Grapevine September 25, 2021: In their fathers’ footsteps

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG with Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG with Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)

It is customary for the president of Israel to visit the Sephardi and Ashkenazi chief rabbis – each in his sukkah – during Sukkot. This year, there was a slight difference from previous years in that the president is the son of a former president, and each of the chief rabbis is the son of a former chief rabbi. President Isaac Herzog’s father, Chaim Herzog, served as president from 1983 to 1993. Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef is the son of former sephardi chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who served from 1973-1983, and later went on to found the Shas Party. Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau is the son of famed orator and child Holocaust survivor Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who served as from 1993 to 2003, and who is still in great demand as an orator and as a commentator on religious affairs and Holocaust-related subjects.

If there is any brinkmanship related to the presidential visits to the chief rabbis, it’s that Herzog is the grandson of the first chief rabbi of the State of Israel. On the other hand, after serving seven years in office, he must step down. Unlike his father, he cannot serve ten years, due to a change in the law, but the chief rabbis are still permitted to serve for 10 years, and still have just under two years to go before completing their service. While visiting each rabbi, Herzog met members of their families and some of their neighbors, and discussed aspects of Torah.

■ IN TSARIST times, ultra-Orthodox Jews inflicted physical damage upon themselves to escape being drafted into the Russian army, or simply ran away, it wasn’t so much that they feared the hardships military service as such, but that they and their families were afraid that being away from home for many years would erode their observance of Jewish law, and eventually rob them of their Jewish identity. In too many cases, where young Jews were unable to evade the army, such fears were realized. While many might excuse the avoidance of ultra-Orthodox Jews to serve in the Tsarist army, and later the Red Army (which proved to be more difficult), there are fewer excuses for them to evade service in the IDF, and fewer still for them to violate regulations in Israel and other countries on issues related to the spread of virus infections, which have resulted in so many fatalities around the world. Not only are such a people a danger to themselves, their families, their communities and whichever human environment in which they move, but they also indirectly incite antisemitism, because their flouting of the rules leads to media attention, which in turn leads to reactions on social media platforms and subsequently to antisemitic incidents – some of them extremely violent.

Among the places where this has been seen is Australia, where photographs of mounted police in neighborhoods with large haredi communities have been published in the general press and shown on television.

Philip Dalidakis, a former minister in the Victorian state government, who has a Greek father and a Jewish mother, and regards himself as Jewish, wrote the following on Plus 61J Media, an online news service that covers Australia, Israel and the Jewish World: “The growing sentiment among some people in our community that we are being unfairly singled out and targeted as a community is simply wrong.

“They have implied and, in some cases alleged outright that somehow, Victoria Police are antisemitic because they are doing their job. These attacks are offensive, to the men and women who risk their lives for us as much as to those of us who have genuinely suffered antisemitism personally.

“We are not being singled out. We are not being targeted. And no, we do not deserve a special exemption to do something which others cannot do.

“Our rabbis, perhaps driven by this pressure, were wrong to ask the Victorian Government for an exemption to health restrictions for Yom Kippur. And the Victorian Government was right to say no to them.”

The article was headlined: “Australia has given Jews so much: it asks one thing in return – obey the law.”

To anyone who may be wondering about the number in the publication’s title – +61 is the country calling code for Australia.

■ WHILE ISRAELIS are interested in what Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has to say this week in his address to the UN General Assembly, American Jews are no less interested in what he will say to the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America on October 3. In his address to the UN, Bennett is expected to focus on national security issues, whereas in his address to the GA, he will not only speak about the challenges facing Israel, but also about the relationship between the Jewish state and North American Jewry. It should be remembered that Bennett is the son of American immigrants, held US citizenship before he became an MK, worked for several years in hi-tech in the US and is a former Diaspora affairs minister, so he has a greater sense of familiarity with the subject than other members of his government, regardless of how much time some of them have spent in the US. He won’t be making a speech on the subject, but will be engaged in conversation about it with JFNA Chair Mark Wilf.

Bennett will also address the rising tide of antisemitism in the US and the Diaspora in general

The streaming event, which can be accessed free of charge, will also include prominent US politicians from both parties and a performance by Eurovision star Eden Alene.

The General Assembly, each year brings Jews from around the world together to address the most important issues facing their communities, in the belief that thinking and working together, not only contributes to Jewish unity, but also to solutions to common Jewish community problems.

Registration details are available on the Jewish Federations of North America website.

■ AMONG THE young men and women who are currently doing civilian national service is Nitzan Abecassis, daughter of MK Orly Levy-Abecassis and the granddaughter of David Levy, who has 12 children, 70 grandchildren and many great grandchildren.

Nitzan, 18, opted for civilian national service not only for religious reasons, but because she wants a career in medicine. During her service, she is working with coronavirus patients. On a family level, she is very impressed by the achievements of her grandfather and her mother, who have done for others more than most people realize, and is particularly proud of her grandfather who rose from being a manual laborer to a three-times foreign minister.

While she enjoyed accompanying her mother to the Knesset, and helped in her election campaign, she has no political ambitions for herself, and says that it takes too much out of a person. She also suffered, as did other members of her family, especially her seven-year-old brother, when people who were opposed to her mother demonstrated outside their home and even threw a hand grenade into the garden.

■ DREAME, the founder of the Big Dream, the UK Embassy in Israel, the Embassy of Nepal, the Ramon Foundation, the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, ZAZ10TS, the EMIS school and the Malchut Production House and Creative Agency last week joined forces to celebrate International Peace Day at a trilingual event – English, Hebrew and Arabic – at which views were shared in discussions, meditation, music and art. The event took place at the Peres Center in Jaffa where participants of different ethnic, national and religious backgrounds expressed their thoughts about a sustainable regional peace, which was the common dream, of adults and youth.

The event initiated by Sharonna Karni Cohen, cofounder of Big Dream, and Lotte Beilin, cofounder of Malchut Productions was held in a large sukkah built from recycled materials. The sukkah was decorated with numerous works of art reflecting individual, community and national dreams.

On February 2, this collective artwork will be projected at locations such as ZAZ10TS Gallery in Times Square, New York, the Peres Center, the Old Royal Naval College in London; and as a result of collaboration with the Ramon Foundation, on the International Space Station as part of the “Sky” mission in which Israeli astronaut Eytan Stibbe is participating.

Peres Center Director-General Efrat Duvdevani said “Peres used to tell the younger generation to dare, to imagine, to think outside the box and always dream big. Shimon Peres and Ilan Ramon shared a common dream to dare and break the boundaries of the Earth... They inspired us to be optimistic, to dream big, and see innovation as a tool for a better world. It is an honor for us to take part in this unique project.”

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