Grapevine: Remembering slavery and resistance

Cohn premiere benefits Shaare Zedek, Baha’is celebrate new year and arias honor AACI donors.

  • ALTHOUGH HOLOCAUST Remembrance Day is officially commemorated on 27 Nisan, there are many people who link it with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which commenced on April 19, 1943, coinciding with 14 Nisan, the day before Pessah, an appropriate date for Jews to rise up against the Nazis, and more so in that year because it was also the day before Hitler’s birthday. Many Holocaust survivors made new lives for themselves here and in other parts of the world, and not only symbolized the strength of the spirit of survival, but also demonstrated that the horrors they had experienced did not rob them of their own humanity.
One such person is Klara Barkai, 82. At Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot, she’s known as Savta Klara – Grandma Klara. In fact she’s a great grandmother, and a very familiar face in the maternity ward. She terms her forays there as a personal triumph. She moves among all the new mothers distributing colorful, hand-knitted sweaters for their babies. A survivor of Auschwitz, she doesn’t knit for her great grandchildren. She leaves that to her daughter-in-law. But whenever a great grandchild is born or has a birthday, Klara celebrates the occasion by distributing the sweaters she has knitted.
This time, it was a little more difficult than previously, because during the past year she was involved in a serious car accident and suffered injuries to her head. Nonetheless to celebrate the third birthday of a great grandchild, she forced herself to go to the hospital and was glad that she did. “I love knitting,” she says, “and nothing gives me more pleasure than giving a sweater to a baby at the very beginning of its life.”
As a teenager she was put in a work force that dug ditches as places from which the Nazis could shoot or hide in the face of oncoming tanks. She started to knit here when she was pregnant with her first child. It worked out well and she’s been knitting ever since. Ten years ago she started distributing sweaters to newborn babies, and all the nurses in the maternity ward adore her. Tammy Mor, the head nurse in the maternity ward, says that Klara’s warmth and generosity of spirit instantly convey themselves to new mothers who are thrilled to receive the sweaters – and of course the nurses are always delighted to see her.
  • ANOTHER INSPIRATIONAL woman is Flora Jakob, a child survivor of Theresienstadt, who though now approaching her mid-70s remains a keen athlete, who exercises daily, swims and cycles. Jakob also wants to contribute to the well-being of others. In her case, she wants to do something for the Herzog Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma and hopes to participate with cyclists from here and abroad in the three-day cross-country Cycle for Hope in mid-April. Registration cost is $500 or NIS 2,000. In addition, each cyclist commits to raise a minimum of $2,000 or NIS 8,000 in sponsorship. All monies raised by the cyclists will go to ICTP projects that help trauma sufferers.
Jakob is a pensioner, and the cost of registration will put a heavy financial strain on her. She was born into an affluent Czech Jewish family whose wealth and connections enabled them to get out of their town the day before it was invaded by the Nazis. Led by her father, Flora, her mother and siblings went deep into the forest. They had nothing other than the clothes on their backs. In the forest they learned of an underground bunker where 200 Jews were hidden and they joined them, emerging only at night to search for food. They ate tree bark and leaves, but Flora remembers being constantly hungry and thirsty. That feeling of hunger remains constant. When the Nazis discovered the bunker, Flora and her mother were sent to Theresienstadt. It was the first time in her young life that she’d been separated from her father who together with her brothers was sent to Buchenwald.
Miraculously they all survived and were reunited after the war. They even went back to their old home. But nothing was the same in Europe any more, and when Flora was 12, the family came here. To blot out the horrific memories of what she had endured, she took up sports, with cycling as her favorite. It was her way to conquer depression and to prove that the Nazis could not destroy her determination.
  • POET, PLAYWRIGHT, author, journalist, broadcaster and lecturer Abraham Cykiert, who died just over a year ago, was an Auschwitz survivor who was haunted by his memories of the Lodz Ghetto and the seven members of his immediate family who did not survive. The bulk of his literary output was filled with those memories, as was his last will and testament, a book called Last Summer Days which he willed to Schneider Children’s Medical Center.
Cykiert spent most of his 83 years in Melbourne, Australia. He and his wife Margaret were not blessed with children, and the book is dedicated to “the children whose lives we can save” and in memory of “the children whose lives we could not save during the Holocaust.” Cykiert first visited Schneider in 2005 and was impressed. So he turned to Schneider and made a first donation of $7,000, $1,000 a year in memory of each of the seven members of his family who perished.
A year later, when Dr. Hannah Blau, head of Schneider’s Pulmonology Unit, was in Melbourne on a fund-raising mission, he met her and asked if she needed anything urgently. She told him that there was a need for equipment costing $165,000 for the pulmonary function test (mainly for youngsters with cystic fibrosis). Cykiert agreed to purchase it on condition that Schneider sign an agreement to accompany him on his final journey. He had purchased a plot at Har Hamenuhot cemetery in Jerusalem some 10 years earlier, and had the stone completed except for the date. Schneider sign, and when he died, a Schneider representative waited for the coffin at the airport, and attended the funeral. Another representative attended the consecration of the tombstone a month later.
The Pulmonary Unit was inaugurated in 2007, and Cykiert flew to Israel for the occasion. His book has been published by Schneider with some financial help from his niece Marsha Tauber and will be officially launched on April 14. It will be of special interest to survivors of the Lodz Ghetto as well as to second- and third-generation survivors and Holocaust historians.
  • FILM PRODUCER Arthur Cohn has won six best foreign film Oscars. He is probably best known here for The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, the story of a wealthy and aristocratic Italian Jewish family and the manner in which it was affected by the rise of Fascism in Italy. The family was sent to a concentration camp in Germany, and none of its members survived. Before the film won an Oscar, it was rejected by 31 distributors. It is now recognized as a classic.
Cohn, who likes to screen the Israeli premieres of his films for the benefit of Shaare Zedek Medical Center, did so for the 10th time last week, with the enormously sensitive film The Children of Hung Shi which is set against the backdrop of the 1937 Japanese invasion of China, and tells the true story of how a British journalist, an American nurse and a Chinese partisan took 60 orphan boys across war-torn China to freedom. Cohn even went to the trouble of tracing some of those orphans, now in their 80s, who remember the perilous trek in graphic detail.
In the audience was Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, who made a point of attending because of his family’s long friendship with Cohn. Herzog said that Cohn’s fan club is so extensive that everyone eagerly awaits his next film, because he is always so innovative. Herzog also praised Shaare Zedek for being an outstanding hospital. Shaare Zedek director-general Jonathan Halevy said to Cohn: “You represent the art of filmmaking at its best and Shaare Zedek represents the art of medicine at its best.”
Cohn, who was extremely appreciative of Herzog’s presence, spoke warmly of his father, Israel’s sixth president Chaim Herzog, the 13th anniversary of whose death had been commemorated the previous day. Cohn referred to him as “my mentor.” Acknowledging the presence of Swiss Ambassador Walter Haffner, Cohn who is a Swiss national, said that he hoped that Haffner would be influential in helping to change his country’s attitude toward Israel.
  • AMONG THE honorary consuls who were invited to the Foreign Ministry last week to get an update on anti-Semitism around the world was Josef Weiss, the honorary consul for Hungary. After listening to a list of anti-Semitic incidents around the globe, Weiss, who was the only pupil in his Jewish school of 400 youngsters to survive the Holocaust, got up angrily and declared that the people at the Foreign Ministry didn’t have a clue about anti-Semitism. “I was raised in it. I graduated in it,” he said. “When someone says something against Israel, it doesn’t have to be anti-Semitism. It may just be a simple criticism. But you people see anti-Semitism in everything.”
  • AFTER RECEIVING honorary doctorates from the Hebrew University and Bar-Ilan University, Father Patrick Desbois, founder and president of Yahad-In Unum, France, will receive the Ladislaus Laszt Ecumenical and Social Concern Award at a ceremony at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev on April 12. Desbois, secretary to the French Conference of Bishops for Relations with Judaism and adviser to the Vatican on Jewish religion, is the grandson of a man deported during World War II to the Rawa Ruska camp. It was this family legacy which spurred him to investigate, discover and identify more than 900 previously unknown mass grave sites of nearly 1.5 million East European Jews murdered by the Nazis.
  • FIFTH PRESIDENT Yitzhak Navon was at the festivities marking Naw Ruz, the beginning of the Baha’i year, but President Shimon Peres, who was unable to attend the event at Jerusalem’s David Citadel Hotel, sent a message complimenting the Baha’i International Community for bringing “life to flowers and flowers into our lives.” Baha’i secretary-general Albert Lincoln, in reference to the flowers in the famed Baha’i gardens, spoke of the harmonious and joyous mingling of colors and textures which have a much better effect than one strain, and likened them to humanity in the sense that people from different religious and ethnic backgrounds come together in a harmonious blend in accordance with the Baha’i principle of oneness, which views all human beings as being of the same standing. Baha’i also seeks to eliminate prejudice, he said.
Eyal Gabbai, director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, represented the government and noted some of the similarities between the Baha’i and Jewish faiths. “This is not a country of three religions, but of four,” he said, including Baha’i with Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Gabbai who came to his present position from the Israel justice system, praised Baha’i’s House of Justice “which defends the dignity of the human race.”
  • ALTHOUGH IT’S par for the course for the president’s military aide to accompany him in the performance of his official duties, at the close of Independence Day this year Brig.-Gen. Hasson Hasson will have a more personal reason for accompanying President Shimon Peres to the annual Israel Prize awards ceremony. Hasson’s father-in-law Kamal Mansour, who has been minorities’ affairs adviser to presidents for four decades, will be one of the Israel Prize recipients.
Mansour, who has lectured here and abroad on the importance of integrating minorities into mainstream society, will receive the prize in recognition of his lifelong contribution to cross-cultural and inter-communal integration.
  • INCREASING NUMBERS of people are beginning to appreciate opera thanks to the efforts of Michael Ajzenstadt, the artistic administrator of the Israeli Opera who brings talented young singers to a variety of events all over the country to perform a few arias which introduce opera to the uninitiated, and bring great joy to opera buffs. Ajzenstadt’s entertaining patter between arias is another draw.
Earlier this month, he brought a group of wonderful singers and actresses to Jerusalem for a special concert in the new premises of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) held in honor of the major donors to the new premises, Max and Gianna Glassman of Canada, for whom the whole evening was a highly emotional experience. The concert recital was the first part of the program, and gave Ajzenstadt the opportunity to promote the opera’s upcoming production of La Juive.
The recital was followed by an address by Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel, a native New Yorker who now lives in Beersheba. Hendel, who has the ability to laugh at himself, shared reminiscences of his own trials and tribulations in making aliya, especially his language difficulties which initially prompted him to look for another profession. The message for any new immigrant was to persevere, to be flexible, to be open to new ideas, but not to the extent of doing something you don’t want to do. Obviously popular in Beersheba, Hendel was heartened by the AACI delegation from there that came to give him moral support.
  • LAST YEAR, soon after making aliya, Rabbi Ari Berman, the long-time spiritual leader of the Jewish Center in New York, one of the flagship institutions of modern Orthodoxy, gave the Shabbat Hagadol lecture at Jerusalem’s Yeshurun Synagogue. The well-attended event was co-sponsored by the Jerusalem Great Synagogue. It looks as if this is going to be an annual event for Berman. Over the past year his reputation as a thought provoking speaker has spread, and he was invited to return.
People from more than half a dozen other congregations crowded in to hear him talk about the need for the Orthodox (including haredi) community to be less isolationist and to find common ground with secular Jews before they assimilate to the extent that they will be entirely lost to Judaism. This was particularly vital with regard to Jerusalem, he emphasized, because if secular Jews are alienated by haredim instead of being welcomed, they will not identify with Jerusalem as their capital, but will see it as a haredi capital.
  • HIS FATHER is one of the most famous and sought after people in the world, but whereas the law stipulates that his father can serve only one term in office, the son is not bound by such restrictions. Thus Chemi Peres has been elected for a second term as chairman of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. When he was elected the first time, he declined the title of president, explaining that one President Peres was enough.
  • THE MANY friends that he’s made in Israel will be sorry to see the extremely personable Gonzalo Voto Bernales, minister counsellor at the Embassy of Peru, as he winds up his tour of duty in the summer. Bernales has been reassigned to Atlanta, Georgia, but before taking up his new post in August, he will go home to get married. When it was suggested to him that he could get married here and invite the whole diplomatic community as well as the friends he has beyond diplomatic circles, he explained that he can’t get married here, because unlike the case with many other embassies, Peruvian ambassadors do not have the right to perform marriage ceremonies. But he promised to have a post-wedding party before he takes his final leave.
  • BRITISH AMBASSADOR Tom Phillips, who is also in the process of completing his tour of duty, has a long roster of farewells ahead of him. So many people want to host farewell receptions in his honor that he can’t find any more open slots in his diary.
  • REGARDLESS OF how one feels about her politics or her leadership,it was on the cards that opposition leader Tzipi Livni would feature asat least one of the Women of the Decade in the art exhibition at YadLebanim in Ramat Hasharon that opened this month. Among the other womendepicted by the 31 artists were MK Shelly Yacimovich, businesswoman andphilanthropist Shari Arison, advertising guru Gimmel Yafit and singerNinet Taib. Livni and some of the other subjects showed up at theopening and were greeted by Deputy Mayors Meir Doron and Sara Evin.
  • MAY IS going to be a very happy month for lawyer Dov Weisglass,who was a senior adviser and bureau chief to prime minister ArielSharon. He is due to become a grandfather three times over in the samemonth. Each of his three daughters is due to give birth at more or lessthe same time.