Grapevine March 31, 2021: Why this day is different?

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

FROM LEFT: Eran Kanter, Rabbi Yehezkel Kanter,  Bobby Brown, Rachel Kanter and Adrian Treger. (photo credit: COURTESY ARIEL UNIVERSITY)
FROM LEFT: Eran Kanter, Rabbi Yehezkel Kanter, Bobby Brown, Rachel Kanter and Adrian Treger.
 President Reuven Rivlin will, on Wednesday, receive the official results of the Knesset elections, which he has actually known for several days, as have the general public and members of the media, who have generally been barred from the President’s Residence for the best part of a year.
Media were permitted to cover the presidential vote in the Knesset elections, at the Yefeh Nof School in Jerusalem’s Beit Hakerem neighborhood, but Wednesday will be the first time that reporters will be permitted to cover the president’s activities within the presidential complex.
Rivlin is determined, in the interests of democracy, to make everything related to the elections and his decision as to the MK on whom to confer the task of forming the next government, to be totally transparent. His meetings next week with delegations representing all the parties elected to the Knesset will be featured on social media and televised live for the benefit of the whole nation.
■ QUITE A number of members of the outgoing Knesset were not able to hang on to their seats or decided to take time out from politics, and there’s a certain poetic justice in the fact that the politically vacillating Zvi Hauser, who was one of the proponents of the Nation-State Law, which is like a bone in the throats of the Arab and Druze communities, failed to make the grade, while Mansour Abbas was quietly confident of crossing the electoral threshold, which he did. One of the things he’s asking for is that the Nation-State Law be abolished.
At the same time, there is something totally illogical in the fact that Orly Levy-Abecassis, who joined forces with Labor and then defected to the Likud in order to be not just an MK but a minister of some hastily invented and unproductive ministry, is returning to the Knesset at the cost of the public purse, while some genuinely altruistic parliamentarians who remained loyal to their parties throughout have to leave because their parties did not receive sufficient mandates.
■ AMONG OTHER, more deserving and active MKs who are returning to the Knesset is United Torah Judaism’s Yisrael Eichler, who is No. 6 on the UTJ’s list and received the opportunity to remain a legislator by way of a birthday gift. He celebrated his 66th birthday on March 27, although he prefers to celebrate on the Hebrew calendar date.
Eichler also has the distinction of being the MK with the largest family. He has 14 children, though it’s doubtful that they all came together with their own broods for the Seder. That would amount to quite a lot of people to pack into a dining room.
■ THIS YEAR marks several centenaries. Israel’s fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, was born on April 9, 1921, but always celebrated according to the Hebrew calendar date on the first of Nisan, which is not only the beginning of spring but also the first day of the new year for kings. As centuries have passed since Israel last had a monarch, the respect that was given to a king is instead given to the president of the state.
In bygone days, following Navon’s tenure, there was almost always an event on the first of Nisan to which Navon was invited, and he would receive a standing ovation as he entered the main hall. Since his death he has almost been forgotten, except by the Habimah Theater, which is once again staging his musical Bustan Sephardi (Sephardi Orchard).
This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the murder, during the Jaffa riots, of Russian-born Yosef Chaim Brenner, one of the pioneers of Hebrew literature in the Land of Israel.
This is also the centenary of the founding of the Hebrew Writers Association, which is currently holding a four-day Zoom conference, which was opened on Tuesday by Culture and Sport Minister Chili Tropper, and in which contemporary writers are paying tribute not only to literary icons such as Haim Nahman Bialik, Shaul Tchernichovsky and Nahum Sokolow, but also to writers through the ages, concluding with more recent literary giants such as Natan Zach, Nissim Aloni, Yehoshua Sobol, Amos Oz, Nava Semel, Shulamit Lapid and Erez Biton, with readings from various works, with the participation of several actors and actresses, including Sandra Sadeh and Ruby Porat Shoval.
Among other organizations and institutions celebrating their centenary is the Moshavim Movement, which started with the founding of Nahalal; and Bank Hapoalim.
■ JUST BEFORE Passover, the family of former US ambassador David Friedman and his wife, Tammy, welcomed an addition to their family by way of a new grandson, while Health Minister Yuli Edelstein was blessed with a new sister-in-law, who is 62 years his junior, and 42 years younger than his wife, Irina Nevzlin. The infant, Ruth Nevzlin, is the daughter of philanthropist Leonid Nevzlin, 61, and his current and third wife, Tatiana.
■ ON HOLOCAUST Remembrance Day, people from various countries commemorate differently. While nearly all Jewish communities have their memorial ceremonies on the same date or in the same week, some have additional ceremonies to mark particular Holocaust-related events in their countries.
Thus French Ambassador Eric Danon will combine the official Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel with a special remembrance ceremony for the deportees who left Drancy in France for Auschwitz on July 31, 1944. Danon has invited ambassadors and representatives of other European countries to attend the commemoration ceremony at his residence.
■ IN POLAND from 1988 to 2019, the International March of the Living, with mainly Jewish but also non-Jewish participants from some 40 countries, took place on Holocaust Remembrance Day, but the Polish government holds an official commemoration ceremony on April 19, which is the Gregorian calendar anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and is held at the Warsaw Ghetto Monument, which is in what was the ghetto area, and is almost identical to the monument in the plaza of Warsaw Ghetto Square at Yad Vashem.
Both monuments were created by Warsaw-born sculptor Nathan Rapoport. The first was installed amid the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1948, on the fifth anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which coincided with the year in which the State of Israel was proclaimed. The second version was installed at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem in January 1976.
The Warsaw Ghetto Museum, currently under construction and due to open in 2023 on the 80th anniversary of the uprising, will have its own ceremony on April 19 and will publish special texts on social media. Members of the museum’s directorate would have liked to have more people present at the April 19 commemoration but are bound by Poland’s health regulations.
■ LEYVIK HOUSE in Tel Aviv also commemorates the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on April 19, and will hold a Zoom event with a dramatized reading of “Abush and Zashke” by Avraham Meierkevitch with Miri Ragandorfer and Israel Tristman in the title roles and Daniel Galai as the narrator. Bella Bryks-Klein will read from the works of her father, Rachmil Bryks, a Holocaust survivor and well-known Yiddish writer and poet, who survived both the Lodz Ghetto and Auschwitz. She will also read from the poems of another Holocaust survivor, Warsaw-born Binem Heller, who at the onset of the Nazi invasion of Poland fled to Kazakhstan, which provided a haven for many Jews.
The “Partisan Song” will be sung by baritone Dmitri Danosveki accompanied by pianist Sergo Bengelsdorf. The event begins at 7 p.m. For details on how to access it: [email protected]
■ EVEN THOUGH the Polish government consistently commemorates the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and in happier times, thousands of Poles flock to Krakow for the annual Jewish Culture Festival that was initiated in 1988 by Janusz Makuch (who is not Jewish), and to the annual Warsaw Festival of Jewish Culture that was the brainchild of actress Golda Tencer, who is Jewish, antisemitism still exists in Poland.
Alon Goldman, chairman of the Association of Czestochowa Jews in Israel and vice president of the World Society of Czestochowa Jews and their Descendants, was shocked this week to see photographs of antisemitic graffiti on the monument in Samuel Willenberg Square, also known as Deportation Square, from which 40,000 Czestochowa Jews were sent to the Nazi death camp in Treblinka during the two-week period September 22-October 7, 1942.
Sculptor Willenberg, who was among the deportees, was also one of the leaders of the Treblinka revolt. Instead of going into hiding after his escape, he joined the Polish resistance forces, and after the war immigrated to Israel. Following the renewal of diplomatic relations between Israel and Poland, Willenberg frequently returned with student groups and adult groups to tell his story. He also designed the monument on which hooligans wrote the names of Jürgen Graf, a well-known Holocaust denier, and Ursula Haverbeck, a neo-Nazi Holocaust denier.
A complaint to the police was filed by the municipality, and an investigation is under way. In addition, the municipality has undertaken to clean the monument and to remove all signs of the graffiti.
But this is not quite good enough for Goldman, who wrote to Czestochowa Mayor Krzysztof Matyjaszczyk expressing the shock he felt at seeing reports and photographs of the desecration in the Polish media. He also sent copies of the letter to Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski; Tal Ben-Ari, chargé d’affaires at the Israel Embassy in Warsaw; Sigmund Rolat, president, the World Society of Czestochowa Jews and their Descendants; Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich; and deputy chairman of the Czestochowa city council Jolanta Urbanska.
Noting that antisemitic graffiti has also appeared on the gate of the Jewish cemetery, Goldman wrote that he has repeatedly asked for security cameras to be installed, and although he has been informed that the issue has been addressed, he has not found this to be the case. He also asked for security forces to check the mass grave of victims of the Holocaust, and the gate of the cemetery.
Rolat, who lives in the US, is a Holocaust survivor and generous philanthropist, who contributed to the Polin Museum in Warsaw and to numerous Jewish and non-Jewish causes in Czestochowa, which he has visited many times. He has also been publicly honored by the municipality, and yet there are antisemites who violate the memories of Jewish victims of the Holocaust in the city of his birth.
■ THERE WILL, of course, be numerous events in Israel on Holocaust Remembrance Day. At this stage, most are online, because during the planning it was not known whether in-person events would be feasible on that date. Massuah, the International Institute for Holocaust Studies, will pay tribute to Holocaust survivors still living, and who in most cases were able to recapture the joy of life. Celebrated actor Sasson Gabai will introduce Holocaust survivors who have distinguished themselves in the spheres of law, army, literature and the arts.
■ AMCHA, THE nationwide organization that assists Holocaust survivors and creates a social environment for them, has a number of events in different parts of the country on Thursday, April 8 – with the exception of the Jerusalem branch, which on April 6 is to host an art exhibition based on the childhood memories of Macedonian Holocaust survivor Shela Altaraz, the sole survivor of the Jewish community of Stip. Born Rochale Sion, she is listed as having died in Treblinka with her whole family. For some reason, she has never corrected this misinformation.
The exhibition will open at 1 p.m. For venue details and other events taking place on April 8 in Netanya, Haifa and Ashkelon, call 1-800-27-66-55 or email [email protected]
■ A COUPLE of years back, Chelsea Football Club, which is owned by billionaire Roman Abramovich, launched a “Say No to Antisemitism” campaign. Since then, the campaign has expanded to “Say No to Hatred and Racism.”
In an interview with NYU Tisch Institute Prof. Lee Igel published this month by Forbes magazine, the two discussed many issues and several of Abramovich’s initiatives, especially the importance of fighting racism and antisemitism as well as the need to invest in women’s soccer and youth teams. They also discussed the work carried out by the Chelsea Foundation and the club’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Racism, antisemitism, this is all the same type of evil and should have no place on our world at this day and age,” said Abramovich. “Every time I get sent examples of racist abuse that our players face, I am shocked. It’s disgraceful that this is the reality for not just our players, but for anyone targeted by this sort of abuse. If we, as a club, can make a difference in this area, in fighting antisemitism, racism and promoting tolerance, I am determined to stand behind it and contribute in whatever way I can.”
As far as sport and community go, Abramovich is particularly proud of the women’s squad, which is managed by Emma Hayes. He was in a bit of a bind in August 2019, when the Chelsea Women’s Champions League played the Israeli national team in Tel Aviv, in the presence of thousands of spectators. As an Israeli citizen, he would naturally root for Israel, but as the Chelsea owner, he would root for Chelsea. In the final analysis, Chelsea scored a 3-1 victory.
Prior to the game, the Chelsea team toured historic sites in Jerusalem, and members were thrilled when Abramovich suddenly appeared and posed for photographs with them.
■ ALTHOUGH ZOOM has definitely proved to be a better than nothing alternative to the culturally deprived, and has also proved useful in diplomacy and business dealings, it still cannot replace in-person contacts.
Among the organizations that have made ample use of Zoom is the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association, which missed out on its traditional Balfour Day dinner and, instead of the annual June gathering at the residence of the British ambassador, had to resort to Zoom. There was also no Queen’s Birthday reception, which is held later than her actual birthday, but there is hope that this year British Ambassador Neal Wigan may be able to host an outdoor reception, given that the queen’s husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, will be celebrating his 100th birthday in June.
Aside from that, IBCA members who have been vaccinated, and have the green certification to prove it, will be able to attend a garden party in May at the residence of Australian Ambassador Paul Griffiths, and in September will be the guests of the British ambassador. The really good news is that the Balfour Dinner is definitely on and will be held on November 1 at the Tel Aviv Hilton.
■ ARIEL UNIVERSITY is growing, not only in terms of student population and faculty but also in its physical structures. In a ceremony this month, a new Accelerator Visitor’s Center was dedicated by the family of the late Michael Kanter by his widow, Rachel Kanter, and their son Eric Kanter, who described his father as a man who combined science with kindness as key factors in his life. The visitor’s center is a natural continuation of his father’s path, he said.
The visitor’s center will be housed in the Schlesinger Family Center for Compact Accelerator Research, which has become recognized as a global leader in the field. The center will be the first of several planned visitor’s centers.
Ariel University senior vice president Bobby Brown stated that the signing of the agreement with the Kanter family was “the beginning of a process that Ariel University has started to make the Ariel University campus an interesting and educational attraction for everyone.” The signing ceremony took place in the presence of Ariel University president Prof. Yehuda Danon, who was recently awarded a Jerusalem Prize for his work in education. Danon noted that “Michael Kanter worked at Ariel University for 20 years and took part in the founding of the Particle Accelerator Center.”
The centuries-old custom of donating to the needy or hosting them during Passover became more relevant than ever during the pandemic when so many people were laid off work or lost their businesses. This year, the British charity organization JNF UK provided direct assistance totaling NIS 2 million to hundreds of families and individuals in Israel suffering severe financial distress due to the coronavirus strictures.
The onetime grants ranged between NIS 1,000 and NIS 5,000, and were provided in the form of gift certificates to about 750 families in Israel’s geographic and social peripheries.
The assistance was distributed as part of JNF UK’s collaboration with Matan, United Way Israel, and the Israel Solidarity Fund, which set a goal of raising NIS 20m. to help thousands of families. The fund provided direct assistance to more than 5,500 families. The fund’s grants go to people who have been forced into financial hardship by the coronavirus crisis, and not to longtime welfare clients.
The grantees are middle-class people caught in a tailspin. They are identified through the welfare departments of local authorities, trusted aid organizations and professional organizations.
Numerous companies as well as their employees have joined in and donated to the effort, including Microsoft, Applied Materials, Clal Insurance and Pitango. A campaign was also launched among the general public, with every shekel donated multiplied by philanthropic foundations.
Michael, 43, married with five children, is one of the people who received assistance. Until the coronavirus shut things down, he worked as a travel agent.
“I never thought I’d get to a point where I wouldn’t be working for a year,” Michael said. “It drives me crazy, and I call the office all the time to ask when we’re coming back. I’m going broke at a rate of almost NIS 2,500 a month. My wife was on unpaid leave for a while, too. We found ourselves thinking very carefully about what we can afford, how we can go to the supermarket and buy just what we need. It’s scary; we have five children who need to be taken care of.”
As time progressed, the financial worries increased: “For a year now, I haven’t slept at night. We’re religious people of faith, but there were times when we broke down, when we were afraid that we couldn’t buy food,” Michael continued. “There’s an atmosphere of getting back to normal, but there are people like us who are far from getting back to routine. The assistance we received helped us to celebrate the holiday with joy.”
The financial damage from the coronavirus is the worst in 20 years, according to the National Insurance Institute’s Poverty Report, published at the beginning of 2021. The main victims of the economic crisis are middle-class families, which experienced the greatest decline in income. The self-employed were particularly hard hit. About 25,000 self-employed people fell into poverty in 2020, according to the report. Last year, the number of Israelis living below the poverty line increased by 7%, and, even taking into account increased social assistance, the standard of living fell sharply, by 4.4%, according to the NII.
JNF UK partners in an array of projects to strengthen Israel’s social and geographic peripheries, contributing about NIS 30m. a year in the fields of education, infrastructure and leadership.
Yonatan Galon, chief executive of JNF UK, said: “British Jews, who have been affected quite a bit during the coronavirus period, see the utmost importance in continuing to assist families in Israel who have been caught up in a severe economic crisis at this time. This assistance expresses the solidarity between British Jewry and the people of Israel. We, the Jewish community in Britain and our donors, will continue to do everything we can to strengthen Israel and its peripheral communities. We will not leave their residents behind; we will continue to work until their economic recovery.”
Einat Rubenstein, United Way Israel’s vice president of corporate-community partnerships, said: “The coronavirus crisis brought many families to the brink of poverty, families that until the coronavirus never needed assistance. The connection between British Jewry and the citizens of Israel is at the heart of mutual responsibility. Despite the geographical distance, we are responsible for each other and help those who need a supportive hand.
“Thanks to the cooperation between the Israel Solidarity Fund and JNF UK, we will be able to help thousands more families get through this period and spend Passover in a way that will allow families to celebrate the holiday and know that we will leave no one to face the great economic challenges alone.”