AFTER THE agonizing period that a large segment of Israel’s Filipino community experienced last year when worrying about relatives and friends at home who may have been victims of the typhoon, they were in sore need of some good news which would not only cheer them up but would bring pride to the community. As is generally known, caregiver Rose Fostanes, the first winner of the Israeli version of the X Factor did just that, but not without a little help from her friends. Fostanes, who came to Israel from Manila six years ago to work as a caregiver, captured the hearts of the Israeli public when she appeared in the show. It wasn’t just her voice, but also her personality. Needless to say, the large Filipino community was rooting for her, as was popular singer Shiri Maimon, who was one of the judges on the show and also served as mentor to Fostanes.
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Among the people who watched the show on television was Yariv Fisher, the CEO of Flyeast, one of the leading companies dealing with travel to the Far East.
Moved by Fostanes’s charm, style and wonderful singing voice, Fisher took the initiative and contacted the producers of the show and offered to bring the singer’s sister Nancy, and long time partner Mel Adel to Israel. The production company naturally agreed. After all, nothing boosts rating more than a good human interest story and surprising Fostanes by flying in the two people she loves most would certainly generate media attention and bring in additional viewers for the final. Because of time pressures, it was also necessary to involve the Philippine Embassy in Israel in tracking down the two women.
The Embassy was happy to help. It cut bureaucratic red tape, ensured that passports were issued within 48 hours and arranged for an escort to get Nancy to the airport only minutes before the plane was due to depart. Fisher, with a senior representative of the Philippine Embassy, was on hand to meet and greet the two women. He then drove them to the Benjamin Hotel in Herzliya and from there to the set of the filming of the finals.
A tearfully ecstatic Rose could not thank Fisher enough and said that the presence of Mel and Nancy would spur her to sing better. Philippines Ambassador Generoso D.G. Calonge who also attended the finals, had every reason to feel good. The rest, of course, is history.
Rose’s story instantly went around the world and was published in many newspapers and on many websites.
If she wants to be another Susan Boyle, she will have to leave Israel because her visa permit does not allow her to work in any capacity other than that of a caregiver.
When interviewed the following day on Channel 2 by Oded Ben-Ami, Fostanes was uncertain about her future. She said she wanted to keep on singing, but she also wanted to stay in Israel – so if she sings here, it will have to be gratis.
For Shiri Maimon it was also a triumph.
In her own career, she has tasted the anticipation of victory to only just miss out. In 2003, she was runner-up in Kochav Nolad, the Israeli version of American Idol; and in 2005, when she represented Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest, she came fourth – which is a very respectable rank – but she didn’t win. Yet for all that, she is a singer in great demand and Rose Fostanes probably will be too.
■ APROPOS EUROVISION, representing Israel this year is Mei Feingold, despite the fact that she didn’t serve in the army. A song has yet to be chosen for her and the Israel Broadcasting Authority has asked the public to submit songs by the end of this month. In the past, there was a stigma attached to people representing Israel abroad if they had not served in the IDF.
When he was tourism minister, Labor leader Isaac Herzog was severely criticized for choosing Bar Refaeli to be the face of Israel in promoting a tourism campaign.
■ STAFF AT Jerusalem’s David Citadel Hotel are pulling out all the stops for the arrival next week of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who though a great friend and supporter of Israel has never previously visited. Harper will be accompanied by a large delegation of leading politicians and prominent figures from Canada’s Jewish community. Canada’s Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs is hosting a gala dinner in Harper’s Honor on Monday and on Tuesday, Harper will be the guest of honor at a mega State Dinner hosted by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The Protocol department of the Foreign Ministry will be run off its feet at the beginning of next week, because Harper will not be the only leader of his country in Jerusalem.
Visiting at the same time will be Romanian President Traian Basescu, who will complete his second and last term at the end of this year. Unlike Harper, Basescu has been to Israel before. Israel and Romania have particularly close relations, that go back to the very beginnings of the state. Romania recognized Israel in 1948, and was the only Soviet Bloc country that did not sever relations with Israel in 1967. It also played an instrumental role in the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.
■ MA’ARIV REPORTED last week that former Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky were waiting to see whether Regional Cooperation, and Water and Energy, and Development of the Negev and the Galilee Minister Silvan Shalom will announce his candidacy for president of the state before they themselves decide on whether or not to join the race. If Itzik does run, the report stated, they won’t. But if he doesn’t throw his cap in the ring, they will be among the contenders. If recent developments are any kind of indication, it would seem that Shalom will be running. A recent procedure helped him to get rid of his eye glasses and to develop a new image.
In addition, his wife Judy has toned down her style of dress and was demurely attired for the funeral of Ariel Sharon.
She even wore a modest but becoming black hat. The Ma’ariv report also stated that there is a move within Likud to pass a bill whereby a politician who becomes the president of the state, cannot return to politics after completing his or her term. The reason, as presumed in the report, is that there are elements within Likud who are afraid that if Shalom does a good job as president, he will become prime minister in the next elections.
Yitzhak Navon returned to politics after serving as president, and was appointed Education Minister. Despite denials by Shimon Peres, there is speculation that he too will return to politics after he steps down towards the end of July.
Meanwhile, Channel 1 political reporter Ayala Hasson, who anchors the Friday night current affairs program, has promised to reveal a possible dark horse in the presidential race in tonight’s segment.
■ ANYONE FAMILIAR with the history of Robert Bruce, the 14th-century king of Scotland, is also aware of his legendary motto: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again… ” Scottish tradition has it that in the days when Robert Bruce had been made an outlaw by King Edward I of England, and had to live under the most primitive of conditions, he watched a spider trying to get from one beam to another in the crude hut to which he had been confined. The spider failed in one attempt after another, succeeding only on the seventh attempt, but inspiring Robert Bruce in the process. The same motto could well apply to Chabad couple Estee and Itzik Blaui, who run a kindergarten in Kiryat Gat. After bringing eight daughters into the world, they finally succeeded last week in welcoming a son who weighed in at 3.6 kg at Kaplan Medical Center. The girls – aged 14, 12, 11, 9, 7, 6, 4 and 2 – had wanted a baby brother and had prayed that their mother’s next delivery would be a boy.
Estee said that her older daughters had prayed on the previous Sabbath, immediately before candle lighting, that they would be blessed with a brother – and their prayers were answered.
Most fathers would like to have at least one son to carry on the family name, but Itzik said that gender didn’t matter to him. He was happy with every new baby that came along. Nonetheless, he acknowledged that with the arrival of the latest addition to the family, there was great joy not only among the infant’s immediate relatives but also among the congregants at the synagogue he attends, with many of the worshipers suggesting names for the child, none of which were the names traditionally given to boys in Chabad communities.
■ WHILE ON the subject of babies, Ben Hartman, The Jerusalem Post’s Tel Avivbased crime and national security reporter, and one of the paper’s former op-ed editors, Ricky Ben-David, welcomed a healthy 3.1 kg daughter – Lielle Sarah Hartman – who was born on Wednesday at Ichilov Hospital. This is their first baby, so only time will tell if she ends up with seven sisters and a brother.
■ WHEN YOU say Jews and Spain in one breath, the tendency is to think of the Spanish Inquisition. But Israel eventually got past that, and today, January 17, marks the 28th anniversary of the formal establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Spain. In March 1992, on the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, as a mark of the new era of tolerance between Spain and the Jewish People and Spain and the State of Israel, president Chaim Herzog paid an official visit to Spain, and in Madrid, at a dinner hosted in his honor by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, said: “I wonder if all those great immortals – Maimonides, Ibn Gvirol, Nachmanides, Shmuel Hanagid, Yehuda Levy to name a few – ever dreamt for one moment that the president of an independent State of Israel would stand here, in the royal palace of the Kingdom of Spain and recall their great and significant traditions and contributions to our common culture.”
Since then, there have been ups and downs in the relationship, and there are still anti-Semitic elements in Spain, but the diplomatic ties remain fairly firm. As of this week, in preparation for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Embassy of Spain in Israel, in cooperation with Casa Sefarad in Madrid, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Beit Hatefutsot in Tel Aviv and the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, is hosting the screening of The Angel of Budapest, a feature film based on the story of the heroism of Ángel Sanz Briz , who was charge d’affaires at the Spanish legation in Budapest in 1944, and was among those brave diplomats from different countries who worked closely with Raoul Wallenberg to save Jews from being sent to Auschwitz and other extermination camps. Briz, like some other diplomats, defied his own government by engaging in the humane operation in which thousands of documents were falsified so as to enable Jews to either pose as gentiles or to leave Hungary.
Briz is credited with having saved the lives of some 5,000 Jews, and in 1991 was posthumously recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous among the Nations.
In addition to depicting what he did, the film focuses on the personal stories of some of the people that he saved, as well as the people with whom he worked. The film will be screened at Yad Vashem on the morning of January 28, at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on the evening of January 29 and at Beit Hatefutsot – The Museum of the Jewish Diaspora on the evening of January 30.
■ WITH THE possible exception of Ephraim Kishon – it’s doubtful that any Israeli author has been as widely translated as Amoz Oz – and yet the Nobel Prize for Literature eluded Kishon, as did the Israel Prize for Literature. When he eventually was awarded the Israel Prize in 2002, three years before his death, it was a Life Achievement Award, rather than a prize for literature. For several years now, Israel has waited with bated breath to see if Oz, who has received so many other awards, will add the Nobel Prize to his trophy list.
But the hopes of the nation have thus far been in vain. Nonetheless Oz, who in 1998 was awarded the Israel Prize for literature, continues to receive recognition from other quarters. On February 4, Oz will travel to the Herzliya Pituah residence of Spanish Ambassador Fernando Carderera who will confer on him a decoration awarded by His Majesty King Juan Carlos whose many titles include king of Jerusalem. Oz was born in Jerusalem which means that the monarch and the writer have something in common.
■ CONTROVERSIAL NEW YORK TIMES journalist Thomas Friedman, who was stationed in Israel, will briefly return to participate in a panel discussion which will be the closing event of a conference jointly hosted at the Eretz Israel Museum by Eco- Peace Friends of the Earth Middle East and the Institute for National Security Studies.
The main theme of the January 27 conference will be the joint management of cross-border environmental issues, with a particular focus on the urgency of dealing with water as one of the final-status issues of the peace process.
■ TEL AVIV night owls got together last week at the trendy Jimmy Who Bar on Rothschild Boulevard to toast the upcoming 40th anniversary campaign of Alut – The Israeli Society for Autistic Children.
The DJ of the night was actor and athlete Oshri Cohen, who caused a furor when he invited singer Uri Marom to the stage. Marom was instantly swamped by fans who wanted to be photographed with him. The campaign begins on January 20.