Grapevine November 20, 2020: Happy birthday, Mr. President-elect

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

YARON MEYER and President Reuven Rivlin point to Meyer’s flower sculpture in the garden pool of the presidential compound. (photo credit: YARON GLASS)
YARON MEYER and President Reuven Rivlin point to Meyer’s flower sculpture in the garden pool of the presidential compound.
(photo credit: YARON GLASS)
■ US PRESIDENT-elect Joe Biden, has plenty to celebrate. Aside from winning the presidential elections – a fact which is now indisputable – today, Friday, November 20, is his 78th birthday, then next week he has Thanksgiving and exactly two months after his birthday he will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States of America.
■ DURING HIS historic visit here this week, the urbane Foreign Minister of Bahrain Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani appeared to charm everyone he met. When statesmen and diplomats of different countries meet on a bilateral level, each side often pays lip service to how much they can learn from each other. One of the things that Israelis can definitely learn from Al Zayani is to look directly at the person who is speaking and to also look directly at the person whom you are addressing.
He did this in a most relaxed manner during his meetings with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and even applauded at the end of Rivlin’s welcome address. It will be interesting to know whether the guest books he signed during his various meetings will be given to graphologists to analyze his hand-writing. A quick glimpse indicated that he is a friendly, harmonious and stable individual who is not impulsive and puts a lot of thought into what he does before he acts.
■ OF THE TWO sons of Prime Minister Netanyahu, the one whose name most frequently appears in the media – often in connection with outrageous tweets - is Yair Netanyahu, the older of the two. Avner Netanyahu, the younger brother, is apparently more constructive in his thinking and posted a tweet in which he commented that insufficient attention is being given to the Ethiopian festival of Sigd, and that it is not enough for leading figures in the country to merely offer congratulations. He suggested that Sigd should be listed as a national festival, at least on the level of Tu Bishvat and Lag Ba’omer in recognition of the Beta Israel’s centuries-long maintaining of Jewish traditions. The tweet, and Avner himself, received a warm acknowledgment from Ethiopian-born Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata.
■ DESPITE ALL the news items relating to discrimination against members of Israel’s Ethiopian community, the community’s high achievers appear to be getting the appreciation they deserve. Ethiopian born journalist Branu Tegene together with Danny Kushmaru of Channel 12 News will receive the Bnai Brith World Center Journalism award in the category of broadcasting. The award, named in memory of Wolf and Hilda Matsdorf is for their five-part series “Mefutzalim,” which focuses on broken families of Ethiopian Jews left behind after the community’s mass immigration to Israel. The series follows family members in Israel, their efforts to bring their relatives here, and family reunions in Ethiopia. Tamano-Shata will be the keynote speaker at the presentation ceremony at the Begin Heritage Center Jerusalem on Wednesday, November 25 at 10 a.m.
The other prize recipient is Dina Kraft, a former Haaretz journalist who will receive the print media award in memory of Luis and Trudi Schydlowsky, for articles on Jewish communities in the United States and Great Britain and the antisemitism to which they have been subjected.
A special citation for Fostering Israel-Diaspora Relations through the Arts will be presented to the Shalva Band, which rose to international fame after reaching the finals on the Israeli TV show Rising Star.
■ KREMBO WINGS, the organization founded by social entrepreneur and educator Adi Altschuler with the aim of integrating children with disabilities, into mainstream society, this week awarded a special posthumous citation to Nechama Rivlin, who first visited the Jerusalem branch of Krembo Wings in 2015. Following that visit, Nechama, who died in June 2019, had written in a letter, “Every child is entitled to Krembo Wings. We all have disabilities of some kind – some of them visible, some of them invisible. I have them too. But we must not allow the disability, whether it be how we look, how we walk or how we sound, to conceal the person inside us.”
Nechama Rivlin, who suffered from a severe respiratory ailment and was seldom seen without her oxygen tank, was living proof of what she preached. She did not allow her disability to prevent her from traveling abroad, going to the theater, visiting museums and art galleries, or even gardening. She strongly believed in integrating children with special needs with mainstream youngsters in order to promote greater understanding and acceptance of the other.
The citation was presented to President Reuven Rivlin who was extremely moved to receive it on behalf of his deceased wife.
The presentation was made by 14-year-old Adi Goldschmidt, from Ofakim, a Krembo Wings participant and counselor for more than eight years. Adi, who has muscular dystrophy, began leading Krembo Wings activities at the age of seven, alongside Israeli actor, comedian and TV host Eyal Kitzis. Adi often adds stand-up routines to his counseling. He told Rivlin that he loves being in Krembo Wings.
“Nechama would have been so proud to receive this citation from you,” said Rivlin. “Nechama believed that every boy and girl can grow wings. Bringing together children with and without disabilities in a youth movement is a wonderful thing. It shows that we are all similar, all special, each one in their own way.”
Together with Adi, the president made the Krembo Wings sign with the fingers of their hands. This has become the all-embracing symbol of the movement which now has 80 branches with 7,000 participants throughout the country.
Noting that young people can change perceptions and challenge preconceptions with the goal to create a more equal society, in which every person has a place and meaning, Rivlin said the event was an occasion on which to call on the Education Ministry to make sure that Krembo Wings has the same budgetary support as other youth movements. You have the highest values of any self-respecting society,” said the president.
Krembo Wings CEO Talia Harel Berejano thanked the president, saying, “When we all got together to think about the most appropriate way to mark our 18th anniversary, we remembered Nechama Rivlin’s visit to the Jerusalem branch, and we thought that there was nothing more fitting to present her with the Friend of the Movement Award. We believe that Nechama’s values of openness to accept any child and not to define anyone by their wheelchair, the ability to look each child in the eye – all these are part of Krembo Wings. We have a place for every child and we get up each morning to ensure that Israeli society will be better. We would like to thank Nechama Rivlin, who spoke for years about the values of love and acceptance and never looked at the disability, only the wings.”
In addition to founding Krembo Wings, Adi Altschuler initiated Memories in the Living Room, whereby Holocaust survivors come to a private home to speak about their experiences to a group of not more than 50 people, but often a lot less, so as to allow for many questions and answers. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has proposed that Altschuler succeed Avner Shalev as head of Yad Vashem, rather the controversial nominee and former government minister Effie Eitam, whose appointment was approved this week despite strong opposition from Israel and abroad, and regardless of the possibility that it could have a negative impact on bilateral diplomacy and on Yad Vashem’s fund-raising efforts.
■ PROMINENT AMONG Nechama Rivlin’s interests were literature, art, cinema, gardening and animals. She encouraged children to come and plant their own patches of garden in the presidential compound. Since her passing, exhibits by Israeli artists – both painters and sculptors – have been featured at the President’s Residence. A combination of two of Nechama Rivlin’s great loves was provided by Yaron Meyer, a graduate of the ceramics and glass department of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. Meyer is a glass sculptor whose works range from exquisite miniatures to large compositions such as the glass water lilies which have been “planted” in the outdoor pool of the presidential compound.
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