So much has been written about actress Hanna Maron in recent days, including the fact that she entered Guinness World Records as the actress with the longest stage career, having started at age four and continuing until only a few months ago.
In September 2008, Maron and Orna Porat were part of a Cameri Theater delegation that presented President Shimon Peres with a book marking the theater’s 65th anniversary.
Porat and Maron, who were good friends as well as colleagues with the same dry German sense of humor, often put traditional German decorum aside – and were playing it up while waiting for Peres to free himself from an earlier meeting. Porat, who will celebrate her 90th birthday on June 6, was particularly excited because Peres had been the first to sign a petition calling for the Cameri auditorium to be named for one of the Cameri founders, Joseph Milo, who had given her – then a young German actress – the opportunity to act in Tel Aviv.
After Peres entered the room, Maron was among those who performed for him. Peres, an ardent theater fan, noted at the time that the Cameri was there before the establishment of the state, and had contributed greatly to Israeli culture. Television is all about ratings, he had said, but theater is quality, “and I stand before the giants of culture.”
Now, one of those giants is gone – and the other is ailing. Due to illness, Porat was unable to attend a birthday tribute staged for her a couple of weeks back at Tzavta.
On learning of Maron’s death, Peres said: “The stage was her whole life. We have lost a great artist, an exceptional woman and a unique personality, who always spoke her own truth.”
On April 20 Peres had penned a note to Maron, his close friend of many years, expressing regret that she was spending Independence Day in the hospital, and confidence that just as she had overcome previous vicissitudes, she would do so again. Unfortunately, on this occasion, his confidence was misplaced.
Only a week prior to her death, Maron was conferred with a fellowship of the Open University. She did not attend the ceremony, but in a final oration on video, speaking in a strong voice which belied her physical condition, she talked about what it means to be an actress and as such a granddaughter of the ancient Greeks, saying she was simultaneously old and young, and that she had chosen her own obsession.
■ THURSDAY, MAY 29 was a date fraught with the frustrations of decision- making for many Tel Avivians, unable to be in more than one place at any given time. People such as Zalman and Kena Shoval would have received invitations to the queen’s birthday reception hosted by British Ambassador Matthew Gould and his wife, Celia; and as supporters of Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People, would most certainly have been invited to the laying of the cornerstone for the new museum. But the Shovals are also dedicated to the Rubinstein Piano Competition, and Kena Shoval is among the people who award prizes to talented pianists.
The Shovals were not the only ones confronted with an identical dilemma.
Other people may have been invited to only two of these events, and others still may have been invited to more, such as the Argentina National Day celebration hosted by Argentine Ambassador Carlos Faustino Garcia, or further afield to Jerusalem for the opening of the Israel Festival and its memorial tribute to Yossi Banai – a native son of Jerusalem who kept the city in his heart, even though he physically moved to Tel Aviv.
Although it has become the norm to be flexible about the celebration of national days, some invitees to the crowded Argentine event at the ambassador’s residence in Herzliya Pituah, aware that the actual date of the holiday is May 25, wondered if the May 28 celebration coinciding with the queen’s birthday was a residual from the Falklands dispute.
Decisions, decisions. Some people, such as the writer of this column, managed to get to more than one event – but maneuvering through the traffic in Tel Aviv and environs on a Thursday night is no picnic.
■ THE DONOR who traveled the furthest to present a prize at the Rubinstein competition was Australian philanthropist, cultural and social activist Jeanne Pratt, who together with her late husband, Richard Pratt, created the Pratt Foundation that supports numerous charities in Australia and Israel.
Not only did she travel from Australia to Israel to present the $40,000 first prize and gold medal to surprise and surprised winner Antonii Baryshevski of Ukraine, but she also brought a group of Australian guests with her, and in Israel, invited an even larger group. It included, among others, former prime minister Ehud Barak, Labor MK and former president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Avishay Braverman; actor Chaim Topol; Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma; and all of their wives.
The audience favorite was Russian pianist Maria Mazo, who was the only woman among the six finalists. Kena Shoval’s $20,000 second prize went to Steven Lin of the US and third prize went to Cho Seong Jin of South Korea, who in addition to the $15,000 third prize received a birthday cake on stage.
During performances, video screens enabled audiences to see close-ups of the competitors as they played. For those who like both classical and rock music, it was interesting to see the enormous differences in facial contortions and body language among classical pianists and rock stars. Whereas the former are intent, the latter are intense.
While pianos were being exchanged on stage and judges went to deliberate over which of the highly talented contestants were the most worthy of recognition, finalists were interviewed behind the scenes by Shira Gera and David Vitsthum, who is a talented musician in his own right, in addition to being a Channel 1 news and culture anchor. One of the intellectuals of Channel 1, Vitsthum should have known better than to tell each of the interviewees, “We’ll keep our fingers crossed for you.” Jews are not supposed to do that.
Similarly, according to a member of the audience, they are not supposed to say “Hip hip hooray,” the origins of which are believed to have been in the Latin battle cry of the Romans, “Hieroslyma est perdita,” which means “Jerusalem is fallen” or “Jerusalem is lost.” This was later distorted by Germanic tribes fighting Jews to “Hep hep hu-raj,” meaning loosely, “Jerusalem is fallen and we are on the road to paradise.”
A special guest who came on stage before the prize presentation was psychiatrist Dr. Alina Rubinstein, Arthur Rubinstein’s daughter. She said she had first come to Israel in 1958, and every visit since had felt like coming home. Her father had loved Israel, she said, and had performed here several times. When the idea of a competition in his name was first put to him, he was initially resistant, but Jasha Bistritzky, the founder of the competition, was so persuasive that Rubinstein eventually gave in, was actually pleased when it started and on two occasions, served on the jury.
Speaking of the 40th anniversary competition, which was the 14th in the series, Alina Rubinstein said she could imagine how difficult it was for the jury to choose from among so many excellent young pianists. Chamber music, she added, was one of her father’s greatest passions, which she had inherited from him.
The competition was featured live on radio and television in several countries and can also be seen on YouTube, thereby giving even those who didn’t make the finals worldwide exposure – as it is one of the most prestigious competitions of its kind in the world. When interviewed, several of the contestants said they felt not only privileged to be competing but also appreciative of the passionate Israeli audiences, which often roared their approval – in addition to giving sustained ovations.
■ IN RECENT weeks, in fact throughout the whole of his presidency, Peres has received various gifts, most of which – because of their value, or their nature, or both – belong to the state. But the gift he received last Thursday from Irina Nevzlin-Kogan, who chairs the Beit Hatfutsot board of directors, was entirely personal.
Peres had come to participate in the laying of the cornerstone of the rededicated Museum of the Jewish People on the Tel Aviv University campus.
Peres is asked to attend many different events, often simply because organizers think the presence of the president adds to the prestige of the occasion.
This was also the case with Beit Hatfutsot, but more than that, as explained by Nevzlin-Kogan, throughout his life Peres has dedicated himself to the entire Jewish people – and not only to the citizens of Israel. His remarkable personal story, coupled with his contribution to the state and his stature in the Jewish world, made him a natural choice to lay the cornerstone for the new, expanded museum, which will inspire and connect Jews in Israel and around the world.
Adding to what Nevzlin-Kogan had said, Beit Hatfutsot CEO Dan Tadmor commented that this was a unique opportunity to thank Peres for his enormous contribution, and his lifelong efforts for the Jewish people.
Nevzlin-Kogan presented Peres with a leather parchment displaying his family tree, specially created by the artist Ira Obolski. Obolski was able to draw upon research that Beit Hatfutsot had undertaken into the president’s family, with the assistance of Peres’s daughter Dr. Tsvia Valden. For the president, it was a means of both tracing his roots and seeing the branches that are already flourishing into the future.
Peres said he was proud to be associated with and to support such an iconic institution, which brought Jews from all the lands of their dispersion together. Indeed, among the 400-plus attendees were people who were born or came from the US, Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay, Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Romania and Iran, and first- and second-generation Israelis whose families came to pre- and post-state Israel from several other countries, among them Germany, Greece, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
Valden was naturally present with her husband Dr. Rafi Valden, and so was one of her brothers, Chemi Peres. Others attending included Leonid Nevzlin, the head of the Nadav Foundation, which has contributed so much to the renovation and the expansion of the museum, and who only last month founded his new monthly magazine Liberal; former commander in chief of the Israel Air Force Gen. (res.) Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, who is associate chair of the international board of trustees of Beit Hatfutsot, and who came with his significant other, Ravit Tralovski; Rabbi Abraham Skorka, the personal friend of Pope Francis who last week accompanied him on his Israel visit; American diplomat and businessman Alfred Moses, who is an associate chair of the museum’s international board of trustees; Maj.-Gen. Orna Barbivai, who is completing her tour of duty as head of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate; Ofra Strauss, chairwoman of the management board of the Strauss Group; peace activist, businessman and former politician Yossi Beilin; Dr. Sharon Nazarian, president of the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation established by her parents, Younes and Soraya Nazarian, who were also present; and many other well-known faces from Israel and abroad.
The evening’s varied entertainment included a short film showcasing the way Peres interacted with Jewish communities around the world. Guests were also able to see Beit Hatfutsot’s new core exhibit, which was beamed onto the exterior walls of the museum.
■ IN 2011 the British ambassador’s residence in Ramat Gan was put on the market, and ambassador Gould announced he had been authorized to look for new premises, preferably in the vicinity of Kfar Shmaryahu. Neither the sale nor the purchase eventuated.
Instead, improvements were carried out at the current residence, whereby a wonderful, spacious patio was constructed around the pool and above the garden. The area has a safety fence with a bar built into it, so that guests have where to put their food and beverage utensils, or in the case of the writer of this column, her notebook.
The enclosure also has gates which can be locked in the event that perhaps one day, a British royal will at long last pay an official visit to Israel, and will require a certain separation from the throngs in the garden. Perhaps the new structure may even herald the approach of such an event.
Gould and his wife, Celia, host numerous receptions throughout the year, but the largest is arguably that in honor of the Queen’s birthday, where this year, some 600 people mingled on the lawns and in the sunken garden area, with classical music in the background. In the past, Gould and his predecessors, together with representatives of the Israel government, used to give their orations from the porch at the back of the house, which was slightly higher than the garden but not as high as the new patio, which provides a much more panoramic view of the guests and allows all of them to see whoever may be speaking.
Addressing some 600 guests who were weaving between the various food stalls, which included one serving traditional British scones with jam and cream, Gould started out in Hebrew, speaking somewhat more haltingly than he does in English and saying that his Hebrew has to be accurate because his teacher was among the guests. Then, switching to English, he said this was the fourth queen’s birthday reception that he and his wife were hosting. He had also hosted one in Iran, he said, with the essential differences that there was no alcohol, and fewer Jews.
He thanked Her Majesty for extending his stay in Israel, and said that he and his family – which includes two Sabra daughters – will be sorry to leave in just over a year. Quoting the London Jewish Chronicle, which had written that relations between the UK and Israel have never been better, Gould declared that Prime Minister David Cameron has beyond a doubt established his friendship with Israel, had seen the Knesset at its most democratic, and had learned to understand the meaning of balagan (chaos). Gould noted that Cameron had made no effort to hide the differences between Britain and Israel, but these did not impinge on the friendship; opposition leader Ed Miliband had also expressed Britain’s friendship for the Jewish state, he said.
At almost every opportunity, Gould assures Israelis that the British government is opposed to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, and does not condone it; only a fringe element is supporting it, he said now. Of more than 130 universities in the UK, there is not a single one with a boycott in place, he insisted.
In fact, Israelis who had studied in Britain told him that they had positive campus experiences there.
Gould was pleased and proud that an Anti-Defamation League survey on anti-Semitism showed that the UK had one of the lowest rates in the world. He regretted that the Israeli- Palestinian negotiations did not result in the progress towards peace that so many of Israel’s friends wanted to see.
On the Iran issue, where Britain and Israel differ to some degree, Gould explained that London hears Jerusalem’s concerns, but wants to test the possibility of a negotiated diplomatic solution. He voiced thanks to all of his friends in the Jewish state – both Arab and Jewish – “who have helped us turn a workplace into a home.” Of all the countries to which he could have been assigned, “there is nowhere I would rather be than Israel,” he said. “This country is very special, and we’re glad to be here.”
Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar commented that the history of Britain’s relations with Israel goes back to the beginning of the Zionist Movement, and has known its ups and downs. In recent years there has been a strengthening of relations, he said, underscoring Prime Minister Cameron’s commitment to Israel’s security and his opposition to boycotts.
Both Sa’ar and Gould made special mention of scientific cooperation between the two countries, with Sa’ar adding cooperation in cybersecurity. Both also mentioned trade and scientific and cultural exchanges, with Sa’ar, who is a disc jockey in his spare time, noting that everyone in Israel was expecting The Rolling Stones, whose appearance on June 4 “is not less important than any diplomatic visit.”
On a more serious note, Sa’ar spoke of the terrorism that both countries are confronting, and of the need for Britain and the rest of Europe to pressure the Palestinians into making concessions towards peace – as Israel is willing to do.
Glasses were duly raised to toast the queen and the president of Israel. When Gould called for the toast to the president, Sa’ar added, “Whoever will be elected.”
■ THURSDAY JUNE 5, is also a special day on the calendar, and not just because it is the 46th anniversary of the outbreak of the Six Day War. It is also the birthday of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who will be turning 56. Presumably there will be no need after Shavuot to buy or bake a birthday cake, as there should be plenty of cheesecake left over from the Shavuot festival.
■ DURING HIS visit to Israel last week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who met with the Israeli leadership from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on down, also took time out to see for himself what is being done at Safed’s Ziv Medical Center, in treating Syrian victims of the civil unrest.
Cruz arrived at the hospital on the same day as the IDF brought in the 300th Syrian patient – a young boy who had been severely injured, and whose legs had been amputated. After being briefed by hospital deputy director Dr. Colin Shapiro on the humanitarian work hospital staff have been doing with Syrian patients, Cruz sat down with the boy and told him about a friend of his who had fought in Iraq and had been injured, and whose legs had also been amputated.
Cruz told the boy that today the former soldier, who has been fitted prosthetic legs, can not only walk, but run – and has already done a marathon.
“Do you think I’ll ever be able to run?” asked the boy. “If you put your mind to it, you’ll be able to do anything you want to do,” Cruz replied.
■ SINGER, SONGWRITER and musician Zvika Pik and fashion designer Shira Manor have some sleepless nights ahead of them. After a 10-year relationship, Manor last week gave birth to a baby boy, her first child and Pik’s fourth. In fact, all of Pik’s children with his ex-wife, lyricist Mirit Shem-Or, are older then Manor, who is 28 years old. Pik is already a grandfather, with another grandchild on the way.
When Manor and Pik began their relationship, few people thought that it had much of a future, given the huge age gap between them. But for all intents and purposes, it’s a relationship that has worked out – possibly because they never got married. Friends are now wondering whether the new baby will prompt them to tie the knot.
■ LAST FRIDAY, the Jerusalem Press Club in conjunction with the Foreign Press Association and the Jerusalem Journalists Association hosted a memorial tribute to veteran journalist Robert Slater, who died this past March at age 70. Slater had been ill for some time, but the actual cause of his death was due more to flu complications than his illness.
JPC executive director Uri Dromi recalled that he had met Slater 22 years ago, when Dromi was director of the Government Press Office. Slater had impressive journalistic credentials and was also president of the FPA. After an hour’s conversation, Dromi came to the conclusion that if journalists of Slater’s caliber were covering Israel, it was indicative of “the way the world looks at us.”
Haim Shibi, representing the Jerusalem Journalists Association, admitted that he had not known Slater, but said that from what he had learned about him, he was a professional journalist in the full sense of the word and had the soul of a professional. Veteran photographer David Rubinger, who turns 90 at the end of this month, and who worked with Slater for many years at Time magazine and had gone on many assignments with him, said that he had often been maddened by Slater’s way of interviewing – which was to play dumb and ask the same question over and over, pretending that he hadn’t understood the answer. But it was a method that brought results, and the interviewees often revealed more than they had intended.
Filmmaker Herb Krosney, who was a close friend, said that after Slater left Time, he performed a great feat for a professional journalist: “He made money writing books.” All in all Slater wrote 32 books, which Krosney called “an accomplishment,” and noted that Slater as an interviewer was extremely accurate, with precise word-for-word recording of what was said.
Slater’s daughter Miriam Binyamini read a letter from Marcus Eliason, who had been an AP reporter when Slater worked for UPI. Despite their rivalry, the two men had been great friends, and Eliason admitted there were many occasions when UPI got the scoop because of Slater’s tenacity, and AP had been left with nothing.
Slater’s wife Eli, who met him in high school when they were both 16, starting discussing politics with him then – and after that, the couple spent a good part of their lives together discussing politics. “He knew at 16 what he wanted to do: He wanted to write,” she said. “And he was lucky enough and talented enough to find people who wanted to pay him.”
The job he liked best, she said, was the last one he had with The Jerusalem Report (a sister publication of The Jerusalem Post), where he had been told to just go out and interview interesting people – which was exactly what he did.
■ WITHOUT THE input and contributions of “friends” of numerous Israeli organizations and institutions, Israel’s social welfare, educational, cultural, medical and sports achievements would be far fewer, and services in these fields would barely exist. Even WIZO, which is one of the more veteran organizations and has branches in many countries, also relies heavily on friends.
Every year, the Friends of WIZO Sponsor a Child come together for a gala fund-raising luncheon to help the cause, and enjoy a gourmet meal and watch a fashion show. This year was no exception. Some 100 guests showed up at the event at Rosemarine Court in Herzliya Pituah, sitting poolside as they watched a parade of creations by one of Israel’s leading designers, Yaron Minkowski, who has a special place in his heart for WIZO.
Funds raised at the luncheon were earmarked for the WIZO Home of Dreams day care center in south Tel Aviv. Some 80 toddlers from disadvantaged backgrounds are cared for at the center.
Betty Crystal, who headed the luncheon committee, attributed the success of the luncheon to effective teamwork on the part of her 11-member committee and said that together, they formed a dream team.
Among those attending was Janice Gillerman, who might well have become Israel’s first lady if her husband Dan Gillerman, a former and very effective Israel ambassador to the UN, had acceded to requests that he run for president.