Tel Aviv’s Charles Bronfman Auditorium – which for many years was known as the Mann Auditorium – was packed to capacity last week at a heartfelt salute to Rabbi Elimelech Firer, founder and head of the Ezra Lemarpeh Association in celebration of his spending the past 40 years helping the sick.

It is impossible to tell how many lives he saved in that period of time, but suffice it to say that his work for the benefit of others earned him an Israel Prize in recognition of his special contribution to society and the state.

Firer, who is haredi and the father of ten children plus many grandchildren, has never made distinctions between one sick person and another. He doesn’t care whether they’re Jewish or not, or to what extent those who are Jewish practice their Judaism.

What interests him is how he can help them to make contact with the right doctor who can relieve them of their ailments.

Firer began his activities for the benefit of society while still a young yeshiva student. He was asked to help a friend in distress obtain an advanced medical device for his home.

Later on, he was approached to assist in additional requests for medical equipment, which eventually inspired the establishment in 1979 of Ezra Lemarpeh. Although Firer received no formal medical education, he accumulated extensive knowledge on his own, so much so that he developed expertise in many fields of medicine and was able to advise literally thousands of people who turned to him for help.

His contacts are not only in Israel, but around the world, and it is a great tribute to the respect in which he is held by members of the medical profession that when Firer calls, the call is answered almost immediately unless the surgeon being called is in the operating theater. Businessman Ami Sagi chaired the tribute event that was attended by the who’s who and who was who in the echelons of Israeli society including many people of influence.

Among those present were: Judge Hila Gerstel, former attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein, former head of the Israel Ports Authority Yiftah Ron Tal, Teddy Sagi, Yair and Gideon Hamburger, Shuki Madanes, Doron Halperin, Shimon Mizrachi, Avraham Kuznitzky, CPA Reuven Shiff, former Air Force commander-in-chief Amir Eshel, hotelier David Fattal, model and television personality Galit Gutman with her partner Yigal Ahuva, former beauty queen Titty Aynoh, Los Angeles businessman David Agar, Batsheva and Moshe Bobbil, and many more. The program was chock-a-block with entertainers, among them: Eyal Kitzis, Zvika Hadar, Yehoram Gaon, Lior Sochard, Shlomo Gronich, Avraham Tal, the Ra’anana Symphonette, and more. The event was overseen by Kalman Schraiber – Firer’s longtime, loyal assistant.

■ JUST AHEAD of Rosh Hashanah, the Ruppin Academic Center hosted a delegation of French-Muslim leaders who had been brought to Israel under the auspices of the American Jewish Committee. Guiding the delegation were Ruppin President Prof. Galia Sabar and Nidaa Kitani, who is responsible for promoting the interests of Arab students at the Ruppin Center. Members of the delegation included: Jihad Balmari, community leader, social and political activist; Didi Rada, director of the Cabinet of La Ville Entreprise; Kasmi Samia, member of the Nanterre City Council; Lillian Nasima-Wadad, Secretary General, RPLR, Hasina, who headed-the delegation; Ministry of Interior representative Derbal Taufik, and Olivier Vran an assistant to a member of the Parliament.

Ruppin specializes in immigration and social integration, conducting joint research projects in these fields.

France is considered a country that, like Israel, copes with many immigrants and has many challenges in social integration. The connection between France and Ruppin was created following a request by the American Jewish Committee to host the French-Muslim leaders for a seminar on Israel. The purpose of the visit was to strengthen bilateral relations.

The delegation toured the Ruppin campus and visited the magnificent immigrants’ sculpture garden, the gallery, the library and the Institute for Immigration and Social Integration.

Sabar reviewed the state of immigration and integration in Israel and discussed Ruppin’s extensive activities on issues of social integration in Arab society. Kitani introduced the delegation to Jewish and Arab student dialogue workshops that she had given over the past two years, and talked about the recent Ramadan dinner party at Ruppin and other integration activities.

Members of the delegation were particularly interested in political and economic developments in Israel, the backgrounds of Arab students at Ruppin and the extent to which they were integrated. They were surprised to hear about the investment in the potential of each student, and the variety of activities and services that the students receive during their studies, including preparation for employment. In France there are no such activities funded by government ministries, they said.

The delegation’s itinerary also included the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya; a tour of the Old City of Jerusalem, replete with a visit to the Dome of the Rock; and an in-depth tour of Yad Vashem.

■ AFTER YEARS at the helm of Africa Israel Investments, billionaire Lev Leviev is finally releasing his hold on the company, selling it to Extra Holding which is controlled by businessman Moti Ben-Moshe who made his fortune in energy enterprises.

Leviev had a running battle with the Jerusalem municipality over a prime piece of real estate which was once the President Hotel. It was the first hotel in the capital with a swimming pool, and its guests included Israel’s founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion. The building, which has fallen into disuse and is now quite dangerous, was for some years a haven for the homeless, drug addicts and alcoholics who broke windows to sneak in and a have a roof over their heads. The municipality wanted Leviev to build a new modern hotel on the site, but he was more interested in building luxury apartments.

After a lot of wrangling, a compromise agreement was reached a couple of years back whereby part of the new structure would be a boutique hotel and the rest would be apartments. But nothing happened, and garbage continues to pile up along the exterior wall. Perhaps Ben- Moshe will be more amenable to the desires of Jerusalem’s City Hall, but any discussion on the subject will obviously have to wait till after the October municipal elections.

Given the number of boutique hotels which have sprung up in inner city areas of Jerusalem over the past three or four years, any real estate developer would have to be very wary of building yet another hotel, or very optimistic about rising numbers of incoming tourists.

■ IN THE DAYS leading up to Rosh Hashanah, the electronic media has, as usual, been flooded with appeals from social welfare organizations for donations to ensure that senior citizens – especially those who are Holocaust survivors – are able to enjoy a holiday repast.

In some cases, the idea is to put them up in a hotel for the duration of the festival so that they can be together, not only in the dining room. That idea came from Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz.

Former minister Yossi Peled, who is now the chairman of the Public Council of Pitchon Lev, has been calling for funds for meals, using the radio as his platform – with the commercial being aired at less than two minute intervals. It’s extremely off-putting as it starts with Peled patting himself on the back for thirty years of public service to the army then civil service, and now to social welfare.

Rabbi David Grossman’s Migdal Or is asking for funds to feed the needy, and Amcha, one of several organizations that care for Holocaust survivors is asking for people who are willing to host a survivor or a senior citizen to contact one of their offices around the country. Yad LeHaver – which together with partners has built a residential facility for Holocaust survivors in Haifa – is asking for funds, but unlike most other organizations of good intentions, is not asking for people who want to be hosted or to receive meals to contact the organization.

What most organizations don’t seem to realize is that in their desire to do good for Holocaust survivors and other senior citizens, they are robbing them of their dignity. No one wants to be thought of as a charity case. Many lonely people who may also be in need of a meal are too proud to call and register themselves among the needy. And there’s no reason in a digital age why they should.

The National Insurance Institute, the Ministry of the Interior and other state institutions as well as municipal social welfare agencies have updated records with the names, ages, marital status and addresses of senior citizens. In many cases they know exactly who needs company and food.

But where they don’t, it’s just as easy to enlist members of youth groups to go door-knocking with modest bunches of flowers to say they’ve brought a gift for the holiday.

Then the young visitors enter into a conversation, where the subject of how the senior citizen will be spending the holiday is broached in a casual manner. Then if necessary, an offer will be made for accommodation and meals during the holiday period.

It’s a way of solving a problem while simultaneously engaging more people in good deeds. Even more important perhaps, is the upcoming Succot period in which it would be nice for families to invite a senior citizen to join them on an outing – especially if they’re going out of town. It’s a relatively small effort that could mean a lot to recipients.

Shana Tova – A Good New Year – to all readers of The Jerusalem Post.

May you enjoy health, happiness and long life, and continue reading for many years to come.

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