Grapevine: With a little help from a friend

This week in social news.

DAVID BEN-GURION reads the declaration of Israel’s independence in Tel Aviv in 1948 (photo credit: KLUGER ZOLTAN/GPO)
DAVID BEN-GURION reads the declaration of Israel’s independence in Tel Aviv in 1948
(photo credit: KLUGER ZOLTAN/GPO)
The furor created by the publication of a portion of the Yair Netanyahu recording made media headlines in many parts of the globe, including India.
This may well be the reason that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke with protocol and decided to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on arrival at the airport. It was obvious that the Indian media would swamp Netanyahu with questions about the recording and the various peccadilloes of his older son. By greeting Netanyahu at the airport, Modi diverted attention from that issue and saved him a lot of embarrassment.
Modi is known for his bear hugs, but the one he gave to Netanyahu on this occasion was also one of sympathy and empathy, which demonstrates the greatness of the Indian prime minister. The reciprocal embrace by Netanyahu was an indication of how much he needed a genuine dose of affection after all that he’s had to contend with over the past two or three months.
At least he doesn’t have any known problems with younger son, Avner, who is currently on a post-army hike abroad. Avner is cheerful, good-natured and well-mannered, and people who know him have only positive things to say about him.
■ UNFORTUNATELY, NONE of the 37 signatories to Israel’s Declaration of Independence are still in the land of the living. In some cases their children have also died, but most of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren are living in Israel, and a good representation of them came to the Knesset at the beginning of this week to participate in a symbolic resigning of the Declaration ceremony, and of course to pose for photos that will remain a record of a somewhat less historic occasion – but nonetheless historic in itself.
The resigning ceremony was a prelude to the upcoming first Israeli Congress on Judaism and Democracy, which is due to take place in February, in association with the Center for Jewish and Democratic Law at Bar-Ilan University.
Congress founder and chairman Haim Tiab sees the Declaration of Independence “as a shining example of the crucial balance between Judaism and democracy, emphasizing the dual role of Israel in offering a home to Jews from around the world, while also retaining a democratically elected government and full equality of social and political rights to all its citizens.”
Participants in what was not exactly a reenactment at the Knesset ceremony were for the most part excited, and read and signed key passages from the Declaration of Independence, underscoring their significance for the current era. It was interesting to see the mix of adults and very young children.
■ DESPITE THE many milestone anniversaries that will be commemorated this year, it would be safe to say that, in general, Israelis do not have a sufficient appreciation of history.
Yaakov Sharett, the son of Israel’s first foreign minister and second prime minister, Moshe Sharett, who was one of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence, has been trying unsuccessfully to bring out a book about his father, but no Israeli publisher is interested, despite the fact that Sharett was a prominent member of the government during a turbulent political period.
Yaakov Sharett might get a more favorable response if he approached a South Korean publisher. In June 2010 Young Sam Ma, who was then the Korean ambassador to Israel, marked the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War by presenting medals to veterans of the US forces who fought in that war and who had come to live in Israel.
Ma thanked the soldiers of 16 countries, especially the US, who had shed blood in the Korean War, and also thanked those countries that, though not actively participating in the war, had sent humanitarian aid. Israel was included among the latter, even though Israel itself was going through a period of extreme austerity.
But according to Ma, the most “spectacular contribution” of all to the UN resolution on ending the war was by Israeli representatives Moshe Sharett and Gideon Rafael, who brought many constructive ideas toward the formulation of a Statement of Principles that was adopted by the First Committee of the UN General Assembly in January 1951. If Israel does not enjoy popularity in the UN today, it was even worse in the nascent period of the state, and it was known that anything proposed by Israel would be rejected, so the ideas were passed on to another delegation that was sympathetic to Israel, and that delegation received the credit, although the Koreans were well aware of the source.
One suspects that in a quiz on the overall history of modern Israel, few people would know anything about Gideon Rafael, who, together with Sharett and Abba Eban, was among the pioneers of Israeli diplomacy. The Berlin-born Rafael smuggled illegal immigrants into British Mandate-ruled Palestine in 1939, and in 1940 conducted failed clandestine negotiations with Adolph Eichmann to save 40,000 German Jews. He was a member of the Hagana and later the British Army.
He also worked with British intelligence in collecting material against Nazi war criminals.
A lawyer by training, he helped to prepare the Jewish case for the Nuremberg Trials.
He was part of the Jewish Agency team that lobbied at the United Nations for the resolution that paved the way to statehood, and subsequently assisted Sharett in setting up the Foreign Ministry. He later served in several ambassadorial positions and at various times conducted secret negotiations with officials from Arab countries. He died in Jerusalem in 1999.
Apropos Ma, during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in 2010, he was rooting for North Korea.
“These are our brothers,” he explained. “We may not like their leaders, but we have nothing against the people of North Korea.”
It sounds somewhat like the present Israeli attitude to Iran.
■ JUST A few days prior to the recognition given to veterans of the Korean War, Tom Phillips (now Sir Tom), who was then the outgoing British ambassador, awarded medals to members of the Jewish Brigade who fought with the British forces against the Nazis during World War II.
Phillips hosted a similar ceremony at his Ramat Gan residence almost three years earlier, when he presented the UK armed forces veterans badge and the Israel medal for combatants against the Nazis to 32 men and women who had volunteered to fight with the British forces. Among them were veterans who had served in the Royal Army Service Corps, infantry, artillery, fusiliers, Auxiliary Territorial Service, commandos, ordnance, Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, Royal Air Force and other units.
Most of the recipients had been wounded during the war. Some had recovered sufficiently to serve later in the IDF.
■ EXACTLY A year ago today, President Reuven Rivlin hosted a welcome reception for Polish President Andrzej Duda during the latter’s state visit to Israel. Last month, as Poland opened its year of celebrations to mark the centenary of its independence, the two presidents, in a telephone conversation, spoke to each other about milestone anniversaries being celebrated this year in both countries.
Israel will celebrate the 70th anniversary of its independence, and Poland the 100th anniversary of its liberation from foreign rule. The date, November 11, is of particular significance because it not only marks the return of Poland’s statehood, but the end of the First World War. Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day as it is sometimes called, was at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. The two presidents also discussed the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which in Poland is always commemorated in accordance with the Gregorian calendar date of its commencement on April 19, 1943.
In addition the two presidents discussed this year’s March of the Living from Auschwitz to Birkenau, which will take place on Thursday April 12. Both presidents hope to participate. This is also a 30th anniversary milestone year for March of the Living, which was established in 1988 by Avraham Hirschson and Dr. Shmuel Rosenman.
Many of the participants have been traveling to Poland for upward of a decade, among them child Holocaust survivor and former chief rabbi of Israel Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau.
Although it is customary for presidents of Israel to go to Warsaw to join in milestone anniversaries of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, it is doubtful that Rivlin will be able to do so, as the date this year coincides with Independence Day. Presumably, a lot of other Israelis who have participated in the past will face a similar problem, and yet there is so much symbolism in the fact that memory of the uprising and Israel’s independence are each supreme examples of Jewish courage and heroism in the face of impossible odds. The heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto fell in battle as did some of the heroes of Israel, but happily quite a number of the veterans of the War of Independence are still with us to tell the story firsthand.
■ AMONG THOSE veterans is Harold – better known as Smoky – Simon, a South African Machalnik who, with a few thousand other volunteers from overseas, came to help liberate the Jewish homeland. One of a large contingent of South African Jews who were similarly motivated, Simon served as a pilot.
He is one of the Machal (a Hebrew acronym for Mitnadvei Hutz La’aretz, meaning Volunteers from Abroad) legends.
He is also a great admirer of Menachem Begin and among the pioneers of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, where for 24 years he served as honorary treasurer, and which he continues to support. In recognition of this, Begin Center executive director Herzl Makov presented him with a special citation. In October last year, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman presented him with a citation for his role as chairman of World Machal (1948-49) and for his contribution to Israel’s security.
Last month Simon, his wife, Myra, their children and grandchildren were invited to meet with Rivlin at the President’s Residence.
Despite the fact that he is a nonagenarian, Simon still gets to a lot of events, and in December was also at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem for the dedication of a monument to Machal.
■ COMMEMORATION CEREMONIES on the site of the Warsaw Ghetto, where there is a huge sculpture identical to the one in Warsaw Ghetto Plaza at Yad Vashem, are always marked by the distribution of paper daffodils.
These flowers are associated with Marek Edelman, the last surviving commander of the uprising, who died in 2009. He was also a Polish patriot and an anti-Zionist. Every year some anonymous person left a large bunch of daffodils at Edelman’s door. This prompted him to bring daffodils to the official ceremony on the site of what had been the ghetto.
The daffodils have special significance in that they are yellow and have six petals.
When flattened they resemble the yellow star that Jews were forced to sew onto their clothes. Paper daffodils are distributed all over Poland. Even without Rivlin, Israel will be represented by embassy staff headed by Ambassador Anna Azari. Also in attendance will be Jonny Daniels, the British-Israeli founder of From the Depths, who has been living in Poland for several years, and is well known there for his activities geared to the preservation of Holocaust memory.
■ BUT BEFORE any commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, there is International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, the date set down by the United Nations because this was the date of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Because this date falls on a Saturday this year, various organizations and institutions in Israel will hold their commemoration ceremonies on the day before or the day after, unless they are commemorating via social media, which the World Jewish Congress is doing via its We Remember campaign, which has gained a following in many countries.
As part of the campaign, which started last year, the WJC reached out to millions of people across the globe, asking them to photograph themselves holding a We Remember sign and to post it on social media. The WJC hopes to reach 500 million people by January 27.
Among the people who posted photographs of themselves was famed sexologist Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who wrote “I Remember” on her sign because she is an actual Holocaust survivor, who lost both her parents during the war.
■ ITAL IAN INSTITUTIONS in Israel have united with the Italian Embassy to hold their memorial event at Yad Vashem on Friday, January 26, with the participation of Italian Ambassador Gianluigi Benedetti.
Following a service in the Hall of Remembrance at 10 a.m., participants will move to the nearby Constantine Auditorium in the building of the International School for Holocaust Studies to listen to a Cairo-born Italian historian who specializes in the history of Italian Jews under a fascist regime, Liliana Picciotto, author of the recently published book To Save Yourself – Italian Jews who fled from the Holocaust during 1943-1945 (Italian).
Also participating will be Iael Nidam- Orvieto, director of the International School, and Cecilia Nizza, a teacher and former coordinator of cultural activities of the Association of Italian Jews.
■ EVEN BEFORE that date, the Austrian Cultural Forum will sponsor two lectures to be given by Hannah M. Lessing, secretary- general of the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism. Lessing will deliver lectures in Haifa and Jerusalem under the title “Austria Dealing with the Past – The National Fund and the Future of Remembrance.”
She will elaborate on the genesis of the National Fund against the backdrop of Austria’s delayed dealing with its own National Socialism and its taking of responsibility for atrocities committed against its Jewish population. She will present the current and future tasks of the National Fund and will provide a personal insight into her experience of 23 years of working at the National Fund.
The Haifa lecture will take place on Sunday, January 21, at 4 p.m. in the library auditorium of the main building at the University of Haifa. The Jerusalem lecture will be held on Monday, January 22, at 6:30 p.m at the Hebrew University, Mount Scopus, in the Faculty of Social Sciences, Room 2415.
■ THE VARIOUS Israeli institutions that are dedicated to Holocaust education and preserving the lessons of the Holocaust will hold memorial events and exhibitions. One of the most moving is on display at the museum in Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot in the Western Galilee near Nahariya.
Dutch historian, author and poet Guus Luijters, when he was a small boy, in 1949, was taken to one of the towns that lay in ruins. There were no people there, and he asked his father where they had gone. Most of them had gone to Auschwitz, but Luijters did not discover this till much later.
Ten years ago he embarked on a project to discover the identities of child victims of the Holocaust and discovered the names and photographs of 3,000 Dutch Jewish and Sinti (gypsy) children who had been murdered in the Auschwitz and Sobibor extermination camps. Through the Red Cross, Nazi records and other sources, he was able to at least obtain the names and photographs of children who had no history, and who did not live long enough to create a legacy.
There was only one child among the 3,000 whose photograph he could not find. Her name was Sientje Abram. He set about creating a memorial project to restore the identities of these children who had been nothing more than numbers and statistics, and built up a memorial exhibition which was initially shown in Amsterdam, and is currently on loan for a year at Lohamei Hagetaot.
According to Yaara Galor, who curated the display at Lohamei Hagetaot, after the exhibition went on view in Amsterdam, Luijters received the names and photographs of 700 additional children. Galor does not know whether these 700 photos will be added to a future traveling exhibition or whether they will be archived as further proof of Nazi inhumanity.
They are not part of the heartbreaking exhibition that is being shown in Israel.
The exhibition includes several siblings.
The photographs were, of course, taken during happy periods before the war. The children are charming, and the youngest among them are aged from one to six. It is emotionally painful to look at these captivating photographs and to wonder at the bestial nature of anyone who could kill a toddler, but it is an important exhibition that should not be overlooked.
■ ANYONE WHO follows British Ambassador David Quarrey on Twitter will have seen his tweet: “Inspiring to see the great work Beit Issie Shapiro are doing in Kalansuwa with disabled children from the Arab community.” Quarrey tweeted after visiting BIS’s Sindian Early Intervention Center in Kalansuwa and congratulated it on receiving approval to build a permanent home for the center.
This significant milestone in intervention therapy was achieved when the Interior Ministry gave the official green light to the project, which is the construction of a permanent home for the center. This will be Israel’s first facility of this kind in the Arab sector, on land allocated by the mayor of Kalansuwa. The center currently operates out of rented facilities.
■ BIS has been internationally recognized as a center of excellence for the development of remedial care strategies and related innovative technologies for a wide range of physical and mental disabilities, and has special consultative status on disabilities at the UN’s Social and Economic Council.
“Sindian” is the Arabic word for oak, and the Sindian Center is aptly named, as the oak tree is sturdy and solid. The center provides children with disabilities with high-quality early intervention services and supporting therapies. The center also focuses on supporting and empowering parents via educating them regarding rights and benefits to which they are entitled, as well as providing emotional support and counseling regarding day-to-day challenges, serving the needs of children with disabilities and their families in the Arab Triangle region, comprising Kalansuwa, Taibe, Tira and Jaljulya, with a total of 120, 000 residents.
While visiting the center to see BIS’s pioneering work, Quarrey said: “I am inspired to see the life-changing impact that Beit Issie’s team brings to this region. This Sindian Early Intervention Center is a vehicle for bringing people and communities together, and for creating fruitful collaborations in the field of disabilities. The center improves the lives of all people with disabilities, Arab and Jewish alike, and is a model we hope to see replicated elsewhere.”
BIS executive director Jean Judes responded: “At BIS we are united by a shared opportunity to improve life for all people. Disability is a universal concern that cuts across all cultures, connecting people with a common urgency to give those with disabilities the opportunities that all of us have.”
■ SOMEONE AT the American Consulate did not do their homework when refusing to grant a visa to singer Amir Benayoun, who was invited together with David D’Or and Miri Mesika to sing at the United Nations on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s possible that whoever sent him the letter of refusal was trying to be politically correct and refrained from saying that Benayoun is a racist or that he had made insulting remarks about former US president Barack Obama. But to claim that he could not prove his attachment to Israel is ludicrous.
Benayoun is a proven nationalist who does not like to go abroad, and leaves Israel only when he considers the cause, such as Holocaust remembrance, to be sufficiently important to warrant a departure from his stay-at-home policy. He has no real desire to go to the United States, he said in radio interviews this week, and he’s not particularly concerned about the refusal, other than the fact that it means that his absence might be a disappointment to people who wanted to hear him sing the song that he himself composed.
Aside from anything else, he has a home and a family in Israel, so it’s unlikely that he would opt to remain in America if granted a visa. There are several valid reasons for denying him a visa, but lack of attachment to Israel isn’t one of them.