Grapevine: A masterpiece of memory

“The battle against terror must be a joint effort across the free world,” wrote Livini. “We can have zero tolerance for terror.”

FROM LEFT: Prof. Uriel Reichman, former president of IDC Herzliya, Tzipi Livni and Denis Monette. (photo credit: OFER AMRAM)
FROM LEFT: Prof. Uriel Reichman, former president of IDC Herzliya, Tzipi Livni and Denis Monette.
(photo credit: OFER AMRAM)
A year ago, not long after his arrival in Israel, Slovak Ambassador Peter Hulenyi visited the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem and thought it was a perfect place for the traveling photographic exhibition by Slovakian-Canadian photographer Yuri Dojc, whose “Last Folio” collection of the remnants of Slovakia’s once vibrant and thriving Jewish community is a moving masterpiece of memory.
When Hulenyi broached the subject to Van Leer Institute director Gabriel Motzkin, he was less than thrilled, but agreed to meet with Hulenyi again. In the interim, Hulenyi sent him a portfolio containing some of the photographs from the exhibition and rehearsed what he could say to persuade Motzkin to agree.
But there was no need for words of persuasion. It was the old maxim that a picture is worth a thousand words, and when Hulenyi showed up for the meeting, an enthusiastic Motzkin preempted anything he wanted to say.
At the opening of the exhibition on Monday, there were many people of Slovak background, who, regardless of the fact that there was a free catalogue available, took photographs of the photographs, as though to have something of their own that was part of their heritage.
Motzkin, waxing philosophic, said: “We all live our lives going forward, never knowing when the present becomes the past, and suddenly, like Yuri Dojc, you are confronted with the presence of the past.”
The exhibition is considered sufficiently important to have brought in Slovak Minister of Culture Marek Mad’aric, who also signed a cooperation agreement with his Israeli counterpart, Miri Regev; Pavol Mestan, director of the Jewish Museum of Bratislava; Frantisek Sebej, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Slovak National Council; Katya Kraus, the curator of the exhibition; and of course Dojc himself.
Mad’aric, who was largely responsible, together with Mestan, for the creation of the Sered Holocaust Museum which opened in January this year on the site of a former labor and concentration camp, spoke emotionally of the significance that Slovakia attaches to preserving the memory of the Holocaust and emphasized the importance of the fact that this monumental traveling exhibition of a world that is no more had at last arrived in the capital of the Jewish world. It was not coincidental, he said, noting that September 9 is Slovakia’s official remembrance day for Victims of the Holocaust and Racial Violence. “We must acknowledge and never forget this time in our history,” he said.
Sebej, who is very familiar with the exhibition and the places in which it has been displayed, spoke of how Dojc had gone to derelict cemeteries and abandoned synagogues and photographed decaying old books. The people in the photographs are the last witnesses, he said. “The books are orphans, not only of the people who held them in their hands but of the world to which they transmitted their wisdom. That world died. The books remained.” The Jewish cemeteries are unspeakably sad, he added, because no-one is left to visit them.
The Canadian government has been very supportive of the exhibition, and Canadian charge d’affaires Ralph Jansen said that he is proud to have been involved with it in Rome.
He also noted that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has reminded Canadians of their commitment and obligation toward Holocaust education and has condemned antisemitism in the strongest terms.
The nucleus of the 10-year project was at the funeral of Dojc’s father in January 1997. Dojc met a Mrs.
Vajnorska who had been among some one thousand girls who in early 1942 had boarded the first train from Czechoslovakia to Auschwitz, where she remained for three years. With the exception of a brother, she lost her entire family. She told Dojc about her home visits to other survivors, and he asked if he could accompany her. He began photographing them.
Some years later, he returned with a film crew and found an abandoned Jewish school in Eastern Slovakia where time had stood still, with everything remaining as it had been in 1942. The exception was that most of the books were crumbling, with the pages eaten away by worms.
Curiously, worms do not eat ink, and therefore words on tiny fragments of crumbling paper, remained intact.
There was even something personal there for him. Among hundreds of books and fragments, he found one that had been owned by his grandfather Jakub.
The exhibition is on view daily, except Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and till 1 p.m. on Friday. It will close on November 30.
■ HER IMPORTANCE on the Israeli political scene may have waned somewhat, but there are those outside of Israel who still appreciate Tzipi Livni’s contribution to international security and the fight against terrorism.
Livni wrote on her Facebook page that she was moved to receive a special citation from a high-ranking member of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of the US Congress at the international conference of IDC Herzliya’s Counter-Terrorism Institute. “The battle against terror must be a joint effort across the free world,” wrote Livini. “We can have zero tolerance for terror.”
The citation was presented to her by Denis Monette, acting on behalf of Peter King, former chairman of the Homeland Security Committee and a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
■ MEANWHILE LIVNI’S former nemesis Shaul Mofaz, a former defense minister and before that IDF chief of staff, addressed some 800 people at the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund annual gala dinner in Sydney, where he spoke about his experiences as a participant in the heroic and historic Entebbe rescue mission in 1976.
While the former MK and minister is spending time down under, Australian parliamentarian Michael Danby is in Israel and on Sunday of next week will hold a press conference at the Jerusalem Press Club, where he will talk about Gaza aid, due diligence and the lesson learned from World Vision.
■ FEW PEOPLE, if any, are as closely identified with Jerusalem as President Reuven Rivlin. Yet the man who for years has been the personification of Jerusalem is spending a lot of time in Tel Aviv these days. Last Friday, in celebration of his 77th birthday, Rivlin took his wife, Nechama, to see an afternoon performance at Habimah Theater and was roundly applauded.
Then on Sunday night, Rivlin, who is generally recognized as the proudest of Jerusalemites, was made an honorary citizen of Tel Aviv.
A seventh generation Jerusalemite, Rivlin seldom misses an opportunity to recount the reason his family came to Israel’s ancient capital on the eve of Rosh Hashana in 1809, which according to the Hebrew calendar was supposed to be the year of the arrival of the Messiah, “and the Rivlins had to be there to greet him.”
Rivlin frequently tells the story to visiting presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and new ambassadors to Israel, pointing out that Jews were in the Holy Land and the Holy City for centuries before the establishment of the state. He always makes a point of asserting that the State of Israel is not a compensation for the Holocaust. “We have returned to our ancient homeland.”
Honorary citizenship of Tel Aviv was also conferred on two other eminent personalities, in a festive ceremony at the Tel Aviv Museum. One was Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry Ada Yonath, who like Rivlin was born in Jerusalem in the same year as Rivlin, and the other was prizewinning author Eli Amir, who was born in Iraq two years before Rivlin and Yonath, but has been living in Jerusalem for most of his life.
For Rivlin and Amir, the honorary citizenship of Tel Aviv was almost by way of a birthday gift. Their birthdays are in the same month, and Amir will celebrate his 79th birthday on September 25.
A fourth honoree was Petra Roth, a former mayor of Frankfurt, who held the position from 1995 to 2012, and was the first female mayor of the city.
She was also twice president of the German equivalent of the Union of Local Authorities. Frankfurt and Tel Aviv are twin cities, and in 2005 Roth received an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University in recognition of her support of academic and cultural relations between the two cities and her positive attitude toward Israel.
Honorary citizenship of Tel Aviv is usually conferred in recognition of a person’s outstanding achievements in general and on behalf of Tel Aviv in particular. Among those who previously received the title are: Albert Einstein, Baron Rothschild, Lord Balfour, Lord Reading, Lord Allenby, Nahum Sokolow, Haim Nahman Bialik, chief Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook, Chaim Weizmann, Ezer Weizman, Yitzhak Navon, Raya Jaglom, Shimon Peres and Zubin Mehta.
Declaring himself to be the representative Jerusalemite, the son of generations of Jerusalemites, Rivlin recalled the Tel Aviv of his youth, a city where icons such as Bialik, Alterman, Leah Goldberg, Hanna Rovina, David Avidan, Eli Mohar, Nahum Gutman and Reuven Rubin attracted people from all over the country.
Many people regard Tel Aviv as a state within a state, said Rivlin, who sought to differentiate between the Tel Aviv that became linked with Jaffa in 1949 and the “State of Tel Aviv” of 2016.
Responsibility goes hand in hand with beauty and strength, said Rivlin, noting that in recent years the first Hebrew city has been struggling almost alone with the most difficult and complex of social problems. On the one hand the Bialik-Rogozin School, which provides a welcoming environment for children of immigrant workers and asylum-seekers, is a source of great pride, and on the other there is the need to remain alert to the concerns of the permanent residents of south Tel Aviv, whose lives have been traumatized by the influx of foreign workers and asylum-seekers.
Tel Aviv is not a state within a state or an isolated island of the Middle East, said Rivlin, but a symbol of all that is represented in the blue and white flag.
■ RIVLIN WILL be in Tel Aviv again this coming Friday morning, this time to join in a tribute ceremony at Tzavta for veteran broadcaster Aryeh Golan, who is celebrating the jubilee of his career, which started at Army Radio and continued at Israel Radio.
Many of the people who will come to salute Golan on Friday were also at Tzavta last Friday for a memorial tribute to the late Moti Kirschenbaum on the first anniversary of his death.
Among those who will honor Golan on stage will be MK Shelly Yacimovich, a former Israel Radio broadcaster and long-term colleague of Golan, who is frequently interviewed by him in the early morning; Army Radio chief Yaron Deckel, whose previous position was that of anchor of Israel Radio’s “It’s all talk,” of which Yacimovich was also the longtime anchor; and past and present broadcasters and interviewees Carmela Menashe, Haim Beer, Nissim Mishal, Shimon Alkabetz, Ilana Dayan, Rabbi Yoni Wolf and Gil Litman.
And in the very secular city of Tel Aviv and Tzavta in particular, Meron Isaacson will present the Torah portion for the week. Needless to say, Rivlin will also have a role on stage, as will Golan himself.
Golan has frequently moderated events at the President’s Residence during the tenures of a series of presidents.
Like Rivlin, Golan will be coming from Jerusalem, where he lives and from where he broadcasts.
It will be interesting to see if any of the people from Can, the new public broadcasting service which next year will replace the Israel Broadcasting Authority, will also be in attendance.
■ AT THE start of the meeting that Rivlin had this week with the leadership of the World Jewish Congress, everyone burst into song and sang “Happy Birthday” as Rivlin entered the hall. Rivlin said that even though he was born on September 9, he only celebrates the Jewish calendar date of his birthday, Elul 25 – and so he still has a few days to go.
Several Jewish organizations, among them the WJC, have a tradition of bringing a gift for the president – usually something in the nature of Judaica. “We wanted to give you an expensive painting,” said WJC president Ronald Lauder, who inter alia owns a high-class art gallery in New York, “but we thought this would be more valuable.” He then presented Rivlin with a framed front page of the now defunct Yiddish broadsheet Der Tag Morgen Journal, which came out in New York from 1901 to 1971.
The framed page, dated June 7, 1967, is devoted to the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six Day War in the course of which Jerusalem was reunified.
Although Yiddish is not his language, Rivlin was particularly appreciative, in view of the fact that next year, Israel will celebrate the 50th anniversary of reunited Jerusalem.
■ EARLIER IN the day, when Rivlin hosted a group of East Asian spiritual leaders, Akiva Tor, the moderator of the event and head of the Foreign Ministry’s Bureau for World Jewish Affairs and World Religions, inadvertently created an icebreaker in his introductory remarks when he listed the issues they would talk about during their meetings in Jerusalem.
One of these issues was the advancement of peace and global welfare.
Tor was victim to a Freudian slip and instead of saying “global welfare” said “global warfare.” There was a burst of laughter from the floor, and Tor quickly corrected himself.
■ UNLIKE HER immediate predecessor, who was somewhat reticent with the media except on matters related to terrorist outbreaks in his country, France’s Ambassador-Designate Helene Le Gal, who arrived in Israel this week, made no secret of her presence here and immediately started work.
It will be at least another month before she can present her credentials, taking into account the various Jewish holidays on the near horizon, aside from which the Foreign Ministry staff, somewhat disgruntled over being marginalized in more ways than one, have been threatening strike action, which could well become a reality quite soon.
■ IT IS a tradition of the presidents of Israel to host a pre-Rosh Hashana reception for all the heads of foreign diplomatic missions in Israel. The ambassadors are invited without their spouses. This year, the spouses were also invited – but ahead of the ambassadors, whose turn it is next week.
Some 200 members of the Diplomatic Spouses Club of Israel, of which Julie Fisher, the wife of the US ambassador, is co-president, converged on the President’s Residence on Tuesday, and it was obvious to see why they were so well disciplined. Fisher, who for 14 years prior to changing her status to that of the wife of the US ambassador was vice principal of the Jewish Primary Day School in Washington, where the students were the offspring of leading Jewish families, has not forgotten how teachers behave. As moderator of the event, she told the large gathering: “When the president and Mrs. Rivlin walk in, we’re going to stand up and show them respect.”
Later, during the customary photo ops, it was almost like in a classroom.
“Please, go up quickly, first row, then second row. Go back to your seats and next row come up. Last row, please quickly come up. Everyone else, please quickly take your seats.
US Embassy spouses, please quickly come up. Board members of Diplomatic Spouses....” And then there was the instruction to quickly depart for their next stop with Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky.
■ IT’S NOT entirely unusual when an ambassador sends out invitations for a dinner in the dining room of the residence, to ask if invitees have allergies or if they are vegan, vegetarian or kosher, or whether they require a special diet for diabetics. But when the event in question is a big bash for several hundred people, it comes as a very pleasant surprise that so much consideration is given to the guests.
But this is indeed the case with the Rosh Hashana toast being hosted by US Ambassador Dan Shapiro and his wife. Toward the bottom of the invitation is a line that reads: “Kindly let us know if you have any dietary restrictions.” In response to one invitee who asked for kosher food, there was an email with the following message: “The food at the event is catered by a kosher catering company with rabbinate supervision. Is it sufficient, or do you require stricter supervision, such as glatt or mehadrin? If so, we will make the necessary arrangements.”
Who could ask for greater hospitality and consideration? Apparently the US Embassy functions like an airline company. It’s a pleasure to be on board.
■ ON THE same night, Japanese Ambassador Koji Tomita will be hosting a reception in honor of attorney Ze’ev Weiss, the recently elected chairman of the Israel-Japan Chamber of Commerce as well as chairman of the Israel Friends of Japan Society.
■ YET ANOTHER diplomatic reception on the same night involves four ambassadors as hosts. Jose Barahona, the ambassador of Honduras, Alfredo Vasquez, the ambassador of Guatemala, Werner Matias Romero, the ambassador of El Salvador and Estaban Penrod, the Ambassador of Costa Rica, are jointly hosting a reception marking the 195th anniversary of independence of their respective countries.
At national day receptions it’s customary to play the national anthems of the host country and the ambassador’s country. At this particular reception guests will have to stand to attention for five national anthems.
The Central American anthems are very stirring – but also very long.
■ AS MORE and more people are living longer, celebrations of 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries have stopped being unusual phenomena.
What is unusual is the celebration of a 60th wedding anniversary that more or less coincides with the 90th birthday of the groom and the 80th birthday of the bride – but more important in the same venue as they were married.
That was the case last week with Werner and Pamela Loval of Jerusalem, whose 1956 wedding was the first kosher wedding at the King David Hotel. The essential difference was that this time they were surrounded by their two sons Jonathan and Benjamin, their daughters Debbie and Daphna and their 12 grandchildren, Liron, Ori, Yael, Netta, Tamar, Amir, Hagai, Tal, Maya, Shani, Guy and Ohad.
Two of the other people present who had been at the wedding that took place on the hotel’s terrace in the days when the view was that of Jordanian legionnaires on the turrets of the Old City were Pamela’s brother eminent lawyer Robbie Sabel and Jackie Aviad, who had been the best man.
The predinner reception last week was held on the very same terrace where the who’s who of Israel – including Moshe Dayan, Moshe Sharett, Dov Yosef, Walter Eytan, Teddy Kollek, Gershon Agron, Chaim Herzog and Zalman Shazar – their spouses and many other personalities of the day had witnessed the union of the British-born bride to the German- born groom, whose life together has been an incredible adventure in diplomatic service, freelance journalism, the pioneering of the Reform movement in Jerusalem, the establishment of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Nayot, the creation of a real estate empire, community service in various organizations, most notably Rotary, travel to international real estate conventions and to Scrabble competitions, work as the personal assistant to Aura Herzog during her husband’s presidency, public relations for the Hebrew University and much more.
No event of this kind is free of speeches, and the ever eloquent Werner Loval, standing unaided at the microphone and speaking without notes, gave an interesting and informative address on the history of Jerusalem and what he perceived as a more positive future for Israel.
The Lovals, not just husband and wife but their whole family, did a lot of traveling over the years on diplomatic missions, to celebrations of relatives and friends scattered around the world, on vacations, on roots journeys and to conventions and competitions.
So it was not at all surprising that Jonathan Loval, who was the first of their offspring to share some memories with the guests, opened up a battered old suitcase. He and each of his siblings took turns in extricating objects that reminded them of something of their growing-up years, when the whole family was living together.
The parents could relate to all the objects other than an orange, which Pamela used to throw across the room if she was angry. That wasn’t quite as bad as something revealed by her brother Robbie, whose arrival when she was five years old was not welcomed by her. Apparently, she tried to throw him and their nanny into the bath. In their adult lives, however, sister and brother are quite close.
The event included a video of the bridal couple dancing – she in a romantic traditional wedding gown and he in a cream-colored tuxedo jacket over dark pants.
There was also dancing at the 60th anniversary celebration, but not in the same room. To ensure that guests could still carry on a conversation in comfort and not have to shout at each other in order to be heard, the Lovals arranged for the music and the dancing to be in an adjoining room, where it could be heard in the dining room, but not to the extent that it was deafening.