Grapevine: Happy birthday, Mr. President

"The Israeli people want and need to welcome the wonderful Beduin community, on and off the battlefield.”

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN speaks at an Iftar meal on Sunday at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. ( (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN speaks at an Iftar meal on Sunday at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. (
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
Today is the 77th birthday of President Reuven Rivlin. Last year, his Hebrew birthday and his Gregorian birthday coincided, which is the case every 19 years, regardless of the year in which anyone is born. This year, however, he has to wait almost three more weeks to celebrate his Hebrew birthday.
On the day prior to his birthday, Rivlin visited the Counterterrorism Unit of the Border Police, and two days before that he attended a memorial ceremony for Beduin security personnel who fell in the line of duty. The event was attended by senior military officials and members and leaders of the Beduin community, including IDF servicemen, veterans, their families and representatives of bereaved families.
Few people realize the extent to which Beduin soldiers contribute to Israel’s security. They are known to be expert trackers, but beyond that they don’t receive much public recognition, despite the fact that, according to Rivlin, a bond had been forged between the Beduin and the Jewish people before the establishment of the state.
In urging Beduin youth to maintain the tradition of serving in the IDF, Rivlin acknowledged that this creates tensions within the Beduin community, but added that integrating Beduin youth into Israeli society is not only a challenge but a national priority.
“It would be tragedy for generations if the trust between us were to crack, and this must not happen,” said Rivlin. “We must find a way not just to fight side by side but to live side by side. The Israeli people want and need to welcome the wonderful Beduin community, on and off the battlefield.”
■ VETERAN JOURNALIST and Auschwitz survivor Noah Klieger, who will next year celebrate the 60th anniversary of his employment at Yediot Aharonot, and who celebrated his 90th birthday on July 31, was this week the recipient of a tribute event in honor of his reaching such a venerable age, but even more in recognition of his invaluable contribution to the preservation of the memory and knowledge of the Holocaust.
Notwithstanding the fact that the event – jointly hosted by the Israeli Jewish Congress, the International March of the Living, the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, Adopt-A-Safta, and Israel Forever – had been widely publicized, Klieger was surprised by the huge turnout in the largest auditorium of the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.
Klieger had been under the impression that he had come to see a special screening of the documentary Boxing for Life, which tells his story. Director Uri Borreda had not allowed him to see it before.
There was standing room only in the auditorium, and many people who had not registered in advance sat on the stairs.
Klieger said that he hadn’t been a particularly good boxer, but his ability to box had saved his life, and that he was the last remnant of the Auschwitz boxing team.
Being a boxer in Auschwitz paid off, because boxers, who were there for the amusement of the camp commanders, received an extra bowl of soup. When you’re starving, a bowl of soup goes a long way, said Klieger. The real boxer on the team was Victor Perez, whose extra bowl of soup saved many lives, including that of Klieger, who at one stage was very ill.
In addition to working for Yediot, Klieger also writes for the French sports publication L’Équipe, which he visits at least twice a year. On one such occasion, he overheard a conversation about a series that was being prepared about champion boxers. There was mention of Tunisian-born Perez, who in 1931, at age 19, was crowned as World Flyweight Champion. By 1938, he had 92 wins, 26 losses and 15 tied matches. None of the people talking knew what had happened to him, and Klieger supplied the missing details.
In September, 1943, Perez was arrested by the Gestapo. Despite the difficult conditions in Auschwitz and the heavy manual labor that he was forced to do, Perez managed to stay fit, but was shot dead on a death march on January 22, 1945, less than a week before the liberation of Auschwitz.
He was not the only one who had helped Klieger to survive. There was a Jewish doctor by the name of Robert Waitz, who like Klieger came from Strasbourg. Waitz took care of Klieger when he was desperately ill.
Later, on when the young Klieger, who was still a teenager, was in very bad shape and had to stand in a selection lineup, Josef Mengele told him to move to the left, which meant that he was destined for the gas chamber. Klieger started to do as he had been ordered, then suddenly turned around, drew himself to attention, and said to Mengele that he was the son of a well-known Strasbourg writer, that he was still young, and that he was capable of work. Mengele asked Waitz if he knew Klieger’s father, and Waitz, who didn’t have a clue, replied “Of course.” Then Mengele asked Waitz if he wanted Klieger to help out in the infirmary, and Waitz again came to Klieger’s rescue.
After the war, Waitz achieved international repute and in 1963 came to Israel to deliver a lecture.
Klieger was sitting in the front row, by this time twice as heavy as he had been in Auschwitz. Waitz kept looking at him and finally asked whether he was the young boy from Auschwitz. Klieger was thrilled that he had recognized him, and the two embraced.
Among the various speakers at the tribute evening was Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi and former chief rabbi of Israel Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who, like Klieger, is a Holocaust survivor, and who, together with Klieger, has participated in every March of the Living for the past 28 years. Lau and Klieger are not only good friends, but Lau officiated when Klieger married his wife, Jacqueline.
While in Auschwitz, Klieger had set himself three tasks. The first was to do all that he could to survive.
The second was to tell the story of Auschwitz to the world. “You can’t explain it, but you can tell the story,” he said. And the third was to do everything possible to ensure that the Jewish people should have a national identity and a state of their own.
A passionate Zionist, Klieger arrived in the Land of Israel on the legendary ship Exodus 1947, and was in fact a member of the crew. In the interim, he has led more than 150 delegations to Auschwitz, but he is concerned that after the generation of the Holocaust dies out, the Holocaust will become just another episode in history of which most people will have little knowledge.
“Young people today don’t know about the Bar-Kochba Revolt or the Spanish Inquisition, and in 50 years from now, they won’t remember the Holocaust. If you ask them who was Yossi Harel, they won’t know.”
Yossi Harel, a sixth-generation Jerusalemite, born Yosef Hamburger, was a senior member of Israel’s intelligence community and the commander of the Exodus. He died eight years ago at the age of 90.
■ IT’S EXTREMELY rare for the Israel Broadcasting Authority to issue a press release in English. But the revelation that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had been a KGB spy was just too powerful a piece of news to warrant a Hebrew-only press release.
Moreover, the press release also states that further information can be obtained not from the regular IBA spokeswoman, Linda Barr, but from Channel 1’s Foreign News Editor Oren Nahari.
While the press release mentions the names of the researchers – husband and wife team Gideon Remez and Isabella Ginor, whose book Foxbats over Dimona: The Soviets Nuclear Gamble in the Six Day War won the silver prize of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy – it does not mention that Remez was for many years the foreign news editor on Israel Radio, with incredible contacts around the world.
Nahari, however, did not commit the sin of omission and, in giving Remez credit, called him the “legendary foreign editor of Israel Radio.” During the long stretch in which he was on the KGB’s espionage team, Abbas was code-named “Krotov,” which is Russian for “mole.” Isabella Ginor, who was born in Ukraine, is an analyst on Soviet affairs. She has been living in Israel since 1967. Both Ginor and Remez are fellows of the Hebrew University’s Truman Institute.
■ APROPOS THE IBA, it continues to make changes, despite the fact that its demise draws ever nearer. Television viewers who watch the weekend news diary on Channel 1 Friday night will not see Oded Shachar in the presenter-cum-moderator’s chair. Now that he is back to hosting Popolitika, his Friday night spot is being taken over by legal affairs reporter Tamar Almog and diplomatic reporter Yair Weinreb. Both will continue with their respective beats during the rest of the week.
■ JUSTICE MINISTRY personnel, including Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, spent a large part of the day on Wednesday at the Wingate Institute within the framework of a fitness program under the title of “A healthy mind in a healthy body.”
Rather than focus on legal matters, the people from the ministry engaged in various sporting activities.
Shaked chose to join the runners, after having been interviewed earlier in the day about a Yediot poll that indicated that if Knesset elections were held now, Yesh Atid would have 24 seats, up from 11, Likud 22 seats, down from 30, Bayit Yehudi 14 seats, up from eight, and Zionist Union 13 seats, down from 24. Yisrael Beytenu would also gain four seats, United Torah Judaism would gain one, Shas would lose one, Kulanu would lose four, and the Joint List and Meretz would remain as they are with 13 and five seats, respectively.
Shaked said that the results of the poll were irrelevant, taking into account that the Knesset elections are still three years away.
However, if Shaked is wrong in dismissing the current survey, she may find that former MKs such as Yesh Atid’s Rabbi Dov Lipman will be returning to the legislature.
Incidentally, Lipman, like Rivlin, was also born on September 9, but is young enough to be the president’s son. He is 45.