Grapevine: Eyes and ears on Poland

On the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

DETAILS ON a Jewish grave in Poland (photo credit: REUTERS)
DETAILS ON a Jewish grave in Poland
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Poland will be very much in the news over the coming month due to ongoing celebrations of the 100th anniversary of its independence, commemorations of the 76th anniversary Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, a poster exhibition at the Vitrina Gallery, Holon Institute of Technology (HIT) featuring several of Poland’s leading graphic artists. The upcoming Polish Constitution Day reception will be hosted by Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski and his wife, Anna, who will also mark the 15th anniversary of Poland’s accession to the European Union, and, of course, the much-lauded Tulia female quartet who will represent Poland at Eurovision.
■ IN POLAND and in Bund circles around the world, the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is commemorated on its Gregorian calendar date, which this year coincides with both Seder night and Shabbat. Although the Bund is neither Zionist nor religiously observant, in Israel and elsewhere this year, the commemoration was nonetheless brought forward.
In Warsaw, the Sinfonia Varsovia Orchestra, under the baton of Gabriel Chmura, will pay tribute to the musicians of the Warsaw Ghetto in general and the Warsaw Ghetto Orchestra in particular, at a special concert to be performed at the Polin Museum of the History of the Jews of Poland on Thursday, April 18. Reports from Warsaw indicate that the concert has been sold out.
Chmura, who was born in Wroclaw, in 1946, and migrated with his parents to Israel in 1957, has returned to Poland, where he is a popular figure in musical circles.
He studied piano, composition and conducting at the Tel Aviv University Music Academy, and later in France, Austria and Italy. He won a number of international competitions and has worked with orchestras around the world. In 2001, he was appointed artistic director of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, but continued to tour abroad. Another feather in his Polish cap came in 2012, when he was appointed artistic director of the Poznan Opera. He is also the leading guest conductor of the Krakow Philharmonic and in 2013, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Wroclaw Academy of Music, and in 2017, he was conferred with Poland’s highest artistic award, the Gloria Artis Gold.
During the Second World War, music was one of the forms of resistance in the ghetto, in that no matter what the Germans did to break the Jewish spirit, life continued as normal as possible under the cloud of deprivation, disease and almost certain death. The Jewish Symphony Orchestra performed in the ghetto during 1941 and 1942. Its 80 members had previously played in the Warsaw Philharmonic, the Warsaw Opera and the Polish Radio Orchestra.
Among the conductors of its symphony concerts were Adam Furmanski, Marian Neuteich, Szymon Pullman and Izrael Hammerman, who had all been notables in Poland’s world of classical music.
The Polin Museum, located within the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto on a street named for Mordechai Anielewicz, one of the key figures in the uprising, is arguably the most appropriate venue for the memorial concert.
The Polin Museum has also perpetuated a tradition introduced by the late Marek Edelman, one of the leaders of the uprising, and one of its very few survivors, most of whom came to Israel. Edelman, who chose to remain in Poland, each year on the anniversary of the uprising, received a bouquet of daffodils from an unknown person.
He would bring the bouquet to the official commemoration ceremony and place it on the Warsaw Ghetto monument.
Although Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto did not wear the yellow star on their clothing that was imposed on Jews throughout most of Europe, and instead wore a white arm band with a blue Star of David, the daffodil with its six pointed petals is symbolic of the yellow star.
An eminent cardiologist and an outspoken social activist, Edelman died in Warsaw in 2009 at the age of 90. The powers-thatbe at the Polin Museum decided to perpetuate the daffodil symbol, and on April 19 each year, hundreds of volunteers distribute paper yellow daffodils to passers-by to wear on their lapels.
In addition, many people bring bouquets of daffodils as well as yellow roses to place on the Warsaw Ghetto monument. Antisemitism may be on the rise in Poland as it is elsewhere in Europe and around the globe, but many non-Jewish Poles honor the bravery and the memories of their fellow countrymen and women of the Jewish faith.
■ EVEN THOUGH she may no longer be Culture and Sport Minister once the new government is formed, there is little doubt that Miri Regev will be sitting in the VIP section of the audience during Eurovision, and it will no doubt warm the cockles of her heart that none of Israel’s winners of the Eurovision contest to date are Ashkenazi, though Netta Barzilai and Dana International are both half-Ashkenazi. Barzilai is of Moroccan and Libyan descent on her mother’s side and Polish on her father’s.
Dana International, whose official name is Sharon Cohen, comes from Yemenite stock on one side and Romanian on the other.
Izhar Cohen and Gali Atari are of pure Yemenite background. The Israeli Eurovision laureates are scheduled to appear at Eurovision 2019 in Tel Aviv.
Kobi Marimi who is representing Israel this year, is likewise of non-Ashkenazi background, but not Yemenite. His family came from Iraq.
This is by way of a reversal of taking the ethnic genie out of the bottle. All of the above have brought glory to Israel through a vehicle that has given pleasure not to thousands, or tens of thousands, but to millions of people around the world.
On stage, attire is an important component in the singer’s performance. Dana International went overboard when she won in Birmingham in the exotic parrot feathered creation specially designed for her by leading French couturier Jean Paul Gaultier, who has designed other outfits for her, but nothing quite as strikingly memorable as this. It’s no longer in Dana’s closet, but on display in a French museum.
Dana, of course, has video recordings and still photos of herself in the legendary dress, but as of last week, she also has an additional reminder by way of a print on a grayish black T-shirt courtesy of Castro, which is Israel’s best known clothing brand. Both she and Izhar Cohen posed in unisex T-shirts which featured prints of them. Dana was in full finery, whereas Izhar Cohen’s T-shirt had an attractive head shot of him. The T-shirts are part of Castro’s new glam collection which, in addition to Dana International and Izhar Cohen, feature other Israeli pop icons, such as Ilanit and Yardena Arazi. It will be interesting to see how many of these T-shirts will be worn by people attending Eurovision.
Ilanit, (the professional name of Hanna Dresner) who was Israel’s first ever Eurovision contestant, twice represented Israel at Eurovision – firstly in 1973, in Luxembourg, where Israel scored fourth place and again in 1977, in London where Israel came 11th. She was scheduled to represent Israel again in 1984 with the song “Balalaika,” but the contest coincided with Remembrance Day for the Fallen, and the Israel Broadcasting Authority withdrew its entry.
The song nonetheless became a big hit.
Yardena Arazi represented Israel as part of the Chocolate, Menta, Mastik trio in The Hague in 1976, finishing in sixth place, and in 1979, was co-presenter with the late Daniel Pe’er of the Eurovision Song Contest in Jerusalem. In 1988, she again represented Israel – this time in Dublin, and finished in seventh place.
Now that the Knesset elections are over, and it would seem that politically we are getting more or less of the same or as the headline in Huffington Post stated, “Israel Votes Extreme,” the media will turn its attention to Eurovision, which will boost Israel’s pop scene and tourism industry, but perhaps more importantly, will contribute to a different perception of Israel’s global image.
Mega press conferences related to Eurovision are already lined up with one scheduled to take place this Monday, April 15 at Expo Tel Aviv.
■ US PRESIDENT Donald Trump in reaction to Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory in the elections was optimistic that a peace agreement might be achieved this time around. The Russians are also keen to achieve a peace agreement and are unhappy with the way in which Trump is favoring Israel. In the weekly newsletter distributed by the Russian Embassy, there is a synopsis of the interview which Foreign Minister Sergey Levrov gave on April 6 to Egypt’s Al-Ahram.
Asked to assess contradictions between what Trump says and what he does, Levrov replied that generally speaking, there are no contradictions.
“Trump’s statements are followed by concrete steps,” he said. “The decisions on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights are vivid examples of that. Obviously, Washington is seeking to put an end to the world community’s achievements in this area and destroy the universally recognized framework of international law which is the basis for the search for ways to settle the Middle East situation.” Levrov termed US recognition of “Israel’s annexation of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights” as “a gross violation of the UN Charter, international law and a set of UN Security Council resolutions on the settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.