Grapevine November 10, 2021: Americans of the Mosaic persuasion

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion at the unveiling of the street exhibition of photographs to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the President's Residence. (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM/GPO)
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion at the unveiling of the street exhibition of photographs to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the President's Residence.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM/GPO)

Incoming US Ambassador Thomas Nides is the fifth US ambassador of the Jewish faith and the third consecutive member of the Jewish faith to serve in the position over the past decade.

The first ambassador of the Jewish faith was Martin Indyk, who was not born a US citizen, and was a political appointee. Indyk served twice as ambassador, initially appointed in November 1995, then again in 1999. Daniel Kurtzer was appointed in July 2001, having previously served in Egypt, where the Orthodox Union was summoned to kasher the ambassadorial kitchen. Dan Shapiro was appointed in July 2011, and David Friedman, who left an indelible mark on Jerusalem, was appointed in March 2017.

And now, there’s Nides, the US ambassador-designate.

Indyk presented his credentials the first time around to president Ezer Weizman, and the second time to president Moshe Katsav. Kurtzer also presented his credentials to Katsav, Shapiro to president Shimon Peres, and Friedman to president Reuven Rivlin. Nides will present his credentials to President Isaac Herzog.

■ THAT POLAND recalled its ambassador to Israel and Israel recalled its ambassador to Poland in no way signifies that the embassies in the two countries have ceased functioning.

 BRUCE XIAOYU LIU of Canada reacts after he was announced the winner of the 18th International Frédéric Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw last month.  (credit: REUTERS) BRUCE XIAOYU LIU of Canada reacts after he was announced the winner of the 18th International Frédéric Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw last month. (credit: REUTERS)

The Polish embassy is currently headed by the very active chargé d’affaires Katarzyna Rybka-Iwanska, who is next week celebrating Polish national day by inviting a select number of guests to the Tel Aviv Opera House in the Performing Arts Center complex to listen to a concert under the auspices of the Israel Camerata Jerusalem and performed by rising stars Szymon Nehring of Poland and Bruce Xiaoyu Liu of Canada, winners of the international Rubinstein and Chopin piano competitions, respectively. The two virtuosos will meet on one stage for a unique evening in collaboration with the Musical Bridges Israel-Poland Festival.

The National Independence Day of Poland is three days prior to the concert, which will provide an opportunity for celebration while listening to the music of Frédéric Chopin, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Krzysztof Penderecki and György Ligeti.

Liu won the 18th International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw last month. Born in 1997 in Paris, he graduated from the Montreal Conservatoire. He has performed with major ensembles, including the Cleveland Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Orchestra of the Americas, and has toured with the China NCPA Orchestra in North America.

 A PIANIST performs a composition by Frédéric Chopin next to a statue of Chopin during a concert in Lazienki Park in Warsaw in July 2017. (credit: RICKEY ROGERS/REUTERS) A PIANIST performs a composition by Frédéric Chopin next to a statue of Chopin during a concert in Lazienki Park in Warsaw in July 2017. (credit: RICKEY ROGERS/REUTERS)

Recent seasons have brought two successive tours of China with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine and the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra (including appearances at the National Center for the Performing Arts, Beijing Concert Hall and Shanghai Oriental Arts Center), and the Orchestre Lamoureux at Salle Gaveau. Liu has won prizes and distinctions at international piano competitions in Sendai, Montreal, Tel Aviv and Viseu.

Nehring won the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition in Tel Aviv in 2017. Born in 1995, formerly a student at the Yale School of Music, he is now studying at Bydgoszcz Music Academy. Nehring reached the final of the 17th Chopin Competition, where he was given an award of distinction and the audience’s prize. He competed in the 18th Competition, too.

Nehring has released five discs to date, and his debut recording of music by Polish composers won a Polish record industry prize and the Supersonic award of Pizzicato magazine. He has performed in Europe, Russia, China, Japan and both Americas, including at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, DR Koncerthuset in Copenhagen and Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona.

■ ANCHORING A weekly news broadcast in which your husband is sometimes criticized demands professional objectivity at the highest level. So far, Geula Even-Sa’ar has been able to achieve that, but the question is for how long?

Her husband, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, is being chastised by several political reporters and political analysts for what has been widely interpreted as anti-Netanyahu legislation.

There is also some criticism at his having brought former justice minister Meir Sheetrit onto the committee that will choose the next attorney-general. Sheetrit, who ran against Rivlin in the race for president, dropped out when allegations of his sexual misconduct were headlined in the Israeli media.

While some of those who are critical of Sa’ar were even more critical of Benjamin Netanyahu in the past, they feel that what Sa’ar is proposing is based on his personal animosity toward Netanyahu.

There is something to be said for not allowing a person who has been indicted to become prime minister. But then again, what happens if he’s acquitted? It would be much fairer to allow such a person to run, but if victorious to suspend themselves until the trial is over, and allow the acting prime minister to take over until such time as the court gives its ruling, The trouble is that in Netanyahu’s case, the trial is likely to go on for years, and would probably outlive the duration of the government.

 RABBI AARON TEITELBAUM, grand rebbe of the Satmar Hassidim, attends a celebration in the village of Kiryas Joel, New York, in 2016.  (credit: MIKE SEGAR / REUTERS) RABBI AARON TEITELBAUM, grand rebbe of the Satmar Hassidim, attends a celebration in the village of Kiryas Joel, New York, in 2016. (credit: MIKE SEGAR / REUTERS)

■ SCORES OF Satmar Hassidim led by Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum arrived at the Satu Mare Airport last week for the inauguration of a restored synagogue in Sighet, where Teitelbaum’s ancestors had served.

The hassidim were not wearing masks, despite the fact that many members of the Satmar community in New York, including one of Teitelbaum’s brothers, had been stricken with the coronavirus.

Their arrival and the consecration of the synagogue were reported by Romanian media. The joyful event, which was symbolically a return to roots, was marked by dancing with the Torah and singing and speeches in Yiddish.

The Satmar dynasty was founded in 1905 by Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum. The late Elie Wiesel, Auschwitz survivor, famed author, journalist, academic and lifelong torchbearer of the memory of the Holocaust, was born in Sighet.

■ ANYONE WHO saw any of the documentaries about the multiple tragedies that befell Palestinian physician and peace activist Izzeldin Abuelaish could not help but be moved by his suffering and that of his family.

Not every Palestinian can be defined as an enemy of Israel, certainly not Abuelaish, who worked for years alongside Israeli doctors in an Israeli hospital. His Arabic accent is barely discernible in his Hebrew, though identifiable in his fluent English.

On January 15, 2009, as Operation Cast Lead was nearing its end, an Israeli tank launched an assault on a residential area in Jabalya in Gaza. Among the buildings that were severely damaged was that of the Abuelaish family.

Had there been only one casualty, the family would have grieved, but would probably have understood that almost every family loses a loved one in a war. But the man of peace lost more than one relative. The death toll was heavy. Among the dead were his daughters Bessan, 21, Mayar, 15, and Aya, 13. A 17-year-old niece named Nour was also killed. A surviving daughter Shasta, 17, lost sight in one eye. Another niece, Gaida, 13, was injured to the extent that she suffers disabilities to this day.

Abuelaish is not seeking revenge. He never did. But what he is seeking is justice for his daughters. He wants Israel to be accountable, to accept responsibility and to pay financial compensation, not to him personally, but to help finance Daughters for Life International College which he established to honor the memories of his deceased daughters and to provide young women of the Middle East with a good education.

Unable to bear living in the region after the calamity that claimed the young lives of his daughters as well as of many of his neighbors, Abuelaish moved to Canada, from where he has been trying with all civilized, peaceful, legal and ethical means at his disposal to bring about justice for his daughters. Abuelaish is internationally known as a leading advocate for justice, human rights and peace.

With no apology or accountability forthcoming, Abuelaish decided to take his case to court, where it was heard and dismissed by the Beersheba District Court.

Abuelaish appealed the decision with the Supreme Court, but due to a general backlog coupled with COVID-19 lockdowns, the hearing was delayed till this month and has been scheduled for Monday, November 15, at 11 a.m.

■ IN THE September 15 edition of In Jerusalem, the local supplement of The Jerusalem Post, there was an item relating to the photo exhibition outside the President’s Residence, marking the 50th anniversary of this state institution.

The exhibition has been on view for approximately two months, yet last Thursday the President’s Office put out a press release announcing the unveiling. Talk about Jewish meantime.

But perhaps the reason for the time lag between the exhibition being displayed and its official “unveiling” was that Herzog and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion had to coordinate their timetables.

Herzog is arguably the most active president the nation has yet known, participating in several events in different parts of the country in one day, and there isn’t a day in which he is idle. He’s either touring to officially launch a new project such as a school or a sports arena, participating in an important conference, receiving official guests, or all three. Forget about a nine-to-five job. Ahead of state works almost around the clock.

Lion, whose office had coordinated the exhibition together with the President’s Office, is also a very busy man.

Herzog explained to Lion that Zalman Shazar, Israel’s third president, and the first occupant of the President’s Residence, wanted the residence to be built among the people and to serve as the home of the nation.

What Herzog did not say was that those officials and professionals involved in the design, planning and construction of the residence had not taken into account how the population would grow, and how the number of invitees to special events would increase with the passage of time. There is no theater-style auditorium; there is no proper kitchen for catering state dinners, which are always prepared by outside caterers, who work in what used to be a side porch to the main reception room, and which was enclosed during the term of Katsav so that it could serve as a place for dinner cocktails or as a pre-event reception venue where refreshments could be served. Before that, invitees to events simply stood outside the reception hall till minutes before the event was due to start.

Shazar may have wanted to be among his people, but he should have asked them first. For instance, when there is a state visit, an army or a police band begins rehearsing very early in the morning to ensure that the musicians make no mistakes when playing the anthem of the visiting head of state. The sound can be heard more than three blocks away.

On Independence Day, the president’s neighbors can’t park their cars, because the parking area in the street has been taken up by official cars in the morning, and by the cars of diplomats in the afternoon.

Moreover, there is insufficient space in the grounds of the President’s Residence for all the staff to park their cars, so many park somewhere in the street outside, within convenient walking distance for them, but to the discomfort of the neighbors, who can’t find where to park their own cars.

As things stand, the building is in serious need of repairs, and should be enlarged by another two floors, with the presidential living quarters on the top floor; offices and conference rooms on the second and third floors; and a proper, theater-style auditorium on the ground floor.

Any alteration to the building should also include an industrial kitchen, with all the necessary provisions for kosher catering, with a clear separation between meat and dairy sections. But it probably won’t happen, because it’s far from being a national priority.

Lion said that within the framework of having art in the public space, he had joined forces with the President’s Office to bring the exhibition about.

Art in the public space has long been a feature of Jerusalem, with street art graffiti adding color to certain venues in the capital. Lion said that the municipality will continue to invest in art in the public space.

■ ON THURSDAY, Herzog was also in Haifa, where he addressed the Haifa Law Conference. The date coincided with the Gregorian calendar date of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by right-wing law student Yigal Amir, who wandered freely in an area that should have been sterile but wasn’t.

“I am shocked by the thought that today, November 4, a date on which we learned where words can lead, I need to stand here and say again: the word ‘traitor’ must be struck out of the political discourse, and everywhere – coalition and opposition, Left and Right. Accusations of treason imperil our democracy,” Herzog declared.

That, too, is unlikely to happen, judging by the verbal sparks that emanate from the Knesset. If the lawmakers can’t set an example, the public is unlikely to curb its own use of language.

■ INASMUCH AS life appears to have returned to normal, with heavy patronage of restaurants and coffee shops, especially on Thursday nights and Friday mornings, crowded buses, in-person concerts and festivals, etc., COVID-19 is still very much with us. Admittedly, there is a sharp decline in the numbers of fatalities, people hospitalized and those in serious condition, but new variants have been detected and reported, and it is still too early to estimate their effect.

Meanwhile, there are still too many people who have refused to be vaccinated, despite confirmation by health authorities in various countries that specific vaccines are safe, and will in most cases prevent inoculated people from catching or spreading the disease.

Highly concerned at the possibility that anti-vaxxers can cause another pandemic, with a return of all the restrictions and heartbreak, Herzog is hoping that perhaps religious leaders can influence their communities within Israel and beyond.

Toward this end he has convened an interfaith meeting that is scheduled to take place this Thursday evening, with the participation of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau; Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef; Patriarch Theophilos III of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem; Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa; Greek Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Galilee Yousef Matta; Archbishop Hosam Naoum of the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem; Sheikh Abed Alhakim Samara, president of the Sharia Court of Appeals; Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif, leader of the Druze community in Israel; Dr. David Rutstein, secretary-general of the Baha’i International Community; Sheikh Jamal Ubara, supervisor of imams in the religions department of the Interior Ministry; and Sheikh Zayed Abu Muh, senior director of Muslims in the religions department of the Interior Ministry.

Aside from enlisting the cooperation of religious leaders, the purpose of the president’s initiative is to share Israel’s unique experience in the vaccine against COVID-19 campaign with the world, through cooperation between health professionals and leaders of different faiths.

■ THE TWO-DAY Jerusalem Harmonica Festival opens on Wednesday, November 10, at 1 Koresh Street, Jerusalem, with harmonica players Michal Adler, Roni Eytan, Yoel Feldheim, Jason Rosenblatt, Yotam Ben Or, Dov Hammer and others presenting jazz, blues, Middle Eastern melodies, klezmer and Israeli classics in night and daytime performances.

The venue is situated close to a variety of restaurants and coffee shops, so harmonica enthusiasts can indulge both their musical and culinary passions.

■ BUSINESS AND social entrepreneur, international venture capitalist and former Labor MK Erel Margalit wrote a doctoral dissertation more than a decade ago on “The Entrepreneur as a Leader in the Historical Process.”

Margalit is known in Jerusalem for having formed and developed the new Media Quarter in and around the capital’s historic train station compound, where more than 200 dynamic entrepreneurs in business, social and cultural enterprises are located.

The Jerusalem Venture Partners Media Quarter houses start-ups, VC fund JVP, early-stage initiative JVP Play, OurCrowd incubator Labs/02, the performing arts hub Zappa Jerusalem in The Lab, the social profit organization In the Community (Bakehila), as well as a restaurant and a nightclub.

Within Israel, Margalit does not confine himself to Jerusalem but has established the Margalit Startup City Galil in Kiryat Shmona, working toward solving part of the global warming problem by developing production processes that will be far less reliant on and damaging to natural resources.

Margalit encourages schoolchildren to dream up projects that could be useful in efforts to prevent global warming and in this manner prepares them for facing new challenges and becoming social entrepreneurs for the benefit of the communities in which they live and for the wider world.

■ ALTHOUGH SOME of the pioneers of the first and second aliyot may have indulged in free love, it is doubtful that in their dreams of nation-building they ever envisaged a land of sexual predators. Yet every week, new stories come to light about pedophiles, rapists and others whose sexual appetites may be less ravenous, but whose behavior nonetheless comes within the category of sexual harassment.

In recent weeks the Israeli public has heard allegations about Shimon Peres, Gal Uchovsky, various well-known rabbis and now hi-tech tycoon and Beitar Jerusalem Football Club owner Moshe Hogeg. There have been quite a few others as well.

Hogeg, who has been accused by a well-known model, says that he has never ever forced himself on a woman, so it is simply his word against hers. She says that she told her agent at the time, but he never reported the incident to the police, nor did he tell her parents, even though the model was then underage.

Though some allegations eventually prove to be true and are followed by police investigations, court trials, convictions and imprisonment, not every allegation is true, and sometimes simply reflects a desire for attention, revenge for being spurned, or simply a dislike for a certain public figure and a desire to destroy that person’s reputation. It’s something to which researchers in psychology should pay more attention.

■ FORMER POLITICIAN Yossi Beilin, who inter alia served as spokesman for the Labor Party, deputy foreign minister, justice minister and chairman of Meretz, has written an autobiography, which reveals why he, rather than Peres, was closely engaged in the Oslo process; the incredible animosity between Rabin and Peres, who despite a mutual dislike and denigration of each other managed to work together; and many other interesting behind-the-scenes aspects of political life in Israel.

What also comes to light in the book and in an in-depth interview that Beilin gave to Sari Makover-Balikov, one of the leading interviewers at Maariv, the sister publication of the Post, is that he, like many other public figures, is basically shy, and was able to overcome that shyness only through his public roles.

For many years Beilin declined to write his autobiography, saying that he never would. What brought about a change of heart was a biography written about him by Dr. Avi Shilon. It’s a good book, Beilin told his interviewer, but it does not reflect his feelings or his thoughts.

As much as Beilin appreciated the quality of Shilon’s writing, there was just too much missing, so he decided to fill in the blanks with his own book, the title of which loosely translates as “Secrets that I will not take to the Grave.”

Beilin is also somewhat of a diplomat. When asked about the recent allegation by former diplomat and MK Colette Avital that Peres had tried to force himself on her, and that she had asked Beilin to never be left alone in the room with Peres, Beilin replied that he had no recollection, but that he knows that Avital is not a liar. He also made it clear that Peres preferred to be surrounded by men so that there would be no rumors about alleged romantic affairs. Of course, that did not stop the rumors that resurfaced after Avital shared her allegation in an interview published in Haaretz.

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