Grapevine October 3, 2021: October 6 – a significant date

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

ACTRESS AND producer Noa Tishby walks the floor after ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange in 2009.  (photo credit: BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)
ACTRESS AND producer Noa Tishby walks the floor after ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange in 2009.
(photo credit: BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)

The notorious Babi Yar massacre of September 29 and 30, 1941, took place on the eve of Yom Kippur. The 80th anniversary could not be commemorated by Jews on its Gregorian calendar date because it coincided with Simhat Torah, which is held a day later in the Diaspora than it is in Israel, so the commemoration ceremony was moved to October 6, which sadly, in 1941, was the first day of Sukkot.

Today, there are several Jewish monuments on the site where close to 34,000 men, women and children were murdered. But in 1961, 20 years after this horrendous crime against humanity, the famous Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko brought this brutal murder to the attention of the world with his “Babi Yar” poem, the opening lines of which are:

No monument stands over Babi Yar,

A drop sheer as a crude gravestone.

I am afraid.

Today, I am as old in years

As all the Jewish People.

Now I seem to be a Jew.

Throughout the poem, which sweeps through the ages, the writer identifies with Jewish suffering and persecution and with some of the better-known Jews who were victims of antisemitic persecution. It took another 30 years after Yevtushenko wrote his poem for Ukraine to hold a state commemorative event for the victims of the massacre.

While President Isaac Herzog, Chairman of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Natan Sharansky and Counstruction and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin are in Ukraine on October 6 for the 80th anniversary commemoration of the Babi Yar massacre, Egyptians will commemorate what they call the October War and Israelis who remember the Gregorian calendar date call the Yom Kippur War. Egyptians and some Israelis will also commemorate the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, the first leader of an Arab country with the courage and the vision to make peace with Israel. True, it has been a cold peace, but one that has been honorably upheld by each of Sadat’s successors.

On a completely different note, the famed Moulin Rouge opened in Paris on October 6, 1889. Four years later, on October 6, 1903, the High Court of Australia held its inaugural session. Five years after that on October 6, 1908, Austria annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, and on October 6, 1927, the first movie with a soundtrack – The Jazz Singer, starring Jewish singer Al Jolson – was released in the US.

On October 6, 1943, Heinrich Himmler called for the speeding up of the final solution to the Jewish problem. On October 6, 1951, Joseph Stalin proclaimed that the Soviet Union had an atomic bomb, and a year later on October 6, Agatha Christie’s long-running play The Mousetrap, which is still going strong, premiered in London. On October 6, 1972, the Sinn Fein office in Dublin was closed down by Irish prime minister Jack Lynch. On October 6, 1979, Pope John Paul II was the first pope to visit the White House where he was hosted by US president Jimmy Carter. There are many other historic events – too numerous to mention – which took place on October 6, so it is a really important date.

■ THE TEL AVIV International Salon, which caters primarily to young English-speaking professionals in their 20s and 30s, is reviving its ambassador series whereby heads of foreign diplomatic missions in Israel come and speak about the foreign policy, economy, culture and quality of life in their respective countries. Aside from enhancing the audience’s knowledge of what goes on around the globe, it is a source of pride to those members of the audience who come from the country represented by the guest ambassador. First one up in the new series is Australian Ambassador Paul Griffiths, who will talk about Australia’s foreign policy and Australia’s relationship with Israel, which goes back for more than a century to long before the creation of the state. Griffiths will also answer questions, and like any good Australian will mingle with the crowd during Happy Hour. The event on Monday, October 18 is free of charge, and will take place at 7 p.m. at the Capella Cocktail Bar, Hagag South Tower, on the 14th floor of 28 Ha’Arba’a Street, Tel Aviv. In order to know the anticipated size of the turnout, organizers would like anyone who intends to be there to RSVP: https://AustralianAmbassadorSalon.eventbrite.com

■ GRIFFITHS, WHO has been in Israel since September 2020, is a senior career officer with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, though he did take some time out to work in the private hi-tech sector in London before taking up his post in Israel. He’s an avid cyclist and has taken his bike around quite a lot of the country. He has served in several other countries but says that few places can compete with Israel’s glorious sunset over the beach in Herzliya. Born and raised in Tasmania, which is Australia’s apple isle, Griffith holds degrees in law and international trade and finance from the University of Tasmania and Deakin University in Victoria. He has also taken several courses at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

■ AN ITEM in a recent Grapevine column quoted former Australian politician Philip Dalidakis, who is the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father which makes him a halachically acceptable Jew. However, with a surname like Dalidakis, it could be presumed that he might choose to follow his father’s faith. He doesn’t. He was born Jewish and he is Jewish. But therein lies the rub. In the item in which he was quoted, it stated that he regards himself as Jewish, which prompted a telephone call from his Israeli uncle, who said that Dalidakis was deeply hurt by the unintended aspersion. “He doesn’t regard himself as Jewish,” said the uncle. “He is Jewish.” Who would imagine that such an innocent word could cause so much consternation?

■ AFTER CHARMING leaders of New York Jewish organizations last week, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will on Monday, October 5, address leaders of Australian Jewry – only this time it will not be in person.

Bennett will be the key attraction in a free online event celebrating the 120th anniversary of the Jewish National Fund. Other well-known figures participating in the festivities include actress, producer, model, writer and public speaker Noa Tishby, Israel’s former ambassador to the US Ron Dermer and actor and comedian Elon Gold. Tishby, who is a passionate defender of Israel, has created social media platforms through which to convey her message. The event will commence at 1 p.m. Israel time. Registration is at www.jnf.org.au/gala

■ ALMOST IN defiance of the gloom and doom predictions of the demise of Yiddish in the aftermath of the Holocaust, Yiddish is enjoying a revival in Israel and elsewhere in the Jewish world, and not only Jews are among its students. Many non-Jews who have read the works of Isaac Bashevis Singer, Sholem Aleichem, Y.L. Peretz and others in translation would like to be able to read them in the original because they are familiar with the old saying “It sounds better in Yiddish.” It’s quite amazing, considering that Israel’s founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion outlawed Yiddish, how much Yiddish activity is going on in Israel today. One can get an idea of this from the monthly newsletter published in Yiddish, English and Hebrew by ardent Yiddishist Bella Bryks Klein under the heading of Vos Ven Vu (What When Where). Events listed in the October newsletter are in Kiryat Gat, Rishon Lezion, Holon, Rehovot, Ramat Hasharon, Ra’anana, Givatayim, Herzliya, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Bat Yam, Haifa, Karmiel, Tivon, Kfar Vradim, Kfar Hassidim and more, and include Yiddish conversation classes, Yiddish literature circles, lectures, community singing, poetry readings, book launches, cabarets, plays and commemorations.

Despite the ban imposed by Ben-Gurion, Yiddish institutions and organizations were established and there was a long period in which there were also Yiddish newspapers.

Beth Shalom Aleichem, founded in 1966, teaches courses in Yiddish language and literature, lectures on Jewish history and culture and organizes trips to what remains of Jewish Poland and Jewish Lithuania.

Beit Leyvik, also founded in the 1960s, has long been the home of the Association of Yiddish writers and journalists, though it does have a broad program of activities.

In 1987, the extremely popular Yiddishpiel Theater was founded by actor Shmuel Atzmon and the late Shlomo Lahat, who was then mayor of Tel Aviv and a great lover of Yiddish. The theater later attracted young actors from the former Soviet Union whose only outlet was the Gesher Theater, which was founded in Tel Aviv in 1991 and whose ensemble performed primarily in the Russian language. At first these young Russian speaking actors who were taken on by Atzmon, spoke their lines from a transliterated text and were taught Yiddish enunciation by Atzmon’s wife. Now they can actually speak Yiddish.

In 1990 when Mendy Cahan, the Belgian-born founder of Yung Yidish, began collecting Yiddish books, magazines and newspapers, he had no idea where his salvaging of the printed Yiddish word might lead. Initially, Cahan stored his collection in the cellar of a dilapidated building in what was then an industrial zone in Jerusalem, but has since become an ultra-Orthodox residential area. He subsequently opened a second library in Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station. He named the organization linking the two libraries “Yung Yidish” out of a desire to attract young people to Yiddish classes and concerts while preserving a shtetl atmosphere. Yung Yidish is one of several Tel Aviv institutions – some even older than the state, and others relatively recent, that are dedicated to reviving and preserving the language and culture that were not so long ago the most prevalent among the Jews of Eastern Europe.

When Cahan, who is also an actor, singer and teacher of Yiddish, who frequently performs and teaches abroad, including in Lithuania, almost every year, decided to name his organization he chose to call it after a prior organization that existed in Lodz, Poland, from 1918 to 1921. It was the first Yiddish avant-garde group in Poland, as is Cahan in his appearance and his lifestyle. The group consisted of some 20 young people, most of who were writers, who collectively published a journal, which they called Yung Yidish.

Yiddish can also be heard on KAN radio at http://www.kan.org.il/Radio/program.aspx/?progId=1136

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