Grapevine: Monuments of a special kind

Many people who rise from anonymity to fame and glory tend to forget their roots; not so former Miss Israel Titi Aynaw.

Titi Aynaw, former Miss Israel, joins in painting a wall. (photo credit: NIMROD GLIKMAN)
Titi Aynaw, former Miss Israel, joins in painting a wall.
(photo credit: NIMROD GLIKMAN)
Next Thursday, a sculpture exhibition of works by Holocaust survivor Samuel Willenberg, 91, will open at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum.
Willenberg, who was born in Czestochowa, Poland, and was one of the organizers of the Treblinka Revolt, is believed to be the last living survivor of Treblinka; his sculptures are monuments to those who did not survive. Recollecting the faces of family, friends and acquaintances, Willenberg has for years incorporated their likenesses into his works. One of his works is on permanent display in the garden of the President’s Residence.
Immediately following the Nazi invasion, Willenberg joined the Polish Army and in a skirmish with the Red Army, was severely wounded, captured and hospitalized.
Three months later, he escaped and reconnected with his mother and sisters who were living in Radosc, which is now part of Warsaw. In 1940 they moved to Opatow, where his father, an artist, was engaged in painting synagogue murals.
Around this period, the Nazis began to establish ghettos across Poland, and a year later introduced their barbarous extermination plan – by deporting Jews from the ghettos to concentration camps, many of which became death camps. The Willenbergs managed to secure Aryan papers and return to their hometown of Czestochowa. Samuel Willenberg, and his sisters Ita and Tamara, were among the 40,000 Jews who were rounded up and forced into the Czestochowa Ghetto. Somehow, their mother managed to rescue them and send them back to Opatow, but it was a futile exercise because soon after, they were among 6,500 prisoners from the Opatow Ghetto who were placed on a train bound for Treblinka.
Following his escape from Treblinka, Willenberg made his way to Warsaw and joined the Polish underground resistance, participating with them in the Warsaw Uprising.
After the war, he served in the Polish Army, and in 1947 helped locate Jewish children who had been cared for by Polish non-Jews.
He came to Israel in 1950 with his mother and his wife, Ada, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Despite their separate ordeals, the Willenbergs are remarkably positive and high-spirited people, who are frequently invited to lecture in Poland and Germany. Willenberg is regarded as a hero in Poland, and has received several military and civilian decorations.
■ EARLIER THIS month, a delegation of Polish academics from Czestochowa came to Israel as guests of the Association of Czestochowa Jews in Israel, and met with their counterparts in Israeli universities with a view to strengthening academic ties. The group included senior lecturers from Jan Dlugosz University of Czestochowa, headed by Prof. Jerzy Mizgalski and vice dean Dr. Przemyslaw Sznurkowski, who also met with people from the Israel-Poland Friendship Association – one of whose members is Krakow-born Holocaust survivor Marcel Goldman.
When they heard the story of how Goldman had survived on Aryan papers, they immediately invited him to come speak to students at the University of Czestochowa.
It was one of those spontaneous events and a few days later, on March 13, Goldman found himself in front of a microphone at the very university. His lecture generated so much interest that students were literally sitting on the stairs, because all the chairs in the auditorium had been filled.
Goldman said that he was gratified by the genuine curiosity of the students, who not only wanted to know his personal story but to also hear about life in Israel.
■ ANYONE TRYING to contact Israeli ambassadors or embassies abroad by email may receive a similar message to that put out from Pretoria by Arthur Lenk, Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, whose wife Ruth is a former chief graphic artist of The Jerusalem Post. The automatic out-of-office reply in English and Hebrew reads: Thank you for your message.
We would like to share with you that Israeli diplomats and employees of Foreign Ministry are currently engaged in a labor dispute. As a result, I may not be able to respond to this message or other requests.
Our struggle is an attempt to strengthen the Israeli Foreign Service as a major contributor to national security, to its ability to promote Israeli values and interests, and to give better service to Israeli citizens.
I apologize for any inconvenience.
Warm regards, Arthur Lenk The message does not explain that for the past decade, there has been no pay raise for Israeli diplomats serving abroad, even though the cost of living in the countries to which they are sent may have risen astronomically in that period. One of the major grievances is the lack of remuneration to spouses accompanying diplomats, who often sacrifice careers in Israel and take on duties in the embassy or the consulate for little or no pay, and are not compensated after they return home. In countries in which there are Jewish communities, the spouses are also expected to liaise on Israel’s behalf.
The sanctions taken by Foreign Ministry staff after months of failed negotiations have left many Israelis stranded abroad; reduced tourism from countries in which visas are required to enter Israel; put civil weddings on hold, since the non-Jewish partner may not be able to reenter Israel without a visa; and have, of course, affected diplomatic relations, because Foreign Ministry staff are not attending to visits by foreign dignitaries.
These sanctions, plus those carried out by staff at the Israel Broadcasting Authority, can be directly traced to the Finance Ministry – which in the case of the IBA has reneged on signed agreements, and in the case of the Foreign Ministry has proven to be totally inflexible and lacking in understanding.
There was a time when the best and brightest wanted to be part of Israel’s Foreign Service, and it wasn’t just because they wanted to see the world – but because they genuinely wanted to serve Israel’s interests abroad. But now, many are leaving because they can’t make ends meet.
It’s up to Finance Minister Yair Lapid to decide whether he wants the Foreign Ministry to be a model of diplomatic intellect and achievement, or whether it should be renamed the Ministry of Mediocrity.
■ RETIRED DIPLOMATS and their spouses write books.
Dancing with the Ambassador by Michelle Mazel, the wife of retired ambassador Zvi Mazel, has previously been mentioned in this column.
Around the same time as her book was published, that of Zvi Gabay, who was Israel’s first resident ambassador to Ireland, was published and launched.
The Iraqi-born Gabay, who is also a former deputy director-general of the Foreign Ministry, thought that the most appropriate place for the launch of his book was the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda, especially as the title of the book is From Baghdad to the Pathways of Diplomacy – A Personal Story.
Among those attending the launch were BJHC founder and president Mordechai Ben-Porat, who is a former government minister; Eli Avidar, who headed the now-defunct Israel representative office in Qatar; Israel-Ireland Friendship League chairman Malcolm Gafson; and of course, Gabay’s famous brother, prize-winning actor Sasson Gabay.
In the book, Gabay recounts his long diplomatic career, which includes postings to the US, Australia and elsewhere. He continues to maintain close ties with the US, Irish and Australian embassies, and with the IIFL. After autographing a book for Gafson, he voiced the hope that an English version would eventuate.
■ EVERY CLOUD has a silver lining – even the clouds that hover over the head of Shula Zaken, the longtime bureau chief of former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
Zaken had reason to smile for more reasons than one on Purim. The festival coincided with the circumcision ceremony for her grandson, and she invited lots of friends – who have not deserted her, and have been supportive throughout the trial – to come celebrate the happy occasion with her.
Olmert, who attended nearly all of her previous family celebrations, was not invited.
■ MOST OF the dancers who greeted Likud MK Reuven Rivlin with glad cries of welcome wore large kippot, indicating they were either yeshiva students or members of a religious youth movement, or possibly both – but it didn’t bother them in the least that Rivlin was bareheaded. They were just happy that the presidential hopeful had done what he would have done if he were president – and that was to identify with that sector of the nation under threat.
As such, Rivlin went to Sderot to join in the Purim celebrations, and was immediately dragged into the circle of dancers – and had a great time dancing with them. Rivlin told the youngsters: “You are the youth who are a source of encouragement to the whole of Israel, because when you celebrate the festival with joy, you are telling whoever threatens us that they can’t frighten us.” In response, the young dancers began singing Ruby Ruby Neshama, which is more or less equivalent to calling him a soul brother.
In 1993, during the presidency of Ezer Weizman, Israel’s northern border communities were under attack from Hezbollah. Weizman, a former chief of the Israel Air Force, insisted on traveling to the North, mixing with residents and sleeping with them in bomb shelters, or with soldiers in army bunkers.
■ ALUT, THE Israeli Society for Autistic Children, is marking its 40th anniversary, and this week held a tribute evening at the Givatayim Theater for parents and founders of the organization – whose first chairwoman was Leah Rabin, whose name remains inextricably linked with the organization.
Among those who attended were current chairman Meir Shani; Izzy and Yael Borovich; outgoing CEO of the Dan Hotels chain Ami Hirschtein, one of the founders of Alut; Eli Alalouf, who is associated with numerous social welfare organizations and projects; Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes; Dr.
Shimshon Shoshani; and Hila and Rani Rahav, who aside from their devotion to Alut were part of the “extended family” of Rabin, and keep her memory alive no less than her biological family.
■ LOTS OF children, especially boys, want to follow in their father’s footsteps. Rafael Asulin, a captivating six-and-a-half year old from Jerusalem, is no exception. His father, Moshe, is a volunteer with United Hatzalah, and for the past three years Rafael has been watching his dad ride off on his ambucycle several times a day in his quest to save lives. That’s what Rafael wants to do when he’s old enough, but he has a tough road to hoe before that. Since he was six months old, Rafael has been battling cancer.
For Purim, his father decided to surprise him and made him a model of his own ambucycle, complete with all the accessories: an electric motorcycle, United Hatzalah uniform and first aid kit. The delight on Rafael’s face was all the reward that Moshe Asulin could have wanted – and Rafael could barely wait to try out his gift.
■ TO CELEBRATE the introduction to the Israeli market of Chivas Regal 25, a rare blend of the finest Scotch whiskeys, British Ambassador Matthew Gould hosted a reception at his residence in Ramat Gan, where guests of honor included Pierre Pringuet, vice chairman of the board and CEO of Pernod Ricard SA; Christian Porta, CEO of Pernod Ricard EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa); Colin Scott, the master blender for Chivas Regal, who has spent 40 years in the whiskey industry; and Tempo chairman Jack Ber.
Among the other guests were Rami and Adina Levy, Adi Strauss, Benny and Anat Padani, Guy Baram and Haim Spiegel, the food and beverage manager of the Dan Hotels chain.
It’s not certain how many of the guests were driven home by someone who had not sampled the Chivas Regal-based cocktails or whether they went home by cab, but they all had a happy evening, enhanced by a performance by singer Marina Maximillian Blumin.
■ ISRAELIS USED to identify so strongly with America, that there was a joke suggesting that Israel was preparing to be the 51st state of the US. But these days, it seems as if Israel is more likely to become a province of China.
Not only are the Chinese buying into and buying up major Israeli business enterprises, but they also have: multi-million-dollar joint ventures with Israeli companies, promoted Chinese studies at Israeli universities, engaged in extravagant cultural exchanges, aggressively and successfully promoted tourism to China, and sent their workers to Israel to show how to get the job done quickly and efficiently.
Now, in the realm of Chinese studies, there’s an added dimension via the Chinese media center at the School of Media Studies at the College of Management – Academic Studies in Rishon Lezion. The center had its first public event this week, with a talk by Prof. Susan L.
Shirk of the University of California, San Diego’s School of International Relations and Pacific Studies.
Shirk, who is a former deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs, with responsibility for China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mongolia, based her address on recent trends in the Chinese media and Internet, and their implications for foreign and domestic policy.
Moderator was Chinese media center director Alexander B. Pevzner, and in the audience was Ambassador to China Matan Vilna’i.
Media center students will endeavor to maintain an ongoing dialogue with the Chinese media, and will conduct cutting-edge research into Chinese media systems and outlets.
■ SEVERAL ISRAELI chefs who were in Paris last week for the Europain world bakery, pastry, ice cream, chocolate and confectionery trade show met with internationally renowned French celebrity chef Joel Robuchon, who in 1989 was named chef of the century by the Gault Millau guide to gourmet restaurants. Israeli Chefs Association president Leon Menachem presented a medal to Robuchon, who has been to Israel and who had highly complimentary things to say about Israeli cuisine and the standards of Israeli restaurants.
Also in Paris was Jackie Hazan, head of the Israel Chefs Association’s patisserie and boulangerie division, who was invited to be a judge in the pastry and bread contest.
As far as anyone can remember, this is the first time that an Israeli has been invited to serve as a Europain judge. The winners were Yuki Nagata of Japan for the best bread, Hakan Johansson of Sweden for the best Viennese pastry and Antoine Robillard of France for the best artistic creation.
■ IT’S NOT at all certain that Jerusalem invitees to a lecture by journalist and author Lihi Lapid, in honor of the Our Children Foundation of Schneider Children’s Medical Center for Israel – which is being hosted this Friday by Julie Fisher, wife of US Ambassador Dan Shapiro – will be able to make the journey to Herzliya Pituah. Most of Jerusalem’s main arteries will be closed to traffic, so as not to interfere with the Jerusalem Marathon.
Considering that a very large percentage of Jerusalem’s population is modern Orthodox to haredi and for the most part does its Shabbat shopping on Friday, it is most unfair of Mayor Nir Barkat, an enthusiastic marathon runner himself, to make life difficult for so many thousands of people. Last year, senior citizens from different parts of the city could be seen trudging to market, because there were no buses on the main streets.
King David Street, King George Avenue and Keren Hayesod Street are always closed for super VIP guests, for the marathon, and for the Jerusalem march during the intermediate days of Succot; Jaffa Road and Ruppin Avenue will also be closed. For many Jerusalemites, this will be like living under siege, because there is no escape route.
Moreover, traffic also stops for five, 10 or even 15 minutes when the prime minister is coming or going.
It isn’t fair that all the people who live in or close to these main streets should have to suffer all the time.
They’re living in an upscale area, for which high rates and taxes are charged – and they deserve a little more consideration.
■ WHEN HIS father, sister-in-law and brother made their individual trips to Israel, they were front-page news in most of Israel’s print media.
Although Texas oil and finance tycoon Neil Bush looks unmistakably like his dad and brother, who each served as US president, the less political Bush came to Israel without any fanfare, and brought his four children with him.
Bush asked for no special treatment when they stayed at Mitzpe Hayimim, but preferred to go out into the farm area and spend time with the gardeners, cattle hands and goatherds. He happily said he felt like he was back on the ranch in Texas; given the size of Texas and the Bush holdings, it was surely a tongue-in-cheek remark.
■ CONTRARY TO political propaganda, many men in the haredi community do work and do serve in the army. From the original 30 soldiers in the haredi Nahal unit, more than 1,800 soldiers have enlisted. That may seem like small potatoes in comparison to the number of haredim who are eligible for army service, but they all enlisted before the enactment of the sharing the burden legislation.
In other words, they were not pressured to enlist. They did so voluntarily and now, after completing their threeyear stint, some have jobs and some have their own businesses, while others are either studying full-time, or combining work and study – and are not the parasites that some politicians make them out to be. Indeed, documentaries screened last week on Channel 1’s Second Look program showed haredim in combat units, as well as in clerical jobs in the IDF.
However, generally speaking in the haredi community, women still tend to be the breadwinners so that their husbands can be free to study Torah.
Not everyone in secular circles understands how proud a haredi wife is when she can support her husband’s studies with money that she earns for the upkeep of the family.
It is not a sacrifice on her part, but an honor and a privilege.
Early this month, 150 female graduates of the Haredi Center for Professional Training in Bnei Brak received their certificates at a ceremony attended by Mayor Hanoch Zeibert.
The women are now equipped to enter the job market in the fields of industrial and interior design, accountancy and office management, including managing physicians’s offices, and payroll tax calculation.
Some even graduated in drama.
Zeibert said he was proud to have such a center in Bnei Brak, where hundreds of woman were provided with the knowledge and skills that would enable them to support Torah homes.
■ MANY PEOPLE who rise from anonymity to fame and glory tend to forget their roots. Not so former Miss Israel Titi Aynaw, who came to Israel as an orphaned child of Gondar and grew up in Netanya’s Ethiopian community. Despite her circumstances, she graduated high school and served as a lieutenant in the Military Police Corps of the IDF.
Aynaw made many important contacts during the year in which she served Israeli interests at home and abroad in her capacity as Miss Israel, and now uses these connections to help young Ethiopians improve their quality of life through formal and informal education. She works in close cooperation with the Netanya Foundation and New York based Artists4Israel, and joined the latter in conveying important messages by painting the walls of Netanya’s Neot Shaked community center, one of her projects on behalf of Ethiopian youth.
Artists4Israel goes around the world painting valuable murals. Netanya Mayor Miriam Feirberg- Ikar said she was thrilled that they had come to Netanya and left their imprint.
■ WHEN HE visits Israel this coming May, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks will have a busy schedule, plus considerable kudos.
On Thursday, May 27, at a festive ceremony at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, he will receive the Katz Prize, awarded annually by the Katz Family Foundation in memory of Golda Katz, the family matriarch. At the Shabbat service at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue on May 31, he will deliver the sermon, and on June 2, he will receive the Guardian of Zion Award at a festive dinner at the King David, and will also deliver the Guardian of Zion lecture.
A Katz Family Foundation award will also be presented to Yeshiva University rosh yeshiva Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Nathan and Vivian Fink Distinguished Professorial Chair in Talmud at the YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.