WHEN HE arrives in mid-January as part of a tour of the Middle East, Russian
President Dmitry Medvedev will be accompanied by one of the largest delegations
to come with a head of state.
While the visit is designed to enhance
bilateral relations on a number of levels, for some here it will be a painful
experience: The final act of transfer of ownership of Sergei’s Courtyard, in the
building that once served the Agriculture Ministry, may be made while Medvedev
is in Jerusalem.
The issue of the transfer was raised when then president
Vladimir Putin visited in April 2005. He toured Sergei’s Courtyard with prime
minister Ariel Sharon, who was very familiar with the building, having served
for three years as agriculture minister in Menachem Begin’s first government.
Sharon promised Putin that he would try to accelerate the process whereby the
building, which until recently housed the Society for the Protection of Nature
in Israel, would become the property of the Russian Orthodox Church.
promise was eventually honored in October 2008 by prime minister Ehud Olmert and
ratified by the cabinet. The actual written transfer was made in February 2009,
but as yet, despite visits by several high-ranking Russians, there has been no
formal ceremony to mark the physical handover of the property, which has also
been used for concerts.
■ THE POSTERS on the walls at Beit Hatefutsot
have the yellowy-beige background resembling parchment. Most are printed in
Yiddish, some in Hebrew, and they advertise concerts, lectures and theater
performances that took place in 1943. They were salvaged from the liquidated
Vilna Ghetto in 1944, after the city was liberated from the Nazis and a group of
partisans and former ghetto prisoners returned and found them. They belong to
the Vilna Gaon State Museum and comprise an exhibition of Jewish Spiritual
Resistance in the face of death.
Most of the participants on both sides
of the stage in the events advertised were murdered by the Nazis. Even parents
whose children had been murdered, said ghetto survivor Michael Shemyavitch, who
heads the association of former residents of Vilna, went on stage and performed
to prove that the Nazis could not break the human spirit of the Jews. Of some
70,000 Jews in the ghetto, he said, only 22,000 survived.
CEO Avinoam Armoni, speaking of the raison d’etre of the museum, as Lithuanian
Prime Minister Andrius Kubiliusvisited this week, quoted poet Abba Kovner, one
of its founders and a leader of the Jewish partisans in Vilna, who had said:
“Remember the past; live in the present; and trust in the future.”
slogan seemed apt for the occasion, especially because Kubilius – on his first
visit – had come to strengthen ties, to remember the past in acknowledging the
“shameful” role that some Lithuanians had played in collaborating with the Nazis
and to express the hope that the spirit of Vilna might be revived. The loss of
so many Lithuanian Jews was painful, he said, but the exhibition spelled out a
powerful message of what could be learned from history, that even in the face of
death one must go on with life. It was a great pity he said, “that we lost the
Jerusalem of Lithuania. We cannot bring back the dead but we can look to the
future in the belief that we can rebuild the spirit of the Jerusalem of
■ HANGAR 11 in the Tel Aviv port is not exactly the place
where one would expect to see haredi rabbis. But sixth-generation Jerusalemite
and Israel Prize-laureate Rabbi Yitzhok Dovid Grossman, founder of the Migdal
Ohr youth village which is home to some 6,500 youngsters at risk, is not your
regular haredi rabbi. Some people call him the disco rabbi because over the
years he has frequently been seen at nightclubs. No, he’s not a rebel on a
wayward path; he’s trying to save those who are already there, especially if
they are minors who, in the right environment, can be taught to become law
abiding, productive citizens. This week, Migdal Ohr celebrated its 40th
anniversary, and considering some of the places where Grossman has found his
flock, Hangar 11 was an entirely appropriate venue.
Grossman is a
frequent visitor at Beit Hanassi, so it was only natural for President Shimon
Peres to show up at the 40th anniversary festivities. Grossman has developed
special relationships with heads of the business community as well as with
politicians. He’s had to to get support for his institution. One of his leading
admirers and supporters is Nochi Dankner, chairman of the IDB Group, who was
honored for demonstrating concern for youth at risk.
Another admirer is
former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief and current chairman of the Board
of Directors of Bank Mizrahi Tefahot Jacob Perry. Among the politicians who came
to celebrate with Grossman were Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni and Shas leader
Eli Yishai. Master of ceremonies was Avi Kushnir, who managed to hold the
attention of the 600 guests. Among the faces in the crowd were those of Liora
Ofer, Eliezer Fishman, Sharona and Shmuel Schnitzer, Irena Shalmor and Amos
Shapira on the business side and on the political side Education Minister Gideon
Sa’ar and Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman.
Grossman, whose family came to join in his celebration, declared: “Tonight we
are all as one. It is already planned that at the end of days when redemption
comes, there will be no religious, no secular, no Ashkenazi, no Mizrahi. We will
all be as one.” Guests were charmed by 56 Migdal Ohr youngsters who sang
together with a professional choir, and who proved that, with a little TLC,
there’s hope for almost everyone.
■ THE JEWISH state is the cradle of
three faiths, and at this time of the year the Christian community, excluding
the Eastern churches which celebrate two weeks later, is celebrating Christmas –
in some instances with the help of or together with Jewish friends and
colleagues. For instance, many Christian dignitaries and Christian journalists
stationed here received Christmas trees from the Jewish National Fund. The
Tourism Ministry, in conjunction with the Jerusalem Municipality and the Italian
Embassy, will tonight sponsor the 10th annual concert for life and peace in
Jerusalem, which is traditionally held during Christmas week. A similar concert
took place on Tuesday night in Bethlehem, with the participation of singer Mira
Awad, a Christian Arab whose voice has been heard in other peace
Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and
Italian Ambassador Luigi Mattiolo are expected to attend tonight’s concert,
along with several visiting Italian dignitaries and heads of Christian churches
in the Holy Land.
Created and produced by Rino Maenza, the concert will
feature the Giovanile Italiana Orchestra , conducted by Nicola Paszkowski, with
Awad as guest soloist. Filmed by RA13, the concert will be seen by viewers in 50
countries on Christmas Day.
■ AN ITALIAN musical group, the Elkom
Ensemble, will appear at the three-day Christmas Festival, beginning tomorrow at
the Greek Catholic School in Beit Sahour. Coordinator George S. Rishmawi of the
Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies has managed to get an impressive number of
sponsors, including the east Jerusalem YMCA and the Swiss Agency for Development
and Cooperation. The somewhat unusual festival, a musical smorgasbord in terms
of genre and international participation, will become more traditional late on
Friday night and will feature 90 minutes of Christmas carols with the Shepherds
In the late afternoon of Christmas Day there will be a candlelight
procession at the Greek Orthodox Shepherds’ Field, where participants will light
a candle for the creation of a Palestinian state, after which there will be a
performance by a popular Palestinian dance troupe. The festival will culminate
with a Spanish musical group featuring singer Cristina de Valle. Visitors
will not go hungry. The Shepherds’ Market Food Court will function throughout
the three days.
■ IN THE spirit of Christmas and goodwill to all men,
Polish Ambassador Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska brought 13 children aged 4-16
from Gaza, with three mothers to supervise them, to her residence in Kfar
Shmaryahu, where she hosted a Christmas party in the spirit of the old country.
The three mothers are all Polish women who married Palestinians who had been
studying in Poland, and all the children are the products of Polish- Palestinian
marriages. Although the women have all converted to Islam, some still practice
their Catholic traditions.
The event was one of quiet
diplomacy. The Poles have frequently claimed to be Israel’s best friends
in Europe. By getting permission to bring Palestinians from Gaza, they are also
showing them that Israelis are not the ogres portrayed in Palestinian
propaganda. The Christmas celebration – replete with decorated tree, Christmas
carols, Polish food including real pirogi, Christmas gifts and a Santa to
distribute them in the person of Polish Consul Michal Kowalik – proved to be a
wonderful experience for the youngsters and the three accompanying mothers, as
well as for Bogoslaw Ochodek, the Polish representative in Ramallah, who
attended with his wife.
The youngsters played ball, had a great time with
the ambassador’s dog, interacted with embassy staff and recited Polish poems.
However the best part of the festivities was on the way back to Gaza, when they
stopped at a mall to purchase Christmas gifts to take home – including toys,
candy, dried mushrooms for Christmas soup, warm clothing and
This was not the first Christmas party hosted by
Magdziak-Miszewska for Gazan children of Polish mothers. Last year she was
unable to get permission for them to enter Israel, but is hopeful that she will
be able to organize a two-day visit during International Children’s Day in
2011. Embassy staff who accompanied the visitors said that they came
without hatred in their hearts and were like any other tourist who comes to a
new place, eagerly looking at everything and everyone and snapping
By the way the ambassador is very ecumenical. Just
over two weeks back, she also hosted a Hanukka party.
■ IT’S DIFFICULT to
imagine this country without shopping malls. But if Canadian- Israeli shopping
mall entrepreneur and developer David Azrieli had not introduced malls here,
building bigger and better ones with each new venture, it is doubtful whether
all the others that have sprouted throughout the country would exist. Azrieli
set the example, the standard and the tone, as a result of which many of the
companies operating chain stores were also able to expand, because with the
opening of each new mall, companies felt the need to open yet another store, and
in most instances were able to boost overall sales and revenues.
88, spends summers in Canada and winters here and is constantly engaged in new
business and philanthropic projects. He has been conferred with many honors both
in Canada and here, and tomorrow will receive yet another, in recognition of his
unique contribution to the country’s economy. The honor will be bestowed on him
at the 90th anniversary luncheon of the Tel Aviv Chamber of Commerce, which will
simultaneously celebrate its 49th general meeting. The chamber came into
being just a little over a decade after Tel Aviv itself and in its nine decades
has grown way beyond the dreams of its founding fathers.
event at the Dan Panorama Hotel will be attended by Uriel Lynn, president of the
Tel Aviv chamber and of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce, Tel Aviv Mayor
Ron Huldai, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, Minister for the Development of the
Negev and the Galilee Silvan Shalom and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister
Binyamin Ben- Eliezer.
■ IN THE revolving door of the job market, people
tend to forget former colleagues, often because they don’t stay around long
enough to remember. But at Telfed (the South African Zionist Federation Israel),
the opposite is true, as will be witnessed tomorrow night at the Ra’anana
Bowling Club, where former staff members gather for a reunion. Some 70 people
are expected, and among the more senior of them are people who worked at Telfed
as far back as the 1950s.
Present-day staff will also be there as will
representatives of the Telfed leadership. Credit for the reunion goes to
Telfed director Sidney Shapiro.
■ INTERNATIONAL BUSINESSMAN Ami
Rosenfeld, who graduated from the Technion’s engineering faculty in 1965, has
not forgotten his alma mater. He and his wife Tamar, believing that education is
one of the best investments, have donated NIS 1 million in scholarships to
students studying industrial engineering and management, with the stipulation
that the scholarships be awarded in recognition of industrial innovation. That
should spur some creative students to get to tomorrow ahead of