Grapevine December 1, 2021: Jewish mean time

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG prays at the Cave of the Patriarchs.  (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG prays at the Cave of the Patriarchs.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

The invitation to the Jerusalem Cinematheque to see the documentary film by Bernard-Henri Lévy stated that there would be a reception and the lighting of the first Hanukkah candle at 7 p.m. on Sunday. Lévy and his entourage arrived at the Cinematheque at around 7 and promptly disappeared. Most invitees arrived slightly later and headed for the reception room but there was no reception till 7:30

They congregated outside for about 20 minutes and started to disperse before they were told to enter and to enjoy donuts, wine and beer.

After all, it was perfectly normal at a Jewish film festival for a reception to start at Jewish mean time.

The donuts were the traditional variety filled with strawberry jam and covered with too much powdered sugar, which people were shaking off if not for dietary reasons, then to make sure that their clothes were not covered in a white mist.

The room was overheated and many people made a quick exit.

 BERNARD-HENRI LÉVY (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) BERNARD-HENRI LÉVY (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

By 7:45 there had still not been a candle-lighting ceremony and people started wandering in the direction of Cinema 1 where the screening of Lévy’s new film was held. There was a crowd gathered outside, mostly elderly people, some with canes or walkers, and they had nowhere to sit as they waited.

There are a lot of chairs and benches at the Cinematheque but they were all occupied by younger albeit not necessarily young people.

It subsequently transpired that a more elite reception had been held for Lévy in the Cinematheque library. But the people in the almost full house audience did get a chance to see and hear Lévy both before and after the screening. Prior to the screening, he was presented with an achievement award by Nanno Kleiterp, chairman of the Van Leer Group Foundation.

The film, in color with black and white intercuts from Lévy’s long history of reporting from conflict zones beginning with Bangladesh when he was only 22, and later including Portugal, Ukraine, Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria and Gaza, is aptly titled The Will to See. We read reports about war, tyranny, massacres and terror, but until the horrific scenes of murdered or tortured victims appear on the big scream, what we read barely penetrates our consciousness before we skip to the next item.

Lévy, who regards himself as a philosopher much more than a journalist, believes in the importance of imparting knowledge. That’s what he does with this and other films that he has made. As absorbing as the film is, what was even more interesting was the conversation after the screening between Lévy and acclaimed Israeli journalist and documentary filmmaker Itai Anghel, who has covered much of the same territory as Lévy and has met many of the same people, but whose approach is quite different.

Both men are intellectuals. They had never met before, but Anghel has been following Levy’s career and sees him as a role model. Nonetheless, he was somewhat disturbed by the fact that Lévy inserts himself into the situation of every conflict that he covers. This is something that Anghel would never do, and he asked Lévy whether he allows himself this luxury because he is a philosopher. Lévy conceded that he is more of a philosopher than a journalist, whereas Anghel is bound by a journalistic ethic of non-interference and not taking sides.

There is a 20-year age gap between the two men. Anghel said he would continue doing what he does so long as his mind and his body were up to it, and marveled that Lévy, 74, is still running around like a young man. He asked him if he ever thought of retiring, and Lévy replied that he would always be ready to answer a call to come to yet another conflict zone and to try to effect change. Anghel was curious as to whether Lévy believes that peace will eventually come to the world, or whether he was simply being naïve. “I am not naïve,” Lévy replied. “But I am optimistic.”

Anghel also asked Lévy about controversial French presidential candidate Éric Zemmour, who is Jewish, but who in Anghel’s words “makes Marine Le Pen look like a moderate.” Zemmour is known for his anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant views, and has even made statements that could be construed as antisemitic. He says that one can’t be both a loyal French citizen and a committed Jew. Lévy, who is both a loyal French citizen and a committed Jew who happens to be an ardent Zionist, declared that “Zemmour is just a bubble who won’t last long.”

■ THIS WEEK UAE Ambassador Mohamed Al Khaja was due to host a reception to mark the Golden Jubilee of the United Arab Emirates. But on Monday his office sent out a message to the effect that the event has been postponed “due to UAE governmental guidelines,”

Since his arrival in Israel, Al Khaja has been busy on so many levels that it is very difficult to keep up with him.

With the notable exception of the late Egyptian ambassador Mohammed Bassiouni, who spent a total of 18 years in Israel and who died in Cairo 10 years ago, Egyptian and Jordanian ambassadors tended to keep fairly low public profiles. Not so Al Khaja and Bahrain Ambassador Khaled Yusuf al-Jalahma, who have each been making friends, influencing people and talking about the potential of joint endeavors in different fields and the importance of normalization and spreading peace throughout the region.

On November 18 Al Khaja joined Avi Solomon, a blind Israeli runner, on a pre-marathon run through Tel Aviv, prior to Solomon’s flight to Abu Dhabi to compete in the Abu Dhabi Marathon. Solomon runs a lot for charitable causes.

Among the invitees to the postponed UAE jubilee reception were Labor Party chair and Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli and Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, each of whom has been involved in bilateral discussions and events with the UAE. Hassan-Nahoum is a co-founder of the UAE Business Council, and Michaeli twice hosted Al Khaja last week – once at the Transportation Ministry, where they discussed bilateral and regional relations as well as the developing transportation links between Israel and the UAE; and two days later at a Labor reception and briefing for members of the foreign diplomatic community.

The latter is an annual event that was not held last year due to COVID restrictions, and for the most part ambassadors and other diplomats got together on Zoom – even for the traditional pre-Rosh Hashanah gathering hosted by then-president Reuven Rivlin.

The Labor Party reception proved how eager diplomats were to congregate together again. It was attended by ambassadors and other diplomatic representatives from close to 60 countries. It was also historic in that among those attending were the ambassadors of the UAE and Bahrain.

■ THIS WEEK, The Jerusalem Post celebrates its 89th anniversary. The Post was founded on December 2, 1932, and was previously known as The Palestine Post in view of the fact that prior to the establishment of the sovereign state of Israel, the country was called Palestine.

The founding editor of the paper was Gershon Agron, who later became mayor of Jerusalem. In 1950, while Agron was still editor, the name of the paper was changed to The Jerusalem Post at the suggestion of Meir (Mike) Ronnen, the paper’s long-time art critic, political cartoonist and book reviewer, who said that the word Palestine on the masthead was no longer appropriate, and since the paper was located in Israel’s capital, this should be reflected in its title, which has ever since been the case. Ronnen, who died in August 2009, was the father-in-law of celebrated international architect Moshe Safdie, who had a major impact on the restoration of Jerusalem’s Old City, and who among his many other projects designed the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem.

Long before the advent of digital news outlets, the Post was being read by tens of thousands of Jews and non-Jews around the world who were eager to receive information about what was happening in the Holy Land. Sometimes that information was two weeks late or more in arriving. Today, it is accessible in real time, and literally millions of people are reading the digital edition. But there are still many readers who want to hold a newspaper in their hands, and the management of the paper respects this desire.

■ IN JEWISH tradition, a festival or a holiday often comes just before or just after an anniversary of a major tragedy in Jewish history. Thus the 10th of Tevet comes just over a week after Hanukkah. The 10th of Tevet is a fast day and a day of mourning for people who perished in the Holocaust. Originally observed as the anniversary of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, it was given a closer-to-home reason by the Chief Rabbinate, which decreed that the date should also be one on which victims of the Holocaust whose actual fate and place of burial were unknown would be mourned.

In addition to mourning, we should also remember the Righteous Among the Nations, who at the risk of their own lives rescued Jews during the Holocaust. One such person was a distinguished Ukrainian priest, Metropolitan-Archbishop Andrei Sheptytsky, who saved more than 150 Jews, sheltering 15 of them, including a rabbi, in his private residence. For some strange reason, the people at Yad Vashem who have to approve the conferring of the title Righteous Among the Nations, have declined to do so with regard to Sheptytsky, even though some of the people he saved have given testimony.

Holocaust historian Prof. Shimon Redlich, a Ukrainian-born child Holocaust survivor, who owes his life to a Christian family, has spent more than two decades in the quest to gain recognition for Sheptytsky’s courage and humanity – but to no avail. He believes that this may be partly due to preconceived notions that all Ukrainians are antisemites and that they were in collusion with the Nazis. 

But it is wrong to cast aspersions on a whole nation. Poland is an example. More Poles have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations than any other country, yet there is a common belief in the Jewish world that all Poles are antisemites. Yes, there is a lot of antisemitism in Poland, but there is also a lot of admiration for Israel and the Jewish people. This is similar not only throughout Eastern Europe, but anywhere in the world where antisemitism is on the rise. The tendency is to look at the negative and ignore the positive.

■ MEANWHILE THE Observatório Internacional de Direitos Humanos (International Observatory of Human Rights), based in Portugal, has published a universal tribute to all Holocaust victims. OIDH said in a recent statement that “to ensure that the memory of the horrendous massacre remains alive, the Jewish Community of Oporto will make sure that all Holocaust museums around the world, as well as the ADL and B’nai B’rith International, the oldest Jewish organization in defense of human rights, will receive a copy of this declaration.”

A ceremony at which this was announced took place on November 28 at the Oporto Holocaust Museum, in the presence of an audience comprised exclusively of adolescents from the city’s schools.

A certificate marking this tribute was delivered by the organization’s president, Dr. Luís Andrade, to the director of the Oporto Holocaust Museum, Dr. Michael Rothwell.

Andrade said “the event is part of a world cordon of solidarity for universal peace, and for a better world for all humanity. This appalling mass assassination took the lives of millions of Jews, as well as an untold number of other human beings.”

Responding on behalf of the Oporto Holocaust Museum, which is managed by members of the Jewish community whose relatives were murdered by the Nazis, Rothwell said: “It is a privilege to receive such a tribute, meant for all Holocaust victims, such as my grandparents, Jewish people who were targeted for scientific and industrial annihilation the likes of which had never before happened in the history of humanity”.

Inaugurated in 2021 by the Jewish Community of Oporto (CIP/CJP) in partnership with the Holocaust Museums of Moscow, Hong Kong, the United States and Europe, the Oporto Holocaust Museum does not charge an entry fee and focuses mainly on young people.

In addition to replicating a section of Auschwitz, the museum has a room of names, a cinema, a conference room, galleries recounting the story of the Holocaust, as well as objects and individual files belonging to the hundreds of refugees who came through Oporto in 1940.

■ WHAT IS the connection between Amir Peretz and Omicron? After burning his political bridges by becoming minister in a Netanyahu-led government, after he had declared in August 2019 that he would never join a Netanyahu-led government, emphasized by stating “read my lips” and shaving off his iconic mustache cultivated over 47 years so that Israelis could better read his lips, Peretz, who has a turbulent political history, not only broke his word, but betrayed Labor Party voters.

Rather than risk failure to cross the threshold, Peretz did not stand for re-election, nor did he follow through with his announcement that he would run for president. However, after so many years in the public sphere, it seemed that he could not bow out and enjoy retirement in Sderot where he lives. Instead, buoyed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, he vied for the chairmanship of the Board of Directors of Israel Aerospace Industries, and was rejected by the selection committee on the grounds that he did not have the proper educational qualifications, and that he had never run a business. 

The fact that he had been the mayor of Sderot, the secretary-general of the Histadrut labor federation, the defense minister who approved the Iron Dome and the leader of a political party did not persuade the selection committee, which was concerned that the government might want to privatize the multi-billion-dollar enterprise, which would mean the dismissal of hundreds of employees. As Labor leader, Peretz had adamantly objected to privatization, but as the chairman of the board, it was feared that he would swing in the opposite direction.

Following his rejection neither Gantz nor Liberman let up, and in the final analysis, the government overrode the selection committee and voted Peretz into office. But it did not end there. Aside from making a mockery of the selection committee, it sparked the ire of Eliad Shraga, a lawyer who heads the Movement for Quality Government. Shraga has appealed to the High Court of Justice in a bid to overturn the government’s decision. 

It’s somewhat sad to see a former firebrand such as Peretz suffer the degree of humiliation that he has experienced in recent months throughout this whole process. Apparently, when so many people spat in his face, he didn’t get the message, and thought it was raining.

■ CHABADNIKS ARE known for their unstinting generosity of the spirit. Whenever the opportunity arises to help another human being, they don’t hesitate. Case in point is Rabbi Gavriel Benayon from Panama City, who was in New York last month for the annual international conference of Chabad emissaries, and took the opportunity to go shopping to buy himself a new pair of sneakers. 

He hadn’t intended to wear them till he returned home, but circumstances caused him to put them on much sooner than anticipated. Riding on a subway train in the cold of New York’s early winter, he saw a barefooted homeless man, approached him, removed his own shoes that he was wearing and gave them to someone who needed them more. The selfless gesture was captured on the mobile phones of some of the other passengers.

Benayon then sat down and put on his new sneakers and gave a thumbs up sign to his beneficiary, who was delighted with the unexpected gift. Shlomo Carlebach, whose initial outreach activities were inspired by the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, once did a similar act of kindness when he came across a poorly dressed homeless man freezing in a  New York street. Carlebach took off his winter coat and with his familiar iconic twinkle of the eye, gave it to the man.

■ COVID-19 has forced people in various fields of endeavor to think differently. As far as stage performances were concerned, they had to be shortened to periods of 10 to 20 minutes in length, because while the attention span of an audience on a digital platform might be longer, the detachment of actors, dancers or singers from the audience could have a negative effect on the quality of their respective arts.

Theater Company Jerusalem came up with the concept of “Bazak,” which means high speed in Hebrew, and consists of a series of short works that can be sustained both on screen or on stage. The three-day Bazak Festival, curated by Gabriella Lev, the founding artistic director of TCJ, will take place at Jerusalem’s Beit Mazia Theater from December 7 to 9, inclusive. Two sessions of five short works will be presented each night and will include dance, music, cabaret, video-art and theater. Audiences will also enjoy impromptu performances outside the building, in the foyers and in the corridors;

The festival encompasses a total of 25 short works presented by 80 artists.

■ THE OPENING event of the British Friends of Ariel University was held at the official residence of Israel’s ambassador to the Court of St James’s, Tzipi Hotovely, who spoke of her personal connection with the university after welcoming a packed crowd of community leaders, prominent business executives and philanthropists. Hotovely recalled her direct involvement with the efforts to spearhead the recognition of what was previously Ariel College as a full-status university during her period as a member of Knesset. She expressed pride in the dynamic growth and accomplishments of the university in research and academic excellence in less than a decade.

Industrialist David Morris, chairman of the British Friends of Ariel University, coordinated the event together with Stephen Pack, the former president of the United Synagogues. Morris shared a personal reflection on the university’s impact on him and his family. The Morris family generously donated and continues to support The Conrad and Ruth Morris Medical Simulation Center, which has saved lives by being a vital training facility for university medical students, IDF medics, MDA and Search and Rescue teams.

Ariel University President Prof. Yehuda Shoenfeld spoke of the immense impact the university had on him since becoming president merely a half-year ago, and proudly referred to noteworthy breakthroughs in medical research that can be credited to Ariel University.

AU Senior Vice President Bobby Brown highlighted the critically important social projects that Ariel University prioritizes, especially in making higher education accessible to students from the Ethiopian community, as well as students living in peripheral towns and cities. The university also has a unique specialized program to assist students on the autistic spectrum.

Head of Personalized Medicine Dr. Igor Koman commented that Ariel University is at the vanguard of advancing personalized medicine in Israel.

Toward the conclusion of the event, Adrian Treger, AU director of donor relations, asked those present to raise a glass of the revived ancient Jewish wines produced in the university’s Samson Family Wine Research Center and, in chorus, all exclaimed “Lehayim” as they wished continued success to the university.

■ DUE TO the wide ranging history of his family in Israel and abroad, President Isaac Herzog can personally identify with many of the numerous events that he hosts or attends. At the beginning of this week when in Hebron for the lighting of the first Hanukkah candle, he recalled that his great-great-grandmother Rabbanit Faya Hillman had been one of the survivors of the 1929 Hebron massacre. This week at the state ceremony to commemorate the exodus by the fleeing or expulsion of Jews from Arab and Muslim lands, he noted that his mother, Aura, and Aunt Suzy Eban, who were born in Egypt as members of the Ambache family, had seen with their own eyes the manner in which Jews in Cairo and Ismailia suffered discrimination, incitement and persecution, and had told him many stories about this situation.

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