Grapevine, August 26, 2020: 40th anniversary of Solidarity

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

President Reuven Rivlin is greeted by students of Ben Ish Hayil Talmud Torah and Yeshivot in Rehovot, August 2020 (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin is greeted by students of Ben Ish Hayil Talmud Torah and Yeshivot in Rehovot, August 2020
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
The Polish Embassy is hosting a Zoom event on Thursday at 5 p.m. to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of Solidarity, which heralded Poland’s independence from Soviet rule and its transition toward a liberal democracy. Ambassador Marek Magierowski will discuss the impact that Solidarity had on Polish society, politics, and international relations with people familiar with events of that period. To join the event use the following link:
Nobel Prize laureate Lech Walesa, a prominent figure in Solidarity, was the first democratically elected president of Poland, holding office from December 1990 to December 1995. During a state visit to Israel in May 1991, Walesa, in an address to the Knesset, spoke of the centuries-long relationship between Poles and Jews, emphasizing that both were victims of the Nazis and murdered in Auschwitz and Treblinka. He made no attempt to avoid the subject of Polish antisemitism, but found a diplomatic way around it, saying: “Our two peoples, with no sovereign state, looked at each other and saw each other through a distorting mirror. How similar are we, as a blend of good and bad traits; surrender to external influence, foreign influence and aspirations of sovereignty, a tendency toward strife and contention, a tendency toward solidarity, greatness of the soul and also petty jealousy. How much tension rises from the similarities between us.” Further into the address, he said: “As a representative of Poland, which s
truggled and obtained its own freedom and independence, and in the name of Polish pride, I ask you for a fair trial in your memories. Remember also the good things we shared.”
■ THE CASE of the 16-year-old girl who was gang-raped in Eilat, following the controversial statement by Sara Netanyahu that she feels like a battered woman, put several redlines on word and deed into focus.
While it is widely acknowledged that spousal abuse is not necessarily physical but nonetheless traumatic, the prime minister’s wife came under considerable criticism for saying that she was a battered woman, given that she is accorded so much protection. But she is not protected from social media slurs and threats against her. True, she doesn’t have to read them, but when your name is on the screen, it’s hard to resist.
Likewise, it’s difficult for anyone who is intoxicated to resist physical advances. Like so many adolescents, the young girl in Eilat probably thought she was doing something grown up by consuming alcoholic beverages. Unfortunately, she did not know her limit. But the young men who took sexual advantage of her were obviously never taught to respect their mothers, aunts, sisters and even grandmothers. Newspapers continue to publish reports of rape in which the victims are elderly women. The frequency of rape in this country points to serious flaws in education both at home and at school. There is far more rape than we read about. We get to learn only of incidents such as gang rape against minors, rape involving famous personalities, and rape of so violent a nature as to endanger the life of the victim.
Getting back to abuse on social media, veteran broadcaster Yoav Krakovsky last week interviewed women legislators from various political parties about the vile messages they receive on social media. These are delivered across the board and are not limited to Right, Left, Jew or Arab. They include abominable insults, threats to rape them or their daughters, and threats on their lives.
This particular report may be part of Krakovsky’s new, expanded role on radio and television. The articulate broadcaster, who until recently was the longtime head of the political desk at Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, with frequent appearances on KAN 11 television, announced in early August that he was changing direction, and though he will continue to be a political commentator, he will broaden his scope to create radio, television and digital magazine features on religion, society, the Jewish world and Holocaust commemoration – a subject very dear to his heart.
■ THERE IS absolutely no reason for Yiddish to be excluded from social media platforms, but it still comes as a pleasant a surprise to hear the language, which has been eulogized for decades as being dead or dying, used by people who are availing themselves of state-of-the-art communications technology.
Stockholm-born, Manhattan-raised Bella Bryks-Klein has been living in Israel for much of her life. Her late father, Rachmil Bryks, was born in Skarzisk, Poland, and was a survivor of the Lodz Ghetto and of Auschwitz. Fond of writing poetry and short stories from when he was a boy, he kept writing under the most abominable of conditions, placing himself as a witness, when history was on trial. After the war, he married in Sweden, where his two daughters were born, and in 1949 moved to America, where he built a reputation as a prolific writer and lecturer. He also worked for YIVO, contributing enormously valuable Holocaust-related material to its archives. Although he wrote solely in Yiddish, and Yiddish was the only language spoken in his home, he realized that in order to attract a wider readership, his work should be translated. Some of it was translated into English in his lifetime, but since his death in 1974, his daughter Bella has made it her mission in life to continue to promote and translate his work.
She herself is affiliated with various Yiddish groups, organizations and institutions, among them Leyvik House in Tel Aviv, which this week hosted the Zoom launch of the English version of her father’s book May God Avenge Their Blood, a Holocaust memoir triptych translated by Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, a prizewinning translator from Yiddish to English and an important novelist and poet in his own right. Leyvik House director Daniel Galai introduced the event in both English and Yiddish, but before it got under way, several of the 45 participants greeted each other in a variety of Yiddish accents.
Taub, who was raised in Philadelphia, where he attended the Talmudical Yeshiva and continued to the Mechina High School of the Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore, before moving on to Temple University, from which he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude, speaks Yiddish with a decided American twang. After a few introductory remarks, he switched to English.
He thanked Bryks-Klein for sharing insights about her father as a person, not just a writer, a factor that Taub said he found very helpful in his work. He described Rachmil Bryks as “an extraordinary writer with a flair for description and narration.” He was particularly impressed by Bryks’s ability to capture the dialogue of Jews of the shtetl of every political persuasion.
Introducing some of the characters whom Bryks had immortalized in his writings, Taub said that the memoir was a deeply moving tribute to those who did not survive. He noted that while Bryks grew up in a hassidic family, the world around them was full of deep-seated Polish antisemitism. For all that, Bryks, as a fugitive, also encountered warm, generous Poles who welcomed him and gave him food and shelter, refusing to take any money until he absolutely insisted on paying them.
Speaking in Yiddish, Bryks-Klein shared memories of what it was like to grow up with a father who was almost always busy writing. She and her sister, Miriam, did not understand what he was writing about, but they knew it was important, because every time they made a noise, their mother would gently shush them and tell them that their father was writing. Frequently invited to talk to Yiddish-speaking audiences across America, Rachmil Bryks would take some of his books with him and sell them after the lecture to people who were only too eager to read them.
Sometimes, when he was preparing a lecture, his descriptions of life in Auschwitz were too graphic, and his wife would admonish him and say that he shouldn’t be telling people things like that. He disagreed, declaring, “No, they have to know what it was like.”
■ AS MANY Israelis are already aware, a number of native Hebrew-speakers have business interests in the United Arab Emirates, and some also live there. Among them is Ilan Ouzan, originally from Petah Tikva, who was contacted by the city’s mayor, Rami Greenberg, to liaise with the powers that be in the UAE, with a view to naming the new luxury sports arena under construction in the grounds of the Moshe Arens High School in the Kfar Ganim neighborhood the UAE Arena, in honor of the peace agreement between Israel and the UAE.
■ WHILE THE school year within the state education system starts on September 1, schools in the ultra-Orthodox sector begin on the first day of the Hebrew calendar month of Elul. Although it is still uncertain whether President Reuven Rivlin will be visiting a state school on September 1 to say: “Shalom kita alef” to first graders, there was no doubt in the ultra-Orthodox system that school would start on the due date.
So last Friday, which was the first of Elul, Rivlin went to Rehovot, where he was welcomed by Mayor Rahamim Malul, Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen and Eliyahu Halimi, head teacher of the Ben Ish Hayil Talmud Torah and Yeshivot. Waiting to greet him were singing youngsters, who stood far apart from each other, in accordance with Health Ministry regulations. Rivlin sat in on a class of sixth graders who were discussing how each pupil prepares for the High Holy Days during the month of Elul.
“When I took up this position, and was asked to come to the opening of the school year on the first of Elul, there were those who told me that it would harm our unity,” Rivlin told the class. “But unity is not uniformity, I said then and I say again today. We are a Jewish and democratic state, and religious learning is a cornerstone of our lives here. There is nothing more natural for me, as president of the State of Israel, than to have the honor of also opening the school year at yeshivot and talmudei Torah.”
As for state schools, even if they do start on September 1, not all first graders will be going to school for the first time. Unfortunately, too many children are stricken with serious, sometimes life-threatening illnesses, and are stuck in hospitals instead of joining their peers in the schoolyard or the classroom. Sensing their disappointment, the NGO Giving Hope, together with the medical team in the children’s ward at Tel Hashomer, will hold a ceremony for junior oncology patients and others on September 1 and will distribute copybooks and school equipment to be available for when they can transfer to the classroom.
■ SOME 20 foreign ambassadors and diplomats of lower rank last week enjoyed a tour in the Tzipori National Park and the surrounding region. This was part of an initiative, by the Tourism Ministry and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, designed to provide diplomats with a close-up experience of Israel’s unique beauty and heritage. Participants represented Sri Lanka, Colombia, Thailand, Nepal, Vietnam, El Salvador, Austria, Uruguay and Ukraine.
The brainchild of ministry director-general Amir Halevi, the tour was guided by Tzipori-born Etti Koriat Aharon, a longtime INPA employee in charge of information and community in the northern district and an expert in Tzipori’s archaeology. The group visited, among other sites, the Nile Festival House, the Roman villa with the beautiful mosaic floor of the Galilee, the Crusader castle and the remains of a synagogue from the Byzantine period. They ended the day with wine-tasting and lunch at the Kitron winery. Contrary to the old adage, there are free lunches.
This tour was the first in a series of tours for diplomats organized by the ministry in conjunction with INPA. Subsequent tours are expected to take place in Caesarea National Park, the INPA Sea Turtle Rescue Center and the Apollonia National Park, with participants from Panama, Ireland, Russia, Britain, Estonia, Latvia, the Netherlands and Canada, among others.
“Having run a successful cycling project in which dozens of foreign diplomats enjoyed breathtaking routes around Israel, we decided to offer the diplomatic community the opportunity to take advantage of this corona period and visit the national parks,” said Halevi. “To our delight, registration immediately filled up, and the diplomats were enthusiastic about discovering another piece of archaeology and history in the Galilee. Given the absence during the coronavirus crisis of overseas advertising and marketing campaigns featuring Israel’s attractions, these tours provide another type of exposure to Israel via the diplomatic corps living in Israel.”
Raya Shuraki, director, INPA Public and Community Division, noted that due to the pandemic, the tourism industry is currently based entirely on domestic tourism. “At the same time, it is important to look ahead and establish and cultivate contacts with key figures in other countries, with a view to leveraging incoming tourism when it will become possible.” Tourism is a two-way street in which diplomats in each other’s countries play a significant part in promoting travel not only from their host countries to their home countries, but also vice versa.
■ NEPAL’S AMBASSADOR to Israel Anjan Shakya and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi last week signed an agreement on a visa waiver for Israeli visitors to Nepal and Nepalese visitors to Israel who are holders of diplomatic passports. The agreement was signed at a special event at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. The waiver is valid for visits of up to 90 days.
Shakya also used the occasion to propose that the training period for Nepalese students in Israel be extended from the current 11 months to a longer period so that they can gain additional knowledge and expertise in their relevant fields.
This week Ashkenazi welcomed British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, and was scheduled to be in Germany on Wednesday to participate in the six-monthly informal meeting of foreign ministers of member states of the European Union. Having US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Raab in Israel in the same week could be a sign of life returning to normal.
■ VISITORS TO Taiwan who want to drive a rented car should be aware that an international driving permit is valid for 30 days. But Israelis no longer need an international driver’s license following the signing of an agreement this week on mutual recognition and exchange of driving licenses. In other words, an Israeli driver’s license is valid in Taiwan, and a Taiwanese license will be recognized in Israel. The head of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Israel, Ambassador Kuo-Boug Chang, said the agreements are useful for businesspeople and tourists in both countries.
Taiwan, with a population of 23.5 million, is regarded as an economic powerhouse in Asia, and has been targeted as a green country with a very low infection rate. Confirmed cases on Monday stood at 489, and fatalities have been among the lowest in the world, with seven deaths resulting from COVID-19.
■ AUSTRALIAN EXPATS living in Israel are very sad to say goodbye to popular Australian Ambassador Chris Cannan, who made many friends here, and who happily joined in numerous sporting activities. Cannan’s tenure is coming to an end after a little over three years. His previous overseas postings had been in Vienna and Manila. He also held senior positions with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, but Israel was his first ambassadorial posting. Happily, he was still in Israel last week to enjoy an exciting Asia Pacific Day, hosted by Ashkenazi.
■ JERUSALEM POST restaurant reviewer Gloria Deutsch was less focused on the food at Villa Nonna in Caesarea than she was on her role as mother of the groom, when she and her husband, Prof. Alex Deutsch, married off their Tzvika, 42, to Inbar Shoshan, 34.
The wedding had twice been put off, and the families on both sides were apprehensive as to whether the couple would ever get hitched. But the great day finally arrived last week, and the bride’s mother, Rachel, who works at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, could finally see her daughter in a traditional white bridal gown. The bride’s father died when she was a small child.
If the British-born groom, who has a PhD from the Weizmann Institute of Science and who works at Israel Aerospace Industries, looks familiar, it’s because he was briefly a television star in 2005 when he appeared in the top-rated reality show The Ambassador, sponsored by New York-based Israel at Heart, in which 14 young people from different backgrounds competed to spend a year in the United States in a public relations effort to market Israel in the most positive way to as broad a public as possible. Tzvika Deutsch was runner-up to New York-born winner Eytan Schwartz, who currently serves as director of communications for the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality.
Inbar Deutsch, who has a degree in economics from the Open University, currently works for Colmobile.
The best man at the wedding was Gilad Engel, the groom’s best friend from the age of two, when they were they were in kindergarten together in Kfar Saba. Curiously, Engel now lives in England.
■ QUICK TO reach out to the Jewish community of the UAE, Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevitch, Ross Kiel, president of the UAE Jewish community, and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, the former NYU chaplain who was recently appointed chief rabbi of the Emirates, joined forces with members of Israeli youth movements and their families for a spirited Kabbalat Shabbat. The event included Sabbath songs, national anthems, candle lighting and prayers for peace and good health for the citizens of both countries. It was an emotional experience for most of the participants.
■ CULTURE VULTURES will have a hard time choosing between the Israel Festival and Docaviv, both of which open on September 3. Among the Docaviv offerings is a 75-minute film called Honorable Men which tells the story of former prime minister and current columnist for Maariv and The Jerusalem Post Ehud Olmert. It traces his rise to power and his fall from grace, going from the highest political office in the land to Ma’asiyahu Prison, where he spent much of his time writing his book In Person. Set as a political thriller, the film follows the events that elevated Olmert to power, while simultaneously creating the setting for his fall.
When Olmert first became a member of Knesset, he was in the forefront of the fight against corruption, but apparently corruption got the better of the man. Like all politicians who make it to the top of the totem pole, Olmert has led a multifaceted life and, despite his incarceration, was quickly welcomed back into the upper echelons of society. Viewers will be given a glimpse of the mechanisms and machinations that control politics, justice, peace and war. Regardless of what anyone may think of Olmert, he stepped down from office rather than taint the premiership with his continued presence while on trial. The person who spoke loudest and longest against him remaining in office, long before he was actually charged, was Benjamin Netanyahu.
The film was directed by Roni Aboulafia and produced by Yoav Leshem, founder of the Beyond Creative production company, which is dedicated to promoting social change. The film will be available online from September 3 to 13.
■ THE RAPID pace of urban renewal has discarded many once iconic features of many cities to the dust of history, to be remembered only by those who operated them and frequented them. One of those icons used to be Fink’s Bar in the very heart of Jerusalem, famous for its goulash, its incredible variety of alcoholic beverages, the number of international celebrities who found their way there, and of course the genial hospitality of its proprietors Dave Rothschild and his son-in-law Mouli Azrieli.
Fink’s Bar, which opened in 1932, on the corner of King George Avenue and Histadrut Street, was patronized by British Mandate officials, UN personnel, journalists, diplomats, politicians, film stars and more, most of whom left their signatures with complimentary comments in the guest book. Finks closed in 2005, but was briefly reconstructed in 2018 as part of the “London in Jerusalem” exhibition at the Tower of David Museum. Azrieli and his wife, Edna (a former staff member of the Post), were there for the opening, but Mouli, who died this week, was already unwell, and instead of standing behind the bar, as he had for so many years, he sat on the other side of the bar. Edna Azrieli is still around to tell the intriguing tales of Fink’s Bar, but the next generation is unlikely to know that it ever existed, unless it comes across in one of the many articles now stored in the archives of international publications, or someone produces a documentary film about pre-high-rise Jerusalem.