Grapevine: A birthday party for thousands

Discussions which the Israelis held with their Viennese counterparts centered on turning the museum into a global Jewish community center.

The Israel Museum  (photo credit: TIM HURSLEY / COURTESY THE ISRAEL MUSEUM)
The Israel Museum
■ WHEN ISRAEL Museum Director James Snyder was contemplating how to celebrate the museum’s 50th anniversary, he was somewhat concerned about whether anyone would really be interested in the jubilee year, since “50 is the new 30” and 30 is not really a landmark number. Nonetheless, he went ahead with a gala all-day event on Monday, which was exactly 50 years to the day when the museum first opened in the presence of president Zalman Shazar, prime minister Levi Eshkol, former prime ministers David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir, Abba Eban, Moshe Dayan and other luminaries whose names are permanently engraved in the history of Israel.
Also present of course, was Teddy Kollek, the legendary mayor of Jerusalem who conceived of the idea of a museum on what had previously been a barren hill. In fact 1965, the year in which the museum was opened, was also Kollek’s first year as mayor. Also among the guests was someone who had not been in the official party, but was among the invitees was former prime minister and president Shimon Peres. He was not in any of the official photos, but Peres was spotted on a 16 mm black-andwhite film and the image was enhanced onto a still photograph which Snyder presented to Peres at the brief ceremony on Monday. Peres was the only person present who had also been at the original opening of the museum 50 years earlier.
“What was done here over the past 50 years has exceeded all expectations,” Peres said. Recalling what at the time had been regarded as Kollek’s grandiose idea, he added: “Teddy’s dream, which seemed so big, was small in comparison to what has been achieved. This is one of the most beautiful museums in the world. It’s a museum in a city which is in itself a museum.”
Isaac Molho, the chairman of the board of the Israel Museum, used to play on the hill as youth, before the museum became a reality. His parents had attended the opening in 1965. “Construction of the museum began when I was a boy,” he said, “and I saw it developing before my eyes.”
Both Molho and Snyder were pleased to welcome Kollek’s son and daughter Amos and Osnat as well as their children who represent a significant link between the past, the present and the future.
Snyder was delighted with the turnout, telling the crowd: “You are an important part of our reason for being.” Of the one million visitors who come to the museum each year, said Snyder, two thirds are from Israel.
Snyder, Peres and Molcho unveiled a breathtaking sculpture, ‘The Sacred Heart’ by Jeff Koons, which is made of mirror polished stainless steel with transparent coating. The work is on loan for the year from the Steven and Alexandra Cohen collection in Greenwich, Connecticut. Snyder described Koons as one of the most important contemporary artists in the world today.
During Monday’s festivities, two new exhibitions were opened, and in summing up, Snyder paid tribute to sculptor and painter Menashe Kadishman, one of the icons of the Israeli art scene, whose funeral had taken place the previous day. Kadishman’s legacy can be seen at the entrance to the museum as well as in exhibitions currently on view.
■ IS OUTGOING British Ambassador Mathew Gould in line for a knighthood? Of his 21 predecessors, all but five were knighted soon after completing their service in Israel. It’s worth noting that Gould who was Britain’s first Jewish ambassador to Israel came to office 90 years after the appointment of Britain’s first High Commissioner to this country, Sir Herbert Samuel who was also Jewish, and is completing his term ninety years after Samuel completed his. Samuel’s grandson, David Lord Samuel, who was born in Jerusalem, and lived for most of his life in Israel died last October at age 90. Sir Andrew Burns who served as ambassador to Israel from 1992-1995 has been back on several occasions and is due to visit again at the end of May with his wife Lady Sarah Burns.
Gould who has every intention of visiting Israel as often as possible will refrain from doing so during at least the first half year of his successor David Quarrey who is due to take up his appointment in July. Though not yet at liberty to divulge what his new role will be, Gould will remain a public servant, and for the foreseeable future will be headquartered in London where his four-year-old Sabra daughter Rachel will have to learn to adapt to a new lifestyle. A delightfully precocious extrovert who’s been a party girl ever since she learned to walk, Rachel insists on attending most of the many events hosted by her parents and chooses to ignore the fact that it’s way past her bed time. She has frequently upstaged her father and other speakers at the Residence, which means that she will find London a very tame place after Ramat Gan.
■ AT LEAST two other ambassadors are having farewell parties in different parts of the country on the same date. El Salvador Ambassador Suzana Gun de Hasenson, who is also deputy dean of the Diplomatic corps is having a party on May 17 in Jerusalem while Norwegian Ambassdor Svein Sevje is simultaneously having a farewell party at the Norwegian residence in Herzliya Pituah. To complicate matters even further, there will be numerous Jerusalem Day functions throughout the country on that date which means that some invitees will be rushing from one event to another and from one part of the country to another. Gun de Hasenson, who is retiring from the Foreign Service, has been a diplomat for a little over forty years, whereas Sevje, a trained historian, joined the Foreign Service 37 years ago and is on the verge of retirement. He was born in the same year as the State of Israel, and prior to becoming a diplomat, was twice a volunteer at Kibbutz Mishmar Ha’emek, first in 1968 and again in 1971.
His main focus over the past 20-plus years has been the Middle East and he was happy to have what he stated was “the exciting job of following Israeli society and politics” that enabled him to contribute to the shaping of policies that often affect Norway as well as the global community. Norway was among the 37 nations voting for Israel’s inclusion as a member of the United Nations thus recognizing Israel as a sovereign state. But like most of Israel’s other diplomatic friends, Norway is today at odds with Israel over a variety of issues in the region, and echoes other countries when it states that even the best of friends can have different opinions without ruining the friendship.
■ NOT EVERY country in Europe was liberated on the same date, so while there is a collective commemoration of VE Day, different countries also have their individual anniversaries to mark their liberation from Nazi occupation and oppression. Last Wednesday, it was the turn of the Netherlands.
Irgun Olei Holland, the Association of Dutch Immigrants to Israel, and the Hebrew University’s Center for Research on Dutch Jewry organized a study day at Yad Vashem where speakers focused on different aspects of five years of Nazi occupation which ended with Holland’s liberation.
Some 350 people of Dutch origin filled the auditorium. Speakers included Professor Dan Michman who heads Yad Vashem’s Institute for Holocaust Studies and Pnina Rotem of Bar Ilan University.
The keynote speaker was Professor Ido de Haan of Ultrecht University in the Netherlands who based his talk on Dutch Jews who came home from concentration camps or who emerged from hiding. They said that their suffering had often been underestimated by their fellow countrymen and the Dutch authorities. Dutch Ambassador Caspar Veldkamp, who is yet another envoy who will soon be completing his term in Israel, acknowledged the failure of Dutch government institutions at that time. He also referred to the Israeli-Dutch singer Dotan, who is currently popular in the Netherlands and who was appointed ‘ambassador of freedom’ by the organizers of Netherlands’ annual Liberation Day ceremony.
■ ALMOST EVERYONE who has been to see the film Woman in Gold, whether they are familiar with the story or not, comes away with an outstandingly positive reaction.
The film is based on the book by Anne-Marie O’Connor who happens to be in Israel and who will be the guest of The Jerusalem Press Club on Sunday, May 17, coincidentally Jerusalem Day. The association is of course that among the many names by which Jerusalem is known is that of the City of Gold. For those who have not yet read the book, seen the film, or followed the case in the media, it is about the extraordinary tale of Gustav Klimt’s masterpiece, a portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, which was confiscated by the Nazis. When Bloch-Bauer’s niece Maria Altmann sought to reclaim it several years after the war, the Austrian government refused to return it to her. Thus began a decade long legal battle which Altmann and her lawyer Randy Schoenberg won in 2004. Two years later the painting was purchased by Ronald Lauder for $135 million which was then a record price. The painting has been on display since then at his Neue Galerie in New York.
■ OVER THE past week or so, the victory of the allied forces over the Nazis, the liberation of countries under Nazi occupation and the heroism of Jews who fought in the Red Army have been the focal point of several ceremonies around the country. While veterans of other armies may sport a ribbon or a medal or two on the jackets of their civilian suits, the veterans of the Red Army have amazing collections of medals which they are only too happy to wear on D-Day and which they also wear on June 12 or thereabouts at the mega reception hosted each year by the Russian ambassador in honor of Russia Day. The major D-Day reception this year was held in Latrun and attended by President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu along with many other dignitaries, who shook hands with the veterans of the Red Army who were almost weighed down by their many medals.
■ THERE WAS also a very different event on VE Day – one organized by an association of British Christians and Jews under the auspices of a Christian organization, Repairing the Breach, who had come to Israel to express their deep sorrow and shame for much of the British conduct during the Mandate period. “We believe that the rift caused many years ago still needs to be healed,” they wrote in a pamphlet which was widely distributed on Thursday May 7 at Haifa Port and at the site of the Atlit detention center. The pamphlet also bore the message “It’s time to come to Haifa and Atlit. It’s time to remember and to make amends.” Another meaningful statement in the pamphlet reads: “All over Israel and in the Diaspora many Jewish people remember their loved ones who perished in the Holocaust. If only Britain had kept open the gates to Israel then known as Palestine, how many more would have escaped?” The pamphlet urges citizens of the UK to express deep regret for their nation’s shameful actions and to express comfort to those still alive who escaped the death camps only to be incarcerated again by the British authorities in Atlit, Cyprus and Mauritius.
More than 100 Israelis attended the event.
Many of them had suffered at the hands of the British as innocent victims. Some had sought to enter Palestine via the route of the immigrant ships, such as the Exodus, and others had been imprisoned for their activities as members of the Hagana, Etzel or Lehi. There were even a few participants who had been born in the camps and are still searching for their roots.
The day began at Haifa Port, where delegates were welcomed by Port spokesman, Zohar Rom. The gathering was then addressed by two Israelis: Gideon Ramati, and Arieh Itamar, both of whom were young children on board the Exodus and the Patria respectively, and whose painful memories of the treatment they received at the hands of the British continue to live with them. Letters from two former British servicemen unable to be present at the event were read out – one had served as a seaman on board HMS Chequers from 1946-48. This was one of the destroyers responsible for intercepting the Exodus and arresting the passengers and crew. The other letter was from someone who had served as a junior officer in the British army stationed on Mount Carmel. Although both were very young men during the period of their military service, and ignorant of the moral and political errors being played out as a result of British policy, they wrote of their subsequent regret that British actions had caused so much suffering to Jewish refugees at a crucial time when they so desperately needed to find refuge and a home in Eretz Israel. The moving musical contribution to the occasion was provided by violinist, Ruth Fazal, along with some powerful dramatic dance by Shema Kingdom Dancers from the UK. The morning concluded with a time of meditation and reflection at the Dock of Tears.
The day continued at the Atlit former detention camp, with guided tours and talks given by Israeli veterans of the British Mandate period. By this time, the participants had swelled to about 250. A Christian leader from the UK, Alex Jacob, cited the role of many British government ministers in the past in paving the way for the Balfour Declaration – Lord Shaftesbury, and William Wilberforce among many others.
Lord Reading proposed that the British government should reach the point of officially acknowledging the gross failures of the Mandate, and should utilize the forthcoming centenary of the Balfour Declaration in 2017 to achieve this. Zehavit Blumentfield spoke on behalf of those held in camps by the British, and although Shlomo Hillel (former Speaker of the Knesset) was indisposed, his speech lauded the efforts of all those taking part. Colonel Richard Kemp, who has become a spokesman for Israel around the world, applauded the State of Israel as an “extraordinary country” whose armed forces are hugely admired and respected by many within the British military today. However, he lamented the tragic legacy of past and present British policies towards Israel.
Among the organizers was Rosie Ross who said: “The vision for this event has been with me for well over a year. It seems so important to me that you as Israelis hear that there are many of us from Britain who don’t take lightly what happened in the British Mandate years” Underscoring that Britain had been given the sacred trust of bringing Jewish people back to their ancestral homeland, Ross said:. “Not only did we fail you but we went totally against that trust and ended up putting many in camps as many of your lives bear witness.
Today we have begun to listen to some of your stories. We as British people need to hear more, for your sakes and for our sakes.”
Sister Glory from the Evangelical Sisters of Mary said: “It moves us deeply to stand with you at this dock which was a place of so many tears, lost hopes, deep disappointments and even despair as we did not allow you to enter Eretz Israel, the Land which was given to you by God in a holy covenant with your forefathers.
Words are inadequate to express what we feel when we begin to understand what it must have been like to endure the horrors of the concentration camps, then to realize that you had no home to go to, that no country would receive you and that your trials continued in the displaced person camps. After all this to make the long and arduous journey to the boats, endure the long voyage with constant danger of interception by the British, only to be told that you could not land in your own country of Eretz Israel and you would be sent to Cyprus, Mauritus or even, as with Arie and the Exodus ship, back to Germany - the injustice, humiliation, cruelty and betrayal you, your families and your people have suffered from our nation of Britain is indescribable. We are deeply sorry.”
■ THE CENTER of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel currently headed by former diplomat and former MK Colette Avital, paid tribute to its former and founding chair Noah Flug, a Polish Holocaust survivor, economist, diplomat and human rights activist on the publication of the book Remembering Noah Flug subtitled ‘In Spite of Everything, I Remain Optimistic.’ Collated and edited by journalist Bettina Schaefer, the book contains 26 eyewitness accounts by family, friends, classmates and people who worked with Flug. Schaefer came to Israel especially for the local launch of the book at ZOA House in Tel Aviv. The event was held in the presence of Flug’s widow Dorothea and his daughter Karnit Flug who is the first female governor of the Bank of Israel.
Avital said that she had met Noah Flug in 1999, and a year later he had recruited her for various target operations which he had not yet been able to tackle himself.
He was quietly determined and it was impossible to refuse him she said. She also credited Flug with having been a symbol of fighting for the rights of the weaker sectors in society, especially for the rights of Holocaust survivors. German Consul Ludwig Blaurock said that it had been a privilege for him and his family to be in Israel and for him to be invited to an event honoring Noah Flug. He and his family had been particularly moved by the warm welcome they had received in Israel, because it was not something that Germans could take for granted, he said.
He also spoke of Flug’s contribution to the strengthening of ties between Germany and Israel.
■ THE FRIENDS of Beit Hatefutsot met last week in Vienna’s Schonberg Castle where guests of honor were Austrian President Heinz Fischer and Israel Ambassador to Austria Zvi Heifetz. Also present were Oscar Deutsch, the head of the Jewish community of Vienna, Ariel Muzicant, the vice president of the World Jewish Congress and Joanna Nittenberg who chairs the Austrian Friends of Beit Hatefutsot. Among the 30 Israelis were Reuven Adler, the chairman of the Israel Friends of Beit Hatfutsot along with Eitan Ben-Eliahu, co-chairman of the museum’s board of governors. The group toured Jewish Vienna, visited various museums and because Muzicant is a well known collector of Judaica, the group went to his home to see his collection. The main reason for the tour was to present the model of what the renewed Museum of the Jewish People will look like when it is officially opened in 2018. The first stage of the museum is due to open next year.
Discussions which the Israelis held with their Viennese counterparts centered on turning the museum into a global Jewish community center.
■ WOMEN’S ISSUES such as parenting, paternity leave as an alternative to maternity leave, fathers sharing equally with mothers in the upbringing of their children and equal pay for equal work were the subjects of discussion rather than military matters when Vered Swid, the director in the Prime Minister’s Office of the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women, met with German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen who happens to be the mother of seven children, proving that women with large families can still pursue careers. Even though women serve in almost every position once considered to be a purely male domain, they still suffer from bias and discrimination, factors which Swid works to eradicate.
■ OUTGOING MINISTER of Tourism and former long time politician Uzi Landau, whose late father also served in the Knesset, has accepted the position of chairman of Reuth on a pro bono basis, meaning that he will not receive a salary. Landau said that it was a great honor to be associated with Reuth which was established in Tel Aviv in 1937, and provides state of the art medical and rehabilitation services, homes for senior citizens and homeless people, and various services for the needy.
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