This coming Friday, September 1, marks the 79th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Poland that which off the Second World War and cost so many millions of lives of innocent civilians and soldiers on all fronts.
This year, September 1 also marks the second yahrzeit, according to the Jewish calendar, of Israel’s ninth president, Shimon Peres. A special memorial service for him will be held at his Mount Herzl graveside in Jerusalem at 11 a.m. on Friday, with the participation of President Reuven Rivlin, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog and members of the Peres family.
Later in the month, it is anticipated that the Negev Nuclear Research Center in Dimona will be renamed for Peres, who was its prime mover. That ceremony, when it takes place, will carry a hint of irony.
In his final year as president, Peres was excluded from the invitation list of the 50th anniversary of what for many years masqueraded as a textile factory, though its true purpose was a fairly open secret. The jubilee event organized by the Atomic Energy Commission included 3,000 invitees – minus Peres, though he was mentioned in every speech, including that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
It was also Netanyahu who, a month after Peres’s death, proposed that the nuclear facility be named in his memory.
Curiously, it was also in September, 25 years ago, that the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization were signed in Washington with the aim of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and sowing the seeds of peace in the region.
Although Israel has entered into peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, peace with the Palestinians remains elusive, despite various areas of cooperation.
No doubt, Yossi Beilin, who served as deputy foreign minister to Peres, and who conceived the process that led to the Oslo Accords, will be inundated with requests for media interviews, as will Terje Rod Larsen, the Norwegian diplomat who was a key figure in the negotiation, and Dr. Nabil Sha’ath, a leading Palestinian representative. However, in the eyes of many members the Israeli public, who to this day perceive the Oslo Accords not as a Declaration of Principles but as a trigger for terrorism, the finger of blame will be eternally pointed at Peres.
■ 2018 IS A year of several other milestone anniversaries, among them the 80th anniversary of the Munich Conference, the 100th anniversary of the birth on August 25 of celebrated composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, the 100th anniversary of the birth on September 17 of Israel’s sixth president, Chaim Herzog, the 80th anniversary on November 9 of Kristallnacht – the night of the shattered glass, and the 100th anniversary on November 11 of Armistice Day, which signified the end of the First World War. And, of course, we are continuing to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence.
The Munich Conference of September 28-29, 1938, included the leaders of Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy who, in an effort to prevent war, agreed to allow Hitler, who had already annexed Austria in 1937, to also take over the Sudetenland, the part of Czechoslovakia whose population was largely German-speaking. The agreement, made with the proviso that Hitler would not invade any other part of Europe, was signed on September 30 by Hitler himself, Neville Chamberlain, Edouard Daladier and Benito Mussolini. But Hitler’s word, as Europe learned to its cost, was not his bond.
On Wednesday, September 5, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs will host a conference on the Munich Agreement, with the participation of JCPA president Dore Gold, who is a former ambassador to the United Nations and a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry; journalist and former member of the Italian Parliament Fiamma Nirensterin; Prof. Shlomo Avineri of the Hebrew University; Dr. Martin Kramer of Shalem College and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Melanie Phillips, international journalist and public speaker; Joel Fishman of the JCPA; Jacques Neriah, a former foreign policy adviser to prime minister Yitzhak Rabin; and Yossi Kuperwasser, former director-general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry. Because space at the center is very limited, prior registration is required. Details are available on its website. For the benefit of anyone who may be interested but unable to attend, the event will be live-streamed.
■ ALTHOUGH THE Palmah, the elite fighting force of the Hagana, was established almost exactly seven years before the founding of the state, it, too, is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the existence of the State of Israel, with a special concert to be held on Sunday night, September 2, at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv. None of the performers, who include Shlomo Artzi, Miri Mesika and David D’Or, were born when the Palmah came into being, though actress Gila Almagor, who is co-compering the show, was a toddler at the time.
One of the songs that Artzi will sing, at the request of Shaike Gavish, who on August 25 celebrated his 93rd birthday and who continues to be the guardian of the Palmah legacy, will be “Elifelet,” which was written by Natan Alterman and set to music by Sasha Argov. There are very few Palmah veterans still living, and most of those have become enfeebled and rely on caregivers, so much so that there is joke that at a Palmah reunion one veteran turned to another and said: ”I don’t remember that we had so many Filipinos in the unit.”
■ APROPOS FILIPINOS in Israel, next week they will be greeting their country’s President Rodrigo Duterte, whose entourage according to a CNN report will include retiring military and police officers. A trip to Israel and Jordan in the company of the president is certainly a much more significant gift than the proverbial gold watch. The entourage will also include Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu.
Duterte will be the first president of the Philippines to visit Israel. There are rumors that he does not enjoy good health and that he will undergo medical examinations while in Israel. But if that is indeed the case, we won’t know about it until after he leaves, if it is made public at all.
■ IN MID-AUGUST, the Indian Embassy, at almost the last minute, canceled its national day reception, due to the death of former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the Indian government’s declaration of a period of national mourning.
Israel and India established full diplomatic relations with the opening of an Indian Embassy in Israel in 1992. An Israel consulate had been functioning in India since 1953. Even before there were full diplomatic relations, there was cooperation on various issues, one of which can never be forgotten by Mali Shtaier, whose life was saved by an Indian sea captain.
It was not uncommon for the wives of senior crew members on ZIM line ships to accompany their husbands on a voyage. Thus, in March 1981, Shtaier, then pregnant with her son Oded, joined the crew on board the MN Mezada en route to the United States. The ship ran into trouble near Bermuda and sank. Several of the crew were lost at sea. Before the ship went down, its distress signal was picked up by the US Coast Guard and by Capt. Joachim Harold Shantidas Pinto, who at the time was commander of the MV Damodar Tasaka. Pinto, generally known as Harry, in coordination with the Coast Guard, engaged in a rescue operation and was able to pull nine Israel survivors, including Shtaier and her unborn son, out of the choppy sea.
A lifelong friendship developed between Shtaier and Pinto’s family. In 2010, she visited them in Goa. She was saddened in March of this year to learn that Pinto had died, and in the condolence message that she sent to his family, she recalled that the ZIM lawyer had told her after her ordeal that Pinto had wept because he had been unable to save more people.
Shtaier was this week reminded of her experiences at sea with the visit to Israel by a delegation from the National Defense College of India, headed by the commandant of the college, Vice Admiral Strikant, who prior to his present appointment was inspector-general for nuclear safety. Members of the delegation met with Rivlin on Monday, and heard from him how much he had enjoyed his weeklong visit to India in November 2016.
■ ALL JOURNALISTS make mistakes, sometimes by publishing erroneous information, and sometimes by omitting important information from a story. The latter was the case with a New York Times article about enduring Spanish opera singer Placido Domingo, who at age 77 is singing his 50th role in Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers at the Salzburg Festival in Austria.
Joshua Barone, who wrote the story and delved back into Domingo’s biography, mentioned that, as a young boy, Domingo moved with his parents from Spain to Mexico, where in 1959 he made his operatic debut in Verdi’s Rigoletto. Barone then completely glossed over the next decade, leaping from Mexico City to the Metropolitan Opera in New York. His glaring sin of omission was the three-year period that Domingo spent in Israel from 1962-1965, honing up on his tenor’s repertoire while singing with the Israeli Opera company.
Domingo has mentioned that frequently, but possibly not in Barone’s hearing. In 2012, Domingo made history in Israel by becoming the first vocal artist to be selected for the prestigious Wolf Prize.
■ NICE WORK if you can get it. The four hoopsters who have joined the Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team each got a new set of wheels. In order to provide an incentive for Da’Sean Butler, James Feldeine, Josh Evans and Alex Dobrovich to play to win, Jerusalem Subaru dealer Shimon Barzilai gave each of them the use of a new Subaru car for the season ahead. Aside from proffering the gift by way of saying welcome to the team, Barzilai wants to be sure that they can get to practices and to the games that really count, without the hassle of calling a cab or relying on the goodwill of other players who have cars of their own.
■ JERUSALEM DEPUTY Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, who has thrown in her lot with Ze’ev Elkin as his running mate in the upcoming mayoral election, took time out from campaigning to do what she really wants to do – which is to contribute to improving Israel’s image abroad.
Hassan-Nahoum answered a call by Fuente Latina, a tri-national public diplomacy organization operating out of Israel, the United States and Spain, to engage hundreds of Latino journalists around the world working for media covering Israel and the Middle East. Though most of these journalists are fluent in English, conveying the message to them in Spanish is much more effective.
Fuente Latina was founded in 2012 by Leah Sobel, a Hispanic American and an Israeli citizen, who is on a frequent commute between Jerusalem and Florida. A journalist in her own right, who has been widely published, she was previously the Spanish media program director at the Israel Project, for which she worked for seven years.
Always on the lookout for knowledgeable and articulate Spanish speakers who are socially active and have their fingers on the pulse of what is going on in Israel, the people in the Jerusalem branch of Fuente Latina pounced on Hassan-Nahoum, a lawyer by profession, who grew up in Gibraltar, but embarked on university studies and lived for several years in London. Most recently, she spent a hectic 10 days in Mexico, Guatemala, Peru and Argentina, where she appeared on the prime-time shows on major television channels and was interviewed and reported on extensively by the print media.
In the course of her television appearances and print media interviews, as well as in her meetings with opinion makers, she called on all Latin American governments to follow the example of Guatemala and move their embassies to Jerusalem. In Guatemala, she voiced appreciation for the manner in which Guatemala had demonstrated its friendship toward Israel. It wasn’t all work. Ricardo Quinonez Lemus, the mayor of Guatemala City, thought she was entitled to some play, and took her to one of the city’s festivals, where she had a fun time.
■ FORMER AUSTRALIAN ambassador Dave Sharma, who has become an unofficial spokesman for Israel since returning home, tweeted after yet another down under government reshuffle last week: “Australian political turmoil seemingly a fixture. Makes Israeli politics look stable and glacial by comparison.”
Sharma was also sorry about the resignation from the cabinet of foreign minister Julie Bishop, who had vied to succeed ousted premier Malcolm Turnbull, but had been the victim of political backstabbing by her own colleagues. Bishop visited Israel in September 2016, at which time Rivlin apologized to her for canceling his visit to Australia and instead flying to Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin. Sharma in his tweet described Bishop as one of the best that he had seen in the role of foreign minister, adding that she had achieved a lot for Australia “with her force of character, intellect and personal charm. Pleasure to work for.”
■ CAN OR should a government minister be ousted for blackmail? Essentially, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev is blackmailing the Knesset in order to have her reform of the film law passed. If the bill is not passed by the end of December, government funding for Israeli films will plunge from NIS 80 million to NIS 30 million, she threatened in a radio interview this week. Considering that Israeli films have become so popular internationally, and are giving Israel a more positive image in the world, in addition to providing more jobs in the industry, the question arises whether Regev’s threat could be considered an act of treason against the national economy.
■ THERE IS life after Teva, ran the headline in Yediot Aharonot beneath a photograph of a dozen smiling former Teva Pharmaceuticals employees who have changed direction to become teachers. In a typical tale of every cloud having a silver lining, increasing numbers of Teva veterans who were dismissed in the mega reform aimed at putting the company back on the road to economic profitability have responded favorably to the Education Ministry, which, noting their experience and their qualifications, reached out to them and asked them to take on part-time jobs teaching chemistry to high school students. The offer was accompanied by a NIS 21,500 grant.
The new teachers, who are employed in a two-thirds position, each had to give an undertaking to stay on the job for at least three years. A two-thirds job is better than no job, and new challenges open the door for new creative thinking, so all are looking forward to the opening of the school year.
Few things are more frightening to veteran employees who thought that they were in a safe work environment only to discover that they are on the list of dismissals. Tamar Baum, who worked for Teva for 23 years, said that she chose to teach because she liked the idea of working with youth and becoming a significant factor in their lives through her ability to communicate knowledge to them. Not everyone has been encouraging. Some of her friends turned up their noses, saying that work with high school students is difficult and the pay is low. For all that, Baum is looking forward to the challenge of running a class in an efficient manner while building positive connections with her students.
Gabriella Berkowitz, a 20-year veteran of Teva with two degrees in chemical engineering, said that although she had received other offers, the idea of working with youngsters and the challenge of teaching them some of what she knows were simply more appealing.
■ STORYTELLING IS a means of passing on folklore and keeping it alive. Iraqi-born storyteller, actor, writer, broadcaster and man of many other talents Yossi Alfi has been telling Iraqi stories for a large part of his life, but has also been teaching people from other backgrounds to tell stories by keeping them concise, yet without sacrificing important details. He is best known for his annual Sukkot storytelling festival at the Givatayim Theater, where this year he will be celebrating the festival’s 25th anniversary.
Held during the intermediate days of Sukkot, the festival, which includes numerous panels on a variety of ethnic and historic themes, is recorded for radio and television and is replayed on local stations and channels. For listeners to the stories, this is a wonderful, informal learning experience in terms of absorbing information straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Most of the panelists tell stories of personal experiences as new immigrants, as members of underground Zionist organizations in their countries of origin, as soldiers, Mossad agents, politicians, athletes, and in any number of other situations.
The knowledgeable Alfi, who never runs out of subject matter, does his homework well, and as moderator fills in gaps if and when a panelist has a lapse of memory or veers from the plot. Sometimes Alfi is like a small child who butts in to show off what he knows, and this can be annoying when he cuts across a speaker; but given how informative and entertaining his programs are, he can be forgiven this particular quirk.
This year’s festival, which runs from September 20 to October 1, includes many well-known personalities who have distinguished themselves in different fields of endeavor, as well as people who are less widely known, but who are prominent personalities in their specific circles. Included in the lineup are veteran octogenarian actress Lea Koenig, who will tell stories and sing in Yiddish under the program heading of “Zol Zeyn Git” (It should be good); Kobi Zarkan, who will present a program in Ladino; historian Dr. Yitzhak Noy, who has his own weekly programs on Kan 11; Rafi Kishon, speaking about the humor of his late father, internationally best-selling author and satirist Ephraim Kishon; intrepid journalist Ron Ben-Yishai, who will present the background to some of his hair-raising adventures; Prof. Michael Bar-Zohar, a former MK, who was Ben-Gurion’s official biographer; singer Moshe Lahav, who will host comedian and musician Nancy Brandes; and songwriter and professional storyteller Yoram Taharlev.
Themes will include the 95th anniversary of Givatayim; exceptional women; stories about the Mossad, with a special tribute to late Mossad chief Meir Dagan; politics and politicians; the Hebrew Language Academy, 65 years after its founding; the individual presidents of Israel; crime reporters; superstitions; the Baal Shem Tov; the differences between men and women in culinary preferences; and a tribute to Yossi Banai. In short, there’s something for everyone.
In addition, Alfi always tries to include stories of the countries from which immigrants came to Israel. This time around, there will be stories of people from Libya, Iraq, Greece, with the emphasis on Thesaloniki, Romania and Poland, and of the Indian Jews of Cochin.
■ AMONG THE weekly Friday programs on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet is a current affairs and interview show co-hosted by political opposites Yuval Elbashan and Emily Amrousi. He’s a secular left-wing academic who currently serves as dean of social development at Ono Academic College, though in fact he’s a professor of law, and she is a religiously observant, right-wing journalist. What they have in common is that they are both divorced. There are few issues on which they agree, but there is mutual respect, and their arguments make the show interesting.
Last Friday, Amrousi had a problem. Given the paucity of news in the cucumber season, a lot of publicity has been given to cases of sexual assault and perversion. It’s hard to keep such information away from children, especially when it’s emanating from radio and television news programs all the time. When Amrousi’s seven-year-old daughter asked her what porn is, Amrousi was taken aback. “How do you explain that to a seven-year-old child?” she asked.
Elbashan, for his part, was more interested in how haredi politics were influencing the proposed construction of a pedestrian bridge in Tel Aviv. Although the least amount of people would be affected if the construction work would be carried out over a series of Saturdays, haredi opposition is delaying progress. Elbashan noted that in many hotels around the country, the bulk of the weekend clientele are haredi. He wondered whether they checked whether all the hotel staff working on Friday nights and Saturdays were non-Jewish. He doubted that such inspections were conducted and commented that if it was acceptable to the haredim for hotels to be operating on the Sabbath, then it should also be acceptable to have a pedestrian bridge constructed on the Sabbath.
Singer and composer Kobi Oz, who hosts a Friday afternoon show on Reshet Bet, also commented on the bridge, pointing out that if the Ayalon highway would be closed on Shabbat during construction work on the bridge, that would prompt more car owners to stay home rather than risk getting caught in the traffic congestion that would result on alternate routes. That means that fewer people would be violating the Sabbath, he reasoned, and once the bridge is completed, many people who want to get from one side to the other will simply walk instead of taking the cars. Most of the workers on the bridge are not Jewish, he said, and suggested that a relatively small violation of the Sabbath that could lead in future to more people walking instead of driving is something that those delaying construction of the bridge should take into consideration.