Grapevine: Happy birthday, Rabbi Lau

Something of a little boy remains in most men, and when given the opportunity, they just love to hop onto a motorcycle.

Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Although he probably observes the Hebrew calendar date of his birth, which is Sivan 22, today, June 1, is the 80th birthday of Yad Vashem chairman, Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi, and former Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who was one of the youngest Holocaust survivors to emerge from a Nazi extermination camp.
He is a survivor of Buchenwald, which was liberated on April 11, 1945 by soldiers of the 6th armored division of the US Third Army.
Lau makes a point each year of participating, with a Torah scroll in his arms in the March of the Living, which according to its international president Phylis Greenberg Heideman, will next year mark its 30th anniversary. There are two presidents in the Heideman family. In March of this year, her husband Richard, an international lawyer, was elected president of the American Zionist Movement, which is the umbrella group for 21 Zionist organizations.
■ US AMBASSADOR David Friedman, who was among the founding directors of United Hatzalah, had to resign his role in the organization following his current appointment, but nonetheless, together with his wife Tammy, showed up last Friday at Hangar 11 at the Port of Tel Aviv for the inauguration of 180 new ambucycles, which were parked on raised platforms on two sides of the hangar, as well as in the center.
Easily identified by their orange coloring, many of the vehicles bore the names of their donors, some of whom had come to Israel for Jerusalem Day and were staying until after Shavuot – or at least until after the dedication ceremony of the ambucycles.
Something of a little boy remains in most men, and when given the opportunity, they just love to hop onto a motorcycle.
Friedman, who had arrived together with a phalanx of security men and press photographers, was no exception. Nor were some of the other dignitaries. Many of the people present knew Friedman well, and they and others who simply wanted to shake his hand crowded around him as he sat in the front row alongside Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who according to Hatzalah president and founder Eli Beer, was the real founder of Hatzalah.
Friedman had been roped into presenting Keys of Life to dedicated Hatzalah supporters Leonardo Farkas from Chile, Isy Danon from South Africa, Amy and Harlan Korenvaes from Dallas, Texas, and Leon Falic from Panama. Hatzalah board chairman Mark Gerson and his wife Erica were also present, as were local supporters Harel Insurance directors Yair and Ilana Hamburger, who have a long list of organizations and institutions that benefit from their largesse.
Before the presentation of the Keys of Life there was a very special dedication of an ambucycle in memory of United Hatzalah volunteer paramedic Effi Gadasi, who had lost his life in an accident a week earlier while on the way to save someone else’s life.
Gadasi’s three young sons, accompanied by Lau, came on stage as Beer unveiled the memorial ambucycle honoring their father, and the youngest of the three told the hundreds of assembled volunteers to continue doing the holy work that his father had done.
Friedman, in a brief address, began in Hebrew, saying that he had been in Israel for only a week and a half, so his English is still better than his Hebrew. He then switched to English and shared an episode that had taken place when he appeared before the US Senate to be approved as ambassador. It was no secret, he said, that several senators were less than enthusiastic about his appointment.
One said to him, “Tell me one thing you’ve done that I would be proud of.”
Friedman didn’t need to think twice and told him about his involvement with United Hatzalah, in which all sectors of Israeli society, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druse, religious, secular, Sephardi and Ashkenazi put their differences aside and joined forces for one single purpose – to save lives.
“That’s a top priority.”
The senator had never heard of United Hatzalah, or the fact that Israel’s entire demographic composition comes together to save lives. He asked Friedman to tell him more, then went away to do his own research on the subject. A week later the senator came to him saying that what he’d learned “has significantly changed my view of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”
A $64 MILLION question: Will MK Oren Hazan become the Donald Trump of Israel? The publicity that he is generating will in all likelihood get him a following, after which anything could happen. Another interesting question concerning investigations being conducted with regard to suspected wrongdoings by the president of the US and the prime minister of Israel is what happens politically if Trump is impeached and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is charged with corruption and has to step down. The possible scenarios are mind-blowing.
■ EVEN THOUGH the world belongs to the young, and 40- to 50-year-olds are being made redundant in the workplace, there are areas in which experience is valued and people are being brought out of retirement because the powers-that-be recognize that their expertise is needed. That’s what happened to Yigal Zalmona, 72, who was the chief interdisciplinary curator of the Israel Museum.
Zalmona has been brought out of retirement by the executive council of the Israel Museum, following a decision by Eran Neumann, who was appointed the museum’s director to succeed James Snyder who had been in the post for 20+ years, and who in his new role as president still wields considerable influence.
There were issues on which Neumann and Snyder did not see eye-to-eye, and Neumann opted to return to his position as head of the School of Architecture at Tel Aviv University. It was initially announced that Ayelet Shilo-Tamir would serve as acting director until a new permanent director is found, but the Board decided that she should could not have to carry such a heavy undertaking alone and so Zalmona, who retired four years ago, has been asked to work with her for a six-month period until a new director is found and appointed.
The museum’s headhunters are exploring options both in Israel and abroad. If they find a suitable candidate earlier than anticipated, Zalmona will be able to go back into retirement.
■ AT THE annual gala at which recipients of Dun’s 100 awards for 2017 received their prizes in the presence of luminaries of Israel’s business community, there was polite applause for each from the audience who filled the auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, but none got the kind of rousing standing ovation that was accorded to businesswoman Alona Barkat, who owns the Hapoel Beersheba soccer team.
Last year, Dun and Bradstreet introduced into its Business Excellence awards the category of women trailblazers, and this year it was Barkat who received it, to the sound of cheers, roars and whistles. Much of the representative wealth of Israel was seated in the auditorium, but the wild reaction to Barkat’s presence on stage created the impression that everyone present rooted for Hapoel Beersheba, which scored two consecutive Premier League titles. Barkat said that she was accepting the award not for herself but for the team and the fans who encouraged it, helping collectively to change Beersheba’s image.
■ ALTHOUGH KAN, the new public broadcasting service is still in its breaking-in period and can thus be excused for certain glitches, it seems to have inherited one of the worst technical faults of the now-defunct Israel Broadcasting Authority.
In its final year of operations – and even before that – the IBA suffered from faulty telephone connections that made on-air communication with reporters and interviewees difficult. The situation has been exacerbated with KAN.
An even more annoying fault is the frequency with which interviewees are cut off in mid-sentence or told that time is up when they are in the process of saying something of substance.
The Jerusalem Development Authority will soon publish tenders for construction of residential and commercial towers on the sites of former IBA properties in Jerusalem.
The old Shaare Zedek Hospital, which housed the administrative headquarters of the IBA, is a building marked for preservation and will become part of a boutique hotel surrounded by four towers that will each be 24 floors high.
The Romema properties that housed the radio and television studios will be torn down and six 12-story residential towers designated for haredi families will be constructed on the site.
Meanwhile, KAN seems to be dragging its feet over moving from Modi’in to Jerusalem.
The move had been scheduled for July, but is unlikely to happen before December – if at all. KAN acquired four floors in a new building in Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul neighborhood, which is largely a religious section of the capital. Interior Minister Arye Deri, however, wants it to find alternate premises in an area where it is unlikely to offend the sensitivities of the religiously observant population.
Still, that’s not the reason for the delay.
The reason is that alterations to the four floors that are required for KAN to operate efficiently have not even commenced. This prompted Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkowitz to write a sharply worded letter to Gil Omer, the chairman of the Israel Broadcasting Corporation, the KAN governing body, complaining that KAN does not even conduct its management meetings in the capital.
It does, however, broadcast news from the capital and has hired premises in Har Hotzvim Technological Park for this purpose so that it can truthfully say, “Here is the Voice of Israel broadcasting from Jerusalem” Given his ability for bringing about change, it will be interesting to see what newly appointed Communications Minister Ayoub Kara does to put a halt to any further delays. Contrary to popular opinion, he may prove that he is not Bibi’s lapdog.
JERUSALEM POST staff members this week bade farewell to Jerusalem Report editor Ilan Evyatar, and welcomed back former Post editor-in-chief Steve Linde, who will now edit the Jerusalem Report.
Evyatar, who is leaving after almost nine years in a series of positions, recalled that when he first applied for a job, he was told that there was nothing available. Three hours later, he received a phone call with a request that he write a story in a freelance capacity. Next he was asked to be a copy editor on the night desk. Soon after, he was editing local weekend supplements Metro and In Jerusalem. From there he went on to become news editor and was also in charge of the Friday Frontlines section. After that he took over The Jerusalem Report, and his place as news editor was taken by his deputy Noa Amouyal, who is currently the editor of special supplements.
Evyatar said that he was glad to see her rising in the ranks and that he appreciated working with a very good team, which had put out a quality product “in less than ideal circumstances.” Geographically, Evyatar will not be far away, and will still be meeting friends and colleagues for lunch in one of the many eateries in Mahane Yehuda market. He is joining the Tatzpit news service and will be responsible for news and content.
Editor-in-chief Yaakov Katz, who had left the Post and returned and is one of several JP editorial staff members who have gone through the revolving door, was reasonably confident that Evyatar would eventually be back, and told him that he would always be welcome. He also said that while Evyatar was editor of the Report, he never had to worry, because every issue was a good one.
Managing editor David Brinn noted Evyatar’s unerring news sense, his refusal to compromise his standards and his broad range of knowledge about Israel in particular and the world in general. Several reporters commented on how much they had learned by working with him. Linde, who has been evading head hunters with attractive job offers ever since he stepped down from his last position at the Post in February this year, was wooed back by management, and having worked at the Post for 20 years, his return was almost by way of a homecoming.
■ UNFORTUNATE AS it is, many Israeli children are born with mental or physical disabilities or both. Facilities created to help such children develop to the utmost of their individual capacities are a great source of pride to the country, and a comfort beyond words to the immediate families of such children.
During his current stay in Israel, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, visited the Jerusalem facility of ALEH, one of the leading networks of state-of-the-art facilities for children with severe complex disabilities, to learn about ALEH’s high-level medical and rehabilitative care and what Jewish communities around the world can do to genuinely promote inclusion of people with disabilities in Israel’s mainstream society.
Mirvis was taken on a private tour by Shlomit Grayevsky, the director of ALEH Jerusalem, and saw the specially designed living quarters, hi-tech special education classrooms and top-of-the-line rehabilitation rooms, as well as other means used to provide residents with ongoing loving care from infancy through adulthood so that they can advance, grow and live happy, dignified and meaningful lives.”
Mirvis was obviously impressed throughout the tour, and said that it was “a very emotional and inspirational experience for me. It is clear that ALEH doesn’t help only the children, they impact entire families.
This is important work for all of Klal Yisrael, and the dedication shown by ALEH’s staff underscores the fact that every Jewish soul is important and deserving of love and care.”
He added that he was proud that there are so many generous supporters of ALEH in London, and said that he would make it a priority to share what he had seen with UHC constituents across the UK “so that this support only continues to grow.”
Mirvis was interested in establishing a joint initiative between ALEH and the United Hebrew Congregations of Great Britain and the Commonwealth that would further educate Jewish communities on the importance of inclusion of the disabled. He also discussed his desire to include ALEH as one of the major destinations for the semi-annual rabbinic mission to Israel, a program that draws rabbis from across the UK.
■ IF THE way to a person’s heart is through their stomachs, Chani and Avraham Yisraelovich, who belong to the Ger Hassidic movement and live in Ashdod, have certainly discovered the key to culinary temptation that opens the door to people’s hearts. For her, it started of a hobby and evolved into professional perfection.
“She’s the chef,” said her proud husband, “and I’m there to do whatever else needs to be done.”
The couple operate a catering service under the name of Kinuchit, and proved last week at a Jerusalem fund-raiser at the spectacular Baka home of Elisheva and Amir Leybovitch that haredim are not only natural potential for the high tech industry, but can do a magnificent job in food presentation and taste. The cheese blintzes were something to die for and the sculpted fruit was so beautiful that it almost took courage to disturb the plate.
The event was in aid of ATARA, an organization founded seven years ago by Yifat and Kory Bardash, after taking into their home several young girls from haredi backgrounds who came under the heading of youth at risk. It all started with a request by a social worker that they take in Tamar, a 19-year-old girl from Beersheba for a weekend.
She was one of a growing number of runaway haredi youth from dysfunctional families whose naivety, lack of secular education and absence of financial resources make them easy prey for unscrupulous characters. Looking for food or a roof over their heads, the price more often than not is exacted in sexual favors, and prostitution and drug addiction become part of their lifestyle. The haredi girls are the most vulnerable, according to Yifat.
In Tamar’s case, her mother died, she had an abusive father, and when she met an Arab boy who took an interest in her, she went with him to his village where she was humiliated and abused. She ran away, came to the attention of a social worker and then found herself in the caring environment of the Bardash home.
After the experience with Tamar, a horrified Yifat said to her husband that they have to do something, because there was no government support system for 18-year-oldplus youngsters who age out of the system.
So ATARA was born and evolved into an organization in which such young women are given a group home, encouraged to study for bagrut (high school matriculation) and to take control of their lives. They learn to help each other and become responsible human beings with broken spirits mended.
Tamar is now happily married and expecting a baby. Yifat Bardash, who maintained close contact with her and several other girls, says happily, her eyes sparkling in anticipation: “I’m going to be a grandmother.”
At the fund-raiser, Yael, another member of the extended Bardash “family” made her first public appearance as a speaker, and it was hard to believe that this tall, attractive, articulate young woman with the captivating smile had risen from the dregs of society to be who she is today.
Yael is one of 11 siblings born in Bnei Brak into what she called a cult, but what is derogatorily called a Taliban family, meaning that its members have to be fully covered from head to toe in layers of clothing with only their hands and faces exposed.
Her mother was chronically ill, and her father was abusive. She and a brother would occasionally sneak out of the house just to breathe in different air. When the time came for her to get married and a match was proposed, she ran away; she had been planning her escape for six months.
Finding herself with no means of support, she turned to social welfare organizations and was told by each that she was too old.
Somehow she found her way into the hearts of the Bardash family and the affection and trust between them is almost palpable. Yael now works in a flower shop and studies at night. Her dream is to go to university, and chances are high that the dream will become a reality.
Entertainment for the evening was provided by the amazing husband-and-wife singing duo Yoni and Nina Tokayer, who perform under the professional hybrid name of Yonina and developed a huge following by making videos and releasing them on YouTube. Now they are in demand all over the country. When they heard about ATARA, they said, they felt a social obligation to perform.
Leybovich who is CEO of Clarity Capital, a wealth and asset management investment firm, and Kory Bardash who is likewise involved in capital investment, have been close friends for more than 20 years, and therefore it was entirely natural that he and his wife would agree to make their home available for an ATARA fund-raiser.
In welcoming the guests, Leybovich said that he’d sent an invitation to a client in San Francisco , who wrote back saying that it was nice that he was doing tikun olam – fixing the world. Leybovich had never thought of himself in that way, but realized that if he was supporting ATARA, he was indeed contributing to fixing the world.
He asked his guests to join him by opening their hearts and opening their wallets – and indeed they did.
■ PRIOR TO the rift in relations between Israel and Turkey in the wake of the Marmara flotilla crisis, Israeli tourism to Turkey took a nosedive. Despite anti-Israel statements by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, relations have improved considerably since the appointment of Turkey’s ambassador to Israel Kemal Okem, who presented his credentials last December following more than a six-year hiatus in which there had been no Turkish ambassador in Israel.
One of the most popular Turkish tourist destinations for Israelis had been Antalya, whose Governor Münir Karaloglu came to Israel last week with a high-level delegation and together with Okem held a press conference in the impressive Turkish Cultural Center adjacent to the Jaffa clock tower in the hope of once more attracting Israeli tourists to his city.
In 2008, said Karaloglu, 550,000 Israeli tourists came to Antalya. Last year the number was 169,000 – which was 30% more than in 2015, but still nowhere near what the numbers had been in the heyday of Israeli tourism to Antalya. Karaloglu claimed that his city is the safest place in Europe and one of the closest to Israel.
Turkish Airlines is currently negotiating for direct flights between Tel Aviv and Antalya, which will reduce travel time and hopes to be able to introduce these flights next year.