Grapevine, September 30, 2020: Democratic rights at odds

The movers and shakers of Israeli society.

RABBI YISROEL GOLDBERG outside Chabad of Rehavia, adjacent to the World Mizrachi building, seen in the background. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
RABBI YISROEL GOLDBERG outside Chabad of Rehavia, adjacent to the World Mizrachi building, seen in the background.
Anyone who believes in democracy also believes in the right to demonstrate and to protest against perceived injustice. But demonstrations should also have their limits. Just as there is a right to demonstrate in residential neighborhoods, the people living in those neighborhoods and paying municipal rates and taxes there are entitled to a respite.
While participants in demonstrations near the Prime Minister’s Residence are mostly non-Jerusalemites, hundreds, if not thousands, of residents in the capital suffer as a result. It’s not just the noise. It’s also the diversion and sometimes the temporary cancellation of regular bus routes from the late afternoon onward, whenever there is a mega demonstration such as those that are designed to remove Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from office. Demonstrators couldn’t let up even during the Ten Days of Repentance. Not a very Jewish attitude to be so inconsiderate of people who live within a 2-kilometer radius of Netanyahu’s official residence, and more recently of the neighbors of his private residence in Caesarea.
There are many ways to unseat a prime minister. One is through legislation that limits the number of consecutive terms that a prime minister can serve; another is at the ballot box. Political pundits see little likelihood of the present government remaining in office for much longer. If their assessment is correct, it means elections with the possibility of a new administration. The demonstrators would do better to campaign in that direction, than to continue disturbing the peace of innocent householders.
Demonstrations are one thing and squatter’s rights are another. On Yom Kippur itself, several demonstrators brought their children to be with them and spread out along the street around the corner from the Prime Minister’s Residence, hoisting large national flags at distances of approximately a meter apart.
■ MEDIA OUTLETS are competing with one another in their efforts to convey the message that Netanyahu is unfit to be prime minister. Currently leading the field is Haaretz, which last Friday published a massive excerpt from a session of Netanyahu’s interrogation by police in connection with the alleged crimes for which he has been indicted. The information had apparently been leaked to Gidi Weitz, whose byline appeared on the story.
Curiously, Weitz, in his description of the room in the Prime Minister’s Residence in which Netanyahu was questioned, mentions the presence of a paper shredder. During the interrogation, Netanyahu wrote notes to himself, which the police reportedly asked him to shred. If those notes were so classified as to require destruction, how did Weitz get hold of the transcript?
■ SEVERAL PUBLIC figures have been castigated by traditional and social media for ignoring Health Ministry guidelines and failing to set an example. A praiseworthy exception in this respect is Minister-without-Portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi, who recently married off his son Matan. Guests at the wedding of Matan and Sara Hanegbi, held in the garden of the Mevaseret Zion home of the minister and his wife, Randy, were close relatives from both sides, with the exception of the officiating rabbi. The total number of people who gathered to celebrate the joyful event was 20.
■ ON THE subject of weddings, Israel Moskowitz, Yediot Aharonot’s correspondent in the North, has a knack for finding heartwarming human-interest stories, such as that of the wedding of Yaakov and Galina Baranov of Nof Hagalil, which until last year was known as Upper Nazareth or Nazareth Illit. The groom is 70 and the bride 65. It’s a second marriage for both, but not one that can be attributed to love that blooms in the third age. Galina was born Jewish, Yaakov was not. Originally from Moldova, they married in a civil ceremony in Kishinev in 1974, and came to Israel 24 years ago.
Because of Galina, their children are, of course, Jewish, as are their eight Sabra grandchildren. For many years, Yaakov wanted to convert to Judaism, but simply didn’t find the time for study, because he was too busy working to provide for his family. Whenever he could relax, he read up on Jewish subjects. As his 70th birthday loomed on the horizon, he decided that the time had come to fully embrace the Jewish faith. Most of all, he wanted a proper Jewish wedding.
A year ago, the family approached Elana Raz, who teaches Judaism for conversion purposes. When the non-Jewish partner in a married couple undergoes the conversion process, the rule is that the Jewish spouse must also take the same study course. Galina and Yaakov studied together. He was duly circumcised and entered into the covenant of Abraham.
At the wedding ceremony, Galina wore a long bridal gown and veil, and carried a bouquet of pale pastel roses. Yaakov, with a kippah on his head, a prayer shawl draped over his shoulders, and the strings of tzitzit (ritual fringes worn on a garment) hanging by his side, took great joy in stamping on the glass and hearing cries of mazal tov, as it shattered. City mayor Ronen Plot, who is a former director-general of the Knesset, said that Yaakov, in his desire to convert to Judaism, represented the strength of willpower in overcoming all obstacles in the realization of dreams.
■ ANOTHER DELIGHTFUL wedding item in Yediot was about the reenactment of the wedding of Yoki and Yoram Dvir, who were married on October 19, 1973, five days before the end of the Yom Kippur War. Yoram was an officer in the navy, and Yoki (Yael) was called up to serve in the reserves of the Israel Air Force. Their improvised wedding took place on the deck of a boat in Sharm e-Sheikh while the war was still raging. The bride was placed in a rubber dinghy as comrades in arms hoisted it on their shoulders and lowered it on the deck of the boat, where the impromptu wedding ceremony took place. It was subsequently reported in the international media, where it was headlined “the wedding of the war.” The boat was the INS Bat Sheva. As part of Yediot’s Yom Kippur War anniversary supplement, the couple were taken back to where they got married, to reconstruct the wedding with a much younger group of soldiers.
The wedding itself had come as a complete surprise to both. Their original wedding plans had been disrupted by the outbreak of the war. As both were serving in different branches of the armed forces, they did not see each other, nor had there been any contact between them since the start of hostilities on October 6. On October 19, Yoki flew to Sharm for a chance to spend a little time with Yoram. When she arrived at the naval base, she was told that Yoram was at sea and would be back in a couple of hours. She started asking everyone present about Yoram, to savor every possible piece of information. Suddenly she heard over the loudspeaker “A wedding on board the Bat Sheva in an hour.” Yoki was instructed to board the dinghy, which was then moved to the deck of the Bat Sheva, where Yoram was waiting. Their families knew nothing about the wedding till afterward. Yoram telephoned his parents to tell them, and Yoki telephoned hers. Later, the families saw the wedding on television.
■ NOW THAT President Reuven Rivlin has only nine months left in which to complete his term, would-be successors are beginning to line up, among them former MK Yehudah Glick, as reported in Zman Yisrael by veteran political journalist Shalom Yerushalmi. Although the American-born Glick is a highly controversial figure, especially in view of his activities with regard to the Temple Mount, he came to the conclusion on Rosh Hashanah that he can be a unifying force for the nation. He yearns for the day when Israel can once more be a nation of solidarity.
The release of previously classified material about the Yom Kippur War proves that Israeli solidarity is a myth that some politicians and the IDF like to perpetuate. It’s always been two Jews, three opinions. It’s true that in wartime, there is a greater move toward solidarity due to the existential threat posed by war, but afterward that solidarity evaporates.
Other names that have been bounced in the presidential ring include those of Yuli Edelstein, Isaac Herzog, Miriam Peretz, Amir Peretz and Shimon Shetreet. Only Amir Peretz and Shetreet have actually announced their candidature. The others, with the possible exception of Glick, are taking a wait-and-see attitude.
Running for president can be an extremely humbling experience, as Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Dan Shechtman and former Supreme Court judge Dalia Dorner discovered during the last presidential elections, in which Rivlin received 44 votes, Meir Sheetrit 31, Dalia Itzik, who was the first and only woman to serve as Knesset speaker, 28, Dorner 13, and Shechtman 1. Of the votes cast, two were invalid. There had been another popular candidate who had a very good chance of beating Rivlin, but Binyamin Ben-Eliezer withdrew four days prior to the election, when it was announced that he was under police investigation. Ben-Eliezer, who was very ill at the time, died in August 2016.
■ THE STRICTURES imposed by extreme elements in ultra-Orthodox society tend to reflect on ultra-Orthodox communities as a whole, which is grossly unfair. For instance in Beit Shemesh, as initially reported in Israel Hayom, there is strong opposition coming from the ultra-Orthodox ranks in the city council to having streets named after women, this despite the fact that the current mayor of Beit Shemesh is a woman – Dr. Aliza Bloch – who also happens to be Orthodox. The compromise solution is to have only surnames in prominent letters on street signs, with the full name in tiny letters at the base of the street sign.
The fact that the ultra-Orthodox won’t allow women’s faces into their publications, and have vandalized commercial posters featuring women, has been a long-standing tradition that secular elements don’t understand, especially in view of the fact that women are permitted to write in ultra-Orthodox publications on condition that they use only the initial of their first names. Happily, in some ultra-Orthodox circles, there are publications for women in which the writers can use their full names.
It’s difficult to comprehend ultra-Orthodox attitudes to women’s names, considering that the halachic identity of all Jews is dependent on their mothers, and that the matriarchs of the Jewish faith – Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah are mentioned in regular prayer services.
Of course, if a street in Israel is named after American Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Beit Shemesh compromise agreement will take on a new level in that she was generally known by her initials, RBG.
■ POLITICS OF one kind or another infringe on almost everything in Israel, including street names. In Jerusalem, an attempt last year to rename Hakablan Street in the Har Nof neighborhood after former Sephardi chief rabbi and Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef raised such a storm of protest, led by the family of Yitzhak Abud Levy, the modest real estate developer who had built the street, that the idea was shelved. Instead, the neighborhood was renamed Neot Yosef in memory of both Yosef and Rabbi Yosef Shalem Elyashiv. Both were considered among the greatest of interpreters of Jewish law.
Streets, not only in Jerusalem but in many parts of Israel, are named after people or events unknown to most of the general public, while many requests for streets to be named after prominent personalities or events are rejected. It’s hard to understand why, except when it comes to that very useful Hebrew word protekzia, which is a hybrid of English and several other languages.
But protekzia doesn’t always work. At its most recent meeting this month, the Jerusalem Municipality’s street-naming committee, which is headed by Mayor Moshe Lion, rejected the request by Rabbi Benny Lau, a former member of the committee, to name a street 929 in honor of the Bible study program that he founded together with journalist Gal Gabai.
Among the street names that were approved is that of Georgia (the country, not the US state), mainly in recognition of the fact that even after Israel went into viral mode, Georgian Ambassador Lasha Zhvania not only hosted a Georgian Independence Day reception in May, but for the first time hosted it in Jerusalem’s Old City, with the participation of the mayor and Rafi Peretz, the Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage minister. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post a year ago, Zhvania said that in time the Georgian Embassy would move to Jerusalem.
There has been Georgian presence in the city for more than a thousand years. The most famous of these Georgians was Shota Rustaveli, a Georgian prince and Georgia’s national poet, who arrived at the Monastery of the Cross in the late 12th century and, while resident there, wrote his famous masterpiece “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin.”
■ THERE WERE so many radio, television and newspaper comments that this Yom Kippur was different from any other, that it was almost like listening to Ma Nishtana on Seder night. For people who have engaged in outdoor daily and Sabbath prayers over the past six months and more, it was no big deal, but for many who were first-time congregants in parks, neighborhood streets, squares common to several neighboring residential complexes, and main streets, it was certainly a memorable experience.
In Jerusalem Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg, the director of Chabad of Rehavia, organized a Kol Nidre service in the car park at the entrance to World Mizrachi headquarters on King George Avenue, which is one of the capital’s main thoroughfares.
Normally, when people are in synagogue, they are unaware of what goes on in the street outside. They may hear the occasional ambulance siren, but that’s usually the extent to which the world outside penetrates the synagogue walls.
On Rosh Hashanah, Goldberg used the plaza of the Great Synagogue, which is adjacent to the Mizrachi building, but on Yom Kippur the plaza was taken over by the members of the Sephardi synagogue located on the ground floor of the Great Synagogue.
Goldberg who switches seamlessly from English to Hebrew and back, emphasized, in one of his many short sermons, that the Lubavitcher Rebbe taught of the importance of loving all Jews whether they are religiously observant or not, stating that all are equal. The congregants faced the street, where they saw joggers, bicyclists, motorcyclists, ambulances, police cars, dog walkers and couples and individuals taking an evening stroll. People who may have had no intention of joining a service stopped in the middle of the road to listen, and Goldberg went out to offer them seats and prayer books from the bookcase on wheels.
Afterward, as congregants made their way home, they passed members of United Synagogue Youth sitting in a circle on the ground at the intersection of France Square, Agron and Keren Hayesod streets and King George Avenue, singing Hebrew songs. This has long been a Kol Nidre night tradition. This time they sat in two circles at socially distant angles from one another. As always people coming from ultra-Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Conservative and Reform services in all directions came to listen. The USY kids and all the congregants in Goldberg’s service wore masks, and wore them properly.
On Monday, speaking with the speed of a professional auctioneer, Goldberg bilingually auctioned off maftir Yona for NIS 7,000. During prayers for the sick, he came into the women’s section to receive and deliver individual requests for prayers for loved ones who are unwell.
Both on Kol Nidre night and during the day on Monday, most of the congregants were young people, many of them Americans studying in Israel. At Yizkor on Monday, three-quarters of the congregation left during the memorial prayers. Whoever is worried about Jewish continuity would have been reassured by this temporary exodus, because in normal times, when Yizkor services are held in synagogues, people in the 40-90 age group are the majority.
The prayer service in Sokolow Park that was organized by Rabbi Eli and Chana Canterman, directors of Chabad of Talbiyeh, had an attendance on Yom Kippur even greater than on Rosh Hashanah. A lot of married women did not cover their heads, and although there was gender separation, toward the back of the park several women sat right next to the men’s section without any barrier between them.
One of the conveniences of a service in the park is the ability to move not only oneself but one’s seat. In a synagogue, one can sit where one finds a vacant seat, but in the park people moved their chairs to wherever they wanted to sit. Another park perk is that unlike a synagogue, where mothers of babies and very young infants have to stay in the synagogue foyer so that the youngsters don’t disturb the congregation, in the park lots of mothers with baby carriages and strollers could participate in the service while having their children next to them.
Here, too, there were a lot of young people, but just as many, if not more, older people, and several lowered their masks below their chins.
■ THE APPOINTMENTS Committee at the Foreign Ministry last week appointed Eitan Sorkis as ambassador to Jordan. This will be his second posting to Jordan. He previously served as deputy chief of mission. He is currently the ministry’s special envoy on water issues in the Middle East.
The committee also appointed Dr. Yaakov Livne, who for several years has headed the Eurasian division at the ministry, to serve as ambassador to Poland, filling the void left by veteran diplomat Alexander Ben Zvi, who was transferred from Warsaw to Moscow, after serving as ambassador to Poland for just under 12 months. He took up his posting in September 2019, but in view of the fact that there had been no Israel ambassador to Russia for the best part of a year, it was thought that Ben Zvi, who was born in Ukraine and is fluent in both Russian and Polish, would be the ideal person to serve as ambassador in Russia.
Sorkis and Livne will be able to take up their new posts after their appointments are ratified by the government.
■ ORDINARILY, GERMAN Ambassador Dr. Susanne Wasum-Rainer would be hosting a gala reception to mark the 30th anniversary of the reunification of Germany, which officially falls on October 3. The reception would not be held on the actual date, which is on Saturday, and which also coincides with Sukkot, but it would probably surpass the magnificent event that she hosted last year at Kibbutz Glil Yam, which in recent years has become a popular venue for German national day receptions.
The catering at the kibbutz is kosher, which means that all the guests can partake of refreshments; but to make doubly sure, the German Embassy last year ordered a buffet table with packaged glatt kosher meals such as those served on airlines. The majority of embassies invite Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox rabbis and laypeople to their receptions, but either don’t bother with kashrut or don’t make proper kashrut provision, though some embassies solve the dietary laws problem by holding their reception in a hotel.
Even though the German reception will be virtual, it will nonetheless be delayed till Thursday, October 15, and will be held in cooperation with the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Transport, Agriculture and Viniculture of Rheinland Pfalz. In addition to being shown on Zoom, the event will also be streamlined on Facebook, meaning that many people who would not necessarily be among the invitees will have the opportunity to participate.
Among other countries celebrating national days in October are Cyprus, the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, Uganda, Fiji, Equatorial Guinea, Azerbaijan, Hungary, Zambia and Austria. Not all these countries have resident ambassadors in Israel, and not all those that do, host annual national day receptions, but China always has a lavish reception with impressive examples of Chinese culture. Taiwan does the same on a somewhat smaller scale; and Hungary and Austria also host receptions, though that appears to be unlikely this year.
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