EXACTLY A year ago, Yoel Schalit and his girlfriend, Yaara Winkler, caused a sensation at the opening of the Israel Independence Day celebrations on Mount Herzl when they disrupted the beacon-lighting ceremony to demand the release of Yoel’s younger brother Gilad Schalit, who was then still a captive of Hamas.

Together with other activists who were convinced that the government could do more than it was already doing to bring Gilad home, the couple waved placards proclaiming that Gilad is still alive. Now all that is behind them, and Gilad is indeed alive and well and adapting to civilian life as he waits to attend their wedding. Like thousands of other Israelis affected by the plight of Gilad Schalit, who spent five years in captivity, Winkler, a university student from Beersheba, came to the Schalit tent in Jerusalem to show solidarity with the campaign for Gilad Schalit’s release. There she met and instantly clicked with Yoel Schalit, and for the past three years the two have been a couple.

Although it was obvious to everyone who knew them that they would eventually get married, there was no talk of a wedding while the struggle for Gilad’s freedom continued. But on Passover, the festival of freedom, the couple announced that the wedding will take place sometime toward the end of the summer – and, of course, Gilad will be there.

■ ISRAEL’S INDEPENDENCE Day is known to many in the country’s Arab community as Nakba, the “day of catastrophe.” There will be the usual rallies and demonstrations – hopefully without violence. But not all Arabs are joining in the Nakba commemorations. At least one will be part of the Independence Day celebrations. Ayman Toamy, an Israeli Arab and father of two, has been selling fruits and vegetables in Even Yehuda for seven years and is a well-respected and popular character there. He will be joining forces with Wendy Davis, a single mother who made aliya from England with her two daughters, Danielle and Zoe, in 1993 and has been living in Even Yehuda for the past 10 years.

For much of her time in Israel, Davis worked as a fund-raiser for Beit Issie Shapiro, and two years ago, in pursuit of a dream to work close to home and open her own business, she gave up her job to open a boutique ice cream parlor in Even Yehuda that goes by the name of Danzo Gelato. The name is taken from the first syllables of the names of her daughters. Many of the store proprietors in Even Yehuda will be operating stalls at the Independence Day celebrations, including Davis and Toamy, who will be operating a stall together, with the main feature being a display of blue and white ice cream consisting of vanilla and tutifruiti flavors. The whole enterprise will be a demonstration of coexistence in more ways than one.

■ IS MA’ARIV antagonistic toward Nili Priel, the second wife and sweetheart of Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s youth? In last Friday’s weekend magazine, Ma’ariv ran a cover story on the minister’s first wife, Nava Barak, who is now married to businessman Shalom Zinger. It also ran a big feature in its news pages about Priel, who illegally employed a foreign worker and will soon have her day in court to answer to charges. The photo of Nava Barak on the cover of the magazine was highly flattering. She is an attractive-looking woman under any circumstances, but on this occasion she looked like a fashion model and nowhere near a woman in her mid- 60s. There was a photo of Priel in the feature story on Barak and much larger photo in the news story about Priel. Both photos were highly unflattering and did not do justice to Priel, whose real life image is considerably better than that conveyed by the camera. To Nava Barak’s credit, she did not say one negative thing about her exhusband or his wife. On the contrary, she said she had some very good memories, but emphasized several times that she’s in a different place now and very much in love with her present husband, who is family oriented, romantic and spontaneous.

■ WHEN SHE decided to hold her birthday party at the Montefiore Restaurant in the Konrad Adenauer Center in Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim, it never occurred to society photographer and columnist Sara Davidovich that she was embarking on a public relations venture. All she wanted was to sit down to a good meal with her daughter Karin, her granddaughters and several good friends, some of whom have known her since babyhood, which was a long time ago, given that she's been married for 41 years.

Davidovich had not issued any formal invitations, but simply called up friends spontaneously to invite them, and was therefore uncertain how many would turn up. A long table had been set up in the center of the dining room, but it soon proved to not be long enough and the waiter kept adding tables as more guests arrived. Mimi Kanfu, who has been Davidovich’s close friend since she taught Davidovitch’s daughter in grade one, talked about her unfailing generosity not just to family and friends but to anyone she meets. The sentiment was echoed by Ruth Nissim, the wife of former Justice Minister Moshe Nissim, who said that Davidovich has brought a fresh approach to journalism in that she only seeks the positive qualities in people rather than the negative and never waits in a corner to catch someone in an embarrassing position.

Others agreed, nothing that Davidovich almost always flashes a brilliant smile that instantly conveys a welcoming attitude. Fellow society photographer and columnist Eti Salansky has much the same attitude and, although she and Davidovich work for different publications, they prefer to cooperate rather than compete and are the best of friends. Among the other friends who attended were Simi Mor, Rochele Barashi, Revital Balashnikov, Lilly Rubin, Rochele Kirstein and artist Tammy Gutman.

Daughter Karin read a poem about her mother, extolling Davidovich’s virtues. What she didn't mention was that after four decades of marriage, her mother is still walking – even running – around in four-inch stilettos.

■ DIFFERENT STROKES for different folks. Everyone sees things from their own perspective. Thus, two e-mails received last week with regard to Lithuania contained vastly different messages. Dr. Efraim Zuroff, who heads the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and describes himself as the “Chief Nazi Hunter,” sent out a message stating: “There is no government that is doing more to systematically promote Holocaust distortion and the canard of equivalency between Communist and Nazi crimes than Lithuania. The problem also exists today in the other Baltic countries and is endemic in post-Communist Europe.” Zuroff went on to explain that during the Holocaust, 96.4 percent of Lithuania’s Jewish population was murdered by local collaboration. He quoted an unnamed historian who once said, “It was safer to be a Jew in Berlin than in Lithuania.” In recent years, Zuroff continued, in the wake of the transition from Communism to democracy, many Eastern European countries, including Lithuania, were forced to confront Holocaust-related issues, significantly influencing their foreign policy as well as relations with Israel and world Jewry.

“However, in Lithuania, the government began supporting a series of steps to deemphasize the history of local participation in Holocaust crimes and focus attention on the suffering of the victims of Communism in Eastern Europe. In the wake of these steps taken by the Lithuanian government, there has been a dangerous increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents, vandalization of Jewish institutions and sites of Holocaust mass murders, attacks on Jewish public figures in the local mass media, and neo- Nazi marches in Lithuania,” he wrote.

Zuroff and Holocaust survivors rallied against the visit to Israel by Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis, claiming he had made anti-Semitic comments in the past and that the Lithuanian government has made attempts to “belittle the memory of the Holocaust.”

■ ANOTHER HOLOCAUST related message, but one with a completely different purpose, was sent out by Sara Manobla who for 40 years was with the English department of Israel Radio and who has remained busy in the spheres of travel, tourism and music in the eight years since her retirement. Though born in Newcastle, England, Manobla has Lithuanian roots and, together with others descended from the former Jewish community of Zagare in Lithuania, is organizing a memorial event in the city’s town square on July 13.

Zagare was home to a vibrant Jewish community for hundreds of years. The market place with its many Jewish shops was a center of commerce not only for locals but for merchants from a range of other towns. Zagare was also famous for its many Hebrew scholars. On October 1, 1941, the Germans and their Lithuanian collaborators brought the entire Jewish community to the town square and shot them. Some 3,000 people were murdered. Descendants of the Jewish community of Zagare will unveil a memorial plaque, view a presentation of the history of the shtetl and watch a Baltic football competition in which participants will include members of the Makabi team from Vilnius. There will also be a ceremony for welcoming that Shabbat, to temporarily restore the spirit of Judaism to Zagare.

■ AT THE media conference in Tel Aviv marking the Israel launch of Google Street View, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai quipped to Google CEO for Israel Meir Brand that if Street View succeeds one day in showing people where there is a vacancy in Tel Aviv to park one’s car, Brand is welcome to leave Google and come join the Tel Aviv Municipality. In fact, there will soon be fewer and fewer visible parking spots in Tel Aviv because the city is gradually putting all parking bays underground and building urban parks and playgrounds on top of them.

That’s great news for pedestrians who are being inched off sidewalks by illegally parked cars and by bicyclists and motorcyclists who prefer to use the sidewalk rather than the road. Tel Aviv is trying to do something about that too and, where space permits, is creating bicycle trails – not only on sidewalks, but also on the edge of the roads.

■ FRENCH AMBASSADOR Christophe Bigot has learned that there’s no diplomatic immunity in the desert – especially when hiking alone. Bigot, who likes to trek all over Israel, was on a weekend hike to Nebi Musa in the Judean Desert when he was set upon by two masked men who demanded his wallet and his cell phone.

Bigot complied, and was then left on his own in the hot sun without any means of seeking help. He had no choice but to take the long walk back to his car. He has since filed a complaint with the police.

Bigot last week accompanied Education Minister Gideon Saar, Education Ministry officials and members of the Monsonego family to the Israel Goldstein Youth Village in Jerusalem, where a special memorial service was held on Holocaust Remembrance Day, not only for victims of the Holocaust but also for those of the recent Toulouse terror attack.

French immigrant teenagers in relatively large numbers are currently part of the student population at the youth village. Shmuel Sandler, the father of Rabbi Yonatan Sandler who was murdered together with his two young sons Aryeh and Gavriel, lost most of the older generation of his family in the Holocaust.

■ INCREASING NUMBERS of voices are calling for the release of Jonathan Pollard as his health continues to deteriorate in prison. Several organizations and individuals who have previously urged that he be released have renewed the call, among them the New Yorkheadquartered United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. Rabbi Steven Wernick, United Synagogue’s CEO and executive vice president, and Richard Skolnik, international president, have issued the following statement.: “United Synagogue joins Jewish and other religious organizations, members of Congress and other elected officials, and leaders across the world, in requesting that President Obama proceed with urgency in releasing Jonathan Pollard from prison. Pollard has been in prison since 1985 – nearly 27 years – serving longer than any other person convicted of espionage against the United States. Israeli President Shimon Peres also has asked the Obama administration to grant Pollard clemency for humanitarian reasons.

Pollard’s actions were not right or legal, but he has pled guilty and he has served his time. Now, the right and moral thing for the U. government to do is to permit him to spend time with his family, as he struggles to recover his health.”

On December 21, 2008, United Synagogue’s board passed a resolution originally recommended by its Committee on Public Policy and Social Action calling upon President George W. Bush to commute Pollard’s sentence to time served and to order his release, and calling upon its member congregations and their members to urge Bush to grant clemency for Pollard. Now, nearly threeand- a-half years later, the United Synagogue is making the same request of President Barack Obama.

■ PRIZE WINNING author, poet, playwright, screen writer and translator Nava Semel, who was born and raised in Tel Aviv, has written guidelines for future archaeologists who may one day research and excavate Tel Aviv. Unless they dig deep enough in more ways than one, they will not know about the Tel Aviv of her childhood in which there were no elevators in apartment buildings, there were no high rise buildings to block out the view, there was no air conditioning to relieve the heat and humidity, and in summer people often slept on the rooftops of their buildings because it was too hot to sleep inside. For all that, Semel adores the Tel Aviv of those times, as she does the Tel Aviv of today, and hopes that future archaeologists will love it just as much. Eight years ago, Semel and her family moved back to the home in which she grew up, on Brandeis Street in Tel Aviv, when her mother decided to take up residence in a sheltered living complex.

Very little had changed over the years, but for two important exceptions: There’s air conditioning and the building has an elevator.

Semel, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, is the wife of Noam Semel, the director-general of the Cameri Theater, and the younger sister of pop star Shlomo Artzi. Her late father, Yitzhak Artzi, was a deputy-mayor of Tel Aviv and then a member of Knesset.

One of the leaders of the Jewish underground in Romania during the Holocaust years and particularly active in efforts to save Jewish children, he was also involved in smuggling East European Jews into Israel.

Exiled to Cyprus after World War II, he became a leader among the Jewish refugees and finally managed to get to Israel in 1946. Active in many spheres, he was committed to encouraging Holocaust Remembrance and was also active in the Claims Conference and other organizations working for the benefit of Holocaust survivors.

His daughter continued with his Holocaust remembrance work and sits on the Board of Directors of Massuah, the Institute for Holocaust Studies at Kibbutz Tel Yitzhak. She was also involved with Yad Vashem for many years.

■ VERY OFTEN, we know public figures only in terms of their public persona, which may have little or even nothing to do with their private lives. For instance, former Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch has a passion for the writings of Israel’s first Nobel Prize laureate S.Y.

Agnon, and during a recent visit to Agnon House was pleasantly surprised to receive a letter that he had written in response to an analysis of his 1943 novella, Betrothed. An item in Ha’aretz last week refers to a letter to which Agnon had replied in response to one he had received from Ma’ariv literary editor David Lazar in 1952.

Lazar had included in his letter an analysis by a student called Dorit Werba, which was Beinisch's maiden name.

Agnon had written to Lazar that one day he might write her a few words – or perhaps not, because at his stage in life he was exempt from answering letters. The letter, however, did include a poem addressed to Werba. Agnon House director Eilat Lieber eventually got hold of the letters after learning about Beinisch's penchant for Agnon from her Supreme Court colleague Justice Esther Hayut, who in February was helping to arrange a farewell party for Beinisch and had asked Lieber to invite Agnon scholars Ariel Hirschfeld and Bilha Ben-Eliyahu. When Leiber found no trace of the letters at Agnon House, she turned to Rafi Weiser, the director of the Agnon Archive at the National Library, who after much searching located both letters as well as the letter that had been written by Dorit Werba to Lazar, which Lieber was eventually able to present to Beinisch.

■ EL AL CEO Eliezer Shkedi and senior members of his staff hosted schools that had reached the finals of the Young Entrepreneurs Take Off with El Al competition for 2012. The contest is held in cooperation with the Israel Young Entrepreneurs Association. Throughout the year, El Al employees, including cabin crew, pilots and people engaged in other jobs with the company, visit competing schools and work in a voluntary capacity with pupils to help them develop their projects. Even before the winners are announced, Shkedi likes to walk among the display stands and to see with an unjaundiced eye how much creativity has gone into innovative projects and products. In his address to the youngsters Shkedi said, “Whoever dreams and believes in that dream will reach the objective. You have amazed me with your creativity and I'm sure that this is only the beginning.”

The first prize of NIS 4,000 was won by students of the Dafna School in Kiryat Bialik.

The second prize of NIS 3,000 went to the students of the Rehovot Youth Village and the third prize of NIS 2,000 was won by a school in Zichron Yaacov.

■ DOCUMENTARY FILM maker Monique Schwarz, who divides her time between her home in Jerusalem and her former place of domicile in Melbourne, Australia, and who focuses primarily on Jewish and Israeli themes, felt that she should be doing something for the environment.

Despite the fact that she doesn’t have a green thumb, she presented herself at the Society for the Protection of Nature and offered to help take care of the trees. However, when they saw her CV, the response was: ”We don’t want you to look after trees. We’d rather you made a film about the environment.”

Schwarz happily took up the challenge together with her partner, Benzion Tidhar, who was co-producer.

Schwarz wrote and directed the film and also operated the camera, achieving a number of truly breathtaking scenes. She wanted to give the film more meaning than environmental awareness per se, so she enlisted several environmentalists who are also Torah scholars to talk about what the Bible says or implies about the environment.

Without the issues shared by Dr. Jeremy Benstein, Leiba Chaya David, Rabbi Shaul Judelman and Einat Kramer, there would have been no film, said Schwarz at the Israel premier at the Jerusalem Cinematheque last Friday. Although each presented his or her individual perception of Torah and the environment, the bottom line was that God created the world and man must protect and preserve it.

It is a tribute to Schwarz’s reputation that she had a full house for the screening of a documentary. Rather than have it edited in Israel, Schwarz took it to Melbourne to allow Terence A. Doran, a Catholic, to edit it.

The reason: Jewish editors always tell her that her films are too Jewish, whereas Catholic editors say “It’s so Jewish. It’s wonderful.”

After the film was edited, it was screened in Melbourne before a largely secular audience because Schwarz wanted to test reactions from people who were not necessarily Bible-oriented. The film was very well received there, as it was in Jerusalem. Schwarz hopes to market it in the United States but meanwhile working on another film, which explores the connection between anti-Semitic and anti- Israel sentiments and whether someone can be anti-Israel without being anti-Semitic.

■ ONE CAN’T help wondering how Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov will spend the Independence Day holiday. Misezhnikov, who believes in having the kind of experiences that tourists would enjoy so that he can talk about them with some degree of authority, went sky diving on Passover, which is somewhat of an extreme sport for a government minister. Is he going to go bungee jumping on Independence Day – and if so, what comes next?

greerfc@gmail.com

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