Grapevine October 22, 2021: Figuring out who you are

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

KEVIN DEAN (right) with former MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, who helped him get his Green Pass. (photo credit: Courtesy)
KEVIN DEAN (right) with former MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, who helped him get his Green Pass.
(photo credit: Courtesy)

There used to be a nonscientific, quasi-psychological game to determine a person’s identity. Players were asked to state in five words who they were, and the order of the words was the determining factor. Some stated their nationality first, others their religion, their profession, their family status, their sexual orientation or their political affiliation.

Identity is a very complicated and complex business. We all have more than one identity, and some of us have more than half a dozen identities. This week the Israel Council on Foreign Relations together with the Vittorio Dan Segre Foundation hosted an evening at the Vert Hotel in Jerusalem in which identity was examined in different ways by people from vastly different backgrounds. The discussion facilitated by Senior Advisor for Strategic Partnerships Mike Prashker at the Ted Arison Family Foundation and Director Dr. Gabriele Segre of the Vittorio Dan Segre Foundation did not really solve anything, but provided plenty of food for thought.

The panelists were Dr. Adam Lee Goldstein, director of trauma surgery at Wolfson Medical Center; Pnina Radai, director of training programs in the Prime Minister’s Office; Pnina Pfeuffer, CEO at The New Haredim; Dr. Wurud Jayusi, director of the Center for the Advancement of Shared Society, Beit Berl College; and Alon Shachar, director at the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance. The most outstanding feature of the discussions was that everyone was respectful of each other, and willing to accept the other’s narrative while not compromising on their own narrative. There was no shouting, no interrupting and no contradicting. It was hard to believe that this was happening in Israel.

What emerged is that there are identities with which we are born, identities which we chose and identities that are thrust upon us, and sometimes all three merge in the one person. American-born Goldstein said that he will never be accepted as a true Israeli. Radai, who came from Ethiopia on Operation Moses, said that she had been pleased when given a Hebrew name on arrival in Israel, because it made her feel more Israeli, but today’s immigrants from Ethiopia refuse Hebrew names to replace those with which they are born and which are part of their identity. Pfeuffer spoke of the importance of teaching haredi (ultra-Orthodox) youth core subjects so that they could find their way into mainstream professions, while Jayusi resented the fact that the media makes a point of describing Arab citizens as Arabs. Though proud of being Arab and Muslim, she is an Israeli citizen, and prefers to be described as such without reference to her ethnic and religious identities. Shachar described his own experience in coming out of the closet and said that even though LGBT communities exist in most countries today, there are still many people who fear to reveal their sexual identities. The Jerusalem Open House is a place where they can feel safe, he said, explaining that religious, secular, Jews, Muslims, Christians and others who do not adhere to any religion all enter its doors.

■ EARLY THIS month, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles planted an oak tree in Balmoral as part of a nationwide campaign within the framework of the Queen’s platinum jubilee which will be celebrated next year. It is very symbolically British to plant an oak tree, which is among the sturdiest of the species. When Charles came to Israel in January 2020 he, together with then-president Reuven Rivlin planted an oak tree in the grounds of the President’s Residence.

FROM LEFT, Dr. Adam Lee Goldstein, Pnina Radai, Pnina Pfeuffer, Dr. Warud Jayusi, Alon Shahar and Dr. Gabriele Segre. (credit: STEVE LINDE)FROM LEFT, Dr. Adam Lee Goldstein, Pnina Radai, Pnina Pfeuffer, Dr. Warud Jayusi, Alon Shahar and Dr. Gabriele Segre. (credit: STEVE LINDE)

It is therefore no wonder that some people of British background, who live in Israel, plant an oak tree on special occasions. Such was the case last week with the Inauguration of the Sir Leslie Porter Square at Tel Aviv University, which was also marked by the planting of an oak tree. Of the many philanthropists who support projects at TAU, not many can equal the input of the hands-on involvement of the Porter family, who have given not only of their money, but of themselves, with three generations currently sitting on the TAU Board of Governors, and the late Sir Leslie Porter having served as university chancellor and chairman of the board of governors. Together with his wife Dame Shirley Porter, he sponsored many projects on campus, the most outstanding of them all being the Porter School of Environmental Studies and Earth Sciences which was founded in 2000, and which has assumed increasing importance over the years.

Dame Shirley who is extremely conscious of the environment, took an abiding interest in the activities and development of the school, but as she will be turning 91 next month, and is particularly careful about her health, she did not attend the dedication of the square though her daughter Linda Streit with her husband Elli, her granddaughter Joanna Landau with her husband Edan, and her great grandchildren Amit, Mia and Zoe were on hand to reminisce. Dame Shirley watched the dedication ceremony online from her home in Herzliya Pituah, while her son John Porter, who is also a member of the board of governors, watched it together with his children Ella and Leo from his home in Switzerland. Sir Leslie’s three Israeli great grandchildren planted the oak tree in his memory.

In addition to her philanthropic activities on behalf of the university, Streit has also been part of its teaching staff. She is a former long-standing faculty member of TAU’s Department of English and American Studies. Her grandparents Sir Jack and Lady Sarah Cohen were among the university’s early donors, and her grandchildren have been attending TAU events for years which means that five generations of the Cohen-Porter family were and are strongly affiliated with TAU.

Both Streit and Landau shared anecdotes about Sir Leslie, who had served in the British Army during the Second World War and had risen to the rank of Quartermaster Sergeant. They spoke of a much loved, devoted family man. Streit recalled that one day when she was dressed to go riding, her father saw her and commented that her boots were not sufficiently spic and span. He did, as he used to do in the army. He spat on them and then polished them to a gleaming sheen.

Apropos Queen Elizabeth, who ascended the throne in February, 1952, she will make history next year as the first British monarch to reign for 70 years, during which time she has developed working relationships with 14 prime ministers starting with Winston Churchill, then Anthony Eden, Harold McMillan, Alec Douglas-Home, Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, James Callaghan, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson.

■ RETIRED DEPUTY president of the Supreme Court and professor of law Hanan Melcer, who stepped down in April this year after 14 years on the bench, has a new title. Melcer has been elected president of the Israel Press Council, succeeding former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, who served in the position since 2006, which is about as many years as Benjamin Netanyahu served as prime minister. The difference is that whereas he took time out for a few years – she did not.

Founded by newspaper editors and journalists in 1963, the Press Council is primarily concerned with journalistic ethics, has a relatively large number of members, but doesn’t have much clout.

Its membership includes 35 representatives of the public, 24 representatives from among the journalists and 26 representatives of the editors and publishers. It has a presidium of 41 people. Melcer quipped that it is generally believed that Israel’s parliamentary democracy has three branches: legislative executive and judicial. But in his view, there are actually four branches – the fourth being the press.

■ MODERN TECHNOLOGY can be tricky, so much so that even well-versed users of electronic devices have had difficulty in downloading the Green Pass that gives them access to hotels, cafeterias, cinemas and a whole lot of other places. The exercise can be very frustrating, especially when it fails to produce results. In the case of Kevin Dean, it almost cost him his job. Dean is the most veteran staff member working in the Knesset cafeteria and is acutely conscious of his responsibilities. When the nation was told to get vaccinated the first time around – he obeyed. Urged to undergo a second jab, he again obeyed. And so it was with the third jab. But then along came the current regulation about the Green Pass and the need to have it scanned in almost every place he wants to enter. Although they know him and like him, the Knesset guards were not willing to break the rules for the American-born Dean who made aliyah 20 years ago to please his Israeli wife and has worked at the Knesset for 18 years. The Knesset guards warned him that without a Green Pass, they wouldn’t let him in. Desperate, Dean turned to former MK, Rabbi Dov Lipman who helped him download the Green Pass App onto his cell phone, which meant that he is permitted to enter the building and is no longer in danger of losing his job.

All he has to remember is to keep the phone with him whenever he leaves home and to make sure that the battery is charged.

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