Grapevine: Hyde Park in Zion Square

Jews decided that the way to beat Lehava at its own game is to run a debate in Zion Square on Thursday and Saturday nights, to present both sides of any issue and to let people decide for themselves.

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN, with the assistance of a scribe, completes a ELIE ESTRIN (Courtesy Chabad) letter in one of the Torah scrolls dedicated at the Western Wall this week in memory of fallen soldiers.  (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN, with the assistance of a scribe, completes a ELIE ESTRIN (Courtesy Chabad) letter in one of the Torah scrolls dedicated at the Western Wall this week in memory of fallen soldiers.
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
Ever since the tragic death of Shira Banki, who was stabbed during the gay pride march in Jerusalem last month, concern has been voiced in many quarters about the escalation of violence, intolerance and incitement.
People in leadership positions are wringing their hands and asking what can be done, but a group of young social activists who were worried about the undue influence of Lehava bullies who walk around Jerusalem’s Zion Square every Thursday night intimidating Arabs and saying nasty things about them to Jews decided that the only way to beat Lehava at its own game is to run a debate in Zion Square on Thursday and Saturday nights, to present both sides of any issue and to let people decide for themselves.
One of the activists, Ofer Barzilai, says that many of the nighttime crowd who frequent Zion Square join in the open discussion, which is headlined “Medabrim KikarZion” (Talking in Zion Square). Nothing is black and white, he says, but the language of incitement is based on false generalizations.
So he and his friends distribute pamphlets that read: Rightists are not racists; leftists are not traitors; Arabs are not terrorists; haredim are not parasites. The pamphlet also makes the point that a strong society is an open society in which people of diverse views and backgrounds can coexist.
The reverse side of the pamphlet contains slogans such as “Love thy neighbor as thyself” and “There is no difference between one human being and another.” A final verse states that there is no room for vengeance in the world – only for compassion, grace and peace.
■ DESPITE ALL the hot air about curbing racism, less than 20 people showed up at the Jerusalem district headquarters of the Labor Party to discuss what can be done to uproot racism and prevent future incidents of intolerance.
The turnout included three Zionist Union MKs – Zouheir Bahloul, Stav Shaffir and Ksenia Svetlova – who are all eloquent speakers and who spoke of hatred, incitement and racism not from a theoretical standpoint but from their own experiences.
Coexistence and respect for the other has to begin in kindergarten, said Bahloul, and it has to include compulsory language classes in Arabic for Hebrew-speakers and in Hebrew for Arabic-speakers. As an educator, in addition to being a journalist, lecturer and legislator, he is convinced that if children from the earliest possible age grow up knowing one another’s languages and customs, there will be greater mutual understanding, more tolerance and less violence.
All three MKs were unanimous in pointing the finger of blame at the Education Ministry, stating that a series of education ministers had failed in their task to bring understanding and tolerance into the classroom.
Shaffir said there is an excuse for lack of transparency in the defense budget but not in the education budget, yet the lack of transparency in the education budget is even greater than in the defense budget.
She once asked former education minister Shai Piron whether it was true that there was no transparency in the education budget, and he verified that not only is it true, but if there was transparency, the government would fall. Shaffir did not elaborate on what this means but commented that some Knesset members were extremely active in fanning the flames of incitement and in making false charges against other MKs.
Svetlova, who came to Israel from Moscow as a teenager, was enrolled in a national-religious school in Jerusalem at age 14. She recalled that on several occasions, students were loaded onto school buses and were taken to the center of town to demonstrate against prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. She was a newcomer from Russia, who didn’t know any better. Later, when she was older, she herself became a target for incitement when a rash generalization was made against Russian immigrants, who were stigmatized as prostitutes, alcoholics and drug addicts.
■ MOST ISRAELI newspapers this week featured a photograph of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, at the premiere of the film Sabena, which tells the story of the dramatic 1972 rescue operation of passengers on the hijacked Sabena flight 571 en route from Vienna to Tel Aviv.
The four hijackers were members of the Palestinian Black September terrorist organization, and the pilot was Captain Reginald Levy, whose daughter Linda Lipschitz was for many years the editorial secretary of The Jerusalem Post. Levy kept up a stream of conversation with the hijackers while rescue plans were being made on the ground, and eventually told the hijackers that there was a malfunction in the plane’s engine and that it would not be able to take off from Tel Aviv after the demands of the hijackers were met, unless the fault was repaired.
Dressed in the white overalls of airline technicians, a group from the elite commando unit of the IDF entered the plane, shot two of the hijackers and captured the other two. Leading the operation was Ehud Barak, and one of the other commandos was Netanyahu. At the premiere of the film Barak sat on one side of the Netanyahus, and former president Shimon Peres on the other.
The photograph of this was historic because both Peres and Barak are former prime ministers, and the lives of all three men have been intertwined on many levels.
Barak took the Labor Party leadership away from Peres and later served as defense minister in a Netanyahu-led government, and Netanyahu met regularly with Peres during the latter’s seven-year stint as president.
Barak, who was Israel’s most highly decorated soldier and eventually chief of staff, frequently came into contact with Peres in the latter’s various ministerial positions.
So the photograph of three of Israel’s four living prime ministers sitting together in a movie theater was in some respects unique, although the three did share platforms in the past, most notably at Israel Independence Day ceremonies at the President’s Residence.
■ ISRAEL’S SURVIVAL is miraculous not only because of the nation’s prowess in war and in containing terrorist activity, but also because despite great courage and admirable strategies, Israel has an amazing gift for time and again shooting itself in the foot.
A case in point was on Wednesday at what was supposed to be a heartwarming ceremony in memory of the soldiers who fell a year ago in Operation Protective Edge as well as all the soldiers who since 1948 paid the supreme sacrifice in defending Israel against her enemies. The project was the dedication in the Western Wall Plaza of 65 Torah scrolls, plus the return to the IDF of the Torah scroll carried by then-IDF chief rabbi Shlomo Goren when Israeli forces reached the Wall in June 1967.
When he left the IDF, Goren took the scroll with him, and even after he died in 1994, his family refused to return it to the IDF, to which it had initially been donated by the family of fallen soldier Baruch Shapira, who was killed in the War of Independence.
The scroll was returned to the IDF only a few months ago.
The other 65 Torah scrolls were a gift of Jewish communities around the world, the Defense Ministry, the Libi Fund, the Religious Services Ministry and the Western Wall rabbi within the framework of a project initiated by Yad Lebanim, the nationwide organization that memorializes fallen soldiers and assists bereaved families of fallen soldiers.
The dedication event was sponsored by the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces in the United States and held in the presence of President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yoram Cohen, chief rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, bereaved families, the Shapira family and a host of dignitaries.
Understandably, security was very tight, the crowd was enormous, and organizers had not done enough to ensure that all the bereaved families could enter the section in which the ceremony was taking place. Yediot Aharonot and Ynet reported that families who had come from all over the country and had been told to come early were not all able to get inside the barrier to the compound, and felt frustrated and humiliated that on an occasion that was supposed to memorialize and honor their loved ones, they had been treated with such lack of consideration and subjected to chaos.
Entertainer Yehoram Gaon, who was master of ceremonies, said that he would delay the start of the event until such time as all the families were inside. Unfortunately, his good intentions did not solve the problem, and some of the families remained outside with salt poured on the wounds of their grief.
■ IT’S NOT unusual for former British, Russian, Polish or American citizens to be sent back to those countries as ambassadors for Israel, and, as far as is known, this has not had a negative effect on the Jewish communities of those countries. In fact, as far as Poland is concerned, with only two or three exceptions, every ambassador sent by Israel was born in Poland. The present and immediate past ambassadors to the United States are American-born, but none of the expatriates sent as Israel ambassadors to their countries of origin were previously members of parliament of those countries.
But there are exceptions to every rule, and Fiamma Nirenstein, Israel’s newly appointed ambassador to Italy, is one of them.
After working as a journalist in Israel for many years, Nirenstein returned to Italy, entered politics and won a seat in parliament.
In 2013 she returned to Israel as a new immigrant, and last week Netanyahu, in his capacity as foreign minister and in a bid to strengthen relations between Jerusalem and Rome, appointed her as Israel’s next ambassador to Italy.
But reports coming out of Italy and published in some Israeli media indicate that Italian Jews are far from overjoyed at the prospect of Nirenstein serving as Israel’s ambassador, and are fearful that this will have a backlash on them, and that they will be accused of dual loyalty. The same can be said of Jewish ambassadors sent by the foreign ministries of their countries to Israel. Over the past 20 years, America has sent three ambassadors of the Jewish faith, including present incumbent Dan Shapiro, to Israel, and while all three made no secret of their pro-Israel sentiments, they also made it clear that their respective loyalties were first and foremost to America. But in Nirenstein’s case, perhaps a little more time should have elapsed before her boomerang return to Italy.
■ IN AN interview broadcast on Channel 2 this week, Adi Siegler, the significant other of Gilad Schalit, spoke of his need to be of service to the community. It’s not that he feels an obligation, she explained. He just needs to be doing things for whichever organization or institution needs help, because he was deprived of more than five years of his life in which he never saw the light of day, never slept on a regular bed, never had correct nutrition, and his only luxury was to occasionally listen to Hebrew broadcasts on the radio. He has raised millions for worthy causes, she said, and also underscored that his parents were never involved in the deal that secured his release from Hamas captivity.
It wasn’t they who signed any document.
It was Netanyahu. For this reason she thinks that there is something unjust and immoral in blaming Schalit for deaths caused by Palestinians who were released from Israeli high security prisons in exchange for his freedom. It wasn’t he who made the deal.
JERUSALEM’S HI-TECH summer celebration held this week at the JVP Media Quarter attracted several hundred techies from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as well as from as far afield as Beijing and New York. Co-hosted by Made in Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry, Start-Up Nation Central, JVP, Jnext, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Jerusalem Development Authority in partnership with jumpspeed, OurCrowd, Bio-Jerusalem, Yissum and others, the occasion was yet another opportunity to demonstrate that when MK Erel Margalit, in his pre-legislative capacity as an entrepreneur, founded JVP more than 20 years ago, his vision of Jerusalem as a hi-tech hub was not misplaced.
Margalit, who utilizes every opportunity to promote the diverse dynamics of Jerusalem, did so again, this time with particular emphasis on start-ups. If anyone would have forecast 15 years ago that Jerusalem would be a start-up hub, the reaction would have been that they were dreaming, he said.
Yet today, Jerusalem is among the top 50 start-up hubs in the world.
Going one better than Margalit, Wendy Singer, executive director of Start-Up Nation Central, based on the best-selling book of which her husband was a co-author, said that earlier this year Time magazine included Jerusalem in a report of the top emerging global technology hubs. In fact Jerusalem topped the first five. Jerusalem tripled its ecosystem over the past three years, she said, and she encouraged the hundreds of people gathered on the lawns of the JVP Media Quarter to look at her organization’s database, which includes hard data for 4,700 hi-tech, innovative companies for the purpose of attracting the interest of multinationals and foreign governments.
■ FEW INTERNATIONAL networks are as comprehensive and as close-knit as Chabad.
The Chabad News Service, whether it emanates directly from Chabad headquarters in New York or via emissaries in different parts of the world, reaches almost every Chabad household and every Chabad Center.
Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg, the ever-energetic and multitask director of the Chabad of Rehavia, sends out a weekly newsletter, and in the most recent shared information about Rabbi Elie Estrin, who is co-director of the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center at the University of Washington in Seattle with his wife, Chaya.
Estrin became the first bearded chaplain sworn into the US Air Force, after the Pentagon relaxed its restrictions on facial hair in the military last year. Estrin recently completed five weeks of officer training school at the Maxwell Air Force base in Montgomery, Alabama, during which he observed Tisha Be’av by spending 25 hours fasting and praying. He received kosher meals while in training. Taking into account his 11 years of service directing Chabad on campus in Washington, the 35-year-old rabbi entered the air force with the rank of captain. He has been reported as saying that the road to the armed services was a logical extension of his existing service to the Jewish community.
■ Up until last year, he would have had a problem keeping his beard, but a directive of the Department of Defense relaxed the rules on displays of beards and other religious customs for military personnel in all branches of the US Armed Forces.
Estrin joined the air force last September but did not perform any duties until completion of his training course, which he said gave him new insight and fresh perspective on his work with students.
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