Grapevine March 15, 2020: The most unpredictable show in town

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN receives official election results to the 23rd Knesset from Chairman of the Central Elections Committee Justice Neal Hendel. (photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN receives official election results to the 23rd Knesset from Chairman of the Central Elections Committee Justice Neal Hendel.
(photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)
Regardless of the indicators, there is little that is predictable about Israeli politics. Changing realities in the aftermath of the recent Knesset elections are ample proof of that. There may be changes again today when President Reuven Rivlin meets with representatives of the parties elected to the Knesset to hear their recommendations as to who should be the next prime minister. At the end of last week, most political forecasters predicted that the nation would go to the polls for a fourth time. This is something that Rivlin has been desperately trying to avoid.
When receiving the official election results for the 23rd Knesset from Central Elections Committee chairman Judge Neal Hendel on Wednesday, Rivlin in an address to party heads said, “There are many who are looking here with hope that answers will come from this house. The answers are for you to find, those who the public elected as its leaders, and I hereby place the task in your hands once again.”
The problem, of course, is a lack of unity not only among the different parties, but within the ranks of some of them, and this is what has so far prevented the formation of a government. This may lead to yet another election, once again creating political knshistory and instability in the State of Israel, which in the sphere of political turmoil, is fast becoming the Italy of the Middle East. The next few days should prove to be extremely interesting. At least politically, life in Israel is never boring. At a recent binational conference in Jerusalem, Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski remarked that the average ambassador to Israel experiences one election, but never three. The way things look at the moment, some, by the time they complete their posting here, may have experienced four.
■ ONE OF the most respected of former Supreme Court judges is Jacob Turkel, who after a career of almost three decades as a judge, the last 10 of which were on the Supreme Court, retired in 2005. Turkel, who has also taught at Ben-Gurion and Tel Aviv universities, was known for tempering justice with mercy and often for writing dissenting opinions.
In a radio interview last week, one of his former students, dean of the Law Faculty at Ono Academic College and a prominent activist for citizen’s rights and social justice Prof. Yuval Elbashan, asked Turkel what prompted him to become so aware of the less fortunate who had come into his court
Turkel replied that justice is not a science or a mathematical equation. It is a means of solving problems, and that sometimes requires a humane attitude, which he believes was inadvertently inculcated in him since infancy. When Turkel was born, his parents were so poor, they could not afford to buy him a cradle, and instead placed him in an empty wooden orange crate. Although he doesn’t remember this, he knows it, and he is convinced that it plays an essential role in his decision making.
Asked whether he regretted anything in his long legal career, he replied by saying he regretted that the Israeli court system was not like that of America, whereby in accordance with the Constitution, federal judges are appointed for a life term. If they so desire, they can retire, but otherwise the appointment is for life. Judges on the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, and in the District Courts are nominated by the president of the United States, and appointed by him following confirmation by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In Israel, Supreme Court judges are appointed by the president, from names submitted by a nine-member judicial selection committee, including the president of the Supreme Court along with two other Supreme Court judges, the justice minister and one other cabinet minister, two Knesset members and two representatives of the Israel Bar Association. Appointments do not require a unanimous decision, but do require the agreement of at least seven of the nine committee members.
In Israel, Supreme Court judges must step down when they reach the age of 70. Turkel sees no reason why they should not be allowed to continue. This opinion is shared by former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, but efforts by the two to change the status quo were to no avail. Given the huge backlog of court cases in Israel, perhaps the incoming Knesset should look into the matter and amend the law, at least to enable judges over the age of 70 to deal with cases of convicts appealing their sentence in light of new or inadequate evidence.
A case in point is that of Roman Zadorow, convicted for the murder in 2006 of 13-year-old schoolgirl Tair Rada. The victim’s widowed mother does not believe that Zadorow was the perpetrator, nor do several forensic experts from Israel and abroad. But Zadorow remains in prison. Perhaps a panel of unharried retired judges would look at the evidence more closely and find reasonable doubt as to Zadorow’s guilt.
■ FASCINATION WITH the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) lifestyle and the extent to which haredim have permitted mainstream issues to enter their communities continues to find expression on the large and small screens. The popularity of such productions has not escaped the attention of Netflix, which has adapted Unorthodox, the bestselling novel by Deborah Feldman, into a four-part television mini-series that will be launched on March 26. The book, an autobiography by Brooklyn-born Feldman, was published by Simon and Shuster in 2012. It tells the story of a young woman raised in Williamsburg in a dysfunctional family of Satmar Hassidim and married off at the age of 17.
Feldman was put in the care of her grandparents because her mother had left the community and her father was mentally unbalanced. Even as a child, she disliked the strictures of her community. She gave birth to her son when she was 19. When she was 22, she left her husband and her community, taking her son with her. Extreme efforts were made to bring her back, but her exodus was final. She caught up on her missing education by attending classes at the Sarah Lawrence College, and then moved with her son to Berlin where she continues to live and write.
Everything that led up to that is in the mini-series, which stars 24-year-old Israeli actress Shira Haas, who played Ruchami, the daughter who secretly married in the wildly popular Shtisel series. The dialogue is in English and Yiddish, and some of the scenes are so realistic that non-observant viewers will feel like a fly on the wall in an ultra-Orthodox environment.
■ EVERY ACADEMIC institution is pleased when members of its faculty win prestigious awards. In the case of Bar-Ilan University, they are triply pleased because Prof. Moshe Rosman, an authority on Polish Jewry, is the third BIU academic to be awarded the Rothschild Prize. According to Yad Hanadiv which in 1959 established the prize to encourage and advance the sciences and humanities in Israel, the American-born Rosman has been recognized for diverse scholarly works and expertise which have made an impact on the study of Jewish history and have been recognized around the world. Rosman has been a member of BIU’s Koschitzky Department of Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry for the past 40 years. In 1978, he was only the second foreign scholar working on a Jewish topic to be allowed into the archives of Communist Poland. He has since conducted extensive research in Poland and Ukraine.
His research and resulting books have earned him several prizes, including the National Jewish Book Award for Rethinking European Jewish History, a book he co-edited with Prof. Jeremy Cohen of Tel Aviv University.
Rosman’s scholarship has been recognized in Poland as well as in Israel and America. In 2016, he received an honorary doctorate from Wroclaw University.
Barring any unforeseen postponement, the award ceremony will take place on March 18. In addition, in May he will receive the Louis Finkelstein Award as a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America who has made a significant contribution to Israeli society and culture.
■ ADDED TO the growing list of cancellations of entertainment is the annual fund-raising concert Rainbow of Music, proceeds from which go to the Malki Foundation that enables parents of children with severe physical and/or mental disabilities to care for their children at home. The concert which was scheduled for March 25 at the Jerusalem Theater, with the participation of Shai Abramson, Akiva and the Ramatayim Men’s Choir in a multi-genre performance of hassidic, cantorial, jazz, Israeli and popular songs, has been indefinitely postponed
■ ALTHOUGH IT is already known that Israel Independence Day celebrations have been considerably toned down, it is still anticipated that people will be buying national flags to drape from their balconies and place on their cars. In previous years, when Shari Arison and Bank Hapoalim placed free flags in daily newspapers on the day prior to Independence Day, there was great consternation when it was discovered that the flags were made in China. But any world traveler knows that many national souvenirs sold to tourists are manufactured in China, India, Bangladesh and other cheap-labor countries. This year, the Histadrut Federation of Labor headed by Arnon Ben-David has published full-page advertisements in the Hebrew media, urging citizens to buy flags made in Israel.