Grapevine April 9, 2021: Readers on the alert

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

PRESIDENT REUVEN Rivlin with Neria Meir, Yaakov Aharoni and David Aharoni. (photo credit: PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON OFFICE)
PRESIDENT REUVEN Rivlin with Neria Meir, Yaakov Aharoni and David Aharoni.
(photo credit: PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON OFFICE)
 ■ BASED ON misinformation, an item recently appeared in this column stating that no street in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv had been named for Israel’s first foreign minister and second prime minister Moshe Sharett. One reader who took the trouble to send a correction is Barry Nester, who wrote that he was surprised because he has been living for 30 years in the Ramat Sharett neighborhood, and that a main street in the area was named in memory of Moshe Sharett. A quick consultation with Prof. Google indicated that Ramat Sharett (Sharett Heights) is located in southwest Jerusalem between Ramat Danya and Bayit Vegan. The neighborhood was established in 1974.
■ YET ANOTHER error was pointed out by another Jerusalemite Debra Weiner, who very politely corrected the impression that a Daf Yomi class led by Shimon Hochster was a male-only affair. Relating to a report on the completion of Masechet Pesachim, Weiner wrote:
“This event was the collaboration of two neighborhood synagogues-the Migdal Hashoshanim synagogue in the Pinsker building and Hazvi Yisrael. Ms. Cashman was correct in reporting that men, women and children participated in this Zoom event. However, Ms. Cashman wrote that ‘attendance at Hochster’s classes is a men-only affair’. I have been studying Daf Yomi with Rav Shimon and the class for over a year. I joined the class in July 2019 – and dedicated the siyum for Masechet Keritot for my mother’s yahrzeit. I attended the classes daily at the Hazvi Yisrael synagogue. With the challenges of COVID-19, Rav Hochster set up a conference call and I have had the privilege to study with the dedicated group of learners by phone each morning at 8:10.” Weiner issued an invitation to join the siyum for Masachet Shekalim on Monday, April 12.
■ A THIRD Jerusalemite, Heddy Abramowitz, who is an artist, is inter alia a member of the Jewish Art Salon, an international group of Jewish artists and scholars, in which capacity she is participating in a group exhibition on Jewish Authenticity and Identity that opened this past Sunday at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC, and will remain on view till May 14. Visitors to Washington who would like to see this exhibition are advised that they can’t just pop in. Due to precautions being taken in relation to the coronavirus pandemic, they have to make an appointment via https://www.adasisrael.org/ 
■ IN MANY parts of Israel this week, people shed tears as they heard first and second generation Holocaust survivors tell their stories in the framework of Zicharon BaSalon – intimate living room gatherings in which a Holocaust survivor or his or her son or daughter shares memories or information about what befell their families during the Holocaust. Veteran actress Yona Elian, whose Holocaust survivor parents met in a refugee camp, spoke to a group of people gathered in an apartment in Ramat Gan and said that speaking at Zicharon BaSalon was more emotional than any role she had ever played on stage.
Explaining how the people already living in the country when the Holocaust survivors arrived did not know to relate to them, not even several years later, she instanced the case of an uncle of hers who always carried a baby’s tiny sock in his pocket. Everyone used to laugh at him for not going anywhere without the baby’s sock. It was only after she was no longer a child, that she learned that this was all her uncle had left of his baby who was murdered in the Holocaust.
■ PRIOR TO Passover, as published in this column, the World Jewish Congress, together with the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, held a virtual Seder for the foreign diplomatic corps stationed in Israel, and also sent a Passover package to each embassy. The elegant package included a charoset set, a large bottle of wine, a package of matzot, a kippa and a truly beautiful Haggada. Among the many messages of appreciation received at the Jerusalem office of the WJC was one from US Charge d’Affaires Jonathan Shrier, in which he not only praised the organizers for “a lovely pre-Passover event,” but included a tweeted video of him making and tasting charoset, using the kit provided in the Passover package, plus a few special ingredients of his own, such as smoked paprika. Wearing an Adat Shalom Iron Chef apron, Shrier demonstrated that he was very much at home in the kitchen. In fact, if he wasn’t a diplomat, he could easily get a job as a professional chef. He certainly proved to be adept at chopping, cutting and grating. The look on his face as he tasted the charoset, was one of sheer bliss.
■ WHILE ON the subject of American diplomats, former US ambassador Dan Shapiro in an interview with Reshet Bet’s Aryeh Golan, was asked why President Joe Biden has not yet appointed an ambassador to Israel. Shapiro replied that Biden has not yet appointed any ambassadors because his focus is on overcoming the pandemic. Golan asked whether Shapiro was a candidate for when Biden gets around to appointing ambassadors, but Shapiro was evasive in his reply. If he is re-appointed, it will certainly be beneficial to bilateral relations. Not only does Shapiro know the country well, but speaks both Hebrew and Arabic and is already acquainted with leading political figures, academics and people in the defense establishment. No one would be better suited to hit the ground running.
■ IT’S NOT often that 100-year-old people go visiting, but then when the visit entails getting a recognition of some kind from the president of the state, one doesn’t quibble over the effort it may entail. The centenarian in question was Yaakov Sicka Aharoni, who recently celebrated his 100th birthday. Born in Mea She’arim to a rabbinical family, Aharoni grew up during the period of the British Mandate and as a teenager in 1938, defied a British ban against blowing shofar at the conclusion of Yom Kippur at the Western Wall, or the Wailing Wall as it was known then. He was not the only one. Teenage Jewish boys made it an annual practice to smuggle a shofar into the area.
Ten years ago, Aharoni was one of six then surviving men, who as teenagers had risked arrest in order to blow shofar. The six came together to reminisce – and yes, they blew shofar together.
As an adolescent, Aharoni was also a member of the Betar youth group, as was Reuven Rivlin some years later.
In addition, Aharoni was a very active member of the Irgun Zevai Leumi (the National Defense Organization), and was involved in some of its most dangerous operations. Relations between the Hagana and the IZL, or Etzel, as it was generally known, were not exactly cordial, and Aharoni suffered cruelly at the hands of the Hagana. But nothing broke his spirit. After the War of Independence, he was a publicist, poet, novelist and educator.
Aharoni and Rivlin had met before, most notably in May 2018, when both attended the opening of the Museum of the Western Wall Platoons in a building that had been shut down by the British 80 years earlier.
Aharoni was accompanied to the President’s Residence by his son, David, his daughter, Michal, and Neria Meir, the director-general of Betar.
On Wednesday evening, Rivlin, in his speech at the Holocaust Remembrance Day state ceremony at Yad Vashem, made yet another reference to the fact that he is concluding his tenure. Addressing himself directly to Holocaust survivors, he said: “I thank you for the privilege you gave me to walk with you in the paths of remembrance from Holocaust to rebirth. I bow my head to you. I will forever bear your testimony in my heart. Soon, I will leave my official position as president, but I am not taking leave of my commitment as a person, a Jew, an Israeli to remember and remind, to educate according to the values you have passed on to us.”
In the vast majority of his visits abroad during the past near-seven years, Rivlin has visited Holocaust museums and monuments and has participated in memorial events for victims of the Holocaust, most recently last month in Vienna, where he and Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen attended a memorial ceremony in the Judenplatz for victims of the Holocaust. Mindful of the resurgence of antisemitism in Europe and elsewhere in the world, Rivlin had said then: “Austria did not wake up one morning to the swastikas of the Third Reich. Antisemitism, racism and xenophobia had been incubating for years. That is how the horrors were born – out of apathy and disregard.”
On Tuesday of this week, prior to the swearing in of the 24th Knesset, Rivlin gave notice that he would not be staying for the traditional photograph with heads of political parties in the Chagall Hall. Political commentators took this as a sign that he did not want to be photographed sitting next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Supreme Court President Esther Hayut had no problem sitting next to Netanyahu – and they even exchanged pleasantries. On Wednesday night at Yad Vashem, Rivlin had no choice but to sit next to Netanyahu, but for most of the evening, looked stonily ahead. The still photographs subsequently released by his office, showed no sign of Netanyahu, but each appeared in the videos of the event on each other’s Facebook accounts.
As former Ashkenazi chief rabbi and child Holocaust survivor Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau frequently says: “We know how to die together, but not how to live together.”