GRAPEVINE: The battle against ignorance

Ber Kotlerman next to a a memorial sign honoring Der Nister (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ber Kotlerman next to a a memorial sign honoring Der Nister
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘Our greatest struggle is to combat ignorance,” Yigal Dilmoni, the deputy head of the Yesha Council, told a visiting delegation from The Jerusalem Post this week. To illustrate this problem he gave examples of tours on which he has taken other journalists. When he took the senior editor of an important Israeli media outlet to the city of Ariel, the editor expected to find everyone living in caravans, because that was his concept of the settler movement. He was unaware that there are also urban areas in the West Bank. On another occasion, when he took journalists to Eli, where the first Orthodox pre-military academy was founded in 1988 – an academy that now boasts over 3,000 graduates, most of whom have served in combat units, and more than half of whom have been military officers and/or are leading figures in major organizations and institutions – the journalists were again surprised.
Some 100,000 Palestinians earn their livelihoods through Jewish- owned commercial and industrial enterprises, and visitors get a chance to meet some of them when they visit factories, stores and restaurants.
The Palestinians want to work there because even though the salaries are not great, they are in line with Israel’s basic wage, and are twice as high as what they would earn in the Palestinian Authority.
Journalists are not the only people taken on these eye-opening tours.
Groups, large and small, also include people who are brought to Israel by J Street and by AIPAC as well as many other organizations. Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi, who is also the equivalent of the settler community’s minister of public diplomacy, has over the past two years addressed 180 such groups, including American congressional delegations which will not necessarily come to the West Bank but are always willing to meet with West Bank representatives to hear their views and to try to get a better understanding of the complexities in the relationship between them and the Palestinians.
Though not everyone in the settler movement believes in giving the Palestinians greater autonomy, Revivi and Dilmoni are among those who do. While not in favor of the twostate solution, they do believe that the Palestinians should have a greater say in running their own lives, and that Palestinian mayors should be able to consult on a regular basis with their Israeli counterparts in order to improve the quality of life of their constituents.
Revivi doesn’t like the idea of security walls, and doesn’t really believe in their effectiveness. He would rather have an open, cooperative and peaceful relationship. People don’t realize that the settler movement is doing more than anyone else with regard to Israeli-Palestinian coexistence, said Dilmoni.
He also pointed out that one of the most common misconceptions about the settlers is that they all belong to the National Religious camp. Only a third of them do, he said, a third are haredi, and the remaining third are secular. Not all make their homes in the West Bank for ideological reasons.
Some come for the quality of life, where the environment is less crowded and less polluted, but where all the community services available in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem also exist, though not always as close at hand.
Shiloh, the biblical city which was the capital of the 12 tribes when they first crossed into the Promised Land, is the West Bank’s jewel in the crown, a site visited by pilgrims as well as tourists. It is steeped in history as well as in spirituality, and last year hosted more than 100,000 tourists, including groups from Russia and China.
Neither Revivi nor Dilmoni expect visitors who are opposed to the settlement movement to change their minds, but they do want them to experience the reality and not to rely on false media reports, which often tend to demonize the settlers. Participating in one of these tours is an interesting learning experience, at the end of which Dilmoni wants to know your impressions, whether good or bad, because it’s a two-way street, and just as he and his colleagues want to give visitors something to think about, they also want the visitors to give them something to think about.
The important thing, he said, is that people should listen to each other.
■ FRENCH AMBASSADOR Hélène Le Gal will temporarily suspend Bastille Day preparations in order to go to Haifa to welcome the Jean d’Arc mission of the French Navy, which includes two battleships, the Dixmude and the frigate Surcouf, which will be anchored at Haifa Port from July 7 to July 11. The two ships, measuring 200 m. and 125 m., respectively, in length, are on a world tour and set sail from Toulon in the south of France at the end of February. While in Israel, the crew of the two ships will carry out joint exercises with the Israel Navy and Israel Air Force.
■ WHENEVER THERE is an emergency situation in any town or city, the mayor is usually quick to arrive to assess the damage and to boost the morale of people in the area. In Ashdod, anyone hurt in an accident or an assault has the added benefit that Mayor Yechiel Lasry happens to be a qualified physician. But now he’s even more than that. At the inauguration of Ashdod’s newest EMS response center, Lasry became an honorary member of United Hatzalah, and was presented with the organization’s distinctive orange-colored vest. Also on hand for the occasion was MK Yinon Azoulay, who is a regular Hatzalah emergency response volunteer.
During the inauguration ceremony, Lasry said: “It is written that anyone who saves even a single life has saved an entire world. United Hatzalah volunteers, I respect and appreciate you.
A decade ago, you started off as a small chapter here in the city of Ashdod, with less than 30 volunteers.
Now you have more than 100 volunteers across the city. The people of the city appreciate and respect you, and so do I.”
Avi Amar
, a regional United Hatzalah spokesperson, said that the response center, located in a converted bomb shelter at 1 Hahistadrut Street, will serve as the local branch office, an educational center to train local volunteer responders, a volunteer house for cultural events that the chapter holds, and a location for EMS enrichment classes for the volunteers and the local community. “The center will act as a secondary protected medical emergency location, in case the city comes under attack like it did during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, or [in case of] other national emergencies,” Amar added. Besides being one of the city’s most active ambucycle responders, Amar also works as a police officer in the region.
In addition to the new EMS center, two new ambucycles, the iconic vehicle of the organization, of which there are now close to 800 all over Israel, were likewise inaugurated.
■ IT’S NOT unusual for writers to win literary awards from the same source but at different times. Prof.
Ber Kotlerman, of Bar-Ilan University’s Joseph and Norman Berman department of literature of the Jewish people and Rena Costa Center for Yiddish Studies, together with Dr.
Alexandra Poljan
of Moscow State University, is the exception to the rule. Kotlerman has been selected for two Simon Rockower Awards by the American Jewish Press Association, which administers the awards established by the Rockower family.
Among the more notable American awards for excellence in Jewish journalism, Rockower awards were conferred on Kotlerman for his article “Finally, Der Nister Gets a Gravestone,” published in the Yiddish Forverts and, subsequently, in its English-language counterpart, The Forward. The article documented the journey to the Arctic Circle and discovery of the burial place of Der Nister, one of the greatest Yiddish writers of the 20th century. Kotlerman was awarded first place in the category of “Excellence in Feature Writing” and second place in the category of “Excellence in Writing about Jewish Heritage and Jewish Peoplehood in Europe.” The awards were presented last month in Cleveland, at the AJPA 2018 Annual Conference.
Der Nister (Pinkhas Kahanovitsh, 1884-1950) was a victim of the Stalinist regime. He was arrested in Moscow on February 19, 1949, in connection with the case of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and sentenced to 10 years in a labor camp.
For health reasons he was transferred to the Gulag branch for disabled prisoners situated in the village of Abez, Komi Republic, about 2,200 km. northeast of Moscow and 7 km.
from the Polar Circle, where he died in the camp hospital on June 4, 1950.
Unlike other Yiddish writers, activists of the JAFC, who were executed on August 12, 1952, and buried in an unknown mass grave, Der Nister was buried separately under a special code number.
Kotlerman, who is the author of Broken Heart / Broken Wholeness (Boston, 2017), which focuses on the final years of Der Nister, determined the grave’s location with the assistance of archival documents, plans of the camp burial sites, and memoirs. Kotlerman visited Abez on August 22, 2017, together with Dr. Poljan, and established a memorial sign in the shape of the Star of David entwined with barbed wire at the local Gulag memorial cemetery. The researchers then submitted documents confirming the location of the tomb to the Komi Republic Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, which gave the green light for the construction of a permanent monument to the writer.
Interest in Der Nister’s writings is evident in academic circles, but also among the Breslov Hassidim, mostly thanks to his historical novel The Family Mashber, about the followers of the teachings of Rabbi Nahman of Breslov. This novel was first translated into Hebrew in the 1940-50s, and then into English and other languages.
The late Simon Rockower had a deep love for the craft of Jewish journalism. Although several Jewish newspapers and magazines have fallen by the wayside, survival of Jewish journalism is considered to be important not only by those who practice it, but also by academics whose research into Jewish history relies to a large extent on Jewish journalism. Today, with rising antisemitism and neo-Fascism, Jewish journalism is going through a renaissance period because Jewish journalists, more than those who are not Jewish, can grasp the significance and the danger of current developments insofar as they affect Jewish communities and individuals.
[email protected]