GRAPEVINE: Cutting into history

“Most students don’t even know the history of modern Israel, let alone the distant past.”

University presidents meet with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein in his office (photo credit: KNESSET)
University presidents meet with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein in his office
(photo credit: KNESSET)
Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein received a historic keepsake this week when the Knesset sergeant at arms Yosef Grif presented him with the scissors that had been used half a century ago, on August 30, 1966, to cut the ribbon at the inauguration of the permanent home of Israel’s parliament.
The scissors, much larger than a normal size, were specially designed by sculptor David Palombo, who also designed the entrance gates to the Knesset. They were given to Grif by the head of the Israel Police Communications and Population Division, Brig-Gen. Yuval Gat, whose father Moshe Gat was a former sergeant-at-arms of the Knesset. Gat found the scissors and the ribbon among his father’s belongings.
There were more than 6,000 people at the dedication ceremony, including the heads of 44 parliaments and representatives of 47 Diaspora communities. Most of the funding for the building came from James de Rothschild, whose widow Dorothy de Rothschild contributed a further $1 million and attended the inauguration ceremony together with then Knesset speaker Kadish Luz.
The scissors and the ribbon will be placed in a special display case in the hallway near the Knesset Speaker’s Bureau as part of an exhibit depicting the history of the Knesset.
Palombo, who died tragically when his motorcycle crashed into a road barrier chain on Mount Zion two weeks prior to the inauguration ceremony, also designed the gates of Yad Vashem’s Tent of Remembrance.
■ TO MARK the 30th anniversary of the passing of her father Avraham ben Moshe, American Peace Corps alumnus and currently interfaith activist Elana Rozenman, held an evening of song and study at the home that she shares with her husband Zvi in Jerusalem’s Abu Tor neighborhood.
The common denominator among all those attending was Shlomo Carlebach.
Everyone present had known him in their youth, and most of the people had known each other in California, long before making their homes in Israel.
The singer/ story teller was Yehuda Katz, who frequently performs on Saturday nights at the Amos Wineries in Tekoa.
Katz, who traveled widely with Carlebach, preserves Carlebach’s songs and spiritual stories, in addition to his own. One of the stories that he told was that once on tour in America, he wandered into a synagogue in which he was the only person not dressed in a black suit white shirt and black hat.
After the service, a man with a long white beard came to compliment him on a recent video that Katz had distributed, and said that he wanted to tell him a story and that he wanted him to disseminate that story wherever he went. After the Six Day War, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson had sent his disciples out into the streets of Manhattan and had told them to get every male Jew they could find to put on tefillin (phylacteries). The disciples never questioned their Rebbe and duly went out into the street, stopping men in their tracks and asking “Are you a Jew?” Whenever they received an affirmative, reply, they offered the man the opportunity to lay tefillin – and many did.
Even before these successes, the story of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s latest instructions to his disciples hit the haredi street, and spread like wildfire.
In other ultra-orthodox circles, people jeered at the idea. A Satmar hassid came running to the Satmar Rebbe Rabbi Yolish Teitelbaum to tell him the story. “Really?” said Teitelbaum. “He did that?” When assured by the hassid that the story was true, Teitelbaum began to laugh, and all those of his followers who were gathered around him began to laugh, too. Teitelbaum stopped laughing and asked them why they were laughing. Their response was that if their Rebbe was laughing it was incumbent on them to laugh, too.
“I’ll tell you why I was laughing,” said Teitelbaum. “I always knew that Menachem Mendel was clever, but now I know he’s a genius. Do you realize how many people in Manhattan he got to say ‘I am a Jew?’ That’s even more important than laying tefillin,” declared Teitelbaum, a survivor of Bergen Belsen.
■ THE APPOINTMENT of Doron Peles as president of the Military Court of Appeals, and his promotion to the rank of major general is yet another nail in Hitler’s coffin.
Peles is the son of Holocaust survivors.
His mother spent the war years in the Budapest ghetto and his father was a survivor of Bergen Belsen. During that horrendous period in the camp, he could never have imagined in his wildest dreams that he would have a son who would one day be president of the Military Court of Appeals in the State of Israel, the Jewish homeland.
■ FOLLOWING THE announcement at the beginning of April that he had been appointed consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, Sam Grundwerg, the director- general of the Israeli branch of the World Jewish Congress, left Israel on Tuesday night for the United States, but not before having a farewell breakfast at the King David Hotel across the road from his office.
Grundwerg, a Miami-born attorney, spent six years with the WJC before being sent back to the land of his birth. The WJC-sponsored Israel Council on Foreign Relations frequently held breakfast, lunch and dinner affairs at the King David, usually dealing with the hotel’s deputy general manager and head of delegations Sheldon Ritz, who invited Grundwerg to one last sumptuous breakfast before moving out.
It seems that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a thing about sending Americans back home as Israeli diplomats.
Included in the list of past and present are Dore Gold, Michael Oren, Ron Dermer and now Grundwerg. Eli Groner, the American-born current director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, served as Israel’s economic attaché in Washington.
■ AMONG THE guests at the King David this week was commissioner of the Texas General Land Office, George Prescott Bush, who is the son of former Florida governor Jeb Bush, the grandson of former US president George Bush and the nephew of former US president George W.
Bush. GPB is an attorney by profession, a US Navy reserve officer who under an assumed name spent eights months serving in Afghanistan, where not even his closest buddies knew his true identity. Also a real estate investor and a politician, he is a fourth-generation elected official in his family, and a third-generation member of the Bush family to come to Israel.
When his grandfather visited Israel as president, his itinerary included the dedication of a Jewish National Fund grove or forest, but for some reason, that event never came to fruition, causing The Jerusalem Post to run a headline “No Bush in the forest.” All three generations of the Bush family who visited Israel stayed at the King David in Jerusalem. The recent family member came in time for the launch this week of the Republican campaign in Israel, but apparently his presence was either unknown or overlooked by organizers.
On the day of the Republican campaign launch in Modiin Bush was meeting with President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem.
■ ANOTHER ITEM related to the King David. At a ceremony in the hotel reading room this week, the hotel received Five Star Superior grading from the Ministry of Tourism, which under Tourism Minister Yariv Levin has revived the star rating system, which was dormant for some two decades.
The King David was one of five hotels in the Dan chain to be rated at different levels, and the remaining hotels in the chain will be rated over the next year or two. Dan chain CEO Rafi Sadeh, who was originally opposed to the reintroduction of the rating system, is now a keen fan and said that all the Dan hotels will be rated over the next year.
Certain changes had to be introduced to those already rated in order to measure up to the 270-point criteria set by Rodney Sanders, a former general manager of leading hotels in Israel who is now the representative of the Austrian Ennemoser company, which was chosen to rate the Israeli hotels. Company founder Dr. Klaus Ennemoser developed a standard method of rating that is widely used in Europe. Sanders trained a team of Israelis in the methodology of the company’s rating system.
Rating is important to big hotels, said Sadeh, but much more so to small hotels in order for them to become well known. The Dan chain will upgrade the Dan Accadia in Herzliya next year he said, and will close the Dan Caesarea for total renovation.
Ministry of Tourism director general Amir Halevy quipped that when he was a schoolboy in Jerusalem, he was once given an assignment to reconstruct the bombing of the King David. He was happy, therefore to be able to be present to award the fully restored hotel the highest rating in the system. Levin said that as the grandson of Etzel fighters, he was always curious about Etzel operations against the British, and although he understood the need to change the look of the hotel at the time that it was bombed 70 years ago, he was much more delighted with the image that it has today.
■ IT’S NOT often that people, especially newspaper columnists, are pleased to be proved wrong, but last week, when the writer of this column surmised that Yarden Gerbi would be the only Israeli medal winner at the Olympics in Rio, she was wrong – and happily so, thanks to Ori Sasson who also won a bronze medal and gladdened the heart of Jerusalem super patriot President Rivlin, who hailed him as Jerusalem’s first Olympic medalist.
It remains to be seen whether Netanyahu’s pledge to Sasson that he would speak to Sasson’s trainer Oren Smadja (who won Israel’s first Olympic bronze in Barcelona in 1992) and Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev about establishing a special fund for Olympic athletes. Time will tell whether this is just another empty political promise.
On the other hand, following a Yediot Aharonot report that the income tax authorities are going to take between 34% to 48% of the prize money that the two judokas received in addition to their medals, why not earmark all tax revenues taken from cash prizes for achievements in sports or in sports-related lotteries toward this goal? It won’t be enough, but at least it will be a start from which to build, and could lead to a new branch of philanthropy whereby donors contributing toward the encouragement of a particular sport would subsequently sponsor the best exponents of those sports in their efforts to be chosen for the Olympic team.
■ IN VARIOUS cities and towns throughout Israel, there are blue placards on certain buildings with text in Hebrew and English informing passersby of the interesting history of the site – the home of a famous public figure, the hideout for clandestine groups working against the British Mandate authorities, designed by a noted architect, etc.
Recently one such placard was affixed to a building in the capital’s Rashba Street, where legendary Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek and his wife Tamar lived for four decades in a modest walk-up apartment to which untold numbers of the rich and the famous from Israel and abroad found their way, among them piano virtuoso Arthur Rubinstein, Frank Sinatra, the Queen of Holland, members of the Kennedy family, Marlene Dietrich, Isaac Stern, Zubin Mehta and many other internationally known personalities.
The Kollek placard was somewhat different to others in the city in that it included Kollek’s likeness. His daughter Osnat Kollek Sachs, an artist, was so enamored with the placard that she invited her son who lives in Beersheba to come to Jerusalem to see it. But when they arrived in Rashba Street, they saw to their dismay that the placard had disappeared.
Was it stolen by a Kollek admirer? Was it taken down by someone who despised Kollek? Was it simply an act of vandalism? It is going to take a while for the Society for the Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites to come up with a replacement – and there’s always the risk that it, too, will disappear.
■ HALACHICALLY JEWISH, eccentric multimillionaire Guma Aguiar was raised Christian and became a “born-again” Christian before rediscovering his Jewish roots. He became Orthodox and settled in Jerusalem, where he was a well-known and generous philanthropist, in addition to which he acquired more than 20 properties.
He returned periodically to Florida. On his last sojourn there in June 2012, he disappeared at sea. A battle royal ensued for control of his estate. His marriage had been falling apart, but he and his wife Jamie were still living together, and she believed that the estate belonged to her and their children. His mother Ellen Aguiar thought otherwise. After contentious court cases, Aguiar was declared legally dead in January 2012, despite various theories, such as that he faked his death and is living under an assumed identity in the Netherlands.
One of his properties, a six-bedroom luxury house in Jerusalem, is currently on the market with an asking price in excess of $13 million.
■ IT WAS billed as the biggest Bible Convention in the world and it was totally sold out, with a total of 200 lectures, and an attendance of more than 8,000 participants, each paying NIS 220 for a whole day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. While 8,000 participants is nothing to sneeze at, certainly not in Israel, it can hardly be classified as the biggest in the world, considering the size of evangelical gatherings in the US for similar purposes.
But if Herzog Academic College in Alon Shvut, along with Lifshitz College, want to believe it’s the biggest, who are we to put prick their balloon? Among the lecturers were Rabbis Yaakov Madan, Amnon Bazak, Itamar Eldar, Tamir Granot, Yuval Cherlow, Yaakov Ariel, Benny Lau, Yoel Ben Nun, Daniel Tropper, Haim Sabato, Haim Navon, Dr.
Yehuda Brandes and many other wellknown and popular figures. People who couldn’t make it to the venue this year were able to see and hear the conference on their computers.
■ THE DIMINISHING knowledge and understanding of history, and the superficial manner in which it is taught were bemoaned last Thursday by Israel Prize laureate Eliezer Schweid, a professor of philosophy at the Hebrew University Jerusalem.
Schweid was the respondent in a pre-Tisha Be’Av study session on Jerusalem at the President’s Residence, co-hosted by President Rivlin and the Jewish Peoples Policy Institute.
When it was held for the first time last year with Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and secular speakers, it was considered to be a great novelty, but now that it has been held for the second time, moderator Shmuel Rosner said it would hopefully lead to a normalization of relations between Israel’s various Jewish denominations.
This may still be a utopian wish. Rabbi Dalia Marx, PhD, associate professor of liturgy and midrash at Hebrew Union College, revealed that there had been attempts to have the study session canceled.
Marx, acutely conscious of not offending anyone on what was almost the eve of Tisha Be’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, refrained from any mention of refusal by the Orthodox establishment to recognize the Reform movement and accept its conversions.
Instead, she delivered a lesson in which she quoted Ibn Ezra, Yemenite Rabbi Shalom Raday, one of the Soloveichik rabbis and Rabbi Abraham Issac Kook on their individual interpretations of exile and redemption. Sounding more like a graduate of an Orthodox women’s seminary than the erroneous stereotyped image of a Reform rabbi, Marx said: “Today, in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, we’re still not in the right place.”
Rabbi Avi Novis-Deutsch, dean of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, recalled that when he was a youth in Bnei Akiva, prior to Tisha Be’Av each year, members in his group were asked by their leaders to build a cardboard version of the Temple.
They labored hard to produce what they imagined the Temple to be, after which the leader came by and set each Temple on fire, allowing it to burn until it was reduced to ashes. That was intended to give them some comprehension of the destruction of the Temple, but when Novis-Deutsch became a leader himself, and the construction of cardboard Temples was still in vogue, he was confronted with a dilemma.
Was the true message of Tisha Be’av contained in the burning of the temples? Was this the way to convey the meaning of baseless hatred? After all, Tisha Be’av is connected to the uniqueness of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem is frequently mentioned in daily prayers. But the memory of Jerusalem, he noted, is the memory of destruction.
He prefers to take his own memory back to the period prior to the destruction of the Temple and focus on the nostalgia of community. There are those today who want to build a third Temple, but there is a certain fear accompanying this ambition, he said. Everyone has different dreams about what the Temple should be.
“We have to make room for the dreams of others and build a Temple that includes all the dreams,” said Novis-Deutsch, adding that he looked forward to the day “when we can all dream our dreams together.”
If anyone needed proof that knowledge takes precedence over belief, it was in the learned and dramatic presentation by Noam Dan, the former head of Binah, the Jerusalem Secular Yeshiva’s pre-military academy. An ex-kibbutznik, Dan asked what place Tisha Be’av has in the life of a secular person.
“To me, it’s just a date on the calendar,” she said, admitting that she does not relate to the Temple, nor does she believe in God.
But the message of destruction does mean something to her. She gave examples of how lives could be ruined and destroyed by iniquities that threaten the sanctity of home and family.
“All those who close their eyes to iniquities contribute to them,” she said. “A nation that closes its eyes does not deserve a third Temple.” Dan implied the sense of discomfort she experiences through discrimination against secular Jews. “To yearn for any home, you have to feel that it is your home.”
A similar message about doing nothing in the face of evil or someone else’s humiliation was delivered by Rabbi Yermi Stavisky, the principal of the Himmelfarb School, who castigated those who stand on the sidelines and don’t want to be involved.
“The world doesn’t collapse because of bad things, but because of people who stand silent and don’t do anything to remedy the situation,” he said.
Earlier on, Rivlin had said that he was disturbed by the factionalizing that characterized the era leading up to the destruction of the Temple, and regretted that this kind of factionalizing continues to this day.
Disputes should be settled respectfully and promptly and not in a flippant or hypocritical manner, said Rivlin. He was convinced that if people could learn to be true to themselves and act with integrity within their organizations, sectarianism would be vanquished.
Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky recalled that when he was being sentenced to a long term in a Siberian prison, the judge had asked if he had anything to say before sentence was passed, and Sharansky had replied with the age-old Jewish wish “leshana haba b’Yerushalayim” (next year in Jerusalem). It took more than a decade longer than that, but his home is in Jerusalem, which he said figures prominently in Jewish life in good times and bad. When he took his daughters under the bridal canopy, each of the grooms recited the verse from Psalm 137 “If I forget you O Jerusalem….”
“At the height of our joy, we remember the destruction of Jerusalem,” said Sharansky, and then voiced his disappointment that after three-and-a-half years of discussion aimed at enabling all denominations to pray together at the Western Wall, an agreement and a compromise were finally reached. For some it was the pinnacle of joy, he said. For others it was the depth of depression. When Jews are so interdependent on each other, it is a shame “that we have to fight about how to pray at the Western Wall,” he said. He hoped that prior to Tisha Be’av next year, all the different denominations of Judaism could come together for a study session at the Wall.
“If we want a future that incorporates the Zionist vision, we have to teach more history in state schools and universities,” said Schweid. In Israel, history is not taught as a continuum, he contended. Only certain aspects are introduced into school curricula, and are taught mechanically, with the result that most students quickly forget whatever came up in class.
“Most students don’t even know the history of modern Israel, let alone the distant past,” he charged.