Grapevine December 23, 2020: Coronavirus fashion

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN with Hadassah director-general Prof. Zeev Rotstein. (photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN with Hadassah director-general Prof. Zeev Rotstein.
(photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and President Reuven Rivlin not only set an example by being among the first people in the country to be vaccinated against coronavirus, but also set the tone for what to wear to be jabbed – a dark-hued short-sleeved sports shirt or T-shirt.
As it happens, all three men are in the at-risk age group, but Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich, who was also among the first to be vaccinated, came in for criticism because age-wise he does not fit the priority criteria. Danilovich, who will celebrate his 50th birthday on January 24, explained that he had been approached by the head of the Clalit health fund to be among the first in Beersheba to help allay the fears of those people in the South who were still hesitant about the inoculation.
■ ALTHOUGH SOME political commentators believe that Gideon Sa’ar jumped the gun by announcing his defection from the Likud in order to establish a new party, and that he would have done better for himself had he waited for the dissolution of the Knesset, surveys show him doing quite well in the next elections. But Benny Gantz also did well originally; he was considered to be the great “new hope,” which is the name that Sa’ar has chosen for his party, ignoring the possibility that “New Hope” may be a politically tainted expression, given what happened to Gantz, whose own people are turning against him.
It has been frequently said by many politically astute people that army generals and chiefs of staff do not necessarily make good politicians. There is a vast difference between military strategies and political strategies. Gantz has learned this the hard way.
People who left the Likud to form or join other parties have also learned to their cost that this is regarded as a form of treason and is punished accordingly. Sa’ar has already been denigrated by some Likud members, and once the election campaigns get under way, the attacks on him will be a lot worse, and he may face even greater humiliation than has Gantz.
■ PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE Prof. Shimon Shetreet has written a personal letter to the king of Belgium with regard to Belgium’s ban on Jewish ritual slaughter. Shetreet wrote the letter in his capacity as an Orthodox jurist to preserve freedom of conscience and religion, as an Israeli public individual and as a member of the Royal Flemish Academy of Sciences and Arts. “The legislation prohibiting kosher slaughter harms the freedom of conscience and religion of the Jewish community,” wrote Shetreet.
Noting the king’s respect for the Jewish community and its historical heritage while hosting rabbis and community leaders in the Royal Palace, Shetreet appealed to the monarch, on the foundation of his generous approach to the Jewish community and its needs, to activate his influence at the legislature and the executive authority at national and regional levels to prevent the slaughter ban. If a restriction is required for the protection of animals, Shetreet added, it would be appropriate to emulate the customary arrangement in France that requires a permit.
■ DECEMBER 21 had special connotations for Walter Bingham, who has been recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest living working journalist. Bingham, who will celebrate his 97th birthday in January, regrets that there will be no party this year, though some of his friends will drop in for coffee at his downtown Jerusalem apartment. However, he is looking forward to 2024, when he will celebrate his triple-digit birthday with a big bang.
The reason that December 21 has special connotations for him is that it was the date on which his life was saved simply because he said “No.”
A frequent flier on Pan Am, on December 21, 1988, he checked in at Heathrow Airport’s Pan Am desk for a flight to New York and an onward connection.
Before boarding, he was asked whether he would take the next plane a few hours later, because his first-class seat was required for members of the South African government. They were on their way to the UN, to sign the Namibia independence declaration. He refused, and remained the only non-VIP in the first-class cabin.
On arrival in New York he had difficulty in being serviced for his onward flight because the staff was busy preparing for meeting and greeting the following flight, which never arrived. It was Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie.
Bingham – who was born in Germany, escaped the Nazis, managed as a teenager alone in London, and lived through the battles of Normandy – once again escaped death by declining to travel on Flight 103. He is now trying to avoid COVID-19.
■ IN A ceremony on Sunday in the Judean Hills overlooking Jerusalem, Lauren Isaacs, director of Herut Canada, on behalf of World Herut and Herut North America, presented the 2nd Annual Ari Fuld Memorial Award for Zionist Activist of the Year for 5781/2020 to Ben Goldstein, director of Unity Warriors and social media personality. The award was established in 2019, with the blessing of the Fuld family.
A resident of Efrat, the American-born Ari Fuld, who was known as “The Lion of Zion,” was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist in the Gush Etzion shopping center in 2018. Fuld was a passionate Zionist and defender of Israel, Torah and the Jewish people, and was also a friend of Goldstein.
Though seriously wounded, with his final strength, the 45-year-old Fuld, a married father of four, chased his assailant and shot him before he could hurt anyone else. Fuld was a very popular pro-Israel activist, rabbi, teacher and karate instructor.
A trained security expert, who grew up in Memphis and came on aliyah in 1996, Goldstein was a lone soldier in the Givati Brigade. He established Unity Warriors in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge, to utilize “unity funding” by pooling the donations he received to directly provide social welfare support to IDF soldiers and equip medics, paramedics and civilian security team members in Judea and Samaria and at the Gaza border with upgraded emergency medical supplies and safety equipment. Goldstein is known for his personal and passionate videos, which he often sends to Unity Warriors donors, so they can literally see exactly how and where their donations were used.
He also uses video for weekly Torah teachings, prayer sessions at the Western Wall and to show viewers the beauty of Israel. He is a volunteer guard who patrols the Gush Etzion area both day and night.
During the award ceremony, Goldstein planted an olive tree sapling in memory of Ari Fuld.
■ IN SEPTEMBER, several Israeli, Jewish and Arab media outlets published articles about Heba Nabil Iskandarani, 26, a stateless resident of Dubai, with a Jaffa-born Palestinian father and a Lebanese mother. Her father had fled from Jaffa to Lebanon in 1948. The family later moved from Lebanon to the Gulf. Though refugees, they certainly lived more comfortably in Dubai than anywhere else, but there was always that uncomfortable lack of a passport.
The articles about Iskandarani referred to her receiving a Spanish passport on the grounds of being able to prove with documentation and DNA tests that her father’s family was descended from the Jews who were exiled from Spain at the end of the 15th century.
Curiously, it was also in September that the White House announced the Abraham Accords, leading to diplomatic ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
Until she received her passport, Iskandarani, a lecturer in architecture at Birmingham City University, commuted with the help of a Lebanese travel document that defined her as a Palestinian refugee.
She was frustrated by not belonging anywhere, and as a teenager began to explore her roots, discovering that her paternal great-grandmother was Jewish. Further research indicated that her great-grandmother was descended from the Jews who were exiled from Spain at the end of the 15th century, a discovery that made Iskandarani and other members of her family eligible for Spanish citizenship.
Since learning of her Jewish background, Iskandarani has developed an interest in Judaism, she told KAN 11’s Roi Keis in a recent interview, and is looking forward to visiting Israel and going to Jaffa.
Much has been written in the past about Palestinians with Jewish roots, who continue to practice certain Jewish traditions even though they identify as Muslims.
■ EARLIER THIS month, a complex plan was undertaken to bring an Israeli woman home to Israel from Chicago, following a severe asthma attack that left her in a vegetative state. It would have been complicated under any circumstances, but more so during a pandemic. The plan was carried through, thanks in part to the free ambulance transport that the patient received after landing in Israel.
During the original asthma attack, the woman had called Hatzalah Chicago for help. When the EMTs arrived, the woman collapsed and lost consciousness. Her life was saved through the efforts of the Hatzalah Chicago first responders. However, the attack left her in a vegetative state.
As the woman is an Israeli citizen, her family requested that she be transported to Israel for further medical care. Having spent what little savings they had on arranging a flight for her to be returned home, the family was left without the financial means to arrange for transfer to a hospital once she arrived in Israel. The family turned to United Hatzalah of Israel for assistance.
Without hesitation, arrangements for free ambulance transport from the airport to Shaare Zedek Medical Center were agreed upon. United Hatzalah volunteer EMT Chani Vaknin and director of medical services Avi Marcus agreed to drive to Ben-Gurion Airport airport to take the patient to Shaare Zedek. She had been accompanied on the plane by David Sofer, a paramedic living in New York City, who received a call from a friend in Chicago explaining the situation. Sofer is a frequent provider of medical service flights and agreed to accompany the woman to Israel. Together with a physician who had been monitoring the patient in Chicago, Sofer flew with her, and provided her with constant oxygen and other necessary medical treatments
The United Hatzalah ambulance was waiting on the tarmac, and immediately transferred her to the hospital, where family members were anxiously waiting.
■ IN AN op-ed published in The Concordian eight years ago, Montreal businessman Henry Zavriyev wrote: “Hypocritical and slanderous statements are precisely the reason why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has yet to be resolved. Leaders on both sides seem keener on pointing out the flaws of their opposition rather than making the admissions of guilt necessary for peace. While the Palestinian Authority doesn’t miss a chance to condemn Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian lands, Israelis lament the rocket fire coming out of Gaza. Instead of pointing fingers, why can’t both sides not only admit, but stress their own wrongdoings?
“I am a Jew. I am a Zionist. I am an ardent supporter of the two-state solution. I admit without reservation that Israel’s handling of the Palestinian crisis in recent years has been grossly ignorant and irresponsible....”
He was referring to a forum in which neither side demonstrated any recognition of guilt.
Having said all that, fast-forward to 2020, and one might not expect Zavriyev to be playing Santa Claus. After all, Christmas is not exactly a Jewish holiday, even though many Jewish and mixed-marriage families in the United States have what they call a Hanukkah bush. So how did Zavriyev come to play Santa Claus?
While inspecting a building that he was considering buying, Zavriyev found a huge pile of boxes in the basement. On examination, he discovered that they contained a treasure trove of expensive toys. The owner of the building, who has an import-export business, had planned to sell them during the pre-Christmas season, but COVID-19 put that intention in mothballs.
Zavriyev, who loves kids, could imagine how happy these toys would make many children for whom Christmas this year would be somewhat dismal. So he purchased the toys for $30,000 and donated them to Friendship Circle in Montreal for distribution to children with special needs.
Zavriyev, who moved from Boston to Montreal in 2012 to study at Concordia University, personally knows the meaning of economic distress. He used to skip classes to do home improvements at minimum wages. Then, while working as a janitor in a low-grade apartment building, asked the owner if he could rent some of the apartments, fix them up and sublet them to other people. The owner agreed, and Zavriyev was on his way to becoming a real estate developer.
Now affluent, but never forgetting what it was like to be poor, he had a lot of fun distributing the toys to youngsters who never thought they would receive them. An international network, Friendship Circle also has a branch in Jerusalem, which likewise works on behalf of children with special needs.
■ NOT ALL that long ago, Yiddish productions on and off Broadway were not uncommon. Among actors who appeared in them were Molly Picon, Fyvush Finkel, Leonard Nimoy, Theodore Bikel, Mickey Katz, Zero Mostel, Joel Grey and Mike Burstyn.
Most recently, The National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene’s award-winning off-Broadway Yiddish production of Fiddler on the Roof proved to be more popular than anyone had imagined. In fact, when it was first announced that it was in rehearsal, there were critics who asked who needs yet another production of Fiddler? It started out in July 2018 at the Jewish Heritage Museum and then moved to Stage 42, and enjoyed an almost yearlong run.
On Wednesday, December 23, at 6 p.m., Leyvik House in Tel Aviv will host a Zoom program under the title “Yiddish on Broadway.” Although Leyvik House is one of Israel’s key centers for teaching, promoting and preserving Yiddish, for some odd reason the spoken parts of the program will be in Hebrew. The program can be accessed at Password 966234
■ OBITUARIES FOR great achievers never tell the whole story, mainly because not all of it is known, but also because newspaper space or radio or television airtime do not permit that. Though much was said and written about Yaakov Agmon, the legendary theater director, journalist and broadcaster, who was unafraid to take risks, and who changed the lives of many actors and directors by giving them their first chance to prove their abilities, an aspect of his life and character not widely known was broadcast last Friday afternoon on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet.
In the morning a man by the name of Gershon Sagi had called anchorwoman Liat Regev to tell her that when Agmon was working for Army Radio during the Yom Kippur War, Ariel Sharon had given him permission to go wherever he wanted on the battlefield and to interview anyone who was there.
It was Shabbat, and Agmon interviewed a young religious commander by the name of Eli Sagi, who happened to be Gershon Sagi’s brother. Initially, Sagi had refused the request for an interview, explaining that he was religious and that it was Shabbat. This was incomprehensible to the totally secular Agmon, whose response was “But you have a rifle in your hand and you are shooting at the enemy.”
Eventually, Sagi came back to him and said that after thinking about it, he realized the importance of soldiers on the front sending a message to people at home, and that this perhaps outweighed desecration of the Sabbath. On that same day, Sagi fell in battle. Agmon was devastated and never broadcast the interview. But he went to visit Sagi’s mother and offered her a copy of the interview, something that became very precious to the Sagi family, with whom Agmon maintained contact over the years.
Agmon’s wife, Gila Almagor, who knew of the episode but was also aware that it had not previously been made public, voiced an emotional on-air thank-you to Gershon Sagi.
While it had been published that Agmon had been in charge of the 10th anniversary celebrations of the state, it was not mentioned that at that time, he worked in collaboration with Aura Herzog, who conceived of the International Bible Quiz, which is now integral to Independence Day celebrations. Herzog, who also founded the Council for a Beautiful Israel, will celebrate her 96th birthday on December 24.
Other well-known personalities with birthdays in December include Ambassador to the UK Tzipi Hotovely, who turned 42 on December 2; disgraced president Moshe Katsav, who turned 75 on December 5; actor and comedian Shaike Levy, who was one of the Blind Scouts trio, who turned 81, on December 13; singer Marina Maximilian Blumin, who was 33 on December 15; spoon bender and mentalist Uri Geller, who celebrated his 74th birthday on December 20, the same date on which actor and comedian Tal Friedman turned 57; former three-time foreign minister and Israel Prize laureate David Levy, who turned 83 on December 21; singer-guitarist Yehuda Poliker, whose 70th birthday is on December 25; singer, actor radio and television host and author Yehoram Gaon, who will be 81 on December 28; actor and social activist Dvir Benedek, who will be 51 on December 29; cosmetics queen Pnina Rosenblum, who will be 66 on December 30; and comedian, actor and singer Tuvia Tzafir, who will be 75 on December 31.
■ IN THE summer of 1994, just a few months before his death in October of that year, Shlomo Carlebach gave a stirring concert in Hebron. Videotapes of previous concerts that he had given in nearby Kiryat Arba have long been available on YouTube. But the Hebron concert only lingered in people’s memories, until recently when Noam Arnon, the spokesman for the Hebron Jewish community, was going through a box of old videos that belonged to his parents and discovered what for him and many residents of Hebron is a real treasure – a video of the 1994 Hebron concert, which was recently transferred to YouTube.
Carlebach was in full form that night, and the secret of his popularity was obvious. It was simply his gift for bringing people together and creating a spontaneous sense of community. The men and boys seen dancing in the video are not much different from those who dance nowadays when Chaim Dovid Saracik, who joined Carlebach on stage in Hebron that night, continues to play his music and sing his songs.
Carlebach’s daughter Neshama, who turned 20 in the month that her father died, is an accomplished singer in her own right and a champion of religious pluralism and interfaith relations. Like her father, she punctuates her songs with teachings, but while he focused on anecdotes about famous hassidic rabbis, Neshama has a somewhat broader brush and a more universal outlook. Though similar in some respects to her father, she makes it very clear that she is not her father, and has her own outlook on life and her own style of outreach.
■ JUST AS Israeli journalists flocked to the United Arab Emirates in the immediate aftermath of the Abraham Accords, UAE journalists flocked to Israel to gather news and features for their various publications. One such journalist was Anjana Sankar of the Khaleej Times, who discovered India’s best-known export to Israel, Reena Pushkarna, who with her husband, Vinod, opened the first of their Tandoori restaurants in Tel Aviv. The article, which was headlined “This restaurant serves Modi’s favorite dishes in Israel,” was proof that it doesn’t matter how often a story is recycled; to those who have not heard it or read it before, it remains eternally fresh.
The charming Pushkarna is a darling of the Israeli media, and has unfailingly been so almost ever since her arrival in the country. Many Israelis are familiar with the fact that Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu had their first date at Tandoori, and in a video clip Pushkarna tells some of the story of her restaurant while sitting at the very table at which they sat so many years ago. Some of the secret meetings in the planning stages of the Oslo Accords were held at Tandoori, and of course when Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to Israel in July, 2017, the Netanyahus invited Pushkarna to prepare the dinner that they held in his honor at the Prime Minister’s Residence.
But to Sankar and her readers, much of this was new – and it was certainly worth a story.
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