Grapevine December 2, 2020: Contemporary history commemorated

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife, Sara, and Palmah veteran Amos Horev (right foreground) look at the plaque in the new Legacy Museum at the old Turkish khan at Sha’ar Hagai. (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife, Sara, and Palmah veteran Amos Horev (right foreground) look at the plaque in the new Legacy Museum at the old Turkish khan at Sha’ar Hagai.
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
To the sound of a recording of “Bab el-Wad,” the haunting song written by Haim Gouri and associated most frequently with Yaffa Yarkoni, a legacy museum dedicated to the Harel Brigade and the members of the Palmah who were part of Harel, was dedicated inside the old Turkish khan at Sha’ar Hagai, on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, on Sunday, November 29, the 73rd anniversary of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 on the partition of Palestine.
Sha’ar Hagai in Hebrew and Bab el-Wad in Arabic both mean Gate of the Valley. This is where the Harel Brigade, a division of the fighting forces of the Palmah, headed by Yitzhak Rabin, during the War of Independence, took control of the hillsides overlooking Jerusalem, which was under siege. Their presence enabled a route whereby convoys were able to take provisions to the embattled city.
For former major-general Amos Horev, 96, one of the few remaining Palmah veterans, it was a great day, considering the moral battle that he and other veterans, some of whom have since died, waged in 2016 against a government decision to build a memorial on the site to assassinated minister and major-general Rehavam Ze’evi.
At the time, Horev called for sensitivity. Ze’evi had an unsavory reputation, in addition to which he had not fought in the battles for Jerusalem, whereas 33 of the veterans’ Harel comrades had been killed in the battle for Nebi Samwil, and others in the battle for Katamon. A permanent monument, Horev noted, was not just for the surviving veterans, but for the children and grandchildren of those who paid the supreme sacrifice, and the generations who would come after them. Eventually, after weeks of demonstrations which were well covered by the media, the government gave in.
Speaking at the inauguration ceremony on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Today, in November 1947, exactly 73 years ago, the historic decision was made to establish a Jewish state in the land of Israel. Crowds went out to dance in the streets, but already the next day acts of terrorism by Arab marauders broke out.
From a country that Arab countries threatened to disconnect from the pulse of life, he continued, “we turned Israel into a regional power, with which Arab countries now form alliances of peace. Moreover, we have turned Israel into a global technological power, which all countries of the world respect.”
Turning to history, Netanyahu spoke of the abiding spirit of the Palmah, saying that Israel advances in many fields on the basis of this heritage.
■ ANOTHER EVENT that took place on November 29 this year was the presentation of a special certificate to the Embassy of the Philippines by senior leaders of the Confederation of General Zionists in recognition of the fact that the Philippines was the only Asian country to vote in favor of the partition of Palestine at the UN General Assembly in 1947.
The presentation ceremony at Quezon House – named for Manuel Quezon, the president of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, who introduced an Open Doors policy for Jews fleeing from Nazi Germany and Austria – was attended by David Yaari, vice chairman of the Confederation of General Zionists, and Dov Lipman, former MK and secretary-general of the Confederation of General Zionists, who made the presentation to Reichel Quiñones, first secretary and consul of the Philippines Embassy in Tel Aviv.
Yaari said: “The Jewish people have a long memory, and president Quezon deserves to be remembered for his brave act of kindness during such a dark period of Jewish history. As leaders of the General Zionist faction of the World Zionist Organization, we deeply appreciate the consideration of the Philippines to vote in favor of Resolution 181.”
■ INCLUDED IN many exchanges between Israel and the United Arab Emirates that have taken place over the past two months are the ambassadors’ clubs of the two countries. In fact, relations between them have progressed at such a pace that Yitzhak Eldan, the founding president of the Israel club, and Count Oliver of Wurmbrand-Stuppach, the founding president of the UAE club, have had so much contact with each other that they are on a first-name basis.
Wednesday, December 2, is the National Day of the UAE, in honor of which the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel is hosting a musical online tribute to the UAE, including the playing of the UAE’s national anthem, invitations for which have gone out to all the members of the UAE Ambassadors’ Club.
If all goes according to plan, a delegation from the Israel club will visit the UAE in January, and a delegation from the UAE club will visit Israel in the spring. Meanwhile, the musical tribute features renowned Israeli pianist Irena Friedland, a summa cum laude graduate of the piano department at Tel Aviv University, playing several classical pieces in a performance at the Israel Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv.
When notified of the tribute, Oliver wrote back “we are touched by this beautiful gesture.”
Although the Israel club provides interesting and varied activities for its members, the UAE club is somewhat more upscale. An exclusive, by invitation only lifestyle and business club, headquartered in Dubai, it combines lifestyle benefits with those of a business network, creating a platform for members to explore new opportunities and collaborations while enjoying exceptional experiences.
■ SUPPORTERS OF the candidacy of Effi Eitam for the chairmanship of Yad Vashem to succeed Avner Shalev, who is stepping down at the end of this month, have accused the Israeli media of running a concerted campaign against him, without paying sufficient attention to his background.
While it is true that most Israeli newspapers have published articles reflecting the opposition of Jewish community leaders in various parts of the world as well as Holocaust survivors to Eitam’s appointment, some of those who advocate on his behalf are missing the point and extol his military heroism and his willingness to lay his life on the line for Israel. No one disputes his heroism. What people are concerned about are his allegedly racist remarks and attitude.
It is also unfortunate that some of Eitam’s defenders characterize those who oppose him as “dirty leftists.” At least one journalist has tried to achieve some degree of balance, although she, too, mentions leftists – but only in passing. Quoting from the writings of the late Tommy Lapid, who served as chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, Hagit Rosenbaum, writing in the National-Religious weekly Besheva, while acknowledging that Lapid was a Holocaust survivor, stated that when he was appointed in 2006, he brought with him a trove of allegedly racist remarks that were directed not only against Palestinians but also against any ethnic group or demographic sector that did not find favor in his eyes – especially the ultra-Orthodox community, which he castigated in the most derogatory and deleterious of terms.
Eitam is a second-generation Holocaust survivor. Rosenbaum presents her readers with the story of Esther Fein (Eitam’s mother), who was a nurse in the Red Army and who for four-and-a-half years helped to fight the Nazis. Her parents and many of her relatives were murdered, as were most of the Jews from the Latvian town in which she was raised. She was married to a Latvian Jewish officer, and gave birth during the war. Her husband was killed in battle, and for three years after the war, Esther Fein, with her infant in her arms, wandered across Europe.
En route, she and her friends picked up some 100 homeless Jewish children who had been orphaned during the war, and established a warm home for them on an American army base in Germany. They also set up an improvised school, where they taught the children in the morning and acted as mentors to them in the afternoon
At the conclusion of the Mandate administration in 1948, Fein and her comrades, together with the children, came to Israel. She continued working as a nurse during the War of Independence, caring for the wounded at Kibbutz Ein Gev. She wrote extensively about her experiences, and her writings are included in Yad Vashem’s teaching curriculum.
■ WORLD CHAMPION walker and Bergen-Belsen survivor Shaul Ladany, who is professor emeritus of industrial engineering at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, has decided to donate $10,000 to each of several hospitals dealing with coronavirus patients. Ladany, who as a member of the 1972 Israel Olympic team also survived the Munich massacre, and more recently survived cancer, says that at age 84, having defied death so many times, he feels the need to support doctors and nurses who are fighting the pandemic and trying to save lives.
Ladany, who lives in Omer, could be characterized as the ultimate survivor, as well as an incredible athlete, a prolific writer and an amazing polyglot. A two-time Olympic contestant in racewalking, he holds the world record for the 50-mile walk, the Israel national record for the 50-kilometer walk, and is the world champion of the 100-kilometer walk. He has also participated in several Maccabiah Games, at which he has won numerous medals. From an academic perspective, he has authored more than a dozen books and 120 papers, and in terms of linguistics, he speaks nine languages. When he first started out in competitive sports, it was as a marathon runner, but he later switched to walking.
■ MILITARY HISTORIAN Yossi Rennert is a regular on the weekly Reshet Bet radio program hosted by Moshe Timor, in which various historians, some of them former intelligence officers, in Israel’s various security services talk about people and events related to the pre-state and early state periods.
According to Rennert, there’s no such thing as secret service anymore. He says that people whom he interviewed about certain operations which have long been declassified were still reluctant to go into detail, and in one particular case, there were two men who worked as a team in operations aimed at sabotaging the British. The two were captured by their adversaries and imprisoned together, but one had special instructions which he did not share with his cellmate or with his family before or after. Rennert interviewed the man a few days before he died, and later went to the partner to seek corroboration. The partner knew absolutely nothing of the instructions that had been given to his teammate. “That’s what clandestine operations used to be like,” said Rennert, “Nobody talked. But today you don’t need to train people for espionage. All you have to do is turn on the television and you can learn all the state secrets.”
■ JAFFA, IN addition to being one of Israel’s models of Jewish-Arab coexistence, is also a major enclave for Israelis of Bulgarian background. On November 20, Jaffa lost one of its best known Bulgarians, accordionist Albert Solomon, who was both a restaurant musician and a street musician who had an extraordinary repertoire of Bulgarian songs and anecdotes, and whose purpose in life was to make people happy, to help the less fortunate, and to ensure that there was a prayer quorum in the synagogue.
Solomon, who was generally referred to as Albert the Bulgarian, had been ill in recent weeks and was in and out of the hospital. He died on November 20, and the funeral was on November 22. His family received a huge outpouring of condolence messages from Solomon’s many friends and admirers.
Exactly a week later, on November 27, a large procession of Jews and Arabs made their way to Jaffa’s Ajami neighborhood to offer their condolences to the family of Khamis Abulafia, 60, who in his persona had been a symbol of Arab-Jewish coexistence. Abulafia died of coronavirus at Ichilov.
One of five brothers who inherited the famed Abulafia Bakery on Yefet Street, which was established in 1879 by their great-grandfather, Khamis Abulafia had a bachelor’s degree in social sciences and humanities from Tel Aviv University and a law degree and a diploma in communications from Ramat Gan College. Over the years he worked as an electronic media reporter on both Israeli and Egyptian outlets, anchored a program on Radio Tel Aviv in which he focused on good relations between Jews and Arabs and wrote a column for the weekly publication Yediot Tel Aviv. He was also a member of the board of KAN 11, the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation.
Rather than dwell on the animosities of the past, Abulafia looked toward a future of friendship and cooperation. In deference to their Jewish clients and friends, the Abulafia brothers closed their bakery on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover. Khamis Abulafia promoted coexistence in all the circles in which he moved, but his efforts were not always appreciated by either Jews or Arabs. Following news of his death, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai tweeted: “My friend Khamis Abulafia, a smart and brave man, has passed away. Rest in peace. I will miss you very much.” Huldai concluded by writing: “His untimely death leaves us without a great warrior for a common life and peace.”
Labor MK Merav Michaeli, in her tweet, recalled that when she was a presenter on Army Radio, on her way home she would unfailingly stop at the nearby Abulafia Bakery, where she would occasionally have discussions with Khamis Abulafia, whom she, like many others, regarded as the symbol of coexistence.
■ PEOPLE ARE definitely living longer these days. Last Friday, Dame Shirley Porter who celebrated her 90th birthday on November 29, was mentioned in this column, and earlier in November, Holocaust survivor Fania Dunitz was mentioned in Grapevine for not only surviving the Holocaust but reaching the age of 100. This past Saturday, Shoshana Yaari, the mother of veteran broadcasting and print media journalist Ehud Yaari, celebrated her 100th birthday, and in February of this year, Ynet interviewed several centenarians who do not look their age, continue to read books and newspapers, surf the Internet, paint and draw, watch television, listen to music and continue to include steak in their diets.
■ FOR THE second time in less than a week, Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s ambassador to the Court of St James, who has the distinction of being the first woman ambassador appointed by Israel to the UK, met up for an online panel discussion with the ambassadors of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Mansoor Abulhoul and Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, respectively.
The first webinar, convened by the Anglo-Israel Association, was moderated by Lord Daniel Finkelstein, a weekly columnist and former editor of The Times; and the second, under the auspices of the Middle East and North African Forum at the University of Cambridge, was moderated by Sir John Jenkins, who has served as Britain’s ambassador to several Middle Eastern countries, as well as consul-general in Jerusalem. As is customary in Britain, the first few minutes of the discussion were spent in talking about the weather, with Hotovely remarking on the cold.
Hotovely, who after the first webinar had tweeted how much she enjoyed it and was looking forward to further discussions, noted at the second that this was her first interaction with Cambridge University.
Jenkins was as typically British as any upper-crust character in a BBC production, and commented that he was more in touch with what’s happening in the region through webinars than when he actually traveled in the region.
All three ambassadors spoke excellent English, especially Abulhoul, who had spent some of his school years in Scotland, and sounded to all intents and purposes like a native Brit.
Topics raised in the discussions included expectations from the Abraham Accords, the importance of people-to-people contacts, the areas of cooperation that have already been initiated, the possibility of resuming Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and promoting tolerance and understanding while fighting hate speech and antisemitism.
While her colleagues from the UAE and Bahrain spoke straight into the camera and barely consulted their speakers’ points, Hotovely had written out her opening remarks, which were lengthier than those of her colleagues and which she proceeded to read while barely looking at the camera. At one stage, she even used her pen as a guideline to the text. While she may have been understandably nervous, this does not look good on screen, and she would do much better to have a prompter in her office.
Although it was understated, it was obvious that Britain wants to play a more prominent role in the region, and when a question to this effect was asked, the ambassadorial consensus was that given Britain’s historic involvement in the region, its presence would be welcome.
■ MANY PLACES in the world in which there are small Jewish communities lack a rabbi and a synagogue building. Visiting rabbis and cantors come for High Holy Days, if at all. Newborn boys are either taken to another country for their circumcision ceremony, or a qualified person comes at considerable expense to the parents of the baby, to perform the ceremony in the child’s hometown.
Chabad has never been deterred by the lack of numbers in far-flung Jewish communities, and can offer proof that such communities have grown and flourished once a Chabad rabbi and his family come to settle.
One such potential community is in Lagos, Nigeria, where there are approximately 450 Jews, including a recently installed Chabad rabbi by the name of Mendy Sternbach. Like many young Chabadniks who spend time at Chabad headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, Sternbach, as a 21-year-old rabbinical student, was sent abroad to help out for the High Holy Days. His destination was Nigeria. That was six years ago. For some reason, he kept returning every year, and not just for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Now he and his wife, Mazal, are the codirectors of the Chabad Center in Lagos. They are not the only Chabadniks in Nigeria. Rabbi Israel Uzan and his wife, Haya, established a Chabad presence in the Nigerian capital of Abuja in 2012.
French-born Mazal Sternbach is only 22. Part of her school years were spent in Canada, and she later worked as a teaching assistant in the US. While in America, she received a call from Rabbi Uzan, who asked her to come to Nigeria to help out with his educational programs. She agreed, and was given enormous responsibility for a person so young. For her, it was an amazing and rewarding experience. Thus, there was no need to persuade her to return to Nigeria after she and her husband were married in Paris in 2019. She was more than willing.
For most of the Jews of Lagos, it will be their first experience this week in celebrating a major Chabad get-together or farbrengen, as it is called in Chabad parlance, for Yud-Tet Kislev, the 19th day of the Hebrew calendar month of Kislev, which is approximately a week ahead of Hanukkah.
In hassidic terms, both dates signify a miracle. On Yud-Tet Kislev, in the Gregorian calendar year of 1798, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Hassidism, was released from prison in tsarist Russia.
This year, unfortunately, most Yud-Tet Kislev celebrations around the world will be confined to social media platforms. One such event in Jerusalem, hosted by Chabad of Talbiyeh-Mamilla, will feature lectures by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, rabbi of Efrat and founder of Ohr Torah Stone; and Rabbi Nissan Dovid Dubov, director of Chabad of South London. The musical entertainment will be provided by Avi Piamenta and other singers. The event on Thursday, December 3, at 8 p.m. can be accessed at 19TALBIYA.CO.IL
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