Grapevine May 17, 2020: A time for rivalries to cease

A similar sense of togetherness has been seen in Israel among the many members of the culture and arts community who have come together to try to find a creative way to revive contact with the public

SWEDES ENJOY themselves at an outdoor restaurant amid the coronavirus outbreak, in Stockholm on April 20 (photo credit: REUTERS)
SWEDES ENJOY themselves at an outdoor restaurant amid the coronavirus outbreak, in Stockholm on April 20
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I n the current American edition of Vogue, famous fashion designer Ralph Lauren declares, “It is in the spirit of togetherness that we will rise.” As an addendum to this, the Vogue Fashion Fund for COVID 19 Relief states, “Together we stand. As the fashion industry faces profound challenges, all of us at Vogue – together with the Council of Fashion Designers of America – are determined to help. Now is the time to come together and support this inspiring community: from designers to tailors, seamstresses, to embroiderers – this is our common thread.”
A similar sense of togetherness has been seen in Israel among the many members of the culture and arts community – vocalists, musicians, actors, dancers, stage hands, lighting experts, video and sound crews, producers, directors, artists, sculptors, photographers, curators and more – who have come together to try to find a creative way to revive face-to-face contact with the public, Israel’s fashion industry is also hurting, having missed out on most of the spring/summer season.
Their slight consolation lies in the fact that summer extends well into November in Israel. On the other hand, a very large segment of consumers don’t have money for purchases, because so many people are still out of work. And of those who have returned to work, their salaries in numerous cases are not covering the expenses they incurred during isolation, which means they have no extra money to spend on new clothes.
The restaurant and catering industries have also suffered badly.
Some restaurants have been forced to close permanently, while others stand a reasonably good chance of recovery Some psychologists and sociologists say that food is the main luxury in which human beings indulge.
When we have money, food is a basis for social interaction, i.e. meeting and eating. And when we have very little money, a meal in a fancy restaurant or even in a cheap diner is a boost for the psyche.
Now that weddings are back in vogue, some banquet halls are getting requests for various social media options that will enable many more people than the limited number of guests to at least watch the ceremony. Most weddings are booked at least a half a year in advance. Generally speaking, the number of guests varies from 250 to 500 or more. But now they’re being cut down, which means the profits estimated six months ago are taking a nose dive. Certain caterers are prepared to bear the brunt, because a trickle of business is still better than no business.
Although domestic tourism is beginning to pick up slightly, it will be quite a while before international tourism reaches its previous heights. The pre-COVID 19 ongoing increase in international tourism spurred the construction of numerous hotels covering the full range from luxury to backpacker’s paradise. Here, too, it will take a long time before staff who were put on furlough have a reason to return to work.
So, in almost every industry, people have to be supportive of each other so that they can all stand up together to confront and conquer any challenge ■ MORE THAN ever before, there has been a need to supply food for the hungry. Whereas in the past it was essentially a matter of feeding the poor, during the pandemic, both in Israel and throughout much of the world, it has also been a matter of feeding people in isolation. One of the leading organizations in this realm is Leket Israel, the National Food Bank headed by Joseph Gitler.
Leket Israel, which also supplies several other organizations that feed the poor, relies to a large extent on collecting surplus meals and produce from IDF army bases, catering halls, corporate cafeterias and farmers. All this excess food is distributed to needy people across the country through Leket’s partnership with 200 nonprofit organizations.
While there is no doubt that tens of thousands of families and individuals do not have the wherewithal for regular nutritious meals – given poverty figures released by organizations such as The National Council for the Child, coupled with the figures released by some of the above mentioned organizations – something doesn’t jive in the arithmetic. Added up, the numbers are just too high, something that could possibly impact on the credibility of some of these organizations.
Be that as it may, this is not exactly the time to quibble.
The closure of restaurants and banquet halls during the crisis instantly dried up supplies of cooked food, leaving some 9,000 people who depend on Leket without a daily, nutritious cooked meal Since the start of the pandemic, Leket has nonetheless managed to deliver a total of close to 500,000 meals to more than 11,000 people each day. For all that, Gitler was distraught, not knowing whether it was possible to continue at this rate.
But the silver lining behind the cloud appeared in the person of Mark Scheinberg, whose family runs the Scheinberg Relief Fund.
Their donation, plus the amazing cooperation of the Gaya event hall in central Israel enables Leket and other organizations to continue to provide sustenance for the needy.
The Scheinberg Relief Fund was established by Mark Scheinberg and his family in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, to support organizations and initiatives that are tackling the direct impact of the virus on vulnerable individuals and the societies they live in.
■ CONCURRENT WITH the film world’s pre-occupation with ultra-Orthodox Jewish life, a light is also being cast on the oldest Jewish communities in the world – the indigenous communities of the Middle East and North Africa. Film efforts are being aided by JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa), headquartered in San Francisco, but in contact with the world.
Jimena’s members are passionate about fighting for the rights of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews, and preserving their history and traditions through live and on-line lectures, oral histories which can be accessed on the JIMENA website, music, cooking classes, and news updates on anything and everything related to Jewish religious, intellectual and real estate property in the lands of their ancestors.
This has gleaned ever greater interest with the increasing desire of Muslim countries to research and preserve the history and ancient artifacts and buildings of the Jewish communities that once lived there.
In addition to all that, perhaps attracted by the exotica of the East, Western filmmakers are producing ever more documentaries and feature films, many of which are being streamed on Netflix.
A list of these is also available on the website and includes The Impossible Spy, a BBC co-production, considered controversial in its time, in which John Shea stars as Eli Cohen.
In an era in which intermarriage is on the rise, Every Time We Say Goodbye, though set during World War Two, is no less timely today.
Tom Hanks plays a wounded American pilot in the British Royal Air Force who is recuperating in Jerusalem, where he meets and falls in love with a young Sephardi woman played by Cristina Marsillach.
When her family learns that he is not Jewish, they attempt to break up the romance, but the couple somehow manage to get together.
Also still relevant is a thrilling documentary Before the Revolution, describing the last days of the Israeli community that lived in Tehran up until the eve of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
■ JIMENA, WHICH was established 18 years ago, has also helped to change the once negative perceptions by Ashkenazi Jews of Jews from Arab lands, whose academic achievements are not only equal to but sometimes superior to those of highly reputed Ashkenazi intellectuals.
■ OCCASIONALLY ONE gets the feeling that the reason women in the ultra-Orthodox community are discouraged from secular or higher education, is because the men will discover to their chagrin that women are smarter.
This would certainly apply to Prof. Sarit Kraus of Bar-Ilan University’s Department of Computer Science, who has been named the 2020-2021 ACM Athena Lecturer by the US Association for Computing Machinery. The honor is in recognition of her “foundational contributions to artificial intelligence, notably to mult-iagent systems, human-agent interaction, autonomous agents and non-monotonic reasoning, and exemplary service and leadership in these fields.”
Kraus is recognized as one of the world’s leading researchers in multi-agent systems, in which a distributed group of agents (computers, robots, and/or humans) interact and work collaboratively to solve problems. Beyond her work in this area, she has made significant contributions to knowledge representation (another area of artificial intelligence research) by incorporating non-monotonic reasoning, and to randomized policies for security applications by combining methods from game theory, machine-learning and optimization. Kraus is also recognized as an outstanding educator and mentor, as well as for her conference, editorial and leadership roles.
Initiated in 2006, the ACM Athena Lecturer Award, which is aptly named for the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom, celebrates women researchers who have made fundamental contributions to computer science. The award carries a cash prize of $25,000, with financial support provided by Two Sigma.
The Athena Lecturer gives an invited talk at a major ACM conference of her choice.