Somewhat different than the Women of the Wall is a women’s prayer meeting at the Western Wall this coming Sunday at 6 p.m. This is not a demonstration about women’s power per se, but a collective hope that the combined prayers of many women will bring about the recovery of Rabbanit Henny Machlis, who is seriously ill and in the hospital.
Rabbi Mordechai Machlis and his rabbanit are famous for their amazing hospitality; their home in Jerusalem has always been open for Shabbat meals, attended by scores of people at any given time. In the 35-plus years they have opened their home and their hearts to the lonely, the homeless, tourists or simply people who had nowhere else to go, they have hosted in excess of 400,000 visitors at their table.
Aided by their children and grandchildren, they have prepared tasty meals in huge cauldrons, to ensure that those who might be lacking a Shabbat meal would have where and what to eat – and could enjoy the spirit of Shabbat.
New and lasting friendships have also been formulated around their table. With all the work involved, husband and wife have succeeded in finding time for personal conversations with their guests, treating them with kindness, understanding and compassion. Moreover, the family has continued to prepare the mega-meals during Henny’s hospitalization.
Some of those who have been guests at their table have set about organizing a prayer session for the rabbanit’s recovery.
Anyone who cares to join the prayer session on Sunday is asked to bring a book of Psalms.
Former guests who are unable attend are asked to say a prayer for Henna Rasha bat Yitta Ratta.
Those who are participating should initially congregate in the plaza at the water fountain, adjacent to the women’s section of the Western Wall.
■ ADDRESSING THE diplomatic community at the annual Independence Day reception hosted for the last time by Shimon Peres in his capacity as president, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Peres had become an inseparable part of his own Independence Day celebrations and he was sure that it would continue to be so – if not in the presidential complex, then perhaps next year at the traditional Yisrael Beytenu barbecue. Peres thanked Liberman for the invitation to the barbecue but warned that the food should be well-done.
Retirees are often forgotten, but happily not by the Foreign Ministry.
Seen among the guests were former directors-general Shlomo Avineri, Yoav Biran and Alon Liel, former protocol chiefs Mordechai Palzur and Yitzhak Eldan, and former minister counselor and deputy director of the protocol department Yael Banayan.
■ NORWAY IS in the news, and not just because Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s older son, showed up at the opening of the Independence Day festivities at Mount Herzl with his non-Jewish Norwegian girlfriend Sandra Leikanger. Peres will be going on a state visit to Norway next week and will be feted at an official reception at Slottsplassen (Palace Square), a gala dinner at the Royal Palace hosted by King Harald, and a lunch at Akershus Castle.
Peres will have separate meetings with parliamentary president Olemic Thommessen and Prime Minister Erna Solberg; there will be a press conference after the meeting with the prime minister.
Peres will also deliver a lecture at the Norwegian Nobel Institute.
Peres is no stranger to Norway, which he has previously visited several times, both as prime minister and foreign minister. In December 1994, he was in Oslo together with then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
Incidentally, Peres received the Spirit of Davos award for global leadership this past January; the US Medal of Freedom last year; and over the years, numerous other honors from many countries – but not the Israel Prize. This is despite his being one of the key initiators of Israel Aircraft Industries; the proponent for the Dimona nuclear reactor; the brains behind the Entebbe operation; taking Israel out of triple-digit inflation; and encouraging research first into nanotechnology, and now the brain. Peres has initiated and advocated many other things that have contributed to Israel’s prestige, scientific and technological advancement and her economy, but for some strange reason, the Israel Prize has eluded him.
■ THE CELEBRATION of Poland’s Constitution Day at the Udim (near Netanya) residence of Polish Ambassador Jacek Chodorowicz and his wife, Monika, was also a reunion, and in a sense, a demonstration of reconciliation. Other than diplomats, the overwhelming majority of the guests were either Polish-born or people with Polish roots, including the government representative, Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir.
Some people with long memories were surprised to see Shamir, considering that his late father, prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, was born with the surname of Jaziernicki, and had publicly stated that Poles sucked in anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk. However, the genial Yair Shamir made no such remarks, and said he was honored to bring greetings and warm congratulations on behalf of the government and people of Israel.
Shamir praised the Poles for being among the first to adopt a constitution (after the US), and said the commitment of modern Poland and the young State of Israel to the common values of freedom and justice serves as a sound basis for relations between the two countries.
He also noted the history of the people of the two nations, with a Jewish presence on Polish soil that goes back almost 1,000 years.
Poland’s Jewish community was one of the biggest and most important in Europe, numbering 3.3 million on the eve of World War II. “The tragedy of the Holocaust which was perpetrated by the Nazis on Polish soil resulted in the nearly total destruction of this magnificent community and its rich culture,” he said.
Shamir made the point that since the resumption of diplomatic relations between Israel and Poland in 1990, following the fall of the Communist regime, new, varied and extensive channels of dialogue had opened between the governments of the two countries, with many visits in both directions by high-level dignitaries.
Shamir also commented that since joining the EU in 2004, Poland had become one of its major pillars. He was pleased by the growing interest of Poles, including the younger generation, in Judaism, Jewish culture and in the history of Polish Jews. He was even happier about the number of young Poles who have discovered their Jewish roots.
Chodorowicz remarked that in addition to celebrating Constitution Day, Poland was marking the 10th anniversary of its membership in the EU. A decade ago, after carrying out comprehensive reforms in regard to democracy and a liberal economy, Poland and nine other countries joined the EU, he said, noting that on June 4, 1989, the first democratic elections were opened in Poland to non-Communist candidates, and the first non-Communist government was formed. More importantly, as far as Israel was concerned, was that Warsaw became a hub for aliya from the Soviet Union.
To allow this to happen had been a very courageous decision on the part of Tadeusz Mazowiecki, who had been the first non-Communist prime minister – not only of Poland but of the whole of Central and Eastern Europe – since 1946. Chodorowicz emphasized that Mazowiecki had made this decision even before the reestablishment of diplomatic relations in February 1990 – when, as it happened, Yitzhak Shamir had been prime minister of Israel. Next year, said Chodorowicz, Poland and Israel will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the renewal of diplomatic relations.
To illustrate Poland’s remarkable progress in a relatively short period of time, Chodorowicz said that his country, which had been “politically and economically bankrupt,” had “turned the tide of history.”
In welcoming the many guests who had gathered in the enormous expanse of his back garden, Chodorowicz greeted his immediate predecessor Agnieszka Magdziak Miszewska, who now works as a senior assistant to Poland’s defense minister and was in Israel at this time with Poland’s deputy defense minister, to engage in strategic talks with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
Also among the visitors was Piotr Puchta, director of the Department of Africa and the Middle East in Poland’s Foreign Ministry. Puchta served in Israel in Poland’s special interest office prior to the full renewal of diplomatic relations, and later returned to serve in the Polish Embassy as deputy chief of mission. He later served as Poland’s representative to the Palestinian Authority, and was subsequently appointed Poland’s ambassador to Egypt, Eritrea and Sudan.
Many of his Israeli friends greeted him joyfully, saying “Welcome home” – and in a sense, it was true. Puchta was born in Israel when his father was serving here before relations were severed, and while he was serving in Israel, his son was born here. Indeed, Puchta, who speaks fluent Hebrew, was gravitating linguistically between Polish, Hebrew and English.
Among the Israeli guests were the bemedaled sole survivor of Treblinka Shmuel Willenberg and his wife, Ada; Mordechai Palzur, who was born in Poland and was Israel’s first ambassador to Poland after diplomatic relations were resumed; Zvika Pik, Polish-born singer, musician and composer who serves as one of Poland’s honorary consuls; and Nobel Prize laureate Ada Yonath, whose parents were born in Poland.
During the formal part of the evening, Shamir had assured the guests that despite the gusty wind, there would be no rain. The downpour came soon afterwards and the exodus was instant, as guests scuttled through the house to the street where they had left their cars. Some had to walk a considerable distance in the rain, but diplomats remained dry and were fortunate, in that their chauffeurs were able to drive up the broad path to the very entrance to the house.
■ DUTCH AMBASSADOR Caspar Veldkamp has been playing tour guide this week to his sister and her family, who are visiting Israel for the first time. Veldkamp, who is very well-informed about Israel’s geography and her best tourist sites, is personally enamored with the Negev, “because we have nothing like this in Europe.”
Early in the week, he took his relatives to Rabin Square to witness the Independence Day celebrations, and had to walk a long way from where he had parked the car.
This afforded his relatives the opportunity to see urban Tel Aviv at its busiest and most joyful, and they walked all around the surrounding area as well. And what is sister’s overall impression of Israel? “She loves it.”
■ ANYONE WALKING around Israel in general, and Jerusalem in particular, will observe that multiple births have become quite commonplace.
Twins are not at all unusual, but there are also quite a few triplets. There’s also no shortage of multiple births in Jewish communities abroad.
Jerusalem-based Rabbi Jay Karzen, who for many years served as a rabbi in Chicago before coming on aliya, frequently conducts bar mitzva ceremonies for youngsters from English-speaking countries who come to Israel to celebrate their Jewish age of maturity.
Yesterday, he had yet another such ceremony for Chicago triplets Avi, Daniel and Natan Alter, whose parents, Howard and Susan Alter, brought them to Israel for this important turning point in their lives. Even though it literally rained on their parade, the family was thrilled to be in Jerusalem’s Old City for the occasion.
■ WHEN DAME Vivien Duffield, who chairs the Clore Foundation established by her late father Sir Charles Clore, entered the courtyard of Jerusalem’s Melabev Day Care Center for English speakers in Talpiot at the end of last month, she had her first glimpse of the special van for wheelchair-bound participants of Melabev centers.
The van, the most recent Clore gift to Melabev, was appropriately festooned with a red ribbon.
Greeting her together with Sir David Sieff, Alan Sacks and Kay Weinberger, trustees of the foundation, along with Tamar Galai- Gat, director of its Israel office, were Melabev representatives Harry Sapir, chairman of the board; Motti Zelikovitch, CEO; Marsha Donshik, director of the Talpiot Melabev center; and Varda Sharabi, assistant director of Melabev. A number of the participants at the English center came out to join them as the ribbon was cut by Sieff.
The van, which is equipped with a hydraulic lift, can transport at any given time four wheelchair- bound participants, their caregivers, and five additional ambulatory passengers. When the van is not needed for wheelchairs, a folding mechanism enables it to carry 16 ambulatory passengers.
This is the first such vehicle acquired by Melabev, and is used to transport participants, caregivers and staff between the centers and the participants’ homes.
Professional staff and voluntary staff at Melabev centers provide stimulating social and therapeutic activities for men and women with Alzheimer’s symptoms, and support services for their families.
Three of the 10 centers, operating in Jerusalem, will soon be consolidated in the new Beit Melabev about to open in Givat Massua. All Melabev centers, including the one in Beit Shemesh, offer transportation and two meals a day.
The new Clore van will make possible the transportation of the wheelchair-bound at considerable cost-savings to their families.