Grapevine: They’ve been riding on the railroad

Going to Egypt for Pessah, special sardines for Peres and ZAKA to open in the Far East.

PEOPLE WHO love trains and a challenge will appreciate the trip taken by computer systems analyst Danny Amir (formerly Greenwald) and his son Yoav, 16, of Hod Hasharon. Father and son spent quality time in a successful effort to ride through every passenger railway station in the country in a span of less than 24 hours.
Amir had some vacation time coming to him around Pessah and decided that he wanted to take a different trip from the usual kind of family outing. He got hold of a map of the Israel Railways network and then plotted the routes he and Yoav would have to take to complete the mission on time. For instance they couldn’t leave from the Hod Hasharon station because that would not fit into their time schedule. So they drove to Tel Aviv and boarded a 6:54 a.m. train to Jerusalem. From there they went to Hod Hasharon via Tel Aviv and Rishon Lezion, then to Ashkelon via Lod and Beersheba.
There are two railway stations in Beersheba – north and central. From one they continued to Dimona and then via the other they went to Modi’in via Tel Aviv. They left Modi’in at 11:03 p.m. and arrived in Nahariya at 1:40 a.m. At 1:50 a.m. they departed Nahariya on a train for Ben-Gurion Airport, and alighted at Tel Aviv at 3:36 a.m. The whole journey had taken them 20 hours and 40 minutes, of which traveling time was a little over 14 and a half hours and waiting time totaled six hours. The shortest wait, which was supposed to be seven minutes, was actually two minutes, which was cutting things rather fine, but they made it to the train on time, and the longest wait was just under an hour.
Father and son got off the train 15 times in the course of the journey. The cost of the tickets came to NIS 277 each. Amir had hoped to purchase a 24-hour ticket which would entitle him to get on and off trains anywhere in the country, but no such ticket is available, so they had to buy tickets each time they got off one train in anticipation of boarding another. The relatively brief adventure was a great experience according to Amir, but he’s in no hurry to do it again unless the railway network is expanded to include cities and towns that are not yet serviced by rail.
  • UNLESS THEY are guests of honor at a communal Seder or at the home of a leader of the local Jewish community, Israeli diplomats abroad are often expected to host a Seder, especially in places where there are small Jewish communities and Pessah products are scarce. Michelle Mazel, whose husband Zvi served as ambassador to Egypt, vividly recalls Pessah there. Before he rose to the rank of ambassador, Mazel served as political counselor to the first two ambassadors to Egypt.
    The Mazels felt very uncomfortable for their first Pessah in Egypt. The Seder was held in a hotel, with Egyptian bodyguards in attendance. Even though the Haggada was read in Hebrew, telling the story pertaining to the exodus in the presence of gun-toting Egyptians was not exactly a pleasant experience. The next time around, the Mazels were at home, thinking to spend Seder with relatives and friends when they received an urgent summons from ambassador Moshe Sasson to come back to Cairo. “It was really strange to be going back to Egypt for Pessah of all reasons,” recalls Michelle Mazel.
    When the Mazels were again in Egypt in an ambassadorial capacity they opted to make a Seder at the residence. Kashrut was problematic, so they imported everything from the Princess Hotel in Eilat. They also managed to secure the services of the hotel’s chef. A tent was set up in the garden of the residence, and they had a Seder for 300 people. Dozens of Jewish visitors to Cairo wanted to know where the Seder was, and found themselves eating off disposable plates at the home of the ambassador.
    A 14-member US Senate delegation also attended, because one of its members was Jewish – “so they all came” – and of course Jewish diplomats from other embassies were invited along with the remnants of the Cairo Jewish community. In addition, the Joint Distribution Committee footed the bill for a bus to bring the Jewish community of Alexandria to the Mazels’ Seder, thus adding to the number and variety of guests. With hindsight, Mazel says that the Seder in Egypt was meaningful because it represented something “which forged our national identity from slavery to freedom, and the story is still meaningful today.”
  • DURING PESSAH, Jerusalem Post political reporter Gil Hoffman moderated the closing session of a conference on the future of Modern Orthodoxy jointly organized by Ne’emanei Torah Ve’avoda and the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals. Panelists were Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, head of the hesder yeshiva in Petah Tikva; Rabbi Seth Farber, founder and director of Itim, the Jewish Life Information Center that helps people to navigate the country’s religious bureaucracy; Rabbanit Chana Henkin, founder and dean of Nishmat that provides advanced Torah studies for women; and Talmud and Bible expert Rabbi Daniel Sperber of Bar-Ilan University.
    The bottom line was that Modern Orthodoxy must take control of the rabbinical courts out of the hands of the haredim to find more humane (albeit halachic) solutions to religious problems of status and identity. The aim is not to set up an alternate beit din but, in Cherlow’s words, to be the Beit Din. “The haredi community has a stranglehold on us,” said Sperber, citing as specific areas conversion and kashrut. If Modern Orthodox rabbis speak out against what haredim regard as “the infallible truth,” he said, “they’ll be declared neo-Reform.”
    Farber was particularly concerned about the mistreatment of converts and potential converts by the rabbinic courts and by the politicization of the rabbinic courts which have denied him the right to perform marriages. Henkin said that she felt that she had to almost apologize for casting an optimistic note into the discussion, but pointed out the flowering of religious education for women here. “Torah learning for women is unprecedented anywhere in the world. There was consensus that as a result of this, women will play increasingly influential roles in Jewish religious life here.
  • IN 2008, Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon, who lives in Alon Shvut, teaches at the Migdal Oz yeshivot in Har Etzion, and who is frequently consulted by evacuees of Gush Katif, was awarded the President’s Prize for Volunteerism for having established JobKatif, which has so far assisted 1,250 people to rejoin the work force, has helped to create 160 businesses to enable evacuees to recover their self esteem and economic independence and has provided guidance and career counseling for hundreds more. In 2009, the government, in appreciation of what JobKatif is doing, agreed to provide matching funds for each donation made to the organization.
    JobKatif is only one of Rimon’s activities. During Operation Cast lead, he was a frequent visitor to the Gaza border to pray with soldiers, to offer them encouragement, to distribute gloves and thermal shirts and to answer halachic questions. It was on this aspect of his work that he spoke in Jerusalem to a large group from Kehilath Jeshurun, New York. Praising Jeshurun’s Rabbi Haskel Lookstein for immediately understanding the problems of the Gush Katif evacuees and for doing much to help them, Rimon was equally lavish in his praise of Rabbi Zev Reichman of the East Hill Congregation in Englewood, New Jersey, who had instantly responded during Operation Cast Lead to the soldiers’ need for warm clothing and within a day of speaking on the phone to Rimon, arrived with sufficient funds to purchase 3,000 pairs of battle gloves and thermal shirts.
    Rimon also spoke of the urgency of having to answer halachic questions in wartime. There is no time to think or do any research. A soldier going into battle needs an instant answer. While it is accepted that religious soldiers can carry their kits into battle on the Shabbat, there is a big question about what they can take with them, particularly with regard to items never used on Shabbat, such as tefillin. When a soldier put the question to Rimon, he rabbi realized that the soldier would fight with greater focus and confidence if he had the tefillin with him – aside from which there are certain religious authorities who say that there is no prohibition against putting on tefillin on Shabbat – so he told the soldier to take them with him. The soldier’s joyful reaction assured him that his assessment had been correct.
  • AMONG SOME 3,000 people who flock to the Ein Gev Festival each year is President Shimon Peres who goes not only to enjoy the music and the community singing, but to partake of the sardines specially prepared for him in a lemon sauce by veteran fisherman Menachem Lev. Among the other well-known personalities who crowded the jetty in the hope of getting a sample of Lev’s culinary talents were Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon and his wife Orna, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal, past and present MKs Shaul Yahalom, Hagai Merom, Shaul Mofaz and Orit Noked, the president’s linguistics expert daughter Tsvia and her husband Prof. Raphi Walden, Israel Broadcasting Authority director-general Moti Sklaar, head of the Upper Galilee Regional Council Aharon Valensi, head of the Omer Local Council Pini Badash and Maj.-Gen. (Res) Elazar Stern.
  • ZAKA, THE voluntary international rescue unit founded in Jerusalem in 1995 by Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, initially functioned as an emergency response organization within the country, but soon expanded its operations to include disaster areas in other parts of the world. In 2005, it was recognized by the UN as an international humanitarian organization that works in close coordination with other Israeli and overseas rescue personnel to save lives and to identify remains for proper burial in places such as Thailand in the wake of tsunami, New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Mumbai in response to the terrorist attack and, most recently Haiti after the earthquake.
    Last month, at a ceremony in Hong Kong, ZAKA announced plans to establish a fully equipped center there to serve East Asia and to train local volunteers in emergency preparedness. Hundreds of Jews and non-Jews including politicians, diplomats and businesspeople attended the gala launch, which was also a fund-raiser to provide the seed money for medical equipment and a training program due to begin in June.
    ZAKA chairman Meshi-Zahav was on hand and noted that ZAKA’s motto is to help people in need, regardless of race, religion or nationality. The occasion was also used to help project a more positive image of Israel. Keynote speaker Ya’acov Perry, a former head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), spoke about the country’s political, diplomatic and security challenges and stressed ZAKA’s special mission. Consul-General Amikam Levy said that ZAKA reflects the basic traditions of Judaism which encompasses respect for the soul of every human being. The newly-appointed president of ZAKA Hong Kong, Macao and China is Rafael Aharoni, the long-time chairman of the Hong Kong-Israel Chamber of Commerce.
  • WHEN SHE initially came here to live 16 years ago, artist Hila Solomon had no thought of opening a restaurant. A talented cook, she entertained a lot and received many compliments, but her focus was not on culinary culture, but museums. She worked in two Jerusalem museums and helped to establish a restaurant in one of them. Friends and acquaintances who sampled her cuisine, said she should go into catering, which she did, preparing meals in her kitchen for both intimate dinners and buffet receptions. Then she had the bright idea of making her home in Yemin Moshe available for private parties.
    The venture, embraced by diplomats, businesspeople and various organizations was a huge success, so much so that Solomon was forced to look for larger premises. She moved from Yemin Moshe to Ein Kerem, to a breathtaking Arab-style house with terraced and secret gardens and upper story and rooftop balconies. But for all her preoccupation with cuisine and aesthetics, Solomon, who was once the manager of a chamber orchestra, could not shake the culture component from her mind and is planning an orchestral brunch and a film night, and during Pessah took a group of guests to the Museum on the Seam. She later hosted them in her home for a leisurely and intellectually stimulating lunch in the garden.
  • CELEBRATED FRENCH filmmaker, author and journalist Claude Lanzmann, whose monumental nine-and-a-half-hour documentary Shoah, released in 1985, is considered to be one of the most important films of its kind, will be among the beacon lighters at the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Beit Lohamei Hagetaot on April 12. Lanzmann, 84, was a member of the French Resistance and fought against the Nazis.
  • THOUSANDS OF books have been written by Holocaust survivors about their experiences in the camps, in hiding and as partisans. But the written word was not the only means of bequeathing the legacy of that horrendous period to future generations. At Yad Vashem, curator Yehudit Shendar has put together an exhibition of creative works by some 300 Holocaust survivors, chosen from among many more works whose artistic expressions of their Holocaust experiences and memories are housed there. Displayed under the title “Virtues of Memory: Six Decades of Holocaust Survivors’ Creativity,” the exhibition will be open from April 13, and will remain on display for a whole year.
  • IT’S NOT yet certain whether Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat will carry out his threat to destroy illegally built Arab housing in east Jerusalem, but the subject of legal and illegal construction by both Jews and Arabs is quite fascinating and the Arab side of the story will be dealt with today, at 3 p.m. in the “Afternoon with IPCRI” series at the Ambassador Hotel Jerusalem, where Rami Nasrallah, director of the International Peace and Cooperation Center, and Orly Noy, public outreach coordinator of Ir Amim, will discuss “Illegal Construction and Destruction in Jerusalem: The Saga of Palestinian Building in East Jerusalem.”
  • ALTHOUGH SHE does not live in Jerusalem, where she has a magnificent house on Rehov Ethiopia, philanthropist Ingeborg Rennert, who lives in New York, encourages and rewards abiding interest in and commitment to Jerusalem through the annual Guardian of Zion award that she confers via the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies at Bar-Ilan University. The award ceremony at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel attracts leading academics, politicians, religious figures and community activists from here and abroad. The recipient gives an address reflecting his or her commitment to the capital.
    Last year’s recipient was Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick. This year’s recipient is Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. His lecture will be on “The Meaning of Jerusalem in the 21st Century.” Hoenlein has a huge circle of friends and acquaintances here, which means that organizers of the ceremony, scheduled for the second half of May, will be hard-pressed to keep the invitation list within bounds. Because of the nature of the architecture at the King David, many guests have to watch the proceedings on a video screen. However organizers are reluctant to break with tradition and to change the venue.
    Previous recipients of the Guardian of Zion award were writer andeditor Norman Podhoretz, scholar and columnist Daniel Pipes, the latejournalist William Safire, Academy Award winning producer Arthur Cohn,Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Charles Krauthammer, author CynthiaOzick, British historian and author Sir Martin Gilbert, formerNew York Times editor A.M. Rosenthal, author HermanWouk and Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel.
  • TURKISH AMBASSADOR Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, who has beenrecalled following his public humiliation by Deputy Foreign MinisterDanny Ayalon, arrived here in October, 2009 just in time to hostTurkey’s Republic Day reception, which was a huge success despitecertain serious disputes between the two countries. A seasoneddiplomat, the genial Celikkol had been here many times in the past forvarious diplomatic discussions and had made many friends. He wasextremely optimistic that problems would soon be overcome, because hesaid the relationship between Turkey and Israel was built on unique,solid and historic foundations. He continued to be optimistic afterpresenting his credentials to President Shimon Peres in December, andwas well treated by the media.