Grapevine July 16, 2023: A lucky day

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 RABBI MOSHE Reuven Azman is flanked by Mykolayiv Governor Vitali Kim and Rabbi Shalom Gottlieb. (photo credit: WATERGEN)
RABBI MOSHE Reuven Azman is flanked by Mykolayiv Governor Vitali Kim and Rabbi Shalom Gottlieb.
(photo credit: WATERGEN)

Tuesday is a lucky day in Jewish tradition and last Tuesday was certainly a lucky day for Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who received a knighthood from King Charles at a ceremony conducted at Windsor Castle.

Mirvis is only the fourth chief rabbi to have an additional title appended to his name. The first was Rabbi Israel Brodie who served as Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth from 1948 to1965. Rabbi Immanuel Jacobvitz who succeeded him was elevated to the peerage, and thus became the first chief rabbi to have a seat in the House of Lords. That honor was also given to his successor Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. In all probability, Rabbi Mirvis will also eventually find his place in the House of Lords, unless the rules are changed and only hereditary peers will be entitled to sit there.

Leket Israel - Leket Briut

■ IN ADDITION to its regular food rescue program, Leket Israel headed by its founder Joseph Gitler recently launched a groundbreaking initiative known as Leket Briut – Nutrition Education in Schools. This program is currently running in five underprivileged schools across Israel. Its impact has been remarkable. Leket Briut goes beyond providing fresh, rescued agricultural produce to families in need. It also incorporates workshops and lessons on healthy eating on limited budgets, encourages the integration of fruit and vegetables into daily menus, and offers critical nutrition tips. “By addressing both immediate food needs and long-term nutritional education, Leket is making a  life changing difference for the students and their families “ says Gitler.

To continue running this program in all five schools Leket requires a budget of NIS 586,000. Public support will enable Leket to not only reach its goal but also provide assistance to more than 1,000 students and their families who reside in low socio-economic neighborhoods.

Elderly man receiving cooked food from Leket Israel NPO partner (credit: AMIR YAKOBY)
Elderly man receiving cooked food from Leket Israel NPO partner (credit: AMIR YAKOBY)

Watergen in Ukraine

■ IN RESPONSE  to a devastating dam collapse in Nova Kakhovka, a region controlled by Russia in southern Ukraine Watergen, the Israeli company whose technology produces fresh drinkable water from air, has answered an urgent call by Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman, chief rabbi of Ukraine. Watergen deployed its water-from-air generators to the city of Kherson. Each generator is capable of providing 900 liters of drinkable water per day.

The collapse of the dam led to extensive flooding of 30 towns and villages and the mass evacuation of thousands of people. Watergen initially provided five generators in cooperation with the local Jewish community and plans to dispatch more units to assist all affected civilians in Ukraine. The generators were donated by American Jewish organizations.

According to Ukrainian Environment Minister Ruslan Strilets, at least 150 metric tons of oil from the dam leaked into the city of Dnipro which borders the Dnieper River, causing environmental damage estimated at NIS 200 million.

The Ukrainian Agriculture Ministry reported that the collapse of the dam left 94% of irrigation systems in Kherson, 74% in Zaporizhzhia, and 30% in the Dnipro regions without water sources. As a result, UN Under-Secretary General Martin Griffiths warned of an impending lack of clean drinking water for approximately 700,000 people affected by the floods.

Two large Watergen generators were immediately dispatched to Kherson.  Azman risked his life while transporting them as, while he was in Kherson, the city came under Russian fire.

Although appreciative of what Watergen has done already, Azman said that much more is needed.

Difficulty severing your roots

■ WHILE HE gets to shake hands and rub shoulders with dignitaries from all walks of life, and attends many social functions, life is not always easy for an ambassador. If his own president, prime minister, or foreign minister makes a negative statement about anything to do with the ambassador’s host country, the ambassador is summoned to that country’s Foreign Ministry and is duly castigated. That has happened more than once to Israel’s ambassador to Russia, Alexander Ben-Zvi. The dressing down is par for the course, but Ben-Zvi also has a personal problem. He was born in Ukraine, where he lived until he was 15 years old. Michael Brodsky, Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine has a similar problem. He was born in Russia, where he spent his youth. Each has been an Israeli for most of his life, but it’s difficult to sever one’s roots.

The life and accomplishments of Dona Gracia

■ BOOK WEEK may be over, but there is a glut of new books being launched. Coming up on July 18 is the launch of Dona Gracia – the First Jewish Banker by Aaron Nomaz. The event at the Turkish Cultural Center is co-hosted by Turkish Ambassador Sakir Ozkan Torunlar and Steimatzky CEO and owner Ayal Grinberg. The evening will be dedicated to commemorating the life and accomplishments of Dona Gracia, who left an indelible imprint on the history of the Ottoman Empire. Her story provides valuable insights into the cultural, economic, and societal aspects of her times. She was a pivotal figure in the Jewish community and an exceptionally shrewd businesswoman.

Born in Lisbon, Portugal on June 20, 1510, she died in Constantinople in 1569. Her actual name was Beatrice, but she was better known as Gracia Mendes Nasi. Her family had been forcibly baptized, but while outwardly practicing Catholics, they secretly maintained Jewish traditions. Widowed in 1536 and left with an infant daughter, she inherited half of her husband’s fortune, and moved first to London, then to Antwerp, and later to Venice.

From there she went to Ferrara, where she engaged in many charitable activities, which provided her with a lot of influence. Many Jews who fled Portugal and settled in the Ottoman Empire, owed their ability to do so to Dona Gracia who organized and financed their transportation and basic necessities. She seldom stayed long in one place and returned to Venice. But when her daughter decided to go to Constantinople, Dona Gracia, who had transferred a substantial portion of her assets to the Ottoman capital, decided to go there as well. It was there that she became a leader in the Sephardi community, philanthropically supporting hospitals, synagogues, and even a yeshiva.

In Constantinople, she also managed the family’s commercial and shipping interests. Meanwhile, in Ancona, many Jews, who had been forced to convert to Christianity, returned to Judaism. This did not sit well with the pope who had them arrested.

Dona Gracia persuaded Sultan Suleiman to intervene diplomatically and an envoy was sent from Constantinople with a letter in which the ruler demanded the release of the arrested Jews.

Long before the First Aliya, Dona Gracia and her nephew engaged in establishing a self-sufficient Jewish hamlet in Tiberias as a refuge for conversos fleeing from Spain and Portugal. She contributed a large amount of money towards this, and despite Arab opposition, the project succeeded, though a generation later, few of the Jews remained.

Sami Rohr Prize

■ A LITERARY award ceremony as distinct from a book launch was initially scheduled to take place at the National Library on August 9. It now transpires that there has been a change of venue, and the 17th annual Sami Rohr Prize ceremony has been moved to the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, albeit still in association with the National Library. Rabbi David Wolpe, a celebrated Conservative rabbi from the United States, author and newspaper columnist, and closely associated with the Jewish Book Council, will converse on stage with all the honorees. The Jewish Book Council is a veteran American organization that initially administered the Sami Rohr Prize and now does so in conjunction with Israel’s National Library. While the awards ceremony will still be an impressive event, invitees who had been looking forward to exploring the new National Library will be disappointed.

Britney Spears

■ HER FANS are also eagerly anticipating the memoir The Woman in Me, a tell-all allegedly authored by pop star Britney Spears, published by Simon and Schuster and due to hit the shelves in October of this year.

Former Australian ambassador to Israel in the UN

■ AUSTRALIAN FOREIGN Minister Penny Wong has announced the appointment of James Larsen as Australia’s new ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations. Why should that be of any interest to Israel? Because Larsen served as Australia’s ambassador to Israel from September 2006 to January 2010 and oversaw the transfer of the Australian Embassy from Europe House to its present location in the upmarket sector of South Tel Aviv.

Larsen was preceded as ambassador to Israel by his father-in-law Robert Merrillees, an archaeologist turned diplomat who served from 1983-1987 and who, in 2008, visited Larsen and his wife Antoinette, who is also a diplomat.

When announcing Larsen’s appointment, Wong noted that Australia, as one of the founding members of the UN, is committed to working with member states to ensure that Australia plays a central role in maintaining international peace and security and addressing global issues such as climate change, sustainable development, human rights, and gender equality.

Larsen, who is a lawyer by profession, has served in a variety of roles in Australia’s Foreign Affairs and Trade Department, most recently as deputy secretary in the Climate Change, Energy, the Environment, and Water Department.

Australia, which in November 1947, cast the first “yes” vote that led to the UN Resolution on the partition of Palestine, has remained a consistently good friend of Israel at the UN and in other international forums.