Is altruism genetic? If the Rapp family is any indication, it certainly is.

Marci Rapp, a Jerusalemite formerly from Canada, is a designer and producer of modest swimwear and gym-wear. In mid 2011, she donated a kidney to a 48-yearold mother of six from Samaria. It didn't stop there.

Working as a volunteer with Matnat Chaim, Rapp actively encourages members of the public to come forward and donate kidneys to save the lives of people who need them. Among those who heeded her call was a web designer and Internet marketer, Rapp’s 24 year old married son.

The kidney transplant is scheduled for today at Beilinson Hospital. Ari Gershon Rapp, the father of a 10-month-old baby, is donating a kidney to a man he does not know. That’s about as selfless as anyone can be, and if all goes well, as it did in his mother's case, he will go through life knowing that he saved a life.

The match between Rapp and his beneficiary, whose first name is Nitsan, was arranged by Rabbi Yeshayahu Heber, a former kidney patient who, while undergoing dialysis in 2007, met another kidney patient whose name was Pinchas. Both men needed a kidney transplant in order to survive. Heber received one, but for some reason, there was too much red tape involved while Pinchas was waiting for his, and he died. Heber was so disturbed by the death of his friend that he made up his mind to do everything he could to prevent others in a similar situation from suffering the same fate. He established Matnat Chaim (gift of life), which not only encourages organ donation but also helps both donor and recipient through all the bureaucratic hassles.

■ MANY JEWISH boys raised in the Soviet Union missed out on having a bar mitzva.

Among them was a boy called Anatoly Sharansky, now known as Natan, who is among the most famous of Soviet Prisoners of Zion. Sharansky, who spent many years in a Siberian prison, was released on February 11, 1986, following an intensive campaign by his wife, Avital, who was aided by numerous organizations in Israel and abroad. He immediately came to Israel, where he devoted himself to the cause of Soviet Jewry, and 10 years later formed a political party, Yisrael BaAliya, comprised largely of Soviet immigrants, through which he entered the Knesset, where he remained from 1996 to January 2003, serving in a number of ministerial positions. In 2008, he became chairman of the Jewish Agency, a position that he still holds. Throughout the years, he has been an ardent advocate for a united Jerusalem and has opposed all efforts to apportion part of it to the Palestinians.

Yet for all that, he never had a bar mitzva.

This lacuna will be remedied on Saturday at the Yehuda HaLevi synagogue in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood, where Sharansky is a regular congregant.

Sharansky, who is now a father and grandfather, will finally celebrate his Jewish age of maturity, albeit 52 years late. He will celebrate his 65th birthday on Sunday, January 20. His Torah portion is Bo, which is entirely appropriate because it opens with Moses and Aaron confronting Pharaoh and asking him to let their people go – just as Sharansky, many centuries later, urged the Soviet authorities to let his people go. In fact, “Let my people go” was the universal slogan in the struggle for Soviet Jewry.

■ ONE WOULD imagine that as people advance above average longevity that they would want to postpone milestone birthdays.

It was previously published in this column that President Shimon Peres is bringing his 90th birthday celebrations forward by two months to coincide with the Presidential Facing Tomorrow Conference in June. But he is not the only one whose 90th birthday is being celebrated ahead of time.

Former Knesset speaker Shlomo Hillel, who is turning 90 on April 23, celebrated his 90th birthday toward the end of last week. He didn’t plan it that way. It came about while he was attending a commemoration ceremony on the fifth anniversary his friend, Yehuda Dekel’s passing. Dekel had been the longtime head of the Jewish Agency’s Settlement Department, and the agency is fairly good at preserving the memories of its people in high office.

Organizers of the event surprised Hillel by celebrating his birthday and simultaneously launching a new edition of his book, Operation Babylon, which tells the story of the mass emigration of Jews from Iraq to the Land of Israel between 1947 and 1952.

The actual operation was code-named Operation Ezra and Nehemiah. One of its facilitators was Baghdad-born Hillel, who had left Iraq in 1933 and who travelled to Iraq on his Iraqi passport in 1946 to make arrangements for the most veteran Jewish community in the world to leave the land of its fathers in favor of its spiritual homeland.

At the surprise party, many people rose to congratulate Hillel and to recall his various roles in public life, which including his first stint as a member of Knesset in 1952; his roles as minister of police and minister of internal affairs; his career as a diplomat, serving as ambassador to several African states; prior to becoming a member of the Israel delegation to the United Nations between 1963 and 1967; after which he served as deputy director general of the Foreign Affairs Ministry; and his return to the Knesset and his election as speaker of the 11th Knesset. After leaving the Knesset for the second time, Hillel was elected world chairman of Keren Hayesod and, after that, head of the Shazar Center for the Study of History and president of the Association for the Preservation of Historic Sites in Israel. Not surprisingly, Hillel is also an Israel Prize laureate. For his 90th birthday, Nurit Hirsh wrote him a poem of praise.

Event organizer Boaz Dekel, the son of Yehuda Dekel, made sure that the menu included the most popular of Iraqi delicacies so that Hillel could not only feel the warmth that surrounded him, but taste it as well. The festivities took place in a somewhat unlikely venue, the Ayalon Institute, which is the underground munitions factory of Israel Military Industries, which was established at Hillel’s initiative during the War of Independence. Guests included Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser; former MKs; and some prominent personalities from the spheres of public relations and advertising and from the Association for the Preservation of Historic Sites in Israel, including its chairman, architect Saadia Mandel.

Mindful of the upcoming election, Hillel said he hoped that incoming Knesset members would see their role not as a career opportunity but as a mission for the public good. Unlike many past and present party activists, Hillel is not playing political musical chairs and, as always, will vote for Labor. His name appeared in a quarter-page front page advertisement in Haaretz this week on a list of well-known people – some of whom are also very well-heeled – who announced that they were voting for the Labor Party, headed by Shelly Yacimovich.

■ DO ADVERTISEMENTS of this kind influence floating voters or tempt people away from parties for they had planned to vote for? It’s hard to tell, but there were quite a few celebrities on the same list as Shlomo Hillel, among them singers Dana International, Arik Sinai, Efrat Gosh and Mickey Gavrielov, actors and directors Moshe Ivgy and Lior Ashkenazy and dancer Ido Tadmor. This is almost in defiance of a ruling by Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, the chairman of the Knesset Elections Committee, who declared that performances by Sarit Hadad at a Likud-Beytenu rally, Efrat Gosh at a Labor campaign rally and Rona Keinan at a Meretz rally were in violation of the law stating that artists (meaning entertainers) must not be used for election propaganda. The question remains: what exactly is election propaganda? If it’s something organized by the party itself, there’s no problem with the definition.

But if a bunch of people who vote for any given party get together and utilize the media to publicly announce their choice, and if the group includes a number of entertainers, does that cross the red line of law? Presumably, it depends on who pays for the advertisement. If it can’t be traced to the party coffers, it may be legit. But if the party is paying for it, then it’s not. Ah, what Talmudic times we live in.

■ AT THE 13th annual convention of the Bukharan Jewish Congress on Sunday night, Shimon Peres, who opened the ceremony, and Education Minister Gideon Saar, who is of Bukharan descent on his mother’s side and who was voted the Bukharan community’s Man of the Year, were dressed in black garments richly embroidered with gold, as is customary for visiting dignitaries of Bukharans and other nations in the region Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman was given a garment with all-over embroidery on a white background with a red ribbon threaded through the facings and the cuffs. Congress President Lev Leviev took time out from his mega real estate dealings in Russia to attend the gala event at the Tel Aviv Port, where thousands of Bukharans from around the world had gathered to celebrate their heritage. Also present were Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, MK Amnon Cohen and, of course, Saar’s significant other, Channel 1 broadcaster Geula Even.

The World Congress of Bukharan Jews was established by Leviev in 2000 with the aim of preserving Bukharan Jewish traditions and customs so as to ensure that they would not fade from memory. Four people who have made significant contributions toward the realization of Leviev’s vision were given citations on Sunday night. One was Saar, in recognition of his contribution to the local Bukharan community.

Elu Alayev and his band received a Life Achievement Award in the field of culture and music, while Esther Mutayev, a resident of Lod, was recognized for services to community welfare. Awards for volunteerism were given to Irena Bar, Boris Natanelov and Meir Hai from Afula.

■ AS MENTIONED previously in this column, native English-speakers are being courted more than ever in this election campaign. Of course, it’s a given that The Jerusalem Post would be hosting electionrelated panels and discussions, as it will this evening at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue.

For people in the Tel Aviv area, ConnectTLV, a Jewish Agency Project that connects 22-to-35-year-old Jewish young adults from around the world to the city that never sleeps, there will be a panel discussion in English at Beit Daniel Education and Culture Center, 62 Bnei Dan Street, with the participation of David Rotem, Yisrael Beiteinu; Stav Shafir, Labor; Ayelet Shaked, Bayit Yehudi; and Elazar Stern, The Tzipi Livni Party. Registration begins at 7 p.m. with an hour for refreshments and mingling before the explanation of the workings of Israel’s democratic system. The panel discussion starts at 8:30 p.m, after which 45 minutes have been allocated for questions from the audience.

■ THE ASSOCIATION of Americans and Canadians in Israel’s Jerusalem headquarters will be closed on Election Day, but AACI Central District is holding a social gathering in Tel Aviv on election night, where friends can meet and strangers can network and make new friends while monitoring the election results. The gathering will be held at the W Café, 27 Bograshov, within a few minutes walk of Dizengoff Center. Registration is requested by Sunday, January 20, so that the restaurant, which is dairy but not certified kosher, can have some idea of the volume of traffic. The phone number for AACI Central District is (03) 696-0389 or call Sharon, 050-414-2048, ■ US AMBASSADOR Dan Shapiro and his wife, Julie Fischer, were among some 600 guests from a broad spectrum of Israeli society at the Leket Israel annual gala dinner last Saturday night at Eden Al-Hamayim on Kibbutz Nir Eliyahu. All had come out to support Leket Israel’s mission to reduce nutritional insecurity. Leket does this by distributing excess food on a weekly basis to some 140,000 needy Israelis.

The dinner theme of “People Feeding People” was dedicated to raising awareness and securing additional funding for Leket Israel’s food distribution programs.

Prizes were awarded to generous benefactors Ruth Rappaport of Geneva and Tel Aviv, who received the True Friend Award for ongoing support, and Michael Strauss, who accepted the Corporate Social Change Award on behalf of the Strauss Group, which in 2012 alone donated more than NIS 2 million worth of food. But according to Leket founder and chairman Joseph Gitler, the event was really about the people behind the scenes: the dedicated volunteer sandwich-makers and distributors, the food donors and the farmers who partner with Leket Israel to save hundreds of thousands of tons of excess food from going to waste. Without the assistance of more than 40,000 annual volunteers, Leket would not be able to accomplish its food rescue efforts, Gitler said.

While mingling with the crowd, his words were endorsed over and over again by Leket CEO Gidi Kroch. On average, Leket Israel rescues more than 770,000 meals and 20 million pounds of produce and perishable goods per year and supplies more than 1.35 million schoolchildren with nutrition that they would otherwise not have. Leket volunteers prepare sandwiches that are distributed to underprivileged children every school day.

■ ON FREQUENT but alternate commutes between Tel Aviv and Singapore, where both their children now reside, are popular and extremely well-connected Indian restaurateurs Reena and Vinod Pushkarna.

Their daughter, Sarina, is the manager of global media communications for the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort complex, where their son, Kunal, runs the Pita Pan vegetarian restaurant. Out of some 60 dining destinations at Marina Bay Sands, Pita Pan is the only one with a mezuza on the doorpost – although it is not the only business enterprise that has one. It is almost ironic that after bringing Indian cuisine and hospitality to Israel, the Pushkarnas have introduced Singaporeans and many world travelers to vegetarian shawarma that tastes like the real thing; shakshuka; falafel; pita; humous; tehina; Israeli salad; zhug; and other Middle Eastern dishes.

Reena flew to Singapore to teach Kunal’s staff the secrets of Mediterranean cuisine, while Vinod advises their son on business.

Last week, Vinod and his son were in Macau to sign a contract for the opening of a second branch of Pita Pan at the Venetian Sands Food Court. The new venture is due to open in March, and plans are afoot for further expansion into Hong Kong and Beijing. It’s a very busy period for Kunal, who recently got engaged and is getting married in the United States in April, which means a lot of travelling for the Pushkarna family in the near future.

■ BRAVING LAST week’s stormy weather, many of the leading lights of Israel’s business community showed up at the Smolarsz building on the Tel Aviv University campus for the annual Elem benefit night, which this year was sponsored by Noble Energy. Entertainment was provided by Danny Sanderson and his friends, minus Gidi Gov, who was nursing a broken ankle. As has been frequently mentioned in this column, more or less the same business people support numerous causes throughout the country and, regardless of the economic climate, their generosity never wanes. On this occasion, they donated close to NIS 1 million toward rescuing and rehabilitating some 20,000 youth at risk who find their way to Elem every year.

Elem president Nava Barak noted that the organization will be celebrating its 30th anniversary this year,and expressed her appreciation to the highly professional Elem work force plus 1,500 volunteers, who help young people to make productive lives for themselves. Bini Zomer, Noble Energy’s director for corporate affairs, emphasized that Noble has made it a priority to assist youth at risk because they are the future of Israeli society. Noble has initiated a number of educational projects geared toward helping such youth. Company employees are involved in a hands-on manner in giving these youngsters a fresh start. Several Noble Energy executives attended the event, including CEO Lawson Freeman. lso present were Elem chairman Boaz Dotan and executive director Efrat Shaprut.

■ RELATIVES AND friends of honorees at events at the President’s Residence are asked by masters and mistresses of ceremonies to refrain from standing during the proceedings so as not to block the view of photographers. But a lack of discipline is an unfortunate Israeli trait, and members of the president’s staff are kept on their toes trying to persuade eager amateur photographers who want to capture for posterity images of their loved ones shaking hands with President Peres or Supreme President Asher Grunis. Most people do sit down again when asked, but the husband and son of Judge Orit Clara Lifshitz, who had just made her declaration of office, absolutely refused to sit down. Positioned on the far side of the hall, out of range of the cameras behind them, they remained standing until Judge Lifshitz, now of the Southern District Magistrate’s Court, had shaken hands with Grunis, Peres and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman. Although their eagerness was understandable, one can’t help wondering whether Judge Lifshitz would tolerate similar behavior in court.

■ THE ISRAEL Cancer Association is holding a fundraiser tonight at Kibbutz Yagur, with all proceeds targeted toward breast cancer research. Among the entertainers will be Marina Maximillian Blumin, Sivan Talmor, Arik Berman, The Blue Elephant, Dean Carmel, Noam Rotem and Or Cohen.

greerfc@gmail.com

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