Israel’s President-elect Reuven Rivlin paid a surprise visit to the Jewish Media Summit during its last plenary session. He spoke first about his long family ties to Jerusalem, where his family moved in 1809 because its patriarch said it is the city is where the Messiah will return. A seventh-generation Jerusalemite, he proudly declared his grandchildren are the 9th generation in the city.
He then spoke about visiting the the parents of 15-year-old Mohammed Karkara, an Israeli Arab killed three days ago by a Syrian rocket shot into Israel, the first Israeli casualty on the border since the Yom Kippur War. And then he visited the yeshiva attended by the three kidnapped Israeli teens.
“It is a route that might seem absurd to an outsider (sic) observer, going from Arab to Israeli citizens living together in this country,” Rivlin said. “We share the same pain, the same hope.”
He said he listened to Abbas’ appeal to the kidnappers for the immediate release of the teens as an “opportunity to restore trust between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.” He said he sees it as a way for constructive communication to bridge the gap that for 150 years has seemed unbridgeable. He said this was important in spite of the PA Prime Minister questioning whether the abduction occurred at all.
He said constant communication is necessary to build trust and understanding.
“Our coexistence is not a cruel fate, but our mutual destiny,” Rivlin said, adding that he expects to be talking with President Abbas. “I know we will meet again in spite of a difference of opinion.”
Continuing about the importance of communication, he told the journalists, “As president-elect, my door will be open to all. I will never reject someone based on their world view, and I will respect their right to express it.”
He called addressing Israeli poverty and the widening gap between rich and poor “a strategic need for Israel.” He also mentioned issues of cultural differences, church-state issues, and the issues of the Arab and ultra-Orthodox minorities, which each comprise about 20 percent of the population.
“I am proud to become the president of a Jewish democratic state,” Rivlin concluded,”one where we can say in one breath – without a pause between the words – a Jewish democratic state.”
He apologized for not taking questions, explaining he was to going to see the parents of the kidnapped Israeli teenagers. He assured the journalists he would answer their questions, which he said he expected would be difficult ones.
I sat with Sue Fishkoff of San Francisco’s J Weekly at breakfast and she told me that during a visit to Gush Etzion yesterday as part of the Jewish Media Summit, she and a handful of other reporters learned that David Perl, mayor of Gush Etzion, believes the kidnapped teens had been murdered. See her story here:
They are keeping us very, very busy and the last two days have flown by without any time to post. Now it’s midnight here in Jerusalem and we are meeting with members of the Knesset for breakfast at 7:30, so this will be a short post.
Upcoming posts will discuss the trip Don took to near the Gaza Strip, and my trip to learn more about the efforts being made to get secular Israelis to be more in touch with their Jewish roots, traditions and spirituality.
When we arrived in Tel Aviv, a station was set up in the main corridor by volunteers asking people to stop for five minutes and read Tehillim (prayers) for the kidnapped teens. We stopped to do so, as did many others.
Today, the Jewish Media Summit began in Jerusalem, with more than 120 Jewish journalists from various media from about 25 countries. Sponsored by the Israeli Government Press Office, with support from many Israeli agencies, the summit will explore the challenges of reporting on Israel and the Jewish world. For more info and topics to be discussed, go to www.jms.org.il.
The summit began with comments from outgoing President Shimon Peres, who has served the Jewish State for more than 60 years, and from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
With David Horowitz, publisher of the Times of Israel as moderator, elder statesman Peres, articulate and eloquent, took questions from journalists from varied countries, asking questions that ranged from advice he would give to incoming president Reuven Rivlin to whether he would advocate for the release of American spy Jonathan Pollard when he meets with President Obama later this week.
Regarding Rivlin, he said, “He doesn’t need my advice; he’s a grown man. He has to be like him, and he’s blessed with all the necessary qualities to be president.” On the question of Pollard, he said he would do everything he could to bring him back to freedom.
Of particular interest to Jews in Detroit, where the Arab population is so large, Peres answered a question from a journalist from Mexico, asking about Israel’s connection to Latin America. In his answer, he said Jews and Arabs are growing in those countries and that they have good relations there, and that it’s important to develop such good relations outside of Israel where the Arabs can be more receptive.
Both leaders referred to terrorists in the strongest of terms as killers. Peres said terrorists have brought down many nations — Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya. “I don’t think terror can win, but is is hard to win over terror,” he said.
After dinner, Netanyahu spoke about Israel’s many technological and social achievements before challenging the audience to help meet critical challenges facing Israel, the Jewish people and the world.
The first challenge he cited was ” the rising tide of Anti-Semitism in Europe,” which he said comes from “the hard-left, the hard-right, and Islamic extremists.” He said the journalists should help answer lies about Jews and Israel. “We have to fight it, we cannot accept it; we must speak out forcefully and defeat lies with truth,” he said. “No one will defend us if we do not defend ourselves.”
He also took note of the recent Presbyterian USA conference held in Detroit, which voted to divest from companies they feel are supporting the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
“I would ask them to come to the Middle East and look around,” suggesting they visit Israel, Libya, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq and compare and contrast. Outside of Israel, which he said is “the only place you have freedom and tolerance, and the protection of minorities,” he said they should travel in a armor-plated bus and not tell anyone that they are Christian.
The second challenge he addressed was what he called, “fraying Jewish identities” in the West, and particularly in North America. He explained that Israel has invested in programs like Birthright and MASA that bring young Jews from around the world to Israel to be exposed to the country, to Judaism and to their Jewish heritage.
The third challenge comes from the dangers to the Middle East that challenge not just Israel, but the world. He explained that the with the secular regimes collapsing, that the “centuries-old hatred” between Shiites and Sunnis had returned and the there was “a fault line between civilization and savagery.” He addressed the possibility of a nuclear Iran, calling it the most important issue to our civilization. “We must make sure a militant Islamic regime does not get its hands on weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
“As we take pride in our achievements, we can see our challenges,” Netanyahu said, acknowledging disagreements among Jews but lauding “a tremendous bond and a tremendous pride.”
So much has happened since I last posted. We went from Zichron Yaakov to Yavne, south of Tel Aviv, to visit with Hai and Tzvia Ben Israel, friends from our Dayton days, when Hai was the Israeli Air Force liaison to the USAF at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Yavne has grown since my last visit, and Hai says the city will expand by 25% in the near future. Construction is everywhere. His daughter, Re’ut, and her husband, Ori, and their young son, Amit, live close by. They started a website for Yavne that is very popular with residents and businesses.
Tzvia’s Shabbat dinner was wonderful. We were lucky that Eran, the youngest of their four children, was home from the army. The last time Don was here, Eran was home from the army so Don went with the family to see Eran vote for the first time. (He did a JN story a bout the Israeli elections and interviewed Eran as a first-time voter.)
After dinner, we took a walk. First stop was a nearby park equipped with all sorts of exercise equipment — one of many such parks throughout the city. Then we followed a trail atop a hill that afforded cool breezes from the Mediterranean. As we walked, they showed us a house four streets from theirs where their eldest daughter, Anat, and her family would move after her husband finished his service as a pilot in the Air Force.
On Shabbat, we headed to son Ro’ee’s home for the 1st birthday party of his youngest son, Itai. We picked up Hai’s 89-year-old mother on the way — the matriarch of this big Sephardic family. Ro’ee lives in a very new city consisting mostly of high-rise garden apartments near the West Bank. This big family was fun to watch in action — and they embraced us as their own.
Hai delivered us to Chaim and Ariella Itkis, another couple we know from our Dayton days. The Itkises live in a suburb of Kfar Saba north of Tel Aviv. It’s wonderful to see them again. We have a great time catching up, as usual. Later in the day, we took a walk to a pergola overlooking beautiful farmland that they put up in memory of their two sons, Barak and Amichai, who both died tragically in the military. We knew them as young boys who were full of life and laughter — and as young men achieving success and growing into such fine young men. I quietly left two rocks on the wooden benches in the shade in memory of both of them.
After a short rest, we celebrated the beginning of the new week be going to dinner at the port of Yaffo, a very cool area full of art, lots of people and restaurants in old warehouses on the edge of the sea. We ate at a bustling restaurant where waiters immediately deposited a dozen salads and bread on our table. Fresh fish was a must and they came whole and grilled. A perfect meal and experience. As with all our friends, the time with them was too short!
After a delayed flight in Detroit that almost caused us to missed our Israel connection, we arrived safely. From the airport, we took the train to Zichron Yaacov to see our friends Batya and Yisrael Rosenberg, who used to live in West Bloomfield across the street from us.
Native Israelis, they lived in WB for nearly 17 years, moving back to Israel in 2009, when Detroit’s economy tanked. They both worked in auto-related companies and were laid off. They returned to Zichron where Yisrael grew up. On land where his family home once stood they have built a beautiful home with flourishing gardens. We used to tease them they had the kibbutz across the street. Nothing has changed. Need a lemon or some basil? Just go outside and get what you need.
They love living in Israel, but didn’t like the high cost of living and the high taxes. But they love being near their grandchildren. We had fun Catching them up on WB news.
We had a beautiful Israeli breakfast (see photo) in the gardens of Baron Rothschild near their home. I had forgotten how wonderfully full of flavor the fruits and vegetables are here. Next we headed to swim in the Mediterranean near the Roman aqueducts near Caesarea. The water was amazing.
Seeing the Rosenbergs was lovely. Wish we had more time.
Onward to Yavne to see more Israeli friends. Shabbat shalom!
Getting so excited to leave for Israel. Very tragic about the three teens kidnapped in Israel. A friend of ours, Amitai Zuriel from Ma’ale Adumim (outside Jerusalem), is here in Detroit as a Steinsaltz Fellow. He went to the same high school as the teens and knows an older brother of one the students kidnapped. The situation is very tense in Israel. I hope there is resolution soon. (Above, parents of the teens address the media.)
Keri and Don Cohen are going to Israel for a Jewish Media Summit, to visit with family and friends, to see concerts, and to have a blast. Keri is the Jewish News’ story development editor and Don writes for the JN and will be in Israel for the 19th time.
They will be posting on the JN website as well as its Facebook page. Check in to see what they are up to, see pictures and explore. After their time in Israel, you can follow them as Two Intrepid Detroiters in Eastern Europe as they visit Budapest, Slovakia and Prague.