Grapevine February 26, 2021: Former yeshiva student in the House of Lords

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

GERMAN PRESIDENT Frank Walter Steinmeier is greeted by President Reuven Rivlin during a visit to Jerusalem in 2017. (photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)
GERMAN PRESIDENT Frank Walter Steinmeier is greeted by President Reuven Rivlin during a visit to Jerusalem in 2017.
(photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)
 Is there a yeshiva in Israel that can boast that one of its former students last month took his seat in Britain’s House of Lords? The answer is yes, and the yeshiva in question is Yeshivat Hakotel, where eminent British barrister David Wolfson – now known as Baron Wolfson of Tredegar – was part of the student population. In December of 2020, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson appointed Wolfson a junior minister in the Ministry of Justice and awarded him a life peerage. 
The Israel connection goes beyond Yeshivat Hakotel. Two of Wolfson’s three siblings – Hannah Cohn and Jonny Wolfson – live in Israel. Another sister, Rina Wolfson, resides in London. The peer’s parents, Rosalind and Bernard Wolfson, live in Jerusalem. Some years ago there was actually a Jerusalem-born member of the House of Lords. He was in fact the first, and so far only, Israeli entitled to a seat in the House Lords. He was also a David – the 3rd Viscount David Samuel, who was the grandson of British High Commissioner Herbert Samuel, who was the first Viscount Samuel. 
Curiously, the British-Jewish roots of both Davids can be traced to Liverpool. The new peer attended King David High School in Liverpool, and the late peer was descended from a Polish watchmaker who settled in Liverpool more than 250 years ago.
■ GERMAN PRESIDENT Frank Walter Steinmeier is a proven friend of Israel and the Jewish people. He has not tried to whitewash the dark chapters in Germany’s history. He has spoken out sharply against the resurgence of antisemitism in his country, and he is the patron of a nationwide year of festivities celebrating 1,700 years of Jewish history in Germany. With a large kippah on his head, Steinmeier opened the year at the Cologne Synagogue, where he said, “This Federal Republic of Germany is only perfect when Jews feel completely at home here.”
Relating to the impressive contributions made by Jews to German culture and business, Steinmeier said Jewish history in Germany has been one of emancipation and prosperity, but also of humiliation, exclusion and disenfranchisement.
Despite centuries of marginalization and persecution, Jews had nevertheless helped to shape Germany’s history and illuminate its culture through philosophy, literature, art, music, science, medicine and business, he said, but warned that overt antisemitism which is permeating Germany today poses a threat to Jewish life.
■ IT’S HARD to imagine that more than 40 years have passed since the rib-tickling British satire Yes Minister had people around the world virtually glued to their television sets. Notwithstanding the fact that British humor and Israeli humor are far removed from each other, the series written by Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, with some authentic input by Lynn’s uncle Abba Eban, had Israelis roaring with laughter at a time when color television was still a rarity in this country.
Polishuk, an Israeli political comedy written by Shmuel Hasfari and starring Sasson Gabai, initially surfaced in 2005, and was also very popular. It was not an Israeli version of Yes Minister; it was an Israeli production intended for Israeli audiences, and for the most part was quite funny. But when the cast said goodbye to the public at the end of the series, they announced that it had not been their intention to make people laugh, but rather to tell the painful truth.
A current painful truth is Israel’s political instability, which might have prompted Hasfari to write Motek Bul B’Emtza, which on a Google Translate would probably come out as Sweetie Stamp in the Middle.
But Motek, which does mean sweetie, is actually a person – Motek Mordechai, A 26-year-old discard from a reality show played by Gili Itzkovitz. Motek joins a political party called Bul B’Emtza (Right in the Middle) and is given the unrealistic 10th slot in the party’s election list. The party wins seven mandates, and Motek more or less fades out of the picture but for the fact that three legislators from her party resign. And then the fun starts. 
For some comic relief between election news updates, and a somewhat different perspective of Avi Kushnir than in his Zehu Zeh skits, tune into KAN 11 at 9:15 p.m. on March 7. The first two episodes will be screened on the night of the show’s premiere.
■ WHENEVER NEW ambassadors present credentials they congregate in the lobby lounge of Jerusalem’s King David hotel with family members and embassy staff, and then one at time at 30-45 minute intervals set out for the President’s Residence. They then return until around 1 p.m. or 1:30 p.m. for a vin d’honneur: a reception at which they are greeted by their colleagues from other embassies, senior embassy staff, honorary consuls, senior representative of binational chambers of commerce, relevant figures from Israel’s Foreign Ministry, plus a few cultural icons with connections to the countries represented by the new ambassadors. 
There have been several presentation-of-credentials ceremonies over the past year, but only one vin d’honneur, and it was more or less a private affair hosted by a single ambassador with hardly any other diplomats among the guests other than those from her part of the world. This week, despite a slight relaxation in the COVID rules, there was no vin d’honneur for six new ambassadors. They did meet at the King David and were taken back there after meeting with President Reuven Rivlin. 
The hotel, however, is still technically closed, and according to Sheldon Ritz, the assistant to general manager Tamir Kobrin, will not reopen till March 18. Ritz, whose responsibility is to take care of foreign dignitaries staying at the hotel, has been doing this sporadically whenever the need arises. Less than a handful of luxury hotels in the capital have been given the green light to host foreign dignitaries and official delegations.
■ FOR SEVERAL weeks, Dan Tadmor, the CEO of the Museum of the Jewish People, which is located on the campus of Tel Aviv University, had been sending out online invitations to the “Global Inauguration of the Museum of the Jewish People.” The event was designed to celebrate the museum’s historic transformation, its expansion to triple its original space, and to honor the Nevzlin family “for their visionary and inspiring leadership, outstanding generosity, and exceptional commitment to the Jewish people.” 
The invitation also stated that the occasion would be used to pay tribute to Leonid Nevzlin and his daughter Irina Nevzlin for spearheading the renewal and rebuilding of the museum. To their credit, both father and daughter made very brief appearances in an excellent video which, in the final analysis, appeared to be more of a tribute to The American Friends of Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People. Certainly, there was no mention of the Nevzlins in the report that was sent from the United States and published in The Jerusalem Post last Tuesday, although some of the American contributors to the $100-million project who were watching the event did make a point of congratulating Irina Nevzlin.
Without Leonid Nevzlin coming to the rescue of the museum at the entreaty of then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, the museum might not exist today, because at the time, it didn’t have the funds to continue.
Tadmor, who took on the role of master of ceremonies as he led viewers on a virtual tour of the reborn museum, was a perfect presenter, keeping his conversation light but interesting and fluid. He would be really great on television. But he was obviously proud to be the CEO of “the largest and most comprehensive Jewish museum in the world.”
The variety of exhibits that touch on so much of the history and achievements of Jewish individuals, communities and congregations in all their diversity will be an incredible learning experience for every visitor.
Among its exhibits are the Hermes typewriter on which Nobel Prize for Literature-laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer worked when he came to Israel to visit his son and grandchildren, and the guitar on which Leonard Cohen played the last time he performed in Israel in 2009 and blessed the huge audience with the priestly blessing in Ashkenazi Hebrew laced with a Canadian accent. A clip of that memorable occasion can also be seen.
Chief curator Dr. Orit Shaham-Gover says she has worked on many museum projects, and all have a place in her heart, but none like this. The event included the unveiling of the new Hebrew name and logo of the museum. The original Hebrew title, “Beit Hatfutsot,” which translates as the “House of the Diaspora,” has been dropped and replaced with a short single Hebrew word “Anu,” which is even shorter in English. It means “We.”