Grapevine January 3, 2020: The darkness before the dawn?

As a result of the huge diversity in Israel’s population mix, there’s a lot of East-West hybrid culture.

Naama Issachar, who was arrested by Russia and given seven-and-a-half years in prison for carrying cannabis. (photo credit: COURTESY OF FAMILY)
Naama Issachar, who was arrested by Russia and given seven-and-a-half years in prison for carrying cannabis.
(photo credit: COURTESY OF FAMILY)
■   The Yiddish reference to the darkness before the dawn states that before it gets light, it has to be really dark. Let’s hope that this is also applicable to Naama Issachar, who is serving a seven-year jail sentence in Russia for carrying 9.5 grams of cannabis in her luggage while in transit from India to Israel via Moscow.
Even though she had no intention of staying in Russia and had been unaware of the severity of Russian law with regard to narcotics, she was given what many people regard as an overly severe sentence. Her conditions were worsened when she was temporarily moved to another prison where she was not permitted to receive visits from her mother and also forbidden from receiving mail.
The transfer had a very detrimental effect on her, but she has now been returned to her former prison. One can only hope that this is indeed the darkness before the dawn and that when President Vladimir Putin comes to Israel later this month to participate in the international forum on antisemitism and to attend the unveiling of a monument in Jerusalem dedicated to Russian defenders during the Siege of Leningrad, that in a demonstration of both his power and his humanity, he will bring Issachar with him.
The cost of building the monument was jointly funded by the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, Russian billionaire businessman Viktor Vekselberg, who has close ties with the Kremlin, the Jewish National Fund, Keren Hayesod and the Russian Jewish Congress.
The siege of Leningrad took place from September 8, 1941 to January 27, 1944, during which time hundreds of thousands of people died.
■   THE TENTH day of the Hebrew calendar month of Tevet this year falls on January 7. A minor fast day, it commemorates the siege of Jerusalem in 425 BCE by the armies of the Babylonian Emperor Nebuchadnezzar, which eventually led to the destruction of the First Temple.
In modern times the date received an added dimension in that it was designated as a memorial day for victims of the Holocaust and others whose date of death and place of burial are unknown. Memorial prayers are recited for them. Sometimes the date of death of people murdered in Nazi gas chambers from where they were transferred to Nazi crematoria is known, but because they have no graves, they are included in the Tenth of Tevet prayers for the dead.
In advance of the Tenth of Tevet, the Ra’anana Municipality is screening the film Hidden Face, directed by Eyal Datz on the life and times of Auschwitz and Dachau survivor, the late Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam, the Klausenberger Rebbe of Sanz who lost his wife and 10 children in the Holocaust, yet retained his faith, rebuilt his life, remarried and fathered seven more children, and revived his hassidic community. One of the children of his first marriage who survived the Holocaust died soon afterward. Even then Halberstam remained unbroken in spirit. More than that, he revived the lives of others, restoring both their faith and their hope in the future.
In 1976, he established the Sanz Medical Clinic, also known as the Laniado Hospital, named in memory of two Syrian Jewish brothers who moved to Switzerland and left money in their will for the construction of a hospital to be named Laniado. The medical center in Netanya started out as a maternity clinic, but quickly added other departments.
Datz, who grew up in a completely secular environment in Tel Aviv, had only one common link with the Klausenberger Rebbe. One of Datz’s grandmothers was a Holocaust survivor. In 2017, Datz was asked to make a documentary on the Klausenberger Rebbe with the intention of having it screened on KAN 11 on Holocaust Remembrance Day 2018.
The documentary, which included a lot of archival material and which cast a new light on how the ultra-Orthodox community looks at the Holocaust, proved to be so popular that it was re-screened several times and can also be seen on YouTube.
Some viewers recognized family members in the archive shots, which in several instances led to them conducting their own in-depth research
The Ra’anana screening on Saturday evening, January 4, at Eshkol Payis, 46 Hehayal Road, Ra’anana, will be followed by a discussion with Datz moderated by journalist Kobi Finkler.
■   IN PREVIOUS years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu liked to attend the annual conference in Davos of the World Economic Forum. He was even a speaker there on one occasion. But it is highly unlikely that he will be attending this year, as the date clashes with the International Forum on Antisemitism which is bringing close to 40 world leaders to Jerusalem. Netanyahu is scheduled to be one of the keynote speakers at the forum taking place at Yad Vashem. He will also meet personally with many of the participants just as he met with world leaders in Davos in the past.
■   STUDENTS, BOTH formal and informal of the history of Aliyah Bet, the clandestine network that facilitated the migration of Holocaust survivors from refugee camps to British-occupied Palestine, are familiar with Murray Greenfield’s book The Jews’ Secret Fleet. Greenfield who was a member of that fleet also appeared with fellow member Harold Katz in a documentary film called Waves of Freedom that was initially screened at the Jerusalem Film Festival in 2008.
Each of them had served with the US Navy during the Second World War. Greenfield spent three years with the US Merchant Marines and Katz spent three years in the Pacific.
When word went out that Americans with naval experience were needed to help refugees from Europe to the Promised Land, they both signed up. The major snag was that the British would not allow the refugees to enter. They intercepted the refugee boats and sent the refugees to internment camps in Cyprus.
One such boat whose passengers and crew were sent to Cyprus was the Hatikvah – The Hope – on which both Greenfield and Katz were crew members.
Following the establishment of the State of Israel, Greenfield stayed on and became involved in numerous projects including, among others, the building of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Nayot, an import enterprise for new immigrants, the creation of a highly successful publishing house and many other ventures.
Katz returned to the United States, completed his studies at Harvard and became a successful trial lawyer in Boston. He returned to Israel in the early 1970s as a new immigrant. He and Greenfield often shared memories of opening up a new future for Holocaust survivors and of the time they spent with them and Hagana agents in Cyprus.
As a legal expert Katz became the head counsel to Israel’s Ministry of Defense, dealing with US and other governments, especially in matters requiring his American legal background. He also played a significant role in the development of the Merkava tank and was legal counsel to the ministry during the sensitive period of the Pollard affair.
Katz died recently at age 98. He was a long time subscriber to The Jerusalem Post, which from time to time wrote about his Aliyah Bet exploits. He is survived by his wife, Mimi, his daughter, Judy, and her children and his grandson, Reshef.
■   FOR A long time, Israelis of North African, African and Asian backgrounds were treated like second-class citizens and were deemed to have an inferior culture to that of the Ashkenazi elite.
But all that has changed and is changing, and we now find that the North African, Asian and African cultures, including literature, music (both religious and secular) and cuisine are taking, over and that people of these backgrounds are increasingly coming into the foreground in politics, army and police ranks, academia, sport and more.
Moreover, as a result of the huge diversity in Israel’s population mix, there’s a lot of East-West hybrid culture. Nonetheless, some Ashkenazi people are developing a complex over what they perceive as being pushed to the sidelines.
It’s gotten to the stage where Daniel Galay, who heads Leyvik House, the Center for Yiddish Culture and the home of the Association of Yiddish Writers and Journalists in Tel Aviv, along with the members of Forum 21, a group which he has established, and which is dedicated to fostering Ashkenazi identity and heritage, want to infuse more Ashkenazi culture into Israel’s overall cultural identity.
They feel that Israeli society should include much more cultural pluralism, and that the various elements of the rich ethnic traditions of the Jewish people should be nurtured and joined together like a bouquet of flowers or a tossed salad, retaining their unique colors, fragrances and tastes, rather than mashed or melted into a uniform Israeli cultural puree.
This will be the keynote subject at the annual Beit Leyvik conference, hosted by the City of Herzliya at its new cultural center on January 6. Scholars and musicians and artists will discuss aspects of Ashkenazi culture.
Prof. Israel Bartal, the academic adviser to the conference, will deliver the keynote address, “Ashkenaz as a Homeland.” Prof. Raphael Walden, the president of Physicians for Human Rights (and the son-in-law of Shimon Peres), will speak about human rights in Jewish tradition, and popular ethnolinguist, Dr. Ruvik Rosenthal will provide examples of East and West in Israeli Hebrew. Prof. Ghilad Zuckermann will come from Australia to report on his research into the effect of heritage revival on well-being. There will also be other related topics on Ashkenazi culture in our day and age, and how to make it universally relevant.
The cultural center is located at 168 Wingate Street, Herzliya Pituah (near the corner of Nili Street). The phone number is 09-977-8800.
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