Grapevine: In black and white

Whether they were Jewish or Arab, religious or secular, new immigrants or veterans speaking in Hebrew, Arabic, English or Russian, the message was always the same – enough bloodshed on both sides.

FROM LEFT: Inna and Mikhail Khodorovsky, with Tatiana and Leonid Nevzlin (photo credit: AVIV HOFI)
FROM LEFT: Inna and Mikhail Khodorovsky, with Tatiana and Leonid Nevzlin
(photo credit: AVIV HOFI)
Jerusalem, more than most other parts of Israel, is a city of contrasts that somehow blend into each other. Thus, it was not really surprising that several women attending the Chabad of Rehavia Simhat Beit Hashoeva in the courtyard of the Jewish Agency compound, where several men dressed in black were dancing to both canned and live music, crossed the road to Independence Park at around 7 p.m. for the mega happening of women clad in white.
The women in question were part of the growing grassroots movement Women Wage Peace. After crisscrossing the country for two weeks, they came to Jerusalem for their major event, which was also attended by hundreds of Jerusalemites – men, women and children.
There was also a man in black among the speakers – not a Jew, not an Arab, but a Druse – former Labor MK Shachiv Shnaan, who on July 14 lost his son Kamil Shnaan, who was one of two Druse police officers who were killed in a terrorist attack near Lions’ Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City. Shachiv Shnaan, a longtime peace activist, was only recently approached by Women Wage Peace. When he heard that they represented all sectors of Israel’s demographic mosaic, and that their members also included Palestinian women from Judea, Samaria and Gaza, he decided wholeheartedly to join them. When he was introduced at Independence Park, he received a long standing ovation which was repeated after he finished talking.
“I became part of this when my son’s blood was spilled,” he said. Looking out across the diverse canvas of humanity, and aware of the Palestinians who had wanted to participate but couldn’t get an entry permit, Shnaan said: “Only peace and coexistence can unite us. Hundreds of Israeli and Palestinian families have lost loved ones and bear a wound that will never heal. No nation has the right to impose its rule on another, but those who want to throw the Jews into the seas will not succeed, because we Israelis are lovers of peace. We’ve had enough of terrorism and enough of occupation.”
Addressing himself to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the names of all those gathered in the park, and in the names of all Israelis and Palestinians, Shnaan urged the two leaders to sit down and reach an agreement.
Among the many placards that were carried and displayed was one depicting former prime minister Menachem Begin and assassinated Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, who had the courage and the vision to sign a peace treaty. The slogan on the placard read: “Yes, it’s possible.” Those words uttered in Hebrew and in Arabic reverberated across the park several times throughout the evening.
Feminist educator Adina Bar Shalom, the daughter of the late Shas mentor and former Sephardi chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who will next week travel to Italy to receive a prize in recognition of her work toward the advancement of peace and fraternity, said that one of the most exciting moments of her life was 40 years ago, when Sadat stepped off the plane in Israel. From the ages of three to six, Bar Shalom had lived in Egypt, and she cherishes pleasant memories of that time and of the Egyptian nanny who had taken care of her. She had always wanted to return to Egypt. “Begin and Sadat taught us that peace is possible,” she said.
Manar Abu-Dahl, a highly educated Beduin woman who lives in Lod and speaks Hebrew without the faintest trace of an Arabic accent, took on the role of translator, translating Hebrew speeches for those Arabs whose Hebrew might not be sufficiently fluent, but also as a sign of equality. “Only through cooperation between Jews and Arabs can we reach a negotiated peace in which there is respect for both sides,” she said, and simultaneously called for women to be included in the decision-making process.
Whether they were Jewish or Arab, religious or secular, new immigrants or veterans speaking in Hebrew, Arabic, English or Russian, the message was always the same – enough bloodshed on both sides, the need to know and understand the other, the love that a mother has for children, regardless of whether she’s Israeli or Palestinian, and the potential of a better future for the next generation if peace is made in this generation.
■ IT WAS nostalgia time for a group of past and present leading British expats and visitors. What some of them had in common was that they had for years frequented the same synagogue or that part of their youth had been spent in Bnei Akiva. But they all had memories to share when they gathered in Meitar in the sukka of Ben-Gurion University Prof. David Newman to reminisce and update one another on the history of the UK Jewish community, its institutions and its personalities.
Over the festive repast prepared by Elaine Newman, retired attorney David Shulman, originally from London and now a resident of Ra’anana, presented the JCR-UK genealogy site which he has been restructuring over the past few years and which now has a direct link to more than 2,000 UK synagogues, most of which are now closed.
Elkan Levy, former president of the United Synagogue and now resident in Netanya but still acting as the minister for small and peripheral communities throughout the UK – many of which still have beautiful old synagogues dating back to the 19th and 18th centuries – regaled the group of 30 people with anecdotes.
Master Jewish baker Jonathan Grodzinski, the head of the Grodzinski Bakery chain, spoke about the history of the famed kosher bakery, while the recently retired rabbi of Bushey, Rabbi Meir Salasnik, spoke of it as a place known more for its massive Jewish cemetery than its growing Jewish community. Now a resident of Har Nof in Jerusalem, Salasnik talked about, and put names to, pictures of Anglo-Jewish leaders and rabbis from a unique set of black-and-white photos of rabbinical conventions dating from the 1930s through to the 1960s.
Newman, who three years ago received the OBE from the British government for his role in promoting scientific cooperation between the UK and Israel, discussed his pet project, the stained glass windows of David Hillman which adorn many London synagogues as well as some in Israel. He linked his comments to the inter-family relations of many of the Anglo-Jewish rabbis, most of whom later came to Israel, including two Israeli chief rabbis, Isaac Halevy Herzog (the father of president Chaim Herzog and grandfather of opposition leader Isaac Herzog, for whom he is named), and Rabbi Isser Yehuda Unterman, formerly rabbi of Liverpool and chief rabbi of Israel during the Six Day War.
Dr. Kenneth Collins, originally from Glasgow and currently resident in Jerusalem, discussed the historical archives of the Scottish Jewish community, which has developed in recent years. He dispelled the myth that many of this once large community were people who had gotten off the boat in England thinking they were in America.
Much of the evening was spent putting names to personalities and institutions on other-era black-and-white photos. (Intriguingly, most of the rabbis in the photos were Orthodox but few sported beards or hats, and some actually wore the clerical collars that were common at the time among Christian clergy.) Among the rabbis identified were personalities such as the late British chief rabbis Lord Immanuel Jakobovits and Sir Israel Brodie, as well as leading Jewish Orthodox theologian Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs, around whom a fierce religious controversy broke out in the 1960s and which, to this day, still has an impact upon the Anglo-Jewish community.
Everyone in the sukka networked in an effort to combine resources – much of which had been hidden away in personal archives and basements – with the aim of creating a single and more comprehensive archive of Anglo-Jewish history. Local resident Keith, now Akiva, Shoham, a retired professor of ophthalmology from Soroka University Medical Center and a mohel (circumciser), recounted the history of North London Jewish communities during World War II, while Shmuel Ben-Tovim, a former mayor of Kfar Shmaryahu and the only Sabra present, related his own links to the Anglo-Jewish community, which included personalities and events linking up the Edinburgh and London Jewish communities with pre-state Palestine.
■ THE INTERNATIONAL Christian Embassy Jerusalem loves to host rabbis – especially Orthodox rabbis. One of their favorites used to be the late Rabbi Benny Elon, whose memory they honored this week at the Feast of Tabernacles. But even before that particular event, former Knesset member Rabbi Dov Lipman and Innovation Africa Founder and CEO Sivan Ya’ari were invited by ICEJ executive director Dr. Jürgen Bühler to be his special guests at the Feast of the Tabernacles in Jerusalem. Lipman welcomed the thousands of Christian pilgrims who filled the Jerusalem Arena by telling them that their visit to Jerusalem during Sukkot mirrored what the nations of the world did in Temple times 2,000 years ago. Lipman then introduced Ya’ari, who filled the crowd with excitement and emotion as he related the incredible story of Innovation Africa, which brings Israeli technology to Africa and has brought clean water and electricity to more than a million people in 150 villages.
■ IN JUNE last year, Leonid Nevzlin was the father of the bride, and in October this year Irina Nevzlin was the daughter of the groom. Confusing? Not really.
Irina Nevzlin, who was freshly divorced from her first husband, Michael Kogan, had met her present husband, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, several years previously. After Edelstein was widowed from his first wife four years ago, he had no particular thoughts about a new romance, especially one with a woman 20 years his junior. But despite the differences in age and lifestyle, something clicked, and they married in Jerusalem, and are now living in Herzliya.
The bride’s father, former “oligarch,” tycoon and generous philanthropist Leonid Nevzlin was naturally at the wedding, and they were at his wedding at Ronit Farm last week, when he married his significant other of the past three years, Tatiana Greenberg. It is his third marriage.
There were many prominent figures among the guests, including Nevzlin’s close friend and former partner in the Yukos oil and gas company, Mikhail Khodorovsky, who was arrested and incarcerated in 2003 and convicted on various corruption charges in 2005. Khodorovsky claimed he was innocent, and that he had been convicted on trumped up charges as a punishment for financing political parties that were opposed to Vladimir Putin. Nonetheless, in December 2013, Putin signed a pardon that enabled Khodorovsky to be released from prison and reunited with his wife, Inna, and their children. Less than three weeks after regaining his freedom, Khodorovsky came to Israel to visit Nevzlin, who at the time told Channel 2 that Khodorovsky is his best friend.
Among the other guests were Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, who in Russian-speaking circles is still known as Anatoly, and Prof. Itamar Rabinovich, the former president of Tel Aviv University, on whose campus Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People is situated.
During the administration of Ariel Sharon, the museum was in serious danger of closing for lack of funds. Nevzlin came to the rescue, and his daughter later took over from him in terms of day-to-day involvement.
There’s been a roller coaster of celebrations in the Nevzlin family. Irina celebrated her 39th birthday in July. Edelstein celebrated his 59th birthday in August, and the groom celebrated his 58th birthday in September.
■ JOURNALISTS KNOW of some of the people who read their material, but in general we are writing in a vacuum, and it sometimes comes as a surprise to get a reaction from a totally unexpected source. That happened last weekend, when an email from Drew Born, who is the Brunswick Group’s account director for Len Blavatnik’s global Access Industries industrial group sought a correction to an item that had appeared in a recent Grapevine column.
The Brunswick Group is a global advisory firm specializing in business critical issues. Born’s email requested a correction, because Blavatnik had been referred to as an oligarch. According to Born, “the term ‘oligarch’ as applied to Mr. Blavatnik is inaccurate. The term implies that a n individual is both very rich and also one of a small group of people who exercises a great deal of political influence over a country’s ruling circle. Mr. Blavatnik has been an American citizen since 1984, after being thrown out of Russia in 1978 as a refusenik along with his family. He has had no contact with President Putin since 2000 – 17 years ago – and plays no role in Russian politics.
“Secondly, you point out in your piece that he is now an American citizen, but it’s also worth noting that holds British citizenship as well.
“Given the above points, we request that your article reflect the fact that Mr. Blavatnik is not an oligarch, despite the contention of the signatories to the letter you reference. Perhaps you can make this distinction by noting that Mr. Blavatnik has been ‘accused of’ or ‘labeled as’ an oligarch by detractors.”
It is to be hoped that both Blavatnik and Born will be satisfied that their point has been made. Nevzlin never complains about being called an “oligarch.”
■ IN ADVANCE of the impending November 1 split of Channel 2 into Channels 12 (Keshet) and 13 (Reshet), Lucy Aharish, who is part of the Reshet team, took viewers on a trip down memory lane with the top news stories since Channel 2 went to air on November 4, 1993. Naturally, these included the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon, president Moshe Katsav’s transformation from plaintiff to suspect, the evacuation of Gush Katif, the return from captivity of Gilad Schalit, and the mega demonstrations for social justice.
Curiously, only two people involved in those stories were interviewed by Aharish – one past politician and one current politician – neither of them on the Right of the political map.
The current politician was Itzik Shmuli, one of the three leaders of the movement for social justice, who said that at the time, he had never dreamed of becoming a member of Knesset. His great regret is that the hopes of the demonstrators were not realized, and that it is still difficult for people of his generation to acquire a home of their own.
The past politician was Ehud Barak, who as prime minister ignored widespread opposition and ordered the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon. This was something that should have been done 15 years earlier, he told Aharish in a lengthy interview. He did not regret it for one minute, and the most moving scene from the archive footage that was shown was of a young soldier, after having crossed the border, telephoning his family and saying: “Mom, I’m home.” The task of a leader, said Barak, is to make difficult decisions and to implement them, regardless of opposition. When Aharish asked whether he intends to return to politics, the answer was in the negative, but there was an afterthought: “In today’s reality, one never knows.”
■ IT’S REFRESHING when a minister is able to tell a story against himself. Education Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted that while he was on the beach in Herzliya, a woman approached him. He thought that she was going to ask for a selfie, and so he readied himself to be photographed. But she was not one of those people who instantly recognize government ministers. “Are you from here?” she queried, and without waiting for a reply, asked him to arrange some deck chairs and a sunshade. Bennett did not state whether he had obliged.
■ EXCERPTS FROM Yossi Alfi’s annual Sukkot storytelling festival are regularly aired on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet. During this past week, a segment devoted to immigrants from Morocco, which was part of last year’s festival, generated a disturbing reminder of Israel’s imperfections. While there is no doubt that Alfi is a patriotic Israeli with a great love for the country and proud of its achievements, he does not try to hide its flaws, possibly on the premise that a nation whose ambitions include tikun olam – fixing the world – can’t do that without acknowledging what needs fixing.
Among his guests was journalist Merav Batito, the daughter of Moroccan immigrants. Her mother is from Fez, her father from Casablanca. A little over 10 years earlier, her parents decided to take their children on a roots trip to Morocco.
In Casablanca, they visited one of her father’s childhood friends, whose son said he had to leave to distribute sweets in the home for the aged. Out of curiosity, Batito went with him to the Home de Vieux, where a man in a peaked cap said to her: “Tell my sister to come and get me out of here.” “Where does she live?” asked Batito. “In Beersheba,” was the reply.”
Batito thought at first that he didn’t know what he was talking about, but decided to investigate the matter anyhow, and discovered that despite Israel’s promise to be a haven for all Jews, this was not the case, and certainly not in the early years of the state, when there was what she calls “a selection.” What this meant in essence was that people aged over 39 and those with physical and/or mental disabilities were left behind. She learned that her own grandfather had not been able to come until her father could afford to send for him, because he was too old. She also learned the tragic story of the man who had asked her to contact his sister. The story of the Vazana family was published in Maariv’s weekend magazine in mid-2006.
Two of the six Vazana children were classified as disabled by the Jewish Agency emissary. As a result, the family remained in Casablanca, but the other children eventually came to Israel. The widowed mother had sent her second child, Miriam, to Israel with Youth Aliyah when she was only seven years old, and hoped to join her. She sold all of the family’s possessions and had her children dress in their finest clothes on the day they were supposed to leave for Israel. When the aliya emissary came to pick them up, he said that Hannah, whose legs were crippled, and David, who suffered from ADD (which was not yet defined in the 1950s), had to stay behind. Their mother refused to abandon them.
The family had not been affluent before, but now they were poorer than ever and dependent on the social welfare services of the community. The three siblings who would have been permitted to migrate to Israel were humiliated at school and their lives were miserable. Their mother kept on encouraging them to go on aliya without her, but they were reluctant to leave her. Over the years, she scraped together enough money to buy them one-way tickets to Israel, and 10 years after the great disappointment, packed the suitcases of Phoebe, Alice and Eli and sent them on their way. She remained in Morocco to care for David and Hannah, but managed to twice visit Israel. In 1981, a week after her last visit, she was murdered.
Hannah and David remained in the home for the elderly, the feeble, the disabled and the insane. Horrified by her discovery, Batito interviewed and photographed many people whose stories appeared in her article. Among those who read it was Phoebe, who recognized her siblings from their photos and knew instinctively that David’s message had been for her. Together with Alice and Eli, she went to the Jewish Agency, whose policy was no longer as harsh as it had been, and the trio secured a promise that the agency would help them to bring Hannah and David to Israel.
The Vazana family was one of many that were cruelly and needlessly divided and suffered years of guilt and misery. Equally untenable was the fact that Ashkenazi hierarchy treated Moroccan Jews as primitives or as criminals. Even today, many people of Moroccan background who have Moroccan surnames report that when they apply for jobs in white-collar professions, they are automatically denied. When they apply a second time under an assumed Ashkenazi surname, they are invited for an interview.
As in every society, Moroccan Jews have their intellectual elite, their middle class, their poor and their criminals. The late president Yitzhak Navon came from an illustrious Moroccan lineage on both sides of his family. IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot was born to Moroccan immigrant parents. MK Amir Peretz was born in Morocco. David Levy, who three times was appointed foreign minister, was born in Morocco. One of his childhood friends was distinguished actor Ze’ev Revach. Moroccan-born Shlomo Ben-Ami is also a former foreign minister, diplomat and historian. Journalist, author and former MK Daniel Ben-Simon was likewise born in Morocco, and there are many more eminent Israelis with Moroccan birth certificates.