Grapevine October 18, 2020: Changing roles

The movers and shakers of Israeli society.

ILAN MELAMED (left) with John Holden. (photo credit: Courtesy)
ILAN MELAMED (left) with John Holden.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Many actors have become politicians and some have risen to high ranking positions. Examples include Ronald Reagan, who became US president, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who became governor of California, child actor twin brothers Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who became president and prime minister of Poland, respectively, Jimmy Morales, who became Guatemala president, and most recently, Vlodymyr Zelensky, who became Ukraine president after playing a president in a television series.
It should be remembered that US President Donald Trump was also a film actor and television personality before he went into politics. Apropos television, Martin Sheen, who played the fictional US President Josiah (Jed) Bartlet in the popular series The West Wing, stars with some of the other actors in the show in a promotional video aimed at persuading Americans to vote in the upcoming presidential elections.
The original series ceased production 14 years ago, which may be the reason that Australian Labor politician William Fowles, from the State of Victoria, thought it was safe to plagiarize some of Sheen’s lines, when speaking in Parliament. He should have known better after the roasting that Melania Trump received after borrowing liberally from an address by Michelle Obama.
■ FORMER AUSTRALIAN ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma, who remains staunchly attached to Israel and the Jewish people, even though he is not Jewish himself, is sometimes more aggressive in fighting antisemitism than are members of the Jewish community. Sharma who is currently a federal Liberal MP, in an April 2019 tweet accused former federal Labor MP Melissa Parke of “antisemitism and trafficking in conspiracy theories.” Parke in turn, in January, sued Sharma for defamation.
Sharma’s tweet was in response to a revelation that Parke, in a speech to Palestinian supporters in 2019, had accused Israel of a “fully fledged system of apartheid.”
After her remarks had been made public, Parke withdrew from the election, citing as her reason that even though her views were well-known, she did not want them to distract from the election of a Labor government.
Her case was dismissed by the Federal Court last week. Sharma, who was pleased with the result, pledged to continue to stand up and speak out against antisemitism in all its manifestations and attacks on the Jewish community. “Such discourse has no place in Australia and should not be tolerated,” he said.
■ IT HAS been an annual tradition for members of the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association to hold a summer meeting at the residence of the British ambassador. The meeting is usually in June or July, but was delayed this year due to restrictions on social gatherings imposed by the novel coronavirus. Some of those restrictions are still in place, but not wanting to miss out, IBCA chair Brenda Katten organized a Zoom meeting instead. The meeting on November 23 will actually have a dual purpose given that the annual Balfour Dinner, which is held in November close to the anniversary date of the Balfour Declaration, will not be held this year, or if it is held, it certainly won’t be in November.
The annual meeting at the British residence always has a distinctly British flavor in that the guest speaker is usually a prominent British politician or some other leading figure who has come from England for the occasion. That won’t quite be happening this year, though British accents will dominate the conversation as British Ambassador Neil Wigan engages in conversation with former Londoner David Horowitz, the founding editor of the Times of Israel and a former editor-in-chief of both The Jerusalem Post and The Jerusalem Report.
Katten. who is also a British expat, is hopeful that social gatherings will be restored by the end of December when the IBCA has its annual end-of-year brunch at the Sharon Hotel in Herzliya. The brunch is scheduled for December 27, whether in social contact or on Zoom. On that occasion, the accents will be decidedly mixed as the guest speaker will be Gil Hoffman, the American-born chief political correspondent for The Jerusalem Post.
■ ALTHOUGH HER actual birthday is in April, the official birthday of Queen Elizabeth II is in June, when the list of people decorated in the Queen’s Birthday honors is published. But just as the above-mentioned IBCA event was delayed because of the pandemic, so too was the Queen’s Birthday award of honors, which this year recognized a significantly large number of members of the British-Jewish community, with at least one with an Israel connection.
Prof. Stefan C. Reif, fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge, and honorary research professor at the Haifa and Tel Aviv universities, was appointed officer of the order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to scholarship as founder and director of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit, University of Cambridge.
The University Library established the Genizah Research Unit in 1974, and Reif directed it until his retirement in 2006. He was elected to a personal chair in medieval Hebrew studies and to a fellowship at St John’s College at the University of Cambridge in 1998, and obtained his Litt.D. there in 2002. In appreciation for his genizah work, his research into Jewish liturgy and his encouragement of young scholars, Reif was conferred with an honorary doctorate by the University of Haifa in 2014. He has written or edited 20 volumes, as well as almost 400 articles and reviews.
Under his directorship, the Cambridge Genizah Collection was transformed from an overlooked, under-used and only partially available resource to a major literary treasure that is now widely exploited by scholars. The genizah collection has revolutionized the understanding of medieval Jewish life. Reif arranged the conservation, microfilming, digitization and description of many thousands of fragments, the appointment and training of young researchers who later made outstanding academic careers, the publication of catalogues of various parts of the collection, and the attraction of extensive, external funding.
He has contributed significantly to international developments in the historical study of Jewish liturgy, especially clarifying the evolution of Jewish prayer texts in the Eastern Mediterranean in Crusader times. A volume of essays by colleagues, titled “From A Sacred Source,” was published in his honor in 2010, and also contains some reminiscences and a list of publications.
In 2019, colleagues in the field of Jewish liturgy published another volume in his honor, titled “On Wings of Prayer,” with an updated list of his publications.
Reif descends from Eastern European Jews. At the end of the 19th century his grandparents suffered poverty and persecution. One grandfather and one great-grandfather were killed by the Russians, while one grandmother and most of her family were tortured and murdered by German and Ukrainian Nazis.
“Not in their wildest dreams would any of them have thought that one day the British queen would honor a grandchild of theirs as a scholar of Hebrew and Jewish studies,” said Reif, whose parents were working-class Jews who never asked anything from anyone but worked hard to earn a living and to raise their family. “From them I learned the importance of industry, integrity and loyalty to the Jewish community and to the people of Israel in the homeland and in the Diaspora,” he continued.
Reif underscored that he perceived that the great honor that he received recognizes not only his achievements in the academic world but also pays tribute to a family of Jewish immigrants who were kindly received in the United Kingdom.
Reif’s autobiography, Bouncing Back – and Forward, is to be published by Vallentine Mitchell in January.
■ SIX-TIME Emmy Award winner John Holden, a former NBC producer, anchor and news correspondent, who now broadcasts on FOX Business News, was hosted by Ilan Melamed, the CEO of Nilit, a global leader in sustainable high-quality Nylon 66 for apparel. The company, which has been operating for more than half a century, prides itself on its strict code of ethics in the quality of its product, and its interaction with employees, customers and global partners, Melamed told Holden.
In a report by the Environmental Protection Ministry, Nilit was ranked first in a list of the top 10 companies in the country that reduced air pollution emissions in 2019 compared to previous measurements. Nilit’s conversion from fuel oil to natural gas generated an 86% emission reduction, which was a significant achievement for the improvement of the environment in Migdal Ha’emek, where it is headquartered.
Nilit was given seven minutes in a “Today’s Eco-Friendly Apparel” segment on the half-hour Earth program. The Earth team visited Nilit’s facilities in Migdal Ha’emek and the United States to learn about the company’s history and its environmentally responsible operations and products.
■ THE WORLD moves in cycles, which is one of the reasons that people such as Yoav Har-Even, CEO of Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, believes the economy will not only recover but will be stronger than ever. Toward this end, Rafael is opening a production plant in the Shlomi Industrial Park in the North, which will be a boon to those of its employees who live in Shlomi and its surrounds, but will also strengthen Shlomi’s economy by providing many more jobs. Currently one of the largest employers in the country, Rafael has 8,000 people on its payroll, and has business dealings with another 30,000 suppliers and freelancers.
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