Grapevine: Trains of thought

Few things in Israel’s capital start on time, and it was therefore hardly surprising that the mayoral changing of the guard at City Hall on Tuesday started at Jerusalem meantime.

Sara Netanyahu celebrates Hanukkah with children fighting cancer  (photo credit: GABY FARKASH)
Sara Netanyahu celebrates Hanukkah with children fighting cancer
(photo credit: GABY FARKASH)
■ CURIOUSLY THE glaring omission in the list of speakers at the conference on public transport and transportation to be held at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on December 12 is that of Transport Minister Israel Katz, who may be shying away from anticipated criticism of the many faults discovered in the express train running from Jerusalem to Ben-Gurion Airport and one of these days to Tel Aviv. In his eagerness to keep his promise that the train would begin operating this year, Katz tended to overlook the risk factor. On the other hand, he may not have been invited to the conference which would explain his absence.
Still on the subject of transportation, but in the air rather than by road or rail, is the long delayed completion of construction of the Brandenberg Willy Brandt Airport. Germans have a reputation for punctuality and attention to detail, but that may be a thing of the past if the foot-dragging over the airport is any indication of contemporary Germany. Construction of the airport was announced in 2006 in the realization that there is simply too much air traffic in Berlin’s outdated Tegel Airport. The initial opening date for the new airport was tentatively set for October 2011. When it was realized that the target date could not be met, it was moved to June 2012.  The opening date has been consistently moved ever since as faults have increasingly been discovered in building materials and methods of construction. The current target date is now some time in 2020, but there are strong doubts of this being final.
Under the circumstances, Katz should not be upset by Israeli tardiness. Israelis make a habit of being late, and a series of ministers have for more than 20 years promised an express train from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. Katz was the only one who actually got the project moving.
■ EACH YEAR the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel, which was founded by Yitzhak Eldan, a former chief of protocol of the Foreign Affairs Ministry hosts a reception at the Herzliya Marina for the Diplomat of the Year and the Honorary Consul of the Year. The honorees on this occasion will be Ambassador Emanuele Giaufret, who heads the delegation of the European Union, and Amnon Dotan, who is one of the Honorary Consuls of Lithuania and is also president of the Commerce and Industry Club. The awards ceremony, scheduled for January 17, held in conjunction with the Municipal Tourism Development Corporation of Herzliya, and the Herzliya Municipality, is attended by many ambassadors and Honorary Consuls.
■ THE NAME of Canadian-Israeli billionaire philanthropist Sylvan Adams keeps cropping up in the media. Last year he established the Institute for Sports Excellence at Tel Aviv University. This year he established Israel’s first velodrome and was also instrumental in bringing Giro d’Italia to Jerusalem. More recently, he contributed $5 million toward putting an Israeli spacecraft on the moon, followed by the inauguration of the new sports center at the Jerusalem YMCA, and this week together with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who, like Adams, is a cycling enthusiast, inaugurated the first section pf a network of bicycle trails that are intended to turn Tel Aviv and environs into the Amsterdam of the Middle East. Adams and Huldai, accompanied by members of the Israel Cycling Academy which Adams founded in 2015, cycled the new route after the ribbon cutting ceremony. Huldai in praising Adams as an enthusiastic partner in bicycle projects, said that the new bicycle trail will give commuters a safer, speedier and healthier path to work. Funding for the project was in cooperation with the Jewish National Fund of Canada.
Community activism is apparently a family trait. Adams’ sister Linda Adams-Troy, an attorney who lives in Jerusalem is in the forefront of the battle to prevent the light trail from going through Emek Refaim in the capital’s German Colony. Their father, Marcel, is a Holocaust survivor who fought in the War of Independence before migrating to Canada in 1951 and is a billionaire real estate developer who supports numerous Israeli causes. He established a $1 million endowment fund for scientific scholarships, launched the Adams Institute for Business Management Information Systems at Tel Aviv University and endowed TAU’s Adams Super Center for Brain Research.
■ IN ISRAEL this week are representatives of the Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II.  The museum’s director, Anna Stroz-Pawlowska, has come with the intention of forging close and direct cooperation with several Israeli institutions that work in memorializing the Holocaust and the Second World War.  The delegation’s itinerary includes visits to Yad Vashem, Beit Hagdudim, Beit Lohamei Hagetaot, the Massuah Museum and the University of Haifa. The Ulma Family Museum, which was opened in Markowa in March 2016, is the first of its kind in Poland. It is named for Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma, who, during the Nazi occupation gave shelter to eight Jews: Saul Goldman, his four sons, two daughters and a granddaughter of Chaim Goldman as well as Lea “Layka” Didner with her daughter and Genia “Golda” Grünfeld. The Ulmas were betrayed to the Germans by a Polish policeman, Wlodzimierz Les, on March 24, 1944, five Germans arrived at the Ulmas’ house, shot the Jews and then the Ulmas. At the time, Wiktoria Ulma was seven months pregnant.
Approximately 20 other Jews sheltered by Poles in Markowa survived. One of them is Abraham Segal, born in 1930 in Lancut, who was hidden by the Cwynar family. He was orphaned during the war and worked on the Cwynar’s farm under the name of Roman Kaliszewski from summer 1943 until the entry of the Red Army in August 1944. Although Germans murdered the Ulma family, the Cwynar family continued to hide the Jewish boy, whom they liked very much and hoped to adopt.
At the end of 1946, after a short stay in Prague, Segal went to what was then Palestine and fought in the War of Independence. He spent the first years in the country on kibbutz, married and fathered three children. He currently lives near Haifa, and has for several years returned periodically to Poland to testify as to how he survived.
This year, Segal was awarded the Polish Republic’s Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit for his contribution in raising awareness of the saving of Jews by Poles during the Holocaust. The Ulma delegation met with him this week.
■ FOLLOWING THE assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, both the Israeli and the international media abounded with conspiracy theories. There were those who thought that assassin Yigal Amir had been goaded into doing what he did by an Israel Security Agency operator who went by the nickname of Champagne. There were others who thought that certain rabbis with extreme religious and political views had talked Amir into getting rid of Rabin. Amir himself has knocked these and other theories on the head saying that he did what he did to prevent the implementation of the Oslo Accords. It was his own idea and he hadn’t been influenced by anyone. Still conspiracy theories are always good for the media to drag up, and thus when Yinon Magal and Shimon Riklin launched their new talk show on Channel 20 this week to examine things that Amir is purported to have said to relatives and friends, they also brought in panelists from the left and right sides of the political spectrum – and of course there was disagreement.
One of the panelists was Menachem Landau, who at the time of the assassination had been head of ISA special operations, and was on assignment in Paris. His assignment completed, he was thinking of going home and of taking in a movie when he got there.
When he called his daughter to tell her, she advised him to stay put. Landau is religiously observant and wears a crocheted kippah. As an individual, he fitted in with the two major conspiracy theories. His daughter thought it would be dangerous for him to come home so soon. He chose to ignore her warning and went to one of the movie theaters that have several different screenings at the same time. Wanting to see what was available, Landau moved from queue to queue to see what was playing. Noticing his kippah someone said to him: “Not enough that you murdered the prime minister. Now you want to queue jump as well.”
■ IF IT wasn’t so serious, it would almost be funny. One can argue whether Jerusalem should be the capital of two nations. After all, there are plenty of Palestinians who were born in east Jerusalem when it was under Jordanian rule. Moreover, people with utopian ideas, such as Jerusalem-born writer Amos Oz, have pictured a two-state Jerusalem without borders in which the embassies of Israel and Palestine would be literally across the road from each other, and the two ambassadors would meet daily for coffee, taking turns to cross the road. While Oz and many others on the Left of the political spectrum (and even some liberal-minded people on the Right) see no point in trying to deny the Palestinian connection to Jerusalem, it is not yet a two-way street. The Palestinians are constantly lobbying for the denial of the Jewish connection to Jerusalem with mounting success at the United Nations, which last Friday passed six anti-Israel resolutions, including yet another related to Jerusalem in which it was falsely claimed that Israel is denying non-Jews access to their holy sites, when in fact Israel prides itself on freedom of access and freedom of worship – although not always where its own Jewish people are concerned. There are still squabbles over the establishment of an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall. Be that as it may, Christians and Muslims do have access to their holy sites despite the security risks posed by allowing Palestinians who are not residents of Jerusalem to come and worship. Not so long ago, antisemites in their verbal assaults on Jews would end the tirade with, “Why don’t you go back to Jerusalem?” Now that we have, they tell us that we have no historic connection to the city. Doesn’t any antisemite read the Bible?
■ ASIDE FROM the United States, Israel has very few true friends at the United Nations. The United States consistently votes against anti-Israel resolutions at the UN General Assembly, and did so again last Friday. In addition to the US, other countries which voted against all six resolutions were Canada, Australia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Nauru. The latter three are consistently pro-Israel in their votes. Other countries that voted against one or more of the resolutions included Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Pilau and Moldova. Larisa Miculet, a former Moldova ambassador to Israel, who remembers to send greetings to Israeli friends on Jewish holidays, pointed out that Moldova did in part vote with Israel.
■ BUSY PEOPLE always seem to have time for additional activities. One such person is Gil Hoffman, the Jerusalem Post’s chief political correspondent. In addition to being professionally on the ball, an attentive father to a large family, and a global public speaker, Hoffman also keeps up with prayer services and religious studies, works out at the gym and this week his team won this year’s Nefesh B’Nefesh Panoply quiz night at the Bayit Vegan Guest House in Jerusalem. There were 15 teams of eight to 10 people – all immigrants from English speaking countries.
Hoffman’s team, which was called Iron Dome, included some all-star Anglo journalists: the Post’s Amy Spiro, i24 News anchor Eylon Aslan-Levy, Times of Israel political correspondent Raoul Wootliff, and Breaking Israel News reporter Eliana Rudee.
They joined Panoply veterans Nachum Lamm, who knows endless trivia, and social media maven Rabbi Josh Yuter, who can name almost any song ever after a few bars, and Naomi London.
Hoffman’s team also won in 2012 and 2016 and finished second five times to a team called Achzava, which finished second this week, making the win for Hoffman’s team even sweeter. For those who want to meet Hoffman in the flesh, he will be the keynote speaker on December 25 at the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association annual brunch at the Daniel Hotel in Herzliya Pituah.
■ THE LATEST WeWork facility which has been under construction in Jerusalem for a couple of years now, and has had a two months running period, was officially opened this week with a festive reception that included a jazz ensemble, mime artists, a huge selection of doughnuts, a Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony and the presence of the outgoing and incoming mayors of Jerusalem Nir Barkat and Moshe Lion as well as Lion’s chief contender Ofer Berkowitz.
Located on the site of what for decades was the Hamashbir building, WeWork will have a hard time establishing its identity in the capital, because the landmark building continues to be known as Hamashbir, even though another larger Hamashbir department store was built down the road apiece in Zion Square.
Moreover, although WeWork lists its address as 20 King George Street, the entrance to the part of the building which it occupies is at the side, whereas the front is dominated by fashion stores.
WeWork occupies two floors of the building in a rabbit warren of 430 large and small spaces. The small spaces known as micro-offices are absolutely tiny, and don’t contain much more than a couch. For some people this would be a very claustrophobic environment, but according to Tomer Dowek, a member of the WeWork team who led a press tour through the maze of corridors, these tiny spaces are quite popular, and in fact some of the people who rent them were on hand in their offices, and a couple even opened the door to invite people inside.
This is not your usual office building. While there is privacy in terms of sound, all the walls and doors other than to the toilet or security infrastructure, are made of glass, so everyone can more or less see what everyone else is doing. There are also security cameras operating 24/7. People renting space receive a furnished office, WiFi, their logo on the door – and if they don’t have one, WeWork will design one for them. There’s also a coffee bar and a kitchenette where tenants can socialize. In fact, the company motto is “Much more than an office.” The idea is to create a sense of community. Traveling business people who may need an office for a day or a few hours can find it right in the heart of Jerusalem.
Benji Singer, the General Manager of WeWork Jerusalem was in high spirits and predicted that WeWork will become a Jerusalem focal point.
■ FEW THINGS in Israel’s capital start on time, and it was therefore hardly surprising that the mayoral changing of the guard at City Hall on Tuesday started at Jerusalem meantime.
Due to commence in the large Council Chamber at 10 a.m., the ceremony did not actually get underway until 10:34 – and even then, latecomers were still arriving. Additional chairs had been set out in anticipation of the crowd, but there were still scores of people standing in the vastly overcrowded area.
Many of the women present were planning to continue on to demonstrations protesting violence against women, and therefore wore black dresses. Aside from close family and friends of Barkat and Lion and their political supporters, there were large contingents of municipal workers, members of Knesset, representatives of the Histadrut, loads of photographers and journalists – and many others.
What was truly heart-warming about the ceremony was not so much the sustained applause and the cheers,  but the deference that both Barkat and Lion gave to their wives thanking them for their support in good times and bad. Barkat kissed his wife after descending from the stage and Lion publicly told his wife, “I’m not easy to live with, but I love you and there’s none better than you.”
Barkat said that more than being a commander in the IDF or a hi-tech entrepreneur, the most rewarding role he ever had was that of mayor of Jerusalem – something that he regarded as a privilege “in this complex but most important city.” He had spent 521 weeks as mayor and had attended 151 council meetings, he said. He was also proud of the fact that on his watch there had been 600 start-ups in the capital.
Listing some of the many issues that come with mayoral responsibility, Barkat said: “You cannot imagine what happens in Jerusalem in a single week.” He truly loves Jerusalem, he said. He loves to walk around the Western Wall and the City of David, or sit in the Sultan’s Pool or to look out at the city from the top of Mount Scopus or to go shopping in Mahaneh Yehuda market.
“For me, being mayor was a mission – a labor of love,” he said. Though no longer mayor, Barkat is not disappearing. He entered local politics as a parent interested in the education of his daughters, and education remains a priority for him. In this respect, he pledged to help the city whenever needed. Just to make sure of that and in appreciation for Barkat’s service as a shekel a year man, Lion presented him with the key to the city.
Although much was made of the fact that Lion lived in Givatayim, the first time he threw his hat into the mayoral ring five years ago, Lion moved to Jerusalem and stayed, thereby disproving the forecasts of the political pundits. His family’s relationship with the capital goes back to 1935, when his grandfather, for whom he is named, arrived in the Holy Land from Saloniki in Greece and headed for Jerusalem. At the time, Lion’s father was only a year and a half old. Over the years, the family spread out to Tel Aviv and Givatayim, but always found its way back to Jerusalem, the city which Lion described as the most unifying factor of the Jewish people, especially at Hanukkah time. For him to be in the council chamber was in a sense the closing of a circle, he said, adding that all his previous roles had prepared him for this moment.
In 1999, when he was not quite 38 years old, and had concluded his tenure as director-general of the Prime Minister’s office, then mayor of Jerusalem Ehud Olmert acknowledged his cooperation with the municipality at a ceremony in the council chamber. Lion had also learned a lot about cooperating with local authorities when he served as chairman of Israel Railways and head of the Jerusalem Development Authority. As a member of the city council, he had held the Community Centers portfolio and in that capacity, had visited each and every neighborhood in Jerusalem and had learned to know the different populations, all of which he intends to serve.
■ THE CONTROVERSY surrounding the appointment or the disqualification of Chico Edri as the next Chief of Police, took on a special dimension last Friday following the dissenting vote of former Supreme Court justice Eliezer Goldberg. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan made a valiant attempt to be statesmanlike when interviewed in the early morning by veteran journalist Ya’akov Ahimeir, who also interviewed police reporter Roi Yanovski and commentator Moti Gilat, as well as former high-ranking police. Gilat, who is a Sokolov Prize laureate, made his reputation as an investigative reporter and had a reputation for causing the fall of the mighty, seems determined to besmirch the reputations of people in high places, and his facial expression reflects his pleasure in doing so. After working for several years for Yediot Aharonot and then for Israel Hayom, he joined KAN 11 in mid-2017. There, he is venerated to the extent that almost everyone treats him as the Oracle of Delphi, and hesitate to contradict some of the outrageous comments that he makes on radio and television. His rant about Edri on Friday was really over the top. Ahimeir proved his own journalistic integrity by remonstrating with him and not allowing him to continue. Since then, Erdan, in interviews on KAN 11, has accused the media outlet of mounting a campaign against Edri.
■ KAN 11 has still not taken up permanent residence in Jerusalem and continues to broadcast from Modi’in, where last Friday, many roads were closed due to the Modi’in marathon. Emily Amrusi and Yuval Elbashan, who broadcast an 8 a.m. program on Fridays, were advised to come to the studio 15 minutes earlier than usual, but to be on the safe side, each of them left Jerusalem separately 20 minutes earlier than usual, but nonetheless found themselves caught up in roadblocks, with unsympathetic police refusing to let them through. They had no choice but to undertake the last leg of the journey on foot, and made it to the studio just on time.
Marathons may be great for fitness, competition, camaraderie, fundraising etc., but they cause an awful lot of inconvenience to literally thousands of people, because they are usually held on Fridays when people go shopping for Shabbat. Perhaps it would be more fun and less inconvenient to hold midnight-to-dawn marathons, with routes lit up to give a different perspective to the city. After all, if Tel Aviv can have White Nights operating to near dawn, why not marathon races?
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