Grapevine March 18, 2020: The national babysitter

Movers and shakers in Israeli society

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin talks during a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus February 12, 2019. (photo credit: YIANNIS KOURTOGLOU/REUTERS)
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin talks during a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus February 12, 2019.
After his attempts to close social rifts with his flagship Israeli Hope project, in which he wants to unify what he calls the tribes of Israel, followed by his efforts to persuade the two key political leaders to form a national-unity government, President Reuven Rivlin, like the rest of the population, has a lot of free time on his hands, and is now all set to become the national babysitter. A devoted grandfather with a good rapport with children, Rivlin is about to use his Facebook account for a storytelling hour, in which he will tell children’s stories that focus on acceptance of the other.
In addition, there have been discussions between the staffs of the President’s Office and the Education Ministry with regard to lessons on Israeli democracy, Zionism, culture and other subjects that Rivlin can teach via social media or long distance studies, as they are referred to by the ministry. The two sides are also looking into the possibility of making these lessons interactive.
MOST ISRAELIS know that members of the Rothschild family, individually and through their various foundations, have been generous benefactors to Israel. But if a random survey were to be conducted among Israelis in which they would be asked to name some of the things that the Rothschilds have done for Israel, many would be stumped and would probably answer Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, which is actually not the case. One of the first major streets to be built in Tel Aviv following its establishment in 1909, the street was originally called Ha’am Street, but the residents felt that Baron Edmond de Rothschild had done so much on behalf of the state-in-the-making that his name should be perpetuated in the first Hebrew city.
Over the years, the Rothschilds have initiated and supported many and varied projects. Toward the end of the 19th century, long before the establishment of the Jewish National Fund, they helped Jews fleeing Russian pogroms to settle in the Holy Land, where many became farmers and planted the seeds of Israel’s successful and innovative agriculture industry on land purchased by Baron Edmond de Rothschild.
Rothschilds helped to create Israel’s wine industry. They funded the construction of the Knesset and the Supreme Court; and more recently, Yad Hanadiv, via Lord Jacob Rothschild, donated $150 million toward the construction of a new national library.
A member of the Rothschild family founded a highly successful ballet company. The Edmond Rothschild Foundation has done much for the development of Caesarea and the restoration of its antiquities with hands-on involvement on the part of Baroness Ariane de Rothschild. The Rothschilds have also established the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University, the Jerusalem Music Center, and the Open University, and have given generously to the Israel Museum, in addition to providing numerous fellowships, grants and scholarships, plus a lot more in the spheres of education, academic excellence, the arts and the environment in both the Jewish and Arab communities.
The policy of Yad Hanadiv is to answer Israel’s critical needs. In this context, as far back as 1964, it founded and funded Educational Television, which was Israel’s first television broadcasting station. It went to air on March 15, 1966, two years before the establishment of Israel Television, the public broadcasting channel now known as KAN 11.
Originally named the Educational Television Trust, this channel was initially intended for schools. During a three-year trial period, it broadcast to 32 schools. Following the conclusion of the trial period, Yad Hanadiv transferred the project and its facilities to the government, which renamed it and called it the Center for Educational Television.
For several years, Educational Television broadcast special programs for toddlers at home or in kindergartens, as well as educational programs for schools.
In 1982, during Operation Peace for the Galilee, Educational Television expanded its mandate to include greetings to IDF soldiers fighting in Lebanon, plus a late afternoon current affairs program called Erev Hadash (A New Evening), which was hosted by veteran print and electronic media journalist Dan Margalit.
This was a springboard for an expanded format for Educational Television, which began airing regular television programs similar to those of any other channel.
For a long time, it broadcast via now-defunct channels 1 and 2, but in 1986 it received its own channel, and began broadcasting via Channel 23, which it retains under the KAN 11 umbrella.
During the current shutdown of schools, with so many children stuck at home, KAN 11 mounted an advertising campaign through its radio stations to inform the public about its educational channel.
Incidentally, one of Educational Television’s top comedy shows was Zehu Ze! which enabled the nation to laugh while huddled in bomb shelters during the 1990-1991 Gulf War, although the program itself was much older, having first been broadcast in 1978. It finally went off the air in 1998, and several attempts to revive it led nowhere. But now, due to the strictures imposed on the public, KAN 11 is taking a more serious attitude to bringing the stars of the show Shlomo Bar-Aba, Moni Moshonov, Avi Kushnir, Dov Glickman and Gidi Gov together again on screen.
ON THE premise that every cloud has a silver lining, including coronavirus, the disease has sent countless people scuttling to Dr. Google in search of information and reassurance. Moreover, they don’t keep these findings to themselves but pass them on to relatives, friends and acquaintances, usually through some form of social media. The upshot is that people who lost touch with each other, and haven’t been in contact for years, are being reunited through the sharing of coronavirus data.
Another thing that has happened is that because the bulk of the population has been confined to home, families whose members have busy working lives suddenly have quality time with and for one another. People who haven’t read a book in a long time are rediscovering literature. And for those who care, the most important thing is that they now have the opportunity to do their Passover cleaning more thoroughly and at a leisurely pace.
Perhaps even more important than that are the warnings that come on social media to beware of charlatans seeking to benefit from the situation by offering all kinds of “preventive” products that promise to keep you safe from the virus. The only products you should be buying are those recommended by the Health Ministry, your physician or your trusted pharmacist.
It’s ironic that given the huge financial losses that have been inflicted on people in business other than banks, supermarkets and pharmacies, pharmacies are probably busier than at any other time of the year. While some people who recently established a new business inadvertently chose the worst possible time to do so, especially restaurant and coffee shop proprietors, Super-Pharm controlling shareholder Leon Koffler earlier this month opened yet another store in Harish, bringing the number of Super-Pharm branches across the country to 258. Koffler is in the process of opening another large store in downtown Jerusalem, not far from where he opened his first store in the capital many years ago. Consumers living in Jerusalem will now have an additional outlet.
WHILE AN ounce of prevention is indeed worth a pound of cure, one cannot help wondering whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Ministry personnel have taken the psychological effects of isolation into account.
In a television news feature about a visit to an AMHA club for Holocaust survivors, the people interviewed said that after what they had experienced in their lives, they were less afraid of coronavirus than of being alone. Their mutual wish was to be able to continue to come to their club and socialize with one another. People in their age group, who are considered to be the most vulnerable to the virus, are terrified of dying alone and no one knowing. At the well-attended AMHA clubs, when someone is missing, the social worker will get in touch. But it is almost impossible for social workers to remain in daily telephone contact with everyone in the club.
AS ISRAEL’s population continues to grow from year to year, the need for more physicians becomes ever greater. One of the lessons to be learned from the current crisis is the need for change in Israel’s criteria for accepting medical students. Long before the challenges posed by coronavirus, Israeli hospitals were understaffed with overworked and underpaid doctors and nurses. Many would-be medical students in Israel are rejected, and if their hearts are really set on being physicians, they go abroad to study in places such as Italy, Hungary and Romania. Many such students do well in Europe, so much so that they remain in the country in which they received their training and qualifications.
Hadassah Medical Center director-general Zeev Rotstein was rejected as a student by the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, and went to Italy, where his medical studies started at the University of Bologna. He subsequently graduated from Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine, where he specialized in cardiology and later in health management. Rotstein went on to receive fellowships from the New York State Department of Health, Tufts University and John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Fortunately, he chose to return to Israel and spent the next 38 years at the Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, where he rose to become one of the most respected hospital directors-general in the country. He was contemplating retirement, when first approached in 2014 to take up the challenge of the director-generalship of Hadassah. His appointment became official in September 2015.
At the present time, a number of Israeli physicians are treating coronavirus patients in Italy, when they could be treating such patients in Israel. One such doctor, when interviewed on an Israeli radio station and asked why he didn’t come home, replied that Italy had been good to him, and after graduating medicine there, he had opted to stay. Even if he wanted to come home at the present time, he could not leave his patients, he said. “Medicine is not just a profession, it’s a mission.”
Who knows how many first-class Israeli doctors are working in Europe because medical schools in Israel would not accept them? A lesson to be learned from the present doctor shortage is that anyone who wants to study medicine should be accepted as a first-year student, and only at the end of the first year of studies should it be determined whether that person has the aptitude to be a good doctor. Israel currently has six medical schools in different parts of the country, so there should be no reason for young Israelis who want to be medical practitioners to go abroad to study because medical schools in Israel refuse to accept them.
FREQUENTLY INTERVIEWED on radio and television about measures being taken in the treatment and prevention of coronavirus, Prof. Arnon Afek, the deputy director-general at Sheba Medical Center, is sometimes subjected to verbal attacks by journalists who disagree with the Health Ministry’s policy. Afek, a former director-general of the Health Ministry, listens carefully, makes a point of looking at the person who is berating him, and then responds in a very calm voice. He never evades the issue, nor does he make excuses. He simply explains, but when on television he stands out not only because of his patient and attentive attitude and his tranquil style of speech, but also his very colorful attire, which is in sharp contrast with the somber business suits worn by his interlocutors.
EARLY ON Friday morning last week, US Ambassador David Friedman tweeted: “In this week’s Torah portion, God commands (Exodus, Ch. 30, V. 21): ‘And you shall wash your hands ... and you shall not die.’ Let’s all heed that advice, along with that of our health experts, and together we will arrest the spread of Covid-19. Stay safe and Shabbat Shalom!”
IN ACCEPTING the mandate to form a government, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz spoke out of both sides of his mouth. Still finding it difficult to be gracious in victory in relation to his chief rival, he spewed his usual vitriol against Netanyahu, saying: “This process has been accompanied by illegitimate efforts by the current prime minister to evade justice. No man is bigger than the Israeli Zionist project.” Then, in the next breath, Gantz spoke of putting aside hatred and destruction and uniting the nation. He invited the leaders of all the elected parties, including Netanyahu, to join him In creating as broad a patriotic national-unity government as possible. If he wanted national unity, he should have omitted the word “patriotic,” which in some circles was taken as a jibe against the Joint List, and could cost him future support from the party, whose recommendation ensured his present status.
NOT EVERYONE elected to the 23rd Knesset was sworn in on Monday. Two of the elected legislators are in isolation, and a third resigned on Sunday. Blue and White MK Yael German, who served as a Yesh Atid MK from February 2013, and was health minister during her first year in the Knesset, resigned following a mild stroke the previous week.
Prior to becoming a legislator, she was steeped in local politics, serving as a Herzliya City Council member from 1993 to 1998, and subsequently as mayor of Herzliya on a Meretz ticket from 1998 to 2013. During her Knesset career, German, 72, was regarded as the secular, left-wing element in Yesh Atid. She was particularly active in advocating for public transport on Shabbat, and for rights for the LGBT community.
In stepping down, she made way for Idan Roll, who is gay and the partner of well-known singer Harel Skaat. Roll was previously elected to the 21st Knesset, but missed out on the 22nd. In the most recent elections, he also missed out on the 23rd Knesset, but moved up to the vital slot with German’s resignation.
FORMER LABOR MK Avishay Braverman, who served as a legislator (from April 2006 to March 2015) and as minorities minister (2009-2011), will receive the Israel Prize in recognition of his lifetime achievement. An economist by profession, with international credentials that include a 14-year stint as a senior officer in the World Bank in Washington, Braverman is best known for his championship of social justice and his 16-year tenure as president of Ben Gurion University of the Negev.
When notified of the honor to be conferred on him, Braverman said that the prize belonged to “the wonderful people of the Negev” who worked with him to give BGU the academic status it enjoys today. He emphasized that this was a united effort by Left and Right, Jew and Arab, Ashkenazi and North African, secular and religious, in a shared vision for academic excellence.
When he had first come to BGU, he said, Beersheba had been a sleepy, peripheral town and nothing like the bustling metropolis that it has become under Mayor Ruvik Danilovich.
AMONG THE many cancellations of events was one by the Association of Legacy Museums, which had a planned a conference for this week at Bar-Ilan University, where offspring of members of the underground organizations that had opposed British rule – namely, the Hagana, Irgun Zvai Leumi and the Stern Group – would relate stories about their parents who had been imprisoned by the British Mandate authorities.
Two of the speakers, Arye Naor and Ido Nehushtan, spent part of their childhoods without either parent, because both parents in both cases were members of the Irgun and had been arrested and imprisoned by the British authorities. Naor is a former cabinet secretary and professor emeritus of public policy and administration at BGU, and former head of the politics and communication department at Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem. Nehushtan is a former commander of the Israel Air Force and is currently chairman of the Israel-Australia Chamber of Commerce.
ONE OF the benefits of social media is that if you have a valid complaint and post it where it can be seen by the masses, you may get the action you desire. It certainly worked in Britain for Ambassador Mark Regev, according to a report in The Telegraph.
Disturbed by the fact that Oxfam, the well-known British charity, was selling antisemitic literature on its website, including The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which is one of the most notorious of antisemitic diatribes, Regev took a screenshot, which he tweeted to his 23,000 followers, accompanied by the query: “Why is Oxfam selling antisemitic literature?” Needless to say, Oxfam not only removed these items from its website, but also destroyed them.
LONGTIME BROADCASTER and leading Grecophile Yaron Enosh is a vicarious foodie. In his weekly, wide-ranging program, which has a large and faithful following, he speaks to people around the country – one each week – to ask them what they’re preparing for Friday night dinner, whether they use traditional recipes, how many people will be there, whether or not they make kiddush, and what they talk about around the table.
Last Friday evening, when he spoke to Jerusalemite Esther Nahmias, who is of Moroccan background, but doesn’t have a completely Moroccan menu because not all of the 14 people around her table have the same tastes, Enosh presumed that the conversation would be peppered with references to coronavirus. “Absolutely not!” declared Nahmias, adding that her son was so fed up with hearing about it that he had stopped listening to the radio.