Grapevine: Working on the railroad

UTGOING Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations executive vice chairman and CEO Malcolm Hoenlein is coming to Israel to receive an honorary doctorate from Bar-Ilan University.

Transportation Minister Israel Katz and employees of China Railway Engineering Corporation join hands in an event marking the beginning of underground construction work of the light rail in Tel Aviv, 2018 (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
Transportation Minister Israel Katz and employees of China Railway Engineering Corporation join hands in an event marking the beginning of underground construction work of the light rail in Tel Aviv, 2018
(photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
For more than 20 years, a series of transportation ministers have been promising not “Next Year IN Jerusalem,” but “Next Year FROM Jerusalem,” by express train to Tel Aviv.
It still hasn’t happened, but it came close this past Passover, when the new rail line was supposed to go into operation.
According to Transportation Minister Israel Katz, not all the safety and security infrastructure was in place, and given the choice between allowing the public to travel on a system whose safety features were not yet air-tight, or making them wait for another six months, Katz took the latter option. However, in an interview with Aryeh Golan on Reshet Bet, he promised that by Sukkot the line would be up and running. Katz is part of the current Israel VIP exodus to New York where he will be one of the speakers at the annual Jerusalem Post conference in the Big Apple. While there, he might choose to promote additional tourism to Israel by speaking about how he has connected the whole country by rail as the first transportation minister to have pushed so hard for so broad a rail link throughout the country. On the other hand, he’s also the intelligence minister and a member of the National Security Council. So given the audience that will be listening to him, he will in all probability give greater priority to security matters than to public transportation.
■ AT LEAST one well-known Israeli of the many traveling to New York will not be at the Jerusalem Post Conference.
Sivan Rahav Meir will speak at Torah New York, which is being held at Citi Field on the same day of the conference, this Sunday, April 29. Rahav Meir has become a superstar on Israel’s religious lecture circuit, speaking to mixed audiences (including at the President’s Residence) and to audiences of women only, delivering regular Torah lectures each week in Jerusalem and beyond. All of this is in addition to her work as a Channel 2 news reporter, a columnist for Yediot Aharonot and a broadcaster on Army Radio.
Now she is going further afield, and testing the waters of the Jewish Diaspora.
She is one of less than a handful of women who will be joining numerous rabbis who will be lecturing at the all-day event. Born in Israel to a non-religious family, Rahav Meir became religiously observant while still a teenager. She is married to fellow journalist Yedidya Meir, and so far they have five children. Rahav Meir has been working in Israeli media since the age of six, contributing initially to children’s publications. Between juggling her time as wife, mother, broadcaster, columnist and lecturer, she has also managed to write four books about Israeli youth, media and Torah.
■ OUTGOING Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations executive vice chairman and CEO Malcolm Hoenlein is coming to Israel to receive an honorary doctorate on May 8 from Bar-Ilan University.
On May 13, Chava Alberstein, one of Israel’s most beloved singers, who sings in Yiddish, Hebrew and English, will be in Boston to receive an honorary doctorate in music from Brandeis University.
In fact, she is already there and has participated in commencement exercises with fellow honorees: University of Maryland president and renowned scientist, mathematician and pioneer in higher education Freeman A. Hrabowski III; Mary Sue Coleman, the president of the Association of American Universities; and Jay and Shira Ruderman, professional philanthropists, social activists and global advocates, especially in the US and Israel, for the inclusion and advancement of people with disabilities in all areas of mainstream society.
Hoenlein was previously honored by Bar-Ilan in 2010 when he received the university’s Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies Guardian of Zion award.
The citation for Alberstein reads: “Chava Alberstein is a living legend, one of Israel’s most popular singer-songwriters, whose five-decade career is still going strong.
Throughout her career, she has been dubbed the ‘voice of Israel.’ In fact, her passionate engagement with the world has caused many to see parallels between her growth as an artist and Israel’s growth as a nation.
“According to Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s largest daily newspaper, she is the most important female musician in the country’s history. ‘If we have a true folk singer,’ the paper declared, ‘it is Chava Alberstein.’ “The emotions she captures in her songs... range from love, to defiance, to melancholy. She has released more than 70 albums since 1967, many of them certified platinum or gold. Six of her albums were awarded the Kinor David (David’s Harp), an annual Israeli cultural award.
In her live performances, she is known for her ability to weave an immediate intimacy with the audience.
“Alberstein was born in Szczecin, Poland, where her family spoke Yiddish. They immigrated to Israel when she was four, settling in Kiryat Haim, near Haifa.
“Given this personal history, Alberstein’s emergence as an artist has been likened to the ashes of the Holocaust transforming – miraculously – into the flourishing State of Israel, and the humanistic, life-affirming ideas expressed in her work have been seen as expressions of Israel’s past, present and future.
“In addition to composing, recording and performing, Alberstein works tirelessly on behalf of peace, human rights and Arab-Israeli unity.
“She received the Lifetime Achievement Music Award from the Israel Association of Composers, Authors and Publishers of Musical Works, and holds honorary doctorates from Tel Aviv University and the Weizmann Institute of Science.”
Though surprised by the unexpected honor, Alberstein, 71, said it gave her great satisfaction to be recognized in such a manner outside of Israel.
■ IT’S NOT unusual for conscience-stricken children and grandchildren of Nazis to do things to help Holocaust survivors and various categories of people who were singled out for extermination by the Nazis.
Sometimes their names may lead to speculation about their lineage, but there are no visible signs of their forebears who brought shame on Germany.
Thus there was no reason to think that Tina Berkovits – a volunteer with United Hatzalah, who on Holocaust Remembrance Day was given a citation in recognition of her dedication and devotion at a ceremony held by the Carmel Coast Regional Council – was not born Jewish, let alone was the product of a Nazi family.
It was a particularly emotional experience for the 67-year-old grandmother who grew up in post-World War II Germany to receive an award on this particular occasion. Berkovits was born in the city of Bochum near Dusseldorf. In 1973, she began a 45-year-long career of saving lives and working in the medical profession when she volunteered as part of the Action Reconciliation Service for Peace organization whose aim is to confront the legacy of Nazism.
She came to Israel within the framework of one of the organization’s projects and spent three months learning Hebrew before she began volunteering as an EMT and nurse’s assistant with the Red Cross.
She began her volunteering work just as the Yom Kippur War broke out. “I volunteered in Shmuel Harofeh Hospital that had been converted during the war to house and treat Arab POWs. I was working as a nurse as part of the Red Cross and we had an agreement with the Nurses Union in Tel Aviv which engaged me to serve in local hospitals. I’ve always had a passion for helping others and for the field of health and I felt this was the perfect way to help others.”
After the war, Berkovits was transferred from Shmuel Harofeh to Assuta in Tel Aviv. There she met the then-chief rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Rabbi Yitzhak Yedidya Frankel, who heard her story. “Rabbi Frankel invited me to learn about Judaism, not to convert per se, but just to learn and understand it better. In the end, I converted and we learned together for a time before he found me a tutor to study with. It was just him and me in the lessons and it is because of him and his approach that I converted.
He told me: ‘It doesn’t matter how you look or what you wear, but if you are a good person and you honor your parents then you should join us.’ He didn’t come from a place of forcing me to do anything but rather from a place of love and from the value of human life, and that is something that I really connected with.”
Since then, Berkovits built a family of her own and settled down in the Artist’s Colony of Ein Hod. She has three children and two grandchildren, most of whom live in Tel Aviv. Berkovits currently volunteers as a First Responder and EMT with United Hatzalah, Israel’s national community- based volunteer EMS organization. Her passion as now turned into a quasi-profession.
She is on call 24/7.
She is also a doula, a naturopath, and even started an emergency medical clinic for Israeli tourists and travelers in the Goa province of India.
■ ASHKENAZI CHIEF Rabbi of Israel David Lau, Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Moshe Amar, Construction Minister Yoav Galant, with his director-general, Hagai Reznik, Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Yosef Deutsch, and members of the Jerusalem City Council joined ZAKA chairman and founder Yehuda Meshi-Zahav in a festive ceremony to mark the laying of the cornerstone for ZAKA world headquarters in Jerusalem.
Among the many people present were rabbis and volunteers from the organization as well as major ZAKA donors Eduardo and Jovita Cojab, who specially came from Mexico to attend the ceremony. The new facility will serve as the nerve center for ZAKA’s humanitarian operations in Israel and around the world.
Lau noted, “ZAKA is an organization whose essence is caring for everyone, not only in life but also after death. This headquarters that will be built here in east Jerusalem will be a source of light around the world. We hope that you will not have a lot of work, but if you do, may you be able to help others in need and distress.”
Amar, praised the many and varied activities of ZAKA, saying, “Inherent in the act of establishing these headquarters, is the act of saving souls, not only for the people of Israel but for all the nations of the world. Therefore, your work is doubly important.”
Galant said, “The world stands upon three things: upon Torah, upon divine service, and upon acts of kindness. ZAKA volunteers are involved in the highest form of hessed, (grace and loving kindness), as the dead are unable to repay acts of kindness. When I look at the work you are doing in the organization, and these are things with which I am very familiar from my time as a major-general in the army as an aide to Arik Sharon, I know that this requires an emotional strength that is not available to everyone. In contrast to other rescue organizations, I hope that you have the least amount of work.”
Switching to a security issue, Galant continued: “The State of Israel will no longer be able to live with and accept terror against Jews. We will pursue anyone wherever he is, even at the farthest corner of the world, and bring him alive to court or dead, for burial in a cemetery.”
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