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Grapevine: Presidential prayers

Among the Shavuot congregants at Hazvi Yisrael synagogue were President Reuven Rivlin and his son Ran. Each was called to the Torah and they recited the mourners’ kaddish together.

The president attends Hazvi Yisrael on most Jewish holy days and many Sabbaths in a low-key manner, but his bodyguards stand outside the building and come in to escort him at the conclusion of services. Several members of the congregation regularly attend morning services in the synagogue at the President’s Residence, and have done so since its October 2001 inauguration. The synagogue was a gift to Israel by American businessman and philanthropist Ira Rennert, who was in Jerusalem this week for the annual Guardian of Zion award ceremony, which is in the name of his wife Ingeborg Rennert. Ardent supporters of Jerusalem, the Rennerts have contributed to archaeological and other projects. Their beautiful home is in the capital on Ethiopia Street.

Rivlin has occasionally joined the morning service, and each year inviteds guests, including soldiers, yeshiva students and young women seminary  students to join him in prayers alongside the presidential synagogue. This beautifully appointed facility, which also has a limited section for women, is too small to accommodate all the invitees, so only a select group joins the president inside, while the remainder sit near the entrance.

■ AS ALWAYS, Beit Avi Chai on Shavuot night was a magnet for young and old, locals and tourists.

There were dialogues and lectures in seven different locations in the building, with people wandering from one to the other.. The main auditorium was constantly packed – with a queue of eager people waiting outside to take the places of those who emerged.
In the auditorium there were three consecutive meetings of couples in dialogue for the best part of an hour. The big challenge for all was to be heard. Many people were photographing and texting with their cell phones. While tolerant of such a violation of the holy day, Beit Avi Chai would not as an institution violate it, so there were no microphones. This was not so bad in the smaller locations, but in the auditorium, people in the back and even closer could not hear, because most participants did not know how to project their voices. The notable exception was actor and television personality Roni Kuban, who during his theater studies, was trained to project his voice.

First on were Professors Meir Buzaglo and Eva Illouz, both of the Hebrew University. He’s a philosopher; she’s a sociologist. Both were born in Morocco – she in Fez and he in Casablanca.

Rubik Rosenthal and Orit Avnery discussed the evolution of the Hebrew language and the importance of single words and word plays. Rosenthal is a noted linguist, journalist and author; Avnery teaches Bible at Shalem College. According to Rosenthal, two thirds of modern day Hebrew, including slang, comes from the Bible, and 1,200 Biblical words are no longer used in everyday speech, but can be found in classical Hebrew literature. Avnery compared Ruth to Abraham, who left his country and his father’s house and rejected false gods. He did so at God’s command, but Ruth did so because she identified with Naomi
Kuban was asked by singer Etti Ankri about his interviewing methodology. In 2007, Kuban was sent to London to interview Sean Lennon, the son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono prior to his appearance in Israel. In 2007. Sean had just released a new album. Kuban and a cameraman went to meet him  Sean wanted to talk about his album, but Kuban had been instructed to get him to talk about his father. They chatted briefly about the album, and everything went well until Kuban slipped in a question about Sean’s father. Sean got up, took his coat and walked out. It had never happened to Kuban before, and he was left gaping open mouthed in surprise. His cameraman, a former combat fighter who always managed to get his own way, ran after Sean, explaining that Kuban was inexperienced and had not meant to offend him. It took a while, but Sean was finally persuaded to come back and continue the interview.

“You know how much it hurts me to talk about my father? I was five years old. I’ve been to lots of psychologists but no one has been able to help me get past losing my father.”

Kuban realized that an interview is not just a matter of asking probing questions.

“It’s the knowledge that you are talking to a sensitive human being, and respecting that fact,” he said.

Kuban started talking to Sean about his complex relationship with his own father, and after that the interview continued far beyond the allotted time.

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