Grapevine September 18, 2020: Crisis in confidence

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Yehoram Gaon, Yuval Steinitz, Amotz Asa-El, Dov Eichenwald and Isaac Herzog. (photo credit: Courtesy)
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Yehoram Gaon, Yuval Steinitz, Amotz Asa-El, Dov Eichenwald and Isaac Herzog.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Long before the coronavirus crisis, President Reuven Rivlin advocated the need to rebuild public confidence in state institutions. The erosion of confidence appeared annually in the democracy index reports presented to Rivlin by the Israel Democracy Institute.
In a pre-Rosh Hashanah address to the nation on Wednesday night, Rivlin devoted much of his speech to the need to restore public confidence in the national leadership. Although he had previously apologized for setting a bad example on Seder night, he apologized again on both a personal and a national level. But for all that, Rivlin has continued to ignore the warnings and requests of medical experts, who have urged senior citizens to stay home and have repeatedly stated that people over the age of 60 are in the high risk age group for potential infection. But Rivlin, who this month celebrated his 81st birthday, has not stayed at home, and chances are that even during lockdown he will find a reason to give his moral support to a group or individual.
Earlier in the day on Wednesday, he visited the IDF’s Gaza Division. On Tuesday, Rivlin was in Tel Aviv to honor 120 outstanding soldiers. Earlier in the month, Rivlin went to Petah Tikva to pay a condolence call to the family of Rabbi Shai Ohayon, who had been the victim of a terrorist attack. Before that, he’d been at the Gesher elementary school in Beit Shemesh. In recent weeks, he’s also been to the Home Front Command in Tel Aviv and to the BenIsh Hayil Talmud Torah in Rehovot. Rivlin has also hosted some of his grandchildren, which is another no-no for people in his age group.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is another person in the category of “Do as I say, not as I do.” After stressing time and again how important it was to wear a face mask, Netanyahu, in deference to his host, dispensed with his mask while in Washington, though members of his delegation continued to wear theirs.
As heads of state and government, Rivlin and Netanyahu are exempt from some of the rules that apply to the rest of us – but wouldn’t it be nice and a true sign of leadership if they opted to observe the rules and remained at home in solidarity with their generational peers?
Another senior citizen who refused to stay home is actress Lia Koeniug, 90, the queen of the Israeli stage, who has been giving private performances in people’s homes while not wearing a mask or adhering to social distancing.
IT WASN’T Seder night. In fact it was a few days before Rosh Hashanah, but the five men sitting around the table and endlessly arguing the issues of the day could easily be compared to Eliezer ben Azaria, Rabbi Tarfon, Eliezer ben Hyrkanos, Yehoshua ben Hananya and Rabbi Akiva – who are mentioned in the Haggadah as having sat all night discussing the miracles of the Exodus until a student came at dawn to tell them it was time for Kriyat Shema.
The latter day sages were Dov Eichenwald, the CEO of Yediot Books, who hosted the discussion at his home in Givat Shmuel near Bnei Brak; Jerusalem Post columnist Amotz Asa-El, who authored the best-selling book on the political history of the Jewish people The Jewish March of Folly; singer, actor, television and radio host and author Yehoram Gaon; Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog , who is also a published author and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is also a published author and before entering politics was a university lecturer in philosophy.
All five are politically savvy and intellectually bright, so any fly on the wall would have derived an instant education. According to Eichenwald, their intensive discussion could have produced another chapter for Asa-El’s book.
COMPETING WITH history as it is being made, is an almost hopeless situation. These days, television channels are having a hard time competing with movies that are being streamed and talking head events on social media, when the talking heads belong to famous people. As yet, organizers of social media events haven’t worked out how to coordinate their calendars, so instead of complementing each other, they rival each other.
That’s what happened last Tuesday night when former Prisoner of Zion, politician and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky and Jerusalem Post columnist Gil Troy appeared under the auspices of Beit Avi Chai at the same time as a discussion on Israel and the Diaspora between Gusti Yehoshua Braverman, the outgoing head of the Diaspora Affairs Department of the World Zionist Organization, and Danni Dayan, who recently completed his tenure as Israel consul-general in New York. The two organizations were not only competing with each other, but also with the historic peace event taking place at the White House in Washington.
Somehow, regardless of what anyone thinks about Netanyahu, many Israelis were glued to their television sets for the best part of an hour. Other than when he mentioned his Democratic rival Joe Biden, US President Donald Trump was entirely statesmanlike, and appealingly gracious.
Not much earlier in the day, Rivlin hosted the annual Rosh Hashanah reception for foreign diplomats, with chairs placed at a suitable distance from each other, unlike the chairs on the White House lawns, which left no room for social distancing. Among the guests were quite a large number of men sporting black kippot, who after the ceremony gathered on the lawn of the White House for a Mincha service.
IF HE were alive, Sigmund Freud would surely say of Yair Netanyahu that he hates his father. Yair’s malicious social media posts have more than once embarrassed the prime minister, but the tweet from Washington in which he supported Amiram Ben Uliel, who was given three life sentences for the killing in 2015 of three members of the Dawabsha family – including 18-month-old Ali, was truly beneath contempt under any circumstances, but particularly at a time when the prime minister was signing a peace agreement with two Arab countries..
Yair retweeted a crowdfunding appeal for legal aid for Ben Uliel, who wants to appeal his sentence.
FEW THINGS can equal music in bringing people closer together. It’s not just an appreciative audience, but the number of people involved in putting out a single disc as in the case of Stay, a beautifully haunting song written by Australian immigrant Sara Hecht, which is due for release on September 22. The performing musicians are a blend of native Israelis and immigrants, including cellist Esther Valladares, who is originally from Honduras and plays with the Israel Camerata Jerusalem, and Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra violinist Ksenia Kozodoi, who came to Israel from Ukraine. The producer is Jerusalem-born musical producer and musician Adi Hayat, who has performed internationally, and has accompanied world famous singers such as Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli. Hecht, 36, made aliyah six years ago, lives in Jerusalem, and is a freelance writer, composer and singer.
The song is a powerful expression of love and hope, with an emotional undercurrent, which many people will find familiar, and with which they can readily identify.
MANY OF her friends and acquaintances who had not been privy to her decision to step down, were shocked on Wednesday when they received the announcement of the new title of Amanda Weiss, the long-standing director of the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. Weiss is now director emeritus, after being involved for more than three decades with the setting up and directing of the museum that was established by her mother and step-father Batya and the late Elie Borowski, whose vision it was to create an educational and cultural institution based on the study of human history and its development in the lands of the Bible.
Over the years, Elie Borowski, whose insatiable quest for knowledge led him to amass a unique collection of Biblical-era Near East art and artifacts, which in the course of time became a traveling exhibition that was displayed extensively in Europe and in Canada, where he lived.
In 1981, Borowski came to Jerusalem for a prestigious art exhibition. New Yorker Batya Weiss was also at the exhibition and they met in the elevator of the King David Hotel. He told her about his collection and his dream for building an institution for it in Canada. She immediately said: “No way. This collection belongs in Jerusalem.” They argued. She won the argument, and they married a year later.
They shared the dream with Jerusalem’s legendary mayor Teddy Kollek, who made land available directly opposite the Israel Museum – and the rest is history. The Bible Lands Museum, with local and overseas groups of supporters, is a permanent fixture on Israel’s cultural scene , and is one of the great tourist attractions of Jerusalem.
The museum officially opened in May, 1992. Right from the start, long before the opening, Batya Borowski brought in her efficient, erudite and eloquent daughter Amanda, who in addition to her management skills and her ability to absorb information, is also a convincing public speaker.
As a member of the museum’s founding family, Weiss, like her mother, will remain on the Board of Directors of the museum, and will be involved in the museum’s activities, but is handing over the director’s reins to Yonit Kolb, who was actually appointed in July. Kolb was previously director of the Museum of Italian Jewish Art, and before that was CEO of the Neve Schechter Art and Culture Gallery.
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