GRAPEVINE: In their own write

Though born in New York, Singer and Jager, who were each wearing a knitted kippa, grew up in completely different environments.

A man wears a kippa.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
A man wears a kippa.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As he looked around the hall of the Kehilat Moreshet Avraham Synagogue in Jerusalem’s East Talpiot neighborhood, Saul Singer, the co-author of Start-up Nation, remarked that he felt like it was a Jerusalem Post reunion. Indeed, a large percentage of the crowd included past and present employees of the Post as well as freelancers from the editorial, photography, proofreading, advertising, graphics and supplements departments.
Among them, in addition to Singer and fellow author Elliot Jager, who was having the Jerusalem launch of his book The Pater: My Father, My Judaism, My Childlessness, were Judy Montagu, who edited the book, Yael Hauftmann, Amanda Borschel, Alan Abbey, Liat Collins, Calev Ben David, Gail Lichtman, Rabbi Reuven Hammer, Nechama Golomb, Ariel Jerozolimski, Gershom Gale, Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde, Susan Lerner, Amotz Asa-El, Esther Rosenfeld, Elli Wohlgelernter, Alvin Hoffman, and the author’s wife, Lisa Clayton-Jager. There were probably others, but there were so many people in attendance that it was impossible to spot everyone. “Those who didn’t work at The Jerusalem Post are also welcome,” said Singer.
Book launches very often begin with speeches and end with sales and book signing.
This one was the other way around, with refreshments, sales and book signing first.
Jager must have been extremely gratified to see how many people lined up for him to write a dedication in their newly purchased books. The more formal part of the evening was introduced by Montagu, who had been with Jager from the time that the book was first conceived and ready for publication by Toby Press. Friendship and vested interests aside, she described it as an unusual and powerful book and said that anyone who would read it would come away having learned and gained something.
Though born in New York, Singer and Jager, who were each wearing a knitted kippa, grew up in completely different environments.
Singer grew up in a secular upper-middle class milieu, while Jager grew up in the poverty- ridden ultra-Orthodox density of the Lower East Side. Singer found his way to religious observance, and when in Jerusalem, he walks around with a kippa. In his professional life, he has a bare head. Jager initially removed his kippa in Israel because he did not want to be identified by the kind of kippa he had on his head. He also left the haredi world and now belongs to two synagogues, one modern Orthodox and the other Conservative.
His kippa is back on his head – at least most of the time.
Judaism is very harsh on matters of childlessness, and the childless Jager was frequently hurt by people’s attitudes and the kind of questions they asked. He also discovered that there was very scant literature about male childlessness, and began interviewing other childless men, including one who is gay. This led him to the discovery that Jewish gay men are keener to have children than non-Jewish gay men.
The book is actually three books in one, despite the fact that it has only 189 pages, and one of the sagas from which the book takes its title is Jager’s relationship with his Holocaust survivor father, who twice abandoned him when he was a child – the second time almost permanently. It took 30 years for them to reconcile, and only after several meetings did Jager realize that his father had never abandoned him spiritually but had spent his life interceding with the Almighty on the son’s behalf. His father had a different set of values. Material things were unimportant to him. It was the spiritual that counted, and once Jager realized this, he was able to forgive.
In typical Jewish tradition Jager, in his conversation with Singer, transformed painful situations into subtle self-deprecating humor, an indication that if he wants to move in that direction, he would be a wonderful stand-up comedian.
■ JAGER HAS a series of book launches lined up, the next one in London at the prestigious Jewish Book Week. Jager will be discussing his book on February 21, and Hammer, who writes a weekly column as well as op-ed pieces for the Post, will lecture on his book Akiva: Life, Legend, Legacy on February 28, which is the concluding day of this year’s Jewish Book Week. Hammer’s byline has appeared in the Post since he made aliya 42 years ago. He and Jager are both members of Moreshet Avraham, the Masorti synagogue in Armon Hanatziv, where each book was launched. Other members of the congregation include Post columnist Montagu, and the paper’s managing editor, David Brinn, who gets to bless the congregation because he is a member of the priestly tribe. Hammer’s book is his 10th. Two of the others have won the National Jewish Book Council Award.
■ YET ANOTHER Jerusalem Post columnist who also has London in his sights will be returning temporarily to the city of his birth. Prof. David Newman is to step down after six years as dean of Ben-Gurion University’s 21-department Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in the summer. He is to be replaced by another former Londoner, Prof. Harvey (Chaim) Hames. Although the formal election is still a month away, Hames’s name has been confirmed by the university authorities as the sole, uncontested, candidate for this important academic position.
Among other projects Newman has founded since arriving from the UK over 30 years ago are both the university’s politics department, as well as the Center for European Studies, the latter along with another former Londoner, Prof. Efraim Sicher of the foreign literature department and Israel’s expert on Charles Dickens.
Newman will be spending the next two years in the UK as a visiting professor of geopolitics at Kings College, where he will be working on a project, together with leading British scholar Dr. Richard Schofield, examining the changing geopolitics and future borders in the Middle East arising from the present turmoil in the region.
He will continue in his role as policy adviser to a number of governments and international think tanks (many of which are based in London) on issues relating to borders, which have become all the more critical as a result of recent regional and international instability and the massive increase in migrants attempting to cross the borders, both in North America and in Western Europe.
As part of his fellowship at Kings College, Newman will also be teaching courses as a fellow of the Washington-based Israel Institute. Newman’s fellowship at the Israel Institute is the first to be awarded in the UK.
■ AND ONE final reference to people with Post connections. Fans of the paper’s environment and energy reporter Sharon Udasin, who may be wondering why her byline has not appeared in recent days, should be aware that there’s a very good reason – namely, a change of status. Udasin has become a mother and is on maternity leave.
She and her husband, Ravid Shaniv, welcomed their 3.79-kg. baby boy, Amit, into the world on Sunday, January 31, at 4:19 p.m. After an intimate brit mila ceremony with family, the proud parents are enjoying the time they are spending with their firstborn son, learning to adapt to their new routine.
A Birthright Israel success story, Udasin made aliya from New Jersey in 2010 and was immediately introduced to Shaniv by her close friend and future sister-in-law. Sharon and Ravid Shaniv were married at Havat Allenby in October 2013, and she kept covering environmental and energy issues till just before going into labor.
■ SCRATCH THE surface of almost any global company, and you’ll find an Israeli component.
In the case of Netflix, now available in limited form in Israel, the Israeli component is a Petah Tikva-born Sabra, Sarit Klein, who after serving in an Intelligence unit in the IDF went to university to get a bachelor’s degree in business management.
She’d always dabbled with painting, so on the side, she concurrently took an eightmonth’s course in makeup, and in the final analysis decided to make a career of being a makeup artist. These days, she’s the head of the makeup and special effects department at Marvel/Netflix. She has worked on Jessica Jones and Daredevil and is working on a third production. There will be five altogether, she said before leaving Israel this week to return to the Big Apple.
Klein had no trouble working in the United States, as she has been a dual national since birth. Her mother, Bella Klein, who is a promoter of Yiddish culture in Israel, was born in New York. Sarit was 28 when she left Israel. She is now a deceptive-looking 42. Like her mother, she looks much younger than the age indicated on her birth certificate.
She was clever enough not to harbor big dreams when she went to America. She wanted to start small, so that if things didn’t work out, she would not have lost much, but would have gained valuable experience.
Initially, she worked for nothing just to make contacts and to learn from others in the business. Then she started working with photographers and eventually landed in television. After a couple of years in New York, she went to Los Angeles to broaden her horizons, then to Atlanta and back to New York, where she started out in 2002.
She makes a point of coming home at least once a year, and this time it was for a family celebration.
She loves working for Marvel/Netflix, which she says is a very structured organization in which everything is part of a process. Nothing happens spontaneously.
Everything has to be approved by producers from Marvel, producers from Netflix and the actual producer of the show. Every new character or special effect has to be approved by all the producers. This is time-consuming, but in the final analysis it saves on mid production disagreements and resentments.
However, the producers play everything very close to their chests, and production crews don’t know what tomorrow will bring, until they are about to start the day’s work.
“It’s all very secretive,” said Klein, but that’s part of the fun of working for such an outfit.
■ JEWISH THEOLOGICAL Seminary of America chancellor Arnold Eisen was the keynote speaker at a moving ceremony at which JTS alumni Rabbi David Geffen, along with professors Lee Israel Levine, Aaron Demsky and Dr. Beverly Gribetz were honored by the Jerusalem-based JTS Schocken Institute for Jewish Research in recognition of their contributions to Israel and the Jewish people, especially in the field of education.
Both Eisen and JTS Schocken director Prof.
Shmuel Glick emphasized the connection between JTS in New York and the JTS institutions in Israel. Within the framework of JTS policy, they said, it is very important that JTS students in America should spend study time in Israel to strengthen the spiritual and cultural connections between American and Israeli Jews. The reason that this has become increasingly important, said Eisen, is that in the American Jewish community, there is very little discourse about Israel. He was not referring to the two-state solution, said Eisen, but to where Israel fits into Jewish life and how Diaspora Jews relate to Israel.
Acutely aware of the difficulties faced by the Masorti Movement in Israel, Eisen also stressed the need for JTS in America to help in the establishment of new Conservative or Masorti communities in Israel. “The situation today is critical in both political and spiritual terms,” he said, noting Jews of the world, including Conservative and Reform Jews, have a lot to contribute to the world of Torah.
An example was perhaps inadvertently given by Gribetz, who was raised in a liberal haredi home. Because there were no facilities in her day for haredi girls to study at Jewish higher education facilities, her parents allowed her to study at JTS, because their attitude was that if she was studying Torah, it didn’t matter that JTS was a Conservative institution.
■ THE ATTEMPT by the government of Ukraine to downplay the massacre of Jews at Babi Yar during the Holocaust, and thereby rewrite history by making the site a generic symbol of human suffering rather than a permanent reminder of anti-Semitism and murder, has for the moment been foiled by the outrage of major Jewish organizations and institutions. But there’s no guessing what future revisionists will do when the generation of the Holocaust is no longer with us.
Even if future revisionists erase the horror of the Nazi massacre and details of the Ukrainians who collaborated with the Nazis, it is difficult to erase culture, especially a monumental poem written by one of the great cultural icons of the former Soviet Union.
Of all his writings, non-Jewish poet, author and film director Yevgeny Yevtushenko, who is now 82, and is best known in the Jewish world for his poem “Babi Yar,” which he wrote in 1961 as a means of protest against Soviet blurring and distortion of the genocide that targeted the Jews of Kiev in September 1941. The poem also condemned the anti-Semitism that was so prevalent in the Soviet Union. To publish that poem 55 years ago took tremendous courage. With rabid anti-Semitism once again rearing its head in Europe and elsewhere in the world, a rereading of Yevtushenko’s “Babi Yar” serves as a reminder that however rife anti-Semitism may be, there are non-Jews who will fight it.
BABI YAR (Translated from the Russian by Benjamin Okopnik) No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A steep cliff only – like the rudest headstone.
I am afraid.
Today, I am as old As the entire Jewish race itself.
I see myself an ancient Israelite.
I wander o’er the roads of ancient Egypt And here, upon the cross, I perish, tortured And even now, I bear the marks of nails.
It seems to me that Dreyfus is myself.
The Philistines betrayed me – and now judge.
I’m in a cage. Surrounded and trapped, I’m persecuted, spat on, slandered, and The dainty dollies in their Brussels frills Squeal, as they stab umbrellas at my face.
I see myself a boy in Bialystok Blood spills, and runs upon the floors, The chiefs of bar and pub rage unimpeded And reek of vodka and of onion, half and half.
I’m thrown back by a boot, I have no strength left, In vain I beg the rabble of pogrom, To jeers of “Kill the Jews, and save our Russia!” My mother’s being beaten by a clerk.
O, Russia of my heart, I know that you Are international, by inner nature.
But often those whose hands are steeped in filth Abused your purest name, in name of hatred.
I know the kindness of my native land.
How vile, that without the slightest quiver The anti-Semites have proclaimed themselves The “Union of the Russian People!” It seems to me that I am Anna Frank, Transparent, as the thinnest branch in April, And I’m in love, and have no need of phrases, But only that we gaze into each other’s eyes.
How little one can see, or even sense! Leaves are forbidden, so is sky, But much is still allowed – very gently In darkened rooms each other to embrace.
-“They come!” -“No, fear not – those are sounds Of spring itself. She’s coming soon.
Quickly, your lips!” -“They break the door!” -“No, river ice is breaking…” Wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar, The trees look sternly, as if passing judgment.
Here, silently, all screams, and, hat in hand, I feel my hair changing shade to gray.
And I myself, like one long soundless scream Above the thousands of thousands interred, I’m every old man executed here, As I am every child murdered here.
No fiber of my body will forget this.
May “Internationale” thunder and ring When, for all time, is buried and forgotten The last of anti-Semites on this earth.
There is no Jewish blood that’s blood of mine, But, hated with a passion that’s corrosive Am I by anti-Semites like a Jew.
And that is why I call myself a Russian! ■ IS SUPERMODEL Bar Refaeli giving birth to a future model? Refaeli, who got married last year, is three months pregnant with a female fetus. Refaeli’s mother, Tzipi Levine, was a well-known model in her time, and Refaeli started her modeling career when she was still an infant. The good looks come from her maternal grandmother, Penina Levine, who has done some modeling herself, but really shone on the dance floor. So the baby that Refaeli is carrying could well turn out to be a fourth-generation Israeli model.
■ THE FRAGILE security situation is a subject that keeps cropping up at various conferences in Israel these days, and the 13th annual Jerusalem Conference was no exception.
While expressing every confidence in the ability of the Israel Defense Forces and security services to be able to combat those who seek to destroy Israel, President Reuven Rivlin said: “The current struggle is not a struggle of the settlements alone, nor just of the Right, nor even of the Israeli government alone. There is no ‘them and us.’ It is all of our struggle. This is an ongoing struggle of the State of Israel. We are fighting for our independence as a people, for our moral rights in the land of our forefathers, and we cannot let our guard down in the face of those who attack us.”
■ CURRENT TENSIONS prevailing in Jerusalem notwithstanding, the Bible Lands Museum went ahead this week with its plans to hold its annual museum education conference which was attended by 150 female kindergarten teachers from east Jerusalem, including supervisors and officials from the Education Ministry.
Over the past four years, female educators from east Jerusalem have participated in this professional conference aimed at broadening knowledge and deepening understanding. Participants were exposed to projects such as the Future Meets Past program, in which kindergarten children from east Jerusalem visit the museum. Such projects are made possible through the support of the Bernard van Leer Foundation, which enables a variety of projects in the Middle East.
Among the speakers at the conference was Basma Halabi from the University of Haifa, who, as far as is known, is Israel’s only Arab academic who deals with the subject of literacy in museums. During her lecture, she demonstrated simple tools that kindergarten teachers can use to make the museum space practical and relevant. Additionally, Inas Natur delivered a lecture on the language, cognitive and emotional capabilities of kindergarten-age children, to determine how to best convey content when they visit the museum.
Teachers at the conference also participated in workshops on subjects such as drama, music and crafts, went on a tour and took part in a jewelry workshop deriving inspiration from some of the special exhibits at the museum. Since the Future Meets Past project began 10 years ago, the museum has hosted thousands of kindergarten children from east Jerusalem.
Fadwa Abed Rabbo, an east Jerusalem kindergarten supervisor, said that the conference provided “a unique opportunity for kindergarten teachers from east Jerusalem to experience a significant understanding of artistic creativity that is adapted to the heritage and culture of Arab society.” Amal Dois, another kindergarten supervisor added that the teachers attending the conference had been enriched.
In addition to the conference itself, the teachers also participate in professional training sessions throughout the year, said Rana Zidan, who is in charge of the Future Meets Past project. They hear lectures from educators and academics, such as Dr. Shafiq Masalha from the Hebrew University, who deals with the museum visit from an emotional point of view – exposure to a new place.
These training sessions are conducted in coordination with pedagogical supervisors of east Jerusalem kindergartens, and in conjunction with the pre-primary division of the Education Ministry and the Jerusalem Education Administration in east Jerusalem.
Bible Lands Museum director Amanda Weiss voiced pride in the fact that the project was initiated by the museum and said that reactions are impressive and heartwarming.
■ THE TERMINATION of relations between the Golbary fashion company and actress/ model Ayelet Zurer could have been handled with far greater tact if the company had simply continued to pay Zurer under the terms of her contract, which would have expired in another two years, and informed her agent that the company was heading in another direction, and that the sophisticated image that she had projected in their previous collections was locked in the minds of her fans and those of loyal customers. That would have been far more complimentary than the manner in which Moshe Golbary reportedly informed Zurer’s agent that her services were no longer required.
The upshot was that both the print and electronic media grabbed the story and ran with it, not because of the alleged breach of contract, but because of the blatant insult to all women in their forties and older. Yediot Aharonot, which broke the story, decided to prove that women of any age can be models, and had very little trouble in persuading actress and Israel Prize laureate Lea Koenig to model some current fashions. Koenig, 86, who is currently co-starring in the movie Laughter Line, continues working at an enviable pace on stage and screen and says that what was done to Zurer is pure chutzpah.
Even more interesting than Koenig’s reaction is that of several men in the media who have publicly championed Zurer, and who have made the point that there is a vast difference in attitude to older men whose gray hair and lined faces apparently give them more character and dignity, whereas women with gray hair and lined faces are over the hill. The most obvious example is actor George Clooney, 54, who is making a fortune of out of coffee commercials.