Grapevine August 28, 2020: Jewish or pagan?

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

Simcha Guetta (photo credit: Courtesy)
Simcha Guetta
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, while not passing judgment on anyone’s religious beliefs, told Reshet Bet’s Esti Peretz-Ben Ami that he cannot understand the fervent desire on the part of so many thousands of men to leave their wives and children on Rosh Hashana in order to go to the grave of Rabbi Nachman in Uman. In Liberman’s view, this is a pagan custom and alien to Jewish values.
■ HEALTH IS more important than money. In an interview with Yediot Aharonot, Oleksandr Tsebriy, the mayor of Uman – while conscious of the huge loss in income to his city resulting from limiting the number of Jews who could come to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman and celebrate Rosh Hashanah – said of those who are already there, “the guests will return home and we will be left to deal with our sick. When people want to come from a red region, I have to do all that I can to prevent it.”
■ POLITICS IS a dirty, back-stabbing business, even when the language is polite and free of invective and expletives. There’s very little “blood being thicker than water” loyalty, and long-time friends and confidantes can become enemies overnight.
US President Donald Trump’s niece and his former lawyer have written inflammatory books about him following an earlier tell-all by former national security advisor John Bolton. While it has been reported on the local scene that Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz has asked his people to refrain from making disparaging remarks about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud ministers and MKs, in America, as election day in November gets ever closer, the fight is getting dirtier, and the next book that Americans will rush to buy is about Melania Trump, America’s first lady.
Even though she gave a favorably reported empathetic address to the Republican convention this week, and did not on this occasion plagiarize from Michelle Obama, as she did the first time around, all that may be forgotten when excerpts from the book are published in the American media.
After publication of the contents of a recording in which the president’s sister said the most unflattering things about him, the book reveals some of the nasty things that Melania said about her husband and his daughter Ivanka. Clashes between the two women have been reported in the past. Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former confidante of Melania’s, who is now no longer a friend, taped the first lady’s reaction to her husband’s bragging of fondling the private parts of Hollywood starlets. Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady is due for release next week. In fact all three books will hit the bookstores in September, giving Americans lots of titillating anecdotes to take their minds off the virus, unemployment, unfettered racism in which the key victims are Blacks and Jews and the tropical storms causing havoc in several American states.
■ WHETHER ON a national scale, a local scale or within a specific community, there seems to be no escaping from political differences, even though there may be a sense of unity on the surface. For instance, a series of Israel ambassadors to far-flung Australia have marveled at what appears to be an extremely cohesive Jewish community with a strong commitment to many and various aspects of the Zionist enterprise plus an incredible range of local social welfare, educational, cultural, religious, Holocaust-oriented, youth and other activities conducted through numerous organizations and institutions. Some of the activists in these fields are also prominent figures in the wider Australian community. There are two main Jewish umbrella bodies – the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, which represents the official voice of the Jewish community, and the Zionist Federation of Australia, which incorporates most Zionist organizations. Neither umbrella body can be characterized as Right or Left. They are Right and Left with common interests, namely the well-being of the Jewish people. They are also interested in bringing major personalities from the Jewish world in general, and Israel in particular to Australia in an ongoing, mutual getting to know you endeavor. During the pandemic, this effort has increased with the difference that the introductions and exchanging of opinions is now on social media platforms such as Zoom, Facebook and You Tube. But there is a slight problem as far as Israel is concerned. This week, Blue and White MK Tehila Friedman was the speaker for a relatively new far-right organization called The Australian Jewish Association.
In its mission statement, the AJA writes: “The Australian Jewish Association (AJA) is a new voice for the Jewish community in Australia. It is unique in being formed constitutionally on conservative principles and guided by genuine Jewish religious Torah-based values in its policy and advocacy. You can expect it to be more direct and outspoken on matters of principle rather than cowed by ‘political correctness’. AJA will speak out clearly on security issues, sources of antisemitism and advocacy involving Israel.”
AJA senior members have cozied up to Senator Pauline Hanson, the founder of the ultra-right nationalist party One Nation. Although Hanson claims not to be racist, her attitude and her comments suggest the opposite. It’s possible that she may be less antagonistic to Australian Jews than she is to the Indigenous First Australians, and has even spoken to Jewish audiences, but the mainstream Jewish community wants nothing to do with her. Unlike America’s J Street, which is on the other side of the political map, AJA has received minimal publicity, if any, in Israel, and its title does not hint at its nature. Quite the opposite. It gives the erroneous impression that this is an organization for Jews of all stripes. Few prominent right-wing Israelis would accept an invitation to speak at a J Street event, because they know what J Street stands for. It’s possible that Friedman might have accepted AJA’s invitation even if she was aware of the organization’s policy. Nonetheless, as good a reputation as Australian Jews
have for identifying with Zionist causes, a little investigation before accepting an invitation would not be out of place.
As previously mentioned in this column, leading Israeli personalities appear almost every Sunday on Lockdown Learning, a Zoom, Facebook and You Tube program hosted by the Zionist Federation of Australia. Coming up at 1 p.m. Israel time on Sunday, August 30, is Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center and a central figure among Women of the Wall for the past three decades. Women of the Wall runs the gamut from Orthodox to Reconstructionist with all the participants respecting each other’s spiritual home.
■ THE WORD is out that Prof. Stanley Fisher, a former governor of the Bank of Israel is on the short list of candidates for the Board of Directors of Bank Hapoalim. Long before he was governor of the Bank of Israel, Fisher rescued Israel’s economy from the brink of total disaster, and while governor prevented it from getting that far again. Netanyahu has already consulted with Fisher in relation to Israel’s current economic crisis. It is not known whether that has anything to do with Fisher applying to become an external director of the bank. The possibility comes to mind in view of the fact that when interviewed by the decision-making committee, Fisher expressed a willingness to leave America and return to Israel.
■ MODEL AND television personality Simcha Guetta, like her father radio and tv broadcaster and former Shas MK Yigal Guetta, loves to cook, so she needed no persuasion when asked to join the Matok Leneshama (Sweet for the Soul) campaign of volunteers who are baking cakes to distribute in time for Rosh Hashanah to the elderly, homeless and individuals who live alone. The idea is to demonstrate that people care about bringing a little sweetness into the lives of those who may be lacking in the emotional cocoon that so many families take for granted. The initiative is supported by the Strauss Group, which has contributed 450 packets of cake mix to the campaign.
■ ISRAELI SEARCH, rescue and humanitarian aid teams can be found wherever there is a natural disaster, and as far as humanitarian aid goes, they can also be found in war zones. Not everyone is aware of what Israel does to help people in distress and in need of medical treatment in other countries. A little enlightenment on Israel’s global humanitarian assistance will be hosted by the World Zionist Organization’s Department of Diaspora Affairs in North America at 8 p.m. on Monday, August 31. Speakers will include members of the IsrAid team: Seth Davis, IsraAID US CEO, Monica Rodriguez Kuniyoshi, who was with IsraAID in Puerto Rico; and Yosef Jalil, an international development professional from Los Angeles. The facilitator is Dana Greitzer Gotlieb, West Coast DDA-WZO .The discussion will include firsthand experiences in dealing with epidemics and natural disasters in places such as Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Colombia and more. The link is