Grapevine January 1, 2021: For the love of Yiddish

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

UNITED HATZALAH founder Eli Beer when he returned to Israel on the Adelson jet following his recovery from coronavirus. (photo credit: Courtesy)
UNITED HATZALAH founder Eli Beer when he returned to Israel on the Adelson jet following his recovery from coronavirus.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Acclaimed Yiddish actor Shane Baker, who is the director of the New York-based Congress for Jewish Culture, was the master of ceremonies for the Yung Yidish Zoomathon last Tuesday. The two-and-a-half hour special with singers; musicians; speakers and audiences from Israel, the UK, US, Canada, Germany, France, Russia, Switzerland and Lithuania, was billed as a fund-raiser for the construction of shelves for more than 60,000 Yiddish books, including two full recently acquired libraries, currently stored in boxes and shopping carts in the Yung Yidish cultural center in Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station. But in reality, it was a tribute to Yung Yidish founder Mendy Cahan.
Theater director and writer of poetry and prose Michal Govrin, who is a member of the board of Yung Yidish, spoke movingly of Yung Yidish as “the capital of Yiddishland – the miracle of survival.”
At its peak throughout the evening, the program had 154 viewers. The amount of money it sought to raise was a mere $18,000, which Baker valiantly and literally begged for over again in both Yiddish and English, but with minimal success until near the end of the evening, when someone donated $10,000. For those who missed the program and the joy of being at a live Yung Yidish event, which is almost like being in someone’s home in a pre-war European shtetl, it is available on the Yung Yidish Facebook page.
Aside from his long-distance devotion to Yung Yidish, Baker – in honor of the 100th anniversary of the first production of the most classic of Yiddish dramas The Dybbuk – produced an updated version that is available on YouTube and can also be accessed on the website of The Forverts, which has quite a collection of Yiddish videos on YouTube as does Yung Yidish.
For Yiddishists who are willing to spend a little over $50 for the purchase and postage of “The Jewish Soul and Classics of the Yiddish Cinema,” a gift box of 10-such films, is available on Amazon. Yiddish is going through a revival worldwide. Anyone who wants to check this out just has to Google Yiddish.
■ IT DID not come as a surprise that Sheldon Adelson put the Adelson family’s private jet at the disposal of Jonathan and Esther Pollard at the end of the long struggle to bring Pollard to Israel. For some years now, Adelson has been putting his plane at the disposal of Israel and Israelis, as well as American dignitaries traveling to Israel. In January 2016, Texas Gov. Greg Abbot came to Israel in the Adelson private jet, and this year United Hatzalah founder and president Eli Beer, who had contracted a severe case of the novel coronavirus while on a fund-raising tour of the US, though still weak following his recovery, was brought home on the Adelson family plane. In May of this year, as a result of a diplomatic crisis, 26 Israelis stranded in Morocco were unable to return home. They flew to Paris, where they boarded Adelson’s jet that brought them to Israel.
Timing being everything, one can’t help wondering whether Adelson, despite a certain cooling off toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has once again come to his political aid, by bringing the Pollards to Israel during another election campaign period.
While there is no doubt that Adelson would have flown the Pollards to Israel at any time, the fact that Netanyahu was waiting at the airport at around 3 a.m. and walked out to the tarmac to greet the new arrivals and present Jonathan Pollard with his Israeli ID card speaks volumes. Photographs of the scene were widely published in Israel and abroad.
At 3:05 a.m. on Wednesday morning, Boaz Bismuth, the editor in chief of Israel Hayom, was the first to tweet that the plane had landed. This was not exactly a scoop. Israel Hayom is owned by Sheldon Adelson, whose wife, Miriam, is the paper’s publisher.
Both Jonathan and Esther Pollard kneeled down and kissed the ground after they descended from the steps of the plane to the tarmac where Netanyahu was waiting to greet them. Jonathan Pollard had no trouble getting back on his feet – a sign of things to come – but Esther Pollard needed her husband’s help.
■ IN CELEBRATION of the 96th anniversary of the birth of the singing Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, whose melodies are sung in synagogue services around the world, Yehudah Katz V’hmagal, Chaim-Dovid Saracik, The Solomon Brothers, The Deutsch Brothers , Dudi Leibovitch and Rafi Kaplan – some of who actually performed with Carlebach – will present a live performance of Carlebach songs and stories under the title of “How a song is born.” The musical tribute will take place on Saturday, January 2, at 8:30 p.m. Israel time and is accessible on https://nirshamti.co.il/carlebach4/
■ IN THE Book of Exodus we read that a new Pharaoh arose who did not know Joseph. Something similar occurs not just in every generation, but almost every time that new people come to an enterprise, regardless of what that enterprise may be. For instance, at The Jerusalem Post, the late Arie Rath, who was one of the iconic editors of Israel’s media world, continued to receive mail at the office long after he had left the paper. When he’d been gone for only a year, some new person sorting the mail yelled out, “Does anyone know an Arie Rath?” At that stage, almost everyone on staff did. The story came to mind this week with the passing at the age of 101 of Vienna-born Israel Prize laureate Prof. Moshe Brawer, who was the founder of the Geography Department and the dean of the Faculty of Humanities at Tel Aviv University, and who also taught at Bar-Ilan University.
But long before that, he had been a journalist with The Palestine Post, the forerunner of The Jerusalem Post, and in 1945, had been sent to cover the liberation of the Bergen Belsen concentration camp. A year earlier, the British had suggested to two Hebrew-language newspapers in what was then Palestine to send a military reporter to the front in Europe. Brawer was then working for two newspapers – the Hebrew-language Hatzofe, and the English-language The Palestine Post. He was all of 24 years old. He went from Jerusalem to London, and from there from time to time to Germany, wearing a British military uniform, and returning to London each time.
In April 1945, in addition to the articles he published, he also broadcast on radio about the horrors that met his eyes when he entered the camp that was rife with typhus and other diseases.
In fact, Brawer and other journalists had been denied admission for three days, as British medical personnel labored around the clock treating the sick and the dying. When the journalists did eventually enter, they were given face masks, both to protect them from infection and to partially ameliorate the stench.
For a young man, the whole experience was a terrible shock, almost to the point of being indescribable.
There were also SS prisoners in the camp, but the British would not allow the journalists to have any contact with them.
What impressed him most during a period of several months after the liberation was how efficiently the British operated in clearing the camp of dead bodies and giving them a dignified burial, providing medical facilities and nourishing food. They were aided in this by the surviving Jews who organized themselves into groups and even conducted daily prayer services that Brawer attended. They even organized a theater.
Brawer remained in Germany to cover war crimes trials, and heard stories of atrocities that made him sick to his stomach. He heard of brutal acts which he could not believe that human beings were capable of committing.
Like many young journalists, Brawer had his mind set on another profession. For some young people, working in a newspaper as a journalist, copy editor or proofreader is simply a stop-gap to help pay for their university studies. For others who had planned careers in other professions, the media experience has been contagious, and they happily made a career switch. It is somewhat sad when people who have spent years writing the unfolding history of a country in newspapers cease to do that and their names that appeared so frequently as bylines are quickly forgotten. A new generation arises who knows them not.
Brawer had actually begun his university studies in London in 1938, but during the war had returned to Jerusalem, where he had lived since his parents had brought him there as an infant. After the War of Independence, he returned to London to complete his doctorate in science. His books include The Atlas of the World, The Atlas of South America and The Atlas of the Middle East.
There are still a number of former Jerusalem Post journalists who are septuagenarians, octogenarians and even nonagenarians. The names of some of them are Macabee Dean, Avraham Avi Hai, Hanan Sher, Yaakov Kirschen, Abraham Rabinovich, Ronnie Hope, Susan Bellos, Hirsch Goodman, Joanna Yehiel, Sarah Honig, Esther Hecht and Avi (Alvin) Hoffman, among many others.
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