Remembrance Without a Call For Revenge

By Masha Leon

Published December 23, 2005, issue of December 23, 2005.
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“We can’t ignore the fact that murder was done by human beings who had children and families like us,” declared Elyezer Shkedy, commander of the Israeli Air Force. Shkedy was the guest speaker at the November 20 American & International Societies for Yad Vashem dinner. “Israel was built by survivors and Jews kicked out of Arab countries…. The State of Israel is a guarantee that such a horror will not happen again.” In a video clip, his father, Moshe, who survived the war by jumping off a train on its way to Auschwitz, expressed the pain of being a sole survivor: “No father… no brother, no siblings… to witness” the honor bestowed on his son. “I prayed for my family to see from above.” General Shkedy closed with a brakha (prayer): “He above bring peace on Earth.” I suspect that among the crowd at the Sheraton New York, even proponents of separation of church and state added their omeyn.

But there was no call for revenge. Articulated was an appeal to memory, remembrance and continuity by Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress; Daniel Ayalon, Israel’s ambassador to the United States; Arye Mekel, Israel’s consul general; Fred Zeidman, chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council in Washington, D.C., and Eli Zborowski, the society’s’ chairman — and a survivor. “Every [Holocaust] victim had a name. Every name had a story,” Elie Wiesel said in a video clip. To date, Yad Vashem has immortalized in its Hall of Names nearly 3 million souls, with more to be added from the former Soviet Union. Among the dais guests were diplomats from Switzerland, Romania, Bulgaria, France, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Austria, Slovenia, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Spain and Japan, whose deputy consul-general, Hiroshi Sato, advised me that a invitation to the December 6 reception celebrating the birthday of the emperor of Japan “was in the mail.” I thanked Sato and told him it was “a most propitious date of birth.”

Held at consul general Hiroyasu Ando’s residence, the evening began with a formal reception line past a framed photograph of the emperor and empress — the Japanese guests bowing, all others shaking hands with Ando. Then upstairs to a buffet — and human crush. The 450-strong eclectic invitation roster included Broadway producers Francine LeFrak and James Nederlander, Metropolitan Opera general manager Joseph Volpe and Poland’s consul general, Krzysztof Kasprzyk. The presence of ladies in festive kimono and elaborate obi added a traditional touch to the royal celebration.

* * *

Mortimer Zuckerman, honorary chairman of the America-Israel Friendship League, praised Ariel Sharon for the “sensitively accomplished” exodus from Gaza at the league’s November 29 “Partners for Democracy” award dinner at the Hilton New York. But with ire, he labeled the Palestinian response as “appalling…. More bloodshed… the poison continues to course through that part of the world.” A jocular ambassador, Mekel compared America’s election pattern “where you say ‘four more years’” with “Israel… where it’s… two-and-a-half or maybe three-and-a-half years.”

The evening’s honorees included Kobi Alexander, chairman and CEO of Comverse Technology, Inc. — a supplier of telecommunications services that has 5,200 employees worldwide, 2,700 of whom work in Israel; Moshe Keret, president and CEO of Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd., worldwide leader in the aerospace and defense industry and “all-purpose service and supplier” for the Israeli Air Force, and Ilana Artman, executive vice president of the AIFL (the league’s chairman of the board is Kenneth Bialkin), who said, “For a change [the honoree is] the woman who made things run [at the AIFL].”

“As Henry VIII said to one of his wives, ‘I won’t keep you long,’” joshed keynote speaker Dan Gillerman, Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations. He lauded the U.N.’s resolution condemning antisemitism and the exhibit it hosted commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, “which ended with the singing of “Hatikvah” and the prayer El Ma’ale Rachamim. Gillerman touted Kofi Annan’s visit to the opening of Yad Vashem’s new wing. He also lauded Sharon’s September 5 address to the General Assembly, as well as its resolution designating January 27 as Holocaust Memorial Day worldwide.

“To sit in that hall that equated Zionism to racism and see 191 countries honor the memory of the 6 million victims of the Holocaust, and the survivors still among us, made me feel the need to say a shehekheyanu.”

* * *

At the gemütlich (congenial) November 30 reception “to honor and foster the German-American-Jewish dialogue,” newly appointed consul general Hans-Jürgen Heimsoeth, joined by his wife, Lizabeth, offered a l’chaim “to the future.” He assured the gathering that “[Germany’s] new government will continue the same line as the previous one in regard to Israel.” Among the guests at the consul’s residence were writer and publicist Shira Dicker and her husband, Ari Goldman, professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism (his most recent book is “Living a Year of Kaddish: A Memoir” [Schocken Books, 2003]); Saul Kagan, special consultant at the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, Stephen Wolnek, vice president, community relations, Jewish National Fund, and Malcolm Hoenlein, vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Heimsoeth told my Bronx-raised husband, Joseph, and me that though he was born in India, he attended two Bronx schools, P.S. 81 and the Riverdale Country School. “This makes me the only German diplomat who pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,” said Heimsoeth, whose prior diplomatic postings included Moscow, Mogadishu, Brasilia and Warsaw.

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