Although we would like to think otherwise, racism has crept into the Israeli psyche. It manifests itself most among soccer fans, especially when an all-Arab team or a team that includes Arab players is playing a team whose supporters are on the far right of the political map. Racist slurs emanating from the crowd are shouted by juveniles.

Some years ago, the Peres Center for Peace introduced soccer seminars in which mixed teams of Israelis and Palestinians learned to play together in Israel then went abroad to play other teams. The players learned to live together and respect one other, and in many instances formed friendships because they related to each other as human beings without political, ethnic or religious trappings.

Minister for Public Diplomacy Yuli Edelstein has decided to tackle the racism issue closer to home. Together with former international soccer star Haim Revivo, Edelstein this week launched a project designed to nip racism in the bud – or more accurately, to kick it in the butt. The idea is to set up mixed Arab-Jewish youth teams around the country. The teams will be mentored by well-known sporting personalities, including past and present coaches and players, both Jewish and Arab.

The project, which was launched at the Jewish-Arab Center in Jaffa, will initially take off in Jaffa, Acre and Lod, where there are large mixed populations, and will then be extended to other cities and towns.

The kickoff for the launch was a showcase game between Jaffa and Lod, with each fielding mixed teams.

Regardless of the fame and honors accumulated in the course of a lifetime, there’s always one in the twilight of someone’s career which is more meaningful than all the rest.

Case in point is the Medal of Distinction which President Shimon Peres conferred last month on former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger. At the time, Kissinger, in an emotional address, noted how much this particular honor would have meant to his parents and what it meant to him in relation to all previous honors that he had received. He followed up with a letter of thanks to Peres which adds emphasis to what he said in Jerusalem. “No honor that has come my way has moved me more,” he wrote.

Similarly, Peres, who over the years has been the recipient of many honors from many countries, cannot free himself of the pride he feels in having received America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama a few days prior to conferring the Medal of Distinction on Kissinger.

The Medal of Freedom means so much to Peres that he manages to inject a reference to it into his remarks at almost every public event.

When hosting a reception for Israel’s Olympic team a couple of weeks ago, he urged the members to come home with medals, stating: “It’s very pleasant to receive a medal. I say this from experience – though not in the field of sport.”

This week, Peres was saved from having to allude to his medal. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did it for him when she said in the presence of the media, “We were so honored to have you in the White House last month and, as President Obama said when he awarded Shimon the Presidential Medal of Freedom, no individual has done so much over so many years to build the alliance between our two countries to bring not just our governments but our people closer together.”

As for the Olympic Games, everyone is trying to get in on the act.

Samsonite Israel marketing manager Yarden Wachs, at a reception held at Herods Hotel in Tel Aviv, presented everyone in the Israeli Olympic team, including officials, with a Samsonite trolley case in the same shade of blue as the team’s blazers.

IPass has provided wireless Internet services for smart phones, tablets and laptops for the members of the team, in addition to which Samsung has distributed Samsung Galaxy S III phones to the team with special apps that will enable fans to communicate with athletes directly and give them that extra dose of encouragement on their Facebook pages.

Shufersal has encouraged customers to record good wishes to the team and to take home a CD featuring the theme song of the Israeli Olympic team. And that’s just the short list.

Because of the time difference between Beijing and Tel Aviv, the Chinese ambassador was able to host a mammoth reception in the Port of Tel Aviv four years ago for the opening of the Beijing Olympics, without infringing on the Sabbath. Unfortunately, British Ambassador Matthew Gould does not have the same luxury, because the games open on Friday night.

Hungarian president Janos Ader was in Israel for the Knesset commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg, who, while serving as first secretary of the Swedish Legion in Hungary, was, with the help of colleagues from other diplomatic missions, able to save thousands of Hungarian Jews from deportation to the gas chambers.

It was not an easy visit for Ader because, in discussions with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and President Peres, with whom he had an intimate working dinner at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, there was an addition to the usual topics of Iran, regional turmoil and the upheavals of the European economy: Ader also had to contend with Israeli criticism of the resurgence of anti- Semitism in his country and the identification with anti-Semitic organizations by several prominent Hungarians. Ader invited both Peres and Netanyahu to visit Hungary. His conversation with Peres included advancing scientific cooperation between Israel and Hungary.

Members of the North African and Sephardi communities who are first, second and third-generation Holocaust survivors are often embittered by the fact that their suffering was not recognized, or if they did eventually receive reparations from Germany, it was more than 30 years after the Germans started paying reparations to Jews from Eastern and Central Europe. Although his family’s history is not linked to the Holocaust, Haifa lawyer and history buff Yehuda Even-Haim, who is of Moroccan background, wants the world to know what happened to the Jews of Tunis and Libya and other countries in the region under the Nazi boot.

This week, Even-Haim, who also writes children’s stories about the Holocaust, came to Jerusalem to talk about the concentration and death camps in Libya and Tunis and showed clips from documentary films that proved that the Jews of Libya and Tunis had fared just as badly as their brethren in Europe.

Even-Haim started his lecture at the Uri Zvi Greenberg Center by reciting the names of some of the concentration camps in the Sahara Desert.

Hardly anyone in the room had heard of any of them. No one had heard of all of them.

“You’re all intelligent people,” said Even-Haim. “If you haven’t heard of them, what do you think high school students know about the Holocaust in North Africa and how Libya almost became part of the final solution?” The situation with North African survivors is even worse in terms of preserving memory than it is with Europeans, he said. In most cases, North Africans who survived simply didn’t talk about it. Their children don’t know and if their children don’t know, their grandchildren cannot be expected to know.

The question remains as to why they didn’t talk. One man offered an explanation: maybe after hearing what happened in Auschwitz, they thought that their own suffering could not compare, and they had no numbers on their arms as proof of where they had been. Even when persuaded to give testimony, they found it difficult to express themselves.

In one of the films shown by Even-Haim, a husband and wife who were both survivors wept, not really wanting to remember and finding it painful to say anything. These attitudes have made Even-Haim even more determined in his research with the aim of righting an historical wrong.

Former president of the Hebrew University Prof. Hanoch Guttfreund caused some frustration at the awards ceremony in which well-known journalist Bambi Sheleg, who already has several prizes to her credit, was awarded the Sam and Ethel Flegg Memorial Prize for exceptional contributions between different streams in contemporary Judaism. This is Sheleg’s specialty, as evidenced in Eretz Aheret, the magazine that she founded specifically to provide a platform for the expression of Jewish thought through adherents to the various streams of Judaism.

Guttfreund announced that Sheleg would give her address, after which there would be reactions from respondents followed by questions and comments from the floor. Well, the introduction took a while, Sheleg’s speech took somewhat longer and the three respondents each ran over the time allotted, with the result that there was no time for questions asked or comments, which was extremely frustrating to members of the audience, given the wide range of food for thought with which they had been presented.

When speaking of surrogate mothers, the popular definition is a woman who carries the fertilized ova of another woman who cannot for whatever reason carry a pregnancy.

But there are other kinds of surrogate mothers who perform no less noble an act.

Facilitating a birth is a wonderful gift to a childless couple yearning for parenthood, but what about abandoned infants who need the security of a mother’s love, who need to be carried close to a mother’s heart and to feel the embrace of her arms? There are surrogate mothers who do this too. Among them is Dana Yaniv, from Caesarea, who has four children of her own. As busy as she is taking care of their needs, she is not too busy to pay a daily visit to the Hillel Yaffe Medical Center to cuddle a baby boy, sing songs to him and give him the feeling of a warm and loving mother who cares. She has been doing this for more than a month.

The infant was born with a number of complications and requires longterm treatment. The hospital staff provides him with all the medical care that he needs but simply do not have the resources to give him emotional support as well. The infant is an adorable child and everyone who sees him falls in love with him at first sight. His biological mother is a drug addict whose habit impacted the baby while he was still in the womb.

Yaniv is part of the First Hug project, with which Hillel Yaffe has been associated for the past two years. The organization was formed in 2004 by mothers whose hearts and arms reached out to abandoned babies. Up until two years ago, says Anat Naveh, the social work in the hospital’s neo-natal and premature births department, there was no need for anyone from First Hug because there were no abandoned babies in the ward.

The first case, two years ago, was born to a young mother who said she could not raise her baby and simply left her. The infant was born prematurely and spent a lot of time in the ward. Realizing that the tiny girl needed affection, the hospital got in touch with First Hug and has maintained contact ever since.

Yaniv and others like her spend four hours a day with their “surrogate” babies until they go into foster care or are adopted.

According to Hillel Yaffe, there are some 300 newborns abandoned by their parents each year for any number of reasons. First Hug tries to make their lives as normal as possible.

Portugal's ambassador to Israel, Miguel Almeida e Soussa, this week appointed Yoni Isakov the proprietor and director-general of Coral Maritime Services, as honorary Portuguese consul. Isakov, who was born in South Africa, has lived in Israel since he was 12 years old. On completion of his army service he enrolled at the University of Haifa and has a BA in economics and political science.

Some 25 years ago, he started working in the operations division of CMS on the Haifa Port and worked his way through the ranks.

Isakov is also the owner of Marine Pollution Services, which is dedicated to making the sea as pollution- free as possible.

Very soon after arriving in Israel, the ambassador hosted a national day reception at his residence in Kfar Shmaryahu and almost immediately afterwards was busy preparing the visit of his country’s minister of agriculture.

Now he’s organizing the visit of the minister of science as well as that of a large business delegation, and is getting ready for several other high-level visits in the months ahead. These visits will now be organized with Isakov’s assistance and are designed to enhance relations between Portugal and Israel.

It's been a very busy time for Japanese Ambassador Hideo Sato, with the volume and variety of events in different parts of the country as part of the 60th anniversary celebrations of Japan’s relations with Israel.

This week he attended the opening in Jerusalem of the “Crossplay: Male Actors, Female Roles in Kabuki Theater” exhibition at the Israel Museum, and on Sunday he will be in Haifa for the opening at the Tikotin Museum of “Double Vision,” an exhibition of Japanese contemporary art. He may be back at the Israel Museum in August for a Kabuki lecture and demonstration, and there several other Japanese events planned elsewhere in the country.

Israel Museum director James Snyder described the Kabuki exhibition as “a jewel of an exhibition.”

Sato said that Kabuki theater has been entertaining Japanese audiences for more than 400 years and continues to do so. Sato’s public speaking is usually in Hebrew, in which he is entirely fluent, but out of deference to Snyder he spoke in English, though Snyder’s Hebrew is quite good.

The opening of the Japanese exhibition was also an opportunity for people who had not yet seen it to look at the wonderful exhibition of hassidic life which is being displayed in multi media under the title “A World Apart Next Door.”

According to Snyder, this exhibition has drawn unprecedented crowds, including large numbers of haredim who might not otherwise visit a museum. The exhibition has been put together in the most dignified manner and deals with a variety of hassidic movements.

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