Grapevine: Flawed heroes

The hardest thing for most people is to admit that they’re wrong or that they made a mistake.

Israel (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
WHAT BUSINESSMAN and philanthropist Matthew Bronfman loves about Judaism is that all of its heroes are flawed.
“None of us is perfect,” he said.
“How can we relate to someone who is not flawed?” Bronfman was speaking at the Israel Museum at the tail end of a tribute to his late father Edgar Bronfman.
“My father was far from perfect,” he said, after a bevy of speakers had praised the senior Bronfman’s courage and dedication to Jewish freedom, identity, education and continuity.
But the very fact that he recognized his father’s flaws enabled him to relate better to him and to declare that despite his flaws and faults “he is my hero.”
Recalling Bronfman’s battle for Soviet Jewry along with the efforts of other activists, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein whom Bronfman had tried to get out of a Soviet prison, said that for him Edgar Bronfman and others like him were responsible for thousands of Yuli Edelsteins who are Jewish today.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog joined in the tributes, recalling that during the 10-year presidency of his father, the late Chaim Herzog, Bronfman, as president of the World Jewish Congress, “was the number one Jewish leader in the world.”
Avraham Infeld, president emeritus of Hillel International stated that Bronfman had wanted the continued renaissance of the Jewish people – “not the Jewish religion – the Jewish people.”
Chaim Chesler, the executive director of the Israel Public Council for Soviet Jewry who had worked closely with Bronfman on Soviet Jewry issues, had once asked him why he had not attended a certain ceremony. To which Bronfman had answered: “I’m not for ceremonies.
I‘m for action.”
NO SINGER guitarist looks or sounds more like Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach than New York born Yonatan Razel, who at the tribute for Edgar Bronfman, sang one of Carlebach’s own favorites, and one that typified Bronfman: “Lema’an Achai Vere’ai” (“For my Brothers and Friends”). Afterwards when complimented by a member of the audience who told him he was the closest thing to Carlebach himself, Razel responded that he had been asked to play Carlebach on Broadway, but had refused. He then went on to lead the religiously observant males who had attended the museum event in a evening prayer service.
THE PRESENCE of Vogue Italia editor Franca Sozzani and key representatives of the influential Italian fashion house of Missoni was the highlight of the opening of Gindi Israel Fashion Week, which also featured a showing of the Missoni collection.
Members of the Missoni family including the octogenarian founder and matriarch of the company Rosita Missoni her daughter Angela who is the company’s creative director and head designer along with Angela’s younger daughter Teresa Missoni, who is also a designer in her own right, arrived in Israel last Friday and in the evening were hosted at an intimate dinner party at the residence in Ramat Gan of Italian ambassador Francesco Maria Talo and his wife Ornella.
following the media conference last Thursday at which Communications Minister Gilad Erdan announced the projected closure of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, prize winning Israel Radio reporter, editor and anchor Benny Teitelbaum, who was anchoring It’s all Talk said that it was difficult to sit in front of the microphone “after hearing that they’re going to close us down.”
Professional considerations outweighed emotion and Teitelbaum immediately switched to fellow broadcaster Yuval Ganor who had been at the media conference and could report on the doomsday edict. Throughout Thursday and in the days that followed, Israel Radio anchors brought up the issue again and again, interviewing politicians, lawyers and former IBA personalities, and arguing on behalf of themselves and their colleagues. Journalists from other media were doing the same.
Gideon Remez, the former head of news at Israel Radio and currently a research fellow at the Hebrew University’s Truman Institute told The Jerusalem Post, “We used to say that there’s a special version of Murphy’s Law for the IBA: any change is for the worse.
This somehow occurred even when the intentions were of the best, which I doubt in the present case. If public broadcasting is destroyed, it’s unlikely to be restored in any recognizable or desirable form.”
SINCE ITS official opening less than a year ago, the Jerusalem Press Club, located in the scenic Mishkenot Sha’ananim area of the capital, has hosted a number of very diverse events. Among the events last week was a wine tasting presented by Yael Gai, a former diplomat who is the international sales and marketing manager of Golan Heights Winery.
People don’t think of Israel as a wine country even though Israel wins many awards in international wine competitions, said Gai. The tendency when wine is mentioned is to think of France, Italy, Argentina, Chile and Australia, but the truth is that wine is a traditional product of the region and is mentioned 127 times in the Bible. The Golan Winery, which is owned by four kibbutzim and four moshavim, was established 31 years ago, and has three labels: Gamla, Yarden and Hermon. Participants in the tasting were introduced to nine of the wines – red and white, sweet and dry, full bodied and delicate – produced from 2008-13. Professional wine tasters do not drink the wine, they spit it out. Gai said that the most difficult thing for her, when taking the wine course, was to learn how to spit.
THE MARATHON debate at the Knesset prevented Justice Minister Tzipi Livni from attending the gala opening of the impressive exhibition on Alfred Dreyfus and his family at Beit Hatfutsot. The exhibition, which is mind blowing in the variety of its content, its aesthetic display, the information that it conveys about the contributions of French Jews to politics, culture and academia and the attitudes of French Jews today to latent anti-Semitism, prompted many of those present to say that they would return when there were fewer people around so that they could more fully absorb the exhibition.
The exhibition was initiated by Parisian fashion designer Yael Perl Ruiz, who happens to be the great-granddaughter of Alfred Dreyfus.
French ambassador Patrick Maisonnave referred to the influence that the Dreyfus Affair had had on Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl, and said that it had been held in an era of unprecedented anti-Semitism in France. On Tuesday, there was a symposium on the trial at Tel Aviv University with the participation of academics from the Sorbonne.
FRENCH CONNECT IONS with Israel are constantly being enhanced despite mounting anti-Semitism there. A sizable increase in immigration to Israel from France, with more than 800 in the first quarter of this year, coupled with the intensive work of the French Institute, which is in essence the cultural arm of the French Embassy, helps to create bridges between France and Israel. In this respect France’s former first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy who came to Israel with her husband almost four years ago, when he was president, and who charmed President Shimon Peres when he paid an official visit to France, is due back in Israel in May to perform at Habima. Bruni, once a top flight model, is also a singer and guitarist who has produced four albums.
Doubtless, she will also make her way to Jerusalem to call on her favorite Israeli. Her husband Nicolas Sarkozy, who was in Israel in May last year, also paid a call on Peres.
IT’S BEEN mounting for some time, but this evening, the Knesset photo exhibition of prime ministers throughout the generations will be officially opened by President Shimon Peres. The exhibition shows candid photographs of all of Israel’s prime ministers – some delightful ones of the Netanyahu family when the two boys were small. Among the photos of Ehud Barak, are one of him playing on a grand piano, and another of him carrying a ladder with the sense of familiarity of any laborer. Elsewhere in the building, there’s a more up-todate photo exhibition under the title Knesset Moments, with both candid and posed shots. One that was taken last year on the day of the swearing in ceremony of the 19th Knesset, is ostensibly of party leaders, all of whom are standing behind Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Peres and presidential hopeful Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who is also a former chairman of the Labor Party.
The photograph is almost prophetic in that should Ben-Eliezer win the presidential election, the same three men are likely to pose for an official photograph, but Ben-Eliezer will be the one in the middle instead of Peres.
SEVERAL WEBSITES noted this week that the debate on the Equal Burden Law that would make it mandatory for all citizens to either serve in the Israel Defense Forces or to do national service in a civilian framework began on the anniversary of the passing of a great Hassidic Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke Klein who passed away on the ninth day of the second month of Adar in 5744 and is buried in Selish, Romania. It just so happens that Klein was the great-great-greatgrandfather of Finance Minister Yair Lapid.
YIDDISHPIEL is simultaneously celebrating the 83rd birthday of its star performer Yaakov Bodo, the 25th anniversary of his association with Yiddishpiel and the 60th anniversary of his career as an actor and comedian.
Bodo will celebrate his birthday at the end of this month. While in the IDF, Bodo put together the Southern Command Troupe and later the Northern Command Troupe. Fifty years ago he was in the cast of the film version of Sallah Shabati. He has appeared in numerous Yiddishpiel productions and is embarking on a new production “Life according to Bodo,” which will premiere on March 28, the actual date of his birthday.
Towards the end of last month, Bodo appeared in a panel discussion in the monthly “End of the Week” series that Yiddishpiel hosts at ZOA House in Tel Aviv. The moderator was comedian Kobi Ariel and the panel members were Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who came to politics from the world of television, and former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik, whose name has been bandied about as a possible candidate in the presidential elections.
While Ariel was talking to Lapid about conscription of haredim (ultra-Orthodox), a cellphone began ringing non-stop. The real challenge said Ariel, is not getting haredim to serve in the IDF, nor is it their integration into the labor force. The challenge isn’t even world peace. The real challenge is getting people to turn off their cell phones in the theater. Lapid said that he does not allow his children to come to the Sabbath table with their cell phones. To which Ariel, who is orthodox responded: “Me, neither.”
The audience cracked up.
THE BIG Picture, a trivia based television game show that allows home viewers to participate via smartphone or tablet app, was last week shot in Holon, for a pilot screening at MIPFormats in April. MipTV is the largest global market for selling TV programs. Though an Israeli production, the show will be in English and hosted by British born Australian- American television and radio presenter Osher (“Andrew”) Gunsberg, better known professionally as Andrew G. Last year, after having made a big name for himself hosting the Australian version of American Idol and the Australian version of the reality television series The Bachelor. Now working with the A-Cappella production company founded by Einat Shamir and Tal Shaked, Israel’s two leading female television entrepreneurs, Gunsberg is embarking on a new phase in his career. The Big Picture was devised by Nimrod Harel who has created and hosted several critically acclaimed productions. Home viewers can help studio contestants and share in their winnings.
GREEK PARL IAMENTAR IAN Vasiliki Katrivanou was in Israel last week at the invitation of Elana Rosenman, the founder and director of TRUST – Emun, a women-led non-profit organization that works towards building trust and mutual understanding in the Middle East.
Together with her Iraqi born friend Bushra Azzouz who is a filmmaker living in the United States, Katrivanou directed an inspiring documentary Women of Cyprus which has been screened in countries of conflict around the globe and has been previously screened in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Rosenman thought it appropriate for International Women’s Day and had it screened last Friday at the Jerusalem Cinematheque. The screening was attended by Israelis and Palestinians and included representatives from the Parents Circle Family Forum, a delegation of Druse women, Itach Maak (Women Lawyers for Social Justice), Jerusalem Peacemakers, Hard Path and the Jerusalem Hug. It was a pity that most of the audience left after the film and did not stay for the panel discussion. The Palestinians and the Druse did stay.
In 2003, in advance of a United Nations referendum to unite the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot sides of the island of Cyprus, the borders between the two sides were opened and people were able to cross and visit their old homes which they had not seen in almost 30 years. Katrivanou documented some of the meetings between Greek and Turkish Cypriots and illustrated how people on opposite sides can put a traumatic past behind them and relate to each other not only with dignity, understanding and respect, but also with affection.
The referendum failed, but another attempt is now being made, and Katrivanou is hopeful that this time it will succeed.
Israel also has inspiring stories as told by one of the panelists Dalia Landau who runs the Open House for peace education in Ramle. Landau, a lawyer by profession, has told the story countless times in many forums, but because it is so unique and inspirational, it remains forever fresh. Born in Bulgaria, she was one year old when her parents together with other European refugees, many with numbers on their arms, came to the nascent state. Her family was sent to a house in Ramle, where there was a pot of soup on the table. The soup was still warm. The original owners of the house had fled before they had time to eat it.
Fast forward, July 1967. Three young men, attired in suits and ties despite the summer heat, knocked at the gate, and asked whether they could come in. Dalia who was then 19 years old was alone at home and had to make a split second decision. The trio were after all the enemy. But she wondered what would happen if she went to knock at the door of her parents’ home in Bulgaria. Who would open the door? Would they let her inside? This ability to instantly put herself in the place of the other allowed her to invite the three young men inside.
She could sense their uneasiness, because to them she was the enemy.
One of the three was Bashir Al Khayri, whose family had owned the house. He wondered if he might be allowed to walk through it. Dalia saw no reason to refuse. “He walked through every room as if it was a shrine,” she said. He looked out of one of the windows and saw a lemon tree.
His father had planted the tree, he told Dalia. She promptly went outside, picked some lemons and made lemonade for all of them. There was an instant chemistry in the group that led to a lifelong friendship between Dalia and Bashir.
She visited his family in Ramallah and was showered with hospitality.
She also discovered how important the lemon tree was to Bashir’s father, and learned the truth behind some of the myths related to Arabs fleeing from Ramle in 1948. She felt guilty about living in a house which contrary to what she had been told had not been abandoned by the Al Khayri family. They had been expelled. She wanted to compensate them in some way but didn’t have sufficient funds.
The only way to raise enough money was to sell the house. She discussed this with Bashir and he told her that under no circumstances must she sell the house. It was spacious enough he told her, for part of it to be dedicated to promoting coexistence between Arabs and Jews.
That was how the Open House began. Some people call it the house with the lemon tree. It is a place where Jews and Arabs of all ages and backgrounds meet. It also provides educational and social opportunities for Arab children and their families in the Ramle-Lod district..
THE HARDEST thing for most people is to admit that they’re wrong or that they made a mistake. Professor Boaz Sangero, a leading authority on Criminal Law and the head of the Criminal Law & Criminology Department at the College of Law and Business, believes that thousands of prisoners languishing for years in Israeli jails are innocent, but that police and judges are unwilling to admit that they may have made a mistake.
While not certain whether Roman Zadarov is guilty or not of the murder in December, 2006 of 13-year-old school girl Tair Rada, Sangero notes that there is evidence to suggest that someone else may have been the perpetrator of the crime. Interviewed in relation to his latest book by Israel Radio’s Liat Regev, Sangero said that it was wrong to bring Zadarov, who recently appealed against his conviction, before the same court that had convicted him because regardless of testimony by expert witnesses that could raise doubts about Zadarov being the murderer, neither the judges nor the police would admit to being in error.
Sangero said that many innocent people confessed to crimes they did not commit because they were traumatized at being arrested and eventually gave in to aggressive interro gation coupled with sleep deprivation and separation from all that was familiar.
Zadarov also confessed but later retracted. Rada’s mother believes that the real killer is still running free and that Zadarov is a victim of circumstance.
Sangero can quote many instances both in Israel and elsewhere in which people were brow beaten into false confessions and even after DNA samples proved that the prisoners were nowhere near the scene of the crime, the police refused to backtrack.
Unfortunately the legal system no longer has people like the late Haim Cohn, who famously worked to free Amos Baranes who he believed had been wrongly convicted of the murder in 1974 of female soldier Rachel Heller. Baranes was convicted by the Haifa District Court and subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court stating that his confession was inadmissible because he had made it under duress after being physically and mentally coerced by police.
Cohn who had been the presiding judge together with Justices Eliyahu Mani and Yitzhak Cohen rejected the appeal and upheld the life sentence ruling of the Haifa District Court. Not long afterwards disturbing evidence of how the police had conducted the investigation came to light thanks to the efforts of Ezra Goldman, a retired police officer, who saw contradictions in the evidence and made it his mission in life to discover the truth. His findings came to Cohn’s attention as did brutal police methods in other cases.
There wasn’t much that Cohn could do until after his retirement in March, 1981. He then devoted himself to proving Baranes’ innocence, and succeeded in having the case re-examined by the Attorney General’s office.
He later approached Presidents Yitzhak Navon and Chaim Herzog to ask to have Baranes’ sentence commuted.
Herzog did commute the sentence from life to twelve years.
Baranes was released in June, 1983, still protesting his innocence and asking for a retrial. His request was repeatedly denied, once while still in prison and twice after his release. Finally in March, 2002, shortly before Cohn’s death, Justice Dalia Dorner agreed to a retrial, and Cohn was warm in the congratulatory letter that he sent to Baranes. In December of that year, Baranes was finally granted an acquittal by the Nazareth District Court.
Unfortunately Chaim Cohn was no longer alive to enjoy the fruits of his labors on Baranes’s behalf, but he left a great legacy with regard to the pursuit of justice.
Baranes was not the only person whom Cohen had convicted that the retired judge visited in jail. Raised in the strong belief that every human being has a soul, Cohn corresponded with every prisoner who wrote to him, and visited many of them.
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