Grapevine, July 4 2023: A fond farewell

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 AT THE funeral of King Hassan II of Morocco, held in Rabat in 1999, prime minister Ehud Barak takes leave of the king’s adviser André Azoulay. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)
AT THE funeral of King Hassan II of Morocco, held in Rabat in 1999, prime minister Ehud Barak takes leave of the king’s adviser André Azoulay.
(photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)

After 12 years in Israel, former US ambassador Dan Shapiro, his wife, Julie Fisher, and their three daughters returned to the United States this week. Shapiro tweeted on Sunday: “Yesterday marked the end of our 12-year adventure in Israel as US diplomats and expats. We leave with full hearts, eyes looking forward, and the best of memories.” Fisher will be sorely missed by African asylum-seekers in Israel for whose benefit she worked tirelessly, involving her family and members of the International Women’s Club and the association of Diplomatic Spouses.

Amir Hayek, Israel’s ambassador to the UAE, replied to Shapiro’s tweet that he hopes to see him soon in his (Shapiro’s) new position. Former Foreign Ministry director-general Alon Ushpiz also responded with a complimentary remark that Shapiro has “a chapter to be proud of,” and added that he is looking forward, with great expectations, to what Shapiro will do in his new job.

Shapiro has been appointed by the US State Department as senior adviser for regional integration, in which capacity he will support US efforts to broaden the Abraham Accords and boost the Negev Forum for advancing regional projects in various spheres.

Given his current role, he will in all probability be a frequent flier between the US and all the countries involved in the Abraham Accords, so he will have the opportunity every now and again to catch up with his many friends in Israel and the region.

Israeli society

In general, Israel is a live-and-let-live society, a factor that is perhaps most evident in public transport, where people with obviously different religious or ethnic identities sit alongside each other and even engage in conversation. But these chance encounters, which more often than not start and end on a friendly note, are not always emulated in places of domicile.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG and his wife, Michal, flanked by Miriam Adelson and Gidi Mark. (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG and his wife, Michal, flanked by Miriam Adelson and Gidi Mark. (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

Many Modern Orthodox people who live in mixed secular-Orthodox neighborhoods object when haredi families move in. The reason? It’s an unfortunate fact that the first few families are followed by many others, after which there is a haredi takeover of community properties, which are then transformed into yeshivot and seminaries for girls. Following that, there are attempts to impose religious values on the community as a whole. Suddenly, people can no longer drive along certain streets on Shabbat and other Jewish holy days. Nonkosher eateries are closed down, and more religious facilities, such as ritual baths, begin to appear.

Fears of haredi influence may explain why Reuven Ladianski, who is vying for mayor of Tel Aviv, after five years as deputy mayor and 15 years on the city council, is advertising himself as “your secular warrior.”

In a full-page advertisement in Haaretz last Friday, Ladianski and his running mate, former MK and interior minister Avraham Poraz, address themselves to leaders of religious political parties Bezalel Smotrich, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Moshe Gafni and warn them that Tel Aviv is out of their purview. Tel Aviv does have pockets of haredim, but they are of the live-and-let-live variety, knowing that, by and large, Tel Aviv is a secular city that is not against religion but doesn’t want its practitioners to interfere in the lives of the rest of the population.

Ladianski’s party is called Hai, though he actually spells it “Hay” in English. In Hebrew, Hai means life. It also stands for the number 18, but in this case it is an acronym for Hilonim Yerukim (Green Secularists).

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood, the haredim are scoring points over veteran secular residents, and in the Negev there is concern about the proposed haredi town of Tila, at a triangular point between Rahat and Lehavim. The project is going ahead without any discussions with people who are opposed to it. The nearest neighbors are afraid that Tila will spread beyond its borders and affect their lifestyles and the local industrial zone.

One way to avoid that is for proper planning of the town with tall, multipurpose towers that include residential, religious, educational and commercial facilities in each building.

But to ease tensions in advance of construction, haredim should really be talking to their future neighbors.

One of Morocco’s most influential citizens, André Azoulay, was this week named among the recipients of the Presidential Medal of Honor which President Isaac Herzog is conferring within the framework of Israel’s 75th anniversary of independence.

Azoulay has long been a member of the International Board of Governors of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, which was lavish in congratulating him on being among the recipients of the medal of honor. Although all the recipients were known to the public, Azoulay was singled out by Israeli media outlets because he happens to be a senior adviser to King Mohammed VI of Morocco, after having served the king’s late father, King Hassan II, in the same capacity.

Azoulay, who is an economist by profession, is credited with influencing Morocco’s economic reforms and for playing a prominent role in the Middle East peace process, and in promoting dialogue between Muslims and Jews. The Israeli media’s focus on Azoulay within the context of the President’s Medal, relates to the normalization agreement between Israel and Morocco in the framework of the Abraham Accords.

Memory is short, especially among journalists who were either still children or not yet born in September 1993, when prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and foreign minister Shimon Peres paid a surprise visit to Morocco, and met with King Hassan in the hope of establishing diplomatic ties. A year later, in September, 1994, Israel and Morocco set up diplomatic low-level liaison offices in each other’s countries. Though officially modest, the relationship between the two countries had been conducted beneath the radar since 1948. In September 1977, Morocco became a facilitator for peace talks between Israel and Egypt, and hosted secret meetings between Israeli and Egyptian negotiators.

Needless to say that for at least 30 years, Azoulay has been deeply involved in promoting the Moroccan-Israeli relationship, and is definitely most deserving of the President’s Medal.

To most Israelis the name Yaakov Dori would not mean anything. But to Noa Dori, who last month completed an officer’s course in the IDF, it means living up to a legacy.

Yaakov Dori was the IDF’s first chief of staff, after having previously served with the Jewish Legion in the First World War, and later as a commander of the Hagana, rising in the ranks to become the Hagana’s chief of staff. It was a natural progression to the IDF, once Israel gained independence.

Although he died in January 1972, his family preserved his legacy, and the young Noa grew up hearing stories about him and imbuing his patriotic vision.

When her turn came to join the IDF, she served as a combat soldier in a co-ed unit, and also served as a squad commander. Completion of the officer’s course was a milestone in her life, but women have risen to the rank of major-general, so she still has a few milestones ahead of her, which she will undoubtedly reach because she is inspired by the great-grandfather whom she never knew, but who played such an integral role in Israel’s history.

As an Australian expatriate, it was a joy to the writer of this column to read that there is a vast move afoot in Australia to amend the constitution to give the indigenous population a direct say in policies that affect them. It’s long past time for that to happen, and it’s encouraging that this concept has the support of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Almost half a century ago, the Australian government set the ball rolling with the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. After that, state governments followed, and now some 40% of traditional aboriginal lands have been returned to the indigenous population. Of course, that does not mean an end to discrimination, but it does mean far greater acceptance of the aboriginal population, their integration into mainstream society and their political representation.

In this respect, Israel has, to some extent, a better record. There have been Arab legislators in the Knesset since 1948. Most Arab legislators regard themselves as Palestinians who are Israeli citizens, and in addition to fighting for the rights of Israel’s Arab population, they also stand up for Palestinian rights – especially territorial rights. In this latter respect, Israel lags behind Australia, but change may come if and when the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict eventuates.

Philanthropy in Israel

There have been numerous philanthropists who have made incredibly generous donations to projects, organizations and institutions in Israel, not only during their lifetimes but through foundations and trusts established in perpetuity, to guarantee that the giving continues after the founders have died.

One such example is the US-headquartered Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, which supports numerous endeavors around the world. Since beginning active grant-making in 2008, the Helmsley Trust has committed more than $4 billion for a wide range of charitable purposes, including more than $558 million to projects in Israel.

Its most recent gift is an $18m. lead grant to support the construction of the state-of-the-art Helmsley Computer Science Building on the North Campus of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The computer science department is one of the university’s key engines of future growth and is one of the largest departments at the university. This new building will enable increased student enrollment and expanded research opportunities. The department’s graduates often join the workforce at companies in the Advanced Technologies Park adjacent to the campus.

Construction of the Helmsley Computer Science Building is slated to begin in the coming months. This state-of-the-art facility will be the largest building on the North Campus, with at least 60 offices and lab space for each faculty member. The building will also house the Computer Science Student Center, a modern learning environment designed to meet the unique needs of computer science students. Multimedia technology will be seamlessly integrated throughout the center, with screens, videoconferencing, and other tools available to more than 2,000 students. It will include designated areas for quiet, independent learning as well as spaces for group projects and discussion.

“This grant by the Helmsley Charitable Trust is a game changer for the university, the Negev and the State of Israel,” said Ben-Gurion University president Prof. Daniel Chamovitz.

“Following Helmsley’s impactful support of our research in robotics and Crohn’s disease, the Helmsley Computer Science Building is the cornerstone of the new North Campus and will enable many and varied collaborations with industry and the development of new technologies,” he said.

Sandor Frankel, who is a Helmsley trustee, said that the trustees are “committed to supporting Israel’s standing as a world leader in technology and scientific breakthroughs.”

At the other end of the country, at Haifa’s Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, the cornerstone was laid for the Martin and Grace Druan Rosman High Performance Computer Data Center. An agreement to this effect was signed by the Rosmans, Technion president Prof. Uri Sivan, and Dr. Rafi Aviram, the Technion’s Executive vice president and director-general.

Prof. Avigdor Gal of the Faculty of Data and Decision Sciences said that “the Martin and Grace Druan Rosman High Performance Computer Data Center will offer students and faculty members from a range of disciplines access to some of the best supercomputing capabilities in the world. The center will elevate the Technion to an international computing level, and the new building will give the Technion both physical security and cybersecurity at the highest level.”

Sivan stated that “the need for very fast computers is growing exponentially, and it is very difficult to catch up.”

Dr. Martin Rosman said that the Technion’s management had clarified that the project of the highest importance for which the Technion needs support is the High Performance Computer Data Center. “Our most important mission in the last 15 years has been to support students, but we understood that the students also need this computing infrastructure, and this is what the new center will give them and the Technion’s researchers,” he said, as he looked forward to the building’s inauguration ceremony.

Aviram, said that “computers are at the heart of technology, but people are at the heart of the Technion. Thanks to your generosity, Martin and Grace Rosman, our IT people will be able to provide optimal service and facilities to the Technion’s researchers. This is also a great opportunity to salute the Technion’s Division for Computing and Information Systems, whose staff stood at the forefront of the efforts to overcome the cyberattack we recently experienced. I would also like to thank my predecessor, Prof. Boaz Golany, who initiated the idea of establishing the center, as well as the staff of the Technion’s Construction and Maintenance Division and our friends at the American Technion Society, the Technion friends’ association in the United States. I am full of hope that in three years’ time we will reconvene here for its inauguration.”

The establishment of the new center was also made possible through the generous support of the Zuckerman Institute, Gil and Michal Frostig, and other dedicated supporters.

Veteran broadcaster Oren Nahari, who conducts a weekly two-hour program on KAN Reshet Bet, raised, among various other subjects in his most recent program, the importance of language. In the period before the establishment of the state, and before the advent of the British Mandate, the main language of instruction – certainly in higher education – was German, which later gave way to English, and eventually to Hebrew, though several Israeli institutes of higher education provide classes in English for foreign students.

Nahari and two of his guests, military reporter Ron Ben-Yishai and educator Yossi Ben-Dov, are all alumni of Haifa’s prestigious Reali School, of which Ben-Dov has been the principal for several years. Though differing in age, all three were at school at a time when there was a strong emphasis on Zionism, joining the scouts and doing good. Moreover, any student who was not up to par academically was told that there was no longer a place for him or for her at the school. This is no longer the case, said Ben-Dov. If students are asked to leave, it is only because they don’t fit in with the pluralistic vision of the school, or because of violent behavior. As for the pluralistic vision, the school encourages its students to participate in seminars hosted by people of other faiths, or by Orthodox Jews, so as to learn and understand more about the other. “What we basically want from our students is that they should be decent human beings who give to society,” said Ben-Dov.

For all that, people who graduate from Reali are more than just decent human beings. They are also high achievers. According to Ben-Dov, 45 of the school’s alumni are Israel Prize laureates. The student population numbers 4,600, and there is a long waiting list because so many parents want to enroll their children at Reali, which this year celebrates its 110th anniversary.

Given their strong Zionist background, Nahari asked Ben-Yishai, who is a very thorough investigative reporter, whether he would report on something he’d discovered that would be detrimental to the state. Ben-Yishai replied that he would have no hesitation, because his task as a journalist is to report truthfully and accurately.

The only instances in which he would hold back on a report, he said, would be on a sensitive issue such as government efforts to find and bring home soldiers in captivity or missing in action; and in the case of a soldier who had been killed or who had committed suicide, he would not report before the parents had been officially notified of the tragedy.

Amid the spate of milestone anniversaries this year is the 75th anniversary of the Altelana, which was a ship purchased by Irgun supporters abroad for the purpose of bringing 940 fighters and extensive military equipment from France to Israel. Arrangements took longer than anticipated, and the ship arrived in Israel’s territorial waters after the planned date. During the delay, an agreement had been signed on June 1 for Irgun members to join the IDF on condition that the organization stop its independent activities, including the acquisition of arms.

Organizers of the Altelena’s voyage, fearful of sabotage, kept the mission so secret that they did not inform Irgun headquarters in Israel. But even in a pre-digital age, it was difficult to keep activities of that kind secret. The plot was discovered and broadcast on Radio London.

Menachem Begin, who was the leader of the Irgun, met with government representatives to inform them that the ship had sailed without his knowledge. David Ben-Gurion, who headed the provisional government, subsequently agreed to the ship landing, but did not want it to be off-loaded in Tel Aviv. There was agreement as to where the ship would land, but disagreement as to how its cargo would be distributed.

In the final analysis, the government, fearful of giving any power to Begin, decided to confiscate all the weapons. An ultimatum was given to Begin, to which he did not agree, and the ship was shelled. Many people were wounded, and several killed.

Begin would not allow his people to raise arms against fellow Jews – especially only three years after the Holocaust – and thus avoided a civil war.

Prizewinning Israeli journalist and commentator Shlomo Nakdimon, who will celebrate his 87th birthday at the end of this month, was a schoolboy when the incident took place, and witnessed it from the beach. As an adult he wrote a book about it. This week he was at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem to share his memories of that nightmare event.

The current political chaos has not yet evolved into a civil war, though at times it came close. But the story of the Altelena is a reminder of where disagreement without dialogue can lead.

Celebrating Birthright

A gala event in celebration of Birthright was attended by President Herzog and his wife, Michal, along with more than 500 Birthright supporters.

The cocktail reception and dinner at Tel Aviv Port included the presentation of an award to Birthright’s leading donor, Dr. Miriam Adelson and a musical performance by legendary singer Rami Kleinstein and his daughter Meshi Kleinstein.

 RAMI KLEINSTEIN performs in 2005. (credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
RAMI KLEINSTEIN performs in 2005. (credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)

“Tonight we are celebrating an impressive and truly amazing project that has brought together a million Jewish youth from the Diaspora,” said Herzog. “We know that Taglit (Birthright’s Hebrew name) has created imaginative connections among Jews from around the world, and between Jews and Israelis. This connection is tangible, immense, and profound.”

Among the other guests were former foreign minister and IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Gabi Ashkenazi; Meir Shamir, chairman of Birthright Israel’s executive committee in Israel; and CEOs of several of Israel’s leading companies.

“It was extremely important to hold this year’s gala on Israel’s 75th anniversary, as we are experiencing an unprecedented interest in registration for Birthright Israel without the ability to accommodate everyone,” said Birthright Israel CEO Gidi Mark. “On top of the 25,000 participants who will arrive in Israel this year, we have a waiting list of 25,000 young Jewish adults, who, without the additional funds we raise, will not be able to participate.”

He underscored that “Birthright is the Jewish organization with the longest waiting list. “We’re committed to doing everything we can to raise funds from Jewish communities around the world and in Israel to enable every young Jewish adult to come on a Birthright trip. This gala also emphasizes the impact made on our Israeli participants, most of whom are soldiers and officers in the IDF.”

Music has charm to soothe the savage beast, wrote William Congreve in his play The Mourning Bride in 1697. That observation still holds true, especially in the treatment of patients suffering mental illness. It was the cornerstone of project Music for the Soul, a joint venture between patients and therapists at the Abarbanel Mental Health Center and students and teachers of the Rimon School of Music. Within the context of the project, participants from the Rimon School visited Abarbanel on a weekly basis and, together with the patients, wrote lyrics and composed music which they played and sang together.

Limor Naftali, head of services for Abarbanel patients, noted that this joint creativity and the regular meetings help to strengthen the self-confidence and self-worth of the patients and give them a feeling of belonging. “It gives them a sense of security and tranquility – a link to the soul, and a lot of hope,” she said.

Rimon lecturer Ari Gorali, who is a songwriter, composer, singer, and musician said: “Where lyrics and composition meet, all hearts are open and stigmas disappear. It is a privilege to be involved in this project,” he declared.

Naftali’s and Gorali’s remarks were made within the context of a graduation ceremony for the yearlong project, in the presence of Tahel Klein, head of the Rimon music department, Zeevik Elisha Neuman, who oversaw the project, Abarbanel Director Prof. Yuval Melamed and Inbal Yarkoni, head nurse of government hospitals within the Health Ministry.