Posted Masha Pryven
This last month of Spring began, for many, with an exciting and inspiring event: The Paideia Alumni Conference 2012. Annually a European city is selected to host the conference that invites the graduates from the Jewish Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden to meet, converse, exchange, and to share and listen. This time, the alumni convened in Heidelberg, Germany—a place where the architecture meets its surrounding nature in perfect harmony. The beauty of Heidelberg is breathtaking and must-see in Germany. The Hochschule für Jüdische Studien in Heidelberg gladly hosted the alumni event in the historic heart of the Old Town.
The topic of the conference “Contemporary European Jewish Challenges” stubbornly persists, as do the efforts for solutions. This time, participants were fortunate to have Rabbi Dr. Daniel Katz, and Stephen Kramer, Secretary General of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, as the key voices of the current German Jewry. The social structure of the Jewish communities in Germany is quite different from the United States, where each synagogue is an independent institution and a matter of individual preference based upon a variety of possibilities. In Germany, synagogues are run on a centralized basis and a Rabbi is appointed from above rather than elected at the local level. Moreover, the Orthodox movement is dominant in Germany and thus is the only possible option for Jews across the country. Stephen Kramer put the situation of the German Jews bluntly: registered members in the Jewish communities are decreasing; German Jewry was lost in the Shoah, and there is no Jewish Renaissance today. No matter how pessimistic it sounded, Kramer resolutely made his point: what was destroyed before in 1933 cannot be re-built. However, he emphasized, there is a new German Jewry consisting of 97% of Russian-speaking arrivals from the former Soviet Union, presenting new challenges of integration.
While Kramer was presenting a gloomy view of the Jewish revival in Europe, a Jewish revitalization was happening right there in the Hochschule at Heidelberg. Piotr Minsky (Poland), Martin Schubert (Germany), Elisabetta Abate (Italy), and Oriol Poveda (Spain) in their presentations touched upon prospects in education, religious life, and project development. The great success was the small group discussions for both finding the ways of a more efficient cooperation between the alumni and for the “European Café”. For the latter, teams of participants were moving around the room from table to table as they considered many aspects of European Jewish culture viewed through the spectacles of challenges and opportunities. Why preserve objects and places of memory? What creative tensions evolve out of the quest for authenticity and the demand for the currency and novelty? Has religion really become obsolete, no longer the centre of Jewish life? These were just some of the questions presented among many. Between the panels, guests were invited on a tour around Jewish Heideberg. Rabbi Shaul Friberg, of the Hochschule, echoing Kramer’s prognosis, admitted that as one walks through Heidelberg today, they will not see its Jewish past, left with only stories and memories. However, Shaul cheerfully pointed out the Hochschule, which despite its recent addition, is an old construction.
Barbara Spectre, the founding director of Paideia, the European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden, led a beit midrash session in the challenging and inspiring spirit like those that she often holds in Stockholm. Again, Barbara looked at the choices and dilemmas of the biblical characters through the universal, all-human, existential lens which proved once more that Jewish traditional texts can be a system of values for humanity in the twenty-first century if read through a cultural, literary, and historical spectacle coupled with a strong passion for re-vitalization of Judaism.
Among the others who made this conference a success was Diane Wohl, Patron of the Alumni Association and Paideia’s friend, who flew across the Atlantic and brought her mix of strong enthusiasm, pertinent and probing questions, and kind encouragement to the Paideia fellows.
The Jewish chronicle does not end here but most certainly will be carried on next year at a new spot, somewhere in Europe, which too is defined by both complexity and by inspiration.
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May 23, 2012 | 8:00 am
Posted Tal Ofer
It was after lunch several Fridays ago that I politely declined an offer to have a beer with a friend and told him I had to go elsewhere instead – a counter-demonstration organized by British Israel Coalition outside the Israeli Embassy in High St. Kensington.
The demonstration, organized by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign to mark “The March to Jerusalem,” attracted around 600 indoctrinated supporters, many of whom are under 25, as well as a couple of Neturei Karta figures, all holding banners and various flags, chanting racist slogans which call to “burn Israel,” and to “liberate Palestine with blood and fire.” One banner had a swastika superimposed on a Star of David.
Clearly these were people who were not interested in a peaceful two-state solution, but in the destruction of Israel. On our side there were just under 20 people, most of them my parents’ age and above. Among them, a man on a wheelchair and few Christian supporters of Israel.
A young Jewish schoolgirl who passed by the area with her mom on their way home was shocked by the vile nature of the demonstration, but also by the lack of supporters for Israel. She immediately burst into tears and refused to leave the premises. The question asked therefore is simple: Where are the so-called leaders of the Jewish community? Why haven’t any well-funded organizations such as the Board of Deputies, Jewish Leadership Council and the Union of Jewish Students take an active role? Surely dozens of supporters could have attended the counter-demonstration and helped us make a stronger case for Israel and the Jewish people.
It was close to Shabbat, some might argue. Even so, many could have come and left, reaching their homes before Shabbat begins. Many non-Jewish organizations could have been alerted and encouraged to support well ahead of time. Sadly Shabbat is not the problem. The apathetic approach of the community is. At times, when they respond, they argue that countering these demonstrations gives the extremists the publicity they look for. But this is a wrong and dated approach.
The reality is that the level of hostility against Israel has reached an all-time high in the UK because it is not being countered strongly and effectively. Let us be honest: There is a growing bias in the media against Israel, there are more and more anti-Semitic incidents recorded (and probably many more not recorded), universities host extremists speakers who preach hatred against Israel and Jews, and in local politics we have people like George Galloway who are being elected on racist and divisive campaigns while a Labour candidate for London Mayor claims that Jews won’t be voting for him because they are rich.
Following the counter-demonstration I was invited to a Shabbat dinner in Chabad House in central London. As usual, during the meal the rabbi gave a short Dvar Torah, and this week’s lesson couldn’t be more relevant.
It was in 1974 and soon after the Yom Kippur War that Rabbi Yisrael Lau (later to be chief rabbi of Israel) came to Brooklyn to visit the Rebbe. During their conversation the Rebbe asked him what the Jewish people in Israel were saying these days. Rabbi Lau replied that Jews were asking “what will be?” The Rebbe grabbed his arm and said: “Jews don’t ask what will be, they ask what we are going to do.”
The lesson derived from it is that those who ask “what will be” are apathetic to the situation in which they are in, while those asking “what are we going to do,” take a proactive stance. Therefore, we should have a clear plan how to counter these anti- Israel demonstrators, how to stop the delegitimization of Israel in the UK and in Europe and how to make the case for Israel as strong as possible in the media and in the eyes of the public.
Leadership of a community is not just about releasing press statements and attending receptions and gala dinners, it is about the strategy, presence and the action taken to protect the interests of the community. Just like we needed Moses to lead us from Egypt into the promised land, we need an active and strong leadership for the Jewish community in the UK.
Tal Ofer is a London-based Member of the European Jewish Parliament.
May 23, 2012 | 7:53 am
Posted Tal Ofer
April 12, 2012
This Saturday in Istanbul, Catherine Ashton, the EU Foreign Policy chief, will lead the P5+1 talks with Iran over its nuclear program – more than a year after the last negotiated attempt failed because Iran wasn’t prepared to discuss its nuclear program unless the P5+1 removed all sanctions and recognized its right to enrich uranium.
Looking back at the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, one can realize how Iran, throughout the years, bought time by pretending to be open to proposals, only to reject them and defy the international efforts, while in the meantime it continues to enhance its nuclear program and build secret nuclear sites. The EU3 (UK,France and Germany) started by offering several proposals to Iran in 2004-2005. It became P5+1 mechanism when USA, Russia and China joined, and the proposals offered to Iran were one track of the ‘dual track strategy’, which was complemented by sanctions imposed through the UN Security Council (where China and Russia dragged their feet for long). The sanctions have effect on the Iranian economy, no matter what Iranian politicians and diplomats say publicly, and it is the EU who can make the sanctions even more effective.
The EU is still Iran’s biggest trading partner – EU imports from Iran in 2011 amounted to €16.3 billion (compared to €14.5 billion in 2010 and €9.4 billion in 2009) while exports to Iran amounted to €10.5 billion (decline from €11.3 in 2010). The EU as a whole had €72.4 billion in trade with Iran in the past 3 years. Almost 90% of EU imports from Iran are energy related, while Iran ranks as 6th supplier of energy products for the EU.
The EU decided earlier this year to play its strongest card, external trade, and agreed about a ban on oil imports from Iran, but it will only come into force in July, pending a review in May (the ailing economies of Italy and Greece are heavily dependent on Iranian oil). Meanwhile as part of strengthening positions towards the talks on Saturday, Iran announced that it will stop oil imports to Spain and threatened it will do the same with Italy and Germany.
The talks and what will follow them in the next months will be a big test for the credibility and coherence of EU foreign policy, where it is common to see especially the big countries in the EU who prefer to pursue their national interests over the bloc interests. The EU must enforce the oil embargo and get ready to find alternative oil supplies for the continent.
This is not an easy task during recession in Europe and when Russia and China strongly engaged economically with the Islamic Republic. Iran’s economy relies heavily on energy imports from the EU and on EU’s technology for the energy market, that’s why it is the right decision to target the country’s oil and gas industry. The talks are Iran’s last chance but let’s not be naïve about the outcome of the talks. Iran is not going suddenly to open up its nuclear sites for international inspectors, neither to stop enriching uranium. It is the role of the EU sanctions to try and prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons, but sanctions can only be effective if all EU countries enforce them without any exception – that’s the challenge the EU faces and it must ensure that the sanctions come into place as planned and adhered by all the 27 members.
May 23, 2012 | 7:37 am
Posted Tal Ofer
05 April 2012
The abhorrent poem which German Nobel Prize laureate Günter Grass published at the Suddeutsch Zeitung is definitely not going to win him prizes nor plaudits. The former Waffen SS man accused Israel of plotting to ‘wipe out’ the Iranian people, and that Israel poses a danger to global security. He claims that he is sick of the ‘hypocrisy of the West’ and that Germany would ‘take part’ in a crime, by providing Israel with a sixth Dolphin submarine. The submarine is able to carry nuclear missiles however there is no evidence that Israel armed it with such weapons or that Israel has such weapons at her disposal.
It’s ironic that Mr. Grass complains about the sale of submarines, because it was he who volunteered in the 2nd world war to serve in a Kriegsmarine submarine though in the end was taken to be in the 10th SS Panzer division in Dresden. In his book published in 2006 ‘peeling the onion’ he mourns the deaths of the Nazi German soldiers during the 2nd world war much more than those millions of Jews who were murdered. The same Mr. Grass 10 years ago condemned the Bundestag for trying to outlaw Neo-Nazi parties and also called to cancel the ban on the publishing of ‘Mein Kampf’. According to him, it would be good for readers to understand what ‘nonsense’ was written by Hitler.
There is nothing but classic anti-Semitism behind the poem of Mr. Grass . It is Iran’s president who declared his country will wipe Israel off the map, it is Iran who refused the ‘freeze for freeze’ offer by the P5+1 and the same Iran that wasted time in the negotiations with the West .It is also the same Iran which funds Terror organisations like Hamas and Hezbollah and who send terrorists to attack Israeli diplomats Jewish communities across the world.
According to Mr. Grass fears of Nuclear Iran are very much exaggerated, but that’s not what most of the world thinks, certainly not Iran’s neighbours. It is Iran which threatens the global security and the existence of Israel with its pursuit for nuclear weapons and with the possibility that such weapons can make their way into the hands of Hamas and Hezbollah. But let us not speak of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. What must be said is that the outrageous comments by Mr. Grass have no place in the European public discourse and that we have to strongly condemn it.
By Tal Ofer - Member of the European Jewish Parliament.
May 23, 2012 | 7:33 am
Posted Tal Ofer
1 March 2012
Like many others, I was appalled when I heard about the disgraceful comments Baroness Tonge made during an event at Middlesex University last week, which was part of the ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ held on different campuses. In addition to that the police are investigating offensive comments made by the American activist Ken O’Keefe who was part of the same panel, and called for the ‘destruction of Israel, the UN, the US and British Empire’. Baroness Tonge didn’t try to distance herself from the comments.
This rhetoric can’t be tolerated and has no place in the political and public discourse, and Baroness Tonge’s statement last night shows just how dangerous and inflammatory her comments are. She claims that it was taken ‘out of context’ and blames ‘Zionist campaigners’ that disrupted proceedings. She was asked by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg to apologise but refused and therefore resigned from the party.
It is not the first time that Baroness Tonge’s comments cause uproar. In 2010 she claimed Israel should investigate allegations that its medical teams in Haiti trafficked organs of earthquake victims for use in transplants. In 2004 she was sacked as Liberal Democrat children’s spokeswoman when she suggested that she could consider being a suicide bomber and raised questions about the future of Israel.
The European Jewish Parliament, of which I am a member, was inaugurated two weeks ago in Brussels and it aimed to deal with the big challenges the European Jewry faces. Among those challenges are antisemitism and the delegitimisation of Israel in Europe. Abhorrent comments such as those made by Baroness Tonge and by others show how serious our challenge is in the UK and in Europe.
The Community Security Trust last year recorded 586 antisemitic crimes in the UK, nearly half of which were in Manchester. Among the incidents across the UK in 2011 were 92 assaults, 63 incidents of vandalism, 394 reports of abuse and 29 direct threats. In one of the most extreme incidents last year, a Jewish family who filled their tank up in the petrol station were verbally abused, hit and left injured. It shows that antisemitism remains a serious problem which can be exacerbated if not tackled properly and it’s the responsibility of all of us to stress that racial hatred of any kind has no place in our society.
Tal Ofer is member of the European Jewish Parliament and of Progress
May 23, 2012 | 7:13 am
Posted Ian Shulman
Bel Kaufman is more than just another example of a writer who’s success did not depend on a legendary relative. While her grandfather Sholem Aleichem dedicated his work to the life of poor Russian shtetl Jews at the turn of the twentieth century, Bel’s main concern was the social situation in the American high schools of the 1960s. Still, family ties are not the only thing that unite a 101-year old best-selling author with classic Yiddish literature. We got a chance to talk with Bel Kaufman about Jewish humour, literary inheritance, Tevye the Milkman and many things more.
- In Eastern Europe and Russia, the places where Sholem Aleichem and his characters lived, a lot of people know you and know and love your books, but the first thing which comes to their minds when thinking about you is the fact that you are the granddaughter of Sholem Aleichem.
- I’m the only one in the whole world alive who knew him. I remember sitting and holding his hand, I remember his laugh. I was very little when he died. He died in 1916, and I was born in 1911. But he had an enormous influence on my childhood, my writing and my life.
- How exactly did he influence your writing? What are the things you can say you have inherited from him?
- I don’t know if you could inherit a talent. But you could inherit the background, the desire, the wish. When my first book, ‘Up The Down Staircase’ came out, I was told that the critics were very kind. They wrote ‘the same humour and compassion’, ‘she wears the mantel well’. In other words, they gave me the permission to be a writer. How can i write when my grandfather was a legend? How dare I? So the critics permitted me. I’ve heard the voice saying ‘Allright, Bellochka, you can also write’.
First it was just notes, not a book. Finally, The Saturday Review published it. The editor asked me: ‘Can you expand these three pages into a book?’ I said: ‘No, no, I’m not a novelist. I’m a teacher’ - I said it with pride, - A teacher of English. I write short stories for the magazines, but not novels’. They gave me an advance and I spent it. What could I do? I had to write a book.
- But was the book still based on your notes? On the real stories which happened to you?
- Fiction. And the best compliment I get from critics was that they think I just copied everything.
- I noticed that you and your grandfather have a similar sense of humor. It often seems that this kind of humor is something from the past. Do you think it can also exist now, or is it exclusively connected with those Jewish people from Eastern Europe?
- It’s hard to say. I gave a course last summer in Hunter College on Jewish humour, and we discovered that most of the comedians, humorist writers, stand up comics in this country are Jewish. Why? Well, from the ghetto Jews had so little. All they had was communication. They didn’t have food, they didn’t have health, they didn’t have money. They communicated. My grandfather heard their communication and loved it. He loved the Yiddish language and he decided to write in it, although he wrote very well in Hebrew and in Russian. He corresponded with Chekhov and with Gorky in beautiful Russian, and we talked only in Russian in our family. Yiddish was the language of the kitchen, illiterate women. He raised it to the level of literature, and that’s his great contribution.
- Do you know why Sholem Aleichem only spoke Russian at home?
- Because we lived in Russia!
- But Jews in Russia were primarily speaking Yiddish in those days…
- If you live in a country that has its own language, you should speak this language. When I spent a summer in France, I spoke French. So we spoke Russian. We understood Yiddish, my grandfather used to read his stories to us, and the children used to fight to sit near him. We understood his stories, we were his first audience.
- Sholem Aleichem wrote about Jews and Jewish life. Did you ever have an idea to write on such topics?
- I wasn’t brought up in a shtetl, was not brought up in a Jewish town. I always lived in large cities. I was born in Berlin, lived in Odessa, in Kiev, in Moscow. Everywhere I spoke the language of the city.
- When I was reading ‘Up The Down Staircase’, I was keeping in mind that you were a teacher and the novel was based on the stories from your teacher life. The novel is all about problem children, which are extremely hard to teach and communicate with. Did you have such experience yourself?
- You raise an interesting point. Sholem Aleichem is considered a great humorist. What did he write about? The poverty, the need, the sickness of the Jewish people in the shtetl. But the stories were funny. He was able to see the tragedy with a humorous eye. I wrote ‘Up The Down Staircase’, my first book, and people think it’s very funny. It is - they laugh. I described the terrible situation in public high schools, lack of communication, the ignorance of the directors, but I was making it funny. That what he did. I didn’t realize until the book was published - that what he does! Interesting.
- I didn’t think of that. That’s actually the answer to my first question, about the inheritance. It’s probably this humor, ability to view sad things from the humorous point of view.
- I don’t know whether it’s inherited or acquired. But the fact is that everybody in my family wrote. My father, although he was a doctor, was a poet, a translator, a writer, a painter, a sculptor. He made little sculptures out of Russian bread, and I had it for 90 years - I brought it from Russia. He turned it to the consistency of clay, he baked them, painted them - they are still here. His proud moment was when he needed to get a special permission from the Soviet government to export his ‘works of art’.
- How do young American Jews perceive Shalom-Aleichem? Things and culture he wrote about are something they hardly know.
- We had an interesting weekend a few days ago in Washington D.C. I was invited to three days of the Sholem Aleichem festival. We talked about Sholem Aleichem and I gave a talk about my book. Young people loved him. Not the way I love Nabokov or Dostoevsky, but rather like a close member of a Jewish family. I once gave a talk about him in Montreal, Canada. At the end an old man was wheeled up to the stage by a nurse. He said: I live in an old people’s home. I’m blind, I cannot see you. I’m deaf, I cannot hear you. But when I learned Sholem Aleichem’s granddaughter was here, I insisted they bring me so that I could touch my hand. He touched my hand. I never forgot it. So you mention Sholem-Aleichem to a Jew and his face lights up. He was loved. He died young from tuberculosis, which was incurable in those days. Once in Baranovichi, a little town where he was giving a talk, he felt very sick. He was lying in a bed coughing with blood. A young man from that town spent hours covering a cobbled-stone street under his window so the passing horse carriage wouldn’t disturb him. That’s love.
- Can non-Jewish people perceive his books in the same way Jewish people do?
Not in the same way probably. But many people love his translations and certainly one of the most popular American musical, ‘The Fiddler On The Roof’ done by Sheldon Harnick. When we went to see the opening night, my mother was alive then, she kept saying to me: ‘It’s papa? It’s not papa!’ ‘Mama, it’s not papa, but it’s a beautiful American musical show.’
But do you know there was a real Tevye? You see that painting? It’s an interesting story. My husband and I were walking down the Madison Avenue, we saw this painting in the window. I said: ‘You know, it smells like spring. Let’s go and see what it is’. We walked in the gallery. The man said ‘Oh, that’s Tevye. Tevye The Milkman, by a Russian painter called Shenker’. So we bargained about the price and I bought it. He called the artist, and I’ve heard him talking on the phone to his mother in Brooklyn saying: ‘Mama, guess who bought my Tevye!’
Tevye was a very short skinny man with a funny black beard, which he grew out of his neck, not his chin. He used to deliver milk, cheese and eggs to Sholem Aleichem’s family in the countryside where they lived. Sholem Aleichem enjoyed talking with him, so he began writing in a local newspaper stories about Tevye The Milkman and his seven daughters. The ‘Fiddler’ had only five. Tevye The Milkman became a local celebrity. His customers used to say: ‘Come in, Reb Tevye, have a glass of tea, Reb Tevye’. He had no daughters at all, but Sholem Aleichem invented them. I never met Tevye, but my family had. When ‘Fiddler On The Roof’ was played in Japan, a Japanese actor played Tevye. When he was interviewed, he said: ‘Do you Americans actually understand this play? This is a Japanese play! It has all the things we value: tradition, family feeling…’
May 19, 2012 | 5:01 am
Posted Linda Katz
The need for Jewish Literacy was discussed at a Plenary Session during AJC’s ACCESS conference. Jewish literacy (likely) includes the need to understand Judaism and what it means to be Jewish. The speaker encouraged each of us to seek the path of self-education, implying the challenge as first learning enough to ask questions. And answers always raise more questions.
Different sessions at the conference all suggested the same thing:Jewish literacy is founded in knowledge, action, and willingness to dance to any and all music. It’s a foundation that expands into world Jewry, something I discovered as I chatted with attendees from around the U.S. and Europe. Learning that Macedonia’s Jewish population totals to 150, I revisited a personal and persistent question about Jewish identity—what does it mean to be Jewish?
World Jewry surely holds secrets about Jewish Literacy. I was lucky to attend the conference with the Jewrnalism delegation, a group of young Jews reporting on Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe. Discussing these issues with them uncovered thoughts – and – ‘secrets’.
Some shared secrets:
Small and growing communities exist in Holocaust ravaged countries.
Eastern European Jewish history (and literacy) extends beyond the six years of the Holocaust;
Poland was the center of Jewish life for hundreds (?) of years, and, Polish Jews are NOT anti-Poland (unlike many Americans and Israeli’s);
Jewish life extends beyond the shtetl, and, places like Vilna and Krakow are hip, modern cities;
Israeli’s ‘Birthright’ experience of visiting concentration camps misses the mark on an important volume of Jewish Literacy by NOT visiting the living Jewish souls who live (here.)
Faced with assimilation and competition with time and energy in a secular world, defining and promoting Jewish Literacy seems increasingly important. Opportunities for self-education with AJC and groups like Jewrnalism can teach both where we have been as a people and where we are going.
May 14, 2012 | 1:21 pm
Posted Itamar Treves-Tchelet
The two brown horses gallop lightly on the famous Viennese Ringstrasse. They remain calm, even when cars drive by from left and right. “This part is called Karl-Lueger-Ring, after the former Mayor, who happened to be a big Anti-Semite. Last week I heard that the city is going to rename it – and justified”, the carter explains, surprisingly in Hebrew! Well, not an academic Hebrew, “but good enough for the kitchen”, he admits.
His name is Rupert Adensamer. He’s 34, studied the history of the Middle East, originally Viennese. Most of his life, he has spent among his horses. For the last three years he was occupied with conveying the story of the Austrian Capital through the most authentic method: on the carriage. But one thing separates him from his other jealous comrades: Rupert has a connection to Israel; such as only the ones who rode across it on a horse’s back could understand.
Rupert Adensamer first came to Israel at the age of 22, for the purpose of a national service, instead of going to the Austrian military.“ I worked for the remedial community ‘Kfar Rafael’ in Beer Sheva. There I lived exactly like in a Kibbutz”, he remembers, “as the time went by, I learned the language from the residents.” The mission ended after 6 months, but Adensamer continued coming every few months during his vacation from the university. “It was the time of the second Intifada, and rockets started falling in southern Israel. Since there was a difficulty with recruiting more volunteers from Europe, they kept on calling me. I was always very happy to come.”
Eventually, it was a relationship with an Israeli ‘Kibbutz-Girl’ that led to a new passion: Horse Breeding in Israel. “My girlfriend’s dad sympathized Shagya Arabian horses, exactly the same type that my family has been breeding for the last 40 years. So I offered that we open up a stable in the Kibbutz. We started out with 3 horses that my family gave us. Today I have 11 horses together with other Israeli partners.”
Sounds like a successful business.
“From the beginning I said that it won’t turn into a business. It’s about vision, family, about love to the horses that brings people together despite their differences. And in the middle-eastern reality – this is a very important asset. Although, we do specialize the horses to compete in ‘Endurance’ competitions for distances of 120km and more. These contests are very popular in the Arabian countries, like in Jordan where even Israeli groups take part in.”
Is there a difference between owning horses in Israel and in Europe?
“The big difference is that in Europe, you could actually make a living out of it. In Israel there is a very young tradition in this field. Israelis tend to focus too much on the final goal, not on enjoying the road to it, and in the meanwhile they complain that the horses are not fast enough. Also historically, Jews had never the image of horsemen. Besides that, I’m always worried about thefts. Last week, somebody tried to steal my horses in Israel. You need to understand, that each time a horse gets stolen, there goes also his genetics. This genetics is crucial for the race’s breeding. That is why I keep my horses in different stables. The positive side is that in the northern Israel you have the ideal conditions for the horses. I think that I would be happy to be a carter along the beach of Tel Aviv.”
At a certain point, the carriage turns away from the Ringstrasse and enters the old city of Vienna. “This was the Emperor’s residence during the winter”, Adensamer says while maneuvering between hundreds of curious tourists, and then he asks: “do you see this balcony? It was installed by order of the Baron Wilsczeck so it will turn directly to Sissi’s room window.”
How do you adjust the content of your tours to the different tourists?
“Sometimes the people I take with me are not interested in history. In case they do, I try to put up a comedy show while adjusting the content to the nationality: the Argentineans are interested in Sigmond Freud’s old house, the Japanese want to know everything about Mozart. The Arabs are more interested in Shopping. The Israelis are the noisiest, but they also have the best mood. They always think that I try to fool them, but once I start to talk in Hebrew, they already feel like at home and I become a part of the family.”
So you’re addicted to the Middle East.
“Look, everything that happened in my life regarding this region was a coincident. I wanted to study history, and if you keep your eyes open, there’s no way that you miss this tensed topic. I think that Israel is, without its fault, too much in the focus of the international media. Like there aren’t any other disasters in the world. I also noticed that we in Europe are much more stressed about the possible war with Iran than Israel. Because you have bunkers.”
Do you see how the world politics also affect the world of horse breeding?
“Through horse breeding you can save entire races that almost disappeared due to the world wars. The Lipizzaner, which are so beloved by the Austrians, were almost extinct after WW1. The devotion of one man saved them. Or for instance: in the 18th century, the horses back then were considered to be too heavy for their role in the postal service and in the military. So Arabian horses were brought from the Middle East to Europe. The horses became then lighter and more human friendly. A real “Arabization”. It came to the situation in which the Bedouins have sold their entire species. Only in 1994 they managed to save their horses from extinction. Thanks to the water distribution agreement during the peace treaty with Israel.“
And there is probably a lot of politics in the world of carters.
“Everybody here are equal. If there is someone who has a wrong attitude, the things will be addressed directly. Women have it much easier in this job. Carters have also a bad image in the Austrian society: either we are gamblers and alcoholic, or we are technology deniers. Which is sometimes true. Each and any one of us has also a nickname. Mine is ‘Herr Magister’, after my academic degree. When they want to hurt me, they call me ‘Judenschwein’ (Pig-Jew). It started when I tried to help an Israeli lady during an argument she had with one of my colleagues. After I spoke to her in Hebrew, the other carter became angry since he thought that I tried to arrange something behind his back. Some of the carters here do not understand that the fact that I speak Hebrew and lived in Israel, does not make me Jewish. But they don’t care. It made me understand how deep the Anti-Semitism is rooted in some Viennese. And they never even met a Jew in their live. Even as my friends in Israel told me how common the Anti-Semitism in Austria is, I couldn’t believe it. Until I experienced it by myself. For this kind of people I’ll be a Jew on purpose.”
Why did you choose this job, even though you’re academic?
“First, I earn here much more than in the academy. Second, after many years of travelling, I had to stabilize my life. I reached the conclusion that I prefer to be with my family and my horses, especially when they eat and I can relax with them. And indeed, I managed to build my own urban Kibbutz in the middle of Vienna: I don’t need my phone because everybody know where I am, I don’t have traffic problems, I don’t need a parking lot. I have the perfect balance between city and nature. But still, this job takes over your life. When everybody are on vacation, I need to work. When they are at work, I need to take care of the horses. Either you are a carter for life, or none.”