During the election campaign for president, it was widely reported that Meir Sheetrit had been the youngest mayor of Israel, having been elected mayor of Yavne at 26.
Apparently, the memories or historical knowledge of many reporters are short.
Moshe Katsav, who was Israel’s eighth president, was elected mayor of Kiryat Malachi when he was 24.
Just in case there was someone younger elsewhere in the country that most of us are unaware of, let’s just say that Katsav and Sheetrit were among Israel’s youngest mayors.
With the results in, Reuven Rivlin is the second native son of Jerusalem to be elected president of the state. The first was Israel’s fifth president, Yitzhak Navon.
Although it was a very emotional moment for Rivlin, his cup has not yet runneth over.
His happiest day will be when as president, he can present the national football championship cup to his favorite team – Beitar Jerusalem.
■ IT DOESN’T matter how much wealth they’ve accumulated, how successful they’ve been in their careers or how famous some of them have become, it is an amazing thing to witness, year after year, the emotions of people who are given the title of “Honorary Fellow of the Israel Museum,” within the framework of the annual meeting of the International Council of the Israel Museum.
This year was no exception. People who have obviously been there and done that were visibly overcome with emotion as their mini-biographies, especially in relation to the museum-related details, were read out. In responding, they spoke of how they had fallen in love with the museum and how their involvement with it had made them part of an extended family. Indeed, all the recipients hugged and kissed one other after each descended from the stage, after receiving the fellowship scroll and delivering their responses.
Particularly heartwarming was the frequency with which Teddy Kollek’s name was mentioned.
Kollek, as mayor of Jerusalem, was the founder of the Israel Museum – whose 50th anniversary will be marked next year. Founders are too often forgotten in the course of time, but memories of Kollek linger on.
Uzi Wexler, one of two Israelis honored, had worked closely with Kollek. When the mayor asked him to join the board of the museum, Wexler had complied, thinking this was just another project – aside from which it was pointless trying to say no to Kollek, he said. But it wasn’t just another project. Like so many others, Wexler fell in love with the museum, and stayed with it.
Two generations of the Kollek family were present to take comfort in the fact that though Teddy Kollek may be gone, he is remembered with great fondness by people in Israel and beyond. Speaking of Kollek in relation to the museum, Wexler said that he had taken Jerusalem into the 20th century, and that museum director James Snyder had taken Jerusalem into the 21st century.
Mexican businessman Eduardo Bross actually wiped tears from his eyes after being named a fellow, apologizing that when he’s happy, he cries. His wife, Eemilie, declared: “This is one of the most beautiful moments of my life.”
Bross had been president of Mexican Friends of the Israel Museum since 1993, but in 2013, at a major event in Mexico City, the torch of leadership was passed to the couple’s son Benjamin. That doesn’t mean the parents are dropping out; they will continue to be as active as ever on behalf of the museum, but have ensured that the next generation will be equally committed. Bross recalled how Kollek and Snyder’s predecessor Martin Weyl had come to his home for a dinner on behalf of the museum, “and we had a good time.”
Journalist Ari Shavit, fresh from traveling to the US, England and Australia to launch his bestselling book My Promised Land, noted that his grandfather Joseph Bentwich had been the upstairs neighbor of Kollek in the apartment block where they had both lived. Several members of Shavit’s family are artists, a talent he said he did not inherit but which resulted in his almost religious reverence for art. He had grown up with the museum and had watched its development, he explained.
“What Teddy began, James renewed,” and the Friends of the museum made it possible.
This was Zionism at its best – the shrine of culture, art and humanism on the magic hill, Shavit asserted.
New York-born financier Gary Sokol, who is now based in San Francisco, said this was his 17th meeting of the museum’s International Council, and that he had never dreamed he would be part of such an illustrious group as those selected for honorary fellowships. However, very soon after becoming involved with the museum, he realized he had become part of an extended family. “Through the museum I found my long-lost Moroccan mishpacha,” he quipped, explaining that due to a family of staunch museum supporters who live in France, he is always invited to a Shabbat meal when in Paris. Sokol is passionate about photography; he has contributed to the museum from his own collection and has formed close relationships with the museum’s photography curators.
Another American, Lois Zelman, who accepted the award on behalf of herself and her husband, Martin – who could not attend due to health problems – was yet another person who had been inspired by Kollek. Before the actual opening of the museum in 1965, Kollek had taken Zelman on a personal tour of the grounds and the original museum, which was somewhat smaller than the present complex. His enthusiasm had helped her fall in love with the museum, she said, adding how pleased she was to have seen the expansion of the collections over the years. When Zelman’s husband joined the board, he also fell in love with the museum.
■ AMONG THE friends of the museum that Snyder has cultivated are members of the diplomatic corps, many of whom have been extremely helpful in getting loans of valuable works from museums in their home countries for display in Jerusalem.
According to Snyder, diplomats from 14 countries were in attendance at the honorary fellowship ceremony. Most visible were US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, Chinese Ambassador Gao Yanping and Belgian Ambassador John Cornet d’Elzius.
It was the Belgian ambassador’s first experience at such an event, and he said it was useful because it enabled him to meet some of Jerusalem’s society. When it was suggested that he would find it easier to do so if he moved his embassy to the capital, he replied that Belgium already has a wonderful property for such an eventuality – citing the impressive house on the Balfour-Jabotinsky intersection which is currently the residence of the Belgian consul-general in Jerusalem. Who knows, it may one day happen.
■ AMONG THE longtime supporters of the museum is New York-based hedge fund manager and philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, who is a co-founder with Charles Bronfman of Taglit-Birthright. A mega-tribute honoring Steinhardt will be held tonight at the Hebrew University’s Rothberg Amphitheater.
Bronfman will of course be there, and so will Finance Minister Yair Lapid – who could probably use a few tips from both Steinhardt and Bronfman.
Also present will be Gidi Mark, the international CEO of Taglit-Birthright.
Anyone hearing a lot of good-natured noise emanating from Mount Scopus – that’s the reason why.
■ FAMOUS AUTHORS don’t have quite the same celebrity status as rock stars, which is why the visit to Israel by Mitch Albom – American bestselling author, journalist, screenwriter, dramatist, radio and television broadcaster, and musician, whose books have sold more than 35 million copies worldwide – has not excited much media attention. Albom, who is probably best-known for his sensitive work Tuesdays with Morrie, has just had his most recent book, The First Call from Heaven, published in Hebrew.
One of two things that Albom wanted to do before returning to the US was to visit Beit Hatfutsot: The Museum of the Jewish People.
He was accompanied by friends and by Moshe Triwaks, who heads the publishing house which released the Hebrew version of his book.
Because the museum had been given advance warning of his arrival, researchers were able to prepare his family tree – which was presented to him by Beit Hatfutsot CEO Dan Tadmor. Albom was emotionally moved to receive it and said there was no doubt that Beit Hatfutsot is an important asset for the Jewish people. Now that he had received his family tree, he said, the only thing left to do before going home was to eat a genuine Israeli felafel.
■ ONE CAN’T help but wonder about the motives of Communications Minister Gilad Erdan. On the one hand, he talks about the money being wasted at the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which is only one of the reasons he wants to close it down. On the other hand, he permits the appointment of Ilan de Vries as head of Channel 1, which has been functioning without a CEO for more than a year without too many people noticing the vacuum.
Erdan has also turned a blind eye to the fact that the tenure of IBA chairman Amir Gilat expired more than two months ago, and that his salary, the administration of his office and his driver are expenses the IBA can certainly do without during its current crisis. Gilat is arguably the most unpopular chairman the IBA has ever had – employees dislike him intensely, and several members of the IBA plenum have resigned because of him.
A similar situation exists between the Channel 2 CEO and the Second Authority for Television and Radio chairman, and Erdan is simply allowing both situations to ride. The IBA functioned quite well without a chairman for more than a year, following the resignation of Gilat’s predecessor Moshe Gavish. Unlike Gilat, who earns a comfortable salary, Gavish declined to be a financial burden on the IBA and opted to be a dollar-a-year man.
■ ISRAEL’S AUSTRIAN- and German-speaking community will be flocking to both the Hebrew University and the Austrian Hospice on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem’s Old City, tomorrow, June 12.
At 4:30 p.m., Dr. Martin Eichtinger, director- general for cultural policy at the Austrian Federal Ministry for Europe Integration and Foreign Affairs, will speak on “The Role of Culture in Foreign Policy,” at Beit Maiersdorf on the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus.
The event is under the auspices of the Center for European Studies, of the university’s European Forum.
At 7:30 p.m., Eichtinger will be at the Austrian Hospice for the launch of Peter Berczeller’s The Little White Coat, a book about expulsion, escape and identity. The author will naturally be present, as will author and journalist Christof Habres.
The Austrian Hospice, which is reputed to have the best strudel in Israel, is this year celebrating its 160th anniversary. Also feting its 160th anniversary is the capital’s Evelina de Rothschild School, the first Jewish girls’ school in Jerusalem. The school is named for the British socialite daughter of Baron Lionel de Rothschild, who was the first practicing Jew to sit in the House of Lords. She was married to her second cousin Ferdinand James von Rothschild, who coincidentally was a member of the Austrian branch of the famous banking family.
The most famous of all the principals of the Evelina de Rothschild School was Annie Landau, who for 45 years inculcated values and high educational standards into the young Jewish ladies of Jerusalem. An exhibition dedicated to her memory was opened this week at Yad Ben-Zvi, and will remain on view throughout the summer.
■ MADAGASCAR’S PRESIDENT Hery Rajaonarimampianina and his wife this week completed a three-day, first-time visit to Israel aimed at boosting bilateral trade and defense cooperation. Rajaonarimampianina came to Israel at the invitation of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, with whom he held comprehensive discussions.
One of the highlights of the visit was a tour of Israel Aerospace Industries. Rajaonarimampianina was accompanied by a high-powered delegation that included Prime Minister Roger Kolo and Defense Minister Dominique Jean-Olivier Rakotozafy, as well as a trade delegation that participated in the inauguration of the newly created Israel-Madagascar Chamber of Commerce in Jerusalem.
Madagascar is keen to benefit from Israel’s security operations experience and equipment.
The president and his delegation also visited holy sites around Jerusalem, Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), Nazareth and Haifa. They also got to sample Israeli cuisine and inter alia, enjoyed a fish repast prepared for them at Ein Gev by chef Udi Ben. Incidentally, one of Rajaonarimampianina’s predecessors, Marc Ravalomanana, chose to have Israelis as his personal bodyguards and introduced Israeli military equipment to Madagascar.
■ ANOTHER FEATHER IN the cap of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, which is doing very nicely in the “feathers in the cap” department, is the decision by an inter-ministerial governmental committee to have BGU’s Center for the Study of European Politics and Society represent Israeli academia in a new Mediterranean research network that functions under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Other countries in the network include Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. The committee also appointed the center’s chairman, Dr. Sharon Pardo of the department of politics and government, to serve as Israel’s scientific focal point.
Earlier this year, Pardo was the recipient of the prestigious Jean Monnet Chair ad personam.
He is the first Israeli scholar to be chosen for this lifetime chair, which is the highest of the European Commission’s awards. Pardo is widely recognized as one of the world’s most outstanding experts on the European integration process, so much so that Andrew Standley, the former head of the delegation of the EU in Israel, two years ago publicly declared half in jest that when he completes his term, he should be succeeded by Pardo.
■ AFTER YEARS of planning and anticipation, the $6 million EYAHT campus was opened this week in Jerusalem’s Romema neighborhood and launched with a gala on-site dinner, which was completely booked out weeks ahead.
EYAHT, a Hebrew acronym for “A woman who fears God – she shall be praised,” is the women’s division of Aish HaTorah and a dream come true for Bonnie Cohen, who has tirelessly worked for its construction.
“The development of this new campus builds on EYAHT’s 30-year reputation, and ensures we will continue to prepare students for lives as great Jewish women who care about the Jewish people,” said EYAHT founder Rebbetzin Denah Weinberg, whose late husband Rabbi Noach Weinberg was the founding leader of Aish HaTorah, which has brought untold thousands of Jews back to Judaism.
Known as the Judith Dan campus, EYAHT can accommodate 72 full-time students in its dormitories and dining room, but has study facilities for up to 350 women at any given time.
The project is proof that something good can come out of something bad. Cohen and her husband, Alan, were Jews in name only, and their observance of Jewish tradition was minimal. When their daughter was influenced by a missionary in college, they rushed to Reform and Conservative rabbis, who were unable to help them.
Their daughter opted to become a Christian.
As a result first Bonnie, then Alan, began to draw closer to Judaism, learning about their heritage through Aish HaTorah.
After moving to Jerusalem from the US, they not only opened their home each Shabbat to young men and women who were seeking to strengthen their Jewish identity, but also paid for many of them to study at Aish or EYAHT. More than 1,000 people have contributed large and small amounts to the construction of the new campus. If the Cohens’ daughter had not been influenced by a missionary, the parents would probably still be out on the golf course, knowing very little about Judaism and caring even less.
Their personal experience led to a spiritual homecoming and a sharing of that homecoming with anyone who wants to enter the circle. There are some 3,000 EYAHT alumnae scattered in many parts of the world. Most are active in their communities and are passing on what they learned in Jerusalem to their own, and to the next generation.
■ CHIEF RABBI of Rome Riccardo (Shmuel) Di Segni was in Israel this week to attend a Bar-Ilan University conference on the topic, “Between Religious and Political Leadership.” Interviewed on Channel 1 by Yaakov Ahimeir about the prayer meeting convened by Pope Francis at the beginning of the week, Di Sengi made the point that “the pope is not a mediator. He’s part of triangle, because of the number of Catholics in the region.”
Di Segni was also quoted in the Italian media as saying there was some confusion between religious and political leadership.
■ IS THE Justice Ministry trying to usurp the role of the Chief Rabbinate, or to fill in gaps from which the rabbinate continues to distance itself? Justice Minister Tzipi Livni recently officiated at a same-sex marriage, which though not officially recognized in Israel, and certainly taboo from a halachic standpoint, enabled her to state that people who love each other should not be denied the same rights that are accorded a heterosexual couple.
A prenuptial bill sponsored by Livni has also met with rabbinic disapproval.
Speaking at the same BIU conference as Di Segni, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau emphasized that issues related to the sanctity of marriage should remain the exclusive province of the Chief Rabbinate.
He does not mind discussing prenuptial agreements with the justice minister and her deputies in order to reach an accord as to the official wording of such documents, but insisted that in the final analysis, the rabbinical courts – and not the Justice Ministry – should have the final word on such matters, and on any issue of a religious nature.
Since becoming chief rabbi, Lau has noticed that there has been a wave of legislation on religiously sensitive issues, in which the prime minister is being advised by the Justice Ministry instead of the Chief Rabbinate.
■ THE STORY of the ill-fated Titanic, which has continued for more than a century to fire the imagination of the public, has given rise to a traveling exhibition that has been seen in many parts of the world, and is now on view at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds. The exhibition, constructed with 1912 ambiance, features artifacts recovered from the ship wreckage as well as lots of documentary material.
Visitors can see menus of the fare served on-board, as well as uniforms worn by the crew and fashions worn by the passengers.
The exhibition is under the sponsorship of Isracard, whose CEO Dov Kotler invited the business community to the opening last weekend. An additional attraction was a lecture by Eli Moskowitz, who spoke about the Jewish aspect of the tragedy – as more than 80 passengers were Jewish.
Among those present at the opening were Moshe Mano, the founder of Mano Maritime; Boaz Waksman, the proprietor of Ophir Tours; Paz CEO Yona Fogel; Muli Timor, vice president of the Alon Group; Ronen Carasso, deputy marketing director of ISSTA; and many other prominent figures who pull Israel’s economic strings.