Grapevine December 8 2021: A gentle reminder

American bipartisan support for Israel is more alive and well than many people realize.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG and his wife, Michal, flanked by Elie Alon (left), alongside US Ambassador Tom Nides, to whom she taught Hebrew when he was 13 years old, and Giora Alon. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG and his wife, Michal, flanked by Elie Alon (left), alongside US Ambassador Tom Nides, to whom she taught Hebrew when he was 13 years old, and Giora Alon.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

Before commencing his address to the crowd assembled in the King’s Hall of the Sheraton hotel in Tel Aviv, Labor and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen gently remarked that the gathering was in a closed room. No one took the hint, and nearly everyone was barefaced, without a mask. The occasion was the national day of Thailand, hosted by Ambassador Pannabha Chandraramya.

Once the formalities were over, the ambassador and Cohen quickly set an example and put their masks back on, but none of the guests seemed inclined to do the same, although hotel staff had been meticulous in checking green passes.

Thailand and Israel established diplomatic relations in June 1954, and both the ambassador and Cohen commented on the friendly and cooperative longevity. The ambassador also mentioned that 25,000 Thai agricultural workers have contributed to Israel’s economy, and are central to Israel’s agricultural development. Thailand and Israel cooperate on many other levels, including R&D, technological innovation, water management, medicine, education, culture and tourism.

Israel ranks in third place in the number of tourist entries to Thailand, and because Thailand now has open borders, a lot more Israelis are expected to vacation there. The close relations between the two countries grow stronger from year to year, she said.

Cohen also commented on the close relations between the two countries, especially during the COVID pandemic, and noted that Thailand is a favorite tourist destination for Israelis, with close to 200,000 Israelis travelling there each year. He also mentioned that Israel had been one of the first foreign countries invited by the late King Bhumibol to participate in an agricultural project which had been one of the king’s many initiatives on behalf of his people.

 THAI AMBASSADOR Pannabha Chandraramya and Labor and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen raise a toast at the Thai national day reception. (credit: Courtesy Thai Embassy) THAI AMBASSADOR Pannabha Chandraramya and Labor and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen raise a toast at the Thai national day reception. (credit: Courtesy Thai Embassy)

Portraits of Bhumibol and present King Maha Vajiralongkorn were prominently displayed above the stage. The floral decorations were all in yellow, and most of the staff members of the Thai Embassy were dressed in yellow, in tribute to Maha Vajiralongkorn.

In Thai tradition, every day of the week has its own color, and each person has a color in accordance with the day of the week on which they were born. Both Bhumibol and Maha Vajiralongkorn were born on a Monday, for which the color is yellow, and which is therefore counted as the king’s color.

Another Thai tradition is vegetable and fruit sculpting, in which all kinds of produce are sculpted to look like flowers. There is always a display of them at Thai national day receptions in Israel. The ambassador showed them to Cohen.

In the lobby outside the main hall, there were buffets of authentic Thai cuisine – delicious and spicy – hot enough to linger on the palate, but not so hot as to require being washed down with water or lemonade.

■ US PRESIDENT Joe Biden and Poland’s President Andrzej Duda were not the only heads of state to light Hanukkah candles. In Portugal, President Marcelo de Sousa joined Ambassador Dor Shapira in doing so. This was the first time in more than a decade that a Portuguese president had participated in Hanukkah celebrations. The last president of Portugal to do so was Jorge Sampaio, who served from 1996 to 2001, and who himself had Jewish roots.

■ NEXT WEEK, Shi Yin Yang will be in Eilat, competing as Miss China in the Miss Universe contest. But last week she was in Jerusalem, where, in addition to seeing the sights, she was one of 10 Miss Universe contestants participating in a very special fashion show at the First Station.

Clothes that are secondhand can still look elegant, because many fashion-conscious women who purchase designer outfits wear them for five or six times at the most before giving them to a thrift shop, or selling them on consignment.

Haboydem boutique, in the heart of Israel’s capital, is more than a secondhand store. Founded by social entrepreneurs Guy Avihod and Elie Lederman, it is also a rehabilitation center for women who are emerging from the effects of traumatic experiences, as well as those recovering from mental health issues or other disabilities.

Working together with an occupational therapist and a social worker, Haboydem provides employment experience in short shifts, while training people in all aspects of recycled clothing, including sorting, styling, marketing and selling. The whole process is therapeutic, gives the women a sense of confidence and self-worth, and prepares them for going out into the workforce to seek other places of employment, after having proved to themselves that they can learn on the job. While at Haboydem, they are also taught how to act at job interviews, without being intimidated.

With the help of Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum and Ilanit Melchior, the director of tourism at the Jerusalem Development Authority, a match was made between Haboydem and the organizers of Miss Universe, whereby some of the contestants would participate in a fashion show to draw attention to what Haboydem does and stands for.

Just as clothing is given a new lease on life and a new look with a new owner, the women working at Haboydem are given a new look at life and at themselves, and can face the world with new confidence and self-empowerment.

It’s amazing how many people were involved in the fashion show project. In addition to the abovementioned, there was Caroline Shapiro of the Tower of David Museum, along with Haboydem store manager Eris Avihod, Deborah Maurer Felstein of Deborah’s Boutique, Mimi Kaizler of Mimi Hats jewelry and clothes, Amira Bronner of Amira B., who always sends surplus stock to Haboydem, and Tamara Benin, who photographed the models at the Haboydem store, behind the scenes at the fashion show and on the runway.

Guy Avihod, who is the CEO of Haboydem was also master of ceremonies for the evening.

According to Lederman, cooperation on the part of Miss Universe 2021 people was exceptional, and the Miss Universe contestants, who had spent a couple of days touring Jerusalem, said that the fashion show and what it meant were the best part of their visit.

Regardless of whether Miss China wins the coveted title, she may hopefully be brought back for another visit by the Chinese authorities next month, when China and Israel celebrate the 30th anniversary of their establishment of diplomatic relations.

 SHI YIN YANG, Miss China in the Miss Universe contest, parades an evening gown from Haboydem at the First Station in Jerusalem last week. (credit: Tamara Benin) SHI YIN YANG, Miss China in the Miss Universe contest, parades an evening gown from Haboydem at the First Station in Jerusalem last week. (credit: Tamara Benin)

■ AMERICAN BIPARTISAN support for Israel is more alive and well than many people realize. Before presenting his credentials to President Isaac Herzog this week, US Ambassador Tom Nides managed to visit both Yad Vashem and the Western Wall, two of the strongest symbols of Jewish memory and identity.

Just like his Republican predecessor David Friedman, Democrat Nides made one of his first visits in Israel to the Western Wall, only that in Friedman’s case, it was the first thing he did publicly, and in Nides’s case it was the second after Yad Vashem. Nides was at the Western Wall on Saturday to light Hanukkah candles, and at Yad Vashem, the previous Thursday, together with his son Max.

Nides toured the Holocaust History Museum, guided by David Silberklang, senior historian at the International Institute for Holocaust Research, and participated in a moving ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance, where he reignited the Eternal Flame in memory of the six million victims of the Holocaust, and heard the stirring prayer for the souls of martyrs, El Malei Rahamim. Following the ceremony, Nides walked through the Children’s Memorial and then signed the Yad Vashem guest book.

“There is a reason I came here on my first official visit as the US ambassador,” he said. “It is for the grandmothers and the grandfathers; the mothers and fathers; the little boys and little girls; the teachers; for all of us we say one thing: Please God, may it never happen again.”

Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan commented at the conclusion of the visit:

“In Yad Vashem you will not see many flags. This is a place to bow heads, to shed tears, and to pray silently, as I saw you doing. This is a place, also, that has an obligation to know everything about the fate of the Jewish people during the Holocaust, not only for ourselves but for future generations as well.”

Continuing in this vein, Dayan said: “One of the messages we take away from the Holocaust is that when we see antisemitism, when we see racism, xenophobia, it is our responsibility to confront it immediately and forcefully. This includes calls for the annihilation of the State of Israel by any party. We know what can happen if antisemitism is left unchecked. We have experienced the genocidal atrocities that can grow if this hatred is left to develop without being confronted. That is the mission of Yad Vashem.”

American dignitaries always get special treatment in Israel, and Nides is no exception. He was taken on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Yad Vashem Archives, a rare opportunity, not generally open to the public. There he saw original documents from the Holocaust period, including the well-known Schindler’s List as well as the authentic order signed by Heinrich Himmler on July 19, 1942, ordering the “resettlement” of the entire Jewish population in the Generalgouvernement region by the end of that year.

Following the tour, Nides sat with Dayan and Senior Historian at Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research Dr. Robert Rozett, to discuss the timely topics of Holocaust denial and antisemitism.

To mark the fifth night of Hanukkah, the ambassador’s visit concluded with the lighting of a 19th-century Hanukkah menorah from Alphen aan den Rijn, Holland. The menorah was found in the 1980s under the floor during renovations of a church that had previously been a synagogue. The menorah had been wrapped in newspapers dated 1941. The city’s Jewish community was destroyed in the Holocaust.

As a teenager, Nides had been a volunteer at Kibbutz Ein Hashofet in the north of the country. On Friday, following a 45-year absence, he took his son there, and was amazed at how the kibbutz had changed and developed.

On Saturday night he lit Hanukkah candles at the Western Wall, and on Sunday night, after presenting his credentials to Herzog, he lit the eighth candle with Herzog and his wife, Michal. Later, he lit candles again with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Nides is apparently well stocked with kippot. He wore a black one when he lit candles with Herzog and a white one with Bennett. At the President’s Residence he also met up with his former Hebrew teacher Elie Alon and her husband, Giora.

Now, it remains to be seen which synagogue Nides will visit first – Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue, Hatzvi Yisrael, where Friedman occasionally attended services, as did presidents Shimon Peres and Reuven Rivlin, and Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, or the Conservative synagogue in the Fuchsberg Center, or the Reform synagogue at Hebrew Union College.

■ ON MONDAY, Nides joined ambassadors – Urs Bucher of Switzerland, Dimiter Tzantchev of the European Union, James Gatera of Rwanda and Sergio Barbanti of Italy at the traditional vin d’honneur for new ambassadors at the King David hotel. There was a large representation of the diplomatic community, whose members seemed very happy to be together again at such an event, as they greeted each of the five new ambassadors, four of whom had presented their credentials that morning.

Anyone who has doubts about America’s ongoing role as a superpower should have been at the vin d’honneur, to see how many of his diplomatic colleagues made a beeline for Nides to engage him in conversation. Delightfully friendly and pleasant, Nides managed to exchange a few words with almost everyone in the room.

■ DESPITE OCCASIONAL mudslinging, members of the entertainment community tend to come to each other’s rescue when the chips are down. Proof of the pudding is a benefit variety show on behalf of singer and actress Miri Aloni, who three months ago was forced to have one of her legs amputated in order to save her life. She was given the diagnosis, just as she was about to start rehearsing for a new musical.

Aloni, who is best known for singing the “Song of Peace” at the peace rally that preceded the assassination in November 1995 of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, has in recent years been acting as the Polish mother of stand-up comedian Adir Miller in his television series Tzomet Miller.

Miller was watching television recently, when a documentary about Aloni came on the screen. Aloni was always in need of money, but never more in dire financial straits than now. Miller was heartbroken as he watched, and decided that he had to do something to help her. He recruited fellow entertainers Assi Cohen, Rotem Abuhab and Lior Suchard to join him in a variety show from which all the proceeds would be given to Aloni. The show is scheduled for January 7 at Beit Hahayal in Tel Aviv. Tickets are NIS 169 each.

Even with a full house, the proceeds will not go a long way in relieving Aloni’s financial woes, and one suspects that other members of the entertainment industry will come forward with similar initiatives.

■ KUDOS TO the Jerusalem Cinematheque for screening Laura Adler’s Last Love Affair at the annual Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival. It was almost like seeing Yiddishpiel on-screen. Yiddish theater can be very serious, but is too often presented in a vaudeville-style genre. This film, which is a restored digitized version in which the cracks in the original have been cleaned, has a mostly Yiddish dialogue, interspersed with bits and pieces of Hebrew dialogue, and the acting in the scenes with Hebrew dialogue is quite different from that in Yiddish.

In introducing the film – some of whose cast were in the audience along with producer Marek Rosenbaum and Shem Tov Levi, who was responsible for the soundtrack, Noa Regev, the CEO of the Jerusalem Film Center, commented in passing that Yiddish theater is fading. People have been eulogizing Yiddish theater and Yiddish culture per se for more than half a century, and yet the powers that be who put on a truly great Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival this year chose a 30-year-old film in which more than 80% of the dialogue is in Yiddish. Rita Zohar, who is a first-rate actress, playing a first-rate actress, was awarded the Ophir Prize for her performance.

The fact that Yiddishpiel, Yung Yidish, Leyvik House, Shalom Aleichem House and other institutions and organizations continue with Yiddish theater, concerts, lectures and classes in spoken Yiddish and Yiddish literature, which are all well attended, proves that Yiddish culture is far from fading. Many young people see it as a connection with family history, and want to know more. They have reached the conclusion that the best way to know more is to start by learning to at least understand the language, even though they may not get around to speaking it.

By the same token, children in Mea She’arim and surrounds speak Yiddish to each other. They may never see a Yiddish play or go to a Yiddish concert, but they will read books in Yiddish.

Lovers of Yiddish may be interested in two upcoming Yiddish festivals in January and February 2022.

The first, January 23-25, is at the Galilion Hotel at Yesud Hama’ala in the Upper Galilee, and includes lectures, community singing and a musical tribute to the great stars of Yiddish theater in Israel, with one of the participants being a star in his own right – nonagenarian Yaakov Bodo, who will be appearing with members of Yiddishpiel. Bodo has appeared in numerous Yiddishpiel productions as well as in Hebrew theater.

Although she unfortunately will not be appearing, there will be a fascinating lecture about the special appeal of singer Hava Alberstein, who, though she sings mostly in Hebrew these days, continues to include Yiddish in her repertoire. When she began her career as young girl, she sang mostly in Yiddish. For information and reservations call (04) 697-8008.

The second festival is February 6-9 at the Crowne Plaza Dead Sea Hotel and also includes lectures and community singing plus a performance by actor and singer Moti Giladi – Yiddish Forever (Yiddish oif aibik). Another star performer with another show will be Shlomo Bar-Aba, and there are to be opera singers in a night of nostalgia, and liturgical songs performed by Cantor Tzvi Weiss.

For registration and further information contact [email protected]

■ THE STRONG and long-standing relationship between Israel and Australia has received yet another boost. Tom Tate, the mayor of the Gold Coast, which is Australia’s equivalent to Miami, in that it is warm for most of the year, and it is a place where affluent Jews go for vacations or to retire, has notified Netanya Mayor Miriam Fierberg-Ikar of the naming of Netanya Park in Surfers Paradise on Queensland’s Gold Coast. Queensland is Australia’s northernmost state, and Surfers Paradise, like Netanya, is a resort city. In response, Fierberg-Ikar wrote to Tate, telling him that a new section of Netanya is to be named The Gold Coast.

■ IN OTHER news about Australia, or rather Australian olim, the inaugural Olim L’Arava (Immigrants to the Arava) day took place in mid-November. Australia has a strong connection with the Negev, and Australian Jewry in particular has a strong connection with the Arava. More than 60 Australian olim were hosted by the Arava Australia Partnership (AAP) and the Zionist Federation of Australia’s Israel office. Most had never been to the Arava before, and the idea was to have them experience and taste what this unique partnership region has to offer. The group was joined by acting Australian ambassador Matthew Wise and Moriah Ben-David, ZFA’s Israel office director.

The day started with olim being bused from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and provided with a delicious breakfast in a greenhouse setting, where the olim could hear the story of the Arava, while picking and tasting fresh Arava fruit and vegetables. Later, they heard about the pioneering journey of the Porat honey farm, before visiting the Arava artist’s exhibition in Tzukim and taking in the local artistic talent. The day concluded with olim meeting the director of the Arava International Film Festival, Eyal Shirai, and watching a short movie produced and filmed in the Arava.

AAP National Coordinator Stacy Hayman said, “There is no zoom event that can create a personal connection to the Arava as honestly, strongly and genuinely as simply being in the Arava. We are delighted to have been able to provide this unique experience to our Australian olim at a time when they have been separated from family and friends. We hope they will now view the Arava as their home away from home in Israel.”

Wise said: “Israel and Australia share a long history and deep friendship. We are both migrant nations – we know at a personal level what it is to uproot our lives and reestablish communities in new places. The connections kept and the new ones made between Australia and Israel are what gives the relationship the vibrancy, energy and meaning of which we are so proud.”

Many of the immigrants will get together again on January 26 to celebrate Australia Day.

■ SOME 500 supporters this week attended the sold-out Belev Echad Annual Dinner in New York in support of wounded IDF veterans. The event, held at the Capitale in Manhattan, marked the 10-year anniversary of the Belev Echad organization, which was founded by Rabbi Uriel and Shevy Vigler, and included Hanukkah candle-lighting. To support wounded Israeli soldiers and their families, $1.7 million was raised.

Celebrities in attendance included Netflix hit series Shtisel star Michael Aloni (Kive Shtisel), Fauda star Moran Rosenblatt (Anat Moreno), and well-known Christian Zionist and author Dr. Mike Evans. Internationally popular singer Yaakov Shwekey thrilled guests with a brief performance.

One of the highlights during the evening was an award ceremony for 11 wounded IDF veterans who specially traveled from Israel for the occasion. The wounded veterans took part in a 10-day tour of New York City courtesy of Belev Echad, during which they attended a Brooklyn Nets game versus the Chicago Bulls and visited major New York visitors’ attractions, including the Statue of Liberty and Ground Zero.