Grapevine, March 21, 2021: Vote! It’s the democratic thing to do

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

Denise L. Eger (photo credit: Courtesy)
Denise L. Eger
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Tuesday is Election Day. Those people who are hoping to see a replacement for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be voting, as should those who want him to remain in office. By the way, Netanyahu is not the only MK whose parliamentary history goes back more than 30 years. Moshe Gafni and Arye Deri entered the Knesset in the same year as Netanyahu, 1988, but Deri had to take a break while in prison and then for a few years afterwards. Longevity as a legislator should not be the deciding factor in whether or not to vote for a certain party.
What is important is what the party stands for. Equally important is the exercise of the democratic right to vote. Israelis, including minorities, take voting for granted because no section of the population has ever been denied the right to vote. But it’s not all that long ago that women in many countries were not permitted to vote, nor were certain classes of populations in different countries.
Today, voting is compulsory in quite a large number of countries, especially in South and Central America, because this is the best way to ensure that the elected government is of the people, by the people and for the people.
Whoever wants to influence the extent to which parties will be represented in the Knesset, and which party will ultimately head the government, will make a point of voting on Tuesday.
■ AT THE start of the Seder the age-old welcome to the needy, “kol dichfin” is recited, whereby all who are hungry are invited to come in and eat. Not everyone takes the invitation literally, but it is the guiding motive for many organizations and institutions whose members care about the welfare of their fellow beings, especially during Passover and Rosh Hashanah. One such organization is The Brand House, which publicizes numerous social causes. 
Yaarit Shoshan Sabag – who is one of the key figures of The Brand House – together with actress Moran Atias, the Alon Vala Association and the Yad Ezra Association have mobilized several celebrity chefs and numerous volunteers in a Kimcha Depascha project, in which the chefs will cook Passover meals that will be distributed by volunteers to some 2,000 needy families and individuals. The chefs’ team is being led by Haim Cohen, and includes inter alia Segev Moshe and Meir Adoni, who will be working alongside Benny Bezha and Itzik Tapiro at the Crowne Plaza City Center. 
All are delighted to be back in the kitchen after a long period in which restaurants and hotels were closed, especially as they are working for a good cause. The irony is that while volunteers abound, restaurant and hotel employees are reluctant to return to work, and many establishments in the hospitality industry find themselves with insufficient staff to cook and serve.
■ ALIYAH AND INTEGRATION Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, who as a three-year-old child came to Israel from Ethiopia, went through a traumatic identity process as do so many new immigrants, who are given Hebrew names by immigration officials or by school teachers. The name which the minister’s parents gave to her was Senta, which is the name by which she is still called by relatives and close friends. 
Some immigrants are very happy to receive a new Hebrew name, but others want to stick to their original given names, which in the case of minors is not always possible because teachers at school may insist on giving them a Hebrew name that is reasonably close to the name on their passport or birth certificate. Thus, Gary may become Gershon, and Jeremy is obviously Yermiyahu, Shirley becomes Shir-Li, and Rosie becomes Shoshana or Vered. The real trouble starts with children who have been named Christine or Christopher. Go find a Hebrew equivalent for that, especially in a religious Jewish school.
■ THE GENERATION of Holocaust survivors is gradually disappearing, and soon there will be nobody left who can testify to the atrocities committed against the Jewish people as well as gypsies, homosexuals, Catholic priests and people with physical or mental disabilities. 
This makes the preservation of historical records all the more important. In Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe, we are witnessing historical distortions, a factor mentioned several times last week in a significant Zoom conference on ‘Between Memory and Amnesia: Facing the past in Poland with speakers Prof. Jan Grabowski, University of Ottawa; Prof. Havi Dreifuss, Tel Aviv University; Prof. Omer Bartov, Brown University and Dr. Laurence Weinbaum, Israel Director of the World Jewish Congress and the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, served as moderator. The prime organizer of the conference, Collette Avital – who heads the Center Organization of Holocaust Survivors – was thoroughly engrossed in what each of the eloquent speakers had to say, but noted that they had only scratched the service and would have to meet again to continue the discussion. Their eloquence was particularly remarkable considering that none of them is a native English speaker, but all have a magnificent and fluid command of the language. 
All three are historians, and all three agreed that history and its research should be left to historians, and should not be subjected to vilification or distortion by politicians who decide what should be remembered and what should not be remembered, and preferably ignored and forgotten. Although the recent trial against historians who wrote about the complicity of some Poles during the Holocaust , which goes against the grain of Poland white-washing itself, was the basis for the conference, Dreifuss noted that while there was definitely Polish resistance against the Nazis, some of the same Poles also killed Jews. 
“One could be a Polish hero and a murderer of Jews at the same time,” she said. It was also pointed out that policies that create history of convenience, sometimes work against themselves as in the case of Grabowski whose book Hunt for the Jews: Betrayal and Murder in German-Occupied Poland, would not have attracted too many people other than those who were directly or indirectly affected, as well as academics researching the subject. But because of the legislation that makes it illegal to suggest that Poland or Poles cooperated with the Nazis, the book became a sensation, and as a result of that, a best seller.
Bartov noted that Poland is not the only country with an Institute of National Memory directly connected to the political system. In this context he also mentioned Yad Vashem to which every foreign dignitary is taken because in Israel, the Holocaust is not only an historical event, but the core of Israel’s self-perception. 
Bartov also compared the differences and similarities between Polish Law related to the Holocaust, and Israel’s Nakba Law. Nakba in Arabic means disaster, and for many multi-generational Arabs living in Israel, the country’s independence and identity as a Jewish state or state of the Jews, was a disaster, even though they themselves had never known independence under the British or centuries of Ottoman rule. But Nakba Day, which falls on Independence Day, is a day of mourning, and cannot be permitted on a day of celebration. Moreover, any institution that teaches Nakba history risks the loss of government funding, but is unlikely to be charged with a criminal offense. All three historians advocated that true scholars of history must be motivated to seek the truth and to be unafraid to publish it. Bartov warned that countries that fail to face the past are destined to be mired in it.
■ BY MAY or June of this year, all travel restrictions will hopefully have been lifted and Rabbi Denise L. Eger will be able to come to Israel to participate in an in-person ceremony for the awarding of Honorary Doctorate degrees by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. A past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the largest and oldest rabbinical organization of North America, Eger is also the first woman and openly gay person to have served as past president of the Southern California Board of Rabbis. Eger officiated at the first legal wedding for a lesbian couple in California in June 2008.
Eger is an AIDS and gender activist, author and founding rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami, West Hollywood’s Reform LGBTQ Synagogue.
Although she may be far from the cup of tea of the Orthodox rabbinate, she is a proud Zionist, who throughout her rabbinic career has worked “to inspire commitment to Jewish tradition and widen the tent of the Jewish people as well as deepen engagement with Jewish life and with the people of the State or Israel.”
■ ONE OF the more pleasant personalities on Reshet Bet is Ran Binyamini, who most of the time is polite and speaks in a light tone. Unlike some of his colleagues, Binyamini usually gives his interviewees an opportunity to say what they want to say with minimal interruption. But there is always an exception to the rule, and last Thursday, when interviewing Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch, Binyamini raised his voice almost to screaming pitch. 
Kisch protested, commenting that he could not finish a sentence without Binyamini jumping in. “Let me finish what I have to say,” he said quietly. “You’ll answer the question that I asked you,” shot back an uncharacteristically angry Binyamini. Aggression at Reshet Bet is apparently contagious. Nearly all the anchors cut in on interviewees and don’t allow them to complete a train of thought, regardless of the subject, and then, just when the interview is getting interesting, they abruptly bring it to an end. 
Not only that, they also misinterpret the remarks of interviewees, with the result that time is wasted by the interviewee trying to explain that this is not what he or she meant or even said. Reshet Bet always had a good rating, and some of its news and culture reporters are truly excellent, but all that is being spoiled by a policy that seems aimed at putting interviewees off balance, and reducing them to sound bites.
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