The Jerusalem Post

Grapevine September 20, 2023: A changing situation

 RABBI YITZHAK DOVID GROSSMAN and MKs Benny Gantz and Pnina Tamano-Shata with boys studying at Zoharim. (photo credit: Itsik Balinski)
RABBI YITZHAK DOVID GROSSMAN and MKs Benny Gantz and Pnina Tamano-Shata with boys studying at Zoharim.
(photo credit: Itsik Balinski)

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

How situations change. Several years ago, Danny Danon, in what was then an almost unthinkable act of bravado, announced that he would challenge Benjamin Netanyahu in a contest for the Likud leadership. At the time, Danon, who was one of Netanyahu’s most severe critics, literally put his political future on the line. Netanyahu did not punish Danon in the same way that he punished Gideon Sa’ar, who ran against him in 2019. In fact, he gave Danon a ministerial portfolio, and after that, appointed him as Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations. Danon, who is currently chairman of World Likud, is now one of Netanyahu’s staunchest defenders and manages to find plausible excuses for him no matter what he says or does.

Germany's candid and transparent ambassador

■ FEW AMBASSADORS are as candid and transparent as German Ambassador Steffen Seibert, who last week tweeted that he was at the High Court of Justice because that was the place to be when something important was happening to Israel’s democracy.

 The tweet was picked up by an Israeli television reporter through whom it came to the attention of Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, who was furious at what he perceived to be interference in Israel’s internal affairs. He lodged a complaint with Germany’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs through Israel’s Ambassador to Germany Ron Prosor. This, in turn, was widely reported in the German media. In the interim, Seibert spoke publicly about how it was important for an ambassador to attend such an event and to report back to his home country, which is a close friend and supporter of Israel. He has not received a virtual slap on the wrist for annoying his Israeli hosts. Quite the opposite.

A statement issued by the spokesman of the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin reads: “The observation of important political, also domestic, developments in their respective host countries is a central responsibility of diplomats. The visit to a public hearing of a partner state’s Supreme Court, like the visit of Ambassador Seibert, is an excellent example of this common practice.


 “The Federal Foreign Office is in permanent contact with its Israeli partners. We cannot confirm media reports about an official protest of the Israeli Foreign Ministry.”

 THE CENTRAL SUKKAH on the boardwalk at the Theatron Hotel. (credit: Courtesy Theatron)
THE CENTRAL SUKKAH on the boardwalk at the Theatron Hotel. (credit: Courtesy Theatron)

Chancellor Olaf Scholz also threw his weight behind Seibert.

What’s sauce for the goose must be sauce for the gander. Israeli representatives who observe certain developments in their host countries often do so incognito. Seibert was not only completely open, but included a photo of himself in court in his tweet.

It would have been wiser to simply invite him to the Foreign Ministry to hear his take on what he heard. The perspective of a foreigner with no ax to grind could be refreshing.

But then again, Israel has an uncontrolled habit of releasing bulls in china shops.


Gantz visits therapy village

■ NATIONAL UNITY leader Benny Gantz, accompanied by MK Pnina Tamano-Shata, visited the Zoharim Educational Therapy Youth Village, which specializes in agriculture for 14- to 18-year-olds from ultra-Orthodox communities who do not find their place in the regular educational framework, nor in the communities into which they were born. Founded in 1993 by the Black Panthers, many of whose relatives, friends, and neighbors were plagued by drug addiction, the facility, which served as an emergency center for drug addicts, was named after singer Zohar Argov, who was also a drug addict, and was unable to kick the habit.

In 2012, it was taken over by Israel Prize laureate Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman who has a long and distinguished history of working with youth at risk. His focus at Zoharim is on the ultra-Orthodox community, which also has problem youth, some of whom are addicted to drugs and alcohol.

The two legislators toured the village and met with Grossman as well as with some of the staff and the youngsters.

In thanking Grossman and his staff for their dedication, Gantz also addressed the students and told them that there is hidden potential in everyone and that he was confident that they had a better future ahead of them.

Tzipi Livni takes a backseat to her husband

■ IN THE days when Tzipi Livni was a prominent political figure, her husband, Naftali Spitzer, an entrepreneur and advertising executive, happily played second fiddle and encouraged her in her career.

But now the boot is on the other foot, and it’s Spitzer who is in the limelight.

The couple arrived in Acre last week to launch a new technological game – Adventure in Acre – that was developed by Spitzer and Nimrod Berger of the More than Reality company.

Spitzer and his wife met with Yuval Porat, CEO of the Old Acre and Nazareth Development Company Ltd., which operates and markets the game in the city.

Together with dozens of families who came with their children, they inaugurated the new game, which tells the story of breaking the siege of Napoleon in an interactive way that is suitable for all members of the family.

A Zionist Israeli Georgian businessman

■ ISRAELI GEORGIAN businessman Itsik Moshe, who last year was targeted for assassination by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, is fiercely pro-Zionist. To drive home the importance of the Zionist enterprise, he organized a two-day conference at the Tower of David Museum dealing with a host of subjects under the heading of “The Victory of Zionism and Israeli Patriotism.”

Moshe is the head of The Israeli House, a joint project of the Immigration and Absorption and Foreign ministries.

Its purpose is to maintain and strengthen the ties between the State of Israel and Israelis living abroad. Located in all Israeli embassies and consulates, it provides the Israeli expat communities with cultural events, children’s activities, and holy day introductions – all in Hebrew.

It also assists returning Israelis who are coming home with various aspects of the procedure.

The conference was attended by Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and Culture and Sport Minister Miki Zohar as well as representatives of 18 countries. Part of the entertainment was provided by Christian and Muslim singers.

Introducing foreign diplomas to the haredi lifestyle

■ THERE WAS a time when ultra-Orthodox Jews kept their distance from non-Jews, fearful that if they had close relationships they would be persecuted, forced to convert, and, in all likelihood, – killed. But the world has changed. Quota systems under which an extremely limited number of Jews could acquire higher education have by and large been abolished. Jews living in democratic societies are free to practice any legitimate profession. Jews are no longer afraid to enter the hallowed halls of academia, business, and commerce. They enter through the front door instead of the rear or side doors. With this relatively new freedom, they want to be integrated into the wider community, but accepted for what they are without any attempt to assimilate them and separate them from their traditions.

Similarly, many diplomats and foreign business people stationed in Israel see the ultra-Orthodox community as some kind of an esoteric force and are curious to know about the various sects, what it is that differentiates them, and how one can tell by their attire who belongs to which sect.

Several rabbis in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Tel Aviv, and the Galilee have taken it upon themselves to introduce foreign diplomas to the haredi lifestyle and to the different traditions of the various ultra-Orthodox communities, as well as to ultra-Orthodox business people and influential individuals.

A veteran in this field is Jerusalemite Rabbi Matityahu Cheshin, who a former American ambassador dubbed “The Haredi Consul” – a title Cheshin adopted and has printed on his business cards. Like some of his compatriots, Cheshin acts as a liaison between the diplomatic community and the ultra-Orthodox community. He initiates dialogue, works towards the prevention of antisemitism, and encourages the sharing of cultural information. His work takes him to embassies, consulates, foreign ministries, airports, customs and borders, airline companies, chambers of commerce, international organizations, and more.

He explains the background of Jewish holy days, and when not meeting on a one-on-one basis, sends out the links to websites containing such information.

In wishing foreign residents a happy new year, with the hope that their prayers will be accepted, he also asked that this year should be one of peace throughout the world and that they should merit all the blessings recorded in the Bible.

When colonels cry

■ EVEN COLONELS cry. There were a lot of emotional tears flowing at IDF Northern Command when Col. Aharon Friedman met the young woman to whom he owes his life. A recovering cancer patient, Friedman thought he had conquered the illness, but when struck by it a second time, he was told that there was no alternative other than a second bone marrow transplant. No one in his family was a suitable donor. Ezer Mizion, the national bone marrow registrar began an urgent search for a suitable donor.

After approximately a week and a half, a donor who was almost a 100% perfect match, was found.

The transplant was carried out in August 2021

Friedman recovered, and in July 2022, returned to his army unit, as a commanding recruitment officer in the North.

At that time, he had never met the donor who saved his life.

Two years after the successful transplant, Shir Harush, 24, a drama student from Beersheba, came to the Northern Command base to meet Friedman for the first time. Friedman, 39, a resident of Safed and the father of three daughters, has been serving in the IDF for 20 years, with a number of achievements to his credit.

In the summer of 2018, he was diagnosed with cancer for the first time. The disease was in the lymph nodes.

He underwent chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, and it seemed that he was healthy. But after a year, he was back in hospital, receiving the most aggressive therapies to save his life.

The second time around, he was in far worse condition than before. For Friedman, it was almost like being on the battlefield, as his life hung precariously in the balance.

His doctor looked him straight in the eye and told him that without another bone marrow transplant, he would surely die.

A few days ago, Harush arrived at Friedman’s base. She had been waiting for this moment for two years, she said. “I wanted to see if he was okay. Suddenly you begin to realize that you haven’t just saved another human being, but a whole family – a circle of friends and people who love him.”

Friedman, who has commanded hundreds of soldiers and officers of lower rank, said that each of them had touched his soul. “I appreciate and love all my friends, and, today, more than ever, I value the gift of life that I received. All that is because of you,” he told Harush.

There was not a dry eye in the place.

Dr. Bracha Zisser, who founded and is in charge of the Ezer Mizion bone marrow registry, said it was a privilege to be part of saving Friedman’s life and that of anyone for whom a suitable donor is found. She emphasized that both for Ezer Mizion and for the donor, the procedure is so easy and yet it does so much.

Retire from public life? Why?

■ SOME PEOPLE never quite retire from public life. Case in point is Edna Halbani, who after spending half a century working in the Prime Minister’s Office as the person in charge of organizing the overseas tours of the prime ministers of Israel, and those of visiting dignitaries to Israel, now appears as a television talk show panelist and is frequently interviewed on radio and TV. She is also very active on social media platforms. There are secrets that she says she will never reveal, even though she’s a frequent interviewee in both print and electronic media. Most recently, she was highly critical of Netanyahu for changing the date of his address to the United Nations General Assembly from Thursday of this week to Friday to ensure that he and his wife, Sara, could spend the weekend in New York. As prime minister, albeit not religiously observant, and frequently seen eating in non-kosher establishments, he nonetheless has to draw the line on travel, and not fly to Israel on the Sabbath.

He should have stayed with the original schedule, Halbani told Liat Regev on Reshet Bet radio, adding that the place of the prime minister at a time of crisis is in Israel, not in New York.

It seems that when she was on the job, Halbani received greater appreciation abroad than she did at home. An example was a farewell letter she received on retirement from former US president George W. Bush.

“Congratulations on your retirement after 50 years of service to Israel. [My wife] Laura and I join your family and friends in recognizing you on this special occasion.

“We are grateful for all you did over the years to coordinate visits to the US and welcome visitors to your beautiful country. It was a pleasure to have met you.

“As you celebrate this milestone I hope you take pride in your accomplishments and dedicated service.

“We send our very best wishes as you begin the next chapter in your life.”

Writing gracious letters must be a Bush family tradition. Former president Bill Clinton often refers to the warm letter that he found on the desk at the White House that Bush’s father, who preceded him in office, had left for him.

Netanyahu boasts India following

■ WHILE MANY people are annoyed with Netanyahu for meeting with Elon Musk in view of how the X-man has treated the Anti-Defamation League and has allowed antisemitic content on X (formerly Twitter) messages received on Netanyahu’s X (Twitter) account indicate that he has quite a following in India, where they love him, and some even congratulated him on the meeting. It does indeed take all kinds to make a world.

The most influential Jews

■ ONE OF the more obvious examples of different strokes for different folks, or different likes and dislikes, is to look at the individuals chosen by different publications as the most influential people of the year. Some have made the grade almost everywhere, though not necessarily in the same order, and some like Netanyahu, are in there year after year after year – despite all the criticism against him and the ongoing anti-Bibi demonstrations to which he’s been subjected. The Jerusalem Post will host some of the 50 most influential Jews who appeared in its special magazine last Friday, at a gala black tie affair at the Carlton Hotel Tel Aviv on October 9.

Later in the month, on October 25 in New York City, Algemeiner will host its 10th annual gala, which will be attended by some of the Big Apple’s most influential and most moneyed Jews, including the top 100 people who are positively influencing Jewish life. Not everyone on the Algemeiner list is Jewish. There will also be iconic Jews from abroad such as French intellectual and philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, who is an honorary chairman of the event, and political and social activist Natan Sharansky from Israel, who will be specially honored.

Bernie Sanders one-ups Avi Mayer

JERUSALEM POST Editor-in-Chief Avi Mayer has written about incorporating Sunday into the Israeli weekend, receiving a lot of favorable comments and support, particularly from people who grew up in countries in which Sunday is not a work day. US politician Bernie Sanders has gone one better and is advocating for a four-day work week.

Rosh Hashanah toasts

■ AT MOST workplaces in Israel, it is customary before Rosh Hashanah for the boss to invite the workers to toast the New Year. Sometimes a glass of wine is all they get. In other places, they also receive gift vouchers that can be redeemed in certain shops, but the Prashkovsky Group of property developers and builders went a step further and took all of their employees to a pre-Rosh Hashanah fun day to mark the end of the summer. The event on the Sdot Yam beach included not only the workers but also the whole of the company’s management. At the beach, everyone was equal, and everyone had fun playing the popular television Survivor game, moderated by stage and screen star Guy Zu-Aretz, who gave everyone some very tough and challenging missions. In addition, there were water attractions, massage treatments, and loads of food and beverages.

Among the management who mingled easily with the workers were company president Arnon Prashkovsky, chief designer Edna Prashkovsky, chairman Yossi Prashkovsky, CEO Haim Karadi, Maya Karadi, the company’s legal consultant, and others.

Management personnel enjoyed themselves just as much as the company’s workers.

Ariel University's new president

■ ARIEL UNIVERSITY’S new president, Prof. Ehud Grossman, was immediately confronted with an administrative strike as soon as he took up his role. But he knew in advance what was waiting for him and still went ahead. An expert in hypertension and internal medicine, Grossman served on the faculty of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine from 2000 to 2018, after which he headed the Internal Medicine Department at Sheba Medical Center. He is also engaged in medical research and has considerable management experience. With regard to his medical expertise and research, Grossman has published hundreds of academic articles.

His appointment as president of Ariel University was unanimously approved at a general meeting of the university’s executive board and faculty members. In congratulating him, Ariel chairman Gen. (res.) Ami Shafran expressed confidence in Grossman’s abilities, which he said would contribute to the university’s progress.

Grossman was also congratulated by Prof. Yitshak Kreis, the CEO of Sheba Medical Center, who said Grossman’s appointment was yet another sign of Sheba’s indelible signature. Grossman had been one of the pillars of Sheba, he said.

New initiative at Abarbanel

■ A NEW initiative has been introduced at the Abarbanel Mental Health Center, which is designed to distract patients from what bothers them and allows them to focus on something they might like as a birthday gift. The new waiting room where patients wait until it’s their turn to be treated now offers a choice of gifts from which patients can select on their birthdays. This initiative in memory of educators Yeshayahu and Dvora Schwed was jointly dreamed up by their four children, Adi and Uzi Schwed, Ruthie Schwed Meiri, and Sisi Schwed German. The project took root thanks to a connection made by the Coalition of Religious Mental Health Organizations, which is headed by Vered Mezuman Aviad, in conjunction with the chair of the Friends of Abarbanel Dafna Nechushtan, the administration at Abarbanel, and Ziv Eini, who gave the green light to building the special waiting room and introduced the Schwed siblings to artist Lauren Corney, who painted an impressive set of murals.

Heads of several departments at Abarbanel were inspired by the concept and everyone put their shoulder to the wheel to help bring it to reality. The range of gifts includes those that will be appreciated by adults, youth, and children. The gifts were selected with the help of patients who answered a questionnaire about what they would like if they had the choice. This inclusiveness in the decision-making process is a positive experience for them and an important therapeutic aid.

Getting guests for Sukkot

■ HOTELS AROUND THE country are competing with the aim to attract guests for Sukkot. In some cases, the emphasis is on Sukkot decorations; in others, it’s the entertainment, and in others still, it’s the cuisine. Some hotels are offering a total package. The Theatron Jerusalem Hotel and Spa, which has been operating for only a few months, will be experiencing its first Sukkot, though general manager Sheldon Ritz, who worked for many years at the King David, is an old hand at Sukkot arrangements. Guests can stay throughout the whole of Sukkot or for shorter periods. Some of the rooms and suites have patios on which private sukkot can be constructed. Otherwise, guests can make use of the central sukkah, built on the boardwalk surrounding the hotel.

During the intermediate days of Sukkot, this area will feature a pop-up restaurant, which will feature different themed menus every night. The décor, which will also change, is the responsibility of Dana Laor, a concept artist who will turn the sukkah into a memorable experience. There will also be musical entertainment – with a different theme every night, including jazz, ’80s nostalgia, and Mediterranean melodies. In addition, there will be a wine night with an expert from a leading winery.

The Jerusalem Theater is just across the road, and Hansen House, a multi-disciplined arts center, school, and coffee shop, is located only a 10-minute walk away. Public transport is close at hand.