Grapevine September 4, 2020: A bird of a different feather

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu explains what a virus is to first graders in the West Bank settlement of Mevo Horon. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu explains what a virus is to first graders in the West Bank settlement of Mevo Horon.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Yiddish word for goose is gantz. To be honest, Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz was somewhat of a political goose until he underwent back surgery last month for a herniated disc that dates back to his army days. For more than 20 years, Gantz was in constant pain, but did very little about it until he began to find it difficult to walk and to breathe. His physician told him that his condition demanded immediate, complex surgery. The operation was a success and Gantz emerged a new man in more ways than one. The tiredness that he wore on his face like a mask has disappeared. His oratory has improved both in style and in content, and he walks with a spirited step. He’s also hitting back against those who slight him. The goose may yet become a swan, or better still an eagle.
■ THERE ARE so many historical events and anniversaries filling the calendars of the world that it is impossible to keep pace. Thus, when commemorating anniversaries, we tend to stick to milestone numbers, with occasional exceptions, depending on the traditions and dominant faiths of the countries in which we live. For many Jews around the world, especially those of Polish extraction, and for Poles in the various countries in which they find themselves. September 1 is a significant date, and is commemorated not once in five or 10 years, but every year, as is the April 19 uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto. September 1, 1939, was the date on which Germany invaded Poland. No other country suffered as many casualties as Poland, which was invaded not only by Germany, but also by Russia. Worse still, Auschwitz, the most notorious of the Nazi death camps, was built by the Germans on Polish soil, as a result of which the Poles have spent more than seven decades urging the world not to call it a Polish death camp, but to call it what it was, a Nazi death camp in occupied Poland. On September 1, KAN 11’s Yoav Krakovsky hosted a special program on Reshet Bet, in which he presented not only the Jewish aspect of the war in which more than 60 million people lost their lives, but also how the war was perceived in different countries. Krakovsky interviewed the ambassadors of Poland, Russia, Germany and Britain, along with former US ambassador Dan Shapiro, but gave the most air time to Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski, and not just because the ambassador speaks fluent Hebrew.
■ WHETHER IT was coincidence or deliberately planned may be revealed at some future date, that it was also on September 1, Israel’s national carrier El Al, emblazoned with the word “Peace” in English, Hebrew and Arabic, made its maiden flight to Abu Dhabi flying over Saudi air space. If ever there was a symbol of Jewish resilience and the ability to rise like a phoenix out of the ashes, it’s El Al, which has been closely interwoven with some of the great historical achievements of the state. Only a few weeks ago, there was talk of El Al being permanently grounded and going out of business. Thousands of people at all levels of airline service were about to lose their jobs. And then came the announcement of the Abraham Accords, and all the prosperity that this and anticipated relationships with other Arab countries would bring to Israel and the region as whole, and El Al was again able to spread its wings. Not only that, but it was able to provide appropriate souvenirs for the passengers on that historic flight
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For flight captain Tal Becker, it was by his own admission, the most exciting flight he’s ever flown. When addressing passengers over the plane’s loud speaker system, and declaring that “this is another significant event in our history,” Becker, a pilot with 45 years’ experience, that includes 25 years of flying in civil aircraft, was referring not only to the history of Israel, but the history of El Al. Becker is the senior captain of El Al’s 737 fleet, and hadn’t flown for several months. He never imagined that he would one day fly a plane to Abu Dhabi. The order came out of the blue, and it was the best way to celebrate being back in the clouds.
■ MANY OF the overseas volunteers for the IDF don’t think beyond the period that they will be spending in the army. Some say that after army service they will decide whether or not they want to remain in Israel. Others say that they will return to their home countries to embark on university studies and will later decide on their futures, and some are simply willing to go with the flow. According to Jewish tradition, marriages are made in heaven as a newborn baby enters the world. It doesn’t matter what barriers may stand between the bride and groom, if they are meant to marry, they will.
Few of the lone soldiers who come to Israel expect to marry here. Nonetheless, some do
That was the case for Dean Unterslak and Shachar Peleg, who were married at the Bet Yisrael Synagogue in Jerusalem’s Yemin Moshe on August 30. The bride, originally from Dallas, Texas, has just completed her army service. The groom is a former lone soldier from Johannesburg, South Africa, who is now studying to be a tour guide in Israel. They met around Purim at the Michael Levin Base, where food packages were being distributed to lone soldiers. The new base, a drop-in center near Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market, is a home away from home for lone soldiers and young women engaged in civilian national service from all over the world. It is named for Philadelphia-born lone soldier Michael Levin, who was killed during active duty in 2006.
At the base, there was an instant click between Peleg and Unterslak, and after talking for a while, they agreed to meet again. They realized they had similar religious-Zionist ideals, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. They were soon engaged, and began making wedding plans that were derailed when their caterer in Binyamina contacted coronavirus. The staff, volunteers and donors at The Michael Levin Base quickly came to the rescue, with total support, to re-organize the wedding in Jerusalem. “They helped us with everything like you wouldn’t believe,” said the groom. A shabbat hatan and sheva brachot were also organized through the center. Friends of the couple came to the wedding, but the groom’s parents – Shaun and Belinda in Johannesburg – and the bride’s parents – Gonen and Inbar in Dallas – were stuck in their respective cities, and had to rely on Zoom. However the groom’s brother Ryan, who lives in Israel, was present to represent the family.
Shachar Unterslak plans to study nursing at Machon Tal in Jerusalem, and Dean will be pursuing his tour guiding career and will continue, as he has done for years, to volunteer to help lone soldiers. Fortunately, they live very close to The Michael Levin Base, which makes it convenient for them to volunteer there regularly.
Neither dreamed that they would come to Israel and marry another lone soldier.
■ BETWEEN SECURITY and coronavirus consultations, meetings with Israeli officials and visiting dignitaries, phone calls to world leaders and Zoom time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fulfilled an annual obligation on the first day of school, to visit with first graders and say “Shalom Kita Aleph.” When speaking to students at the Netaim School in Mevo Horon in the Binyamin region of the West Bank, Netanyahu appeared to be in his element. It’s when he’s with little kids that one gets a glimpse of the real Bibi. Children of that age don’t know what it means to be politically correct, and if they have any tricks or shticks, they are usually confined to crying in order to get attention. Netanyahu can be honest with them, because they are honest with him. Among the subjects they discussed were coronavirus, and the prime minister explained to them that a virus “is like a very, tiny bug that you can’t see but if we are not careful, it will pass from one to the other.” That was the reason that they had to obey the rules and wear a mask, he told them, before putting his own mask back on.
Social media-wise, Netanyahu’s upcoming schedule includes a memorial tribute to Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz on Tuesday and the annual gala of Friends of the IDF on September 13. Other participants in the Steinsaltz memorial event include Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former US sen. Joe Lieberman, American novelist and professor of literature Dara Horn, award-winning actress Mayim Bialik and Steinsaltz’s son Rabbi Meni Even-Israel.
The event, which will be held at 8 p.m. EST, will be accessible on www.steinsaltz-center.org
Netanyahu will also participate in a Hebrew tribute event on Monday at 8 p.m. Israel time, accessible via the same web address.
Ordinarily, the national gala of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces is held in New York, but this year, because it will be a virtual gala, it will be the largest ever in America’s philanthropic community, and will also enable the participation of the global FIDF. The event, under the title of “A Night of Heroes,” will begin at 7 p.m. EDT. Hosts are FIDF National Chairman Rabbi Peter Weintraub and Israel actress and model Moran Atias.
Registration for the event the event is at https://www.fidf.org/events/2020-national-gala
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