Grapevine: Everything you might care to know about the Knesset but never thought to ask

HE OUTSIDE of the new Bezalel Hotel in Jerusalem. (photo credit: Courtesy)
HE OUTSIDE of the new Bezalel Hotel in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There are many significant round-number anniversaries in 2017. That’s certainly the case for Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who has several reasons to celebrate this year. Edelstein was released from a Soviet labor camp in the Gulag in 1987 on the eve of Israel’s Independence Day. He was one of the last refuseniks to be released, and in the same year, his dream to come to Israel was realized. He even served in the army before going into politics, joining Natan Sharansky, arguably the most famous of all Prisoners of Zion, in forming the Yisrael B’aliya party, and became a member of Knesset in 1996.
Last year was also a special year for Edelstein – and in more ways than one. Not only did he get married, it was a round-number anniversary of his first appointment as a minister. It was also the 50th anniversary of the Knesset moving to its permanent home in Givat Ram – an anniversary that more or less coincided with Edelstein’s 58th birthday.
On February 14, the Knesset will celebrate its 68th birthday. February 14, 1949, the day the Knesset first convened, fell on Tu Bishvat, the New Year for Trees, so the holiday is generally regarded as the Knesset’s birthday.
Last year, in celebration of its 50th anniversary at Givat Ram, the Knesset opened its door to the public. There were many events centering around various Knesset members, as well as a special plenary session addressed by President Reuven Rivlin, himself a former speaker of the Knesset.
The Knesset website features a quiz about its history, including the different places where it convened before it was moved to Givat Ram. The quiz provides an interesting and painless means of learning history, and makes for a great game if you have one of your electronic devices with you.
■ WHAT IS the most precious thing that all of us own, sometimes complain about, often give to others with no possibility of getting back, and seldom treasure enough? Rabbi Edward Belfer from Moshav Shoresh has been circulating an email with the answer and has asked recipients to forward it to everyone they know. The best way for a newspaper columnist to do this is to publish it in her column. The email was sent under the heading “The last wishes of Alexander the Great”: “On his death bed, Alexander summoned his generals and told them his three last wishes: “1. The best doctors should carry his coffin.
“2. The wealth he accumulated (money, gold, precious stones) should be scattered along the procession to the cemetery.
“3. His hands should hang loose outside the coffin for all to see!! “One of his generals, surprised by these unusual requests, asked Alexander to explain. Alexander said: “1. ‘I want the best doctors to carry my coffin to demonstrate that in the face of death, even the best doctors in the world have no power to heal.’ “2. ‘I want the road to be covered with my treasure so everybody sees that material wealth acquired on Earth, will stay on Earth.’ “3. ‘I want my hands to swing in the wind, so people understand that we come to this world empty-handed and leave empty- handed after the most precious treasure of all is exhausted and that is: TIME.’ “We take to our grave no material wealth.
TIME is our most precious treasure because it is LIMITED. We can produce wealth, but we cannot produce more time. When we give someone our time, we actually give a portion of our life that we can never take back.
“Our time is our life! The best present that you can give to your family and friends is your TIME. May God grant YOU plenty of TIME, to share with all.”
■ THERE ARE people who declare that Jerusalem will never again be divided. There are others who say that since Jews rarely go into the Arab villages, there is really no point in keeping them as part of Israel and that they should be part of the future state of Palestine. There are others still who believe that the best solution to the problem is to make Jerusalem a shared city and capital of both Israel and Palestine, with clear demarcation on the map as to what belongs to which state, but no fences or barriers on the ground to determine the borders.
Whatever the final agreement, this week the Arabs most definitely won the culinary war. For the first time ever, the annual International Mediterranean Tourism Market opening gala was held in Jerusalem – in the main hall of the First Station. The buffets were laden and well separated, to ensure that service would be fast and that there would be no long queues. All the people serving the food were polite and friendly, and there were large, high tables conveniently placed so that people could eat comfortably and not stand with plates in their hands. The culinary theme was that of a market, and to emphasize this point and to introduce visitors to Mahaneh Yehuda market, which is a tourist attraction in itself, there was an excellent video that gave Jerusalemites who regularly shop there a new perspective plus an inkling of some of the recently introduced innovations.
However, there was one problem. While Jerusalem is indeed the city of three faiths, it is the capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. If a blindfolded visitor had been brought into the food hall, on being able to take stock of his surroundings he might have assumed that he was in an Arab eatery. The whole ambiance, including the décor, was Arab. There’s nothing wrong with Arab cuisine, but Israel is, after all, a very cosmopolitan country, and Jerusalem itself has Italian, Japanese, Chinese, India, Korean, Ethiopian, Moroccan, Iraqi, Lebanese, Indian, Hungarian, Greek, Turkish and other restaurants, and it would have been in Jerusalem’s tourist interests to give the visitors a taste of that culinary variety.
When Mayor Nir Barkat welcomed visitors and asked how many had never been to Jerusalem before, half of the attendees raised their hands – all the more reason for emphasizing variety at the event. Barkat gave an interesting history lesson on the era of King David and asked attendees to be ambassadors for the city, adding that the capital is home to 12,000 hotel rooms – a figure that is projected to grow to 17,000 within the next five years.
Because there will be so many mega conferences and major anniversary ceremonies in Jerusalem this year, the capital’s tourism industry is anticipating a huge upturn in visitors, which may account for the large number of investments in boutique hotels over the past three or four years. Some of these smaller hotels, especially those within walking distance of the Mahaneh Yehuda market and some of the capital’s best restaurants, have been around for a longer period, but most of these boutique hotels have popped up over the past 18 months.
The Bezalel Hotel stands on the site of the famous Benny Dagim restaurant, Jerusalem’s first dedicated fish eatery, which was operated for 45 years by Benny Rosenzweig, before closing in 2012. Regular diners included Yitzhak Navon, Yitzhak Rabin, Ezer Weizman and many other well-known politicians, lawyers and cultural icons. The building housing the restaurant was owned by the Mugrabi Committee, and Rosenzweig had been aware for some three years of a plan to add additional floors to the building for residential purposes, and that he would have to vacate.
There are several other boutique hotels in the area, all within walking distance of the market, tourist attractions, restaurants and shops. These include: Pa’amonim on King George Avenue, and Shani, Hillel 11 and Ben-Hillel – all on Mordechai Ben-Hillel Street.
Both Barkat and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin made a point of welcoming the visitors to “united Jerusalem.” Levin, who is also a native son of the city, acknowledged his bias, after saying “Welcome to the 23rd IMTM, for the first time in the Holy City, the united capital of the State of Israel – Jerusalem.”
However, after the hearty welcomes, Both Barkat and Levin made their exits, missing out on the entertainment provided by the amazingly talented Tararum percussion band, with dancers and gymnasts who are also drummers. The performance was very dramatic, but here again, organizers made the mistake of having only Tararum – and there was a limit to how much noise the eardrums could take. After 20 minutes, the hall, which had been crowded, was half empty.