Grapevine: The jubilee break-up year

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

The Beatles in the Israeli Children's Museum (photo credit: MOSHI GITTLIS)
The Beatles in the Israeli Children's Museum
(photo credit: MOSHI GITTLIS)
IT'S AMAZING to think that this is the 50th anniversary year of the break-up of the Beatles whose popularity and songs remain ever fresh despite the passage of time. Only two of the Fab Four are still living – Ringo Starr, 79, and Paul McCartney, 77. In the pre-coronavirus world, both were still performing and drawing full houses.  In June 1967 when McCartney released “When I'm 64” on the Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, he was only 24, and 64 was ancient.  Now he's a young 77. Both McCartney and Starr have performed in Israel, and there was talk in October last year that McCartney might be back again this year, but that now seems highly doubtful.
McCartney had been scheduled to come to Israel in 2018 to receive the Wolf Prize in Music, but backed out citing other commitments.  He did not attend last year's award ceremony either, and his prize would have been revoked if he failed to come for a third consecutive year, which is why he may have been in negotiation late last year for a concert this year.  But it's highly unlikely that the prize ceremony, traditionally held in the Chagall Hall of the Knesset, will take place this year. So McCartney may get a reprieve.
STILL IN the world of entertainment and at the Knesset, soldier singer Noa Kirel was at the Chagall Hall last week to video tape the program for Holocaust Remembrance Day which begins on the eve of Monday, April 20. Due to the restrictions of movement and social distancing, the program will be held on a much more modest level than in previous years. Kirel's contribution to the event which will be screened on television, is to sing within the framework of 'To every person there is a Name' in which the names of victims are read out by relatives who are prominent personalities. Kirel will sing  “Imma Sheli” (My Mother) based on the yearning of a Holocaust child. While it was very exciting for her to sing in the Knesset, even with so few people present, it was also an emotional experience, because it made her acutely conscious of the many members of her own family who were murdered in the Holocaust.
Kirel will also be appearing in the Israel Independence Day broadcast that will be longer than usual to make up for the fact that there will not be a traditional opening ceremony at Mount Herzl. To compensate for that, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev who is also the minister in charge of symbols and ceremonies, decided to stage a longer entertainment program designed to lift the morale of the nation. The most interesting feature of the entertainment will be the musical comeback of Rita and Rami Kleinstein, which will be the first time they have performed together since their divorce in 2007, when the couple put an end to their 20-year marriage.  Their relationship went much further back than their adult years . They had been an item since their mid-teens and seemed to have a most harmonious relationship both on and off stage. But even after things went sour, and they went their separate ways, neither ruled out the possibility that the day would come when they would once again perform together. Now that the day has come. This week it was announced that singer, songwriter and musician Idan Raichel will be one of the beacon lighters on Independence Day.
SEVERAL ENTERTAINERS have been in isolation not just because of restrictions on movement, but because they actually were infected with coronavirus. Among them was comedian Tuvia Tsafir, who at 74, is in the high-risk age group. When news of his illness became public, there was considerable concern and an avalanche of goodwill messages.  Happily, he has recovered and is full of appreciation to all those who wished him well.
ALTHOUGH THE majority of 60 COVID-19 fatalities (at the time of this writing) have been people of a very advanced age, the biological age of a reasonably healthy person should not be a determining factor. For instance, dancer Rina Schenfeld, at 82, is as agile, and possibly even more agile than people half her age. Schenfeld has a dance studio in her home in Tel Aviv and because she is  a choreographer as well as a dancer, she has not been stuck in front of the computer or the television set during the period in which her outdoor movements are restricted; but in her studio has devised a very creative dance that gives the impression that she is no longer alone.  Creative people are probably finding it much easier to get through this difficult period than people who are lacking in imagination. 
VETERAN ISRAEL Radio and Channel 1 broadcaster Yigal Ravid, who was not absorbed into the staff of the Israel Broadcasting Corporation when it took over from the now defunct Israel Broadcasting Authority in May 2017, moved to New York where he continued with his broadcasting career, occasionally broadcasting on Reshet Bet under its current management.  Following the coronavirus pandemic in New York and the heavy death toll, he relocated to Los Angeles, which he says is far less crowded and less polluted. “In New York, you just can't breathe,” he says, “and nothing is the same today as it was yesterday.”
COMPOUNDING THE health catastrophe is the collapsing economy, which in turn has led to an upsurge in domestic violence. One of the hardest hit areas in the country is Eilat whose population is heavily dependent on tourism – both domestic and overseas. While overseas tourists are obviously not coming, according to Eilat Mayor Yitzhak HaLevi, the city has had no choice but to turn back domestic tourists who thought that Eilat would be an ideal place in which to spend their isolation.  It's not just hotels that are shuttered, but also restaurants, nightclubs and every kind of workplace pertaining to tourist iservices.  More than 75% of employees in Eilat are in one way or another engaged in the city's tourist industry which has come to an almost complete standstill and may take a very long time to recover. Skeleton teams of housekeeping and maintenance staff are kept on in hotels to ensure that standards will be in place when the hotels re-open.
KIBBUTZ LAVI in the Galilee operates a popular hotel and a carpentry factory producing synagogue furniture. It's equally well known for both.  The hotel has been incorporated into the “Corona Hotels” project, and its guests are currently people who have tested positive, but are not seriously ill.
A religious kibbutz, Lavi was founded in 1949 by immigrants from Britain, many of whom were German-born and had come to England on the Kindertransports. The furniture industry grew out of their initiative in 1950 to build their own synagogue. Over the decades, the carpentry shop has built furniture for synagogues in more than 70 countries. Sometimes it's just the ark; sometimes the pews, and sometimes it's the entire interior including auxiliary rooms such as a library or a study center.
Even though Jews are not congregating in their synagogues these days,  Lavi’s synagogue furniture factory is as busy as ever completing orders that were placed long before the pandemic. Those orders are being filled because, sooner or later, the situation will change. While the kibbutz furniture plant is limited in that it cannot use outside workers, its resident workers are busy.
Avner Amiram, the vice president of Lavi Furniture Industries, is usually inundated each year with requests from new congregations that plan to dedicate their synagogues on Passover or Rosh Hashana.
When the pandemic becomes history, he anticipates a rush of synagogue dedication ceremonies. Once the coronavirus crisis is over, he says, Lavi will make sure that no community has to wait a single day longer than the originally scheduled  delivery date to have its synagogue furniture installed.
Just before the restrictions were introduced, Lavi completed shipments for France, Switzerland, America, Israel and elsewhere.
Though life may never be quite as it was before, people will again attend synagogue services. Some may opt for balcony services as happened in Bnei Brak last Shabbat. Long-standing Yediot Aharonot reporter Shoshana Chen, who is haredi and lives in Bnei Brak, usually writes on economic issues. But after participating in a balcony service, she described it as a most spiritually uplifting experience.
In densely-built Bnei Brak, many multi-story buildings are very close to each other, and some are built around a small courtyard. Although all the neighbors are haredi, some are Ashkenazi and some Sephardi, some are hassidim and some are Lithuanian mitnagdim, and some are North African and some are from the Middle East. Among the hassidim are scores of different groups. In a rare display of unity, one person stood outside in the courtyard leading the prayers, while everyone else stood on their balcony and prayed out loud in accordance with their own traditions. But for all their differences, they were all on the same page metaphorically if not literally.
Similar scenes have been occurring in religious neighborhoods across the country. Nothing is more heart-warming than the spontaneous Friday evening choruses of Lecha Dodi welcoming the Sabbath coming from neighbors singing on their balcony.