The Jerusalem Post
Wednesday, July 7, is the final day in the seven-year tenure of President Reuven Rivlin and the first day of the tenure of President-elect Isaac Herzog.
Rivlin hosted a state dinner for the last time on Thursday of last week for his good friend German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Although there was a lot of laughter and merriment, there was also a very serious side to the event, with neither Rivlin nor Steinmeier in their respective speeches avoiding the gruesome history of the past, nor present and future dangers of antisemitism and racism in general.
WHEN ANYONE wants to give Rivlin a truly meaningful gift, they look for something related to his father, Prof. Yosef Yoel Rivlin.
In October 2019, Rivlin was given a rare gift, two volumes of a Hebrew version of Tales of the Arabian Nights translated by his father.
The books, which were presented to Rivlin during a Sukkot event at the President’s Residence, had originally been given by his father to Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, the second president of Israel.
The gift was even more poignant because it included a handwritten dedication by Yosef Yoel Rivlin, a Middle East studies scholar, about the institution of the presidency, an office his son eventually occupied.
The senior Rivlin had been a candidate for president, but dropped out when Ben-Zvi opted to run again, because he did not want to run against a sitting president.
The books, which had been found by Yael Ben-Zvi, the daughter of the late president, will be included in an initiative to preserve old documents, a spokesman for Rivlin said at the time.
Even before that, Hebrew University president Asher Cohen presented Rivlin with a letter that had been written by his father to the Hebrew University secretariat complaining about his low salary.
Last Thursday, Steinmeier added to the Yosef Yoel Rivlin memorabilia, when, at the state dinner that Rivlin hosted in his honor, Steinmeier presented him with the original doctoral degree diploma that had been awarded to his father by the University of Frankfurt in Germany in 1926.
As he said at a reception earlier in the day, Steinmeier, who has a warm relationship with Rivlin, reiterated: “Ruvi, you are a wonderful statesman and a friend. Your presidency will end in a few days, but our friendship will always endure. I look forward to many more conversations with you in the future.” Indeed, the two flew together to Sde Boker the following day.
REUVEN RIVLIN is a workaholic who is continuing with his presidential duties till the very last minute. On Tuesday night of this week, he was scheduled to attend an American Independence Day reception, held after this column went to press, and on Wednesday morning, during the final hours of his tenure, there will be an official unveiling of his bust, which earlier in the week had been installed in the Avenue of the Presidents in the gardens of the presidential complex.
The subject of the bust excited considerable interest for weeks in advance, because the marble column on which it is mounted had been standing empty alongside the bust of Shimon Peres, which actually towers over that of Rivlin. There is no uniformity in the busts. Just as each president had his individual characteristics, the busts also reflect the individuality of their sculptors and the subjects. Rivlin’s bust was created by internationally celebrated multidisciplinary artist Sigalit Landau, a 1994 graduate of Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, who works in installations, video, photography and sculpture.
The Avenue of the Presidents has long been a subject of controversy, in that women’s movements objected to the inclusion of a bust of president Moshe Katsav, who was convicted of rape and spent time in prison. When Peres came into office, they urged him to remove Katsav’s bust, and he refused, saying that it was a historical fact that Katsav served as the eighth president. The request was later put to Rivlin, who refused for the same reason, but added the stain on Katsav’s character to the biographical details accompanying the bust. No doubt, the request for removal will also be put to Herzog, who presumably will likewise refuse.
In the afternoon, Rivlin will participate in a special session of the Knesset during which Herzog will be sworn in, after which Rivlin will return to the President’s Residence, where he will greet his successor in a festive ceremony, before leaving for his new home, only a few minutes’ walk away.
FOR THE President’s staff, many of whom will be leaving over the coming few days and weeks, there is a sense of trauma, even though they have been psyching themselves up for the occasion for months. But long working hours together, checking details, planning events, and in some cases accompanying the president on trips around the country and abroad have created a sense of family, which is now about to break up.
Rivlin’s bureau chief, Rivka Ravitz, a haredi mother of 12, came with him from the Knesset to the President’s Residence. They have worked together for more than 20 years, but will now go their separate ways, because Rivlin, unlike his predecessor Shimon Peres, did not build a center for peace and innovation to which he could transfer his activities and his team.
Peres had the foresight to establish his center a decade prior to his election as president. Ravitz has had several offers, which she is considering, but her real ambition is to be the first woman MK in a haredi political party. Yet she has no intention of campaigning in this direction. Without the permission and approval of her rabbis, she would not become a political activist, because her haredi identity is more important to her than her political ambitions, though she admits that she would like to have the influence of a parliamentarian.
Ravitz is staying at the President’s Residence till the end of this week. Director-General Harel Toubi will stay till the end of September, by which time the transition will be fully functioning.
Because of her ultra-Orthodoxy, which she claims has never gotten in the way of her professionalism, Ravitz refrains from shaking hands with men. As the president’s bureau chief, she was frequently in the reception line when the president received foreign dignitaries and the credentials of new ambassadors heading foreign diplomatic missions in Israel. The male ambassadors were usually briefed not to attempt to shake hands with Ravitz, but merely to bow.
Sometimes the chief of protocol forgot to tell them, and sometimes the ambassadors themselves forgot and did not pass on the message to their accompanying entourages, which led to mild embarrassment, as was the case last week, when Rivlin received credentials of new ambassadors for the last time. As the ambassadors and their entourages filed past the reception group shaking hands, Ravitz stood with her hands behind her back and bowed slightly, leaving the ambassadors with hands outstretched in the air. That problem will not exist in the team working with Herzog.
APROPOS HERZOG, he, like Rivlin, experienced a series of farewells in recent weeks, the biggest one being this week when the Jewish Agency and its partners came together in their multitudes to thank him and to wish him well in his new role.
Master of ceremonies Yehuda Setton, COO and chief program officer at the agency, reeled off a series of Herzog accomplishments and strategies, and then introduced two of the 85,000 immigrants who came to Israel on Herzog’s three-year watch, Sarah Shmela and Rudy Haziza, both from the same part of France, who met at the agency’s Ulpan Etzion in Jerusalem and are getting married in August. Speaking Hebrew in thick but charming French accents, they invited Herzog to attend their wedding and
presented him with an invitation.
What was interesting was the fact that even though they moved in the same social circles in France, had mutual friends and acquaintances and knew members of each other’s families, the two had never met before they came to Jerusalem. Although they made many new friends at Ulpan Etzion, they naturally gravitated toward each other. Haziza noted that their individual decisions to move to Israel will affect their future progeny, who will be Israelis rather than French Jews
THERE ARE similar stories under somewhat different circumstances about other immigrants, such as Hadassah Brenner and Joey Fauer, both born in New York, a 10 minutes’ walk from each other, who met as lone soldiers at Habayit Shel Benji, a residential home and guidance and resource center for lone soldiers in Ra’anana. It was established in memory of Benji Hillman, a London-born combat soldier who was a member of the Egoz commando unit of the Golani Brigade. In July 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, he was killed in action in Lebanon. He had married less than a month earlier.
Fauer’s family came on aliyah and settled in Ra’anana when he was 11 months old. Two years ago, his parents returned to the US as emissaries, just as he was about to enter the army. With the exception of one sister, who lives in Tel Aviv, they took all his siblings with them, and he was left alone. He discovered Habayit Shel Benji, and found it to be an ideal place in which he quickly made new friends.
One of these friends was a female soldier, who had left her family in New York to work for a while in kibbutz before joining the army as a combat medic. She was even more alone than Fauer, because she didn’t know the language, and her surroundings were unfamiliar, whereas Fauer, who served in an elite paratrooper unit, had grown up in Ra’anana and obviously spoke Hebrew like a native as well as fluent English.
Romance blossomed. The couple completed their army service and got married at the end of June, but continue to maintain an interest in Benji’s House and in the friends they accumulated there.
As a civilian Brenner found her niche as a breaking news editor and writer for The Jerusalem Post, focusing primarily on environmental affairs and water resources.
ONE LAST aliyah story pertains to dozens of immigrant physicians from the Commonwealth of Independent States who are completing a training program designed to help them pass the
Israeli Health Ministry’s licensing exams.
Fifty-five of them are in the 13th class of the Masa Young Doctors program, operated by The Israel Experience company together with Rambam Yeda College and held at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa.
“The State of Israel invests seven years in every physician studying in Israel,” said Hanna Pri-Zan, chairwoman of The Israel Experience program, which annually aids the integration of immigrant physicians who pass the licensing tests with high scores and take their places in the health system. “This serves to ameliorate the severe shortage of doctors that is only projected to get worse in the coming years,” she underscored.
Nearly all the immigrant physicians come with experience in the field, which is why, on average, they do better at exams than their Israeli colleagues.
More than 80% of doctors who immigrated to Israel in 2014-2018 passed the licensing exam, a higher rate than that achieved by Israelis who attended medical school abroad, according to ministry data. To date, approximately 600 physicians who participated in the Masa Doctors program have made aliyah, passed the licensing exam and are working in the public health system.
Some had to leave their children behind in their countries of origin due to coronavirus restrictions. “We haven’t seen our kids since November, and it’s very difficult. Nevertheless, we know that we must build their future in Israel, so we decided to come,” said Drs. Pavel and Margarita Nesterov, who left their children in the temporary care of their grandmother.
In the past many experienced physicians and nurses who wanted to make aliyah were deterred by the ministry’s refusal to recognize their qualifications. This is an inexcusable loss for Israel, which suffers from a dearth of physicians and nurses, too many of whom are overworked and underpaid.
AS PART of a collaboration between the Tough Mudder group in Israel, acting on behalf of the Larger than Life team, which works to help children with cancer realize their dreams and also provides assistance for their families, a unique wine tasting event was held in Jerusalem this week. Tough Mudder worldwide helps organizations and individuals to rise to, and overcome, their challenges.
The collaborative effort with the Jerusalem Wineries Cooperative Agricultural Association was in the perfect setting of the area that surrounds Montefiore’s Windmill, where Jerusalem Wineries has its store and tasting center, and where it assembled two wine packages containing premium and reserve wines for sale to people who came to support a worthy cause and simultaneously enjoy the cool Jerusalem night air after an unbearably hot day.
There was a buffet laden with a splendid choice of foods, several choices of wine nearby and, for those who limit their alcoholic intake, a coffee bar inside a structure that resembles Montefiore’s carriage.
At the conclusion of each brief speech – made by Carmit Aharonreich, VP of the winery’s marketing team, Ofer Guetta, the owner of Jerusalem Wineries, Sharon Ayalon, the director of Larger than Life Collaborations, and Alon Cohen, who heads Tough Mudder – glasses were raised to a chorus of “Lehayim” (To Life), the most repeated word of the evening, which was doubly appropriate after Israel’s emergence from its initial coronavirus crisis.
IT’S NO secret that there has been no love lost between Prof. Zeev Rotstein, the director-general of the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, the local board of directors of HMC and the national board of Hadassah, the Zionist Women’s Organization of America.
Rotstein, who is known to be a tough but visionary no-nonsense manager, was brought in by former health minister Ya’acov Litzman, when HMC was in a precarious financial position. For whatever reason, there was instant antipathy between Rotstein and the women’s organization which established the hospital, and raises funds for it. Rotstein created a crisis in the pediatric cancer department soon after his arrival, and this sparked a series of animosities between him and both the Israeli and American boards, which for some time have been seeking to dismiss him.
It looks as if that time has arrived. Rotstein has been summoned to a hearing prior to his dismissal. There is no denying that he has done a lot of good things for HMC, but he’s also done a lot of harm in the area of personal relations, and it seems that he may have gone a little too far in attacking former Knesset speaker and former chairwoman of Hadassah International Dalia Itzik, who in March this year, at the request of the American organization, was appointed chairwoman of HMC’s board of directors. Both Itzik and Rotstein want the best for HMC, but they are coming from two separate planets which, instead of moving on parallel lines, are on a collision course.
YAMINA MK Amichai Chikli has a new spokeswoman whose
name is Noy Bar. It just so happens that Bar is the significant other of a sweet young man by the name of Avner Netanyahu, who, as luck would have it, is the younger son of former prime minister and his wife,
Conspiracy theories always run rife in Israel, and among the negative elements of society, they really do not want to know that Bar is a bright young woman who passed all the tests that Chikli set for her with flying colors. The key conspiracy theory is that Chikli is not really a Yamina man, but a Bibi’ist who hopes to get closer to the opposition leader through the young lady who may be the ex and maybe future prime minister’s future daughter-in-law. For the sake of balance, there are also people who think that Chikli made an excellent choice, because Bar is really good spokeswoman.
Benjamin Netanyahu Sara.
WHETHER ONE agrees or disagrees with the political views of columnist colleague Ruthie Blum, her writing is pure joy, and even people on the political Left of the aisle read it for its quality, if not for its content.
On the other hand, right-wing readers, who objected strongly to the inclusion of former prime minister Ehud Olmert among the weekly columnists of the Post because of his ceaseless acerbic attacks against Netanyahu, find nothing wrong with Blum’s equally vicious attacks against US President Joe Biden. These same people, in decrying Olmert, referred to his having served time in prison, as if that was the reason that he should not be permitted to pen a newspaper column. But Olmert paid his debt to society; and as for Netanyahu, like any person charged with a crime, he deserves his day in a court of law, and should under no circumstances be tried by a kangaroo court, which Blum correctly implies has been the case.
But this item is not about Netanyahu or Olmert, or even any member of the present government, though Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid must be commended for giving credit where it’s due when he noted at the opening of the Israel Embassy in Dubai (where he actually wore a kippah) that Netanyahu was the architect of the Abraham Accords.
This item is about Blum and the quality of her writing, which last month earned her the prestigious American Jewish Press Association’s Louis Rapoport Award for Excellence in Commentary. The award is named in memory of the Los Angeles-born, prizewinning Post editor, journalist and author, and former Peace Corps volunteer, who died in June 1991 at a young age of a sudden heart attack.
Blum, who also writes for other publications and is an editor and columnist for the Jewish News Syndicate, won the award with three first place pieces that included “Let us remember what the survivors are unable to forget,” which is about aging Jews and Holocaust Remembrance Day; “Owing the ultra-Orthodox an apology,” about blame directed at religious Jews in Israel during the coronavirus pandemic; and “Gang rape at the Red Sea Hotel,” about societal ills and the manner in which Israel reacted to a horrible crime.
AT LAST week’s B’nai B’rith World Center awards for journalism held at the Konrad Adenauer Center in Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim, a special award for fostering Israel-Diaspora relations through the arts was given to Danny Sanderson, musician, singer, songwriter-guitarist, author and stand-up comedian, who was born to American parents at Kfar Blum.
He described them as his Diaspora connect to Israel, especially in view of the fact that when he was still a child, his parents were temporarily sent back to America. His father worked as the director of El Al’s North America department in New York, where the young Danny attended the High School of Music & Art. His initial musical instrument was the piano because, he quipped after receiving his award, “she wanted me to have a hobby after I became a doctor.” The medical degree never eventuated, and instead Sanderson, who launched his first band at age 15, became a highly acclaimed singer, musician and band leader.
After the formalities of the evening were concluded, people crowded around Sanderson to tell him how much they enjoy his music. Among his admirers is Jerusalem Post Managing Editor David Brinn, who is a music man in his own right, when he’s not writing, editing or managing.
Journalism award recipients were Nurit Canetti of Army Radio, who emphasized the importance of allowing it to survive, and Dan Lavie, the Jewish world writer for Israel Hayom, who said that he regards writing about Israel-Diaspora relations as his mission in life.
Keynote speaker for the evening was Prof. Yedidia Stern, president of the Jewish People Policy Institute, who spoke about the identity crisis that exists, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Israelis are quite happy with life in Israel till asked about their thoughts on Israel as a Jewish and Democratic state. The secularists say it is too Jewish, and the religiously observant believe it to be too democratic.