Members of the Hazvi Yisrael congregation in Talbiya got in a little early last Saturday in conveying a congratulatory message to one of the founders of the congregation, Prof. Hillel Blondheim, on his 100th birthday. Blondheim was born in America on March 25, 1918, and the greeting was even more premature in relation to the Hebrew calendar birth date, which was 12 Nisan, 5678. There are several nonagenarian congregants, and one who is already 101– Amsterdam-born Mirjam Bolle, an Auschwitz survivor, who is straight-backed, always perfectly groomed, walks without a cane or a walker, and doesn’t wear glasses.
Last Saturday's service was somewhat unusual in that it was a mixed Sephardi-Ashkenazi congregation. The Sephardim showed up for the bar mitzva of Yehonatan Zwebner, the son of Sarah and Aviel Zwebner, who did a great job in reading all three Torah portions for the beginning of the month of Nisan. The Sephardi women – several of whom were relatives of the bar mitzva boy, ululated each time that Yehonatan completed a portion.
One of his grandfathers, David Zwebner is a former president of the congregation, and one of his great-great-grandfathers, Avraham Haim Shag, who was born in Jerusalem in 1887, was a member of the first Knesset, representing the United Religious Front. Before the establishment of the state, he was one of the founders and leaders of the Mizrahi movement and also chairman of the Religious Council of Jerusalem.
And one last item related to Hazvi Yisrael. Long-time congregant Susan Fried tells the story that her granddaughter was visiting and came to look for her in the synagogue. Not knowing where she sits, the child kept walking around the three sections of the women’s gallery. When another congregant asked who she was looking for, the child replied that she was looking for her grandmother.
“What’s her name?” asked the helpful congregant. “Grandma,” replied the child.
Beitar Jerusalem fans have done some problematic things over the years, but it seems that the management of the soccer club also has issues. After a video taken several years ago went viral last week in which several soccer players, including Beitar’s Antony Varenne, appeared to have sexually abused an unconscious woman, one would have thought that both the Beitar management, the Brown Hotels group that sponsors Beitar and the Israel Football Association would have given Varenne the boot. But no. All he got was a slap on the wrist, because he was playing for another club at the time. That says a lot about what Beitar, Brown Hotels and the IFA think of morality and of the hapless woman who became a pawn in a sexual chess game. Varenne said he was sorry, but sorry wasn’t good enough – certainly not after Beitar fans cheered him and hailed him as a hero last weekend.
Before the Second World War, Odessa had one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe. For well over a century, Jewish Odessa was renowned for its musical and literary figures. It also had leading Zionists, such as Levi Eshkol, who became a prime minister of Israel, and who was among the founders of Kibbutz Deganya Bet and Mekorot, the national water company. The great Revisionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky also came from Odessa, which is perhaps part of the reason that Eshkol as prime minister authorized the transfer of Jabotinsky’s remains from New York to Israel – something founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion refused to do.
A lot of Jewish liturgical music emanated from Odessa, and some of it can be heard on Sunday, March 25, at the Wise Auditorium of the Hebrew University’s Safra Campus on Givat Ram. “The Songs from Jewish Odessa” will be sung by Cantor Azi Schwartz of the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York; Vera Luzinski, who will sing in Yiddish and Russian; and the Chamber Choir of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. The conductor will be Stanley Sperber and the accompanist will be Raymond Goldstein, who is well known for his musical arrangements.