Grapevine, January 31, 2021: A memory of the old country

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
Although there are still some British influences in Israel, particularly in the legal system, the main influence from an English-speaking country is American. The Jerusalem Post, which was founded during the period of the British Mandate, is but one example of the American takeover.
Until 25 or 30 years ago, the paper’s style of language and spelling was British. But then the powers that be, realizing that the bulk of the readership was actually American or of an American background, switched to American style and spelling. The few British and British Commonwealth contributors to its pages continued with the British style of writing with some concessions to America, but had to forfeit British spelling, such as dropping the u from words like labour, and the double l from jewellery. Some even gave up on vernacular speech in private conversations.
This was extremely difficult for Australians, as a piece of nostalgia forwarded by Ruth Ainie (née Goldenberg) of Rehovot and formerly of Melbourne illustrates. While people in each Australian state have local expressions of their own, most of what follows below is universally understood by all Australians.
Considering that there are approximately 12,000 Australians living in Israel, this is an opportunity for them to enjoy a memory from the old country.
“You know you’re Australian when you believe that stubbies can either be drunk or worn.
“You pronounce Melbourne as ‘Mel-bin’. You believe that the letter i in Australia is optional and it’s perfectly ok to call it ‘Straya.’ You think Wooloomooloo is a perfectly reasonable name for a place. You’re secretly proud of our killer wildlife. You believe that it makes perfect sense for a country to have a $1 coin that is twice as big as a $2 coin. You understand that ‘Wagga Wagga’ can be abbreviated to ‘Wagga’ but ‘Woy Woy’ cannot be just ‘Woy.’ 
“Beetroot with your hamburger – of course. You wear Ugg boots outside the house. You believe that the more you shorten someone’s name, the more you like them. You understand that ‘excuse me’ can sound rude, but ‘s’cuse me’ is always polite. You know what it’s like to swallow a fly, on occasion via your nose. You know it’s not summer till the steering wheel is too hot to handle and a seat belt buckle becomes a pretty good branding iron.
“You know how to abbreviate every word, all of which usually end in ‘o’: arvo, convo, garbo, lezzo, metho, milko, muso, servo, smoko, rego, speedo, righto, etc. You know there is a universal place called Woop Woop located in the middle of nowhere, no matter where you actually are. If you can understand all of this and had a giggle, tell all your Aussie and international friends: I love Australia.”
Actually, not all abbreviated words end in ‘o’. Some also end in ‘i,’ as for instance, ‘uni,’ which is the colloquial for university. And not all are abbreviated by the end vowel. Some are even elongated. The above are strine light. In-depth strine would be almost impossible for anyone from another country to understand.
■ OF THE 14 people singled out for the title of Yakir Yerushalayim (esteemed resident of Jerusalem), the best known is arguably Rabbanit Malka Bina, the founder of Matan, and a pioneer in paving the way for women to study Bible, Talmud and Halacha (Jewish Law) at the highest levels. What started in 1988 as a small group of women studying around a dining room table has grown into an internationally recognized institute of Jewish religious studies, some of whose graduates would be top-flight rabbis if they were men. In fact, knowledge-wise, some of them could compete with leading rabbis.
Two of the other honorees are also widely known, but in a different field. Prof. Yonatan Halevy and Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef were, respectively, the directors of the two most prestigious medical centers in Jerusalem – Halevy of Shaare Zedek Medical Center, and Mor-Yosef of Hadassah-University Medical Center in Ein Kerem. 
During his army service, Halevy served as a doctor and continued to do so on reserve duty, including during the Yom Kippur War of 1973, when he was second in command of a field hospital. He also served during the First Lebanon War in 1982. A specialist in internal medicine, Halevy was the fourth director of Shaare Zedek, a position that he occupied from 1988 until he stepped down in 2019. He now serves as Shaare Zedek’s president, and is also a member of numerous medical committees. Halevy is also an impressive Torah reader and goes from one congregation to another in Jerusalem to read the weekly Torah portion.
Mor-Yosef is a graduate of the Hebrew University Hadassah School of Medicine, and spent 39 years working at Hadassah Medical Center, the last 11 years as its director. After that he served as director-general of the National Insurance Institute. He is currently the director-general of the Population and Immigration Authority. He also serves as a member of various public bodies and is the chairman of the Organization for the Prevention of Violence in Medical Institutions. Not so long ago, most of the people honored with the title of Yakir Yerushalyim were born abroad. Now, the overwhelming majority were born in Jerusalem, and some of them are multi-generational Jerusalemites.
Apropos Hadassah, patients and former patients who are members of Hadassah Sheli (My Hadassah) are being asked to sign a petition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling him that the future of public hospitals is in his hands. The petition has already been signed by more than 12,000 people. Meanwhile, the private hospitals that are on the brink of collapse for lack of funds reached an accommodation of sorts with the Finance Ministry, a factor that current Hadassah director Zeev Rotstein attributes to the tireless efforts of Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen.
■ VERY FEW immigrants instantly adjust to their new surroundings, regardless of where they are in the world. It’s more difficult to adjust in countries that don’t have a Latin alphabet and where few notices appear in English. Israel is one of those countries. Most notices, of course, appear in Hebrew, some in Arabic, quite a lot in Russian and very few in English or French.
Many Russian immigrants have more than one profession. Musical training was an important part of Russian education even in Communist times, and many people who pursued other professions were often such accomplished musicians, singers or dancers who, if necessary, could fall back on one of those talents in order to put food on the table. This was particularly obvious in the Harmony Culture Center in Jerusalem, where most of the artists had Russian names. 
It is also obvious in the Art Koresh Cultural Center, which is supported by the Jerusalem Municipality Absorption Authority in conjunction with the Aliyah and Integration Ministry and the Center of Immigrant and Returning Artists. The Center has established a YouTube channel on which among other artists viewers can enjoy the singing of Mezzo Soprano Evgenia Bershtein accompanied on the piano by Alexey Shafirov; vocalist Gloria Genkin accompanied by Denis Yatsina on drums; Liad Mor on double bass and Yuri Stolov on guitar; multi-talented musician, singer and songwriter Anders Bentzion Nerman, who plays several instruments; and trombonist Rachel Lemisch accompanied by her husband, Jason Rosenblatt, who sings and plays the piano and the harmonica.
Art Koresh has a large auditorium, so when the lockdown becomes history, these and other artists can perform for live audiences.
■ STAND-UP comedienne, actress and writer Hadar Levi likes Zoom because she can see the individual faces of her audience close up, and interact with them. Zoom also offers greater comfort to the audience to dress as they wish, to get up in the middle to make coffee, and to smoke during the performance.
Levi is also happy that she doesn’t have to travel to peripheral areas of the country and worry about what to wear and where to find a restaurant before or after the show, and then face the long drive home.
■ WHAT DO former prime minister Ehud Barak and Abraham Lincoln have in common other than the fact that they were both politicians who rose to the political pinnacle? Actually, they had more than that in common. They were both born on February 12. Even though he was assassinated, Lincoln fared better as president than Barak did as prime minister. Lincoln served for almost four years as president, while Barak served for only two years as prime minister. However, Barak has so far lived 20 years longer than Lincoln, though no one can tell what Lincoln’s life span may have been had he not been assassinated. 
On the other hand, Barak, who was Israel’s most decorated soldier, faced death on the battlefield many times, and is still here to tell the tale. He also has much in common with former Israel security chief Ami Ayalon. Both entered the Knesset as members of the Labor Party, and as far as military service goes, Ayalon was the commander of current Education Minister Yoav Gallant. 
Barak is frequently critical of Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the heroic soldiers under his command who has also achieved fame in the political arena as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. Ayalon wrote a scathingly critical letter to Gallant in which he noted that the man who was not afraid of terrorists has become a coward in the war of ideas. Gallant took Yosi Ben-Dov, the principal of the 107-year-old Haifa Reali School, to task for ignoring an Education Ministry directive by inviting B’Tselem executive director Hagai El-Ad to speak to senior students in a Zoom session about human rights in Judea and Samaria. B’Tselem, which sees itself as the conscience of the nation, has long been a thorn in the side of the government and the Defense Ministry.