Grapevine February 17, 2021: Thanks for the memory

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

LAHAV HARKOV competes in ‘The Chase.’ (photo credit: SCREENSHOT/DAVID BRINN)
LAHAV HARKOV competes in ‘The Chase.’
(photo credit: SCREENSHOT/DAVID BRINN)
 This week marked the sixth anniversary of the death of senior citizens minister Uri Orbach, who died at age 54 from an unspecified blood disease. Prior to entering politics as a member of Bayit Yehudi, Orbach was a popular broadcaster on Army Radio and also wrote a column for Yediot Aharonot. He also wrote children’s stories. His spontaneous wit made him a beloved figure in the Knesset, not only on the Right of the political spectrum but also on the Left.
On the day prior to his death, when doctors stated that they were fighting for his life but held little hope for success, both President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went to Shaare Zedek Medical Center to bid farewell to Orbach in his final hours.
This week, Rivlin hosted a memorial tribute to Orbach in which he reminisced: “In the media and in the Knesset, Uri did not hide his views, nor did he refrain from needling his enemies with his witty barbs, but his special charm touched the hearts of even his opponents.”
Among those present at the intimate gathering at the President’s Residence were Orbach’s wife, Michal, along with humorists and satirists Hanoch Daum, Shai Cherka and screenwriter Natalie Marcus, who participated in a panel on satire and its role in relation to people in authority, with Ofer Hadad as moderator.
In an introductory address, Michal Orbach said: “Satire played an important part in Uri’s political life. He did not use it to put down or embarrass, but to poke at sensitive places, to prick balloons full of hot air, to look at the things that are really important.
“This year, ahead of the fourth elections in two years, and with such a chilling atmosphere that has taken over Israeli politics, we chose to dedicate this event marking six years since Uri’s death to the importance of satire in politics and to life in general.
“Uri knew that a Knesset that does not criticize itself is a deficient Knesset, and he managed to get the Knesset to laugh at itself, to drop its defenses and to get people thinking not only about the ‘what’ but also about the ‘how.’
“People who write satire and express strongly held views cannot and should not sprinkle pink fairy dust. What was special about Uri is that his criticism was to the point, not aimed at people and not from evil or hate, and so people loved him and remember him with love,” she added.
In thanking Rivlin for hosting the event, she recalled that during the many years in which her husband had enjoyed a close friendship with Rivlin, the two had collaborated in writing texts for the satirical program No One to Talk to.
Long before he became speaker of the Knesset, Rivlin was a well-known satirist who frequently appeared as such on radio and television.
Speaking of how much he missed his friend, Rivlin, who referred to Orbach as “a virtuoso of language,” said of him that “he knew how to prick the balloon of hot air, big words and rage with one choice phrase, from great protests to flowery phrases that have always been part of the political playing field.
“When Uri took the podium to speak, it was the best show in the Knesset because even when he was an MK and a minister, Uri remained a satirist. Once, when he was teasing one of the parties, and the plenum was rolling with laughter, he couldn’t help himself. He stopped, looked at the members of his party – who were laughing along with the rest – and asked ‘What are you laughing about? I’m talking about you.’
“Uri made us laugh but also wise-cracked about us – about Israelis, about politicians, about secular, about ultra-Orthodox and – more than anything, with great self-awareness – about himself and his followers from the religious sector,” said Rivlin, who also credited Orbach with paving the way for other religious satirists and opening mainstream media to them.
■ SONGWRITER, TRANSLATOR, radio broadcaster and journalist Avi Koren, who had been battling cancer for seven years, died last week at the age of 75. He was a prolific songwriter, with many long-lasting hits that are destined to remain permanently embedded in Israel’s music psyche.
One of his most famous songs, “Bo Habayta” (Come Home), was written for Shula Chen, to whom he was married for 30 years before they divorced in 1997. Nonetheless they remained on the best of terms, and she was frequently by his side throughout his illness. In interviews which she gave after his death, she said that it had been a privilege to be with him, and described him as the best of fathers and grandfathers.
Koren wrote a weekly column for the weekend edition of Maariv, the sister publication of The Jerusalem Post, in which he reminisced about the musical icons of yesteryear who are no longer living, thereby ensuring that they would not be forgotten.
There was something almost mystical in the fact that he died just two days before the 15th anniversary of the death of Israel Prize laureate and darling of the IDF Shoshana Damari, whose powerful singing voice was for many years the soundtrack of the nation.
Even before Koren died, KAN Radio had planned to honor Damari’s memory, and rebroadcast an old recording of Yossi Alfi’s Sukkot storytelling festival at which not only Damari appeared, but also lyricist and poet Haim Hefer, who had written several songs for her, which various composers, primarily Moshe Wilensky, had set to music.
Someone else on the program said that when immigrants came to Israel from Europe, none had ever met a Yemenite before, and they were fascinated by their culture, especially their music, which European composers, Wilensky in particular, incorporated into their compositions, which were somehow an East-West fusion, with more emphasis on the East than the West.
Wilensky was a graduate of the Warsaw Conservatory, who had to reeducate himself musically. He was a composer, lyricist and pianist, and often worked together with other great cultural icons such as Natan Alterman and Sasha Argov.
Wilensky left Poland in 1932, and so did not experience the Holocaust, but soon after the war he went with Damari to Cyprus to entertain Holocaust survivors. For this purpose, she learned to sing in Yiddish, suppressing her natural Yemenite guttural enunciation, as she sang in a beautiful Lithuanian Yiddish, which no one would suspect was not her mother tongue.
Ashkenazi Jews found it difficult to comprehend that Yiddish was the language of Israeli Jews. The late comedian Shimon Dzigan, who toured the Jewish world, took with him singer and actress Kochava Harari, who, like Damari was also a Yemenite. When they got to Sydney, she was interviewed by a senior writer for a Yiddish newspaper. The problem was that he didn’t speak Hebrew and she spoke neither English nor Yiddish. Turning to the person who translated for them, the bewildered journalist asked: “How come a Jewish girl from Israel doesn’t speak Yiddish?”
■ JUST AHEAD of the March 23 Knesset elections The Jerusalem Post Group will host an online conference at 12 noon on Thursday, March 18, with Post journalists, along with those from Maariv as well as journalists from other media outlets, talking to party leaders and candidates for seats in the Knesset.
Among the journalists conducting interviews and participating in panel discussions will be Ben Caspit, Yehuda Sharabi, Post editor-in-chief Yaakov Katz, Lahav Harkov, Maayan Hoffman, Khaled Abu Toameh, Barak Ravid, Tal Shalev and Yaki Adamker. The panel discussions will focus on economics, small businesses, higher education, national security, democracy, internal security, welfare, foreign policy, health and the justice system. The conference will be broadcast on the social media platforms of Walla News, Maariv and the Post.
While the vast majority of upcoming conferences will have a political connotation, which is only natural as people ponder for which party to cast their votes, Yediot Aharonot and Ynet are almost but not quite steering clear of politics in the People of the State conference scheduled for February 22, in which entertainers, sports personalities, teachers, doctors, social activists and civil servants will talk about how their lives were affected by events of the past year.
Two very personal conversations will be held between Rivlin and radio broadcaster Didi Harari, who each lost their wives to illnesses. Nechama Rivlin died in June 2019, and Mirit Harari in September 2020. Both women faced their illnesses bravely and lived life to the hilt until almost the end. Their husbands will talk about love, loss and hope.
■ A WEBINAR titled “Germany– a model on coming to terms with the past?” by Prof. Gunther Jikeli of the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, Indiana University, was hosted by the Israel Council on Foreign Relations.
Although Germany has undoubtedly done more than any other country in acknowledging the shameful chapters in its recent history, the question mark was deliberate because the lecturer happens to be a native German who learned very little about the Holocaust when he was at school. Today, there are many monuments throughout Germany that testify to the atrocities committed by the Nazis against Jews and other minorities, but what bothers Jikeli is the absence of personal responsibility and the lack of empathy with the plight of the victims.
Jikeli acknowledged that Germany is not alone in this respect, and noted that there are other countries which see themselves as victims with “governments wanting to destroy history.” He cited Austria as the most obvious case of a country claiming to be Hitler’s first victim, even though not a single shot was fired in resistance to the Anschluss in 1938.
What many Germans resented were accusations of collective guilt against all Germans. The idea that all Germans are part of Nazi crimes was actually part of Nazi propaganda, he said, because the Nazi leadership realized that there would be collective punishment after the war.
“You can find Nazis in most German family trees,” said Jikeli, “but no personal responsibility to develop an understanding for the victims.”
Despite research that proves that tens of thousands of Germans, if not directly responsible for Nazi atrocities, were enablers, blame is attributed only to the leadership that includes Hitler, Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler. Most perpetrators of Nazi war crimes returned to their regular lives and professions after the war, and German prosecutors and judges seldom tried people who had been directly responsible for the murder of Jews. Murder convictions for Nazi crimes were rare. Of 1,147 murder charges, half were for the killing of non-Jews. There were 204 convictions for murder. The remaining convictions were for lesser crimes such as complicity or involuntary manslaughter or illegal restraint resulting in death.
In 1958, there was the first trial for the mass murder of Jews, but here again, the Nazi leadership was seen as the perpetrator, whereas those who were directly culpable were seen as helpers or enablers.
It took a long time for the German public to acknowledge that high-ranking officers were not the only ones responsible for murdering Jews.
Germany’s guilty conscience and the difference between repression and denial have allowed antisemitism to resurface, said Jikeli.
Even in modern-day German films and television programs about World War II, the main victims are not Jews or other persecuted minorities but ethnic Germans. Personal responsibility for Nazi crimes has generally been avoided even in fiction, and this is still the case today.
The monuments throughout Germany that have received the most media attention are the Stolpersteine (stumbling blocks) – engraved small metal plaques that have been placed in the pavement outside buildings in which Jews lived in prewar Germany and during part of the Holocaust era. More than 75,000 Stolpersteine are embedded in German pavements. But while the idea of the project is perpetual awareness, Jikeli pointed to the negative aspect of such memorials in that people step on them and, in so doing, in a sense kill the victim twice.
■ INTERVIEWED THIS week on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet from Liberia, where he is currently working, solar energy entrepreneur and Boston-born Yosef Abramowitz, who wants to continue the work of Golda Meir in helping developing nations in Africa by bringing solar energy to places where there is no electricity, made the point that while he works in Africa, he lives in Israel.
While he has received numerous prizes for his social activism, his anti-apartheid campaigns and his efforts to promote peace through technological use of the sun have also earned him three Nobel Prize nominations. He has now been nominated for a fourth time, and may finally win the global recognition that he deserves, although he is already well known in many parts of the world beyond Africa.
When in Israel, Abramowitz lives with his wife, Rabbi Susan Silverman, and their five children in Jerusalem. Their two sons were adopted from an Ethiopian orphanage, but are just as much part of the family as the couple’s three biological daughters. Silverman is the sister of comedienne Sarah Silverman. The Silverman-Abramowitz family has lived in Israel since 2006.
■ ISRAELI MEDIA’S obsession with US President Joe Biden’s delay in calling Netanyahu overlooks the fact that Netanyahu took his time in congratulating Biden once the election results were officially finalized. Whereas other world leaders were quick to accept the new reality, Netanyahu waited 12 hours to call the new leader of Israel’s greatest ally, someone who has said that you don’t have to be Jewish to be a Zionist, and whom he has personally known for almost 40 years. While it was definitely a very busy day for Biden, does anyone imagine that he was unaware that Netanyahu was way behind other heads of state and government in wishing Biden well? Bibi’s tweet to Biden came as Donald Trump was still refusing to accept defeat, and while a photo of Netanyahu and Trump still appeared on Netanyahu’s Twitter account.
Most of the photographs on Netanyahu’s social media accounts now focus on the importance of anti-Covid vaccination. Trump has been consigned to history.
■ QUIZ WIZ Itai Hermann, known as “the chaser,” whose broad range of knowledge and incredible memory confound contestants and audiences every Sunday evening on KAN 11, has been recruited by the Health Ministry to persuade the public to get vaccinated. Hermann appears in a new series of commercials in which he spells out reasons why vaccination is a good thing.
One of the contestants in The Chase, screened last Sunday, was the Post’s diplomatic correspondent Lahav Harkov. For those who haven’t watch the program, there are four contestants, who individually and collectively are pitted against “the chaser.” Each contestant has to individually answer as many questions as possible in the space of a minute. Each correct answer earns NIS 5,000.
Quiz master Ido Rosenblum has a preliminary chat with each contestant to put them at their ease. He invariably asks what they intend to do with the money if they win. In Harkov’s case, she explained that she and her husband were waiting for the construction of their new home to be completed, and as she likes to cook, so she wants a very special kitchen. In the quiz, she accumulated NIS 25,000.
She had the choice of answering five additional questions in order for her team to keep the money earned, to answer four questions for a lot less, or to answer six questions for NIS 130,000. The first contestant, after consulting with the other three, usually sticks with the sum already earned, in order to stay in the game, but Harkov went for the NIS 130,000 and succeeded in correctly answering all but one of the multiple-choice questions, returning to her seat with a start of NIS 130,000 in the kitty.
The second contestant, though very knowledgeable, realized after pressing the wrong buzzer that the Maid of Orleans was Joan of Arc, but it was too late for him to change his mind, and he was knocked out of the game. The third and fourth contestants did well, and the total sum earned by all three was NIS 210,000. They were then given two minutes to answer as many questions as possible, and not even counting their three-point bonus, did better than most teams usually do.
However, when it was Hermann’s turn to attempt to answer more questions than the team in the two minutes period, he romped in ahead by just a couple of seconds, leaving the team without any money. When this happens, as it so often does, Rosenblum asks each contestant how they feel, and the usual replies are “It was fun,” “He’s fantastic,” or “I loved being here.” But Harkov, who had done so well, said in a resigned tone of voice “There goes my kitchen.” One somehow suspects that she’ll find a way to get her kitchen regardless.
■ ISRAEL’S FOUNDING prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, wanted people to have Hebrew names, especially those people who were civil servants. Thus someone called Goldberg became Har Zahav or Harpaz, someone called Silver became Caspi, a Black or a Schwartz became Shehori, Kliger became Hacham, Rose or Rosenbaum became Shoshani or Vered, and Licht became Ohr or Ner.
Similar things happened with first names, though sometimes it was a similar sound, and not the closest thing to a translation. Thus Queenie became Malka, Justin became Tzadok, Pearl became Pnina, Allan became Alon, Leonard became Aryeh, Elizabeth became Elisheva, and Ernie became Eran.
But nothing prepared us for the original name of Mordechai Kidron, who was a diplomat in the early years of the state. Kidron came to Israel from South Africa under the name of Reggie Rosenberg. Another of South Africa’s sons who became an Israeli diplomat is Sinai Rome. Considering that the English O sound does not exist in Hebrew, he did not have to change his surname, because the Hebrew pronunciation is Rom, which is a regular Hebrew surname.
The two came to attention in response to a request to readers to send in the names of any Israeli diplomats born in English-speaking countries who were omitted from previous mentions in Grapevine. As stated more than once in this column, journalists write in a vacuum, and have no idea whether material is being read until they make a mistake or are guilty of an omission. After recent publication of the first list of Israeli diplomats born in English-speaking countries, emails arrived listing others, and after the second and third mentions, more emails came in, which is very gratifying. There were also a few emails pointing out that when Israel’s first Knesset convened on February 14, it was Tu Bishvat.
■ THIS YEAR marks a turning point jubilee in Israel-Morocco relations – not the two countries, but Israel and its Moroccan-born population, whose members by and large were treated as second-class citizens. Initially placed in unsanitary transit camps, they were transferred to poor neighborhood, mostly in peripheral parts of the country, and those who lived in Jerusalem’s Musrara neighborhood, close to no-man’s-land between Israel and Jordan, were often in danger of being targets for Jordanian snipers.
Poor and often unemployed, they took matters into their own hands 50 years ago, and formed something in the nature of a Robin Hood movement, which they called the Black Panthers. Essentially, they were social activists who wanted to bring about a change in the status quo – and they succeeded. Although Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek told them to get off the grass and Golda Meir said they were not very nice people, two of their leaders, Charlie Biton and the late Saadia Marciano, won seats in the Knesset. Another of their leaders, Reuven Abergel, continues to be a political, social and human rights activist.
Today, Moroccan-born Israelis occupy high positions in many fields. There have been two Moroccan-born foreign ministers – David Levy and Shlomo Ben-Ami. Another North African-born foreign minister was Silvan Shalom, who was born in Tunis.
Moroccan-Israelis who held or hold other ministerial portfolios include Shimon Shetreet, Meir Sheetrit, Amir Peretz, Arye Deri, Nissim Dahan, Ya’acov Margi and Aharon Abuhatzira.
Other prominent Moroccan-born personalities include Israel Prize laureate Miriam Peretz, Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and former Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel Shlomo Moshe Amar, actress and writer Ruby Porat Shoval, Hebrew linguist and president of the Hebrew Language Academy Prof. Moshe Bar-Asher, actors Ze’ev Revach and Moshe Ivgy, poet Mois Benarroch, historian Michel Abitbol, preserver of Moroccan Jewish culture Sam Chetrit, professor of sociology Eva Illouz, fashion designer Alber Elbaz and politician Shlomo Bohbut, who was mayor of Ma’alot-Tarshiha for 42 years.
■ MAY 1 is traditionally May Day, but it is also the day on which Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin steps down from his role as director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. Yadlin 69, who served in a variety of capacities in the Israel Defense Forces for 40 years before retiring from the IDF, took up his present position 10 years ago, and says it is the longest period that he has ever spent in one role, and that it’s time for him to give the reins to someone else. He has no intention of ruminating, and is now looking for new challenges.