Initially, having the attorneys-general of Britain and Israel as the guest speakers at the annual Balfour Dinner held by the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association seemed like a splendid idea.

Over the years, the organization has done its best to bring two sides of the same coin to the podium and has been blessed with outstanding speakers on both counts. But there’s always the exception to the rule, and such was the case at the Balfour Dinner held at the Leonardo Hotel Ramat Gan on Monday in celebration of the 95th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.

The food was good. The service was excellent, Dominic Grieve, attorney-general for England and Wales, was both riveting and entertaining... and then came our own attorney-general, Yehuda Weinstein, whose English left much to be desired and whose pronunciation of the written text was painful, to put it mildly, though most people refrained from tittering when he mistakenly pronounced “prosecution” as “prostitution.”

He could well have done with a few lessons from Professor Henry Higgins, the famous fictional elocution teacher in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion.

Grieve’s speech focused on the rule of law and its significance in a democracy. He prefaced his remarks by saying that “outsiders” speak to Israel as experts though they are not fully conversant with the facts on the ground. He felt the need to convey the message that it is difficult for Israel’s friends to defend her when she is in breach of international law, as, for instance, with the ongoing construction of settlements in the disputed territories or the treatment of Palestinian minors who are often subjected to human rights abuses.

But in other respects he commended Israel for being a strong democracy with democratic principles that allow for open debate on any subject. He also emphasized that despite extreme provocations, Israel has remained a democracy and lives by the rule of law.

He made particular reference to Israel’s “enviable record” in upholding the rule of law in fighting terrorism.

Grieve made the point that “the rule of law can be more powerful than violence in bringing about change.” At the close of his address, Grieve, a practicing Anglican, disclosed that his great-grandfather had been of Jewish background.

Weinstein was recently in London to attend the trial of two Russian oligarchs who had been represented by two barristers and a bevy of Russian, Israeli and American lawyers.

Extremely taken with the British court system, Weinstein shared his impressions with members of Israel’s legal profession at their annual conference in Eilat. The main theme of the Eilat conference was the reform of criminal law in Israel, but Weinstein, who admitted to being “full of envy” for the British way of doing things and for British understatement, told his colleagues that if they went back to basics and emulated the British, this would be more efficient and effective than any reforms they might introduce.

■ AWARD-WINNING, multi-lingual journalist Enrique Cymerman, who is an expert on Middle East affairs and on global economics, is about to receive yet another award. Cymerman, who was born in Portugal to a Polish father and a North African mother and currently works for Antena 3 Spanish Television, is about to receive one of Spain’s highest awards from King Juan Carlos in recognition of his outstanding contribution to Spanish-Israeli relations.

For Cymerman, this particular award symbolizes the closing of a circle. Before being expelled from Spain in 1492, his mother’s family had lived there for 700 years. She and her husband moved to Spain in the mid-1970s following the military coup in Portugal, and she only moved to Israel when she was in her 80s.

Cymerman has the distinction of being one of the last reporters to have interviewed Yitzhak Rabin on the day prior to his assassination. He also interviewed Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and other high-ranking Arab figures, such as King Hussein of Jordan, Yasser Arafat, former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qurei and Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Early in his career, Cymerman, who came to Israel in his mid-teens, worked for Maariv, which sent him to Barcelona at a time when Spain was reconciling with the Jews and was in its nascent period of establishing diplomatic relations with Israel. While living in Barcelona, Cymerman took on the additional role of information director of the city’s Jewish Center. He also made some excellent contacts with the result that, after returning to Israel some years later, he began to cover Israel and the Middle East for Portuguese and Spanish television.

Cymerman has risked his life travelling to Gaza to interview the Hamas leadership and has also travelled in Spain and Portugal, where he has developed excellent contacts with high-ranking politicians, some of whom he persuaded to visit Israel. He has received several awards from Portugal and Spain and has also been the recipient of the Anti-Defamation League’s Daniel Pearl Award.

■ ARGUABLY THE oldest participant in the annual Journalists’ Conference in Eilat was veteran reporter Diana Lerner, who, at age 90, is still running around and enjoying life.

Though eternally young in spirit, Lerner acknowledges that the character lines in her face and the occasional twinge in her joints are not exactly signs of youth – but these days she’s actually gaining a new following by writing and lecturing about growing old. Because she does so with style and humor, audiences in her generation learn to take a different attitude toward their senior status. Lerner, who has always managed to kill at least two birds with one stone, got in touch with Fay Morris, the former honorary British consul in Eilat, who continues to maintain ties with the city’s English-speaking residents, and said she would like to sell some of her books and to speak about aging. Morris brought together some 50 people in her home, and Lerner was gratified to note that some of them were older than she is.

But nearly all of them were active and doing things, including writing books of their own.

While Lerner may have taught them a thing or two, she came away with a few things she had learned from them. Morris and her late husband, Dr. Reginald Morris, maintained a breath of England in Israel’s southernmost resort city and had a pet crocodile by the name of Clarence, which became a tourist attraction. After Reggie’s death, the reptile was given a new home at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.

■ IN ADDITION to serving as the president of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, retired diplomat Avi Primor, who is also director of the Center for European Studies at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, expressed mock anger last week at a panel discussion on analyzing the US elections that was hosted at IDC by both the council and the center. At the opening of the event, Primor, who had just returned from Berlin where he attended an American election night party at the US Embassy, said that the subject matter of the panel discussion was a form of revenge against the two main candidates in the US presidential elections.

In their campaign speeches, said Primor, neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney had once mentioned Europe when speaking about foreign policy.

To Primor this was an appalling oversight, especially as Obama is so popular among many Europeans, particularly Germans. Every time his name was mentioned or he appeared on the television screen, there was frantic applause as if the Germans were voting for their own president, he said.

Primor is a frequent visitor to Germany, where he served from 1993 to 1999 before leaving the foreign service and entering academia, initially as vice president of Tel Aviv University and subsequently transferring to IDC.

Both as an ambassador and since then, Primor has been an ardent advocate for ongoing dialogue between Israel and Germany.

■ ISRAEL IS not as isolated as some might think. In Ashkelon this week, some 70 diplomats who came to hear Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu were told that they were now in the same position as the residents of the South who have only 30 seconds in which to find shelter when an alarm is sounded. It is fairly safe to assume that most, if not all, of these diplomats were in contact with their foreign ministries before going to Ashkelon and could have easily used the excuse to absent themselves by saying that they had been instructed not to enter a danger zone. The fact that so many of them showed up and that some of them looked a little scared when they realized that they too could be targets spoke volumes for their solidarity with Israel. With all the criticism to which Israel is subjected, and despite the hostilities in the region, in the final analysis Israel is not alone. Netanyahu was back in the South on Tuesday, this time at Ben-Gurion University to present the Prime Minister’s Prize for Initiatives and Innovation.

■ IT WAS the first time since making aliya from London to Herzliya Pituah over two years ago that Zena and David C l a y t o n s t e p p e d foot onto sovereign British territory.

Last Friday at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, Zena Clayton joined British Ambassador Matthew Gould in unveiling a plaque dedicated to the memory of British diplomats who helped rescue Jews before the outbreak of World War II.

The plaque by British sculptor Philip Jackson is a precise replica of a memorial unveiled four years ago in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by Zena’s brother-in-law, Sir Sigmund Sternberg, and then-foreign secretary David Miliband. Sir Sigmund is the driving force and benefactor of both memorials commemorating British diplomats – including Frank Foley and Robert Smallbones – stationed in Germany, Austria and other European countries, who, between 1933 and 1936, took it upon themselves to organize nearly 30,000 visas to Britain, as well as entry permits to Mandate Palestine.

Clayton, who in earlier years had chained herself to the gates of the Foreign Ministry as a founding member of the Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry, told Gould that the “plucky diplomats” being remembered are precisely those embodied by the Talmudic saying, “He who saves one life is considered as if he has saved the entire world.”

■ SOME MASONIC scholars believe that Freemasons can trace their origins back to Solomon’s Temple, of which nothing remains, and therefore a visit to the Western Wall, which was built by Herod and is all that remains of the surrounds of the Second Temple, is of great significance to Freemasons from all over the world.

Rabbi Raymond Apple, the chief rabbi emeritus of the Sydney Great Synagogue, has been living in Jerusalem since his retirement.

Among his various other titles is that of past deputy grand master of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. He belongs to a Masonic lodge in Jerusalem. It is par for the course that Apple is invited to address Australian Masonic delegations when they come to Israel.

Last week, he addressed the second such delegation to visit Israel. The first such group including wives came in 2010 and numbered more than 90 people. This time there were just over 50 participants, still a large number considering the distance between Australia and Israel.

Both visits were organized by Joseph Haffner, a leading Jewish Freemason from Sydney. While in Jerusalem the group was headquartered at the Olive Tree Hotel, which straddles what used to be no-man’s land between Israeli and Jordanian Jerusalem. The group, comprising Jews and non-Jews from Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia, also visited Palestinian areas and drew the conclusion that the media presents a warped picture of what goes on in this part of the world.

Apple shared his impressions of Jerusalem with his fellow Freemasons and spoke of Jewish, Christian and Muslim influences on street names, buildings and especially the area surrounding the Western Wall.

“What happens at that Wall depends on who you are,” he said.

To some there is sheer holiness in the air; to some it is where you excitedly encounter tour groups from all over the world; to others it is a bothersome gathering of beggars.

Among the dignitaries visiting the Wall, said Apple, there have been popes and presidents, politicians, priests and poets; athletes, actors and artists; people of all creeds, colors and cultures – who all leave their prayers behind. His most important message was that Jewish, Christian and Muslim Freemasons are all brothers.

■ VETERAN ASTROLOGER Miriam Binyamini says that she knew that Obama would win the presidential election because he was born under the sign of Leo and the date of election day was very favorable for him but not for Mitt Romney, who was born under the sign of Pisces.

Binyamini, who was interviewed last Friday by Yoav Ginai on Reshet Bet, said with regard to the upcoming Israeli elections that Binyamin Netanyahu would have a resounding victory, that there would be nothing revolutionary in the Labor or Yesh Atid results and that neither Ehud Olmert nor Tzipi Livni would be candidates in the January 22 election. She hasn’t looked into the future of Shas candidates and couldn’t make any predictions about Kadima chief Shaul Mofaz because he does not know the exact date of his birth.

■ DESPITE ITS reputation for innovation and entrepreneurship, Israel was never able to properly develop a perfume industry. It did develop a cosmetics industry of sorts, with locally produced creams, deodorants and soaps, many of which were derived from Dead Sea minerals, but the fragrance industry as such, remained elusive.

Not that there were people who didn’t try. But they couldn’t compete with France, the United States and England. One person who did manage for several years to create a demand for her perfumes was Hungarian- born Judith Muller, who after completing the army and working briefly as a soda jerk in her father’s kiosk in Haifa in the mornings and as an assistant in a beauty parlor in the afternoons, decided to go to Paris for training as a cosmetician.

Muller, who played coy about her age, died this month of cancer, which she had been battling for quite some time.

Her initial training came from her grandmother, who had taught her to use a burnt match to darken her eyebrows. In her youth, Muller had picked up a few more cosmetic tricks with which she experimented on her comrades in the army. She was pert, blonde, petite, and had that special Hungarian chic made famous in Hollywood by Hungarian sisters Zsa Zsa and Eva Gabor.

Muller was among those creative and adventurous Hungarians who came to Israel and made an impact on journalism, entertainment, fashion and sport. All of them Holocaust survivors, like Muller herself, these include internationally acclaimed author, dramatist and screenwriter Ephraim Kishon, Gottex founder Lea Gottlieb, who, concurrently with Hungarian-born Beged Or founder Lesly Fulop put Israeli fashion on the world map, cartoonist Kariel Gardosh (better known as Dosh), journalist and politician Tommy Lapid and Olympic gymnast Agnes Keleti.

Muller was born into a wealthy family that lost most of what it had under Nazism and later under Communism.

They came to Israel in the nascent years of the state and found themselves barely scratching out a living. For all that, Judith Muller was blessed with a kind of Hungarian pizzazz that made everything seem easy and it seemed as if she was born to greatness. She was very young when she opened her own cosmetics salon, and from there began experimenting with scents.

Though she never quite lost her Hungarian accent or her Hungarian appearance, but when she decided to try her hand at fragrances, she ignored her Hungarian background and delved into her Jewish roots, avidly reading everything the Bible had to say about aromatics. The name of her first fragrance, launched in 1965, was Bat-Sheba, which was presented in an exquisite Roman glass bottle and packaged in a suede pouch. The scent was seductive, evocative in itself of another time in history. The product was used as a promotion for Israel and was sold on El Al flights.

For the Israeli market, the perfume and eau de toilette were sold in larger bottles and were more affordably priced than imported fragrances, which at that time were also heavily taxed.

Muller went on to create other perfumes, with names such as Sharon and Judith, but she never became a Helena Rubinstein or an Estee Lauder, though she did make an international reputation for herself and after a stretch of bad luck reinvented herself in Budapest, where she organized tributes to these two outstanding Jewish women and others who had made great strides in the cosmetics industry.

In 1983 she decided to branch into fashion, taking the opposite route of many well-known fashion designers, who first make their mark with apparel and then put their names to fragrances, housewares and other consumer products. Her first collection premiered at the Dan Carmel Hotel in Haifa. She believed strongly in classic styling that could be dressed up or dressed down with accessories. Most of her creations were produced in one size, so that women of all body types could the same outfit in the same size.

Muller continued to be associated with fashion and cosmetics for many years, and although she did not achieve the kind of fame she craved, her name did become a household word, not only in Israel and her native Hungary but also in the United States, where some of fragrances can still be bought on eBay.

■ ANOTHER GREAT loss to Israel is that of architect David Reznik, who has left what will hopefully remain an indelible mark on Israel’s landscape. The Brazilian-born Reznik, who, while still a student, joined the firm of Oscar Niemeyer, recognized as one of the greatest architects of the 20th century, came to Israel with his wife, Rachel, in 1949. At first they settled in Kibbutz Ein Hashofet and later moved to Tel Aviv, where Reznik found work with leading architect Ze’ev Rechter. After three years with Rechter, Reznik felt the pull of Jerusalem and moved to the capital, briefly entering into partnership with Heinrich Heinz Rau and then opening his own firm based on the principles that he learned during his four years with Niemeyer. While still in partnership with Rau he designed the Goldstein Synagogue, which stands out on the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University.

Three other outstanding examples of his creativity are the Brigham Young University, the Kennedy Memorial and what was originally the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Jerusalem and is now part of the Dan chain. Another of his Jerusalem landmarks is the Van Leer Institute, and not far from Jerusalem is the Moshe Castel Museum in Ma’ale Adumim. Reznik was also a town planner whose early projects included Jerusalem’s Nayot neighborhood.

He also planned and designed neighborhoods in in Kiryat Hasidim, Hatzor Haglilit, Modi’in and Beit Shemesh and was responsible for several impressive projects abroad. He was an Israel laureate and the recipient of many other prestigious prizes. His institutional projects will in all probability endure for decades and perhaps centuries.

Hopefully, future real estate developers will also show respect for the many private homes that were part of Reznik’s unique creative and prolific output. But even an architect and town planner of Reznik’s great influence and repute was unable to stop progress. Reznik was not in favor of the high-rise buildings that began to surface on the Jerusalem skyline, believing that they robbed the city of its mysticism.

Unfortunately, greed is often stronger than aesthetics.

■ BELIEVE IT or not, Amsterdam has an annual Yiddish Symposium with participants from many parts of the world.

This year’s Amsterdam Yiddish Symposium will take place on Sunday, December 9 at the Goethe Institute.

The theme is “Yiddish Cities: Montreal, Melbourne, Tel Aviv.”

The history of Yiddish as a spoken language is not restricted to the shtetl. Yiddish speakers and writers also lived in big cities throughout the European continent. As far as is known, they began to live in Amsterdam from the 17th century onwards. Cities that were the main centers of Yiddish culture from the middle of the 19th century onwards included Warsaw, Vilnius, New York and Buenos Aires. In the post-WWII era, other Yiddish cities evolved.

The symposium will deal with three of these. Speakers at the symposium will be Dr. Rebecca Margolis (University of Ottawa), Dr. Helen Beer (University College London) and Gali Drucker Bar-Am (Hebrew University of Jerusalem).

greerfc@gmail.com

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