Judging by the cheers, shouts and sustained applause by relatives, friends and associates of the honorees, who at a festive ceremony at the President’s Residence on Thursday were the recipients of the Presidential Medal of Distinction, there is no doubt that each was certainly deserving. Yet one cannot help but think of equally deserving people who have contributed mightily to Israel, the Jewish people and the world at large in various capacities, and who for whatever reason have been overlooked.
Some of the names that come to mind are Sheldon Adelson, Ronald Lauder, Lily Safra, Charles Bronfman, Michael Steinhardt, Raya Jaglom, Ruth Cheshin, Ruth Rappaport, Harvey Krueger, David Azrieli, Sylvia Hassenfeld, Ida Nudel, Shlomo Hillel, Alice Shalvi and Avi Rifkind.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Their individual and collective contributions to education, scientific research, medicine, culture, social welfare, Jewish outreach, feminism, Jewish rescue missions, communications, the greening of the Negev, the economy and the saving of lives is truly mind-boggling.
According to senior members of the president’s staff, potential awardees have to be recommended by members of the public.
The recommendations are then considered by the president’s advisory panel. Perhaps people who might have recommended any of the above took it for granted that someone else had already done so.
■ THE NEWS that Oscar-wining, Jerusalem- born actress Natalie Portman’s husband, choreographer Benjamin Millepied, is in the process of converting to Judaism, lends hope that if Yair Netanyahu’s romance with Sandra Leikanger leads to the bridal canopy, she too will convert, especially because she was raised in a very pro-Israel Christian home, and because her older sister, Ida, now known has Hila, has already paved the way.
Portman, Millipied and their son, Aleph, are on a three-to-four-month stint in Israel, while Portman takes her first stab at directing a film instead of just starring in one. For some years now, Portman has nursed the idea of adapting Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness into a film, and that is what she is finally doing. She herself wrote the script for the film, in which she will star.
Some six months ago, the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund approved a NIS 1.6 million grant towards the production costs, the highest amount that it has given to any production.
But then again, the story is set in Jerusalem; the internationally renowned author of the book from which the film was adapted was born in Jerusalem; and the star and director of the film was born in Jerusalem and did a stint at the Hebrew University – where fellow students said she never put on any airs and graces, and was just one of the gang.
Portman, her husband and son will be in Jerusalem from February to mid-March for the filming of the production. Oz will next week be feted in Herzliya Pituah by Spanish Ambassador Fernando Carderera, who on behalf of His Majesty King Juan Carlos I will bestow on him a prestigious Spanish decoration.
Portman and her husband met in 2010 on the set of Black Swan, for which she won the Oscar. It took very little time for them to become an item, which surprised some people because Portman is staunchly Jewish and has appeared at gala events in support of Hadassah and other Jewish pro-Zionist organizations.
Aleph was born in June 2011, and his parents tied the knot at a Jewish wedding in a private home in Big Sur, California, in August 2012. Millepied began preparing for conversion in 2013, and may be inducted into the faith in 2014.
It is not at all uncommon in America’s entertainment industry for Jews to be married to non-Jews, and it also happens in political circles.
Chelsea Clinton has a Jewish husband, and so does US Vice President Joe Biden’s daughter Ashley.
■ WHILE MKs traveled to Auschwitz to commemorate the Holocaust and the horrendous toll in human life, several foreign diplomats stationed in Israel went to the Massuah Institute for Holocaust Studies. Among them was Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma, who noted that after the war, Australia took in and settled 35,000 Jewish refugees, and in so doing nearly doubled Australia’s Jewish population at that time. Proportional to the size of Australia’s population, he said, only Israel took in a higher percentage of Jewish refugees. Many of the Holocaust survivors who came to Australia went on to make very successful careers for themselves, he added.
As a young child in Sydney, Sharma’s next-door neighbors were a family of Hungarian Jews. The parents had escaped Europe following World War II, and the children were his close friends. He spent summers with them in their backyard swimming pool, and in winter they kicked around a football in the front yard. Only much later in his life, said Sharma, did he learn the circumstances under which they had come to Australia.
■ THEY WERE serving wine – not vodka – at the Golan Heights Tourist Convention Center, but that didn’t stop them from toasting Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver and Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirschenbaum, who all hail from the former Soviet Union. The occasion was a meeting of the northern branch of Yisrael Beytenu.
Among the meters and greeters was Eli Malcha, head of the Golan Heights Council.
While in the North, Liberman underscored the importance of Jewish settlement in the region to ensure security on the country’s northern borders. He also thanked the Golan Heights tourism team for their hospitality, and made special mention of the Lehayim.
■ AMERICAN JEWISH youngsters are increasingly spending the money they receive in bar and bat mitzva gifts to establish projects in Israel – often for members of their peer generation.
A recent example was Hanna Doft of Manhattan, a young guitarist who wanted other youngsters in her age group to have the chance to appreciate and play music. She couldn’t have chosen a better venue than Safed, which is known as Klezmer City. With the money she received for her bat mitzva, she established a fully equipped music room with special insulation, a wide variety of musical instruments and a state-of-the-art recording system at the AMIT High School Yeshiva.
She was actually following a family tradition.
When her older sister Dara celebrated her bat mitzva, she donated a specially equipped gymnasium to the AMIT School in Karmiel.
Hanna and her family came to Israel from New York for the inauguration of the music room, and Hanna cut the ribbon in the presence of school principal Rabbi Yoram Rosenbaum, Mayor Ilan Shohat and other dignitaries. The inauguration ceremony included performances by the school band, and by international violinist Ilan Shiloach.
Hanna’s grandfather was given the honor of affixing the handmade mezuzah, which was in the shape of a guitar.
Rosenbaum, who has an unusually high number of musically talented students, said he’d been dreaming for years of opening a professional music room. Shohat told the Doft family about the city’s annual summer klezmer festival, and invited them to come back to enjoy it.
■ EVERY YEAR, the director-general of the Israel Broadcasting Authority awards the Ilan Roeh Memorial Prize to outstanding IBA journalists.
Roeh, an Israel Radio reporter who had been covering events in Lebanon for five years, was killed by a roadside bomb in southern Lebanon on February 28, 1999, while he was traveling in an IDF convoy. He was only 32 at the time of his death. A popular reporter with many friends in the profession, Roeh had no time to leave a lasting legacy, other than the fact that military reporters, whoever they work for, frequently risk their lives while bringing the story to the public.
Following his death and out of respect to his family, the IBA decided to perpetuate his memory with an annual prize for outstanding reporters. The prize, known as the Director- General’s Prize in Memory of Ilan Roeh, is awarded close to the anniversary of his death.
IBA director-general Yoni Ben-Menachem selected veteran news editor Hila Marinov and relatively young reporter Dikla Aharon as the latest recipients of the prize. Marinov, a graduate of the Hebrew University, where she studied Arabic language and literature as well as English literature, joined the IBA in 1982, originally working in the Arabic Language department of Israel Radio. She later transferred to the Hebrew News department, where she was responsible for editing news diaries as well as news of the day. Over the years she received several promotions, and is currently chief editor of the news department.
Aharon is also a graduate of the Hebrew University, where she studied medical science and the history of the Jewish people as well as contemporary Judaism. Her journalistic studies were undertaken at the Koteret School of Journalism at Tel Aviv University. She joined the IBA three years ago, and currently serves as health and religious affairs reporter for Israel Radio; she is also an occasional current affairs anchor.
In other IBA prize-wining news, Ruth Almagor-Ramon, the Hebrew-language adviser at Israel Radio and the editor of Rega Shel Ivrit (A Moment of Hebrew), in which she explains the origins or usage of certain Hebrew words and how they conform or contrast to their translations in other languages, was awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize.
For all the pride and goodwill associated with prizes, Israel Radio may find itself with a serious decline in ratings due to sanctions imposed by its journalists’ union, which has (temporarily) canceled some programs and reduced the airtime of others. News and current affairs junkies who listened religiously to Reshet Bet moved over to Army Radio, when they were unable to receive their favorite programs on Israel Radio. The sanctions are in protest of the woeful working conditions and low salaries earned by most IBA journalists, but if these measures cause a severe drop in ratings, the journalists are shooting themselves in the foot and playing straight into the hands of Communications Minister Gilad Erdan. Erdan wants to close down the IBA and start again from scratch with a new public broadcasting network, which will have a much smaller staff and will be less likely to incur the mounting deficit with which the IBA has been plagued for years.
■ NEW YORK native Stewart Rahr, who is the former owner of Kinray, the largest privately owned pharmaceutical distributor in the world, was scheduled this week to deliver 12 lifesaving ambucycles to United Hatzalah.
The dedication ceremony took place on the roof of Jerusalem’s Aish Hatorah, opposite the Western Wall. When it was Rahr’s turn to speak, he mounted the stage and called on everyone present to make donations that he would match. The upshot was that instead of the 12 ambucycles that were originally promised, United Hatzalah will receive 50 ambucycles at a total value of around $1.3 million.
The United Hatzalah volunteers who attended the ceremony almost wept with joy. They had not anticipated anything so magnanimous.
Rahr had decided to make his donation after watching a TED talk by United Hatzalah founder Eli Beer. At first he pledged four ambucycles, then sent out an email to his personal rolodex of over 700 A-list celebrities, asking them to donate whatever they could to United Hatzalah, with a promise to match every donation.
The list included Michael Milken, Leonardo DiCaprio, Harvey Weinstein, Sheldon Adelson, Jeff Schottenstein, Alicia Keys, Andrea Bocceli, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Mark Wahlberg, Leon Black, Mort Zuckerman, Donald Trump, Rupert Murdoch, Andre Agassi, Ari Emmanuel, Ashton Kutcher, Marc Cuban, Jay Leno and Tommy Hilfiger.
At the event, Rahr said: “I just love the energy level of United Hatzalah, I just love everyone sitting here to do this mitzva today. This is the type of organization I relate to, starting from the bottom – just like I started.”
The matching donations included eight ambucycles donated by Daniel Greif of Toronto, eight donated by David Hager of Los Angeles, and three contributed by Ron Daniels. The bonanza of ambucycles will make a significant difference to the existing fleet, and makes a great start for United Hatzalah’s campaign to bring the fleet up to 600 ambucycles.