Grapevine November 29, 2020: A week for important anniversaries

Levy prides himself on being a philanthropist and the sponsor of judoka Peter Paltchik, who recently won the European championship.

ISRAELI JUDOKA Peter Paltchik (right) and his sponsor Laurent Levy hold the medal that Paltchik won in Prague last Saturday night.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
ISRAELI JUDOKA Peter Paltchik (right) and his sponsor Laurent Levy hold the medal that Paltchik won in Prague last Saturday night.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Today, Sunday, November 29, is the 73rd anniversary of the United Nations resolution on the partition of Palestine.
Tuesday, December 1, is an important date for this newspaper, which was founded on that date in 1932. December 1 is also the date in 1918 on which Iceland was granted independence by the Danish Parliament; Lady Nancy Astor in 1919 became the first woman elected to the British House of Commons; America’s modern civil rights movement came into being in 1955, when Rosa Parks, a black woman, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger and move to the back of the bus; Benazir Bhutto was nominated in 1988 to become the prime minister of Pakistan, the first woman to hold this position in a Muslim country; and in 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev became the first leader of Soviet Russia to visit the Vatican.
On December 2, 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned emperor of France, and the United Arab Emirates was founded on December 2, 1971.
On December 3, 1962, Edith Sampson was sworn in at the Chicago Municipal Court as the first black women judge in America.
■ IN YET another first, Janet Yellen, who is US President-elect Joe Biden’s choice to serve as Treasury secretary, will be the first woman to hold the position. She was also the first woman to serve as chair of the Federal Reserve, and the first woman to serve as chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, during the administration of Bill Clinton. If confirmed as the 78th secretary of the Treasury, she will also become the first Jewish woman in that role, but not the first Jewish person. Henry Morgenthau, the longest-serving secretary of the Treasury, was the first in 1934, then Michael Blumenthal in 1977, Robert Rubin in 1995, Jack Lew in 2014, and outgoing incumbent Steven Mnuchin in 2017.
■ AS IF the hotels on Jerusalem’s King David Street have not suffered sufficient losses during the coronavirus lockdowns, community urban planner Elias Messinas advises that work on the revamping of King David Street is due to begin next week, and if all goes well, will be completed in March 2022. Plans for the revival of the tourist industry are already in the pipeline, but a lot of frequent flyers who stayed in specific hotels in King David Street whenever they came to Israel may opt to stay in other hotels, where there is no digging and banging in the street below.
■ ANYONE WHO watched Lena Chaplin’s compelling documentary In Hiding on KAN 11 last week, should be able to understand why leading haredi rabbis are so opposed to secular subjects being taught in ultra-Orthodox schools. The film is about people in haredi communities – Gur, Belz and Toldot Aharon – who lose their faith and violate religious laws in secret, but are afraid to come out in the open because of the price of being cast out from the communities in which they live, breaking contact with their families and going into a world where they have no friends, no skills, no qualifications, and in many cases, cannot recognize letters in the Latin alphabet.
They want to leave, but they don’t want to be thrown out. Some live a lie for years before taking the plunge. Others frequent bars, go to parties and frolic on the beach, but wear masks for fear of being recognized by head-hunters who are on the lookout for those who stray from the path. The head-hunters are appointed by leaders in the ultra-Orthodox world, who are wary of the influences of modern society, to check changes in behavioral patterns of people who appear to in any way be lapsing.
Most of the people who participated in the documentary did so anonymously, except for a young couple from Bnei Brak, who outside their apartment behaved as haredim, but once inside, broke nearly all the rules. Theirs had been an arranged marriage, and each had lost faith but was hesitant about telling the other. The husband started to notice that his wife was not as strict in following the rules as an ultra-Orthodox woman should be, and he questioned her about it. He confessed that he too was no longer a believer. They did a gradual exit from both religious observance and Bnei Brak, and in their case, were fortunate that both their families accepted their decisions and did not cast them out.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Avi Toplinski, a teacher and the father of six who spent 12 years living a lie and imparting values in which he did not believe, although he still loves studying Torah. When he eventually told his father, he was thrown out of his home and out of his family. Moreover, his father has forbidden everyone in the family to have anything to do with him and has ordered them to break all connections with him.
Though still a young man, Avi is already a grandfather. He has not seen any of his grandchildren or children for seven years. The younger children still live at home, and there is a heart-breaking scene of Avi driving slowly through his old neighborhood in the hope of seeing at least one of his children in the street. Many of the products of haredi environments who lose their faith don’t necessarily lose their belief in God, and often get together for a Shabbat meal at which they light candles, make kiddush, eat challa, and sing the Shabbat songs with which they grew up.
The songs of their childhood stay with them and remain a source of comfort as they begin to explore the secular world. Even though it is understandable why certain strictures are imposed on members of haredi communities, it is sad that there is no room for compromise; some kind of half-way house within such communities where people can watch movies, read books that are considered taboo, have inter-gender discussions and then go home to lead a haredi life-style, instead of breaking up families and causing untold misery. As it is, aspects of the modern world have already entered ultra-Orthodox society. It’s something that cannot be stopped, but it can be monitored and controlled.
■ JERUSALEM CITY Council member Arieh King, on his Facebook page, introduced those who follow him to “the secret falafel cruiser.” Some months ago King was approached by Adi Zahavi, whom he had not known previously. Zahavi had a fine social welfare idea, and he was looking for a venue and partners to transform his idea into a reality. Zahavi’s family, together with an anonymous group of donors, wanted to provide thousands of fresh falafel meals to the security and medical teams who are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. They wanted to do this on a regular basis.
They now have a new, mobile, well-equipped kitchen, and lots of volunteers willing to deliver the meals by car, motorbike or bicycle. They want to do this as a gesture of appreciation for what soldiers and medical teams are doing in the struggle against the coronavirus. King was impressed and spoke to Mayor Moshe Lion, who in turn instructed the various departments within the municipality to cooperate with Zahavi.
King also recruited Yehuda Ben Yosef, who is in charge of the municipality’s business services. The mobile kitchen is parked in Malha and is under kashrut supervision. From there, volunteers pack thousands of falafel meals in boxes and deliver them to destinations throughout Jerusalem, which inter alia include hospital coronavirus departments and children’s wards, Jerusalem police units, Home Front Command soldiers, nursing homes, volunteers in community centers, among many others. If there is a good thing about the current crisis, it is the many examples of social entrepreneurship that have surfaced all over the country, particularly with regard to food distribution.
■ KAN 11 TELEVISION last Tuesday did an expose on French tycoon and entrepreneur Laurent Levy, who is changing the face of Jerusalem, obliterating its Old World charm, and putting scores of small businesses out of operation. Levy, who moved to Israel 15 years ago, and has bought up numerous properties all over the capital, seems to live by the maxim that whoever pays the piper calls the tune. He put the capital’s Café Paris near the Prime Minister’s Residence out of business in order to build a high-rise residential and commercial property on the site. Café Paris was previously Restobar and was open on Shabbat. Levy told the Restobar proprietors that unless they made the menu kosher and closed on Shabbat, he would not renew their contract. They moved out and Restobar became Café Paris, which was kosher and closed on Shabbat.
Restobar had previously been Café Moment, which in March 2002, was the target of a terrorist attack in which 11 people were killed and 54 wounded. A memorial plaque with the names of the dead was attached to the stone wall surrounding the building. Whether the plaque will be restored once construction of the current project is completed remains to be seen.
Some time before that Levy bought up a lot of property in Nahalat Shiva – one of the first Jewish neighborhoods outside the Old City – and before receiving all the necessary permits, built what has become a little Paris known as the Music Center, with a musical museum, French restaurants and coffee shops.
He also owns almost an entire block of properties in Jaffa Road where he intends to oust shopkeepers and build a 12-story hotel and commercial center that will completely change the character of that part of the city. Levy prides himself on being a philanthropist and the sponsor of judoka Peter Paltchik, who recently won the European championship. But when the Jaffa Road shopkeepers whose businesses have been closed for months asked Levy for rental leeway, they were told they had to pay to the last shekel.
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