Grapevine February 19, 2021: A matter of language

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

MERAV MICHAELI with a smiling, non-political Benny Gantz when he was IDF chief of staff. (photo credit: Courtesy)
MERAV MICHAELI with a smiling, non-political Benny Gantz when he was IDF chief of staff.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
 Yiddish is alive and well deep in the heart of Texas, according to a CBS news feature on the interest Mamaloshen is attracting at the University of Texas, where Richard Schlesinger is teaching students to speak, read and write Yiddish. The students are not all Jewish. Some are Asian and some are black. They are just fascinated by this language in which single words have so many meanings.
The Yiddish Book Center founded in 1980 by Aaron Lansky at Amherst College in Massachusetts continues to expand. In addition to the tens of thousands of Yiddish books rescued, catalogued and translated over the past four decades, the center has digitized most of the literature and also presents free weekly virtual public programs. The idea is not only to promote Yiddish literature but to promote Yiddish culture.
A virtual Yiddish take on Woodstock titled Yidstock is scheduled for July 11.
New York is, of course, America’s Yiddish capital, but there’s no shortage of Yiddishists in Los Angeles, which is one of the places that actor Mike Burstyn calls home. Burstyn, who was born into a theatrical family, made his debut on the Yiddish stage when he was three years old. Since then, he’s appeared in many English, Hebrew and even Dutch productions, but he invariably returns to Yiddish.
On Sunday, February 21, at 9:30 p.m. Israel time, Burstyn will direct and perform in a new Yiddish dramatization of Itzik Manger’s Megillah Cycle as part of the International Yiddish Theater Project. The production is making its YouTube debut. Invitations have been sent to Yiddish-lovers in Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, London, Paris, Warsaw, Tel Aviv and Melbourne.
Also in the cast are Shane Baker, Eli Batalion and Jamie Elman of YidLife Crisis, Avi Hoffman, Daniel Kahn, Lia Koenig, Noah Mitchel, Eleanor Reissa, Joshua Reuben, Allen Lewis Rickman, Yelena Shmulenson, and Suzanne Toren, with scenic design by Adam Whiteman and original music by Uri Schreter. English subtitles will be screened to help those who are not sufficiently fluent in Yiddish.
YidLife Crisis is an award-winning irreverent Yiddish Comedy web series created by Elman and Batalion. It was the key attraction last year at the annual Negev Gala Dinner hosted by JNF-Canada.
■ THE DEARTH of native English speakers among candidates for the Knesset has been dealt with several times in The Jerusalem Post, but that does not mean that people vying for a seat in the Knesset don’t speak English. Nor does it mean that there are no native English speakers among members of the different political parties who prefer to be supporters rather than legislators. Fortunately, the viewpoints of the English-speaking public are brought to the attention of Knesset members by the Post, where nearly everyone on the editorial staff comes from an English-speaking country, as do most of the readers. 
Among the better-known JPost journalists is senior political analyst and former diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon, who originally hails from the United States, and who will moderate a Zoom panel discussion in English at which members of New Hope, Likud and Yesh Atid will present the agendas of their respective parties. This will be followed by a Q&A session with the audience, where here again, the overwhelming majority of participants will be native English speakers. The event, under the auspices of the Herzliya Cultural Group, is on Tuesday, February 23, at 8 p.m. Participation is free of charge. To register, telephone Austen Science at (054) 761-2306. Questions to the speakers should be sent in advance to [email protected]
■ SINCE ENTERING politics, or more accurately, since entering the so-called unity government, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has lost his smile, and generally looks either glum or angry. But we found an old photograph of him with Merav Michaeli, who now as leader of the Labor Party is among his political rivals. In the photograph, Gantz who is smiling broadly, was still IDF chief of staff, a position in which he wielded a lot more clout than he does as alternate prime minister, a position he is unlikely to retain. 
Michaeli, for her part, can already chalk up a few political triumphs, and there may be more in the offing. Meanwhile, she will be the guest speaker of the Tel Aviv International Salon on Tuesday, February 23. She is one of several political leaders of different parties who have been and will be addressing potential voters whose mother tongue is English. Participation is free of charge. Registration is at
■ NEXT WEEK is a very popular week for English. Although it has been mentioned previously, the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association will be hosting retired Supreme Court justice and former attorney-general Elyakim Rubinstein, who will be speaking in English on Monday, February 22, at 4:30 p.m. Anyone wanting to join this Zoom event should call Olivia at (054) 615-3700 and she will send them the link.
■ SOMETIMES IT’S confusing when a husband and wife with the same surname work in senior positions for the same newspaper. At The Jerusalem Post, Gil Hoffman is the senior political reporter and analyst and his wife, Maayan Hoffman, is the news editor, head of online content and strategy and coronavirus reporter and analyst. Both have participated in previous Jerusalem Post and Maariv conferences, but in last Wednesday’s Grapevine, we got them mixed up when listing journalists participating in the March 18 wide-ranging conference co-hosted by both newspapers. Maayan was named with her colleagues, when in fact it should have been Gil.
■ HOTEL MANAGERS throughout Israel can hardly wait for the opportunity to reopen for business. Admittedly, those hotels which had been designated as quarantine hotels were open throughout the lockdowns, but were not functioning in a proper manner, and some of the guests were so destructive that some general managers would have preferred for the hotels to remain closed. But life is, we hope, returning to normal. Luxury hotels such as the King David and the Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem were open to foreign dignitaries and their delegations, but in general used the opportunity to upgrade rooms and to complete projects.
When the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria first opened for business in April 2014, it included plans for a super-spa which had not been implemented. Almost seven years later, reports hotel general manager Avner On, the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria now boasts a Guerlain International Spa with a pool in excess of 30 meters, plus a vitality pool, two saunas and Turkish baths, streams, jets and waterfalls, as well as nine treatment rooms. Although the hotel caters to a large variety of guests from many parts of the world, since its very beginning it has been a favorite with ultra-Orthodox business people and vacationers. In an effort to please everyone, hours in the spa will be divided so that there will be certain times for women only, others for men only and others still for mixed gender and for families.
Along with colleagues from other hotels, On and his staff are already preparing for Passover in the hope there will not be another lockdown and that dining rooms will be open for family and communal Seders.
■ WHAT ARE the chances of two Jews representing different countries competing against each other in an international tennis tournament? The odds are not very high. But Aslan Karatsav, representing Russia, met Diego Schwartzman of Argentina on the tennis court at the Australian Tennis Open - and defeated him, even though Schwartzman was ranked high above Karatsav. 
  Karatsav, who spent much of his youth in Jaffa, and whose mother and sister live in Holon, has been playing tennis since he was four years old. Tennis coach Vladimir Rabinovich saw him with his father, hitting a ball against a wall, which is commonplace for children of that age, and invited them to come regularly to practice. 
As he grew older, Karatsav gradually went from coach to coach, consistently improving his game, until the age of 12. He then fell back, partially because his father often clashed with his coach. Karatsav’s big disappointment was when he failed to be selected for the Ramat Hasharon Tennis Academy. His aggressive personality was more of a hindrance than a help, but his father was determined for him to be a star player, and did everything possible to make that happen. 
When efforts in Israel proved futile, his father decided to return to Russia and to take Aslan, who was then 16 years old, with him. In Russia, his father found a sponsor, and things began to improve, but not as fast a pace as Karatsav would have liked, until he came to Melbourne this year, as a member of the Russian team and made history at his Grand Slam debut in the Australian Open Championship, subsequently becoming the first player in 25 years to go from his Grand Slam debut to the quarter-finals.
Karatsav visited Israel about a year ago, and continued to train while he was here. Prominent figures in the Israel Tennis Association regretted that they had not previously realized his potential, and wanted to sign him up, but it was too late. He was already committed to Russia.
Ranked 253rd in the world when he came to Melbourne, he quickly moved up to 114th, rising from anonymity to worldwide attention when he beat Schwartzman, who was ranked number 8.
The great-grandson of a Holocaust survivor who escaped from a train that was taking him to a Nazi concentration camp, Schwartzman, together with his three siblings, attended Hebrew school, and like many Argentine Jews is fairly fluent in the Hebrew language. In his youth he played tennis at the Jewish sports club Nautico Hacoaj.
From the age of 17, he began winning tennis titles outside his home country. In 2015, he won his first singles title at the Istanbul Open when he defeated Grigor Dimitrov. He went on to several victories and a few defeats after that, but never expected to be beaten by someone who was so far behind him in the world rankings.