Grapevine: Say it with a song

Jerusalem Cantors Choir wows 'em in Romania.

Edward Grach 311 (photo credit: Sarit Uzieli)
Edward Grach 311
(photo credit: Sarit Uzieli)
THE SLOGAN for Interflora is “Say it with flowers,” but local choirs have discovered that you can influence people and win even more friends with music. After the success in England of Ramatayim choir, and that in Poland of the Jerusalem Great Synagogue Choir, comes the success in Romania of the Jerusalem Cantors Choir, under the musical direction of Cantor Binyamin Glickman, and managed by Yair Plesser. Singing their way through the Jewish communities of Bucharest, Brashov and Oradea, they performed to full houses in the great synagogues of Bucharest and Brashov, and in the Philharmonia Hall of Oradea. There were also television appearances in each city, including interviews and filming of the concerts.
The Bucharest concert, in the presence of Chief Rabbi Sorin Shlomo Rosen, was hosted by the new community president Erwin Simsensohn.
In Brashov, the second largest city in Romania, the choir was hosted by influential Jewish community president Tibi Roth, who is Romania’s representative to the World Jewish Congress.
Among the highlights of the tour was the Shabbat service and a concert on the following day in Oradea, where Rabbi Asher Ehrenfeld of Debrecen, Hungary, came to celebrate the jubilee of his bar mitzva in the same synagogue where he had read his Torah portion 50 years earlier. It was an emotional occasion for everyone present. Ehrenfeld had hosted the choir in Debrecen in 2008.
On the return flight, a group of Israeli senior citizens of Romanian origin, who had been at the concert in Oradea, excitedly surrounded Glickman, and told him how meaningful it had been for them to hear Israeli songs and to join in singing “Hatikva” in the very place from which Jews were sent to the death camps some 65 years previously.
The Jerusalem Cantors Choir has been in existence for almost 40 years, and has recorded 14 CDs and DVDs of concerts with many of the most famous cantors in the world. Among its 30 members from Jerusalem and the surrounding area is renowned physicist Prof. Joseph Bodenheimer, president emeritus of the Jerusalem College of Technology. After completing his 16 years of tenure last year, Bodenheimer discovered that there is life after academia and returned to the choir where he had last sung 20 years earlier. The choir’s piano accompanist is Rita Feldman, a Russian immigrant who arrived 20 years ago, not knowing a word of Hebrew. Glickman gave Feldman her first job here.
■ THERE WERE certain changes at this year’s Bastille Day festivities hosted in his Jaffa residence by French Ambassador Christophe Bigot and his wife Valerie. Perhaps because of economic constraints, the menu was mainly fruit and cheeses. There were rumbles of dissatisfaction among guests who’ve been regulars at French receptions and were disappointed by the absence of meat platters, but what really took the cake was the ransacking of the kosher section.
Presumably to ensure, admirably, that there would be no infringements on Jewish dietary law, the kosher section was set up in advance of the other buffet bars. So early comers, even though they had been given a diagram of the layout where the word Cacher appeared in large letters in the center, nonetheless swooped on the goodwill gesture to the Jewish religiously observant, as a result of which many of the people for whom these refreshments were specifically intended, missed out.
Another change was that instead of speaking from the center of the garden patio as was always the case in the past, Bigot and President Shimon Peres spoke from a stage erected at the far end of the garden, and had to push their way through hordes of people to get there. There was also live music with a live singer, which was a pleasant change; what remained constant was the humidity.
To the applause of the crowd, Bigot launched into his address in Hebrew, which of course caused Peres to begin his in French.
However it didn’t take too long for Bigot to switch to French.
Invoking the Bastille Day slogan of liberty, equality and fraternity, Bigot said that the French Revolution was a key factor in contributing to the emancipation of the Jews in Europe. There was mention of the peace process and the sanctions against Iran and, as always, the declaration of France’s solidarity with Gilad Schalit, who is also a French citizen.
Bigot said that President Nicolas Sarkozy is in constant contact with Noam Schalit, the father of the abducted soldier.
Peres, who is a known Francophile, thanked the French for supporting Israel in the most difficult of times and helping it to conquer its enemies. He also lauded Sarkozy for his clearly stated position on Iran and praised the work that France is doing in its efforts to contribute to comprehensive Middle East peace. Peres cited the hospital the French are constructing in Gaza, and a hitech center in Jericho as examples of the French contribution. “So long as things getter better for the Palestinians, they’ll get better for everyone else,” he said.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not attend, but telephoned Bigot to offer his congratulations.
■ MEMBERS OF the Piotrokov Landsmanschaft gathered at the elegant Mishan retirement village in Afeka (where one of them is employed) to celebrate the 83rd birthday of twin brothers Yeshayahu (Shaya) and Yoel Brandwein, who survived Auschwitz and Mathausen and now live in Tel Aviv. The amiable twins, along with many of those present, including second- and third-generation Holocaust survivors, were in Piotrokov in June for a Shabbaton, a series of remembrance ceremonies, a tour of the town and an attempt to find additional documentary evidence of family roots. For most of the time, the twins and Dina Shultz-Horowitz, their friend from school days, kept telling jokes or exchanging childhood reminiscences and laughing uproariously. Thus when Netanel Yechieli, who had led the tour to Poland, was considering an appropriate birthday gift, he gave each brother a copy of the book If Not for Humor, We Would Have Committed Suicide by Dr. Chaya Ostower. The book is based on her PhD thesis “Humor as a defense mechanism in the Holocaust.” The twins said it was a perfect choice.
Recalling the recent trip to Poland, they related that at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, they were approached by a young woman who asked if they were from Piotrokov. When they nodded assent, she asked if they remembered a certain girl. They did. The young woman didn’t waste time. The person she had mentioned was her grandmother.
She immediately called her on her cellphone.
There was an emotional conversation between the woman and the twins.
She asked what hotel they were staying at.
They told her, and 20 minutes later there was an even more emotional reunion.
Together with Shultz-Horowitz, they talked late into the night.
Uri Schwartz of Jerusalem coincidentally met a non-Jew who asked if he knew Jews from Piotrokov. When Schwartz replied in the affirmative, the man talked about a boy who had been in his class at school.
The boy turned out to be Schwartz’s father, who lives in Sweden.
■ FOR YEARS Netanel Yechieli’s father Yeshayahu Yechieli of Alon Shvut had no idea where the great grandfather for him he is named was buried. Then a few years back, he discovered that he is buried in the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw. Yechieli, who has led youth groups to Poland, visited the cemetery on several occasions but couldn’t find the grave. This time luck was with him, and even though the area was heavily overgrown with weeds, he finally succeeded in his quest. It was the first time since 1938, that a member of the family had visited the grave and recited psalms.
Yechieli, who has strong roots in Piotrokov, was also proud of the fact that this was where the study of the Daf Yomi was introduced in 1934 by Rabbi Meir Shapiro. What was floated as a trial balloon to bring Jews together for a common purpose now has tens of thousands of adherents around the world, he said, recalling that at the airport in Warsaw while waiting to board the plane back to Israel, he had studied a Daf Yomi with the Brandwein twins.
■ THOUGH IT defies the imagination, not all those responsible for saving or hiding Jews during the Holocaust years have been recognized. There are probably thousands of people who deserve the title of Righteous among the Nations who will never be recognized. Many are recognized posthumously, when it is already too late to say thank you. And although their next of kin may be pleased to receive a medal, and in some cases a trip to Israel, it’s not the same. A series of diplomats from the Philippines had a long and difficult task in getting Israel to recognize the fact that the Philippines by presidential edict opened its gates to refugee Jews and was even prepared to give them land.
Now it’s the long overdue turn of El Salvador, whose consul-general in Geneva, Jose Arturo Castellanos, and his Hungarian Jewish secretary, George Mandel-Mantello, who had been given Salvadorian citizenship, saved tens of thousands of European Jews by providing them with documents attesting to the fact that they were Salvadorian citizens. The wheels for recognizing Castellanos as a Righteous among the Nations were put into motion as far back as March 1989 by then El Salvador ambassador Enrique Guttfreund after hearing the story from Mantello himself and historian David Kranzler. It took until this month, with considerable urging on the part of Holocaust survivors who received Salvadorian citizenship, for Castellanos to be officially recognized by Yad Vashem.
In advance of the official ceremony in El Salvador, Ambassador Suzana Gun de Hasenson hosted a reception, where guests included three recipients of Salvadorian citizenship who had come to pay tribute to Castellanos. They were Budapest-born Prof. Itzhak Meir and brothers Jules and Shmuel Goldschmidt, who in the confusion of Jewish geography had been French citizens born in Leipzig.
Shmuel Goldschmidt came with a copy of his El Salvador passport issued on August 24, 1943. Neither Meir nor the Goldschmidts put their passports to use, but Meir said that having one gave him a tremendous feeling of security during the most difficult and dangerous of times.
Mantello’s son, Enrico, 80, who these days divides his time between Geneva and Rome, flew in for the occasion and recalled his first meeting with Castellanos, when as boy of 13 he had accompanied his father to the Salvadorian consulate. Castellanos had opened his arms wide in greeting and had embraced father and son. “I’m the only surviving witness,” said Enrico Mantello as he told the story of how his father and voluntary Swiss clerks worked day and night to complete the lifesaving certificates of citizenship. Mantello sent out notarized copies and kept the originals. Five years ago a suitcase containing more than a thousand such certificates was found in a basement in Geneva and handed over to Enrico Mantello, who in turn donated them to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Larry Pfeffer, who had been in Budapest in 1943, lamented the fact that Jews have not seen fit to properly recognize George Mantello and others like him.
It was very important to give recognition to Jews who saved Jews, he said. Dr.
Menashe Rosenfeld, the honorary consul for El Salvador, put in a telephone call to Castellanos’s daughter Freda Garcia in El Salvador, and had Meir, the Goldschmidt brothers, Gun de Hasenson and Mantello talk to her. Garcia said she was grateful for the honors being bestowed on her late father, but added that he never expected any reward. He believed that anyone in his position would have done the same, she said, and he never really talked about it.
She was 20 the first time she ever heard the story.
■ LONG BEFORE fashion photographer Adi Barkan launched his crusade against coercing models to starve themselves into anorexia, fashion company ml recognized that being too skinny was a dangerous thing and that the human clothes horse with the fuller figure was just as attractive, perhaps even more so, than the model with matchstick proportions. Thus when Israelis finally began to realize that overzealous dieting is a sign of an eating disorder, and set up a nonprofit organization called Beitcha to help people with eating disorders, ml immediately signed up as a supporter.
Beitcha operates a facility inside a Tel Aviv apartment on Rehov Yehuda Hamaccabee.
To create greater awareness of the problem, ml together with Beitcha held a pizza and wine party at the Sublet Roof Lounge overlooking the Tel Aviv-Jaffa shoreline. Avi Malcha, the founder and CEO of ml, which specializes in larger sizes, said that as a company involved with the community, ml decided to become engaged with Beitcha because there are some 150,000 people in the country with severe eating disorders. “We decided to introduce a new norm in all our advertising by featuring models who were not thin.”
In this context, Malcha said he was very pleased to have Hollywood actress Noa Tishbi as the company’s presenter. Tishbi, who came home from Hollywood for the occasion, said that during her teenage years when she first started out as a model, prospective employers would often say to her: “You’re so beautiful, what a shame that you’re a little too heavy. Can’t you make an effort to lose some weight?” It was a terrible thing to hear that all the time as a teenager, she said. But she never heard comments like that at ml.
Television and radio personality Merav Michaeli, who is also well rounded and who chairs Beitcha, underscored that people are too busy with their external appearance.
It’s not just a weight thing. It’s also trying to look tall, with too many women ruining their feet by wearing impossibly high heels. The inner person is much more important than the outer, she said.
Avigail Pearl, who appeared in the television series Survivor, spoke of the agonies of wanting to be thin and of learning to accept oneself as one is. Pearl had an acute eating disorder, underwent treatment and is now eating properly and looking good. Among the celebrities attending the event were models Becky Griffin and Maayan Keret, singer/songwriter Zvika Pik and actor and filmmaker Assi Dayan.
■ DESPITE THE intermittent efforts of certain defense ministers and chiefs of General Staff to close down Army Radio, the station is getting ready to celebrate its 60th anniversary with a huge reunion to include anyone and everyone who ever worked there in any capacity. Many top broadcasters got their start at Army Radio, and others who had the potential for being great broadcasters chose another profession. A prime example is Inon Shenkar, an excellent newsman, who decided to follow his father into medicine, but whereas his father’s field is gynecology, the focus of the younger Dr.
Shenkar is AIDS. Last week, Roi Antebi, another fine reporter, wound up his term with Army Radio, got his discharge and is about follow Shenkar’s example and to study medicine. Antebi comes from a dynasty of medical practitioners.
■ AFTER MORE than a decade in the political wilderness, former Shas leader Aryeh Deri was all set for a comeback during the Jerusalem municipal elections, but the law was against him. There are still people who are trying to find legal constraints to prevent his return to the political arena, but Deri is going ahead and making public appearances at political forums and organizing meetings with important diplomats, such as Egyptian Ambassador Yasser Reda and French Ambassador Christophe Bigot with whom he met this week.
■ ADMIRERS OF Menachem Begin will get together at the IZL museum on the seam of Tel Aviv-Jaffa this coming Thursday night to celebrate the 97th anniversary of his birth. Begin usually celebrated his birthday on Shabbat Nahamu, the first Sabbath after Tisha Be’av. When he was prime minister, the chefs of the Jerusalem Plaza Hotel, dressed in their sparkling white uniforms replete with chefs’ hats, would march down the street to the prime minister’s official residence, bearing a mammoth birthday cake which they transported on a long board on their shoulders.