Doubts as to whether President Reuven Rivlin will be able to accept the bipartisan invitation to make a farewell address to Congress before his term of office expires on July 9 may well be pointless. Coronavirus restrictions are the excuse that has been given in the event that he doesn’t go. But coronavirus didn’t stop the president from going to Germany, Austria and France last week, nor has it stopped him from running around the country and being photographed with actresses, judoka, diplomats, soldiers, et al.
Rivlin’s immediate predecessor, Shimon Peres, gave his farewell address to Congress on June 26, 2014, and handed over the reins to Rivlin on July 24, 2014. So it’s possible that Rivlin could be photographed with the new government and go to America, all in the same week, and come back in time to hand over the reins to his successor.
By the way, if he does address Congress, he will be only the second president of Israel to do so. It has not yet become a tradition.
Today, it is taken for granted that presidents of Israel go traipsing around the world, but it really wasn’t all that common till the advent of Israel’s sixth president, Chaim Herzog, who in 1987 was the first Israeli president to visit both Germany and the United States.
At that time, Herzog addressed the West German parliament, because Germany had not yet been reunified, but every Israeli president since then has been to Germany, some more than once or even twice, and has addressed the Bundestag.
When Herzog went to America as president for the first time, in November 1987, he was welcomed by president Ronald Reagan. When he went again, in April 1993, for the opening of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, he was greeted by president Bill Clinton.
When Herzog was in Germany, he insisted on visiting Bergen-Belsen, which, as an officer in the British Army in 1945, he helped to liberate.
■ IN BROADCASTS leading up to the elections and on Election Day itself, the general hope was for a stable government that would take the nation out of its economic abyss, and that there would be no more Knesset elections for the next four years.
In a front-page advertisement in Haaretz, former ministers in Yitzhak Rabin’s government Ephraim Sneh, Avraham Shochat, Uzi Baram, Micha Harish, Moshe Shahal and Shimon Shetreet declared that Labor Party chairwoman Merav Michaeli is someone whom voters can rely on.
Shahal was also a member of the Peres-Shamir unity government, in which Peres and Yitzhak Shamir rotated as prime minister and foreign minister. Peres headed the 21st government from 1984-86, and Shamir the 22nd government from 1986-88.
In photographs of members of both governments taken with president Herzog, there was a representation of what was then five past present and future presidents of Israel. Herzog represented the present, Yitzhak Navon the past, and Ezer Weizman, Moshe Katsav and Peres the future.
On the subject of future, it should be noted that Shetreet is a declared candidate to succeed Rivlin as Israel’s 11th president.
As for the past, included in the rotating unity governments was Arye Nehemkin, who served as agriculture minister from 1984-88, and who at 95 is one of the very few members of that unity government who is still living.
Nehemkin, who was born in Nahalal in the Jezreel Valley and still lives there, was one of the oldest voters in Tuesday’s elections. He has never missed on voting in an election, and regards voting more as a duty than a privilege. Four generations of his family went to the polls on Tuesday.
Nahalal was the first moshav (cooperative agricultural settlement) in British Mandate Palestine, and this year celebrates its 100th anniversary. At one stage, Nahalal was home to three generations of the Dayan family. Former IDF chief of staff, defense minister and foreign minister Moshe Dayan is buried in Nahalal. His first wife, Ruth Dayan, died in February this year, a month before her 104th birthday, and his second wife, Rachel Dayan, died this month.
■ YOU NEVER know who you might bump into when you wander around Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market. In the preelection period, Jerusalem Post photographer Marc Israel Sellem spent a lot of time walking through the aisles and alleyways of the market, whose vendors by and large are Likud stalwarts and always ready to welcome Likud ministers, especially the prime minister.
But there are other well-known people on the political Right who frequent the market, among them former US ambassador David Friedman and his wife, Tammy, who were doing pre-Passover shopping. Not so long ago, Friedman was unable to move around without a bunch of bodyguards. This time, he looked completely relaxed, and if there was a bodyguard lurking anywhere, he was completely unobtrusive.
It’s interesting that two former US ambassadors are currently in Israel. Friedman’s immediate predecessor, Dan Shapiro, and his wife, Julie Fisher, are still here together with their children, and the Friedmans had an apartment in Jerusalem long before David Friedman’s appointment as an ambassador. That both former ambassadors are still here is yet another example of American bipartisan support for Israel.
Prior to his ambassadorial role, Friedman was a keen supporter of United Hatzalah. He is now part of its international board, as is his wife, who was a longtime supporter of the paramedical organization, and is now a first-time member of the board.
Before taking up his diplomatic appointment, Friedman met with Shapiro in May 2017, in the US, on a Sabbath when they both happened to be in Long Island. That meeting was facilitated by United Hatzalah founder and president Eli Beer, who was in the US at the time on a fundraising tour.
■ APROPOS UNITED Hatzalah, Beer dismissed 288 of its 6,000 volunteers because they have declined for one reason or another to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
This is a very sore point with Beer, who issued a statement in which he emphasized: “All of the volunteers of United Hatzalah, our EMTs, paramedics and doctors, who go out and respond to nearly 2,000 medical emergencies per day, bear the responsibility of protecting the health of those whom they treat, as well as their own health and the health of their families.
“It is for this reason that I gave the instruction to the management of the organization that every last volunteer is required to be vaccinated against the disease. The vast majority of our volunteers understood the importance of this and complied with our request.”
Beer’s particular sensitivity with regard to the subject derives from the fact that he himself was critically ill with coronavirus, with which he was infected while on yet another fundraising tour in the US. This was almost exactly a year ago.
“I almost lost my life,” he recalls. “I said goodbye to my family, and my chances of survival were very slim. I want to prevent anyone ever having to go through that experience. I don’t want anyone to suffer needlessly due to accidental exposure to the virus; not our patients, not our volunteers, and not their families.
“I love each and every one of the volunteers who give of themselves and their time to help others and save lives. It causes me great pain to say goodbye to some of our volunteers, who for personal reasons have chosen not to receive the vaccine.”
Beer has made it clear that if any of these departing volunteers change their minds and opt to be vaccinated, they will be welcomed back to the organization with open arms.
Beer missed out on the Seder last year because he was intubated and sedated for 30 days. In fact, he missed out on the whole of Passover. But after regaining consciousness, when he asked his wife about Seder arrangements, she didn’t have the heart to tell him that Passover had been and gone. The information was gently imparted to him by the medical team that was looking after his welfare.
Fortunately, there was Second Passover (Pessah Sheni), by which time Beer was back in Israel and able to make up for what he had missed, but he still had to undergo a lot of physiotherapy.
While Israel has had amazing success in vaccinating the public, with United Hatzalah volunteers among the paramedics and medical personnel administering the vaccines, populations in certain parts of Europe are still reluctant to be jabbed.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex received the AstraZeneca vaccine on television. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also been jabbed with the vaccine. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has stated that he will be inoculated with the AstraZeneca vaccine as soon as it is available to his age group. His son has already been vaccinated with it in the United Kingdom. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she has no fear of being vaccinated, and large numbers of British residents have now been vaccinated.
But in Italy, France and Germany, there is a reluctance by the vast majority of the populations, due to fake news about AstraZeneca. Some of the recipients developed thrombosis, a factor blown up in the international media, thus leading to fears of blood clotting being a side effect of the vaccine. It has since been determined that this is not the case, and that the few people who did have blood clotting were the exception rather than the rule. Nonetheless, many Europeans say that they would rather be vaccinated with Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson or Sputnik vaccines, but are still hesitant about vaccines in general.
Australians, by contrast, are eagerly awaiting shipments of AstraZenica, testing for which took longer than that for Pfizer. Australia did receive a relatively small supply of Pfizer which sufficed for medical workers and those caring for the aged.
One of the benefits of the Pfizer vaccine is that there is only a three-week gap between the first and second inoculations, whereas with the AstraZenica vaccine there is a three-month gap between the first and the second inoculation.
Many Australian Jews with family in Israel make it a practice to be in Israel for Passover and Rosh Hashanah, or at least one of the two festivals. They missed out on both last year, and this year will be lucky to make it for Sukkot, providing that Australia’s international airports will have reopened by then.
■ A GRAPHIC artist at the Post and subsequently a diplomatic spouse, Ruth Lenk (née Kovel), has been a volunteer with Leket Israel, the food rescue and dispensing organization, for more than 10 years. It’s an organization that she loved to serve, because providing nutritious food for the needy is such an important social priority.
But now she’s very angry with Leket, as many of her Facebook friends and others have discovered. Last week she received a call and was told that Leket was desperately in need of volunteers, because the food in the warehouse would spoil if not packaged immediately. Of course, she agreed to help, but as she was asked to come in on Friday, a day on which Leket does not usually work, she asked why they were working last Friday, and was told it was a one-off thing, because they didn’t want to throw away the food. Then she received a second phone call asking for her ID number, something she had never been asked for previously in her decade-plus with Leket. But she presumed it had something to do with corona. She was also asked to wear her Leket T-shirt.
On Friday, she duly drove to the logistics center in Ra’anana, and found the parking lot to be full of police, a man with a machine gun, and security personnel all over the place. Asking around about what was going on, she was told that a VIP was coming. She was one of many volunteers who had all been asked to come in their T-shirts to create a photo opportunity for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. None of them had been told in advance. They were all tricked into coming. Many were angry and left before the prime minister arrived. It would be reasonably safe to say that they didn’t vote for his party either.
After Friday’s experience, Lenk is not sure whether she will ever volunteer for Leket again. Other organizations that would be thrilled by the visit of a political figure should think twice before they ask their volunteers to pose with the dignitary in question, because for some of the volunteers, this would be tantamount to an act of political betrayal.
Netanyahu’s real purpose in being in Ra’anana last Friday was to get Yamina leader Naftali Bennett to publicly state that he would endorse him as prime minister after the elections. Just like Lenk, Bennett had not been given any prior warning that Netanyahu was on the way, and woke up on Friday morning to see security barriers in the area around his house plus a large contingent of security guards and police. Once he became aware of what was happening, he tweeted Netanyahu, inviting him to come inside for a chat about the things Bennett would do as prime minister. Needless to say, Netanyahu had a change of heart and didn’t show up.
On the Likud Facebook account, there was a video of the amazingly energetic Netanyahu climbing the stairs in apartment buildings to pay so-called surprise visits to people to ask them to vote Likud. However, these visits were hardly a surprise, given that the doors that Netanyahu knocked on were opened by a security officer, and a photographer was standing by inside with camera poised.
One of Netanyahu’s last stops on the campaign trail was on what could be described as his home turf – the Mahaneh Yehuda market, which has long been a Likud stronghold, and was packed with pre-Passover shoppers. It is when he can actually talk to the crowd that Netanyahu is in his element. Even though shoppers and vendors were somewhat inconvenienced by his presence, they gave him the kind of ovation that spurs his oratory.
■ ONE OF the first party leaders to vote on Tuesday was Shas chairman Arye Deri, who was at the polling station almost immediately after it opened. It wasn’t just an eager beaver thing. Deri gets up early for morning prayers, so it was easy for him to continue on to the polling station and then continue with an eleventh-hour election campaign.
■ BANKING IS fast becoming a female profession. Women occupy high-ranking positions in nearly all of Israel’s major banks. Two such women who work at Bank Hapoalim got together with singer Eden Ben Zaken on the set of a commercial shoot aimed at promoting the bank’s Passover campaign.
Galit Polak, who heads the bank’s communications and marketing division, and Adi Shimon, who is in charge of the bank’s publications, came on to the set to applaud Ben Zaken singing her hit song “Tirkedu” (Dance), around which the campaign revolves. The campaign is in tandem with the bank’s centenary.
The idea is to promote numerous sites around Israel that members of the public might care to visit and explore during the intermediate days of Passover, after spending a year during which the distance one could travel from home was severely restricted. Ben Zaken flits from one site to another, saying how much she loved going on nature trips when she was a schoolgirl. The 80 sites she flits to include museums, parks and tourist trails. She also recommends guided tours.
This is the 16th year in which the bank has been encouraging Israelis to go out and explore and enjoy the many attractions that Israel has to offer. This year, it is putting even more effort into the promotion, not only as a sign of freedom from COVID-19 during the Festival of Freedom, but also because it is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
It’s something worth thinking about. Next month, Israel will celebrate the 73rd anniversary of its independence, but its largest bank is a hundred years old. This is certainly a major milestone, even though Bank Leumi is somewhat older and will next year celebrate its 120th anniversary; and in 1923 Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot will celebrate its 100th anniversary. This indicates the importance that Israel’s founding fathers attached to the economy and the role of banks in the state in the making.
■ FROM A religious standpoint, April will be a very busy month for Rivlin. In addition to consulting with party delegations elected to the 24th Knesset, Passover extends into April, and is followed in quick succession by Easter and then Ramadan. Aside from that, Rivlin will have to attend events related to Holocaust Remembrance Day, Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars, and Independence Day.
In April 2018, on the 30th anniversary of the March of the Living, Rivlin, together with Polish President Andrzej Duda, led the annual March of the Living from the gates of Auschwitz to Auschwitz-Birkenau. For three decades, the march had been held each year, without interruption.
It continued to be held in 2019, with Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog and Danny Danon, who was then Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, as the most senior Israeli officials at the main ceremony, which was attended by some 10,000 people from 40 countries.
Few individuals are more qualified than Herzog to be one of the central figures at such an event, firstly because his father was among the British officers who liberated Bergen-Belsen, and secondly because immediately after the war, Herzog’s Polish-born grandfather, for whom he is named, went to Europe to search for Jewish child survivors so that he could bring them to the Land of Israel. He was accompanied by his younger son, Yaakov, and the two discovered many Jewish children in convents and monasteries. Even though every effort had been made to convert these children to Christianity, those who came from religious homes and were old enough to remember something of the past were detected when Herzog began to recite the Shema. It was obvious that any child who could finish the Hebrew sentence was Jewish. Many children did so spontaneously, as if the words had been waiting for an opportunity to emerge from their mouths.
Last year, due to the pandemic, the March of the Living, for the first time in its history, could not be held. Because it was such an important event in reminding the world of the atrocities that can be committed out of incitement and baseless hatred, and because antisemitism was once again on the rise, it was decided by the organizers of March of the Living to hold a virtual ceremony that included a virtual plaque project, with plaques set on the backdrop of the infamous train track to Auschwitz.
The project enabled people from around the globe to write their personal messages on the virtual plaque, and also to commemorate family members who had perished or been murdered in the Holocaust. Rivlin was the first to affix a virtual plaque, followed by Natan Sharansky, David Friedman, Isaac Herzog and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.
This year, there will again be a virtual March of the Living, led once again by Rivlin, survivors, including Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who has been associated with March of the Living since its inception, Herzog, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund’s Avraham Duvdevani and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, who on his father’s side is descended from the Jewish community of Thessaloniki, which was decimated during the Holocaust. Most of its members were sent to Auschwitz. Very few survived.
Given the dedication of members of the medical profession during the pandemic, it was also decided to pay tribute to them, and at the same time remember physicians and nurses who used their knowledge and skills during the Holocaust under the most intolerable of circumstances.
In this context, also “marching” will be Coronavirus Commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash, second generation to doctors who never lost sight of their obligation during the Holocaust, and who is today leading physicians on Israel’s medical front against COVID-19; Prof. Idit Matot, director of anesthesia in Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital; and Galia Rahav, head of the infectious disease unit and laboratories at Sheba Medical Center, Magen David Adom director-general Eli Bin, and Haim Freund, CEO of Ezer Mitzion, who is “marching” with his mother, Holocaust survivor Tzipora Freund.
The virtual march will air on Thursday, April 8, at 8 a.m. EST/2 p.m. Europe/3 p.m. Israel time, and will be followed immediately by an online memorial ceremony, with Rivlin lighting the first torch of remembrance.