Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl is getting a lot of attention these days. All things considered, he probably would have been displeased in a post-Holocaust era to learn that his name is being used to promote the playing of Richard Wagner’s music in Israel. While it is not a secret that Herzl was a great admirer of Wagner’s work, despite the composer’s anti-Semitic utterances, it is extremely doubtful that Herzl would have wanted to associate himself in any way with the man who became one of the symbols of the Nazi party. However, on Monday, the Israel Wagner Society hosted a symposium called “An Academic Musical Encounter: Herzl-Toscanini-Wagner,” in which Wagner’s inspiration of both the other two men was discussed.

■ THIS WEEK, the Herzl Center on Mount Herzl was the venue for a down under reunion that was both a celebration of Australian aliya and a get-together with members of the Australian Zionist Federation, headed by Philip Chester, who are in Israel to attend the Presidential Conference that opened on Tuesday night in Jerusalem as well as meetings of the Zionist General Council and the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting from June 24-28.

Some of them also attended a Zionist leadership seminar earlier in the week.

Approximately 150 Australian immigrants, ranging from veterans who came as early as 1948 to some who arrived as recently as this month, got together to listen to three successful Australian immigrants: Jerusalem Post columnist Isi Leibler, who is a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and a former president of the Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies; Tal Becker, who is a former senior advisor to then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni and a representative of Israel in a variety of bilateral and multilateral negotiations, a current fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, an international associate at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a member of the Hartman Institute’s Engaging Israel project; and Israel’s consul general-designate to Toronto DJ Schneeweiss, whose positions at the Foreign Ministry have included policy advisor to David Levy, Ehud Barak and Silvan Shalom when they each respectively served as foreign minister. Non-Australian speakers were social justice leader Stav Shafir and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

Leibler, who has been living in Jerusalem since 1999, said that inasmuch as Australia was “a marvelous country” that was good to the Jews and to him and his family and had an unparalleled record of bipartisan support for Israel, it could not offer him the thriving center of Jewish civilization and culture that exists in Israel.

Becker focused on differences in attitude to Israel and Jewish identity between young contemporary Jews and their parent generation. “As a people we have become so used to crisis that if there wasn’t one, we would invent one. It’s part of our DNA,” he said. “It’s almost as if we created Israel to concentrate Jewish anxiety in one place.”

While Israeli public figures tend to talk about the “existential threat” to Israel, Becker said he is opposed to because the more it is given a public airing, the more power Israel’s enemies have. He prefers to concentrate on the positive, explaining that “A people is as great as its next aspiration.”

Schneeweiss was of a similar opinion, declaring that “we must not be defined by the crises we face.”

It was a shame that approximately one third of the audience left after dinner and did not stay to hear Stav Shafir, who is a very compelling speaker in English even though it is not her mother tongue. She made it very clear that whatever the social justice movement achieved last summer is a drop in the ocean compared to what is in store this summer. Although the movement was born out of a demand for affordable housing, she said, it soon became abundantly clear that housing was just an issue that triggered a political movement which is giving hope to tens of thousands of people around the country.

Barkat, who has devoted much of his energy into transforming Jerusalem into a cultural hub, said that there will be four times as many cultural events in the capital this summer than there were four years ago. He was also proud of the improvement in Jerusalem’s economy, which has grown by eight percent he said, with a 30% growth in business applications.

“Jerusalem is becoming much more bullish than in the past and more people are investing,” he said. As proof of this claim, he suggested that one only needed to look at the Jerusalem skyline to see how many cranes were in operation.

■ TODAY, MOUNT Herzl will be the venue for a festive ceremony to mark the opening of the gathering of the Zionist General Council in the presence of Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat. The central theme of this year’s council session is “Empowering Women within the Zionist Enterprise.” Livnat, who was one of the early members of the Israel Women’s Network, is more than familiar with the subject of women’s empowerment.

She is a product of that effort. This year’s gathering, with some 400 participants from around the world, is one of the largest in the council’s 115-year history.

Speakers will include Israel’s ambassador designate to Ethiopia Bleinsh Zvedia and world and Israeli sailing champion Lee Korzitz. Zionist Council chair Helena Glaser, who is the immediate past president of World WIZO, notes that “During the second Zionist Congress, Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl gave women the right to vote, a groundbreaking action. Throughout history, women were a vital part of the Zionist movement. They were pioneers of operation, putting together projects of welfare, education, health and more. A great deal of them operated within women’s organizations. In our everyday reality, where women still struggle for their position in society despite their impressive accomplishments, we must empower and strengthen the Zionist woman.

This is the first time a large organization that is not a women’s organization is holding a convention dedicated entirely to women’s empowerment.

■ FORMER JERUSALEM police chief Mickey Levy, after having his hopes dashed when he wanted to become the national police commissioner, turned his attention to the possibility of become the mayor of Jerusalem but eventually gave up on the idea. Now he has decided that he’d rather be a smaller fish in a big sea than a big fish in a small sea.

Levy has signed on with Yair Lapid to head his campaign operations in Jerusalem, and is also assured of a high place in Lapid’s proposed list for the Knesset under the Yesh Atid Party.

■ AS THEIR return to Italy is fast approaching, Italian Ambassador Luigi Mattiolo and his wife Stefania are plunging themselves into a whirlwind of activities. They seem to be trying to soak in as much of Israel as possible in the brief period they have left.

Staunch supporters of WIZO throughout their years in Israel, the Mattiolos last week made their residence available for a WIZO fundraiser that included a luncheon and a poolside fashion show of couture garments by popular designer Yaron Minkovski.

Next week, as one his final public appearances in Israel, Mattiolo will address the closing session of the two-day conference on Italy in Israel at the Konrad Adenauer Convention center in Jerusalem.

The Italian Jewish community has contributed a lot to Israel in general and to Jerusalem in particular, where there is an Italian Jewish museum and an exquisite Italian synagogue. Probably the best known Italian Jew in Israel was Enzo Sereni, one of the founders of Kibbutz Brenner, who during World War II parachuted into Nazi-occupied Italy and was captured by the Germans and executed. Kibbutz Sereni was named in his memory.

The comprehensive conference, with its broad range of subjects, will be addressed by both Israeli and Italian academics and community activists.

■ SPANISH AMBASSADOR Alvaro Irenzo Guttierez is also leaving this month – with more than just a memory of Israel. His wife, who had expressed a liking for the images of Tel Aviv’s urban landscapes created by artist Sali Ariel, contacted Ariel before finalizing her packing and purchased nine of Ariel’s paintings.

■ AMONG THE other ambassadors scheduled to leave during the summer are those of Switzerland, Belarus, Egypt and possibly India. A successor to Egyptian Ambassador Yasser Reda was approved by Israel’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs several months ago, but with the political changes now taking place in Egypt, it is not certain that the ambassador- designate will be confirmed by the new Egyptian government or whether it will opt to appoint someone else – if at all.

Meanwhile, at least three new ambassadors, from Thailand, Nepal and Bosnia-Herzegovina, are scheduled to present their credentials to President Shimon Peres on July 1.

■ CONGRATULATIONS ARE in order to first-time grandmother Yona Bartal, who is the deputy director of the President’s Bureau. Bartal, who has been working with Peres for nearly half her lifetime, is waving her cell phone in everyone’s faces to show them her grandson, who was born last Friday. Elegant and so petite that she invariably wears the highest of stiletto-heeled shoes, Bartal barely looks old enough to be a mother, let alone a grandmother.

■ INVITEES WHO don’t necessarily follow international news events, were surprised last Thursday when they arrived at the residence of Japanese Ambassador Hideo Sato to celebrate the 58th anniversary of the Japanese Self Defense Forces, to see the flag flying at half mast.

The reason: It was the day of the funeral of 66-year-old Prince Tomohito, a cousin of Japanese Emperor Akihito, who had succumbed to cancer the previous day. Tomohito had been sixth in line to the Chrysanthemum Throne and was known as for his advocacy of welfare programs for disabled people. He had been president of the Saiseikai Imperial Gift Foundation. With typical Japanese stoicism, Sato had decided to go ahead with the reception, but eliminated the speeches.

For guests who come to the residence only in winter when a huge marquee is set up in the back garden for the emperor’s birthday, it was a pleasant surprise to be able to walk freely across the lawns and to admire the landscaped garden surrounding the pool.

Inside the house, charming administrative assistant Orit Bron was kept very busy in her temporary role as kashruth supervisor. Because some of his guests were religiously observant Jews, Sato wanted to make sure that they could partake of refreshments, and ordered a mehadrin caterer to provide a glatt kosher buffet, which was placed in a room separate from the one containing the non-kosher buffet.

That did not stop guests from wandering in to see what the kosher folks were eating. Bron was kept busy making sure that they didn’t place their non-kosher plates and flatware on one of the kosher tables and kept diplomatically telling them that they had to change utensils. Most people didn’t know what she was going on about.

■ IT IS refreshing to hear a non-Israeli voice speak about Iran. That privilege will be given today to members of the Jerusalem Rotary Club, whose speaker will be Costa Rican Ambassador Rodrigo X. Carreras, will discuss “Iranian Inroads into Latin America – the View from Costa Rica.”

■ CHINA IS not only interested in expanding its trade relations with Israel but is also interested in building Israel’s underground transport system once all the bureaucratic hassles are cleared. Prior to the Shanghai International Technology 2012 Exhibition, China’s deputy minister of commerce, Jiang Yaoping came to Israel wit a high-ranking business delegation and met with various officials and businesspeople to discuss future economic and trade relations. Among the people who hosted the Chinese delegation was Federation of Chambers of Commerce president Uriel Lynn.

■ ISRAEL’S TAXATION laws take all the joy out of winning. While the nation waited on tenterhooks to see if chess champion Boris Gelfand would emerge the winner in the world championship, it also rejoiced with him when he came close to winning, and few begrudged him his million- dollar prize. But Gelfand, who brought so much glory and positive media attention to Israel, has to share almost half of his win with the taxation authority’s revenue department.

This is especially unfair because big-time gamblers, who win just as much, if not more, in overseas casinos, can avoid paying any Israeli taxes on their win by depositing the money in a foreign bank. Winners of big prizes in the national lottery also have to pay heavy taxes.

■ IT’S DOUBTFUL that any government minister has as many titles as Daniel Hershkowitz, the Minister for Science and Technology.

Hershkowitz also answers to the title of “professor,” having served as a professor of mathematics at the Haifa Technion before entering politics. In addition he also has the title of “rabbi,” and acts in a voluntary capacity as the as the rabbi of the Ahuza neighborhood in Haifa.

As a qualified rabbi with a congregation, he is entitled to perform wedding ceremonies.

Halachically speaking, he doesn’t need any authorization to do so. The fact that he is Sabbath-observant is enough to license him to perform a kosher wedding. He hasn’t had much time during his three years as a minister to officiate at weddings, and has agreed to do so only when one or both of the parties are related to him or are close friends or acquaintances integral to his life – such as his bodyguard, whose wedding Hershkowitz performed at Tel Adashim last week.

Among the guests were all the members of the minister’s team,some of whom were involved in the ceremony.

Another bodyguard served as a witness and Hershkowitz’s driver was one of the quartet who held up the supports of the bridal canopy.

■ THERE IS nothing new under the sun, we are told in the book of Ecclesiastes.

Among the projects proposed at the gathering in Jerusalem by young social innovators who were in Israel under the aegis of ROI Community, the return-on-investment organization founded by mega philanthropist Lynn Schusterman, was one calling for new immigrants to adopt lonely Holocaust survivors, many of whom live alone and far away from their children and grandchildren. The idea is that the Holocaust survivor should know that there is someone who cares, and the new immigrant, aside from doing a worthwhile deed, may learn a lot in the process and develop a sense of family.

This and two other proposals were evaluated by hi-tech startup guru Yossi Vardi, actress and Hollywood producer Noa Tishby, solar energy entrepreneur Yossi Abramowitz and Azrieli Group vice chair Dana Azrieli after the three initiatives received the most “likes” from around the world.

The other two initiatives are “Olim for a Better Israel,” to advance initiatives of entrepreneurial new olim by linking them with native Israelis; and, “Socialocus, 6 degrees of ROI,” a website and mobile app to help locate investors, investees, founders, employees and volunteers.

In the middle of the panel, before Schusterman and 150 social entrepreneurs from 26 countries, Tishby noticed that Vardi was on his mobile phone and passed him the microphone so everyone could hear what he was saying. Vardi finished his conversation and told the crowd, “Never answer your cell phone when you’re on stage before tens of young innovators – unless it’s your wife calling!” ■ BOTH VARDI and Tishby appeared in the 60 Minutes documentary on Tel Aviv that was originally shown on CBS last month and given a rerun this week on Channel One.

Bob Simon, who knows Tel Aviv well, started the program by saying that he’d been looking for a place of calm in the Middle East and had found it in Tel Aviv, which he said was the unlikeliest of all spots because it was bordered on all sides by danger.

Cycling through the city with mayor and former combat pilot Ron Huldai, Simon’s questions about the potential dangers to the city were countered with the argument that one can walk out in the street in New York and be hit by a car. When Simon persisted, Huldai responded: “In life there are a lot of risks – always.”

After interviewing several Tel Avivians, including Tishby, who is a native of the city and commutes frequently from Hollywood, where she has been living for several years, Simon came to the conclusion that “Tel Avivians have learned not to worry about tomorrow. For them, the only time is now.”

When he asked Vardi what he likes about Tel Aviv, the answer was: “I not only like this place, I am addicted. I love it.”

And so, apparently, does Tishby given the frequency with which she comes home to model, to act, to appear in fundraisers and also to sing.

Early in her career she was part of the Nona duo, together with her then-boyfriend Gal Asher. This week she proved that she can still sing, and performed several jazz and blues numbers, including Don’t Stop Me Now at the opening of Superpharm’s annual Beauty City fashion and beauty extravaganza at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds.

■ WITHOUT IN any way detracting from the much deserved honors accorded to Israel Prize laureates, the omission from the list of one particular name serves to illustrate how true it is that a prophet is not heard in his own city. Shimon Peres, who last week received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civil decoration, from President Barack Obama, has previously received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II, a French Legion of Honor, the Nobel Prize, and numerous awards from nations around the world – but he has never been awarded the Israel Prize.

Scanning the list of laureates, one might ask oneself why a person of Peres’s international stature had been overlooked in the category of life achievement and special contribution to society and the state. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the Israel Prize awards and is also the year in which Peres will celebrate his 90th birthday. Perhaps someone with a little historical savvy will find a way to merging the two milestones and thereby enable Peres to receive what was until this week the country’s highest civilian accolade – until Peres himself introduced the Presidential Award of Distinction, which he can hardly give to himself.

■ INDIA’S MINISTER for Tourism Subodh Kant Sahai is due to arrive on a four-day visit to Israel, from June 23-26, accompanied by a 15-strong delegation. During his visit, the minister will participate in a special seminar for Israeli tour operators, hold working meetings with his Israeli counterpart, Stas Meseznikov, and tour the country.

Israel attaches great importance to the visit, given that India is the largest source country for incoming tourism from Asia., said a spokesperson for the Tourism Ministry. As a result of the significant growth in incoming tourism from India over the last two years, the ministry is focusing its activities in Asia on India. The ministry will open a representative office in India later this year, and will invest about NIS 2.5 million in marketing activities with a view to significantly increasing incoming tourism from India to Israel. According to Meseznikov, tourism from India to Israel has doubled over the past two years and now stands at around 40,000 visitors a year. The potential is much greater, which is why the Tourism Ministry is interested in expanding its contacts in India.

greerfc@gmail.com

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger