GRAPEVINE: Sushi: Not necessarily a Japanese food

Arab states want to get closer to Israel not only because Iran is a common enemy, but also because they want to share in Israel’s technological know-how, and they’re sick of the Palestinian problem.

David Zwebner with Nasif Kayed (photo credit: COURTSEY DAVID ZWEBNER)
David Zwebner with Nasif Kayed
If you go to Dubai and hear people talk about sushi, they may not be referring to traditional Japanese food, but to a mixed family in which there are Sunnis and Shi’ites – hence the acronym Sushi. The expression was picked up by Jerusalem businessman David Zwebner during an eight-day visit this month to Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Zwebner was one of two Israelis who joined a group of American Jews who participated in an Insight Seminar led by Dr. Eric Mandel, founder of the Middle East Political and Information Network, Yitzhak Sokoloff, founder of Keshet Educational Encounters International and Keshet Educational Journeys. The program was coordinated by Keshet’s Esti Ochana.
Without detracting from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent successes in the region, the above-mentioned organizations have been conducting annual in-depth seminars focusing on strategic and cultural issues in the Arab world and Israel for the past 13 years. This under-the-radar activity, with discussions on many levels between Arabs and Jews and Arabs and Israelis, coupled with the many Jews who do business in the United Arab Emirates, has led to a more benign attitude toward Israel and the Jewish people.
Zwebner says that at no time in any of the three destinations did he feel any antagonism toward Jews or Israel. Ironic though it may seem, the safest places for Israelis and Jews from anywhere in the world to go on vacation are in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain.
The only catch is that these options are open only to those Israelis who are dual or multiple nationals, and carry passports from other countries. Not that it really mattered. According to Zwebner, wherever they went, it was known that they were Jewish and that there were Israelis in the group.
From the conversations that Zwebner had with various individuals, including senior officials, such as Dr. Abdulaziz Yusuf Janahi, former Bahraini ambassador to the UK; Nasif Kayed, the founder and CEO of the Arab Culturalist in Dubai, as well as communications and business people, Zwebner came away with the impression that the Arab states want to get closer to Israel not only because Iran is a common enemy, but also because they want to share in Israel’s technological know-how, and they’re sick of the Palestinian problem, which for too long has hampered any progress toward peace in the Middle East. At the same time, says Zwebner, they worried that Israel may have expansionist ambitions that stretch all the way to the Euphrates.
Two things that surprised him were that women in Dubai have even more rights than men; and that the general feeling in the United Arab Emirates is that the Arab Spring was orchestrated by the United States.
The Americans had brought with them as gifts a mezuzah and a kiddush cup, which they presented to Ahmed al-Mansoori, the chairman of Dubai’s Crossroads of Civilizations Museum. Zwebner, who is the son of an Orthodox rabbi, explained the meaning of the mezuzah and was asked to affix it. First, he made sure that it had no klaf – the handwritten scroll with verses from the Torah, including “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Zwebner also explained the meaning of the klaf, and the religious reason for its absence.
Among the many meetings with politicians, scholars and diplomats organized for the group in all three destinations was one with members of the Hedayah think tank in Abu Dhabi, who told the Israelis that if they want to be part of the Middle East, they should act like the Middle East. The opinion was that Israel should have gone into Syria and not left it to Russia and Iran.
In Bahrain, the group visited the synagogue in the Manara market and met with Ebrahim Nonoo, a former member of the National Assembly of Bahrain and a leading member of the Jewish community.
In Abu Dhabi the group visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which is the largest and most elaborate mosque in the world, and in Dubai the group was hosted on Shabbat by the Jewish community.
As happens so often, Zwebner detected a huge gap between hearsay and reality.
Asked if Chabad is active in the region, Zwebner replied: “Not yet, but there’s a Chabad rabbi who comes to Dubai every couple of weeks.” For religious reasons, Zwebner could not use the electronic key to open the door of his hotel room in Dubai on Shabbat. The hotel employee who opened the door for him said, “You’re like that other gentleman for whom I have to open the door.”
■ THE JEWISH Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City is getting a much needed face lift within the framework of a series of projects being undertaken by the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. Several projects are in various stages of construction, restoration and renewal.
A pilot project for a square opposite the Cardo named for Moshe Rusnak, who in 1948 was the Hagana-appointed commander of the Old City prior to the Jordanian conquest, was inaugurated this week. Rusnak faded into obscurity after the War of Independence and died in July 2006.
Among those who came to honor his memory and cut the ribbon by the square that bears his name were Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion. Elkin, who referred to the Jewish Quarter as the jewel of the Old City, said that he was proud to be able to participate in its renewal, but made the point that renewal is not limited to the Jewish Quarter alone, but applies to the whole of the Old City.
Lion, looking back at the history of the Jewish people, said that despite all that Jews had endured, “we have returned here.” He pledged to do all that is possible to enhance the present and to remember the past.
■ BAD HABITS die hard. After launching the Jerusalem express train to Tel Aviv before all safety measures were in place, and before it could actually get to Tel Aviv and instead ended its journey at Ben-Gurion Airport, acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz exacerbated the already delicate situation in diplomatic relations with Poland and could not resist quoting a vitriolic statement about Poles that had been made by the late prime minister Yitzhak Shamir. It’s hard to tell whether it’s worse to shoot from the hip or shoot from the lip.
As a result of Katz’s irresponsible verbosity, not only did Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki cancel his visit to Israel, but the visit of Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz, who was designated to come in Morawiecki’s stead, was also canceled, as was the Visegrad summit for which the prime ministers of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic were scheduled to come to Israel.
The World Jewish Congress, whose senior officials have a particularly good relationship with Poland, had planned to host a reception for Morawiecki on Tuesday night at the King David Hotel. They might even have been prepared to transfer the honor to Czaputowicz, but after Katz shot his mouth off and ruined all diplomatic efforts to appease the Poles after remarks made by Netanyahu in Poland about collusion with the Nazis were allegedly misreported, the reception was canceled. The WJC had to contact all the invitees to let them know. The King David was left with a surfeit of food, and Israel’s efforts to win friends and influence people began to slide down the drain.
■ BUT THAT wasn’t all. On Monday night, Slovakian Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini was scheduled to join Slovakian Ambassador Peter Hulenyi in launching the book Israel and Slovakia: the first 25 years, by Pavol Demes and Katerina Nováková. Pellegrini was indeed in the hotel, but instead of attending the book launch, he was in a huddle with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban as they waited for the arrival of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis. In apologizing for Pellegrini’s absence from the launch, Hulenyi said: “We all know who’s to blame.” None of the Foreign Ministry representatives who were present protested. The Israeli diplomats included Joel Sher, who was not only Israel’s first-ever ambassador to Slovakia following the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, but also the first-ever ambassador to present his credentials in Slovakia; former ambassador to Slovakia Alexander Ben-Zvi, current ambassador to Slovakia Zvi Aviner-Vapni, and Rodica Radian-Gordon, the deputy director-general for Western Europe.
Heading the Slovakian diplomats was Deputy Foreign Minister Frantisek Ruzicka, who was in Israel for the first time and extremely impressed by the hospitality, the infrastructure and the history of the country. “I don’t want to blame anyone,” he said. “Slovakia wants to have a conciliatory role and to be a mediator.” One of the highlights of his visit was a day spent at Masada, where he was moved by the story of the heroism and patriotism of “a few people who were fighting for a country that deserves freedom.” Speaking of the relations between Slovakia and Israel, he said they are two democratic nations that have very strong bonds. It was not always like that, he acknowledged, but efforts were being made to overcome the mistakes of the past. Toward this end, parliament passed a resolution against antisemitism. “We know our role; we know what to do and what went wrong more than 70 years ago.”
Ruzicka said that putting the book together was an excellent idea. It does indeed offer a broad perspective of how bilateral relations have progressed and developed in many directions in a quarter of a century.
Hulenyi noted that in addition to being a writer, Demes is a former foreign minister. Hulenyi also credited Aviner-Vapni and Ruzicka with being writers.
Demes said that there were people present who had already approached him saying that they had more photographs and more information. He assured them that it’s not too late to include such material in a second edition of the book, aside from which there will be a digital edition to which material can constantly be added.
Aviner-Vapni, in praising the richness of the book’s content, said that part of the history of relations between the two countries was complicated and blemished, “but in order to go forward to the future, we must accept and understand the past.”
■ UNITED HATZALAH, the volunteer-based emergency medical service organization, receives support from many quarters, one of the most recent being the Israel Chapter of the International Women’s Club, whose members are wives of diplomats, foreign academics and business executives who are temporarily in Israel, as well as Israeli women who are prominent in various areas of Israeli endeavor or are the wives of Israeli diplomats, academics and business executives.
IWC Israel is one of many branches worldwide whose goal is to assist members of the diplomatic and international community to adjust and learn about their host countries, their cultures and peoples. The diversity of IWC Israel’s activities and its exploration of so many different facets of the country are positively mind-blowing. It also organizes special interest activities and charity events.
IWC hosted two events in Herzliya Pituah in support of United Hatzalah. Fifty IWC members gathered at the home of Aline Bizimana for first-aid training, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation certification, by two medical experts from United Hatzalah. The IWC chapter also donated a portable Automated Electronic Defibrillator for use by a United Hatzalah volunteer medic serving the community in Herzliya Pituah.
The IWC events were organized by Tina Kholos, a California registered nurse and head of the IWC’s Health Matters Committee, with the support of Shai Jaskoll, vice president of development for United Hatzalah. After living in Israel for four years, Kholos wanted to make an impact by certifying more people to save lives with CPR and donating an AED to help save even more lives in the future.
■ AUTHOR, FORMER Labor MK and former member of the Tel Aviv City Council Yael Dayan celebrated her 80th birthday February 12, which happens to be on the same date that former prime minister Ehud Barak turned 77. Several of Dayan’s family and friends got together to join her in marking yet another milestone in her life, even though the festivity was not on exactly the right date. What was really special was that her mother, Ruth, who will celebrate her 102nd birthday on March 6, was also present at Dayan’s party. Ruth Dayan still has all her faculties. Longevity must be genetic in her family. Her parents, Zvi and Rachel Schwartz, each lived to an advanced age, and her young sister Reuna, who was married to president Ezer Weizman, is 93.
■ IN 1917, the year in which Ruth Dayan was born, religious Jewish girls were for the first time receiving some form of Jewish education via the Bais Yaakov schools founded in Krakow, Poland, in that year by Sarah Schnirer. It was the genesis of formal Jewish education for religious girls. It is almost painful to realize that just over 100 years ago, the majority of Jewish women were barely literate.
Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry Ada Yonath, who will turn 80 in June, was born in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Geula neighborhood to Rabbi Hillel and Esther Lifshitz, who migrated from Poland six years before her birth. The family was very poor, and shared a four-room apartment with two other families. To make ends meet, her father ran a small grocery store, and there were books in the limited space the family had in the apartment. But not too many other girls in Geula in the days of Yonath’s youth went on to university. Even today, when Geula girls finish high school, they may go on to a religious seminary, but for most, university is definitely a no-no. Yonath’s father died at age 42, after which Yonath and her mother moved to Tel Aviv, a factor that may have contributed to her intellectual development.
Although women have received the Israel Prize since it was first introduced in 1953, with Dina Feitelson Dinur as the first female laureate, who was recognized for her contribution to education, female laureates have been few and far between since then, and represent only 14% of all Israel Prizewinners. Yonath, who was an Israel Prize laureate seven years before receiving the Nobel Prize, has a host of other prestigious prizes to her credit, including the Harvey Prize, the Wolf Prize and the EMET Prize.
■ ALTHOUGH WOMEN have made great strides in Israel over the past seven decades, they are still in an inferior position in matters of religion and equal pay for equal work. A report released this week by the commissioner for equal work opportunities indicated that women earn only 59% of the amount in salaries paid to men for doing the same job, and that women over the age of 45 and without academic qualifications are penalized even further and earn only 48% of what men earn. They earn even less if they happen to be Ethiopian or Arab.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and women have risen to top positions in banking and in business, but equality in general terms is still a distant dream, despite the fact that there have been one female prime minister, two female foreign ministers, two female justice ministers, one female state comptroller, three female Supreme Court presidents, one female Governor of the Bank of Israel, two female heads of universities, two female heads of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, one female Knesset speaker, five female heads of political parties, plus a few more females who have stood out from the crowd in other spheres. But the numbers alone testify to ongoing gender discrimination.
With the departure of Tzipi Livni from the political stage this week, there is only one female head of a political party – MK Tamar Zandberg, who is the leader of the Meretz Party, which after its first-ever primary last week presented a splendid display of unity, as the Knesset candidates embraced and praised one another. Political pundits claimed that this was not the list that Zandberg wanted, because aside from anything else, unlike several other parties, it did not have a representative from the LGBT community. They also forecast that this would cost Meretz votes. Voters in the LGBT community know that Meretz always supported them, and that one of their members, Nitzan Horowitz, was a Meretz MK from 2009 to 2015. Meretz doesn’t need to make a big deal about co-opting people from the gay community. It is perhaps more important that its list includes both an Arab and a Druze and that it comes closer to gender equality than any other party.
Zandberg will be fielding questions in English from many first-time voters at a Q&A session on Thursday, February 21, at Urban Place in the Shalom Tower at 9 Ahad Ha’am Street, Tel Aviv. Entrance is free of charge, and refreshments will be available.
Doors open at 7 p.m. Such events are attended by a lot of new immigrants who are eager to make new friends and to learn more about the country that they’ve decided to call home.
■ PURIM CAN double as Jewish Women’s Day, and when there is not a Jewish leap year, it frequently falls within the week of International Women’s Day, which in Israel is not limited to its actual date of March 8, but starts before and continues after.
The International Women’s Day event that’s likely to get the most media attention in Israel will be the 30th anniversary of Women of the Wall, whose executive director, Lesley Sachs, was detained for questioning by police after she defied a public order and smuggled a Torah scroll into the women’s section of the prayer plaza by the Western Wall. Over the years, various members of Women of the Wall have been arrested for wearing prayer shawls or donning phylacteries, acts considered to be in contravention of local custom and a cause for distress to the sensitivities of more traditional worshipers. In fact, some haredi women have been known to throw chairs and in other ways physically attack Women of the Wall. Nonetheless, they are going ahead with their 30th anniversary celebrations on Friday, March 8, under the heading of “Let your voice be heard.”
The celebration begins with early morning prayers on Friday, March 8, which coincides with Rosh Hodesh (new month) of Adar 2. The prayer service will be from 7 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. A reception and light refreshments at Beit Shmuel will be held from 9 a.m. to 9:45 a.m., followed by a panel discussion, workshop and lunch. Cost for the whole program is NIS 200 or, without lunch, NIS 110.
■ INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S Day is also an opportunity for women to demonstrate that age is not a barrier to creativity. Widely acclaimed dancer Rina Schenfeld, who recently turned 80, and who created a new dance – Lioness – in honor of the genesis of her next decade, has already performed it twice, and by popular demand is performing it again on March 8 at the Tel Aviv Museum.
■ ON SATURDAY night, March 9, the entertainment community will honor actress, comedienne and singer Tiki Dayan on the occasion of her 70th birthday and also in celebration of her 50 years on the stage. The event will be part of the annual Holon Theater Women’s Festival. Dayan will be treated to a musical tribute by Mikki Kam, Keren Mor, Orna Banai, Dror Keren, Sarah, Vino Elad, Tali Oren, Orit Peleg, Natan Salor, Ruby Moskowitz, Ido Ben Harush and Arik Kelner. It goes without saying that Dayan will also perform.
■ AFTER HIS request to run in the Negev spot in the Likud primaries was rejected on the grounds that insufficient time had elapsed since he joined the party for him to run for election, Gilad Sharon suffered further humiliation last Thursday when not a single government minister attended the fifth anniversary commemoration of the death of his father, prime minister Ariel Sharon. However, President Reuven Rivlin, who politically parted ways with Sharon when the latter left the Likud to form Kadima and evacuated Gush Katif, thought it incumbent for the president to honor the memory of a deceased prime minister and former military hero. Even though there was no ministerial representation, there was nonetheless quite a large crowd on the hill by the Sycamore Farm where Sharon and his wife, Lily, have their final resting place surrounded by the anemones which Lily so dearly loved.
Rivlin is fond of quoting Sharon, who used to say in relation to his ability to remain relevant: “Sometimes the wheel is up and sometimes the wheel is down – but what’s important is to stay on the wheel.”