Mail piles up when people are away. One of the letters awaiting President Shimon Peres when he returns from Canada is from members of Bnei Akiva who marched from Ofakim to the President’s Residence in Jerusalem in the hope of dissuading him from accepting the US Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama unless the freedom of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard came with it. The young idealists had requested a meeting with Peres so that they could personally give him a letter in which they asked him to forfeit the medal until such time as Pollard is granted his freedom.

They had been informed that they would be allowed to see the president, but some three hours before the marchers reached his residence, they were notified that the president would not see them Instead they would meet with his political adviser, Nadav Tamir who allegedly told them that the Jews of the United States are partly to blame for the fact that Pollard has not yet been released from prison because they did not do enough to secure his release. Furthermore, according to the Bnei Akiva youths, Tamir said that there are Jews in America who would not like see Pollard come out of prison.

Shocked by Tamir’s statements, Elad Avriki, coordinator for Bnei Akiva’s Southern Region has sent a letter to the President’s Residence asking for clarification – of whether Tamir was speaking in the president’s name or merely voicing his own opinion. In his letter to Peres, Avriki names each of the Bnei Akiva members who heard Tamir make the statements. This is not the first time that Tamir has gotten himself in hot water.

When he served as Israel’s consul general in Boston prior to taking up his present position, he was summoned back to Israel after having written a memo to the Foreign Ministry in which he stated that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s policy with regard to the Obama administration was causing strategic damage to Israel. The memo was apparently leaked to Channel 10, which reported its contents – including a reference to the political elements in Israel and the United States whose ideological agendas are causing harm to the special relationship between the two countries. Tamir was subsequently summoned back to Israel to explain himself, and certain groups within the US Jewish community demanded his recall from duty. It now remains to be seen whether Peres will give Tamir a virtual slap on the wrist or whether the president will ask the Foreign Ministry for a replacement.

■ THE BEST feedback that any journalist gets is when he or she makes a mistake or when a reader thinks that a mistake has been made. The writer of this column received an email from Michael Bloomfield, who pointed out that she made a mistake in a news report on the state visit to Canada by President Shimon Peres in describing Shaar Hashomayim as Canada’s oldest and largest traditional synagogue.

The description, he wrote, is misleading and somewhat divisive.

According to Bloomfield, Congregation Emanu-El in Victoria is Canada’s oldest continually used synagogue, “founded in June, 1863 and still thriving in the same historic building.” Congregation Shaar Hashomayim’s building only dates back to 1921, he stated.

Congregation Emanu-El began as an Orthodox congregation and continues to be a Torah-observant Conservative synagogue, wrote Bloomfield. Be that as it may, according to its website, Shaar Hashomayim was founded in 1846. Its building may be newer than that of Emanu-El, but it would seem that the history of the Shaar Hashomayim congregation is older.

By the way, preceding the visit there this week by Peres was that of Dov Shiloah, the son of Reuven Shiloah, the first director of the Mossad.

Dov Shiloah was there this past Monday to speak on the history of the Mossad in conjunction with the screening of excerpts from a film about the Mossad. His mother, Betty Shiloah, who was an immigrant from New York, worked at The Jerusalem Post many years ago.

■ THE DELEGATION that accompanied Bill Shorten, Australia’s minister for financial services to Israel, was surprised at how different the country was to the images of Israel portrayed on their television screens. Glenda Korporaal, a senior writer with Australia’s national daily The Australian, said that her husband, who had the opportunity to come with her on the trip, declined because he didn’t want to go into a war zone. Several of the other members of the delegation, whose visit was arranged by the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce and whose meetings were organized by the Israel Australia Chamber of Commerce, were equally surprised when they encountered the real Israel.

Australian Mutual Provident Society’s general manager for public affairs, Matthew Percival, for whom this was a first time visit, said that he would definitely come back and bring his family. Although the purpose of the visit was ostensibly to look at Israel’s financial services, it also included a cocktail reception hosted by Australian Ambassador Andrea Faulkner, visits to the Supreme Court, Yad Vashem and Masada, a tour of Tel Aviv, inspection of the new electric car at Better Place, a meeting with President Peres and a Shabbat experience at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue.

Shorten, who is tipped to be a future prime minister of Australia, also paid a condolence call on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and spoke with him at length, and likewise spoke at length with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer.

All the members of the delegation, who also included former NSW labor minister and current national manager for strategic partnerships with the Children’s Medical Research Unit at Sydney’s Westmead Hospital Virginia Judge, chief executive of Science and Technology Australia Anna-Maria Arabia, Challenger Financial Services executives David Cox and Jeremy Cooper, deputy chairman of the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority Ross Jones, SingTel Optus director of corporate affairs David Epstein and the Australian managing partner of law firm Clifford Chance, Mark Pistilli, were unstinting in their praise for Paul Israel, the affable and unflappable executive-director of the Israel Australia Chamber of Commerce.

One of the things the chamber does with visiting delegations is to take them to different restaurants to introduce them to the variety of Israeli cuisine. This includes a traditional Friday night meal with all the appropriate blessings, preceded by a visit to Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue for Friday night services. The non-Jewish participants are highly appreciative for this insight into Jewish tradition and the Jews, if they are not observant, welcome the opportunity to sample part of their heritage which they rarely do at home. If they are observant, they are happy to be able to share their customs with other members of the delegation. When there is no observant Jew among the participants, someone from the Great Synagogue fills in. Last Friday, the member of the Great Synagogue was suddenly called out of town and, despite the short notice, Paul Israel managed to get hold of Hagay Meir, who is affiliated with the Tzohar organization, and who brought his whole family. Meir explained not only the various Sabbath customs but also the background to the counting of the Omer.

Cox was appreciated all the experiences he had in Israel and the new friends he made – but confessed that he wasn’t really surprised to see how well-developed a country Israel is in view of the vast contributions by Australia’s Jewish population to the southern continent’s culture and economy.

■ SOUTH AFRICAN Ambassador Ismail Coovadia is among the more innovative and adventurous of ambassadors when it comes to hosting a reception. He likes to break away from the herd mentality and to do things differently.

This year, for instance, when he and his wife Bhoola hosted a South African Freedom Day luncheon (as distinct from the evening receptions that mark most national days), they chose as a venue not a hotel, a kibbutz, a moshav or the ambassador’s residence, which their colleagues and their predecessors have done in the past, but opted instead for the Daniel Rowing Center in Tel Aviv, which many of their guests had never visited before and found to be enchanting.

Coovadia said he was very happy to see among his guests compatriots who are volunteers of Bahai. The luncheon was held a few days after Freedom Day, which is on April 27, and this year marked the 18th anniversary of South Africa’s first nonracial democratic elections. It also marks the 18th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s ascent to the presidency of his country after having served 27 years in prison for “sabotage” – another way of saying anti-apartheid activity. This year marks the 22nd anniversary of Mandela’s release from prison, said Coovadia. Freedom Day, he emphasized, is a day for remembering all the heroes and heroines who fought for democracy not only in South Africa but throughout the world.

Coovadia described his country as part of an orchestra playing a melody for the promotion of peace, stability and human rights. Quoting current South African President Jacob Zuma, he said that Africa is a continent of hope and opportunity. Coovadia also underscored the fact that South Africa, in its role of president of the United Nations Security Council, was committed to peace and security. He reiterated South Africa’s support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and urged both sides to return to the negotiating table so that both could live in security with internationally recognized borders with “East Jerusalem as the capital for the Palestinians.” South Africa is ready to share its experience in conflict resolution, he said.

Vice-Prime Minister and Minister for Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya’alon, who represented the Israeli government, said that Israel and South Africa have a long history of diplomatic relations dating back to the early years of Israel’s independence. Israel opened a mission in Pretoria in 1952 and South Africa established a Consulate General in Tel Aviv in 1972, with both states opening embassies in each other’s countries in 1973. South Africa continues to be Israel’s largest trading partner on the African continent, accounting for half of Israel’s total trade with all the African states, especially in the fields of energy, agriculture and telecommunications, said Ya’alon, adding that Israel maintains its only trade office on the African continent in Johannesburg, which is also El Al’s only destination in sub- Saharan Africa.

It has apparently become policy that regardless of the nature of the occasion, any bi- , tri- or multi-lateral meeting between Israelis and representatives of other countries must be infused with references to Iran. Freedom Day was no exception. The threat of Iranian nuclear armament is a matter of concern to the entire world, said Ya’alon. “A state which has publicly threatened to destroy another sovereign state cannot be permitted to attain the means to do so.” Iran also supports destabilizing radical elements on the African continent, and a nuclear Iran would have destructive consequences for the whole region, he said. In his own speech, Coovadia made frequent references to Ya’alon, addressing him as “Minister.” When Ya’alon finished speaking, Coovadia approached the microphone again and apologized, saying that he should have addressed him as “Vice-Prime Minister,” To which Ya’alon good naturedly responded, “You can call me Bogie.”

■ THE FACT that he has not yet presented his credentials did not deter Poland’s Ambassador- designate Jacek Chodorowicz from celebrating his country’s Constitution Day with a festive gathering around the pool at his residence in Kfar Shmaryahu.

Somewhat more fluent in English than his predecessor and a spontaneous speaker who can unhesitatingly deliver an oration without reference to notes, Chodorowicz accomplished something that was almost unknown to his predecessors: there was polite silence when he spoke, and everyone present could hear everything that he had to say.

Chodorowicz became instantly active on arrival in Israel shortly before Independence Day. He opened an exhibition at the Begin Heritage Center on “Halls of the Sejm – Jews in the Polish Parliament” and also attended official Independence Day celebrations.

He is also scheduled to join German Ambassador Andreas Michaelis at the Israel Museum on May 22, when both will speak at the opening of exhibitions by Joseph Beuys and Tadeusz Kantor under the title “Remembering.” One of the guests was the ambassador’s counterpart, Zvi Rav Ner, who is Israel’s Ambassador to Poland but who briefly returned to Israel because his elderly mother is unwell.

Chodorowicz and his wife Monika, who enjoyed the hospitality of Rav Ner and his wife Diti on several occasions in Poland, were pleased to have the opportunity to reciprocate.

Also present were Mordechai Palzur, who was Israel’s first ambassador to Poland after the resumption of diplomatic relations following the long break after the Six Day War, and Moshe Arens, who was Israel’s foreign minister when diplomatic ties were renewed. Arens has since been to Poland several times, but not for diplomatic reasons. He was busy righting an historical wrong with regard to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and has written extensively on the subject.

Other guests included Yiddishpiel founder and former director Shmuel Atzmon and current dynamic director Sassi Keshet. Even under the worst anti-Semitic communist regime, Yiddish theater continued to be performed on a regular basis in Warsaw and occasionally in Krakow. In recent years, Yiddishpiel has visited and performed in Poland and is likely to do so again. On Constitution Day, Chodorowicz noted that the Polish constitution was the first modern constitution in Europe.

Speaking of ties with Israel, he said that they were of a special nature as reflected last year in the upgrading of political relations and the government-to-government meeting in Jerusalem, which was also mentioned by Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver. Landver, whose English is not up to par, delivered her speech in Hebrew, which is not her mother tongue, and which she had some difficulty in reading, but after pausing and taking a deep breath, bravely soldiered on. Landver referenced military cooperation as one of the examples that attest to the quality of the deep bonds between the nations. Polish Air Force pilots recently arrived in Israel for a training program, she said, adding that foreign military aircraft in Israel’s skies is not an insignificant matter. Relating to this week’s commemoration of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany, Landver said, “We remember that the Nazis destroyed the glorious Jewish community and its splendid culture which previously thrived in Poland.” In order that this memory should not fade into the oblivion of history, the government of Israel has taken upon itself to renew the Jewish Pavilion in Auschwitz, she said.

■ MINISTER WITHOUT Portfolio Yossi Peled, who on July 1 will relinquish his nonexistent portfolio to become chairman of the state-owned Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company, is until then the government’s representative at Holocaust related events because of his identity as a child survivor. It was in this capacity that he went this week to the Carmei Ha’ir Soup Kitchen in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market for the launch of the second book of survivors’ recipes compiled by Floridian Joanne Caras and her family.

The first book, The Holocaust Survivor Cookbook, containing recipes that survivors only dreamed of in the camps but made for their new families after the war, also holds the stories of each survivor who contributed a recipe.

The survivors come from all over the world and the book is sold all over the world.

Caras hit on a successful idea, which was to market the book through organizations that feature it at their events and on their websites.

They take a cut from proceeds of sales and the rest goes to Caras, who accumulates the money and then derives pleasure from bringing a large check to Rabbi Yehuda Azrad, the founder of Carmei Ha’ir, whose motto is not only that all who are hungry and thirsty should eat and drink – but that they should do so in dignity.

This time around, Caras brought not only her second book but also a check for $160,000. She has presented Azrad with checks for similar amounts in the past. Her new book is called Miracles & Meals, and she involved some of the students of the Epstein School in Atlanta, Georgia in collecting some of the stories. The first book has actually led to various schools and organizations adopting Holocaust study programs in addition to making meals that include one or more of the recipes. The concept behind the books is that when the food created from the recipe is placed on the table, the story of the contributor be told so that the person and his or her story will not be forgotten.

Caras believes that this ensures the stories will be handed down from generation to generation.

Her relationship with Carmei Ha’ir started several years ago when she was visiting her son and daughter-in-law in Israel who volunteer there. They invited her to come and have a meal at Carmei Ha’ir, and she was most surprised to see people sitting at tables and being served in the same way they would be in an ordinary restaurant. She was even more surprised to learn that a large percentage of the diners were Holocaust survivors, and she became obsessed with the idea of doing something for them and something for Carmei Ha’ir. Now she tours the world, promoting not only the book, but the concept of remembering and telling the stories.

In addition to Peled, the launch was attended by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovuitch, the Rabbi of the Wall and the Holy Places in the Old City of Jerusalem, and Deputy Chief of Mission at the American Embassy Thomas Goldberger and his wife Eden. Peled told Caras that her idea was absolutely unique. In his own travels, he said, he had come across many projects to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and its victims, but nothing that could compare to this.

■ SERIAL AMERICAN hi-tech entrepreneur Jeff Pulver joined Israeli hi-tech guru Yossi Vardi and some 200 Israeli CEOs and other executives from financial, venture capital and hi-tech companies for the FIN-Tech conference hosted by Bank Hapoalim to mark the launch of its new financial-technological initiative, which was designed to make Bank Hapoalim the financial home of Israel’s hi-tech companies.

Hapoalim’s chairman, Yair Saroussi, and CEO, Zion Keinan, outlined details of the bank’s new technological acquisitions as well as the bank’s decision to invest more in hi-tech. Also on hand to talk about the bank’s plans for the future were Zvika Gan, who heads the bank’s IT division, Amir Aviv, who is in charge of the bank’s capital markets division and Nir Debi, who guides the bank in its strategic management.

■ FAMILIAR WITH the whims of international celebrities, the general managers of five-star hotels are used to requests for special diets, in-house pampering that may include a hairdresser or a masseuse attending to the guest in his or her room instead of the hotel’s beauty parlor or spa, the removal or addition of certain electronic equipment – but seldom is there a need to change the furniture. Itai Eliaz, general manager of the Dan Hotel Tel Aviv, found himself in the position of having to change the beds to accommodate the larger-than-life Harlem Globetrotters, whose length when prostrate was well beyond the length of the standard hotel bed. Hotel staff also made sure that the Globetrotters were given large rooms in which the doorways were high enough for them not to bump their heads upon coming and going.

greerfc@gmail.com

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