuring more than 10 meters in length.

In addition, the library received a significant donation documenting generations of Moroccan-Jewish history, mainly of the town of Debdou, whose Jewish population purportedly originated in pre-expulsion Seville. Researcher Eliahou Raphael Marciano spent decades collecting documents about the daily life of the community, as reflected in letters, business deals, marriage contracts, etc. The Eliahou Raphael Marciano Collection is being catalogued and will be made accessible thanks to the donation of the Samis Foundation, Seattle, Washington.

There are some people who believe that the Codex Sassoon that was recently acquired by ANU – Museum of the Jewish People is actually in the wrong place, and that its proper repository is in the National Library, where so many other valuable books, scrolls and documents are kept in perpetuity, and are placed on view under glass, with texts made available online to the general public.

75th birthdays in Israel

■ INASMUCH AS this year is flooded with events related to Israel’s 75th anniversary of independence, there are numerous organizations and institutions that also came into being in 1948, as well as scores of Israeli citizens who were born in 1948 – some together with the state, such as former national security adviser Yaakov Amidror. There are other well-known figures who were born in 1948, but not on the date that David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the rebirth of a nation. Among others who have already celebrated their 75th birthdays or are about to are former deputy foreign minister Yossi Beilin, who turned 75 this week; Natan Sharansky, the most famous of all the Prisoners of Zion, a former government minister and a past chairman of the Jewish Agency; Avishai Braverman, a former president of Ben-Gurion University, and a former MK; former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz; Israel Prize laureate and a composer of Middle East music Avihu Medina; and world-acclaimed violinist Pinchas Zukerman.

■ WITH ALL the tribulations and polarization that Israel is undergoing, it’s good to see that there are things on which the country is united. Soccer appears to be Israel’s common denominator of unity. Admittedly, this is not the case when certain local teams play each other, but when the Israeli National Team – be it the U20s or the senior team – competes in international championship games, political, religious and racial differences are cast aside, especially when the team includes Arab players who are liked and respected by their teammates, and who happen to kick a goal. This was definitely the case in the U20s. The concern expressed when some of the players left to participate in other important championships was happily misplaced. Many soccer enthusiasts were angry, charging that this would reduce the U20 team’s chances of winning against South Korea. But officials explained that it would also give other players a chance to show their mettle. And, indeed, they did.

 ANAN KHALAILI celebrates after scoring a goal at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina. (credit: REUTERS/AGUSTIN MARCARIAN)
ANAN KHALAILI celebrates after scoring a goal at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina. (credit: REUTERS/AGUSTIN MARCARIAN)

Now every member of the team is returning to a local team, and the monthlong camaraderie has become history. What most people may not know is that Anan Khalaili, whose abilities brought glory to Israel, had a battle both on and off the field. When he was younger and showed promise in sports, he was told at the school he attended that he had to choose between sports and studies. He couldn’t have both. So he switched schools, and now receives tremendous support from his present school, which arranged for him to receive specially tutored classes via Zoom while he was in Argentina, so that he would not fall behind in his studies.

■ ON THIS coming Saturday night, June 17, there will be a screening of the new film Everyone is waiting just for me at the Ofer Grand Canyon shopping mall in Haifa. The movie is the first attempt at directing by veteran stage and screen actor Aki Avni,who also stars in the film and will be at the screening, which will be followed by a meeting with the audience, in which Avni will explain the background to the film and what prompted him to take on the challenge of directing it.

■ IT’S THAT time of year again when lovers of Irish writer James Augustine Aloysius Joyce, get together for Bloomsday, which, strictly speaking, is on June 16, but in Israel this year will be celebrated on Wednesday, June 21.

Traditionally hosted by the Israel-Ireland Friendship League, the festivities this year will be cohosted by the Israel Association of Writers in English.

The event, named for the protagonist in Joyce’s most famous work, Ulysses, will also be an opportunity to bid farewell to Irish Ambassador Kyle O’Sullivan, who is among several ambassadors who will be concluding their terms in Israel over the summer. There will be a reception at the Visitors’ Theater, 147 Ahuza Street, Ra’anana, at 7:30 p.m., and the program of readings and Irish music will begin at 8 p.m.

For further information call: 050-822-1732.

■ HISTORY, LIKE beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. It all depends on the angle from which one sees a person or an event. This is one of the reasons that Poland had to fight so hard for the Nazi death camps on Polish soil to be recognized as such, instead of being referred to as Polish concentration or death camps. Similarly, Poland is now fighting against any suggestion that it collaborated with the Nazis.

During his visit to Israel last week, Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski acknowledged that there were individual collaborators, but insisted that unlike France and some other European countries, Poland never had a collaborative government. To the contrary, Poland officially and unofficially resisted the Nazis in whatever ways possible.

But not all Polish historians subscribe to this narrative, as a result of which some have become personae non gratae in their homeland. One such historian is Jan Grabowski, the son of a Catholic mother and a Jewish father. Currently a professor of history at the University of Ottawa, Grabowski, who specializes in Jewish-Polish relations in Nazi-occupied Poland during the Second World War and the Holocaust in Poland in general, has in his research discovered information that contradicts the narrative that the Polish government has adopted. He occasionally returns to Poland to lecture and to do further research. Last month, while in Poland to give a lecture, he was barely given the opportunity to start when a Polish politician grabbed his microphone and smashed it, while accusing Grabowski of “historical propaganda.” This was far from the first time that representatives of the Polish authorities have tried to stifle the findings that Grabowski believes he should make public.

Jablonski, in an effort to employ the voice of reason, said in Israel that suffering under the Nazis was not a competition between Jews and others. All over Europe, Jews and non-Jews were victims of the Nazis, and Poland simply wants it recognized that Poles as a nation were victims, not perpetrators.

■ “YOU CAN please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” These lines, attributed to the poet John Lydgate, later became a watchword for US President Abraham Lincoln.

The abiding truth in this observation can be seen in reactions to a tweet last week by German Ambassador Steffen Seibert, who had been present at a highly emotional event in Rehovot. The forebears of the religiously observant Birnbaum family had lived in Munich. The Nazi authorities began forcing Jews to give up their assets or to sell them at ridiculously low prices. Precious religious objects, such as silver Sabbath candlesticks and kiddush cups, that were taken from the family in Munich 84 years ago were presented to their heirs in Israel by Matthias Weniger, curator of the Munich National Museum. Considering the time and effort that went into tracing the provenance of the objects, Germany can only be commended for this act of atonement, which may not seem like much to an outsider, but which means the world to the recipients.

There were some positive reactions to Seibert’s tweet, but there were also complaints and reminders that history has its blemishes. Mariusz Pitrowski wrote in Polish that it was a pity that Poles who had also suffered at the hands of the Germans, who regarded them as inferior, had been overlooked on matters of restitution.

 FROM LEFT: Amos Yadlin, Pini Cohen and Orly Hayardeny. (credit: KFIR ZIV)
FROM LEFT: Amos Yadlin, Pini Cohen and Orly Hayardeny. (credit: KFIR ZIV)

MIND Israel aims to strengthen the state

■ CIRCUMSTANCE AND ego prompt the creation of new organizations not only in Israel but all over the world. One of the most recent NGOs to be launched in Israel was brought into being last week in response to political unrest and security threats, both of which affect the economy. The new organization, under the name of MIND Israel, was launched at the Herzliya Pituah home of Pninit and Pini Cohen, with the participation of senior officials from the government, security and economic sectors. The organization will advise decision-makers in all three fields.

Pini Cohen, who has been president, chairman and CEO of some of Israel’s leading companies, is also a social activist and philanthropist. Together with Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin and Orly Hayardeny, he founded MIND Israel for the purpose of strengthening the state. MIND Israel will conduct in-depth research that will benefit political and security entities and decision-makers with a view to defending Israel’s national security.

Among those who attended the launch were US Ambassador Tom Nides; Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Tal Russo; Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Aharon Haliva; retired IDF chief of staff Aviv Kohavi and his wife, Yael; Eyal Waldman, chairman of Waldo Holdings; attorney Emi Palmor, former director-general of the Justice Ministry and a board member at MIND Israel; Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Giora Eiland; Karin Mayer Rubinstein, CEO and president of the Israel Advanced Technology Industries, and her spouse, Golan Rubinstein; Ido Nehushtan, former IAF commander and CEO of Boeing Israel; and Gad Somekh, KPMG senior partner.

There was also a recorded video message from Herzog.

Yadlin emphasized the urgency of “establishing a strategic, professional, experienced and skilled, action-oriented consulting team, which assists the decision-making processes in Israel on national security issues.”

Cohen noted that “the strategic consulting team knows how to look beyond tomorrow’s crises to the long-term horizon, thanks to its proven analytical skills and reputation.” The team will operate as a nonprofit that supports the need to accompany complex processes in the field of Israel’s national security and strength.

Such issues include the Iranian nuclear program and threats on the northern front from Hezbollah.

“We would all be happy if the Saudis joined the Abraham Accords and if we can promote technological cooperation with the US, and handle other challenges related to AI and its effects, the consequences of global warming and other challenges that have been faced by our nation,” he added.

Cohen also spoke of making every effort to unite the population and to create a constitutional base and a new social contract, which will ensure Israel’s stability for years to come. “Today, when there is a negative turn in the perception of Israel’s deterrence and its international standing, MIND Israel’s creative ideas, based on decades of experience and knowing the various players in Jerusalem, Washington and other capitals, together with deep academic understanding and an extensive international impact network, will help reverse the trend and strengthen Israel’s resilience, economy and standing among nations,” Cohen declared.

■ GAY PRIDE events notwithstanding, all roads led to Jerusalem last Friday in the direction of The Museum on the Seam, whose current exhibition “Democrisis,” which looks at protest, resistance and civil disobedience through the eyes of photojournalists, brought not only the participating photojournalists to the museum but also many others.

Among viewers who found the exhibition to be an excellent sociocultural portrait of a country was James Snyder, the former longtime director of the Israel Museum, who specially came from New York for Israel Museum and Jerusalem Foundation events.

Photographers whose work is on display include Or Adar, Gidon Agaza, Oren Alon, Yuval Amit, Tomer Appelbaum, Mossi Armon, Tomer Asayag, Ben Cohen, Natan Dvir, Amir Goldstein, Keren Gueller, Barak Heymann and Alon Levi, Vardi Kahana, Efrat Klipshtein, Miki Kratsman, Shira Marek, Rali Margalit, Ayelet Ofarim, Hadas Parush, Uzi Porat, Shmuel Rachmani, Eldad Rafaeli, Uri Rosenwaks, Anat Saragusti, Tal Sharon, Rachel Shaul, Yasmin Steinmetz and Maya Ben David, Abir Sultan, Dafna Talmon, Meir Wigoder, Pavel Wolberg and Naama Yiron.

The exhibition, curated by Chen Shapira, includes photographs from the 1970s to the present time, and offers new perspectives of their social and political significance.

Aside from what anyone may interpret from the images, and the events they represent, they also have to be viewed through the conceptual and technological shifts in photography, documentation and representation, such as the active participation of photographers in protests.

The exhibition brings into sharp focus photography’s increasing place as integral to acts of protest and demonstration, claiming both a communicative and consciousness-changing role for the art. Examining photographers’ modes of operation and the tools at their disposal exposes diverse artistic strategies and raises questions regarding the role and mission of the artist/photographer, and the relationship between the medium and the message.

The exhibition will remain on view till October 20.

■ FOR MANY years, there has been an annual summer Klezmer Festival in Safed, which has attracted both music and art lovers. It will once again bring crowds to the Galilee on August 22-24. But for those klezmer fans who don’t want to go north to hear their favorite music, and would like the festival to be closer to the center of the country, there will be a contest for the most outstanding klezmer musicians on Thursday, June 22, at 7.30 p.m. in the Asia Auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum in which 10 finalists will compete for the klezmer crown, under the auspices of nearby Shalom Aleichem House. In addition to the performances by contestants, there will be performances by versatile actor and singer Nathan Datner and master clarinetist Hanan Bar Sela, who is the artistic director of the contest.

■ MUCH ADO was made last week and the week before over the number of politicians who would be in New York for the Celebrate Israel Parade along Fifth Avenue. Most of the politicians were also participating in conferences run on two consecutive days by the B’Sheva group of newspapers and The Jerusalem Post.

But Knesset members, ministers and mayors were not the only Israelis who traveled to the Big Apple. Also part of the temporary exodus was Histadrut labor federation chairman Arnon Bar-David, who was in Washington as well as New York during his five-day visit to the US. In addition to meetings with heads of labor unions and representatives of Israelis employed in the US, Bar-David also met with members of the Israel Embassy, but the high note of his meetings was when he met with US Vice President Kamala Harris.

■ ONE OF the perks of being the head of state is the extraordinary variety of experiences that become part and parcel of everyday life. It’s not just a matter of things being different from one day to the next, but literally from one hour to the next. President Herzog is arguably the busiest person to date to hold that office.

In a single day, he can participate in a conference on climate crisis, meet with army units, try to diffuse political hostilities, visit a school or a kindergarten in a peripheral area, receive a new book from a well-known author and go to the theater with his wife, Michal, who participates in many of the events hosted by the president or at which he is the guest of honor.

Last week, the two were in Rehovot’s High Tech Industrial Park as guests of the Good Food Institute, at an exceptionally eclectic and unique dinner comprising a six-course meal, which in its entirety represented Israel’s budding foodtech industry, which scientifically devises alternatives to existing products. According to Herzog, everything tasted delicious, and the various items were made by leading, innovative Israeli companies in the alternative food industry. “Today our planet feeds eight billion people, and humanity faces grave challenges, such as growing food insecurity and dangerous greenhouse gas emission,” said Herzog.

■ THIS WEDNESDAY evening, the Herzogs will host hundreds of people at the annual ceremony in which prizes are awarded for volunteerism. This prize, inaugurated in 1974, brings recognition not only to the winners but to the organizations they represent and to the many social welfare needs that are receiving a positive response. The youngest of the recipients this year will be Yam Kraf, 18, who three years ago, initiated a group, Generations of Friends, through which young people befriend and assist Holocaust survivors.

Among the other prize winners are Oren Or Biton, who founded the NGO Tauma4Good, which helps people suffering the effects of trauma; David Hager, one of the founders of the haredi Nahal unit Netzah Yehuda; Aviva Halabi, the founder of a national dialogue center; Amal Abu Alkum, who is a volunteer in several Negev organizations but primarily works on behalf of youth at risk; social entrepreneur Nissim Barel; Kuftan Halabi, who works for the benefit of Druze soldiers in the IDF; and Tzilla Jacobson, the chairwoman of Bat Melech, which provides shelter for battered women from the haredi communities. Several enterprises working in the fields of environmental protection; professional training in hi-tech for young people from the Ethiopian community who have completed army service; and first aid for people in emotional or psychological distress will also receive prizes.

On Sunday, Michal Herzog will greet Olena Zelenska, the wife of the president of Ukraine, who will be coming to Israel as a guest of the Foreign Ministry. Zelenska will remain in Israel till Wednesday, and on Monday, the two women, who met previously in London at the coronation of King Charles III, will attend the Natal conference on mental health with particular emphasis on post-traumatic treatment for children.