Home » Grapevine November 22, 2020: a True Friend in South America
Israel News South America

Grapevine November 22, 2020: a True Friend in South America

As antisemitism intensifies throughout the world, adding to the darkness and uncertainty brought on by the war that began with the Hamas massacre on October 7, there is a bright spot on the horizon. Argentina’s newly elected president, Javier Milei – in sharp contrast to the leaders of some of the country’s neighboring states – is not only pro-Israel, but he is also considering moving Argentina’s embassy to Jerusalem.

This was announced following a rally in Buenos Aires against antisemitism and in support of Israel that was attended last week by thousands of Argentine Jews.

If this happens, it will be more than a foreign policy issue. It will be a form of compensation for the many years of cover-ups by Argentine officials of the bombing in Buenos Aires in 1994 of the Associacion Mutual Israelita (AMIA) Center by Iranian terrorists in which 85 people were killed and more than 300 injured.

After more than a decade of investigation, it was officially determined in 2007 that Iran was responsible. Two years prior to the AMIA explosion, 29 people were killed and 242 injured in an attack on the Israel Embassy in Buenos Aires. Here too, Iran was the mastermind.

The Jewish population of Argentina, the largest in Latin America, was in excess of 300,000 at its peak, but antisemitism coupled with a strong sense of Zionism prompted thousands of Argentine Jews to move to Israel, North America, and elsewhere. Today the Jewish community numbers in the range of 180,000.

Although Argentina provided a haven for Jews after the Holocaust, it was also a haven for Nazis seeking to escape justice. In May 1960, the notorious Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann, who was living under an assumed name, was captured in Buenos Aires by Israeli agents and brought to stand trial in Jerusalem, where he was convicted and executed. His capture was announced to the world by then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.

The 50th year since Ben-Gurion’s death

■ THIS YEAR marks the 50th year of Ben-Gurion’s death. The state memorial ceremony known as Ben-Gurion Day, which is held annually on the Hebrew calendar date of his death, was not held last Sunday due to the war; it was postponed indefinitely.Advertisement

At a modest ceremony held at his graveside in Sde Boker, there were no speeches, but there were readings of his writings organized by the Ben-Gurion Heritage Institute.

President Isaac Herzog, who, like his predecessors, had been scheduled to be in Sde Boker to deliver the memorial address, instead travelled much closer to home – to the ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he joined Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and senior ministry officials in hearing a review and update of the war situation.

Herzog praised Israel’s ambassadors around the world who are on the frontlines of the information war and working around the clock in their efforts to make the public, in the countries where they are serving, aware of the evils of Hamas.

Herzog acknowledged that the Jewish state is in an extremely complex situation and that it is not easy to persuade people in other countries of the legitimacy of Israel’s actions. This has affected Israel in many ways, including suspension of flights to Tel Aviv by foreign airlines.

Herzog called on all foreign airlines that included Israel in their routes before the war to resume the flights and thereby help revitalize the nation’s economy.

Aside from helping to boost commercial interests, foreign airlines also carry solidarity delegations traveling to Israel to demonstrate support and to volunteer.

Herzog meeting with Latvian President

■ ON MONDAY, Herzog met with Latvian President Edgars Rinkevics, who led a solidarity delegation to Jerusalem. Rinkevics is among a steady train of world leaders who have come to Israel to express their solidarity in the struggle to eliminate terrorists and terrorism.

Mourning the loss of Sgt. Dvir Barazani

■ NO ONE, regardless of status, is immune to the tragedies resulting from war. Everyone knows someone or of someone who is bereaved.

At the President’s Residence this week, there was an air of profound gloom in the realization that Sgt. Dvir Barazani, deputy chief of the president’s security unit, would not return to duty. Barzani fell while fighting in Gaza.

Improving philanthropy in the Jewish world

■ IN ITS mission statement, the Jewish Funders Network describes itself as “a global community of private foundations and philanthropists whose mission is to promote meaningful giving and to improve philanthropy in the Jewish  world.”

The network has more than 2,500 members from 11 countries around the world. JFN Israel, established in 2008, enables Israeli funders to exchange ideas about philanthropic involvement and to expand their giving circles both in Israel and overseas.

On Tuesday this week, JFN held a Zoom conference, under the title of Women in War, to address the vast gender discrimination in dealing with the current crisis in Israel. The conference was prompted by what the funders perceive as a lack of women’s representation in decision-making regarding gender-based war crimes, the impact of trauma and displacement on women and children, the ripple effect of gender-based violence, and the exploitation of “women’s work” in recovery efforts.

Israeli mental health experts have noted the high ratio of women and children who are receiving therapy and who will suffer long-term trauma.

Na’amat chairwoman Hagit Pe’er has already begun warning in electronic media commercials that domestic violence is on the rise. She is inviting female victims to contact Na’amat in order to receive help. Domestic violence is often born out of inability to cope with  economic hardship.

On the same date as the above-mentioned Zoom conference, JFN also hosted an online roundtable discussion on Impact Investing.

By March 2024, the war may be over, but it will leave many serious problems in its wake. Aware of this situation, JFN President and CEO Andres Spokoiny has called an international conference at the Tel Aviv Hilton for March 17-20 inclusive to discuss the best ways to help Israel out of the morass.

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if frozen assets, as part of the economic sanctions taken against Russian oligarchs, could be unfrozen – in the cases of those who are Jewish and as a means to direct sums of money to Israel to help rehabilitate areas destroyed by Hamas and Hezbollah.

A legal means might be found for oligarchs such as Roman Abramovich, Moshe Kantor, Mikhail Fridman, and others to authorize transfer of funds to Israel without gaining personal access to those funds. They and other Jewish oligarchs have each given tens of millions of dollars towards education, science, medicine, the arts, and more in Israel, and in all probability would give even more under the present circumstances.

The problem is that economic sanctions have been taken against them because they have considerable business interests in Russia, and some are rumored to be closely allied to President Vladimir Putin. As a result, the oligarchs, by and large, have adopted a low profile and have suspended or reduced their giving to needy causes or will not be giving at all.

Israelis around the world return from abroad 

■ IT MAKES no difference how long Israelis have lived abroad. When the country is faced with an existential threat, they come running home to volunteer in the army, in their specialized professions, or in any way they can help and be of service.

One such volunteer, a long-term expat, is Dr. Amir Kimia, who came from Boston to the Galilee.The Galilee Medical Center was a natural choice for Kimia, a graduate of the Haifa Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, who studied medicine under the late Prof. Shaul Shasha.

For 25 years, Shasha was director of the Galilee Medical Center when it was still known as the Nahariya Hospital.

Kimia, married and a father of four, spent a little over nine years at Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikva before moving to Boston. He has been working for 21 years at Boston Children’s Hospital, where he is a senior expert in pediatrics. He is also an associate professor at Harvard Medical School – and that’s just a short list of his accomplishments.

In the course of his volunteer activities in Israel, Kimia has lectured medical students, interns, and experienced physicians on new trends in diagnosing and treating child patients. At the Galilee Medical Center, he is working closely with Dr. Dana Krupik and Dr. Itamar Munchak, whom he has known for many years.

“As an Israeli, it was very important to me to come and volunteer at this time,” Kimia said. “It warms the heart to see the wonderful people here, and I was accepted with open arms.”Due to commitments in the US, Kimia could not stay for long, but he promised that if the need arises, he will definitely return.

Other volunteer physicians who have come to the Galilee  Medical Center are Dr. Assaf Shemesh, head of the Jewish Charity Hospital in Hungary and an expert in emergency medicine who studied in Budapest and stayed there; Dr. Jonathan Beyer, who is also a specialist in emergency medicine and head of a hospital in Michigan; Dan Eisenberg, a bariatric surgeon at Palo Alto VA Medical Center and a professor at Stanford University; and Dr. Itai Schalit, professor of clinical medicine at University of Oslo and senior anesthesiologist and researcher at Oslo University Hospital.

Volunteer Israeli physicians who live and work abroad can be found in most Israeli hospitals. Many who are specialists and who studied in European and American medical schools because they failed the psychometric tests in Israel are now in top-ranking positions in overseas hospitals and university medical schools – representing a significant loss to Israel.

Perhaps one of the lessons to be learned from this war is to do away with psychometric tests and give all applicants who want to study medicine a short-term opportunity to see if they are suited for the profession. As hospitals develop new medical wings and towers, there will be a much greater need for medical staff, so Israel should really consider changing the rules for study.

Not succumbing to sadness

■ MANY ISRAELIS are still debating with themselves whether it would be appropriate to have a party or go to the theater or a concert hall during the dark days of war, when every day brings new announcements of the names of fallen soldiers.

It would be close to accurate to say that the nation is in mourning. One has only to see photographs or video footage of the funerals of fallen soldiers, especially Lone Soldiers, to realize the extent to which Israelis do honor to the fallen. The Hebrew root word of both “funeral” (levaya) and “to accompany” (lelavot) is the same.

Hundreds, even thousands, accompany a hero or heroine of Israel on his or her final journey. Yet there are those who say that if we give in to sadness and refrain from enjoyment and entertainment, it is a victory for the enemy.One such person is internationally acclaimed pianist Oxana Yablonskaya, who will celebrate her 85th birthday with concerts in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on December 5 and 6.

She will be joined by her equally famous son, renowned cellist Dmitry Yablonsky.

 “I think canceling or postponing the concerts will give our enemy a small victory. The Israel audience needs a musical respite, and it is the right answer to terrorism,” says Yablonskaya.

The concert on Tuesday, December 5, will be held at Zucker Hall in the Tel Aviv Cultural Center (Heichal HaTarbut), and the Jerusalem recital the following evening will take place at Mishkenot Shaananim in Yemin Moshe. Tickets are NIS 126-132, with a 50% discount for children, students, and pensioners. Soldiers in uniform will be admitted free of charge.

Tickets are available at Bravo box office.

The Filipino community remains strong

■ THE FILIPINO community, which has every reason to be sad – it includes members who were murdered by Hamas, some who are missing and believed to have been abducted by Hamas, and others who were wounded by Hamas – has continued with regular karaoke nights.

These events are traditional, explains Pedro Laylo Jr., the Philippines ambassador, adding that this is the therapeutic way in which Filipinos overcome distress. This characteristic of trying to put on a happy face, no matter what, may be one of the reasons that Filipino caregivers are not only popular in Israel, but also beloved.

When the people that they care for pass away, the death notice published by the family often lists the Filipino caregiver among the mourners, with the word “devoted” accompanying the caregiver’s name. He or she has become part of the family, often taking care of things that are not listed in the job description.

They go shopping; collect and supervise medications; clean the apartment; do the laundry and the ironing; and often cook as well. If their employers get sick and are hospitalized, the Filipinos spend much more time at the patient’s bedside than do the patient’s relatives.

While their work as caregivers is fully appreciated, their country’s history in rescuing Jews fleeing the Holocaust is not always given its due.

Late Filipino ambassador Antonio Modena suffered tremendous frustration in trying to convince Yad Vashem that late president Manuel Quezon deserved to be recognized as Righteous Among the Nations for opening the gates of the Philippines to Jews fleeing from the Nazis. Beneficiaries of this gesture who were still alive and living in Israel as well as the surviving families of other beneficiaries supported him in this effort, but to no avail.

Yad Vashem said that Quezon did not meet the criteria of risking his own life to save Jews. However, it did permit an event honoring Quezon by way of a lecture and documentary film on November 24, 2015, with Yad Vashem representatives among the speakers.

When Modena, who died of cancer in February 2007, saw that he was not making progress with Yad Vashem, he sought other avenues for commemorating Quezon’s humanity, and in 2006, he proposed building a monument to Quezon in Israel.

The Rishon Lezion Municipality was amenable to the idea of  having what is known as the Open Doors monument erected in the city’s Holocaust Memorial Park. Money was raised in Israel, the US, and the Philippines, and the project was officially inaugurated in June 2009. Unfortunately, Modena was no longer alive to see it.

But there’s more to the story of Quezon rescuing Jews than most of the people familiar with this chapter in the history of the Philippines are aware. There was a significant exchange of letters between Quezon and then-US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which until recently was classified

. The Filipino government is now interested in making these letters public in order to demonstrate further Quezon’s courage and concern for the fate of the Jewish people. Unfortunately, only 1,300 German Jews took him up on his offer.

The October 7 massacre evokes memories of the Holocaust

■ BOTH JEWS and non-Jews have compared the inhuman assault by Hamas on October 7 to the bestial cruelty of the Nazis.

Holocaust survivors and descendants of survivors have said that although they are saddened by the number of Israeli soldiers who have fallen in battle, at least there is an Israeli army today, whereas there was no one to fight for the Jews during the Second World War.

This is not quite true and does a disservice to partisans and other Resistance fighters throughout Europe as well as to the 1.5 million Jewish soldiers who served in the Allied armies during World War II.

Mordechai Anielewicz, whose name is recalled at annual ceremonies commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, unfortunately did not survive, while other fighters, such as Yitzhak Zuckerman – code named Antek – and Zivia Lubetkin, who married after the war, did survive, came to pre-state Israel, and were among the founders of Kibbutz Lohamei Hageta’ot (Hebrew for “The Ghetto Fighters”); their granddaughter, Roni Zuckerman, became Israel’s first woman jet fighter pilot.

The late MK Haika Grossman, who was born in Bialystok, where she helped organize the underground resistance movement against the Nazis, was aided by the fact that she spoke Polish without a Yiddish accent and did not look particularly Jewish.

She was able to pass herself off as a Catholic and illegally purchased arms, which she delivered to the ghettos. She participated in the Uprising of the Bialystok Ghetto in 1943. After the war, she was awarded a Polish medal for heroism.

The Bielski brothers, operating in the Polish forests in what is now Belarus, formed a partisan unit that rescued Jews from ghettos and brought them to the forests, where some also became partisans. The four brothers – Tuvia, Asael, Zusya, and Aharon – grew up in eastern Poland in a family of 12 siblings.

Their other siblings and parents were murdered by the Nazis. Books have been written about the Bielski brothers, and a film of their exploits was made. At some stage, Asael was conscripted into the Red Army and fell in battle. The remaining three brothers survived and moved to the US, though Tuvia first spent some years in Israel and is buried in Jerusalem.

In Lithuania, Abba Kovner was the leader of the Jewish partisans, and heroic fighter Vitka Kempner later became his wife. The couple moved to Kibbutz Ein Harosh, where they raised their two children. Their son, Michael Kovner, is an internationally known artist. There are numerous other examples of Jews fighting to save Jews.

Too often, the Jew is portrayed in literature as some cowardly creature afraid of his own shadow. Even before they were called Jews, large numbers of the Jewish people were fighters, and they continue to be. Jewish heroism did not start in 1948. It has been around for centuries.

The power of prayer 

■ ADDITIONAL PSALMS have been added to services in many synagogues, with many people believing in the power of prayer.

Something that gives rise to and cements such beliefs is a story about a miracle that is currently circulating on social media platforms.

Bnei Brak educator, author, lecturer, and public speaker Rabbi  Baruch Rosenblum is on friendly terms with an army commander serving in Gaza who told him that only last week, he had walked into a situation room in the morning where other commanders were gathered to discuss the next move.

They were all white-faced and rubbing their heads in disbelief. They had just seen a video taken by a drone showing three Namer tanks on fire. These armored personnel carriers each carried 12 soldiers. That meant that 36 men had died.

However, as they were contemplating how to notify the families of the victims, one of the commanders received a phone call from Gaza. It was from one of the soldiers who were presumed dead.

In fact, all 36 were alive.

What transpired was that the rotator band on the first tank broke, and not wanting to be sitting ducks, all 12 soldiers jumped out.

The soldiers in the second tank saw them, and thinking that something must be wrong, they also jumped out. Likewise with the third tank. Then, right after the soldiers had moved some distance away, the tanks were hit by a rocket and immediately caught fire – but all the soldiers were safe.

The commander attributed this modern miracle to all the prayers that are being recited to ensure the safety and victory of  the soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces, and he asked  Rabbi Rosenblum to continue praying.

People of all identities connect to the Jewish people

■ ON THE subject of miracles, it seems that i24News senior international affairs correspondent Owen Alterman – who engaged in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University and Law at Harvard and, after moving to Israel, spent four years as a researcher with the Institute for National Security Studies before taking on his present job – has missed out on an important subject.

Not all journalists have university or college degrees in journalism, and in Israel, despite the fact that this is the Jewish state or the state of the Jews, not every journalist is educated about Judaism.

It would not be surprising to learn that KAN 11 journalist Suleiman Maswada, who is a Muslim Arab, probably knows more about Judaism than do a lot of Jews, with the possible inclusion of Alterman.

Like many American expats living in Israel, Deena Spigelman was glued to the television last week during the Jewish solidarity rally in Washington. She was horrified to hear Alterman say that he did not understand why it was held on a regular week day rather than on a more significant day, like Sunday.

In case he didn’t know, Spigelman asked to use this column to enlighten him that the rally took place on Rosh Hodeh Kislev, the beginning of the month that commemorates the Hanukkah miracle, which is definitely more significant for Jews than any Sunday.

Source: The Jerusalem Post