Grapevine: Roseanne in Jerusalem

It was originally planned that Rosanne Barr would speak in the Knesset with Hilik Bar, who is deputy speaker, as her host.

RABBI SHMULEY Boteach (Left), MK Hilik Bar (Middle) and Roseanne Barr (Right) (photo credit: STEVE LINDE)
RABBI SHMULEY Boteach (Left), MK Hilik Bar (Middle) and Roseanne Barr (Right)
(photo credit: STEVE LINDE)
The event billed as Hollywood and Hasbara did not really have much to do with Hollywood or hasbara (public diplomacy), other than to complain about how badly the latter is handled by Israel. The star attraction was Roseanne Barr, who has been somewhat maligned in the US entertainment industry and forced to sign away her life’s work.
In actual fact, Barr doesn’t live in Hollywood – she lives in Hawaii “because they do bad things to kids in Hollywood.” She had quite a few nasty things to say about Hollywood from a stage she shared in Jerusalem on Sunday night with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and Labor MK Hilik Bar at the Begin Heritage Center.
The invitation to the event indicated that it would start at 7 p.m., but Barr arrived fashionably late, well beyond the accepted academic time frame of 15 minutes. In fact, she was 45 minutes late, but her fans cheered her arrival, and some even gave her a standing ovation. She may have been resting after walking through the Old City earlier in the day, part of the time with Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, with whom she appeared to have really good vibes.
Barr does a regular podcast with Boteach, who is primarily in Israel for the bar mitzvah of his son David this coming Saturday, and because of Boteach’s friendship with Bar, it was originally planned that Rosanne would speak in the Knesset with Bar, who is deputy speaker, as her host.
Unfortunately, for technical reasons – namely, that MKs cannot use the Knesset for an event during an election period – the venue was moved to a center named for Israel’s first Likud prime minister.
Bar explained that even though he’s a Labor parliamentarian, and Boteach’s views are more in line with those of the Likud, their political differences do not interfere with their friendship. The two initially met in Poland, but what really cemented the connection for Bar, the grandson of a Polish-born Holocaust survivor, was the fact that Boteach was walking around with a Torah scroll, and while they were in Germany, he recited a blessing over it in Hitler’s bunker. For Bar that was the ultimate revenge against the leader of the Third Reich.
In as much as the event in the evening of International Holocaust Remembrance Day began with an overflow audience that included Likud MK Yehudah Glick on the night before his wedding to Hadas Disin at Jerusalem’s Beit Meirsdorf, after an hour of rambling by Barr, the natives got restless and thus began a gradual exodus. By the end of the evening, there were very few people left in the auditorium to witness what was perhaps the most meaningful aspect of the event with Bar, Barr and Boteach holding signs that contained the words “We Remember.”
■ ON INTERNATIONAL Holocaust Remembrance Day, Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski broadcast a message on social media in which he spoke in fluent Hebrew, with a slight accent, but not a Polish one, and with the correct Hebrew intonation. The message was also delivered in Polish and English. Magierowski stated:
“When we talk about the Holocaust, we constantly use the word ‘memory.’ However, I sometimes ask myself: Is it enough? Is it enough just to remember? Surely, we in Poland remember very well what happened in that period of time, we remember the Jewish victims of World War II, murdered by Nazi Germans, but we also know that we hold enormous responsibility to preserve the material legacy of the greatest genocide in the history of mankind.
“At the Auschwitz Museum, in Majdanek, in Stutthof and in many other places, hundreds of people work day in, day out – for us and for the future generations. We do not even know their names, but their mission, their efforts – this is something admirable.”
■ IN CONNECTION with Poland and memory, Monika Krawczyk, who for 14 years was the CEO of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, known by its Polish acronym as FODZ, was elected this month to head Poland’s primary Jewish umbrella organization, the Union of Jewish Religious Communities. Although few members of these communities are religiously observant, Krawczyk, a Warsaw-based lawyer by profession, actually is religious and spends major Jewish holidays in Jerusalem. Krawczyk has overseen the restoration of synagogues and other Jewish community buildings in different parts of Poland.
Meanwhile the Riga Jewish Community, the Jews in Latvia Museum and Museum of Romans Suta and Aleksandra Belcova (Riga, Latvia), in collaboration with the International Center of Litvak Photography (Kaunas, Lithuania) and Jewish Historical Institute (Warsaw, Poland), have announced an international conference on “Art and the Holocaust: Reflections for the Common Future,” which will take place in Riga on July 2-3.
The aim of the conference is to present new research studies about the relationships between the Holocaust and art (drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, contemporary art, the art of commemoration), as well as the ways in which individuals reacted to atrocities, how they tried to preserve their human dignity, and how the traumatic experience of the Holocaust has influenced European society.
■ DIPLOMATS IN Israel have little choice but to take the Holocaust very seriously. Some of those who come from Europe bear the scars of shame of forebears who collaborated with the Nazis. Some can boast relatives who fought in resistance movements, and a few can testify to a Jewish parent or grandparent, which puts them in the category of second- or third-generation survivor.
Most European ambassadors are also in close contact with groups of expatriates from their countries, some of which include Holocaust survivors and veterans of Allied armies. In addition to Israel’s national Holocaust Remembrance Day, all these ambassadors have commemorative days pertaining to their own countries. While in Israel they attend at least four Holocaust-related events each year.
In advance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, they were at Yad Vashem last Thursday and at the Massuah International Institute for Holocaust Studies on Friday.
Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev told the diplomats that no one should try to influence, deny or distort the memory of the Holocaust.
Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett spoke about Eli, his wife’s grandfather, who was born in Poland and who celebrated his 16th birthday within weeks of the Nazi occupation. When the Nazis rounded up Jews for so-called work details, Eli sensed that they were not being taken to labor camps. He begged his father not to go, but his father believed that he was going to work and got into the truck with other Jews. A few weeks later he was killed.
Eli persuaded his mother and brother to accompany him to the forest, where they could all hide. For five years they moved from place to place. Because he didn’t look Jewish and because he spoke Polish without a Yiddish accent, Eli was able to get work in the village from time to time and, as a result, bring food to his mother and brother. Toward the end of the war, as he returned from the village and was nearing the hiding place, he bumped into some Polish boys who boasted that they had just killed a woman and her son. Fearing the worst, Eli ran to the hiding place. His mother and brother were dead. For five years he had saved them, and now he was alone in the world. For him, as for many others, the lesson was that the Jewish people can rely only on themselves. “We will defend ourselves by ourselves,” declared Bennett.
Ukraine Ambassador Hennadii Nadolenko, conscious of the compliance of his countrymen with the Nazis, said that all that has changed now, and that Babi Yar, where more than 100,000 people were murdered, is not only a symbol of the tragedy of the Jewish people, but is now part of national memory. As dark a blot as Babi Yar is on Ukraine’s history, Nadolenko was heartened by the fact that 2,500 Ukrainians have been recognized as Righteous among the Nations.
Yad Vashem Archives director Dr. Haim Gertner presented some inspiring stories about Jews rescuing Jews, but made the point that it was rare for them to be able to do what they did without the help of non-Jews.
There were also two Holocaust survivors who shared parts of their own stories.
One was Fanny Ben Ami, who as a 13-year-old saved the lives of 28 other children, and had the audacity to stand up to the police and have her mother released from prison. She was an adolescent of extraordinary courage and ingenuity who knew how to bypass the Gestapo.
In later life, when the French government wanted to confer the Legion of Honor on her, she refused because it had been the French government that had sent her parents to their deaths.
The other was Dutch-born Haim Roet, who lost many close relatives in Auschwitz, and who as young child during the war was hidden with a non-Jewish family, with which he remained in contact. Years later, when he asked why they would risk their lives to save a little Jewish boy, the answer was: “If you can do something good, why not?”
Roet initiated the commemorative project Unto Every Person There is a Name and is chairman of the Committee for the Recognition of Jews who Rescued Jews During the Holocaust.
■ ALTHOUGH INTERNATIONAL Holocaust Remembrance Day is the outcome of a United Nations resolution, the idea was initially proposed by renowned Holocaust historian Prof. Yehuda Bauer, and was taken up by Silvan Shalom during the period in which he was foreign minister. Known as General Assembly Resolution 60/7, it is recorded as an initiative of the State of Israel, and credits Shalom as heading the Israeli delegation that proposed the resolution to the General Assembly.
The essence of the resolution is that on the one hand it deals with the memory and remembrance of those who were massacred during the Holocaust; and on the other with educating future generations of its horrors.
■ AT THE Massuah Institute on Kibbutz Tel Yitzhak near Netanya, it was a given that Russian Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov should be one of the keynote speakers. The liberators of Auschwitz were, after all, Soviet soldiers. Noting that the UN had selected the date for Holocaust remembrance to coincide with that of the liberation of Auschwitz, Viktorov quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said that the resolution expresses the strong will of the international community to pass on to the future generations the truth about the barbarism of Nazism as well as to protect humanity from xenophobia, racism and extremism.
Viktorov voiced gratitude to the overwhelming majority of states which last December supported the traditional Russian initiative on adoption of the UN General Assembly Resolution titled Combating Glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fueling contemporary forms of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance. The resolution in particular condemns without reservation any denial or attempt to deny the Holocaust, said Viktorov. He also noted that there were more than 500,000 Jewish fighters in the Red Army, which helped to defeat the Nazi machine.
Viktorov emphasized that the crimes of the Holocaust cannot fade into oblivion and cannot be forgiven.
■ WHEN YOU are an 83-year-old stage and screen actor and no longer performing, you don’t really expect any more awards to come your way. Thus, it was an extremely pleasant surprise for Chaim Topol this week, when he received a phone call from Dudu Saada, the chairman of the B’Sheva group of newspapers, who informed him that the group’s prize committee had unanimously decided to award him the Jerusalem Prize for Israeli Performance and Culture.
Topol, who has a collection of past awards, was nonetheless very moved by something so unexpected, especially when he was told that the award would be presented to him in the presence of President Reuven Rivlin. Topol and Rivlin actually have something in common. Although they were born four years apart, they were each born on September 9, and if anyone decides to make a splash for Rivlin’s 80th birthday this year, chances are high that Topol will be invited. The award is to a large extent by way of appreciation for the beloved characters that Topol has brought to stage and screen – among them Tevye the Dairyman and Sallah Shabati.
The prize will be awarded on Monday morning, February 11, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem.
■ THE CHOICE of Bar Refaeli as a cohost for the Eurovision Song Contest will go over well with the readers of Sports Illustrated, who have drooled over her photographs in sexy and skimpy swimwear. But what does it say about Israel’s moral values?
Refaeli is currently under investigation for alleged tax evasion of a mammoth seven-digit sum. She may also be charged with perjury for allegedly claiming that she had been living in the United States with her former significant other Leonardo DiCaprio during the period under review.
The investigation comes at time when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to hold his head above water during the reported conclusion of the investigations against him on a number of criminal charges and a constant stream of media reports that claim he is going to be indicted at some time in the very near future. Such reports have been circulating for more than two years, and Netanyahu has not yet been charged with anything. No wonder he calls it fake news.
■ AS FAR as Refaeli is concerned, this is not the first time that there has been some controversy with regard to her representing Israel. In November 2006, Isaac Herzog, who was then tourism minister, took a lot of flak for bringing Refaeli to London to represent Israel at the World Travel Market tourism fair. Many people in the tourism industry expressed doubts as to whether Refaeli, who avoided army service by entering into a fictitious marriage, was the right person to represent Israel. They said that she is hardly a role model. The same sentiment would apply if she’s found guilty of tax evasion. But Herzog thought differently, and said he was delighted that she had agreed to represent Israel in London. “Bar Refaeli is an Israeli brand name,” he argued.
■ TALK SHOW host and singer Kobi Oz was musing on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet over the extent to which robots are replacing humans in an increasingly robotic world. He was very pleased that something had gone awry with the system in an Asian hotel whose owners had opted to have it totally operated by robots. Oz acknowledged in conversation with an expert on robotics that while he appreciates some of the things that robots can do, unlike with a human being, you can’t appeal to a robot’s heart. He really worries about the inability to conduct spontaneous conversations with a robot.
His interlocutor told him that this bothered him only because he was a pre-millennium human being. The digital generation, she said, is not interested in emotion and sensitivity. All it wants is functionality. The reply caused Oz to wonder out loud whether a robot will eventually be accepted as the 10th man in a minyan (prayer quorum), or vice versa whether a human could be the 10th man in a robotic minyan.
Whoever is laughing should remember that yesterday’s science fiction is today’s reality.
■ HIS PATIENTS at Shaare Zedek Medical Center will be pleased to learn that Australian-born prizewinning specialist in humanistic medicine and palliative care Dr. Nathan Cherny, who is Shaare Zedek’s director of Cancer Pain and Palliative Medicine Service, has been named in the Australia Day honors list, and will be conferred as a Member of the Order of Australia in recognition of his significant service to medicine and to education in the fields of palliative care and medical oncology.
Cherny’s impressive CV is so long that it would fill a quarter of a page in this newspaper. Cherny, who left Australia 29 years ago but retained his citizenship and is now a dual national, is very touched by the fact that his contribution to medicine is recognized in the country of his birth. He hopes to be able to return there for the conferment ceremony and to share the excitement of the occasion with his father, brother, extended family and friends.
■ THE BIBLICAL Children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years before they reached the Promised Land. Jerusalem-based song writer Michael Graff, originally from South Africa, and singer David Herman, originally from England, have been searching in a wilderness of a different kind for the same period of time, in the hope of making contact with Jehan Sadat, the widow of assassinated president of Egypt Anwar Sadat. The reason they were looking for her was that they wanted to present her with a song, “Visit of the Dove,” written by Graff in honor of Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem, and sung by Herman. They recorded the song and put it on YouTube, but they didn’t know how to reach Jehan Sadat.
Anyone on the Egyptian desk in the Foreign Ministry could have told them, but for some odd reason they were unable to cross the threshold from hope to realization until recently, when they were made aware of the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland. It’s a pity that they did not find out a little sooner, because December 25, 2018, was not only Christmas Day, but the 100th anniversary of Anwar Sadat’s birth. Anyway, following correspondence with the right person at the University of Maryland, they were informed that Jehan Sadat had heard the song and liked it.
■ RIOTS IN the capital are forecast for this coming Sunday, February 3, when some of the Women of the Wall, who already irritate those Orthodox elements in the male kingdom who can’t bear the sight of a woman in a kippa and tallit (prayer shawl) or, worse still, reading the Torah out loud, plan to wrap the straps of tefillin (phylacteries) around their arms and their heads.
It’s not as if they haven’t done it before. In fact, this will be the fourth year in which they will participate in World Wide Wrap day. The Women of the Wall will join the international tefillin World Wide Wrap day for the fourth time, and this year will set up a tefillin stand for women, just as Chabad does for men, in some central area of Jerusalem, where they will antagonize fewer people than if they put up a stand in the Western Wall Plaza.
What’s interesting is that in expectation of a certain amount of opposition, the Women of the Wall began working on having a stand in the city under the previous administration and found themselves facing a brick wall, even though former mayor Nir Barkat is secular. They tried again when Orthodox Mayor Moshe Lion came into office and received the green light. Lion has already made it known that he has no intention of discriminating against women. But then again, he’s Sephardi, and in Sephardi communities, women often got a better deal than their Ashkenazi sisters. There’s plenty of Talmudic evidence to support a woman’s right to wrap tefillin, in addition to which Women of the Wall issued a statement saying that halachicly there is nothing wrong with women wearing a tallit or laying tefillin.
Their goal, they wrote, is to fight against the exclusion of women, and to empower them in their faith and in their presence in the public arena.