Grapevine January 15, 2021: Rivlin hosts a meeting of the ‘tribes’

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN makes a point as he greets Umm el-Fahm Mayor Dr. Samir Mahmid. (photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN makes a point as he greets Umm el-Fahm Mayor Dr. Samir Mahmid.
(photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)
When he first took office, President Reuven Rivlin was bothered by the self-imposed isolation of specific sectors of Israeli society whom he referred to as “the tribes.” To amend this situation, Rivlin launched a flagship project aimed at unifying the different ethnic groups in Israeli society educationally, in the workplace and in community interaction. With only six months left of his tenure, Rivlin this week symbolically achieved his goal when he brought together several heads of local authorities to express his appreciation for their public service, in particular the manner in which they had responded to the coronavirus pandemic.
Rivlin hosted them on an outdoor patio leading to the garden in the presidential compound. Representing the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community was Yitzhak Ravitz, head of the Kiryat Ye’arim Regional Council. The Arab community was represented by Umm el-Fahm Mayor Dr. Samir Mahmid. Yeruham Local Council head Tal Ohana represented the southern periphery, while Gezer Regional Council head Rotem Yadlin represented the center of the country, including agricultural communities. Yisrael Gantz, head of the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council, represented the communities of the West Bank.
Of all his guests, Rivlin was the most familiar with Ravitz, whose late father Rabbi Avraham Ravitz was a long time member of Knesset. The younger Ravitz’s wife, Rivka Ravitz, has been Rivlin’s chief of staff throughout his presidency and ran his office in the Knesset since 1999. The Ravitz’s 12th child, a boy, was born in September 2019, and naturally Rivlin was the guest of honor at the circumcision ceremony. Yitzhak Ravitz is also one of 12 siblings.
Lauding the resourcefulness, leadership and determination of his mayoral guests, Rivlin said, “The corona crisis has proved how much we need new thinking and a new distribution of authority between the national and local bodies.” This crisis has proved that there is no substitute for the understanding and knowledge that local leaders have of their respective communities, he added.
■ ISRAEL’S AMBASSADOR in Rome, Dror Eydar, a former op-editor and columnist at Israel Hayom, was one of the few people who spoke of Sheldon Adelson in terms of what he had done to affect the lives of young Jews by bringing them to Israel on Birthright trips, and moreover, the fact that he had established the Israel-America Council to bring Israelis living in America together, with the eventual aim of promoting a return to Israel. With regard to the AIC, Adelson had said, “There is no more noble gesture than being the mason that mixes the cement that connects one generation of Jews to another.”
In the vast majority of tributes to Adelson, a man of many attributes, the ones most commonly mentioned were his philanthropy and his vision, but few of the accolades went beyond that. Both in his philanthropy and his business interests, Adelson created thousands of jobs that affected the lives and well-being of people in many countries, in addition to which the majority of these jobs were in people- to-people professions, such as education, health and even gambling.
■ MOST OF the demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem take place in and around what is referred to as Paris Square, although the official name is France Square. Over the past few weeks, demonstrators have also gathered from the opposite direction on the intersection of Brenner and Balfour streets. A security fence prevents them from moving further into Balfour. But they’ve found a way to cross virtual red lines.
At 6 a.m. on Wednesday, a man with a megaphone stood at the Balfour-Brenner intersection bellowing in the direction of the Prime Minister’s Residence. He was soon joined by some 20 other demonstrators who collectively disturbed the peace of the area by shouting and singing, while others congregated closer to France Square to protest the postponement of Netanyahu’s trial.
That Balfour-Brenner intersection is in the Talbiyeh neighborhood, where several residents were quick to react to the noise. WhatsApp messages began to flow among members of the Talbiyeh Forum, who shared knowledge of an ordinance that prohibits untoward or disturbingly loud activity in the area before 7 a.m. Construction workers, for instance, are not permitted to begin work before 7 a.m., which is why anyone passing a building site at 6:30 a.m. will often see workers sitting on the ground having breakfast. The Talbiyeh residents have absolutely had it with those demonstrators who have no consideration for others, and will try to have early-bird demonstrators removed by the police.
■ JOURNALISTS, WHETHER employed in print or electronic media, work in a vacuum, not knowing how many people read or listen to them. But there is something heartening in reactions from the public when they make mistakes. Reshet Bet’s prize-winning current affairs anchor Esti Peretz Ben Ami made a whopper of a mistake this week when she mistakenly announced that the Ra’anana Symphonette was closing down. Somehow, she confused Ra’anana with Netanya, and was inundated with calls from anxious musicians and the orchestra’s fans.
The orchestra that might be playing its final note is the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra, which had planned to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year, but instead may be playing a farewell concert. The orchestra is yet another economic victim of the coronavirus pandemic. In bemoaning the chaos she had caused, Peretz Ben-Ami said that she didn’t realize she had so many listeners.
■ THE BIG question being asked by many Israeli journalists this week was who gave Nancy Pelosi the lyrics of the song “I Have No Other Country,” written by Ehud Manor, that she used in her address when she advocated the impeachment of President Donald Trump. It would have been even more effective and a greater compliment to Israel if the person who gave her the meaningful lyrics had also coached her in the correct pronunciation of Manor’s name. According to former Israel ambassador to the US Michael Oren, this was not the first time Pelosi has relied on Manor’s lyrics. Needless to say, it was the song most heard mid-week on Israeli airwaves.
■ IN THERAPIES involving word associations, it is doubtful that many people when hearing the word Auschwitz would think of tangos. It is known that Auschwitz had an orchestra, and until they were sent to the gas chambers, the instrumentalists included some of Europe’s finest musicians, many of whom were Jewish. One such musician was the Hungarian-born mother of Ivan Schvarts, who was born in the USSR,and now lives in the US. Both his parents were Holocaust survivors. His mother was liberated from Auschwitz by the Red Army. As Schvarts was growing up, his mother would tell him stories of how they played tangos. Some of these were Yiddish tangos that were played in pre-war Yiddish cabarets.
The stories have remained with him, and tangos, especially Yiddish tangos, signify for Schvarts the image of survival. Not surprisingly, he is a tango teacher. He has been teaching tango since 2007, and runs a not-for-profit Golden Age Tango Academy that provides tango classes for seniors, veterans and people with disabilities. Although he teaches tango to universal tango tunes, he remains committed to the Yiddish tango.
Schvarts has studied the history of tango, which originated in Buenos Aires as a blend of European immigrant cultures with Afro-Argentine rhythms. According to Schvarts, tango was born as a dance of resistance and defiance. Decades later and continents away, Yiddish-language tangos emerged as a significant part of Jewish culture in Eastern Europe, and continued to be played and danced to in the ghettos and concentration camps. Like the people who survived the camps, the Yiddish tangos survived with them.
Schvarts, who is keen to preserve them for future generations, currently serves as president of the San Francisco Russian WWII Veterans Association, where he runs six major tango programs sponsored by the City of San Francisco and the American League of Veterans. These programs also include Yiddish tangos, which Schvarts says are rich in history. He is aware that he does not know the whole history of the Yiddish tango and is always eager to learn more, especially from people who played Yiddish tangos or heard them in the concentration and labor camps. Schvarts can be contacted at [email protected]
■ AMONG THE members of the Mosaic persuasion who were recognized in the Queen’s New Year Honors was Cambridge academic Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen, who heads the Autism Research Center. He is now known as Prof. Sir Simon, having received a knighthood for his services to people with autism. He has written several groundbreaking books on the subject, the latest of which is The Pattern Seekers: A New Theory of Human Invention, which was published this year. If the surname sounds familiar, he is indeed related to famous British actor and comedian Sacha Baron-Cohen. They happen to be cousins and are not the only high achievers in the family.
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