To borrow from Charles Dickens, it was the best of times and the worst of
It was the best because it brought out the finest of Israeli
qualities in people, helping each other in times of need. It was the worst
because it demonstrated lack of government preparedness for emergency
The common denominator is, of course, the heavy snowfall,
which in recent days left so many thousands of Israeli households without
electricity, heat, food and radio, television or use of their computers. The
most widely heard complaint was that if the public had been notified of the
enormity of the snowstorm, people would have made suitable arrangements and gone
to stay with family and friends.
A lot of people are heaping blame on the
Israel Electric Corporation, for putting out inaccurate reports about how soon
electricity would be restored. But even though the IEC should have been more
responsible in this regard, it deserves a great deal of praise for the work its
technicians did do in the most difficult of conditions.
If anything this
natural disaster, which left so much damage in its wake, justified the need for
a public broadcasting service. Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet not only ran reports
and interviewed people from different parts of the country to learn how they
were coping, but anchors such as Anat Davidov and Pe’erli Shachar, among others,
actually interceded with the authorities on behalf of people who had been
stranded for too long without electricity, food or medication.
some Israel Broadcasting Authority staff members live in areas that experienced
electrical outages, and gave firsthand reports from home, in addition to
interviewing local council heads. Some of the Reshet Bet staff worked almost
around the clock, updating listeners on developments or lack thereof.
reporters who deserve consideration when IBA director-general Yoni Ben-Menachem
presents the IBA Director-General’s Prize in 2014 are Jerusalem affairs and
police reporter Shai Silber, and transportation reporter Yitzhak Perry, who kept
listeners updated even in the wee hours, as well as throughout the day and
Various MKs are calling for commissions of inquiry to determine
the lessons learned from the disaster. If a commission is established, hopefully
it will take note of some of the many suggestions made by members of the public
on Facebook chats – because public opinion is an important component in arriving
It might also take note of the fact that even someone
with the clout of Shlomo Buhbut, the head of the Union of Local Authorities,
could not find a central address or phone number where he could voice a
complaint or seek help.
Aside from that, the main lesson was that
advanced technology is not always the answer. People with power outages and an
old-fashioned transistor radio with a good supply of batteries were at least
able to follow the news. People with old-fashioned kerosene heaters and a supply
of fuel were able to keep warm, and even toast bread. People with an
all-electric household but with a picnic stove and gas canister were able to
cook, and if they still had hot water bottles in the house, could fill them and
keep warm in lieu of an electric blanket.
■ QUITE A large number of
babies came into the world during the snowstorm and its aftermath, and some
under the most unusual of circumstances Among them is Yehudit Shlomit Shoshan,
the 14th child of Batsheva and Harry Shoshan of Nahliel.
According to the
story in Yediot Aharonot
, Batsheva, 36, began having labor pains in the early
hours of Monday morning. Due to her 13 previous experiences of giving birth, she
was in no great hurry to get to get to hospital. At around 6 a.m., after her
water broke, she and Harry, 37, set out on Highway 443 and realized their worst
nightmare: they were stuck in traffic on the icy road.
Batsheva to the backseat of the car, hoping the traffic would start to move.
After half an hour’s wait, he went in search of help and found a paramedic from
United Hatzalah. By that time, Batsheva was in the final stages of labor.
Together the two men started the delivery process, when suddenly two nurses who
had also been stuck in the traffic miraculously appeared to offer their
assistance. Coincidentally, one of them was a midwife.
was delivered safe and sound, and evened out the family gender
balance. She has seven brothers and six sisters.
It will not be at
all surprising if there is a general baby boom in Israel next September. We’ll
just have to wait and see.
■ SHE FREQUENTLY sings for visiting heads of
state and now, Iranian-born Israeli superstar Rita, who has gone back to
occasionally using her Farsi maiden name of Jahan-Foruz, is doing the diplomatic
circuit – partly as a cultural ambassador for Israel; partly to promote her
album My Joys, on which she sings 11 Farsi songs that her mother sang to her
when she was a child; and partly to promote reconciliation between Israel and
In November of last year, she was the guest of then-Israel
ambassador Michael Oren and performed in Washington, where a large group of
Iranian Jewish expatriates flew in from Los Angeles to hear her and give her
frenetic applause for reviving memories of their native land. This March, she
was the guest of Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor.
Last week, she was in
London as the guest of Israel Ambassador Daniel Taub, and at a private concert
with a sizable percentage of London’s Iranian- Jewish community, she charmed
them all – not only with her singing, but also with the frank replies she gave
when interviewed by celebrated, multitalented film, stage and television
actress, newspaper and magazine columnist, and author Maureen Lipman. (Rita was
also interviewed in Farsi on the BBC’s Persian channel, which is relayed to
Iran. Last Thursday, she sang to a highly appreciative audience at the
Hilton London Metropole.) In her conversation with Lipman, Rita spoke about her
childhood in Iran, what it had been like to come to Israel as a new immigrant,
and of her beginnings as an entertainer. Asked about her Farsi album, Rita said
she liked to sing in the language because it’s her mother tongue – though that
night, she also sang in Hebrew.
Lipman might have created an added spark
had she also interviewed the London-born and educated Taub (who is the same age
as Rita), about his childhood in England and what it was like for him to come as
an immigrant to Israel. The comparison would have been interesting.
and his wife, Zahava, who is also British-born, have fitted easily into the
British scene, particularly with regard to the media and the British Jewish
community, of which they were once a part. Taub has also appeared on the BBC’s
Persian program, but unlike Rita, he spoke in English, not in fluent
Actually, it was quite a coup on the part of the BBC to have two
prominent Israelis broadcasting to Iran in the space of less than a month. Taub
was the first Israeli ambassador to be interviewed on the BBC’s Persian
■ RITA WAS not the only Israeli celeb in London this month. Bar
Refaeli was there a week earlier and managed to sit in on a private concert
given by Lady Gaga. After that, she escaped the cold of winter and went to the
Caribbean, where it was warm enough for her to put on her bikini and take a
splash in the sea.
■ MANY OF the guests at National Day receptions hosted
by the various ambassadors stationed in Israel tend to be the same people, plus
a smattering of others, with the notable exception of countries of the former
Soviet Union – where the diplomatic community and various Israeli notables
become a minority in the face of expatriates of the country whose Independence
Day is being celebrated.
The African communities in Israel are not as
large, but there is a sizable African collective at Independence Day receptions
hosted by ambassadors of African countries. This was the case last week, at the
Kenyan National Day reception celebrating 50 years of independence from Great
Following the traditional playing of the national
anthems, there was a moment’s silence to honor the memory of former South
African president Nelson Mandela. Next, there was a video segment which
chronicled the 50 years of relations between Israel and Kenya, with images of
the two countries’ respective leaders captured on camera in both Israel and
Kenya, including personages such as Golda Meir, Ezer Weizman, Yitzhak Rabin,
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki, as well as the ambassadors
who have represented Kenya in Israel since the renewal of relations.
closing portion of the video was a 50th-anniversary greeting by President Shimon
Peres, who wore a scarf bearing Kenya’s national colors and the word “Kenya.” An
identical scarf was worn by Ambassador Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Augostino
S.K. Njoroge, his wife and all the Kenyan Embassy representatives in the
Peres noted that he had met with Kenyatta, who had
explained he felt like Moses wandering in the desert, trying for 40 years to
create a new state. Peres also recalled accepting Ambassador Njoroge’s
credentials in 2010 and noted his smiling nature, which he thought reflected the
character of Kenya, a “smiling country.”
Touching on areas of mutual
cooperation, Njoroge noted Kenya’s role in Operation Entebbe in July 1976 as
well as the assistance Kenya had received from Israel in the aftermath of the
August 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi, and the recent Westgate
shopping mall siege.
He also referred to the long history of cooperation
with Mashav, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, under
the aegis of the Foreign Ministry.
The ambassador regretted the inability
to attend of many, including veteran Israeli diplomat and former ambassador to
Kenya Asher Naim, along with other Jerusalemites, and Welfare and Social
Services Minister Meir Cohen, who lives in Dimona and had been designated to
represent the government. All had been the victims of weather conditions and the
closure of the road from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. Avi Granot, who heads the
Foreign Ministry’s Africa desk, stood in for Cohen.
Naim’s absence, Njoroge told the story of how as a young diplomat, in the period
before Kenya gained independence, Naim had managed to defy the British and meet
with Kenyatta, who was under house arrest. This was the beginning of a firm,
long-lasting friendship between the two. On the day of independence, Kenyatta
stood in a stadium in Nairobi and after the Union Jack was lowered, raised the
flag of the newly independent state of Kenya. The following year, when both
Kenyatta and Naim happened to have newborn children, each named his son Uhuru
This year, said Njoroge, Uhuru Kenyatta, standing in the
same stadium as his father a half-century later, raised the Kenyan flag in
celebration of 50 years of independence.
Granot, for his part, called
attention to Kenyatta’s personal laying of the cornerstone for the Israeli
Embassy in Nairobi, two days before the official independence of
One of the highlights of the celebration in Tel Aviv was a fashion
show of creations inspired by different regions of Kenya, which was received
with great enthusiasm by the guests.
■ FORMER PRIME minister Ehud Olmert
is becoming an increasingly popular favorite on the diplomatic circuit. When
he’s not lambasting current prime minister Netanyahu, Olmert is extolling the
virtues of the various countries with which Israel has diplomatic
This week, despite the presence of Science, Technology and
Space Minister Yaakov Perry as government representative at the reception hosted
by Kazakhstan Ambassador Bolat Nurgaliyev at Tel Aviv’s Dan Hotel, to mark the
22nd anniversary of his country’s independence, Olmert was given the microphone.
He was proud of the fact that he had been Israel’s first industry and trade
minister to visit Kazakhstan, where he had signed a trade agreement with his
This April, Olmert was named chairman of the advisory
board of Genesis Angels, a new venture capital firm founded by Kazakh
entrepreneur Kenges Rakishev and Mobli founder Moshe Hogeg. Also on the Genesis
Angels team is Yuval Rabin, son of the slain prime minister.
who has several investments in Israel, has been ranked by Forbes as one of the
50 most influential people in Kazakhstan.
No. 1 is, of course, President
Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was praised by Perry for his initiative in hosting an
annual global forum on world and traditional religions in Kazakhstan’s capital
of Astana. There, leaders of world religions are urged to engage in
interdenominational dialogue, with the aim of promoting mutual cooperation and
Nazarbayev also initiated the Conference on Interaction and
Confidence- Building Measures in Asia, in which Israel has participated, but
most importantly, he is a world leader in nuclear
Ambassador Nurgaliyev could not help but refer to his
country’s economy, which is the largest and strongest in Central Asia; even more
so, he focused on education and where it can lead.
Also present at the
reception were MK Amnon Cohen, who chairs theIsrael-Kazakhstan Parliamentary
Friendship Group; and presidential hopeful MK Binyamin Ben- Eliezer, who like
Olmert is a former industry and trade minister, in which capacity as well as
other ministerial roles he has had close dealings with Kazakhstan.
JERUSALEM-BASED, New Yorkraised and New York- and Toronto- trained artist,
calligrapher and designer Sharon Binder is very excited about a presentation
that occurred in Washington this past Monday, December 16.
The Pursuit of
Justice Award was presented by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and
Jurists to Elena Kagan, associate justice of the US Supreme Court. The award,
presented to Kagan by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was one of Binder’s
The print unites the Four Matriarchs with the various
ways the number four is used in the Passover Seder: the four promises of
redemption, the four questions, the four cups of wine and the fourth verse of
one of the songs sung at the Seder, Who Knows One? The valor of the women among
the Children of Israel is particularly noted in the story of the exodus from
Egypt, which Passover commemorates, and which for centuries before the
establishment of the state kept alive the dream of national liberation and
The print was hand-pulled by Binder in a limited number of
copies, and was previously presented to Flora McDonald, Canada’s first female
secretary of state for external affairs, by the Women’s Campaign for Soviet
■ REUTH, ONE of Israel’s leading and most veteran elder care,
rehabilitation and social welfare organizations, which is currently celebrating
its 75th anniversary and last month held its local gala in Tel Aviv to mark the
occasion, also celebrated at the New York Palace in Manhattan.
Monday, American Friends of Reuth congregated there to honor Israeli singer and
songwriter David Broza, in recognition of his longtime support for Reuth, and
also presented an award to Marleen Litt, the dedicated chairwoman of the
American Friends of Reuth’s Young Leadership Division. Similarly, a lifetime
achievement award was presented to Merav Mandelbaum, chairwoman of Reuth’s board
Among those who were expected to attend were Israel
Consul-General in New York Ido Aharoni, who is also scheduled to be one of the
speakers at the Post’s annual conference in New York in April.
■ IN 1934,
Revisionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote a letter to fellow Revisionist Edna
Jacobi in London, stating: “Edna, your home has become a stage for most of the
historic meetings I have had with one of the most quarrelsome people of all the
leftists in the Land of Israel – David Ben-Gurion. Our mutual warm friendship
surprises both of us, and when his party learns of how he boiled eggs for me on
your gas stove so that we could eat, they will probably lynch him.
still makes a weak attempt to pretend that he believes [Avraham] Stavsky and
[Zvi] Rosenblat murdered [Haim] Arlosoroff, but I am convinced that by
ridiculing the idea, Sioma [Revisionist leader in Britain Shlomo Jacobi] and I
have rooted out this belief.”
Ben-Gurion died on December 1, 1973, and as
Israel’s founding prime minister, the 40th anniversary of his passing was
nationally commemorated. Curiously, the Revisionists held a separate
commemoration this week, with a symposium on Ben-Gurion and Revisionism at the
Jabotinsky Museum in Tel Aviv.
LONGTIME SOCIAL activist Ruth Dayan, who
has been a driving force behind many projects aimed at improving the quality of
life for both Israelis and Palestinians, as well as in attempts at
reconciliation between the two, continues – despite being a nonagenarian – to be
She is currently engaged in a fundraising campaign on
behalf of B’Tselem. In a signed email she sent out over the past week, Dayan
writes: “This March, I will be 97 years old. Two months later, we will celebrate
66 years since the founding of the State of Israel. It is a profound experience
to look back over my life in parallel to the creation and development of Israel.
I have had the privilege to live a life interwoven with its historical triumphs
“It is a great honor for me to be Israeli. It is also a
heavy responsibility, as we have not yet succeeded in building our lives as
envisioned – based on freedom and justice. Unfortunately, many of our
national milestones – and even some of my personal ones – are linked to the
ongoing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“The current reality
is one of children beaten on the way to police stations, isolated villagers
attacked by violent settlers, Gazan families denied access to sufficient
electricity and fuel. It is a reality of checkpoints and barriers. It is a
reality that is untenable and abhorrent.
“I write you today to ask for
your help in changing this reality. You can do this by giving generously to
B’Tselem – the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied
Territories. I support B’Tselem because of the extraordinary work it does to
protect the human rights of those living under occupation, and also for their
efforts to steer Israel to a path of justice and peace.
daily life under occupation such as the ones I mentioned are known to Israelis
like me, thanks to the work of B’Tselem.
B’Tselem’s work appeals to our
humanity, and inspires action and responsibility to safeguard Palestinians’
human rights. Moreover, B’Tselem’s work changes policies, protects communities
and brings justice to victims of abuse. Their undeniable impact motivated me to
join the B’Tselem Public Council, and I ask you to join me in supporting
B’Tselem to ensure that their work continues.
A tireless champion of
social causes, Dayan was the founder of the iconic but long defunct Maskit
fashion and arts and crafts house, which was recently resurrected with her
approval. She was the first wife of celebrated military man and politician Moshe
Dayan, and is the mother of politician Yael Dayan, prize-winning actor and
filmmaker Assi Dayan and sculptor Udi Dayan.
Still amazingly healthy and
active, Ruth Dayan drives herself all over the country, has been known to stand
for long periods at cocktail receptions, and can deliver a stirring oration in
either Hebrew or English at the drop of a hat.
■ THE BEGIN Heritage
Center in Jerusalem has sufficient problems in raising funds for its own needs,
but that apparently has not deterred it from making a grant of $100,000 to
Yeshiva University in New York.
It is sponsoring a series of programs on
Zionism and the Begin legacy, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of
former prime minister Menachem Begin.
Hart Hasten, president of US
Friends of the Menachem Begin Heritage Foundation, was instrumental in securing
the grant for YU. Phil Rosen, vice chairman of the Yeshiva College Board, and
Hasten’s son, Bernard, a member of the Yeshiva College Board, also played
“Menachem Begin became my hero and my mentor, a role
model and an icon. His honesty and integrity were unbelievable. He was a great
statesman, always yearning for peace,” said Hasten, who along with his wife,
Simona, were close friends of the Begin family for 25 years. “He took everything
he did very seriously, but looked at himself with great humility. He was the
complete intellectual, but by the same token he was very unassuming. There have
been some outstanding Israeli leaders, but no one comes close to his talent for
A Holocaust survivor who arrived penniless to the US, Hasten
rose to the top levels of finance and industry and today is a successful
businessman, Jewish leader and philanthropist, residing in Indianapolis,
Indiana. In 2002, Hasten authored a memoir, I Shall Not Die!, an account of his
escape and rescue from Nazi-occupied Poland, his formative years in Europe’s
displaced persons camps, and his personal relationship with Begin. After meeting
Meir Soloveichik, director of YU’s Straus Center, Hasten felt
he would be the best person to lead the Begin centenary
Soloveichik himself feels an emotional connection to Begin, with
a shared heritage of both their families originating from the community of
Brest-Litovsk, or Brisk.“I realized that to truly honor him, we needed to
somehow demonstrate to people what Begin’s vision was, and how that vision was
manifested in different parts of his life,” he email@example.com
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