Grapevine July 9, 2023: Time for prayer

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 LIBERIAN PRESIDENT George Weah receives the Friends of Zion award from Foreign Minister Eli Cohen at the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem, while FOZ President Michael Evans (far right) and Nir Kimhi, chairman of the FOZ Board of Directors, look on.  (photo credit: DOTAN GUETA)
LIBERIAN PRESIDENT George Weah receives the Friends of Zion award from Foreign Minister Eli Cohen at the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem, while FOZ President Michael Evans (far right) and Nir Kimhi, chairman of the FOZ Board of Directors, look on.
(photo credit: DOTAN GUETA)

Time is on the march and the High Holy Days are already on the horizon. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, considered the most important holy days in the Jewish calendar, are preceded by selichot – penitential prayers which are chanted not only in synagogues but are broadcast on radio and television and on electronic Jewish media outlets worldwide.

Not everyone is aware of selichot, and even if they are, unless religious practices are part of their daily lifestyle, they are unlikely to deliberately opt to attend selichot services. There are also people who may want to attend such services, but who desist because they are not sufficiently familiar with what it’s all about. 

Aware of this, Mishael Vaknin, together with Bill Gross and Yair Harel got together to produce the interactive project A Selichot Journey. Gross is an internationally-known Judaica collector and Harel is the musical editor of Selichot Journey. Selichot comprise religious poems that are sung and recited in addition to regular prayers. These poems are known as piyutim. The Selichot Journey includes an elegant book album and two music albums.

Together, these albums offer traditional versions of the selichot prayers alongside modern adaptations, including exclusive recordings by famed paytan Rabbi Chaim Luke. The book-album presents an accessible collection of the beloved selichot poems and the powerful prayers of the High Holy Days. Each sacred poem is accompanied by an explanation and translation. The album also contains photographs of 130 rare ancient manuscripts and books from Jewish communities around the globe. Some of these centuries-old manuscripts will be seen publicly for the first time

Studying during war

■ IN 2017, Kirill Drik immigrated to Israel from Ukraine and served fulltime as a voluntary lone soldier in a commando unit. Following his release from the army he began studying for a Master’s degree in political science at Tel Aviv University. During the semester break in February 2022, he went to visit his parents in Dnipro, in eastern Ukraine. During his stay, his mother fell ill and was hospitalized, causing Kirill to extend his vacation by five days until February 25. War between Russia and Ukraine erupted on the day before Kirill was due to take a flight back to Israel. Kirill, 25, is a dual national. Because of his Ukrainian citizenship, he was unable to leave the country, because all able-bodied citizens were expected to fight.  There is very little room for pacifism in wartime. Kirill did not want any part of this war, and he had no choice but to run and hide.

 KIRILL DRIK proudly displays his diploma as he stands alongside Prof. Hanna Lerner. (credit: COURTESY TAU)
KIRILL DRIK proudly displays his diploma as he stands alongside Prof. Hanna Lerner. (credit: COURTESY TAU)

His big dream was to return to his studies at TAU.  At the time this was impossible, and in order to avoid army service, he hid in a cave for 10 months.  During that period, his girlfriend Yulia brought him food and other necessities, and he somehow managed to continue with his studies via Zoom, despite the fact that there were frequent electricity outages.

Worse still was the constant smell of sewage, rats scuttling between his legs, and in the background, sounds of explosions. The bunker was next to a munitions factory, so Russian planes were constantly bombing the area and there were many alarms. It was a very scary period. Kirill did not know if he would ever be able to return to normal life.

Nonetheless, despite all the obstacles, he was in daily contact with Sigal Shachar, Coordinator of Advanced Degrees at Tel Aviv University’s School of Political Science, Government, and International Affairs. Kirill was also fully supported by Prof. Hanna Lerner, the head of the school, who worked tirelessly to mobilize the entire teaching staff for a single mission: The graduation of Kirill Drik.

“From the moment we realized that Kirill was hiding in Ukraine, it was very important for us to keep in touch with him almost daily,” said Lerner, who asked Kirill’s lecturers to report regularly if he missed classes.

"We all tried to prepare study materials so he would be ready for the classes that took place on Zoom,” she said. ”It could not have been easy for him, and we are very proud of Kirill, who did not give up and continued to study, even under the sound of shelling and alarms, while hiding for days in a bunker.”

After 10 months, including four failed attempts to escape through the border, Kirill suddenly received a phone call from Sigal Shachar who informed him that after much effort the university, in cooperation with the Lowy International School, had managed to arrange for him to receive all the documents required for him to leave Ukraine and return to Israel.

Toward the end of last month, Kirill finally realized his dream and in an exciting ceremony, to the enthusiastic applause of the audience in the hall, he went on stage to receive his degree. It was a moment of great emotion. With tears streaming down his face, Kirill thanked everyone involved in securing his freedom and making his dream come true. Through his tears, he said: “My story is a message of victory. Don’t let anything stop you. With the help of willpower, technology, and good people, you can succeed in doing anything.”

Later he said: “When I received my degree I felt that I had finally returned to my homeland. I feel that my homeland is Israel and not Ukraine. People here are children of God. The help I received turned Israel into my family. I am happy that I survived those 10 months in Ukraine, during which time I fulfilled my dream to get a Master’s degree in political science in Israel, and most of all I am happy that everything I did was not in vain. I know that for the rest of my life, I will never stop being thankful for everything Tel Aviv University has done for me. I am sure we will meet again when I pursue my Ph.D.”

Israel-South Korean relations

■ KOREAN AIR marked the 100th flight between Tel Aviv and Seoul with a festive event held at the Brown Lighthouse Hotel in Tel Aviv with the participation of Kim Jin-Han, South Korea’s Ambassador to Israel. The climax was a Korean feast that resulted after Cho Hyun-Jo, who heads the Istanbul branch of the Korea Tourism Organization invited all the senior figures in the tourism industry to join in preparing bibimbaps, a mixed rice, meat, and vegetable dish most identified with South Korean cuisine. Among those who volunteered in the preparation of the special dish were: Ofer Reinhardt, CEO of Maman Aviation, Korean Air representative in Israel Hoon Jun, Nehama Ronen, chairman of the Maman group, and even Korean Ambassador Kim Jin-Han. 

 SOUTH KOREAN Ambassador Kim Jin Han and senior tourism executives surround a bowl of ‘bibimbaps’. (credit: ITZIK BIRAN)
SOUTH KOREAN Ambassador Kim Jin Han and senior tourism executives surround a bowl of ‘bibimbaps’. (credit: ITZIK BIRAN)

Liberian President visits Israel

LIBERIAN PRESIDENT George Weah, who came on a working visit to Israel last week, accompanied Foreign Minister Eli Cohen to the Friends of Zion Heritage Center Museum in Jerusalem.

At the conclusion of their tour, FOZ president Michael Evans together with Cohen presented Weah with the prestigious Friends of Zion Award in recognition of all he had done to strengthen ties between Israel and Liberia.

During the presentation, Evans recounted Weah’s unwavering stance in support of the Jewish People and the State of Israel globally, including at the United Nations and other international forums: “ We must not forget that Liberia is one of the only two African countries who voted in favor of the establishment of the State of Israel in the partition vote at the United Nations,” said Evans. “The citizens of Liberia maintain a special favor for the State of Israel in light of the economic and commercial ties between the two countries. Since he was elected president, George Weah has strengthened ties and warm friendship between the two countries.”

Asserting that “Liberia loves and stands by Israel” and pledging his country’s continued support for Israel, Weah said: “This award is a motivation for me to continue what I have been doing for the Jewish people and Israel,”

Cohen lauded Liberia as “one of Israel’s greatest friends in Africa.” He said that he and Weah had agreed to work together to deepen cooperation in the fields of energy, agriculture, and water, using Israeli knowledge and experience and promoting commercial delegations in Israel and Liberia.

Calls for unity and peace

■ DESPITE THE chaotic disquiet and violence that are causing disruptions all over the country, people from all walks of life, including those participating in demonstrations, are calling for peace, unity, and strength. In Jerusalem last week, there was a mid-town demonstration in which participants, including religiously observant Jews, carried signs stating “Palestinian lives matter.” In Milan last week, fashion designer and star of Big Brother Israel Talia Ovadia, decided almost at the last minute before parading on the catwalk, to embroider a large Star of David on the back of her elegant period-style gown. The situation in Israel, she said, demanded a show of unity by Israelis abroad to demonstrate Israeli strength. 

“Nothing and no one will break us,” she said.