Grapevine December 31, 2019: For life and to life

One of the perks of being recognized as the oldest working journalist in the world is to never again have to worry about renewing one’s press card.

PRINCE CHARLES joins the funeral procession of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995. (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
PRINCE CHARLES joins the funeral procession of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995.
One of the perks of being recognized as the oldest working journalist in the world is to never again have to worry about renewing one’s press card. At a special Hanukkah event honoring nonagenarian Walter Bingham, he was presented with a lifelong press card by Nitzan Chen, the director of the Government Press Office, who said that it was a privilege to see Bingham coming to the GPO offices like a true professional as if this was his first day on the job.
Bingham, who will celebrate his 96th birthday on January 5, termed himself a WOLT, an acronym standing for World’s Oldest Living Teenager.
Born in Kalsruhe, Germany, as Wolfgang Billig, he said that he had drifted into journalism after studying philosophy and politics.
Being a broadcast journalist today is much easier than when he started out, he said. In those days it was reel-to-reel tape records with splicing of tapes when editing. “You had to get it right the first time. There was no going back.” Today, with computers, it’s very easy, he said. Editing can be done any number of times until you’re satisfied that it’s perfect.
Change has come to everything, not just the world of broadcast journalism, he said. He instanced international phone calls. “To call a foreign country, you had to book a call.” Then you had to wait until the call had gone through to talk to someone at the other end. Today, you call direct, and with WhatsApp, you don’t even have to pay for the call.
Looking back, Bingham said that he witnessed the book burning of German culture in 1933; and on Kristallnacht in 1938, he watched the burning of a synagogue.
Just before the Second World War, he was sent to England on a Kindertransport by an organization that had morphed into Bnei Akiva.
He had hoped to go to Palestine, but once the war broke out, he was stuck in England. So he joined the British Army.
Knowing that there was a chance that he would be captured, he decided that since his name was decidedly German, he should change it to one that sounded more British. He spoke to his commanding officer about it and was given half a day off to go find himself a British-sounding name.
He went down the street, saw a telephone booth and went inside to thumb through the telephone directory. Even if he was prepared to give up the name under which he was born, he wanted to at least retain his initials. He started looking for first names that started with W, and came up with Walter, and then for surnames that started with B. He rejected common names like Brown and Baker and finally settled for Bingham.
The following day at roll call on the base, the sergeant called the name of each soldier in Bingham’s unit.
When he yelled out Walter Bingham there was silence. The other soldiers looked around. As far as they knew, there was no newcomer to the unit. The sergeant barked the name again – and again there was silence. Finally, he approached Bingham directly and asked why he hadn’t responded when his name had been called. Apologetically, Bingham confessed that he’d forgotten what it was.
He was sent to Normandy, and later, due to his fluency in German, was transferred to counterintelligence and given the job of interviewing captured Nazis, among them foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, who was subsequently convicted at the Nuremberg trials and then hung, the first of the Nazi war criminals to be executed.
Bingham suspects that these interviews, coupled with his natural curiosity, led him to his career in journalism.
Although he is every inch the British gentleman and speaks English without the faintest trace of German in his accent, Bingham says that he never quite felt at home in England.
Journalism has not been his only career. He has also been an actor and entrepreneur. He eventually came on aliyah in 2004; and, at an age when most people have long retired, relaunched his career, broadcasting Walter’s World on Arutz 7.
Although he has successfully distanced himself from his origins in English, strangely enough, he has retained his German accent in Hebrew. When invited at the GPO to light the Hanukkah candles on the last night of the festival, he intoned the blessings in an unmistakable German accent. Bingham has endeared himself to colleagues, and as he approached the hanukkiah, almost everyone present had a camera poised to capture the moment for posterity. It would seem that Bingham not only reports news, he makes news.
■ IN HONOR of the 90th birthday of Yiddishpiel founder Shmulik Atzmon, Tzavta will host a Kabbalat Shabbat tribute for him on Friday, January 10, at 10:30 a.m. with stars of the Yiddish stage Lea Koenig, who recently celebrated her own 90th birthday, and Yaakov Bodo, who has to wait till March 2021 to celebrate his 90th birthday. All three are still performing, though Atzmon somewhat less so.
Also appearing will be retired Supreme Court judge Elyakim Rubinstein, who is known for his anecdotes and jokes in Hebrew, English, Yiddish and Arabic; Yaniv Goldberg; Motti Sandek and Noam Semel, the former longtime director of the Cameri Theater. Moderator of the event will be Yoel Rippel, and entertainment will be provided by Atzmon’s daughter, actress and singer Anat Atzmon, who has frequently appeared in Yiddishpiel productions, and is currently appearing in another which is touring the country during January and February, performing mostly in Tel Aviv, but also in Netanya, Jerusalem, Petah Tikva, Kiryat Motzkin, Bat Yam, Ashdod, Rishon Lezion, Haifa, Rehovot, Beersheba, Ganei Tikva and Kfar Saba. The actors go only where experience has taught them that they have an audience. So much for the demise of Yiddish.
■ ACCORDING TO Alpha Omega Translations, the four most common languages spoken in Israel are Hebrew, Arabic, English and Russian, followed by French and Yiddish. Of all these languages, Hebrew is the only official language. Arabic used to be an official language, up to July 2018, when the Nation-State Law was adopted, but is now semiofficial, in that many local authorities, institutions and organizations still use it in tandem with Hebrew.
Prior to the founding of the State of Israel, Yiddish was the most common language among Jews, other than those living in Arab lands. It was all but outlawed by Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who spoke a beautiful Yiddish himself and made use of this gift when schnorring in the Diaspora. But he associated Yiddish with the ghetto, and he didn’t want people with a ghetto mentality in the State of Israel.
Nowadays, however, there is a move afoot to make Yiddish one of the official languages of Israel because it was for so long a unifying factor among Jews.
Among the leading proponents for making it an official language is piano virtuoso Yevgeny Kissen, who holds triple citizenship – Russian, British and Israeli. Kissen who has introduced Yiddish poetry to his concert repertoire, and has written some of the poems himself, has become an ambassador for the preservation and promotion of Yiddish, particularly of Yiddish poetry, and he firmly believes that Yiddish should be one of the official languages of Israel.
■ IN SOME Orthodox circles, there is absolute refusal to recognize the fact that there are different streams of Judaism. In fact some of the more extreme Orthodox Jews refuse to recognize adherents to Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist Judaism as being Jewish. Given all the external threats against Jews, one would think that the internal battle around who is a Jew, and who has a claim to authentic Judaism, would at least be put on hold if not completely eliminated.
It would be much easier if everyone shared the attitude of singer-guitarist and Reva L’Sheva founder Yehudah Katz, who publishes his take on the Torah reading of the week or something related to Jewish holy days. Katz was a follower of Singing Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, appeared in concerts with him in different parts of the world, and also recorded with him. Like Carlebach, Katz is interested in Jews identifying as Jews, even if they are not religiously observant.
In the message that Katz published on Hanukkah, he wrote that the Maccabees illustrated that there is much more to Jewish identity than religion alone, and he also referred to the 12 tribes who maintained the monotheism of Abraham the Patriarch, but who in all other aspects were different from one another.
As far as he himself is concerned, Katz, who is religiously observant and lives in Tekoa in the West Bank, wrote: “I identify with Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Jewish Community Center, nondenominational, etc., and that in a nutshell is my Jewish identity.”
■ WITH ONLY a year and a half left in which to complete his tenure, President Reuven Rivlin will be doing quite a lot of traveling. Toward the end of this month he will be traveling to Poland and Germany for ceremonies commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
There have been a number of milestone liberation anniversaries over the past year, with commemorative ceremonies attended by international dignitaries, including royalty. Among these ceremonies have been the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Gesiowka concentration camp in Warsaw by Polish Home Army soldiers, who freed some 350 Jews; the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Paris by French Resistance fighters, Allied troops, Spanish Republican exiles and others; the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Chartres, 95 kilometers west of Paris; the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Flanders by the 1st Polish Armored Division under Gen. Stanislaw Maczek; and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Breda in the Netherlands by the First Polish Armored Division.
The ceremony on the actual anniversary date of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau will take place in Poland on the site of the camp. Arrangements for the ceremony there have been made by the staff of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum. Many of the heads of state, monarchs and foreign delegations that will be in Israel for the commemorative ceremony hosted by Rivlin will continue on to Poland, where they will be joined by other royals and heads of state. Some will also continue on to Germany.
Several of the dignitaries coming to Jerusalem later this month and some of those who are continuing on to Poland are the offspring of people who fought in the Second World War. In the case of Prince Charles, who will be leading the British delegation, both his parents served for the duration. His father, the Duke of Edinburgh, served with distinction in the British Royal Navy, and his mother, who was then Princess Elizabeth, served throughout the war in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, which was part of the women’s army. She was both a driver and an auto mechanic.
Rivlin and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will attend ceremonies in Israel, Poland and Germany. Among other participants coming to Jerusalem, President Vladimir Putin of Russia will definitely not be continuing to Poland, where he is decidedly unwelcome. In Germany Rivlin will address the German Bundestag at a special ceremony in memory of the victims of the Third Reich.
Soon after his return to Israel, Rivlin will begin preparing for his delayed visit to Australia, which will probably be in mid-February, as he has to be back in Israel in advance of the March 2 elections. Nearly all of his previous visits to the southern hemisphere have been for between five days and a week. Rivlin has many invitations for state visits, and he intends to fulfill as many as possible.
■ ON A completely different train of thought with regard to Rivlin was his meeting last week with IDF artillery officer Benaya Cherlow and his friend Benayahu Gross, who was born with Down syndrome. One of the gifts of many people with Down syndrome is their uninhibited ability to show affection. This has been most visibly expressed by Tal, a drummer with the Shalva Band, who has spontaneously hugged personalities such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump. Gross is no less affectionate.
Cherlow decided to devote 10 years of his life to Gross, whose happy disposition immediately charms everyone who sees him. He and Cherlow have appeared several times on television, which is where Rivlin first saw them, and was so entranced that he decided to meet them in person and issued an invitation for them to come to the President’s Residence, where they had a frank conversation about what Benaya and Benayahu do together, including a trip they took to Greece. Gross was so excited by the president’s invitation that, according to Cherlow, he hadn’t slept for three nights prior to the meeting. Rivlin laughed and said that sleep is important, even when you’re excited. He added that he had been waiting for some time for the opportunity to meet them. Cherlow told Rivlin that prior to their trip to Greece, Gross had made a shirt emblazoned with the words: “All a kid needs is for one adult to believe in him.”
Following the trip to Greece, Cherlow reached the conclusion that the slogan should be changed to ‘All an adult needs is one kid to believe in him.” Rivlin agreed, saying that Gross is an example to all of Israeli society. Wonderful children such as Gross can do everything he said. “We only need to give them a little help.”
They discussed the trip to Greece, about their flight above the clouds, the tent they had put up, the rappelling they did together and all their other amazing adventures. Gross said that his ambition is to fly a plane himself. “One day you will fly,” Rivlin responded. “If you want, everything is possible – anything you want to learn and everywhere you want to go.”
Rivlin was also interested in hearing how his two visitors had come together in the first place. They met when Cherlow was 13 and Gross 7. Since then they have met every week, and have often spent Shabbat together, have run together and gone to basketball games together. When Cherlow can’t go to meet Gross, the latter comes to him at his army base. Gross has already told him that he’s waiting to be recruited so that he can become an artilleryman himself. The two also told Rivlin about Nitzanim, the special school that Gross attends, and Rivlin asked that Gross convey his best wishes to all his fellow students. Needless to say that just before they parted company, Gross gave Rivlin a big hug.
■ THE MIND boggles with the realization that only 30 years have passed since the first major Jewish exodus from the Soviet Union; yet today there are so many Jewish billionaires and millionaires who were born in the Soviet Union, and some still live in, or commute to, what is now the Commonwealth of Independent States. Among the list of people in this category, in addition to Abramovich, are Alexander Abramov, Mikhail Fridman, Mikhail Dmitrievitch, Pyotr Aven, Oleg Dempaska, Leonid Fedun, Alexander Mamut, brothers Arkady and Boris Rottenberg, Eugene Shvidler, Moshe Kantor, Leonid Nevzlin, Len Blavatnik, Ihor Kolmoysky, Viktor Vekselberg, Gennadiy Korban, Boris Lohzkin, Mikhail Mirilashvili and Alexander Mashkevich – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
■ SEVERAL SOVIET Jews whose names were household words during the global campaign to “Let my people go” settled in Israel. Among them: Natan Sharansky, Yuli Edelstein, Ida Nudel, Silva Zalmanson, Nehama Lifshitz, Yosef Mendelevitch and others came to Israel. Some faded into obscurity, though they continued to be hailed as heroes in Israel’s Russian-speaking community. Others, such as Sharansky, Edelstein and, to some degree, Mendelevitch, became public figures in Israel. Sharansky, who has been active in numerous fields, will celebrate his 72nd birthday on January 20. He has a new book coming out in September, which he coauthored with Jerusalem Post columnist Gil Troy under the working title of “Never Alone.”
Sharansky also wrote a magazine piece for the first issue of the Post’s sister publication The Jerusalem Report, which was founded in 1990 by Hirsh Goodman, who was a former military correspondent for the Post, and who was editor-in-chief of the Report for nine years. Sharansky was an associate editor of the publication from 1990 to 1996, and was later a contributing editor.
■ APRIL OF 2019 marked the 25th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, which was commemorated by the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, which is chaired by Irwin Cotler, an emeritus professor of law from McGill University, Canada’s former minister of justice and former attorney-general.
Cotler, who currently divides his time between his homes in Canada and Israel, will be attending various commemorative ceremonies marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Cotler is particularly concerned at the extent and nature of the resurgence of antisemitism and thinks that antisemitism and all forms of racism should be tackled on a global interparliamentary level using as a format that which was so effective during the campaign to secure the freedom of Soviet Jewry.
He is upset that there was so little attention on the part of the international media to the 25th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, of which very few young men and women around the world today have any knowledge. By the same token, there are literally tens of millions who have never heard of the Holocaust.
■ THE CHINESE New Year does not correspond with the Gregorian calendar. The Chinese follow a lunar calendar, and this year Chinese New Year, the year of the rat, falls on January 25. Israeli dance lovers will have a chance to celebrate it at the Suzanne Dallal Center, which, in the context of its own 30th anniversary and in conjunction with the Embassy of China, will be hosting the Wudang Kung Fu Troupe and the Chinese National Opera from January 16 to 21.
The Wudang Kung Fu Troupe displays all the grace and speed of Chinese martial arts in dance form. Some of the movements are quite spectacular.