Grapevine: When patriotism gets priority

Who's who in Israel this week.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, join the public in the Wohl Rose Garden, opposite the Knesset, on Independence Day (photo credit: GPO)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, join the public in the Wohl Rose Garden, opposite the Knesset, on Independence Day
(photo credit: GPO)
The period from the start of Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars to the Israel Prize ceremony is arguably the most patriotic time of the year. It’s when tens of thousands of Israelis attend memorial ceremonies in military cemeteries across the country, and hours later go through the emotional jolt of celebrating Independence Day, remembering that the freedom that goes hand in glove with independence is what their loved ones fought and died for.
That sense of patriotism was somewhat marred by the reluctance of Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to have Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu share the microphone and light one of the Independence Day beacons. If it hadn’t been a milestone year, Edelstein might have been correct in his initial refusal to accept any departure from tradition. But this was a special, round-number Independence Day.
Had Edelstein been more gracious about the whole affair, it’s possible that President Reuven Rivlin might also have come to the 70th anniversary party. What joy that would have been for the thousands of tourists who had secured tickets to Mount Herzl. As exciting as it is to watch the whole procedure in the flesh, so to speak, it’s even more exciting to watch everything on television, especially when TV cameras bring closeups right into viewers’ living rooms.
It was obvious why Edelstein objected to Netanyahu’s presence. Edelstein may be eloquent, but he can’t match Netanyahu, and he lacks Netanyahu’s charisma and natural flair for drama. Even people who dislike Netanyahu and who would never vote for him, in a rare moment of honesty would admit to being spellbound when he speaks. The roaring ovation that he received at Mount Herzl said it all. The negative comments later made by some of the MKs who attended are fake reactions. They should look at some of the video footage to see how happy they were.
The excitement of members of the Druse community when Sheikh Mawafak Tarif was called on to light a beacon was a delight to see, and it was even more delightful to observe the sheikh singing the national anthem.
■ ACCORDING TO the Knesset dress code, short skirts are not permitted, regardless of the fact that mini dresses have been back in vogue for several seasons now. Although Edelstein was eating sour grapes over the breaking with tradition, he should remember that tradition, like charity, begins at home. The little black dress worn by his wife, Irina Nevzlin, to the Independence Day festivities on Mount Herzl would certainly not have passed muster at the entrance to the Knesset. It was just a little too high on the thigh.
■ ON THE other hand, Sara Netanyahu in her blue dress, seated alongside Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev in her white dress, made for a very patriotic twosome and looked as though they were having the time of their lives.
■ ON THE following day, despite a crowded schedule, the prime minister and his wife decided to see how the general public were enjoying themselves, and took time out to visit the Wohl Rose Garden opposite the Knesset, where they were swamped by well-wishers. Netanyahu’s security detail was on edge throughout, but the prime minister and his wife had a good time and emerged unscathed.
Though casually dressed, Sara remained patriotic in her attire, and in fact wherever she went during the Independence Day period, she wore either blue or combinations of blue and white.
■ CANBERRA IS Australia’s capital, but as far as Zionism goes, Melbourne is the place to be for any Israeli celebration. Thus, Ambassador Mark Sofer and his wife traveled to Melbourne for Independence Day and participated in a flash-mob dance in Federation Square in the downtown area of the capital of the State of Victoria, whose Gov. Linda Dessau happens to be Jewish. Melbourne is also home to several Jewish parliamentarians.
■ AMONG THE guests at the Independence Day reception that Rivlin hosted for heads of foreign missions, military attachés and leaders of Christian communities in Israel was Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III, who in recent months has been keeping a low profile, and has seldom been seen at official events. The patriarch was somewhat unhappy about the manner in which the Jerusalem Municipality had decided to unilaterally impose taxes on Church property and was considering the sequestration of church lands.
“They should have at least negotiated,” said the patriarch. Reminded that the Greek Orthodox Church had not negotiated when it decided to sell large tracts of land on which residential properties occupied by Jews had been built, Theophilos said that he had in fact issued a warning. “We told them,” he said, referring to the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund as well as the municipality, “but they didn’t believe us. They thought we were bluffing.”
■ FOR MANY of the diplomats attending the president’s reception, it was part of an all-day string of funfilled events. Earlier in the day, a large number of diplomats, some with spouses and children in tow, had attended a regatta at the Herzliya Marina initiated by the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel, headed by Yitzhak Eldan, a former chief of protocol at the Foreign Ministry. Among the participating diplomats were representatives of Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Belarus, Costa Rica, Latvia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Romania and other countries, whose flags flew from the boats in tribute to Israel’s Independence Day. Later, when they went to Jerusalem, they flew national pennants on their cars for the same reason.
■ THIS YEAR’S Independence Day was a moment of triumph for Israel’s Moroccan community, especially those who came from Casablanca. Actor Ze’ev Revach, who lit one of the beacons and emotionally recited the Sheheheyanu prayer, was born in Casablanca, as were Israel Prize laureates Miriam Peretz and David Levy, who were seated alongside each other, chatted, and warmly embraced each other. Coincidentally, Revach’s father was Levy’s teacher in Casablanca.
Israel Prize honorees are permitted to invite their immediate families to the ceremony. Levy must have caused organizers somewhat of a headache. He has 12 children who are all married. Two of them are members of Knesset.
■ COMMEMORATION OF the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in Poland coincided with Independence Day, and several Knesset members flew to Poland to join in both the commemoration and the celebration. London- born Out of the Depths founder Jonny Daniels, who is always happy to welcome Israeli parliamentarians to his current home in Poland, was thrilled to catch up with Deputy Speaker Hilik Bar, along with Yehudah Glick, Akram Hasson and Leah Fadida, as well as with Yuval Rabin, the son of slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, and with syndicated American columnist Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whose writing also appears in The Jerusalem Post. Members of the group wore either daffodils or yellow stars to identify with Jewish resistance during the Holocaust.
Bar, after Seder night, took his family to Thailand, where he also engaged in some bilateral diplomacy. He came back to Israel in time for Remembrance Day and, after a brief spell at home, continued on to Poland.
■ JEWISH COMMUNITIES in Poland, outside of Warsaw, held their own commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In Czestochowa, the most Catholic city in Poland, the memorial event was organized by Izabela Sobanska- Klekowska, who chairs the Czestochowa Socio-Cultural Association of Jews in Poland, in cooperation with Tadeusz Piersiak, director of the city’s municipal museum as well as the Jewish History Museum, where the commemoration began, from where participants marched to the Monument of Czestochowa Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
Led by Deputy Mayor Ryszard Stefaniak, representatives of the Czestochowa Municipality attended, placed flowers on the monument and lit memorial candles. Also present was Ireneusz Kozera, director of the Bronislaw Huberman Philharmonic of Czestochowa. Huberman, a famous violinist, who founded the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, was a native son of Czestochowa.
Following the ceremony at the monument, volunteers and students from the Słowackie high school distributed yellow daffodils on the main boulevard of the city, together with a postcard telling the story of the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto. Most of the participants in the ceremony wore daffodils on their lapels, which has become a tradition in Poland, but some wore yellow stars.
■ DESPITE OUTBREAKS of antisemitism, Jewish life in Poland continues to flourish, as increasing numbers of Polish Jews identify with their heritage. The Jewish Community Center of Krakow last weekend kicked off a yearlong celebration of the 10th anniversary of its opening. Representatives of the JCC’s three founding partners – World Jewish Relief, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Religious Congregation of Krakow – attended festive events, first at a ceremony in Krakow’s Temple Synagogue, and then at an outdoor celebration in the JCC’s courtyard.
In the past 10 years, JCC Krakow has transformed the narrative about Jewish Poland and become Poland’s most visible sign of Jewish revival, said its New York-born executive director, Jonathan Ornstein. “A story once thought to have ended with the Holocaust now continues on with the rebirth of a thriving, modern Polish Jewish community,” he said.
JCC Krakow programs include a senior club frequented by 60 local Holocaust survivors, Hillel Gimel for university students and a Sunday school and BBYO for younger children. Just last year, the JCC opened the Frajda Early Childhood Center, the first pluralistic Jewish preschool to open in Krakow in over half a century. The center also hosts workshops and lectures open to the entire Krakow community and has become a hub of Polish-Jewish dialogue in the city.
Since its opening, the JCC has grown from 100 to 700 Jewish members and hosted hundreds of holiday celebrations, Shabbat dinners, art and cooking workshops, rabbinic lectures and more. It has also welcomed more than 500,000 international visitors, 125,000 of them in 2017. Members and visitors alike have benefited from the commitment of JCC Krakow’s non-Jewish volunteers, of whom there are 50 at any given time.
■ IN ONE of the many speeches that Netanyahu made during the Independence Day week, he referred to an old joke that began with the question “How do you make a small fortune in Israel?” The answer was “You start with a big one.” Netanyahu then went on to speak of Israel’s flourishing economy, and how Israelis are becoming multimillionaires, not only when they relocate to other countries but right here in Israel.
He was obviously thinking of his good friend and Caesarea neighbor, Leon Edery, one of the kings and angels of Israel’s film industry, who succumbed to cancer on Remembrance Day.
Edery and his younger brother Moshe were born in Morocco, and as youths came to Israel with their parents and settled in Dimona, where they used to sneak into the movie theater. Later, they worked as assistants to the projector operator. Later, Leon bought into the canteen at one of the city’s movie houses. Then he bought into another canteen, and then together with his brother bought a movie theater and another and another. They kept expanding into different branches of the industry, becoming producers of an incredible number of Israeli films, including several prizewinning productions. They also became mega distributors of local and foreign films and established the Cinema City chain of cinema banks. In fact, were it not for the Edery brothers, the Israeli film industry would not be where it is today.
■ THE ATTENTION given by the media to Natalie Portman’s decision not to come to Israel to receive the Genesis Prize defies all logic. There are more important issues at hand than to bother with the trivia of a Jerusalem-born American actress who doesn’t approve of Netanyahu’s actions and policies and has therefore bowed out of the presentation ceremony.
According to Ben-Gurion University president Rivka Carmi, who sits on the committee that examines all the nominations for the Genesis Prize, Portman was fully aware of Netanyahu’s involvement from the very beginning. In that case, of course, she should have declined the prize when it was offered to her.
Prizewinning author David Grossman is arguably more anti-Netanyahu than Portman. He’s not too fond of Education Minister Naftali Bennett either. But that didn’t stop him from accepting, because he realized that in the years ahead, no one would remember his antipathy towards the prime minister. What they would remember is that he was an Israel Prize laureate.
Likewise, Grossman’s political views did not disqualify him with Bennett, who said in his address on the night of the awards: “The Right doesn’t hold a monopoly on patriotism, just as the Left doesn’t have a monopoly on human rights. Not only the Right loves the Land of Israel, and not only the Left seeks peace. Both aspire for the best for the state.” Later in the week, at an education event at the President’s Residence, Bennett, yet again promoting diversity, said: “How do you create a spark? You rub two stones together.”
■ ALTHOUGH THE 25th anniversary of the failed Oslo Accords is not till September 13, debates on the subject have already begun. Yossi Beilin, who was one of the initiators of the process that led to the accords, wandered into the lion’s den this week at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem and entered into discussion with Bennie Begin.
MBHC executive director Herzl Makov recalled that Menachem Begin used to address his political opponents as “my friend and rival” and explained that differences in political ideologies should not be allowed to intrude on personal friendships. Begin’s son has obviously inherited his father’s philosophy and, while strongly disagreeing with Beilin over the ceding of territory to the Palestinians, nonetheless defended Beilin, saying that Beilin is a good Zionist. Beilin, in the same gentlemanly fashion, said: “This is a debate between two patriots who can’t agree.”
Begin added that, essentially, they want the same thing, but with different approaches to the end goal. Although they were speaking to a largely religious, right-wing audience, Beilin was not booed, and on several occasions was actually applauded for his honesty. When moderator Merav Miller asked if there is any chance for peace with the Palestinians, Begin’s reply was an emphatic “no.” Beilin said he doesn’t know, he can only hope.
Beilin will participate in a longer and much broader debate at Tel Aviv University on Thursday, April 26. Other participants on the panel in which he will be speaking include Avi Gil, Yair Hirschfeld and former foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami.
■ WHILE SITTING next to opposition leader Isaac Herzog at the opening of the Independence Day festivities, US Ambassador David Friedman tweeted: “At Mount Herzl tonight (Israel’s Arlington Cemetery), Israelis abruptly shifted from mourning their losses to celebrating the miracle of their 70th anniversary. As King David said from Jerusalem 3,000 years ago (Psalm 30), from tears at night come joy in the morning.” Herzog retweeted Friedman’s tweet on his own Twitter account.
■ MEMBERS OF Israel’s Ethiopian community are extremely upset by the fact that Netanyahu has not visited the protest tent that the family of Avraham “Avera” Mengistu has set up around the corner from the Prime Minister’s Residence. However, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat did visit with them, and spent quite some time talking to them.
Mengistu, who is mentally unstable, voluntarily walked into Gaza in September 2014, and it is suspected that he and another Israeli civilian, Hisham al-Sayed, are being held captive by Hamas. For some odd reason, the Israeli media consistently misreports that protest demonstrations are being held outside the Prime Minister’s Residence, just as they misreport that the residence is on Balfour Street. Since the assassination of Rabin, there have been no protests outside the residence. They are all held around the corner, where the prime minister cannot see them when he looks out of the window; and the front entrance to the residence is on Smolenskin Street, not on Balfour Street.
■ JUST A few days prior to Independence Day, Rivlin added a letter to yet another Torah scroll of the many that have been dedicated over the past three-and-a-half years to the memories of kidnapped and murdered yeshiva boys Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah. Fraenkel’s grandfather Aviezri Fraenkel was one of the beacon lighters on Mount Herzl on Independence Day.
■ HADASSAH, THE Women’s Zionist Organization of America, had invited Peretz to address its 70th anniversary mission to Israel long before it was announced that she would receive the Israel Prize. That she addressed the group at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem only a few days later was cause for greater excitement than usual.
Hadassah national president Ellen Hershkin presented her with a golden heart, following Peretz’s address to the mission. Also present was Chaim Lotan, director of Hadassah’s Heart Institute. Lotan happens to be a close friend of Peretz.
■ IN ISRAEL to celebrate her own milestone birthday in tandem with Israel’s 70th birthday, Dr. Shoshana Kloot from Melbourne wanted to do something memorable and long lasting. So she decided to donate a Torah scroll to the defenders of Israel, reasoning that without the Israel Defense Forces, there might not be an Israel.
Kloot fondly remembers celebrating her fifth birthday with the State of Israel – an experience that forever bonded her to the country. In the week of Independence Day, surrounded by family and friends, she bonded her past with her future at a dedication ceremony at the Border Police Telem Base just outside Hebron. The celebration was conducted in conjunction with the International Young Israel Movement’s Warrior Torah program.
Participants were briefed by Yossi, the base commander, who explained the essentially strategic location of the base and emphasized the importance of the soldiers’ presence in protecting the surrounding communities and preventing terrorist infiltration.
There was a festive lunch prior to the dedication ceremony, with soldiers and civilians carrying the new Torah scroll as well as another under a bridal canopy, and dancing to the synagogue. Soldiers of all ranks mixed and danced with the Australian visitors. Also present to deliver a brief sermon was Rabbi Baruch Zaichyk, formerly the spiritual leader of Mizrachi Synagogue in Melbourne.
The day concluded with an emotional visit to the Cave of the Patriarchs.
■ YNET REPORTED a municipal desecration of a memorial work of art.
Residents of the Florentin neighborhood were shocked to discover that a community installation was going to ruin the neighborhood’s iconic mural depicting the assassination of Rabin. Municipal workers had already begun to cover the mural with gray paint. The public outcry put a stop to this activity, even though much damage had already been done. The municipality apologized and declared its intention to transfer the installation to another wall, claiming that tampering with the mural, which has been in place for 22 years, was an honest mistake.
Fortunately Yigal Shtayim, the artist and social activist, is still living, and though angry about the municipality’s careless attitude, he agreed to restore the mural.
Unfortunately, too many valuable historic relics have been destroyed by municipal workers and real estate developers, and in most of those cases, restoration is impossible.
ONE OF the perks of being in the upper echelons of the hospitality business is the people one gets to meet – those who are already famous, and those on their way to becoming famous. Tel Aviv Hilton general manager Ronnie Fortis got to feel as though he were the master of a harem when he was surrounded by the 12 finalists in the Miss Israel contest, when they posed for photographs with him on the hotel’s new groundfloor terrace overlooking the Mediterranean.
The finals are due to take place on May 1, which, a long time ago, under a different political administration in Israel, was a very significant date on the socialist calendar.
Fortis, who has been the general manager of the Tel Aviv Hilton for almost 22 years, and the country general manager for Hilton Hotels Israel for nearly 17 years, is one of the few hoteliers in Israel to remain at the helm of the same hotel group for such a long period of time.