Grapevine: Reading their writes

President Reuven Rivlin addresses the United Nations in New York (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin addresses the United Nations in New York
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
Visitors to this year’s Jerusalem International Book Fair are in for a few surprises.
For one thing, for the first time in more than half a century, it will not be at the Jerusalem International Convention Center; this time around it’s being held in several different venues, primarily the First Station on David Remez Street. Related events will be held at venues within easy walking distance of the First Station – namely the Jerusalem Cinematheque, Khan Theater, Mishkenot Sha’ananim and the YMCA – in order to attract a younger public, which often frequents the above-mentioned venues. Entry to the fair and all events is free of charge.
A gathering held every two years of authors, editors, publishers, book distributors, literary critics and people who buy books for the pleasure of reading, the fair also brings many diplomats to Jerusalem, to attend the opening and various book promotions by publishers from their respective countries. This year’s fair will be held from February 8-12, with Mayor Nir Barkat presenting the $10,000 Jerusalem Literary Award to Albanian human rights author Ismail Kadare at a festive opening ceremony at the YMCA.
Since its inception in 1963, the fair has attracted a very large German representation; this time around, it will again be the case – plus an additional attraction. Because this year marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Jerusalem and Berlin, something that no one would have dreamed possible 70 years ago, there will be a 2-meter-high “hidden wall” display designed by German architect Prof. Werner Sobek, constructed with more than 5,000 wooden bricks, each bearing a quote from leading German philosophers, musicians, politicians and academics.
Visitors will be encouraged to make a souvenir of their favorite quotes and take them home, with the aim of directly or indirectly creating a cross-cultural dialogue between Israelis and Germans.
Without being privy to the contents of the hidden wall, the writer of this column suspects there might be at least one quote from German-born Jewish physicist and philosopher Albert Einstein, but somehow doubts it will be the one attributed to him that relates to war rather than peace. Einstein is alleged to have said: “I do not know with what kinds of weapons the Third World War will be fought, but the Fourth World War will be fought with sticks and stones.” The moral of the story is that all this hi-tech taking over our lives will either self-destruct or be destroyed, so that civilization can reinvent itself.
Always arousing interest is the book-pitching foray, in which some 30 Israeli authors will have the opportunity to pitch their works to scores of people in the business; this particular event is a joint project of the Foreign Ministry and Random House International.
Among the other lectures, symposia and workshops will be a symposium on challenges faced by publishers in the digital era; a special Publishers Association workshop on copyright issues; a workshop on the art of writing short stories; and a special day trip for visiting authors to the caves of Qumran, to learn about the digitalization of ancient cultural treasures.
Ziv Birger – who was the director and later chairman of the book fair from 1983 until his death in 2011, from injuries sustained when he was hit by a motorcycle after emerging from a concert at the Jerusalem Theater – will be remembered in perpetuity through the Ziv Birger International Publishers’ Mentoring Program, which as far as anyone can tell will remain a permanent feature of the book fair.
The program, which was initiated some 30 years ago, enables 40 people who want to carve out careers in the international book business to come to Jerusalem for a weeklong seminar on marketing and publishing.
Birger, who had been incarcerated in Dachau, was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust. He was succeed at the last international book fair by Avi Pazner, former world chairman of Keren Hayesod, but the role has since been taken over by Yoel Makov, who for many years was Birger’s deputy.
Among the international authors attending the fair will be Ann Hood and Mark Russ Federman (US), Anna Enquist (the Netherlands), Ariana Harwicz (Argentina), Eva Menasse (Austria), Erri De Luca, Paolo Giordano and Elena Loewenthal (Italy), Janusz Glowacki (Poland), Jennifer Teege (German), Salah al-Hamdani (France/Iraq), Katherine Pancol and Genevieve Brisac (France), and Irena Karpa (Ukraine). On the evening of February 9, Menasse will participate in a panel discussion in English with Loewenthal and Brisac, moderated by Shiri Lev-Ari. Two nights later, Menasse will be at the Austrian Hospice on 37 Via Dolorosa in the Old City, where she will speak in German about her latest book, Quasicrystals.
Bookworms who live outside the capital would do well to book a hotel room for the duration of the fair.
■ MANY PEOPLE who had hoped to hear Melanie Phillips, the celebrated British journalist, author and commentator speak at the Raymond Kalman Memorial Lecture, hosted at Jerusalem’s Beit Avi Chai by the Israel branch of the Jewish Historical Society of England, were disappointed and expressed their frustrations on Facebook. Even some who had come early were unable to get inside due to the enormous popularity of the speaker, who indeed captivated the largely British audience – which absolutely lapped up everything she said.
Raymond Kalman, who died in February 2014 at age 83, was a frequent and outspoken defender of Jewish rights, and also a history buff who had addressed meetings of the JHS during visits to Jerusalem. Phillips voiced regret that she had met him only once at the home of his son, Matthew, a fellow journalist living in the capital.
Raymond Kalman, she said, was among the first – way back in the 1970s – to recognize the political threat to Anglo Jewry from leftwing and Islamist anti-Semitism, as well as that of people on the far Right. In fact, it was this left-wing anti-Semitism which to a large extent transformed Phillips into a Zionist.
She had worked for many years at The Guardian, which initially was a highly professional publication with a civil rights agenda and a self-imposed mandate for accuracy in reporting. When she joined the paper, Phillips – who described herself as more of a liberal than a leftist – was not a Zionist, had never been to Israel and never wanted to visit. She had supported Israel as a haven for unfortunate Jews, but it wasn’t her homeland. She was British – or so she thought.
But then, in 1982, she began to notice an imbalance in the Guardian’s coverage of Israel – so pronounced a vendetta that she was moved to question it. This immediately put her in the “you” category, as distinct from “we,” and she began to detect a whiff of anti-Semitism. Whereas it was quite in order for the Guardian to be critical of Israel’s policies, she said, it was more than that – it was completely one-sided. From having previously hailed Israel as a socialist pioneer, the paper went on to castigate the Jewish state as a colonial aggressor.
She asked why there was minimal coverage of atrocities in Arab countries, while there was huge coverage of any perceived misdeed on the part of Israel. The reply was that the Guardian was not entitled to judge mass killings in the third world by Western standards, because to do so would be racist. However, Israel was regarded as part of the West, and therefore could be judged by these standards.
Phillips had questioned this policy of double- standards, not as a Zionist but through a sense of fairness, a desire for truth and in line with basic standards of journalism. “I became the foreigner because I had dared protest the paper’s coverage of Israel,” she said.
Politics makes for strange bedfellows and in illustrating strange – almost impossible – alliances in Britain, Phillips noted that what they have in common is a shared dislike or even hatred of the State of Israel. Moreover, Britain prejudice against Israel and the Jews is not so much in evidence among the lower classes of society as it is among the educated elite. The Left, she said, has entered into an unholy alliance with neo-fascists, white supremacists, radical Islamists and green environmentalists, who all hate Israel and the Jewish people.
While more comfortable now in Israel than in Britain, Phillips is far from blind to Israel’s flaws, and one of the things which irks her as someone born and raised in Britain is that most Israelis are totally ignorant of Britain’s role here during the first half of the 20th century.
She finds it astonishing that for most people, the history of this country started in 1948 – and they are largely ignorant of what took place before.
■ MANY PROMINENT personalities this week eulogized David Landau, a former managing editor and diplomatic correspondent at The Jerusalem Post, founding editor of the English edition of Haaretz and later editor-in-chief of the full paper – for his talent, courage, integrity and insatiable desire to get a different but honest slant to every story. Few people remember Landau the socialist, who went out on a limb to save the jobs of his colleagues.
Some 30-odd years ago, two popular members of the Post’s editorial staff were in danger of losing their jobs. It was purely a budgetary problem; management found no fault with their work, but one was already past retirement age and the other was on a relatively high salary. In those days there were automatic salary adjustments in line with cost-of-living increases, and the editorial staff was much larger then than it is today.
Landau called everyone together and proposed that the sum each person was due to receive in their wage adjustment be returned to management, to pay for the salaries of our two colleagues. Only one person disagreed, saying she needed the money to feed her dog and cat. Management accepted the offer in the first month, but had the good grace in the second month to return the money and keep the two people concerned on-staff.
Unfortunately, both have since died, as have several others who were at that meeting called by Landau – who inspired in everyone there a shining demonstration of collegial solidarity.
■ THE MAJOR events marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day took place in Auschwitz, New York, Paris and Prague. But for a 50-member delegation of Friends of the Hebrew University headed by Hebrew University president Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson and university board of governors chairman Michael Federmann, Rome was an equally memorable venue.
The delegation included French Friends of the Hebrew University president Martine Dassault and her husband, Laurent; Swiss Friends president Gultin Ephrati; and Hebrew University Brain Circle UK co-chairwoman Muriel Salem and her husband, Freddy. Also present at the meeting was Viviana Kassam, president of Brain Circle Italia and organizer of a rare concert of music composed in the concentration camps, led by Francesco Lotoro, an Italian composer and musician – who has dedicated the past 30 years to locating more than 12,000 such compositions in quests throughout Europe.
The delegation flew to Rome with a message of hope and fraternity, which is already known to be shared by Pope Francis.
Ben-Sasson, who had previously met the pope during the latter’s visit to Israel last year, on this occasion presented him with a Hebrew University Bible identical to the one that had been presented to Pope John Paul II during his visit to Jerusalem.
“Based on extensive Hebrew University scholarship and the Aleppo Codex, this is the most accurate version of the Bible in existence,” said Ben-Sasson. However, the meeting was less about spiritual subjects and more about the importance of science and the prevention of political boycotts.
“We emphasize on this day that science should be the language of human creativity and of international discourse,” Ben-Sasson continued. “Science does not know the boundaries of religion, nationality, race or gender. Scientific cooperation is fundamental to human activity, and on a day such as this we expect the world to be wary of all discrimination while creating an infrastructure for the foundations of research and collaboration.
From this place and on this day, we call for the prevention of boycotts and exclusion in science.”
Federmann remarked that as far as his own family was concerned, this encounter represented a second-generation meeting within the Vatican. Federmann’s father, Yekutiel, who for many years served as a member of the Hebrew University board of governors, had previously donated a statue commemorating Jewish-Christian relations to the Vatican, and an identical statue to the monastery at Tantur situated between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Also part of Holocaust Remembrance Day in Rome was the aforementioned special concert, “The Sound of Survival: The Miracle of the Music Composed in the Concentration Camps”; it took place before an audience of 2,500 people, including outgoing Italian president Giorgio Napolitano. The performers included prominent figures such as cabaret singer Ute Lemper of Germany, violinists Francesca Dego and Roby Latakos, and renowned klezmer singer Myriam Fuks. The concert concluded with the song “Betzeit Yisrael,” sung by the Italian Jewish community’s children’s choir.
■ OLD SOLDIERS never die, they merely fade away, goes the time-worn adage. Israel’s Commando Unit 101 functioned for only a brief period, from August 1953 to January 1954, before it merged into the 890th Paratroop Battalion. The101 was headed by Ariel Sharon, who had been appointed by David- Ben Gurion to carry out special retaliation operations against enemy infiltrators; most of its 50 members were recruited from kibbutzim and moshavim.
Those still alive came together at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art this week with members of Sharon’s family and various friends and admirers, including those who had served with him or under him in other capacities, to reminisce about the soldier and the politician on the first anniversary of his death. Among those in attendance were former president Shimon Peres and former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who was sharply critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies.
Although Peres and Sharon were not always on the same side of the political fence, they were nonetheless friends of long standing, and when Sharon formed Kadima it was in consultation with Peres, who joined him in launching the new political party – which now, like old soldiers, is fading away.
Peres spoke of Sharon’s unfailing and extraordinary courage in both military and civilian life, even in the face of extreme criticism.
He was never one to bow in battle, said Peres, nor was he prepared to concede the possibility of peace. Everyone was surprised by the strength of his leadership abilities, and the impact he had in attracting followers both on and off the battlefield.
Only someone as strong as Arik could withstand all the pressures he confronted throughout his life, said Peres, who also referred to the Hezbollah attack on the northern border, saying it was a very difficult day and that the hearts of the nation go out to the families of the soldiers killed, the soldiers injured and those who continue to serve on the front lines.
He was certain, he said, that today – just as they did in the past – IDF officers and soldiers would follow in Sharon’s footsteps with courage and determination in defending the homeland.
■ UNREST IN the North also prompted President Reuven Rivlin to cut short his visit to New York. Rivlin instructed his staff to work toward an earlier return home than was scheduled, so he could be in Israel with the bereaved families and those of the wounded.
Before leaving the Big Apple he placed a wreath at Ground Zero – where on September 11, 2001, the US experienced its worst terrorist attack, one of a series of four coordinated attacks in which 2,996 people lost their lives.
During the week, the Israeli media featured photographs of Rivlin striding through the snow in Central Park. His security detail had been reluctant, but Rivlin said he could no longer watch the beautiful white blanket from his hotel room; he wanted to experience it.
[email protected]