Grapevine March 22, 2020: An ancestral ceremony

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

The Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST David Bedein, who runs the Israel Resource News Agency and is best known for exposing antisemitic and anti-Israel material in Palestinian textbooks, is a grandfather several times over. His newest grandson was born this month and the induction into the faith was held last week at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Bedein posted an email prior to the circumcision ceremony apologizing for the fact that his family cannot have people join them in their celebration because they could not have more than 12 people present. But bearing in mind that the cave is the burial place of the matriarchs and patriarchs of the Jewish people, Bedein wrote that his family would be joined by Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah.
HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR Rena Quint of Jerusalem is a grandmother and a great-grandmother several times over. In fact, her total offspring of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren is fast approaching 50, which is amazing considering she was the sole survivor of her family. Her grandchildren call her “Savta” and so do her great-grandchildren. Two of her grandchildren with their families live in very close proximity to their mother, who is Quint's eldest daughter. When one of the younger great-grandchildren heard the Health Ministry’s warnings against visiting grandparents, who age-wise are in the most vulnerable category for contracting coronavirus, the youngster asked: "Who is the grandmother here?" That's quite a question in four- and five-generation families.
ALTHOUGH MANY synagogues are closed until further notice, Daf Yomi classes are still being conducted on Skype, Facebook and other forms of social media. Though effective, this method of teaching deprives participants of the camaraderie they enjoy in face-to-face and side-by-side studies. On the other hand, it enables relatives and friends who live in different cities, or in different parts of the world, to study the same text at the same time with the same teacher. Bearing this in mind, the Board of Management of Jerusalem's Hazvi Yisrael Congregation, which conducts a large number of its activities in English, is inviting anyone who wants to learn Daf Yomi in English, from noted teacher Rabbi Shimon Hochster, from their home, wherever it may be, should telephone 076-5990016 to gain access to the virtual classroom. When prompted, punch in the entry code 249520#. Don't forget the number sign, because without it you cannot participate.
The lesson starts at 8 a.m. Israel time. Hochster has a faithful following of people who praise his ability to elucidate the lesson on the page in a clear and concise manner.
MANY OF the health reports refer to coronavirus patients being transferred to and from hospitals by Magen David Adom. Organizations such as United Hatzalah and ZAKA barely rate a mention. But according to United Hatzalah founder and president Eli Beer, who is currently in the United States, the number of calls to the organization's 1221 hotline have risen by 40%. That could also be attributed to increasing complaints by members of the public who feel sick and have the symptoms of coronavirus, but are told when they phone MDA that they don't meet the criteria for testing.
People who suspect that they may have caught the virus, have also been told in Health Ministry announcements not to go to hospitals or health clinics. But the nightly press conferences being held by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he impresses the need to follow the guidelines set down by the Health Ministry, cause many people to panic, even though Netanyahu puts his thespian talents on the back burner and speaks in a calm and quiet tone of voice. But when people are told repeatedly to keep social distance and that the numbers of people falling victim to the virus are likely to increase dramatically day after day, they can't help but panic when MDA refuses to test them.
According to Beer, United Hatzalah has 6,000 volunteer paramedics and doctors who readily respond to emergency situations all over the country.
TELFED, THE Israel branch of the South African Zionist Federation is both celebrating and commiserating. Many of its members, who are the breadwinners of their families, have lost their jobs, and don't know where to turn next. Telfed is asking its regular donors, who in many cases are also hurting financially, to spare more than a thought for those who are less fortunate.
As for celebrating, among this year's Israel Prize laureates is South Africa-born Naomi Stuchiner, who made aliyah in 1970 and who has a distinguished record of social entrepreneurship, with particular focus on special needs. The Israel Prize is one of many awards that Stuchiner has received for setting a personal example of caring for others. This attitude is hardly surprising given that her late father, Issie Shapiro, was dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with disabilities. He worked toward this in South Africa, and later when he made his home in Israel in 1977, he continued to campaign and work for equal opportunities for all.
In those days, Israelis did not take kindly to the intellectually or physically disabled, but father and daughter continued to not only advocate for change, but to show the way.
Very soon after arriving in Israel, Stuchiner established the Community Unit of the Tel Aviv Municipality, working in the Hatikvah neighborhood long before it was gentrified after Menachem Begin became prime minister. After that, together with the late Prof. Shamai Davidson, she founded and managed Israel's first community mental health unit for the Shalvata Mental Health Center. Following her father's death in 1980, during a flight to the US to raise funds for the development of a program for people for special needs, Stuchiner and her siblings decided to fulfill his dream and established Beit Issie Shapiro in Ra’anana, which has devised revolutionary new therapies for treating children with physical disabilities and delayed intellectual development, and shares these methods with special needs facilities in Israel and abroad.
In addition, Stuchiner has done valuable work for the third sector.
THE ASSOCIATION of Americans and Canadians in Israel has provided a valuable service for its members and other English-speaking immigrants who need to contact emergency services, foreign embassies, their local AACI branch, their local municipality and more. The list includes the Chabad emergency Jerusalem hotline (052-731-8777) for homebound elderly in need of shopping. For immigrants contemplating buying property in Israel, the AACI also provides free copies of an e-book on buying property in Israel. Links to all the above mentioned can be found on the AACI website, along with phone numbers for emergency calls to AACI staff who, in acceding to Health Ministry guidelines, are working from home, but are available to people needing assistance.
CLOSURE OF restaurants and hotels means loss of income not only for the proprietors but also for chefs, kitchen hands, waiters, cleaning staff, suppliers and the people who work for the suppliers. This is the domino effect big time. But it goes beyond that as Joseph Gitler, the founder and chairman of Leket points out. Leket, the national food bank, which rescues food from the fields and from restaurants and hotels in order to feed thousands of poor people each day, can no longer rely on its main outlets, which are hotels and restaurants. Food prepared each day, by both, was generally far in excess of what was actually sold. Leket collected the daily leftovers and distributed meals to the needy, including Holocaust survivors. The present situation has made Leket's task much more difficult.
WHILE RESTAURANTS and hotels are suffering, caterers are apparently getting a lot of orders. This certainly applies to Naomi Goldberg, who migrated from Britain in 1987, and together with her husband, Eric, established Naomi Catering. Israelis of that era did not have discerning palates, and although she was a fully trained chef and was also experienced in kitchen and business management, Goldberg doubted whether she could do much with these skills in Israel. But other new immigrants in the absorption center where she spent her first few months in the country convinced her otherwise. Despite the very limited cooking facilities, Goldberg managed to produce enticing dishes in her tiny kitchenette, with the aromas wafting into the corridors of the absorption center. Later she cooked from home, catering events and producing takeaway meals for Shabbat and Jewish holidays.
As the business flourished, she branched out and built an industrial kitchen. From providing a varied and ever expanding menu, Goldberg ventured into the travel business with numerous kosher Naomi Tours to exotic parts of the world where participants can sample traditional local dishes prepared in kitchens that were made kosher. Among the places toured for their beauty as well as for the culinary experience are Portugal, southern Africa, India, Provence, Spain, Tuscany, Sicily, the Greek islands, Vietnam and Cambodia, and more, though it looks as if tours planned for this year will have to be put on hold, as have travel plans for nearly all Israelis. As a result, notes Goldberg, many people who usually go abroad for Passover will be staying in Israel, and will be ordering meals from catering services. In her own enterprise, "the orders are arriving faster than in any other year."
Of course, at this stage, it is still not known whether the Rabbinate, the Health Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office will grant a reprieve to enable groups larger than 10 people to congregate for a Seder and how many people who live alone will have to spend the Seder alone.