Grapevine: Stonewalled

The 25th annual B’nai B’rith World Center Award for Journalism recognizing excellence in reportage on Diaspora Jewry.

The Western Wall in Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Western Wall in Jerusalem
At the 25th annual B’nai B’rith World Center Award for Journalism recognizing excellence in reportage on Diaspora Jewry and its ties with Israel, Ynet Jewish World Editor Yaniv Pohoryles was commended for the diversity of his reports, ranging from the humorous and curious to serious, in-depth issues.
David Broza, who received a special citation for fostering Israel-Diaspora relations through the arts, said that he didn’t come with a prepared speech, because his thing is to sing and not to talk. He then delivered a moving extemporaneous address, in which he said that his contact with Diaspora Jews began in Jerusalem in 1967, when he was asked to sing for youth groups such as Young Judaea. He still meets such groups in Israel and around the world. “It’s important to maintain contact, even though it’s difficult,” he said.
Keynote speaker at the event was US Ambassador David Friedman, who, as it turns out, is a longtime fan of Broza, and hoped that he would sing “Mitahat Lashamayim” (Beneath the Sky). Broza had intended to sing it anyway, and Friedman obviously relished the opportunity to be so close to the stage. Broza later gave a rousing rendition of “Yihye Tov” (It will be okay), to the delight of a highly appreciative audience.
In press releases issued prior to the event, it was announced that Friedman would deliver a policy speech, but he decided to shelve it and speak not as an ambassador but as a Jew. While refraining from taking sides on the Western Wall issue, he was definitely worried about the rift that has been created. “We have to do better,” he insisted. “We can only resolve issues through mutual respect and understanding. We have to get back to the principles of Jewish unity. We must try to get back to the point of one people with one heart.”
Speaking on Army Radio and subsequently on Kan Reshet Bet this week, former US ambassador Dan Shapiro took the matter further and warned that the decision to put a freeze on construction of an official pavilion for pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall was problematic and could seriously harm Israel’s close strategic relations with the US. The strong ties between the two countries, he said, are underpinned by the ties between American Jews and Israel. Anything that weakens those ties could negatively affect bilateral relations.
FOR THE past few years, panic has begun to overtake many Jerusalem apartment owners as they discover that they could be evicted from the apartments that they thought they owned. A tremendous amount of the land on which apartment complexes are built is church-owned. More than half a century ago, the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund signed a decades-long agreement with various churches whereby it became the leaseholder of land on which residential properties were built. But then some of the churches found themselves to be urgently in need of funds and sold certain parcels of land in what has become a gray market.
Very little has been done on this issue by the Israel Lands Authority, the KKL-JNF, the Finance Ministry or the Jerusalem Municipality. Numerous people who sunk their savings into apartments that they thought they would leave to their children have responded to a knock on the door by a stranger who tells them that he is the owner of the land on which the building is standing.
He wants to develop the property, and therefore he’s giving everyone due notice to leave.
Groups are now forming to try to find solutions to this problem. Three members of the Jerusalem City Council who realize the gravity of the issue called a meeting this week at Yad HaRav Nissim, which has a proper theater-style auditorium. The meeting started a half-hour late, not because of carelessness on the part of the organizers, Fleur Hassan Nahoum, Aharon Leibowitz and Itai Gutler, but because attendance was way beyond what anyone had expected, after flyers were placed in mailboxes in the surrounding area. People lined the walls and sat on the stairs – and not just the stairs of the auditorium but also the stairs outside the auditorium.
One of the speakers, Irene Grossman, who lives in Talbiyeh and is a potential victim, emphasized the need to unite to find a solution. Curiously, no church representatives had been invited to come to answer questions. However, land and property appraiser Kobi Bir, who is thoroughly familiar with church lands and with the heads of churches in Jerusalem, explained that while the Greek Orthodox Church owns more land than anyone else, there are other church groups, such as the Franciscans, that also own land.
ARMED WITH gifts from Nazareth, Joint List chairman MK Ayman Odeh, a secular Muslim, and his delegation arrived at the Vatican on Wednesday to meet with Pope Francis and senior Vatican figures. In addition to purely political matters related to the need to establish a Palestinian state, Odeh, who grew up in Haifa and was the only Muslim student in his Christian school, told the pontiff about Church-run schools – schools that were always considered some of the best in the country and educated generations of students of all faiths, but have in recent years been woefully underfunded and suffer from discrimination by the government. Given the extent to which Christians are persecuted in Muslim countries, it was interesting that a Muslim should advocate on behalf of Christian schools in Israel.
AUSTRALIAN EXPATRIATES Dr. Harvey Belik and his wife, Loretta, have a family tradition of befriending Australian diplomats stationed in Israel. Thus, it was on the cards that they would invite Australian Ambassador- designate Chris Cannan to join them at their home in Ra’anana for dinner. Also sitting around the table were New Zealand Ambassador Jonathan Curr and his wife, Flo. Curr, who is stationed in Ankara, is visiting Israel with greater frequency this year to discuss preparations for the October centenary of the Battle of Beersheba, in which victory was secured by members of the Australian and New Zealand Light Horse regiments. Also present at the dinner was martial arts champion Danny Hakim, who is a personal friend of the Beliks.
The menu was trilateral: Israeli falafel, hummus and Bamba; Australian meat pies, Tim Tam cookies and pavlova; New Zealand kiwi fruit, and of course Anzac biscuits. Conversation centered largely on the Anzac centennial.
It’s much easier for Cannan than it is for Curr to keep his finger on the pulse of developments, taking over with ease from his predecessor, Dave Sharma, who left Israel two weeks ago; but for Curr, sitting in Turkey, it’s a little harder. Nonetheless, he says, New Zealand is working closely with Australia, the government of Israel, the Beersheba Municipality and other stakeholders on a series of events to commemorate the Battle of Beersheba and the involvement of New Zealand in what was known as the Sinai and Palestine campaign.
In addition to participating in the joint service at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Beersheba, New Zealand is also planning to hold a ceremony at Tel Beersheba to honor the important role of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade in the battle for the town. New Zealand is also working with the municipalities of Rishon Lezion and Ness Ziona to hold separate special events. Representation from New Zealand is not yet confirmed, due to general elections to be held on September 23, but there definitely will be senior political representation from New Zealand at the various events.
The Beersheba Municipality, in conjunction with KKL-JNF, is planning to open the Anzac Museum during the October 31 festivities.
While the Currs were in Israel, the Beliks took them to Rosh Hanikra to enjoy the grottoes and to tour the kibbutz, by courtesy of Australia and New Zealand expats Carole and Mike Morris. The Currs also got to see the work of the New Zealand army engineers who in 1941 laid the train tracks connecting Palestine to Europe.
YET ANOTHER crack in the glass ceiling: This week, for the first time in its history, Telfed, the Israel branch of the South African Zionist Federation, elected a woman as its leader. Not only is Batya Shmukler on the distaff side, but she’s also the youngest-ever person to head the organization. She succeeds Maish Isaacson, who served for three successful terms.
An English teacher by profession, the Johannesburg- born Shmukler and her husband, Yonatan, made aliya to Ra’anana 25 years ago. They have four children.
Actively involved in Telfed for nine years, Shmukler served as a member of the Telfed Absorption Committee, chairwoman of the Endowments, Scholarships & PRAS Committee and, for the past four years, as Telfed’s vice chairman. Together with newly elected vice chairman, Robby Hilkowitz, and treasurer Steven Flax, Shmukler is pulling out all the stops for Telfed’s upcoming 70th anniversary celebrations.