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Grapevine September 15, 2021: The other Isaac Herzog


There is no longer bipartisanship in America. The only thing on which Democrats and Republicans agree is their mutual hatred of China, former Israeli consul-general in New York Dani Dayan said on Monday.

He was speaking at the Jewish People Policy Institute at a farewell for Israel’s new ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog, a former IDF brigadier-general. The event, which was both in-person and livestreamed, was, as several speakers put it, both a farewell to his decade-plus work with JPPI and a new beginning in Washington.

Among those who showered accolades on Herzog for his abilities as a bridge builder among people of opposing views, a strategist, natural diplomat, a knowledgeable and experienced negotiator, and the right man in the right place at the right time to repair relations between Israel and America and to continue the battle against antisemitism and BDS, were two former prime ministers of Israel, who cannot abide each other, and have said some despicable things about each other, but Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu were in accord in their lauding of Herzog and their belief that he will make a difference in Israel-US relations at this critical point in time.

It being a Jewish affair, it was understandable that most speakers, while acknowledging Herzog’s capabilities and experience, and his familiarity with Israel, America and the Palestinians, also plied him with advice, seemingly forgetting that simultaneous to his work with JPPI, he was also a member of The Washington Institute.

JPPI President Prof. Yedidia Stern, relating to Herzog’s work in combating those who seek to delegitimize Israel, noted that Herzog had worked out strategies to fight this threat, and that he would continue to do so on the diplomatic, legal, religious and economic fronts.

Alongside issues such as Iran, BDS and antisemitism, Herzog’s biggest challenge will be to salvage Jewish unity, said Sallai Meridor, a former Israel ambassador to the US. Meridor also pointed out that both America and Israel have changed, and that their relationship should no longer be that of a small country receiving aid from a big power. Instead, there should be cooperation and partnership in areas of mutual interest.

Dayan said that before Herzog starts to repair relations with America, he has to work on repairing relations with the Democratic Party, while simultaneously maintaining good relations with the Republicans.

There was consensus on the part of most speakers that the most important issue for Herzog to resolve is that of the rift between American Jewry and the State of Israel, because to American Jews, the issue of pluralism in Israel is more important than finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Dayan underscored that any representative of Israel who wants to close or at least reduce the gap between American Jewry and Israel must be willing to attend services in Conservative and Reform synagogues. Without taking that step, they may as well give up trying.

Even Barak, who admitted that he never had a bar mitzvah, stressed the importance of Jewish solidarity and partnership to such an extent that he looked and sounded like his Ponovezh ancestors, to whom he bears a strong physical resemblance, but whose upbringing was radically different. Yet he feels as much a Jew as they were, he said.

Also mentioned by speakers was the relationship of Israel with Evangelicals, which it was said is important, but not as important as cementing relations with American Jewry.

JPPI cochairman Dennis Ross said that Herzog was an inspired choice for ambassador, and that he would be able to alleviate some of the tensions that exist between America and Israel over China. He suggested that Israel create a set of boundaries with regard to its relations with China.

As for Iran, Ross said that Herzog is perceived by the Biden administration as a first-rate analyst who understands the nature of Iranian strategy. Ross bemoaned the fact that there is no deterrence against the Iranians, who he said don’t seem to fear the consequences of what they are doing.

JPPI codirector Stuart Eizenstat stated that an important goal for Herzog is to restore the bipartisan issue. On major issues affecting Israel, he said, the Democrats are as supportive as the Republicans. He also commented that despite the divisiveness in the American Jewish community, which he and others underscored is the largest Jewish community outside of Israel, Jews of all persuasions are concerned about rising antisemitism in America. More than half feel less secure than they did a year ago, he said.

Herzog said that he was embarrassed by all the compliments that he had received, though his mother would have believed them.

He was deliberately keeping his speech short, he added, because he believed that people entering office should speak less and do more.

He attributed his being persuaded to join JPPI to Avinoam Bar-Yosef, the think tank’s founder and former president, who impressed him, after he completed his 30-year career with the IDF, with the importance of Jewish solidarity and identity.

Working together with so many people from different Jewish backgrounds and so many diverse viewpoints had taught him a lot, he said. He is conscious of all the challenges confronting him, and said that the most challenging is Iran, which would require long and quiet dialogues with the US.

As for representing Israel to the Jewish community, Herzog said that he is not a political appointee and that he has no intention of being political. He wants to be the representative of the rainbow of mainstream Israel in all its facets.

Although much of the talk during the evening had centered on challenges, Herzog, who will take up his post in October, said that there are also many opportunities.

■ TWO VETERAN journalists, Ben-Dror Yemini and Yehuda Sharoni, are the recipients of this year’s Life Achievement awards conferred annually by the Tel Aviv Journalists Association.

Yemini, who began his career as a journalist in 1984, has written for various publications and is a much-in-demand public speaker. From 2003 to 2014, he edited the opinion page of Maariv, which is part of The Jerusalem Post Group; and from 2014 to the present time, he has been a columnist with Yediot Aharonot. He has also written books, one of which, Industry of Lies, deals with irresponsible and unaccountable reporting in contemporary media.

Sharoni is a longtime economics editor, reporter and analyst who knows what goes on behind the scenes in Israel’s economic successes and failures.

Two other younger journalists will also receive awards at the association’s annual conference in Eilat next month. They are investigative reporter Adva Dadon of the N12 news site, for her work as a field reporter, and Guy Lerer of Channel 13 for making the public aware of sexual harassment and assault complaints against modeling agent Shai Avital. When models revealed what they had allegedly suffered, Lerer took up their cause.

Dadon’s prize is in memory of American-born journalist Jay Bushinsky, who was an all-around field reporter of the old school who reported from all over the Middle East for major American and Canadian News outlets, and was the first bureau chief of CNN in Jerusalem. His byline occasionally appeared in The Jerusalem Post as well.

Lerer’s prize is in memory of veteran Yediot crime reporter Yehezkel Adiram, who died last year.

■ IN ORTHODOX Jewish circles, a wedding usually goes on for a week, with luncheons and dinners known as sheva brachot (seven blessings).

But there is no reason for a bar mitzvah to run for almost a week – though in some overseas families they have the religious ceremony, then a large banquet or a family dinner with a few close friends thrown in for good measure, and then the whole family comes to Israel for a week or more. But ordinarily, depending on the family’s financial circumstances, a bar mitzvah is not more than a two-day affair.
In the case of Zechariah Raphael Klein, the son of Gidon and Nathanaelle Klein of Ra’anana, it started on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, in Jerusalem, when his paternal grandmother, Sarah Klein, presented him with a beaten silver kiddush cup, and the festivities concluded last Saturday night in Jerusalem.

On Thursday night, Zechariah’s parents hosted a buffet dinner for family and close friends at their spacious home in Ra’anana. Although the dinner was held outdoors, everyone was hot and perspiring, especially in the heat and humidity of the Ra’anana night air. Delicate wood and paper fans were instantly provided.

On Friday the family was back in Jerusalem for evening prayers at Hazvi Yisrael Synagogue, followed by dinner around the corner in the old Arab home owned by Zechariah’s maternal grandparents, Arielle and Claude Richard-Tenenbaum. Morning prayers were held there on Saturday. It was amazing how quickly the two, large adjoining rooms leading into each other had been cleared and transformed into a house of prayer. It was very symbolic, because this was where Zechariah’s circumcision had taken place 13 years earlier when he was admitted into the faith, and this was where he celebrated the Jewish age of maturity which made him old enough to be counted in a minyan – a 10-member prayer quorum.

Sarah Klein’s three children had, for various long periods, been living and working in other parts of the world. To have them and all her grandchildren living in Israel together was for her the greatest joy.

Gidon and Nathanaelle are both hi-tech experts who worked in top-notch jobs in America for global companies for eight years and returned to Israel last year. Gidon’s older brother Ishai and his family lived in Singapore for 17 years, and he still travels frequently to Asia for business. Their sister Nava is an international finance consultant, who, prior to the pandemic, commuted frequently between Israel and other countries.

In Jerusalem, as in Ra’anana, guests received souvenirs – a booklet with the grace after meals and Sabbath songs, more fans, with a choice of colors this time, and a Bible replete with Sabbath prayers.

The prayers were led by Gidon and Ishai Klein, who did a magnificent job. Afterward, chairs were quickly folded, and replaced by large and small tables on which a sumptuous kiddush was served, followed by a few speeches and a lot of singing. There was something in the nature of an encore during the afternoon prayers. It was most definitely a memorable week for all concerned.

The Kleins created a hard act to follow for their daughter Oreliah, who is to celebrate her bat mitzvah in two years’ time. And there are still two other boys – Ezra and Shmayah.

■ IF YOM Kippur is here, Sukkot cannot be far behind. In bygone years, people who made a point of being in Jerusalem on at least one of the intermediate days of Sukkot, did so in order to be able to visit the President’s Residence, and to meet and greet the No. 1 citizen of the state. But unfortunately, despite all good intentions, they will not be able to do so. For the second consecutive year, there will be no open house during Sukkot at the President’s Residence.

It has long been a tradition for the president of the State of Israel to open the official residence to the public on one of the intermediate days of Sukkot. The event is held in conjunction with the Agriculture Ministry and sometimes with the Science Ministry and the Israel Innovation Authority. Prior to the festival, schoolchildren help the president decorate the sukkah.

In addition to exhibits on the opening day, there is also entertainment, and visitors get to meet the president and pose for selfies with him, though not as easily with presidents Reuven Rivlin and Shimon Peres as with their predecessors, who used to stand in the sukkah and shake hands with every visitor. This custom was not followed by Peres and Rivlin, who simply emerged a couple of times to wave to the crowd and to make a brief speech, and were then whisked away again by staff.

Given the fact that several thousand people, who included babies and very senior citizens, used to come to the president’s open house, the Health Ministry has advised that it could be hazardous to health, during the period of the pandemic, to have so many people, not all of whom have been vaccinated, coming together.

President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal, had been looking forward to opening the residence on Sukkot during their first year there, because the President’s Residence is symbolically the home of the people. Not only that, but hospitality is one of the traditions of Sukkot, and as far as the Herzogs were concerned, it was also a platform for closer relations between the president and his wife and the citizens of Israel.

But these are troubled times, and the value of human life and the health of each and every individual outweigh other considerations.

There is a slight compensation. The Visitors’ Center at the President’s Residence will continue to function during the intermediate days of the holiday, with limited numbers of people permitted to enter at any one time.

■ ON SEPTEMBER 29, 1941, the Babi Yar massacre of nearly 34,000 Jewish men, women and children began on the outskirts of Kiev in Nazi-occupied Ukraine. The German Army invaded Kiev on September 19, and special SS squads prepared to carry out Hitler’s orders to kill all the Jews and Soviet officials they could find. Beginning on September 29, Jews were marched in small groups to the Babi Yar ravine to the north of the city and ordered to remove their clothing. Standing afraid and naked, they were gunned down, falling on top of each other in the ravine, which in a short space of time became a mass grave. It was the eve of Yom Kippur.

Though in many places the 80th anniversary of this horrendous event will be commemorated at the end of September or early October, in Israel, the Knesset chose to commemorate it in the Yom Kippur week.

Altogether, it is estimated that between 100,000 and 150,000 people – men, women and children – were murdered at Babi Yar. In just two days nearly all the Jews of Kiev were rounded up. Some were only grazed by the bullets, and some simply leapt on top of bodies in order to evade bullets. There were not many survivors, but, nonetheless, there were a few people who, despite the weight of the bodies and the difficulty in getting out of the ravine, were able to extricate themselves and to crawl to hiding places.

Most of the victims of this Nazi atrocity, which resulted in the largest mass grave in Europe, were Jews, but there were also Roma and people with physical and mental disabilities.

Among those attending the 80th anniversary commemoration this week were Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy, Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai, Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center chairman Natan Sharansky, Yad Vashem chairman Dayan, World Zionist Organization and acting Jewish Agency Chairman Yaakov Hagoel and Association of Ukranian Immigrants in Israel chairman David Levin.

At the gathering, Levy said: “The massacre at Babi Yar is one of the worst single atrocities humanity has ever known,” emphasizing that Jews were murdered, shot to death, simply because they were Jews.

Sharansky, who was born in Ukraine, urged the Israeli government and Holocaust institutions whose members had visited German death camps in Poland to also visit Babi Yar.

“There were two methods for exterminating the Jews: cold-blooded murder with bullets and burial in mass graves throughout Eastern Europe, of which Babi Yar is the symbol, and mass, systematic extermination using gas in camps established by the Nazis in Poland,” said Sharansky. “In order to understand in depth the entire story of the extermination of the Jews, I call on the Israeli government and all who have visited Poland to visit Babi Yar as well.”

Prior to the commemorative gathering, Levy presented a medal on behalf of the Knesset to one of the last survivors of Babi Yar, Michael Sidko, who was just six years old when he witnessed Nazi soldiers murder his infant brother, Volodya, his younger sister, Clara, and his mother, whose screams Michael heard as she was shot to death in the forest of Babi Yar. Michael and his brother Grisha miraculously survived, after the Nazis selected them for either work details or medical experiments. The two brothers went on to repeatedly escape death, thanks in part to their Polish neighbor who took them home and passed them off as her own sons until the end of the war.

Sharansky reassured Sidko that the memory of his family, along with all the victims of Babi Yar and the Holocaust, will be safeguarded forever. “Michael’s story is intertwined with the story of the State of Israel, which arose from the ashes of the Holocaust in order to stop the shedding of Jewish blood and to build a home for the Jewish people in the land of their ancestors.

“We must maintain the security and the economic and social strength of the State of Israel, which together are the best guarantees for the future of our country, and for our ability to stand by the vow we made to Michael and all the victims of the Holocaust: Never again.”

Sharansky promised Sidko that the names of his murdered mother and siblings would be recalled at the official ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of the massacre, due to take place in Kiev on October 6.

“Preserving the memory of the Holocaust is a national mission of the State of Israel,” said Shai. We must do everything we can to ensure that the memory of the Holocaust is not forgotten.”

He added that he is opposed to stopping educational trips to Poland. “We need to be there and see with our own eyes – we and our young people,” he said. “Babi Yar should be one of the places where you should definitely visit, learn and remember.”

Dayan concurred “It is our Jewish, human, and moral duty to remember the murdered in that inconceivable massacre, and not allow their memory to be forgotten. The faces of the men, women, girls and boys destroyed in that valley of murder must never be allowed to disappear – especially not when it comes to the place and the events which some wanted erased from the pages of history. We will not permit this memory to ebb away: not only for the sake of those killed, but also for our own sakes today and for future generations.”

■ AS SHOCKED as so many people were over the physical attack this week against Knesset member Meir Porush near his home in Jerusalem, the least shocked was Porush himself, who has been previously attacked on several occasions over the years, as have other members of his family. When one of his sons was attacked some years ago, he refused to say who the assailants were, because to reveal their identities would have, in his view, been a desecration of the Holy Name.

■ NOT FOR the first time were Bedouin trackers used to find fugitives from justice. It wasn’t technology or military or police intelligence alone that enabled security forces to recapture four Gilboa Prison escapees.

Yet the Bedouin are among the most abysmally treated people in Israel. Their nomadic tradition is not respected, and their villages have no legal status, which means they are not connected to electricity or running water.

Shana Tova and be well over the fast.

greerfc@gmail.com





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