Grapevine January 17, 2021: Surprise encounters

Movers and shakers in Israeli society

Jerusalem's usually busy Old City is seen virtually empty during Israel's third coronavirus lockdown. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Jerusalem's usually busy Old City is seen virtually empty during Israel's third coronavirus lockdown.
Life is full of surprises. Loretta Belik, a Ra’anana-based early childhood therapist, life coach and garden therapist – who is also an avid photographer and has a naturally gregarious personality – unexpectedly went to Dubai. She and her husband, Dr. Harvey Belik, were invited by their good friend, martial arts champion and social entrepreneur Danny Hakim, to join him and his wife, Danna Azrieli, to attend the opening of a photo exhibition reflecting Jewish life in Arab countries, sponsored by the Azrieli Foundation at the Crossroads of Civilization Museum. It was something that Belik had never expected to do. She could have previously visited Dubai on her Australian passport, as many dual nationals do, but to enter the United Arab Emirates on an Israeli passport was beyond her wildest dreams. Nor could she imagine enjoying a kosher Shabbat meal in a luxury hotel in an Arab country. Impressed by the warm hospitality, the excellent service, the freedom of religion, the cleanliness, the striking architecture and many other aspects of the UAE, Belik last week showed videos and still photographs of her December trip at a Zoom event hosted by the Kinor David Synagogue.
Among the people featured were Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum; Crossroads of Civilization Museum founder Ahmad Obaid al Mansoori; President of the Jewish Council of the Emirates Ross Kriel, who is developing a Jewish kindergarten and school to serve the 150 Jewish families living in Dubai; Rabbi Elie Abadie, formerly from the US, who said he had been welcomed with open arms and spoke of the beauty of the Jewish community that keeps growing and Dr. Dan Shaham, an Israeli diplomat who has been in Abu Dhabi for a little over a year at the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency. Prior to the peace agreement between Israel and the UAE, he was the only Israeli diplomat in the UAE. Following Belik’s presentation, some viewers said they could not wait to go, and others asked a lot of questions. Where Belik could not supply the answers, Hakim who was also watching, filled in the gaps.
■ PRIOR TO The Jerusalem Press Club’s tri-partisan webinar in which German, Swedish and Israeli public health experts discussed the pros and cons of how the coronavirus pandemic has been dealt with in their respective countries and what they can learn from each other, the ambassadors of Germany and Sweden, Suzanne Wassum Reiner and Erik Ullenhag, who had helped to facilitate the event each welcomed their respective speakers. They were Prof. Lothar H. Wieler, president of the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, which is Germany’s national public health institute, and Dr. Karin Tegmark Wisell head of the Swedish Public Health Agency’s Department for Microbiology.
Ullenhag remarked that a year ago, he was watching television with his young daughter. The program was dealing with the outbreak of an epidemic in China. The ambassador’s daughter asked him if he thought that such a thing could happen in Sweden. His answer had been “no.” Now, a year later, he ruefully admitted: “I was wrong.” Hopefully, he was wrong about a few other things. Ullenhag, a former minister of integration and a leader of the Liberal Party, has publicly opposed antisemitism and even joined in a kippa march, while at the same time voicing opposition to Israel. Prior to his current post, he was Sweden’s ambassador to Jordan, and when tweeting his next assignment, announced that he had been appointed ambassador to Tel Aviv. Presumably, since his arrival last September, he has realized that Israel’s capital is Jerusalem, and that many of his preconceived notions about Israel were wrong.
■ JEWISH PUBLICATIONS across America are featuring the story of a Florida couple Lou and Edith Bluefeld, who have a triple celebration coming up this year. Each is celebrating a 100th birthday, in addition to which they will celebrate their 80th wedding anniversary. They first met at a dance in their native Baltimore when they were 16. Each had come with a date, but were instantly attracted to each other. There’s a seven months’ difference in age. Lou was born in January, Edith in August. At their wedding on February 23, 1941, she wore a classic bridal gown with a sweeping train and a long veil, and he wore tails and a top hat. Together, they looked like British nobility.
Lou served in the US Army during World War II, and he and Edith later ran a successful kosher catering service, through which they also provided meals, when necessary, for events hosted by US presidents. They once also helped to kasher the White House kitchen.
They moved to Florida 35 years ago and have been active volunteers at the Boca West Country Club. Both are still healthy in mind and body, and are looking forward to the day when they can celebrate with members of their family, after everyone has been vaccinated.
Meanwhile they note, they have each other as well as extended family from among the many friends they have at the Country Club.
■ VETERAN STAGE and screen actor, producer, director and television presenter Natan Datner is taking time out from the world of entertainment to try his luck in politics. Datner, 64, announced last week that he has joined the Veteran’s Party, headed by former Mossad chief Danny Yatom. Datner is not the first actor to leave the stage or screen to enter the political arena. The most famous was the late US president Ronald Reagan. Another screen star who became a successful politician was Arnold Schwarzenegger, who became governor of California. Clint Eastwood was mayor of Carmel, and Sonny Bono mayor of Palm Springs and later elected to the US House of Representatives. On the local scene, Yehoram Gaon served as deputy mayor of Jerusalem, and Shmuel Vilozni, Gila Almagor and Orna Banai were members of the Tel Aviv Municipal Council.
■ FINANCE MINISTER Israel Katz has coined a term for his coronavirus-era fiscal policy, which he has dubbed “capitalism with compassion.” The trouble is that as compassionate as his intentions may be, things don’t work out quite the way he says they will. Radio stations with special call-in programs in which legal and economic experts answer questions about economic entitlements for individuals and businesses indicate that many of these questions would not be asked if the questioners had received the aid benefits that have been promised by both Katz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
■ SUNDAY, January 17, which is equivalent to the Hebrew calendar date of the 4th of Shvat, marks the 73rd anniversary of the tragic fate of a convoy that was sent by the Hagana to deliver provisions to the besieged kibbutzim of Gush Etzion. Named the Mountain Platoon, the unit of 38 men commanded by Dani Mass, set out on foot from Hartuv. One of the men sprained his ankle and was sent back. He was accompanied by two others. The remaining 35 continued on their way by night, but were unable to reach their destination while it was still dark. Soon after dawn, their presence was discovered near the Arab village of Surif by two Arab women, who saw two scouts from the unit who had gone ahead. The women alerted the villagers who came together and blocked the path of the unit.
The villagers were armed and a battle ensued. At its conclusion, all 35 members of the unit were killed – only an hour’s walk away from their destination. Their memories have been perpetuated in monuments and at annual ceremonies in which the stories of their heroism and their tragic fate are retold. They are known In Hebrew as the Lamed Heh, the two letters of the alphabet standing for 35. Among those who were killed was American-born World War II veteran Moshe Perlstein, who made aliyah in 1947.
Memorial online events will be held today in Hebrew and English. The first, at 11 a.m., will be jointly hosted by the Herzl Center and the Kfar Etzion Field School and will feature Lamed Heh researcher Dr. Yonatan Ben Yaakov of Kibbutz Kfar Etzion and Dr. Efrat Zakbach, a researcher into the public memory of Israeli society. The moderator will be Shlomit Sattler, the education principal of the Herzl Center. The Zoom and Facebook broadcasts can be accessed from both the Herzl Center and the Kfar Etzion Field School.
The event in English will begin at 7:30 p.m. Israel time and will be hosted by Josh Hasten, the international spokesman for the Gush Etzion Regional Council. It will feature Shlomo Ne’eman of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, Gabi Harrow, director of development for the Gush Etzion Foundation and Aryeh Rotenberg of the Kfar Etzion Field School.
The event will be broadcast on the field school’s Facebook page. Further details of both events are available at
■ ISRAELI EDUCATION authorities are increasingly realizing the importance of English as a universal language, and are creating English language websites in the hope of promoting greater awareness of what they do and of their principles and values. Among the more recent educational institutions to come out in English is Sapir College, whose president, Prof. Shai Feldman, has informed web surfers “You will now have at a glance, all the information about the significant developments happening at Sapir, Israel’s largest public college – Welcome!”
The address of the website is:
[email protected]