Next week, the Jewish world will mark Holocaust Remembrance Day and will commemorate the 77th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Ordinarily, Israeli and global Jewish media would be filled with stories from the International March of the Living from Auschwitz to Birkenau, which was canceled this year due to COVID-19.
This year would also have marked the 75th anniversary of liberation from most of the camps. As part of commemoration, Jewish families who lost relatives during the Holocaust will be encouraged to read their names or those of other victims that are recorded on the Yad Vashem website, in particular the names of child victims. At this time it is also important to remember the names of survivors who fought in the ghettos, organized rebellions in the camps and who, after the war, dedicated their lives to bringing former Nazis to justice.
The best known of these Nazi hunters was Simon Wiesenthal, who survived several camps, including among others, Plaszow, Buchenwald and Mathausen, from where he was liberated in 1945 by a US Army unit. After being reunited with his wife, Cyla, and recovering from deprivation, Wiesenthal assisted in the War Crimes Unit of the US Army, then worked for the US Army's Office of Strategic Services and Counter Intelligence Corps. He also headed the Jewish Central Committee in the US Zone of Austria and was active in aiding the illegal immigration of Holocaust survivors to British Mandate Palestine.
Assisted by his wife, Wiesenthal's investigations led to the capture of many Nazi war criminals, including Adolf Eichmann.
Wiesenthal's granddaughter, Dr. Racheli Kreisberg, who lives in Ra’anana, has spent the past 20 years researching her family roots, which originate in Galicia in an area that is now part of Ukraine. Her research led her to establish a digital memorial to her grandfather, who was not looking for vengeance but for justice. This memorial wall, which she calls the Simon Wiesenthal Genealogy Geolocation Initiative, can be accessed at simonwiesenthal-galicia-ai.com.
Both Simon and Cyla Wiesenthal are buried in Israel. Cyla died in November 2003, and Simon survived her by two years, and died in September 2005 at the age of 96 at his home in Vienna. He is credited with doing more than any single individual to bring war criminals to justice. Numerous dignitaries from Israel, Austria and the United States attended his funeral at the Herzliya cemetery.
IN MONDAY'S Yediot Aharonot, veteran political reporter and commentator Nahum Barnea referred to Gesher's Orly Levy-Abecassis as "the hitchhiker who stole the car." It actually sounds better in Hebrew, but the fact of the matter is that Levy-Abecassis had little chance of returning to the Knesset unless she formed an alliance with another party.
She first entered the Knesset in 2009 on a Yisrael Beytenu ticket, quit the party in 2017 but remained in the Knesset as an independent. She subsequently resurrected her father's Gesher Party but failed to get a Knesset seat in the April 2019 elections. She subsequently formed an alliance with Labor to guarantee a seat for herself in the most recent elections, even though the only issues on which Gesher and Labor were in accord were on matters of social justice. She appeared to raise no objection when the alliance broadened to include Meretz.
In the final analysis, Levi-Abecassis won a Knesset seat, and both Labor and Meretz each scored fewer seats than in April. But worse was yet to come. Levy-Abecassis then gave her support as head of Gesher to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, thereby betraying the left-wing voters on whose backs she had spring-boarded into the Knesset. If ever electoral reform was needed in Israel to curb political malfeasance, the story of Levy-Abecassis should serve as a red alert.
THE OTHER two women are Lori Palatnik and Chani Lifshitz, who will be among the beacon-lighters on Israel’s Independence Day. Both women are wives of rabbis. Palatnik is a co-founder of the Jewish Women's Renaissance Project, which is in the nature of a Birthright program for Jewish women to help strengthen their Jewish identity. JWRP was later renamed Momentum.
A passionate Zionist and humanist, Palatnik is the mother of five children, one of whom was a lone soldier. Palatnik also donated a kidney to a total stranger. Last July, she brought a large group of mothers of lone soldiers to Israel. She annually brings groups of Jewish women from all over the world to Israel, and has been chosen to represent Diaspora Jewry at the beacon-lighting ceremony. She and her husband, Rabbi Yaakov Palatnik, are leaders in the international Aish HaTorah network.
Chani Lifshitz is well known to Israeli and other Jewish backpackers whose sense of adventure takes them to Nepal. She and her husband, Rabbi Chezki Lifshitz, are the Chabad emissaries in Kathmandu and are famous for each year hosting the largest Seder in the world, which unfortunately they could not do this year. Although they come to international attention year after year just before Passover, they actually care for backpackers all year round, and anyone who finds their way to the Kathmandu Chabad center can be assured of a smiling face, a kind word and a warm meal.
Chabad is renowned for its hospitality and Chani Lifshitz and her husband symbolize this particular value, which has been handed down from the time that Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish people, washed the feet of the angels without knowing who they were. Similarly, Chabad offers hospitality first, and asks questions later.
WHEN THE Boy Scouts movement was founded in Britain by Lord Robert Baden-Powell in the first decade of the 20th century, and later emulated around the world, its motto was “Be Prepared.” Obviously, there weren't too many Boy Scouts or Girl Guides among the world's leaders in the second decade of this century, because no one was prepared for the pandemic which has overtaken much of the globe. Certainly when Jerusalem based American-born lawyer Marc Zell, who is chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel, went to Myanmar a little over a month ago, he was not prepared to spend Seder night there. He thought that he would be home with his family in Israel's capital.
Zell stayed in Myanmar for the first half of Passover because it was so difficult to get a flight out of the country. Commercial air travel was largely grounded. Keeping kosher in accordance with Passover standards was quite a challenge.
Anyone fortunate to find a flight that wasn't suddenly canceled had to maneuver through a labyrinth of emergency health controls and visa regulations. Planning how to leave was a daunting task because any mistake could result in two or three weeks of quarantine in multiple destinations, not to mention the final one in the passenger's home country where at least another two weeks in quarantine would be mandatory.
To eventually get back to Israel from Myanmar, Zell had to fly to Tokyo, where he arrived on Monday. Then he had to wait 12 hours for a flight to Los Angeles, where he spent two nights while contending with local lockdown and Passover regulations. He next caught a flight to Newark and then waited to board a flight to Tel Aviv. Talk about a long way home.
Some kind of a lesson should be learned from this in the event of a future global crisis. For instance, if there is no airline from a passenger's home country, what is the nearest country in which there is such an airline? The airport should have that information. If not, ask on social media. If there are enough people traveling to your home country, maybe you can collectively hire a private plane. To be prepared is to have a “what if” scenario in your wallet.
THERE'S NOTHING new about seeing Arab nurses and doctors in the nation's hospitals. In fact, some of the finest medical professionals happen to be Arabs. However, it is rare to find Israeli Arab philanthropists who donate to causes beyond their own communities. However, the current crisis has created a sense of national destiny transcending politics, religion and race.
Prominent Arab businessman and real-estate magnate Naif Abu Suis, who grew up in one of the poorest areas of Ramle, is one of several Arab and Druze philanthropists who have given generously to several Israeli hospitals, saying that at this time of national crisis, there is no difference between Arabs, Druze and Jews who are all equally vulnerable to COVID-19, and who are represented by doctors, nurses and volunteers in hospitals and homes for senior citizens all over the country.
This spirit of national unity is also reflected among the beacon-lighters on Israel Independence Day, who will include Ahmad Boulane, a Jordan Valley Bedouin who is a senior nurse in the cardiology unit of Poriya Medical Center in Tiberias; and Yasmin Mazawi, a Christian Arab from the Galilee who volunteers with Magen David Adom.