Grapevine: A gift of life

Altruism is still alive and well.

HEN-US secretary of state Colin Powell with then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem in 2004. (photo credit: GIL COHEN MAGEN/REUTERS)
HEN-US secretary of state Colin Powell with then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem in 2004.
In an era so sadly characterized by mutual hatred, violence and incitement, it’s good to know that altruism is still alive and well. Yediot Aharonot last week ran a heartwarming story by Korin Elbaz Alush about Mordechai Kotev-Emet and his family, who were on their way from their home in Har Bracha to Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv where Kotev-Emet was due to donate a kidney to a total stranger whom he had never met. The car Kotev-Emet was driving became involved in a head-on collision. Miraculously, neither he, his wife, Avital, nor their five children were seriously injured. Paramedics who arrived on the scene were amazed to see that while the car was a total loss, its occupants were just mildly bruised. The family were taken to Sheba’s emergency department, where they were examined and treated, and Kotev-Emet insisted on going ahead with the kidney transplant. His kidney, donated through the Save a Life organization was given to Uri Ofer, 58, a father of three from Caesarea, who had been waiting for three years for a suitable donor.
Donor and recipient met a few days after the transplant on the eve of the first day of Hanukkah. It was an emotional meeting for both. “I couldn’t allow myself to delay the operation,” said Kotev-Emet. “I knew that someone was desperately waiting for a kidney, and I’m pleased that everything went ahead as scheduled and that it all ended successfully.” Ofer was thrilled to meet Kotev-Emet. “I can’t thank you enough for not giving up on me,” he said. “You gave me back my life.” Their wives, Avital and Anat, were equally excited and could not stop hugging each other. “There are no words to express what you did for Uri,” said Anat Ofer. “When we heard about your accident, we prepared ourselves for a delay. Who could believe that there are people like you in the world.” The transplant was yet another triumph for Prof. Eitan Mor, the head of Sheba’s Organ Transplant Center at Tel Hashomer.
■ MANY PEOPLE who achieve fame in different fields did not always seem to be cut out for glory when they were young. Take for instance Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, the son of an unwed American Catholic mother of Swiss and German descent, and a Syrian Muslim father. His mother did not involve his father in her pregnancy, and went to San Francisco to give birth and have her baby adopted by a good Catholic family. The adoption didn’t work out and the infant was instead adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs, who were unable to have biological children of their own. Initially the adoption was not legally binding because his biological mother refused to sign the adoption papers and wanted to place her son with a different family. Clara Jobs refused to give up the child, and the matter was finally settled when she and her husband promised to give the boy a college education. Another example is Colin Powell, a retired four-star general, diplomat and former US secretary of state, who is the Harlem-born son of Jamaican immigrants.
While still a school boy, Powell worked in a baby furniture store owned by Jewish, Yiddish-speaking shopkeepers. As a result, he picked up Yiddish – which he speaks fluently – and he also became a Shabbes goy, performing tasks that Jews are not permitted to engage in on the Sabbath.
Another famous Shabbes goy is iconic television talk show host and comedian Jay Leno, who a week ago participated in the StandWithUs Festival of Lights Gala. In conversation with comedian Elon Gold, Leno who is a strong supporter of Israel and of Jewish causes, said that while growing up in New York, he used to be a Shabbes goy for his neighbors, and when starting out in comedy, he performed his first gigs for Orthodox Jews in the Catskills.
He visited Israel in May 2014 to host the Genesis Prize award ceremony, and recently helped to raise $5 million for United Hatzalah. He is very pro-Israel and pro-Jewish, partly because he doesn’t like to see people unfairly picked on. In his conversation with Gold, he recalled that when he was at school, there was a hassidic youngster who was always getting picked on, so Leno made a point of making friends with him.
■ AMONG THE many Israeli journalists who were in Morocco over the past week was Oren Aharoni of KAN 11. He interviewed Rabbi Yeshiyahu Pinto, who last year was appointed head of the Casablanca Rabbinical Court, despite the fact that he served time in an Israeli prison after being convicted of attempted bribery. But as has also been the case in Israel among Moroccan expatriates, the Moroccans are very forgiving by nature. Once someone convicted of criminal offenses has completed his or her sentence, they can go back career-wise to where they were before. Thus, Interior Minister Arye Deri is once again the leader of Shas and a minister in the government, and Rabbi Pinto is actually in a much better position than he was in Israel.
Though born in Israel, Pinto is descended from a long line of venerated rabbis. He lives in a splendid mansion adjacent to that of King Mohammed VI, and has a huge following, many of whose members gather regularly in his home. According to Aharoni, Pinto wants to turn Morocco into the Uman of the Middle East. The Jewish cemeteries have been beautifully maintained by the Moroccan authorities, and there are graves of literally hundreds of sages. As it is, some of these graves have been visited by Moroccan expats and their Israeli-born offspring, and Pinto is convinced that thousands more will come in future.
■ POLITICAL PUNDITS are divided in their opinions as to whether Gideon Sa’ar did the right thing in leaving Likud. Although surveys currently indicate that he will do well – though not as well as Likud, which will still be led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, some pundits compare Sa’ar’s popularity to that of Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz at the start of his political career, which initially ballooned and then found itself without air. If all the right-wing parties joined forces, they might be able to topple Netanyahu, but in arguing who should head such a right-wing alliance, they will defeat their own purpose. Here again Blue and White should serve as an alert.
Roni Milo, a former minister in Likud-led governments, has publicly stated that in the event of another election he will not vote Likud , nor will he vote for a party led by Sa’ar, even though he likes and admires him. Instead, he will vote for Yisrael Beytenu because he thinks that the Russian immigrants who have contributed so much to Israel are getting a raw deal.
Another former long-time Likud minister, Limor Livnat, is also unlikely to vote Likud because, as she writes in her column in Yediot, she does not feel that Likud is her home any more.
■ THE MOST frequently repeated programs on radio and television are Yossi Alfi’s story-tellers’ programs, which are rebroadcast at least once a week, and not in chronological sequence. Some might be 10 years old. Some might be 20 years old, and some may be only a year old. Most are extremely interesting because they are based on specific themes with several participants speaking on that theme from their own perspectives or experiences. As interesting as they are, they are sometimes spoiled by Alfi’s egocentricities and disruptions. Alfi was born in Iraq, and injects an Iraqi component into almost every program, even when the themes have nothing whatsoever to do with Iraq, and if they do have anything to do with Iraq, he overrides his guests again and again.
In a recent rebroadcast, his guests were Israeli journalists who have traveled widely in the Middle East on assignment. Each of them had captivating stories, but the most riveting was that of Henrique Cymerman, who reports for Spanish and Portuguese media. Cymerman succeeded in making contact with Omar bin Laden, the fourth son of Osama bin Laden, and arranged to interview him. Of the sons that he had sired among his many children, Osama had chosen Omar to be his successor as the leader of al-Qaeda. The tracking, the email exchanges and the arrangements for the interview had been a long process, mainly because bin Laden could not obtain an entry visa to any European country.
Some of the email exchanges had been with his second wife, British-born Zaina, whose original name was Jane Felix Browne. At one stage she told Cymerman that they knew he was Jewish, to which he replied that he had never hidden his Jewish identity. Then she told him that she too had a Jewish background and was related to the Jacobs family from Manchester. Alfi kept butting in as Cymerman told his story, a factor that diluted some of the drama. Alfi is extremely talented, widely traveled and knowledgeable. It’s somewhat disconcerting that someone who has all that going for him needs to keep boosting his ego, like rebooting a personal computer.
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