Grapevine November 8, 2020: A stellar turnout for MDA

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

JOE BIDEN, flanked by (from left) Greer Fay Cashman, Sarah Davidovich and other admirers. (photo credit: COURTESY SARAH DAVIDOVICH)
JOE BIDEN, flanked by (from left) Greer Fay Cashman, Sarah Davidovich and other admirers.
 The stars are coming out for Magen Adom in a free online concert taking place at 7.30 p.m. ET on Sunday, November 8. Included in the line-up are Dudu Fisher, Jarrod Spector, Lior Suchard, Jason Alexander, Howie Mandel, Miri Ben Ari, David Broza and Gad Elbaz, which guarantees that the program will have sufficient variety to suit all tastes. The concert is in celebration of MDA’s 90th anniversary.
Although the founding of Magen David Adom in Israel in 1930 is generally attributed to an altruistic nurse by the name of Karen Tenenbaum, an interesting article in The Jewish Press by Saul Jay Singer tells a somewhat different story on the origins of MDA.
Singer writes that the first use of the red Star of David as a symbol of medical assistance was during the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902) when it was used by the Ambulance Corps founded by Ben Zion Aaron in Johannesburg as a first aid corps to assist the Boer forces.
In the Land of Israel, Dr. Moses Erlanger, a Swiss-Jewish ophthalmologist in 1915 launched a society “to provide medical services for Jews captured and wounded during World War I.” He called his society Magen David Adom. Some society members who had served in British military hospitals, or the British military government, recognized the red star symbol as the society’s official emblem. 
The concept that led to the founding of Magen David Adom on a broader scale in the Land of Israel, originated in the US in October 1918 at a meeting in Philadelphia attended by David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir and Henrietta Szold. They were concerned about the inadequacy of medical services to support the soldiers of the Jewish Legion, who had been fighting together with British troops in the Land of Israel to liberate the country from Turkish Ottoman rule. A decision was made at the meeting in Philadelphia to organize a makeshift medical organization, but it was disbanded a few years later.
According to Singer there were neither first aid nor ambulance services in the Holy Land prior to 1930. This became particularly problematic after the Arab riots of 1929, with many lives lost due to the lack of even the most fundamental medical services,
This is what prompted Tenenbaum to take action to address the deficiency. On June 7, 1930, she assembled a group of seven Jewish doctors – Meshulam Levontin, Chaim Halperin, M. Rabinowitz, M. Frankel, Dr. Eliyahu, Dr. Barzel, and C. Leibowitz – at a café on the Tel Aviv waterfront. They decided to establish a quick response volunteer emergency medical association to be called “Magen David Adom, Tel Aviv,” which began from a single branch out of a decrepit shack at the intersection of Rothschild and Nahalat Benyamin streets in Tel Aviv. It was headed by Levontin (1886-1957), who had studied medicine at Moscow University, received his doctorate at the University of Munich, and specialized in the treatment of tropical diseases at the University of Hamburg before making aliyah in 1911.
Branches were subsequently opened in Jerusalem and Haifa, and were later extended nationwide, providing medical first aid to people of all denominations, ethnic groups and nationalities. MDA was given the status of emergency service by Knesset decree on July 12, 1950. It is recognized by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
■ ON THURSDAY, society photographer Sarah Davidovich excitedly called the writer of this column to ask if she remembered that they had been photographed together with the next potential president of the US when he visited Israel several years ago. To be honest she didn’t, but Davidovich sent her the photo to jog her memory. Davidovich with her signature smile is standing next to Joe Biden, and yours truly is standing next to Davidovich, who has a gift for cultivating international dignitaries and celebrities. The small group that posed for the photo is swamped by other people.
■ HOLOCAUST MARTYRS’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day is associated in the Jewish world with the Jewish calendar date of the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto. In Poland, it is commemorated in accordance with the Gregorian calendar date, and is an official commemoration day in the national Polish calendar. This was the case even when Poland was subjected to a Communist regime. But there is another important anniversary related to the Warsaw Ghetto and that is the building of the ghetto wall, which isolated the Jews of Warsaw from the rest of Poland’s capital (other than via the sewers) and from the world at large.
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the building of the wall. On November 16, which is the actual date of the anniversary, Albert Stankowski, the director of the Warsaw Ghetto Museum, and Artur Hofman, the president of the Social and Cultural Association of the Jews of Poland, will participate in a candle-lighting ceremony by the ghetto wall. The ceremony will begin at 1 p.m. Warsaw time (2 p.m. Israel time). The event will be broadcast on and on as well as on various social media platforms
An outdoor exhibition on life in the ghetto has been on view since July on Grzybowski Street, in the heart of the ghetto, and will remain on view till November 30. It can also be seen online at:
The exhibition, comprising 70 photographs, is called Every Third of Us, in recognition of the fact that a third of Warsaw’s pre-war population was Jewish. Politically, the word “Us” in the title, is of great significance. The photographs were culled from the collections of the most important institutions conducting research on the Holocaust, including Yad Vashem, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, as well as the German Bundesarchiv and the Austrian National Library. The exhibition is dominated by portraits and long shots depicting everyday crowds in the streets and markets of the ghetto. It shows people organizing self-aid, creating art, working and praying.
Apart from the scenes from everyday ghetto life, the exhibition presents major historical events, such as the huge deportation and the uprising of 1943. It also shows various examples of social and economic life, from the organization of home committees or charitable institutions to smuggling – an important element of the ghetto economy.
Before September 1939, there were 370,000 Jews in Warsaw. Poland’s capital consisted of two worlds: Polish and Jewish, differing in their religion, clothing, language and customs, but coexisting in one city. The Jews lived everywhere in the city, but most of them resided in the area of Gesia, Swietojerska and Nalewek streets. For the German occupier, this justified the creation of a confined quarter in this particular area – the largest ghetto in occupied Europe.
■ DUE TO the ongoing uncertainties related to coronavirus restrictions, Finnish Ambassador Kirsikka Lehto-Asikainen will host virtual celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Finland and Israel.
Greetings, performances and other videos will be published on the embassy’s website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts in a cooperative endeavor between the Finnish Embassy in Tel Aviv and the Israel Embassy in Helsinki, which is headed by Ambassador Hagit Ben-Yaakov.
While women are increasingly selected to head the diplomatic missions of their respective countries, it is still relatively rare in bilateral relations for two women to head their two complementary embassies. The opening event of the virtual celebration will take place on November 14. A week later, on November 21, the Finnish Embassy will launch Finnish Film Week online.
■ MOST PEOPLE are still wary of planning live events despite the easing of restrictions and therefore Italian Cuisine Week, beginning November 23, as well as the Thanksgiving dinner being organized by AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel) on November 26, will each be virtual events. The Italian food week organized by the Tourism Department of the Italian Embassy in Tel Aviv, is for the fifth consecutive year promoting Italian cuisine. The most popular items from the Italian kitchen from bread to ice cream will be featured in virtual workshops being run by celebrity chefs.
The AACI Thanksgiving event will include a delicious and traditional kosher mehadrin catered Thanksgiving meal along with a special Zoom program. The meal, which includes turkey with all the trimmings, will be delivered to the homes of participants and can be consumed as they watch Zoom entertainment: snippets of Thanksgivings past through fun videos of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parades over the years, sports bloopers including football games (both types), and AACI members’ reminiscences of their most memorable Thanksgiving Day.