“I wasn’t going to let CNN tell me whether or not I could come to Israel,” declared Kevin Allen, the deputy mayor of Cockburn in Western Australia, who, with his wife, Debra, arrived in Israel last week as part of a 15-member Western Australian trade delegation. It was the first visit of most group members, and several said that relatives and friends had tried to dissuade them from taking the trip at this time. But John Cluer, the CEO of the Western Australian Division of the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, was more persuasive and convinced them that they would not be taken to any danger zones.

A mixed group of Jews and non-Jews, they were impressed with everything they saw in Israel and all the places they went – and their program isn’t over yet. What puzzled Allen, after seeing so many different praiseworthy facets of Israel, is why Israel’s PR is so poor. A typical Australian who calls a spade a spade and isn’t overly concerned with being politically correct, he couldn’t understand why the story of Israel’s manifold achievements isn’t out there. In his first two days in the country he discovered so many positive things of which he was previously unaware that he was genuinely baffled by the general lack of good news about Israel. When told that Israel disseminates the good news but that it often gets skewed by anti-Israel forces, he, as someone who doesn’t have a single anti-Semitic bone in his body, had trouble believing this and suggested that Jews are still walking around with a 20th-century chip on their shoulders, regardless of the microchips with which they’re working in the 21st.

The group was interested in water management, agro-technology, bio-technology, sustainable and renewable energy, city management, development and delivery of healthcare products, livestock and much more. Israel Australia Chamber of Commerce executive director Paul Israel, who organizes all the arrangements for visiting trade delegations from down under, makes a point of designating Jerusalem as the location for Friday night dinners for delegations and of inviting Jerusalem lawyer Zali Jaffe and his family to join them. Jaffe, who is a partner in an international law firm, has several clients in Australia and has traveled there several times. Jaffe, who is also vice president of the Jerusalem Great Synagogue, hosts the delegations at Friday night services, and at the dinner he explains various aspects of Jewish rituals pertaining to Shabbat. This time, instead of reciting most of the blessings himself, he shared the limelight with Western Australian Local Government Association business development manager Andrew Blitz, who sang the kiddush and the Grace after Meals.

An avid user of the products of modern technology and thrilled that he can read huge volumes on his Kindle without being burdened by their weight, Jaffe thinks that technology has turned people into slaves and that one of the reasons the world economy is so erratic is because there is no day of rest as there is in Judaism. On the Sabbath, he explained, he doesn’t touch any of his gadgets. He doesn’t even use the phone. It’s a total day of rest away from anything that resembles work. In the pre-technological era, most of the world had a weekend or, at least Sunday for Christians and Fridays for Muslims, in which people didn’t work. Now, with modern technology they work twice as hard and twice as long, said Jaffe. The Australians were very happy to meet up with Danel Jaffe, who, along with a close friend, came home from army service in the South to be with his parents. The group was also interested in talking to Danel’s mother, Dr. Tamar Jaffe, who is the director of the Israel Science Foundation.

■ PROPRIETOR OF the Educational Bookshop in East Jerusalem, Imad Muna, who arranges many pro-Palestinian cultural events in Jerusalem and in Ramallah, is quite even-handed with regard to the books he sells in his store. Among the volumes on the shelves there are several with a Zionist perspective. Jews, Christians and Muslims can be found at the literary evenings and film screenings he organizes.

The next one, at the Friends Meeting House in Ramallah on December 1, is to promote the latest book of well-known author Suad Amiry, Menopausal Palestine.

Muna promises that it will be a memorable evening.

■ THERE’S NO shortage of troopers in Israel. Actress Hanna Maron, who turned 89 last week, is still performing on stage and still going strong despite having lost a leg as a result of a Palestinian terrorist attack in Munich in 1970. After a year’s recuperation, she returned to acting with frequent stage and television appearances.

She would have preferred to be a writer than an actress because she has great respect and admiration for what the brain can dream up by way of plots and subsequently make them convincing. Then again, as an actress she won the Israel Prize. She might not have done so a writer.

■ CONDUCTOR AND composer Dr. Mordechai Sobol is also a gifted stand-up comedian. At the fourth annual Emunah concert this week, in addition to conducting the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the Ramatayim Choir and the Yuval Choir, he also kept up a steady yet light-hearted stream of patter with the audience, the sound man and whoever controls the air conditioning system in the Henry Crown Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theater. At the conclusion of each bracket of the performance, Sobol, dressed in black tailcoat and pants teamed with white shirt vest and bow-tie, turned around to the audience, leaned on the rail of the podium, and between explanations of what comes next, made remarks that were funny enough to raise a chuckle.

The event, which also featured singers Simon Cohen, Shai Abramson, Ohad Moskovitz and Boaz Wulz, was devoted primarily to songs about peace and about Jerusalem, and when the audience joined in to sing with the choirs in singing “All the world is a narrow bridge,” it nearly took the roof off.

The poignant background music to Schindler’s List was played by talented young violinist Gabriel Chouraki, who is currently serving in the IDF. Cohen, who organized the event on behalf of Emunah Jerusalem, is an opera singer as well as a cantor, and if he looked a trifle nervous it was because his sternest critic, his father, Stanley Cohen, was sitting in the fifth row, in full view of the stage and occasionally muttering under his breath. The senior Cohen, though pleased with the balance between the choirs and the orchestra, was particularly disturbed by a woman sitting behind him who kept singing along with the performers.

Proceeds from the concert were dedicated toward Emunah’s new project in G’vaot in Gush Etzion, where young people with special needs are given the tools and the skills for independent living.

■ WHEN YOU happen to be both a kibbutznik and the minister for agriculture, you have to show up at major events related to both your place of domicile and your position in the government – even in the midst of an election campaign – though members of the Independence Party are now the victims of a most uncertain political upheaval and have been left like wounded soldiers in the field. Minister for Agriculture Orit Noked is scheduled to appear on the propitious date of November 29 at the annual Kibbutz Industries Association convention taking place at the Leonardo Hotel in Ramat Gan. Minister for Industry and Trade Shalom Simhon is also listed among the dignitaries who will deliver greetings.

A lawyer by profession, Noked, who lives on Kibbutz Shefayim, became a legal advisor to the Kibbutz Movement in 1986 and retained the position for six years. From 1996 to 2002 she served another stint as director of the movement’s legal department.

Simhon, who lives on Moshav Even Menahem in the western Galilee, has held several executive positions, including that of secretary general in the Moshav Movement.

Both ministers are members of Independence Party, which broke away from Labor and which, according to all the polls, would receive very few if any mandates in the Knesset elections next January.

The KIA convention would ordinarily be fertile campaign ground for both, especially as Simhon is also a former minister of agriculture, although most of the 300-plus kibbutzim that belong to KIA have changed their focus from agricultural produce to hi-tech since KIA’s founding in 1962.. The question is whether the two ministers will confine themselves to flowery greetings on KIA’s jubilee or talk about whether their party will continue to exist after its leader’s decision to withdraw from political life; the damage to farms in the South during Operation Defensive Shield;the anniversary of the UN resolution for the partition of Palestine which paved the way for the establishment of the State of Israel; or the attempt by the Palestinian Authority – exactly 65 years later – to gain recognition as an observer state.

Almost anything that happens tomorrow should be interesting. As for Ehud Barak, who broke away from Labor in January 2011 and is now leaving his loyal lieutenants in the lurch, perhaps his new motto is ‘Better to retreat than to suffer defeat.’

■ ALTHOUGH THE law states that campaign broadcasting must cease 60 days prior to the Knesset elections, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, when interviewed on Israel Radio following his success in the Likud primaries, totally ignoring attempts by his interviewers to stop him, on Tuesday morning bulldozed his way past the microphone on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet and put in a heavy dose of political propaganda for himself, for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and for the Likud. Apparently, the days when someone pulled the plug at the Israel Broadcasting Authority are well and truly over.

■ CHIEF BENEFICIARIES of the upcoming Knesset elections are Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger, whose 10-year terms have been extended by three months. With all that was going on by way of rocket fire and Israeli retaliation last Tuesday, it was business as usual for the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which approved the second and third readings of a bill to extend the term of the two chief rabbis, whose tenure officially expires in March 2013. Of the 150-member electorate that elects the chief rabbis, two must be government ministers and five must be members of Knesset. The committee decided that it was not a good idea to assemble the rabbinical electorate so close to the general elections, and thus gave the chief rabbis an extension.

■ EVEN BEFORE, that on the Sunday of the Gaza-Israel conflict, the Cabinet last week approved the establishment in Jerusalem of a Hall for the Hebrew Language.

This was in the framework of a series of decisions aimed at strengthening the status of the Hebrew language. In this context, the Cabinet decided that the Hebrew calendar date of Tevet 21 will be recognized as Hebrew Language Day in memory of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who was born on that date and who is recognized the father of modern Hebrew.

Each year on this date, the prime minister will award the Eliezer Ben-Yehuda Memorial Prize for strengthening the status of the Hebrew language. The award will be presented at an annual Hebrew language conference to be held in Jerusalem. In addition, medals will be awarded to people who have made important contributions to the status of and research regarding the Hebrew language.

Emphasis will also be placed on educational activities in schools and the IDF, alongside similar activities in the Diaspora.

The government has allocated NIS 500,000 toward the establishment of the Hall for Hebrew Language, in addition to NIS 400,000 from the World Zionist Organization and NIS 300,000 from the Municipality of Jerusalem. Researchers working in the Hall for Hebrew Language will preserve, develop and promote research regarding the treasures of knowledge, the heritage and the culture of the language of the Bible which serves the Jewish people to this day. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcomed the decision, saying that in an age of Internet and global multiculturalism, the dissemination of Israel’s heritage, including its main language, was of greater urgency than ever before.

■ THE SITUATION prior to the cease-fire did not scare off Togolese President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé, who did not change his plans to come to Israel on a state visit this week regardless of the security situation. Gnassingbé, who arrived in Israel on Monday, laid a wreath at Yad Vashem on Tuesday and will be officially welcomed by President Shimon Peres this morning. Peres will also host a state dinner in Gnassingbé’s honor this evening.

Gnassingbé is a second-generation president of Togo, having initially been appointed by his father, president Gnassingbé Eyadema, to serve as minister of Equipment, Mines, Posts and Telecommunications. When Eyadéma died in February 2005, Gnassingbé was immediately installed as president with support from the army. He resigned on February 25, 2005 in the wake of doubts raised as to the constitutional legitimacy of the succession, but then won a controversial election. He was re-elected for a second term in 2010. Togo is a West African country bordering the Bight of Benin in the south, Ghana in the west, Benin in the east and Burkina Faso in the north.

■ SHAVEI ISRAEL, the organization founded and headed by Michael Freund, a regular columnist for The Jerusalem Post, practices a different kind of outreach. While organizations like Chabad and Aish HaTorah tend to look for halachically acceptable Jews who have assimilated or who grew up in unaffiliated Jewish families, Shavei Israel reaches out to Jews whose ancestors were forced to convert but who secretly handed down Jewish traditions from generation to generation.

Very often these conversos, or crypto-Jews, live in community clusters, making it relatively easy for Shavei Israel to bring them back to the fold.

Freund believes that in this way, the global demography of the Jewish people can be restored to pre-Hololcaust figures and even surpass them. He and other Shavei Israel activists have found lost Jews in South America, Europe, India and elsewhere and have revived numerous communities, some of which they have brought to Israel. The most recent venture in this regard was the signing last week of an agreement between Freund and Júlio José Saraiva Sarmento, the mayor of Transcoso, Portugal, of an agreement for the opening of a Jewish cultural and religious center in the city – the first of its kind in Portugal in more than 500 years.

The Isaac Cardoso Center for Jewish Interpretation will include an exhibition about the Jewish history of Portugal and the renewal of Jewish life in the region in recent years. It will also contain a new synagogue called Beit Mayim Hayim (the house of living waters). The center will be administered by Shavei Israel emissary Rabbi Elisa Salas Jose Levy Domingos, who also serves as an advisor to the mayor.

Transcoso is a city in northeastern Portugal that was home to a flourishing Jewish community in the 14th and 15th centuries, prior to the expulsion and forced conversion of Portugal’s Jews One of the most well-known Jewish historical buildings in Transcoso is the Casa do Gato Negro in Largo Luis de Albuquerque, which used to serve as a synagogue and rabbi’s residence. Isaac Cardoso, after whom the center is named, was a Jewish physician and philosopher who was born in Transcoso in 1603 to a family of Bnei Anousim. He later moved to Spain with his family and then fled to Venice to escape the Inquisition, where he and his brother, Miguel, publicly embraced Judaism. He went on to publish a number of important works on philosophy, medicine and theology, including an important treatise defending Judaism and the Jewish people from various medieval stereotypes.

■ FOR MORE than 20 years now, veteran broadcaster Shmuel Shay, who is a voracious reader of almost any kind of literature, has presented a weekly program on Israel Radio which is a word-play on his name. The program “Shay Lashabbat” translates as “a gift for the Sabbath.” On the Saturday morning during Operation Defensive Shield, Shay who tells listeners about books he’s reading, cute items he found in newspapers and magazines and new aphorisms that have come to his attention, decided that it was not the time for this kind of program and did not broadcast. Listeners who missed the joy and enthusiasm of his presentation and would have liked a little relief from reports of yet another rocket falling were concerned that he might be ill and sent numerous faxes and emails inquiring about his welfare. Many of these messages came from people he’d never heard of before, just as the reports of rockets gave listeners names of southern settlements which they’d never heard of before. And so Shay happily experienced the truth of an old aphorism: “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

■ ATZUM, THE non-profit organization that works to combat and resolve issues of social justice, has announced that collaborator Y&R Israel has won the prestigious 2012 Effie Award. Originated in 1968 by the New York branch of the American Marketing Association, the Effie Awards presentation has developed into an international advertising event. Y&R Israel won the award for Excellence in Non-Profit Advertising for developing the “Women To Go” awareness campaign for the Task Force on Human Trafficking (TFHT), a project of ATZUM and the Kabiri-Nevo-Keidar law firm.

The ongoing campaign, which seeks to raise public awareness about sex trafficking and prostitution in Israel by exposing these corruptions of human dignity in a public space, features models posing in a storefront as “merchandise” complete with price tags and product information.

Volunteers stand outside to inform startled passers-by how they can participate in the campaign against sex trafficking.

The first “Women To Go” campaign in Tel Aviv in October 2010 garnered award-winning, extensive international media coverage and helped raise awareness about proposed Israeli legislation to criminalize the act of purchasing sexual services.

“Receiving an international Effie Award – the top prize in the advertising industry – for this truly unique collaboration is a tremendous achievement for Y&R Israel and the entire TFHT team,” said Rabbi Levi Lauer, founding executive director of ATZUM.

“It is essential that we continue to run the ‘Women To Go’ campaign internationally and construct new awareness initiatives that will make it perfectly clear that by tolerating the sale of a woman’s body, society has reduced women to a mere commodity.”

It is estimated that there are more than 10,000 individuals forced into prostitution in Israel, including 5,000 minors. Since the early 1990s, Israel has been a destination country for more than 25,000 victims of human trafficking. Most of Israel’s prostitutes and sex slaves experience cruel violence at the hands of their clients, procurers and traffickers. These clients come from every segment of society and every ethnic, religious and social-economic stratum.

“The first step in fostering change is creating awareness, and the ‘Women To Go’ campaign is a highly effective method to clearly illustrate the horrors of prostitution – what it means for the oppressed and what it says about the world in which we live,” said Kayla Zecher, the projects coordinator for TFHT. “We cannot allow human slavery and prostitution to remain shrouded in mystery. We must shine a spotlight on these egregious violations of human rights and encourage dialogue and legislation that will end the evil.”

The Effie Awards recognize the most effective international advertising efforts each year, including any and all forms of marketing communication that contribute to a brand’s success. Since 1968, winning an Effie has become a globally acknowledged mark of achievement.

In 2003, ATZUM joined forces with Kabiri-Nevo-Keidar and established the TFHT to help Israel put an end to human trafficking within its borders. TFHT works relentlessly to engage and educate the public and government agencies to confront and eradicate modern slavery in Israel, and lobbies for reform in the areas of prevention, border closure, protection of escaped women and the prosecution of traffickers and pimps.

ATZUM was established in 2002 to seek remedy for injustices in Israeli society and encourage individuals to become social activists and agents for change. In addition to the eradication of human traffic, ATZUM’s projects focus on distributing funds and providing educational resources to families of survivors of terror attacks in Israel; meeting basic needs and providing geriatric care for Righteous Among the Nations who saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust and now reside in Israel; and empowering Ethiopian youth to bridge the generation gap in Israel’s Ethiopian community. By drastically reducing administrative and general overhead costs, ATZUM ensures that all monetary donations significantly benefit their social action initiatives in Israel.

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