Grapevine August 20, 2023: Defiling dignity

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 THE DELEGATION of Religious Zionists of Chicago at an IDF camp in Itamar.  (photo credit: Courtesy Stewart Weiss)
THE DELEGATION of Religious Zionists of Chicago at an IDF camp in Itamar.
(photo credit: Courtesy Stewart Weiss)

For years now, religious extremists have defaced posters containing images of women. They have spray-painted across photographs of women’s faces or have blackened them out completely, or in some cases have slashed them.

In Jerusalem, this form of religious vandalism used to be mainly in the inner city, but has now spread to suburbia. If it was based purely on the biblical commandment against making graven images, then photographs of men should also be obliterated. But that’s not the case. 

In certain areas of ultra-Orthodox society, women are treated as virtually non-existent. They are not permitted to write in religious media, unless they take on a male alias or use only the initial of their first names.

Their photographs cannot be published unless it happens to be a photograph of a grand rabbi dancing with the bride, who is his granddaughter. The dancing is long distance, with each of them holding the end of a sash. The bride’s face is heavily veiled, so that no man can see it, other than her new husband when they are alone immediately after the wedding ceremony. 

There are attempts to revive segregation in buses, which was abolished by law, though some women in ultra-Orthodox society actually prefer segregation. If that is what they want, secular women have no right to interfere in what is part of the haredi lifestyle. But painting over or slashing images of women’s faces is a different ball game – almost a form of murder in which the victim continues to breathe.

 DR. YOSSI BEN-ZION and Prof. Tu Zhanchun following the signing ceremony of the cooperation agreement between BIU and BNU. (credit: Courtesy BNU)
DR. YOSSI BEN-ZION and Prof. Tu Zhanchun following the signing ceremony of the cooperation agreement between BIU and BNU. (credit: Courtesy BNU)

In the past, there have been mini-protests by women by way of slut walks, but it wasn’t ongoing and was therefore ineffective.

But now women are getting very angry, because this is more than an insult to their dignity, but also an insult to any office they hold. Posters bearing the image of Hagit Moshe, one of the deputy mayors of Jerusalem, were defaced – an incident that may later be described as the straw that broke the camel’s back. She is not the only woman whose image was vandalized, but she’s a religious woman, which in the eyes of secular women, makes the defacing all the more abhorrent.

Last week, some 50 women took to the streets in their neighborhood of Beit Hakerem and pasted photographs of themselves and other women on neighborhood billboards.

But this was merely an act of defiance.

Unless security guards are posted at every billboard to apprehend the vandals, this kind of degradation will continue. How do these men treat their mothers, their wives, their sisters, and their daughters?

But it’s not only in extreme haredi circles that the cracks in the glass ceiling have been replaced. Whereas three of the major banks were headed by women, today there is none. There are fewer women in the Knesset and in government than in recent years, and women are being dismissed from top-level jobs in government ministries.

Likewise, there are fewer women contesting in municipal elections, which will be held throughout the country at the end of October.

Efforts are being made to prevent female soldiers from serving in combat or co-ed units, and, sooner or later, efforts will be made to prevent them from serving in the army altogether. The clock is being turned back, and one does not need to be a feminist to join the fight against female regression. Women are already victims of human rights abuses, as are various minority and niche communities.

Demonstrations and the damage they cause don’t really help. If they did, Israel would not be in its current predicament.

It has gone way beyond differences between Left and Right. When deprivation and violence become the norm, everyone suffers.

New American Ambassador to Israel

If as widely anticipated, Jack Lew will be appointed America’s next ambassador to Israel, he will be the sixth member of the Jewish faith to hold that office, though technically, the seventh, because Martin Indyk held it twice – first from 1995 to 1997, and then again from 1999 to 2000. The other Jewish ambassadors were Daniel Kurtzer (2001-2005), Dan Shapiro (2011-2017), David Friedman (2017-2021), and Tom Nides (2021-2023).

If Lew is indeed appointed, he will be the third Orthodox Jew after Kurtzer and Friedman. Just as he had done when he was ambassador in Egypt, prior to taking up his post in Israel, Kurtzer had called in the Orthodox Union to kasher the kitchen at the American residence. Friedman was the first US ambassador to visit the Western Wall, where as a member of the Priestly Tribe, he also blessed the congregation.

Shapiro, though a Reform Jew, often injected aspects of Jewish learning and tradition into his speeches and used to host a pre-Rosh Hashanah reception at the residence. When he attended synagogue services, he was usually called upon to read the Torah, which he did quite well. Nides, who is also a Reform Jew, used to post a Shabbat Shalom video every Friday. It’s just a pity that a person of Lew’s caliber, who enjoys bipartisan approval and admiration, will be a stop-gap ambassador unless the Democratic Party is returned to power in the coming elections, in which case, he may be re-appointed.

American Religious Zionists in Israel

A delegation of the Religious Zionists of Chicago was recently in Israel, during which time it dedicated a “pina hama” in Itamar to serve soldiers as a rest and recreation area.

Among the dignitaries participating in the dedication ceremony were Rabbi Doron Perez, World Mizrachi director Stephen Flatow, incoming president of the Religious Zionists of America, and Rabbi Jerry Isenberg, director of Mizrachi Chicago.

Over the past year alone, more than 20,000 soldiers serving in the area have come through the R&R facility for refreshments or educational programs.

Israeli-Chinese cooperation

Though there have been several cooperation agreements between Israeli universities and their Chinese counterparts, such agreements have become less common in the present economic and political climate. An exception is a recent agreement between the departments of physics at Bar-Ilan University and Beijing Normal University. The two universities have signed a cooperation agreement for a joint undergraduate degree program and student exchange. The new program will offer students a joint BIU-BNU bachelor’s degree, with studies taking place at both universities.

The agreement was signed in Beijing by Dr. Yossi Ben-Zion, deputy chairman of the Department of Physics at BIU, and Prof. Tu Zhanchun, Communist Party secretary of the BNU Department of Physics. The signing ceremony was hosted by the department’s deputy director, Prof. Zhang Wenkai, and followed a visit by Dr. Ben-Zion to BNU in May, in which the two sides reached an agreement on the joint undergraduate training program and student exchange.

The signing ceremony was attended inter alia by Ms. Sang Haibo, vice director of BNU’s Department of Physics, Ms. Liu Yuanyuan, secretary of academic affairs of the department, Prof. Zhang Mei, physics faculty member, and Prof. Zeng An, School of Systems Science faculty member.

Pianist Master Classes conclude

The Tel Hai Master Classes for pianists came to an end last Thursday, after two and a half intensive weeks with an awards ceremony and a concert in the Recanati Auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum. The beauty of the various master classes in piano, violin, and opera given by leading teachers and exponents from Israel and abroad on behalf of various musical organizations attract large audiences, whose members can listen to beautiful music free of charge, other than at the grand finale of the season. At Thursday’s gala concert, internationally renowned pianist Aviram Reichert and clarinetist Tomer Ornan performed a special arrangement of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Prestigious award from Alpha Epsilon Pi Foundation

Organizations whose members are recipients of prestigious awards display something akin to family pride when such awards are announced and presented. Early this month, Daniel Elbaum, the head of North America for The Jewish Agency for Israel as well as the president and CEO of The Jewish Agency International Development, was awarded the Gitelson Silver Medallion by the Alpha Epsilon Pi Foundation. The Gitelson Silver Medallion recognizes AEPi alumni for their commitment to Jewish communal services. In the 108-year history of Alpha Epsilon Pi, only 55 of its alumni (out of more than 120,000) have received this prestigious honor.

In his Jewish Agency roles, Elbaum leads and oversees the organization’s work connecting Jews to Israel and each other throughout the United States and Canada. Prior to his current position, Elbaum was the chief advocacy officer for the American Jewish Committee, leading the organization’s advocacy efforts in combating antisemitism and protecting Israel’s security.

Elbaum’s career in working for Jewish community organizations began with the Anti-Defamation League, where he was the Midwest Region’s civil rights counsel and director of development. Prior to that, he was a felony prosecutor in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. He graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 1996, where he was a member of AEPi’s Delta chapter, and then received his Juris Doctor from the University of Illinois College of Law in 1999. He lives in the suburbs of Chicago with his wife and two daughters.