China’s new ambassador-designate Zhan Yongxin wasted no time in getting to know people in Israel. Though yet to present his credentials, he hosted a getting-to-know-you reception at Tel Aviv’s Dan Hotel this week.
Zhan, who celebrated his 58th birthday last month and was born in the Jiangsu Province, has a master’s in economics – an asset given the number of business meetings between Chinese entrepreneurs and their Israeli counterparts he will have to attend, and the new Beijing-Jerusalem trade agreements he will have to witness. He has been in the Foreign Service for almost 30 years in a variety of positions; his posting in Israel is his first ambassadorial assignment.
His predecessor, Gao Yanping, had also never been an ambassador before coming to Israel, but took to her new role like a fish to water, chalking up a series of admirable achievements during her tenure. Presumably, with China on a diplomatic and economic roll around the world, Zhan will do no less.
■ ITALY’S ENVIRONMENT Minister Gian Luca Galleti was among the guests at the Tu Bishvat reception hosted by Ambassador to Italy Naor Gilon. The minister said he had come to demonstrate his esteem for Israel’s agricultural and ecological achievements, and referred to six existing treaties between the two countries – saying that relations in these and other areas should be enhanced, because Italy and Israel have so many commonalities.
■ NOTWITHSTANDING STRAINED relations between Sweden and Israel, especially at Foreign Ministry- level – with Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom postponing a planned visit to Israel after it was made known to her that she was not welcome – Oscar Stenstrom, Sweden’s state secretary for enterprise and innovation, demonstrated that Israel’s cold shoulder has not forced Stockholm into a diplomatic huff. He was in Israel this week and was feted at a reception hosted by Swedish Ambassador Carl Magnus Nesser.
With regard to Wallstrom, it was nothing personal – merely Israel’s reaction to Sweden being the first European country to recognize “Palestine” as a state.
■ AS HAS been previously mentioned in Grapevine, events related to the Jerusalem International Book Fair will take place next week in locations within easy walking distance of the First Station, the fair’s new venue. It stands to reason that an event in which German Ambassador Andreas Michaelis will be actively participating will take place at the Konrad Adenauer Conference Center in Mishkenot Sha’ananim. Michaelis will appear on Monday at 6:30 p.m., in a discussion with Fania Oz-Salzberger, Katja Petrowskaja and Eldad Beck on “Israelis-Berlin.” The title leaves room for several different discussions.
This is but one of numerous intriguing exchanges in different languages that will be held during the fair. But the most fascinating in terms of the Jewish mosaic will be on Thursday in the First Station’s exhibition hall, when Dmytro Tyshchenko, editor of Ukraine’s Mama-Losh journal and a new Yiddish-Ukrainian dictionary, will give a Latin title to his address – “Quo Vadis Yiddish?” – which will be delivered in Hebrew at the Italian Cultural Institute stand at the First Station, sponsored by the Ukrainian-Jewish Encounter of Canada.
■ ACTUALLY, FOREIGN diplomats stationed in Israel will be in somewhat of a frenzy next week, rushing backwards and forwards between the book fair in Jerusalem and the International Mediterranean Tourism Market at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds. Spanish Ambassador Fernando Carderera Soler will join Carlos Hernandez, tourism counselor for Spain’s embassies, at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday for a presentation relating to the country’s major tourist attractions.
On Wednesday, Slovenian Ambassador Alenka Suhadolnik will host a reception at her Herzliya Pituah residence for her country’s delegation, which will attempt to lure Israelis to the famous Slovenian spa resorts – where the waters are known to have great curative properties, beneficial to a number of different ailments. This week, however, Suhadolnik’s mind was more on the cooperation of educational institutions than on tourism, when she hosted a reception to mark the success of a cooperative venture between the WIZO Haifa Academy of Design and Education and the Scientific Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts.
This is the second year the Slovenian Embassy initiated a semester program with WIZO students. The previous study year, students from WIZO’s architectural department together with students from the University of Ljubljana’s Faculty of Architecture worked on conceptual designs for the Slovenian Embassy here and the Israeli Embassy in Slovenia. This year, students are designing a Land of Shadows workbook that will be used in Holocaust studies in Slovenian primary and secondary schools. The students’ work was on display at the reception.
AND ON a different note altogether, French Ambassador Patrick Maisonnave will in mid-February, at a reception at his Jaffa residence, launch the third-annual French culinary week under the heading “SoFrench SoFood”– in which 21 French chefs headed by Guillaume Gomez, chef at the Elysees Palace, will be introduced. The chefs, collectively and individually, will work in hotel and restaurant kitchens around the country, giving tips to Israeli colleagues and providing genuine French fare to discerning diners.
■ AT A time when Israeli hospitals are suffering a fiscal hemorrhage, two major medical centers have each received $6.5 million grants from the Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Philanthropic Foundation – for the purpose of creating Wohl Institutes for Translational Medical Research at the Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem, which is affiliated with the Hebrew University; and Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, which is affiliated with Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine.
The grants were awarded at a festive ceremony in London attended by British Ambassador Matthew Gould, senior representatives of both medical centers, the UK Friends of both medical centers and of course, trustees of the Wohl Legacy.
Maurice and Vivienne Wohl had a great love for Israel and gave generously to many educational, medical, social welfare and environmental projects; they also bequeathed much of their vast fortune to Israel, to be gradually distributed by trustees. Some of their gifts to the Jewish state include the Wohl Rose Garden adjacent to the Knesset; the Wohl Archeological Museum in Jerusalem’s Old City; the Wohl Amphitheater in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park; the Wohl Convention Center at Bar-Ilan University; an operating room complex at Jerusalem’s Sha’are Zedek Medical Center; the Wohl Institute for Advanced Imaging at Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv; the Wohl Synagogue in Tel Aviv’s Lamed neighborhood; the Wohl Yeshiva in Jerusalem; and many other projects.
In addition, they provided literally thousands of scholarships for students at Bar-Ilan University and actively supported the Slonim Yeshiva, Mercaz Harav, Yeshivat Hakotel, Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue, the Jerusalem College of Technology, Shalva – The Association for Mentally & Physically Challenged Children, plus many other institutions and organizations too numerous to mention.
Now, with these most recent gifts from the Wohl Philanthropic Foundation, Israelis and ultimately people in other parts of the world will have unprecedented relief from numerous illnesses. Translational medicine is the ability to translate scientific and medical concepts into research advances, offering novel clinical treatments. The Wohl Legacy’s trustees believe that investing in translational research is vital to true understanding of disease mechanisms, and to developing the most effective therapies for complex diseases such as cancer and degenerative conditions. The two new facilities will provide a dramatic stimulus to translational medicine in Israel, to help meet global clinical needs.
Hadassah Medical Organization acting director-general Prof. Tamar Peretz, who traveled to London to participate in the awards ceremony, noted that translational medicine brings the benefits of science back to the patient, with better technology to create improved infrastructure. In contrast to 15 years ago, when science was undertaken only in the university setting, with translational medicine scientific and medical needs can be defined at the individual patient level, then transferred from the patient to the laboratory to find a solution, she said. The research results then flow back to the patient, and this process allows a quicker transfer of knowledge and clinical application, resulting in better-quality patient care.
Sheba’s director Prof. Zeev Rotstein and vice president for research and development Prof. Shlomo Noy each noted the importance of the existing multidisciplinary research infrastructure at their medical center, which is of a high international standard, and emphasized that it will be greatly enhanced by the new translational medicine institute – which will facilitate the development of therapies currently not available in Israel for conditions such as leukemia and lymphoma. At Hadassah, the emphasis will also be cancers as well as Parkinson’s, ALS and other degenerative diseases.
At the London event, marking 50 years of giving by the Wohl family, grants were also distributed to British-Jewish institutions – amounting to £20m.
Maurice Wohl, a rabbi’s son, was born and raised in London; his faith and upbringing played a huge part in the evolution of his philanthropy. Prior to Vivienne’s death from cancer in 2005 at the age of 59, they decided to establish the foundation as a reflection of their lifetime of philanthropic activity. Maurice died in 2007, at age 90; he was buried in Jerusalem next to his beloved wife.
Israelis interested in how the Wohls involved themselves in so many causes in Britain and Israel can visit the capital’s Great Synagogue, where there is a fascinating mini-museum dedicated to their memories.
■ TWO GIANTS in their respective fields died in the middle of this past week. One was noted British historian Sir Martin Gilbert, whose prolific output included monumental works of contemporary Jewish history, and the other was filmmaker Micha Shagrir, who was among the founders of Israeli television.
Gilbert was a frequent visitor to Israel, where he would address the Jerusalem-based Israel branch of the Jewish Historical Society of England – whose chairman, Dr. Gabriel Sivan, described him as a devoted Zionist who in addition to his home in Britain, maintained a home in Jerusalem.
Sivan recalled that four years ago, Gilbert had addressed a packed house on “Britain and Palestine 1917-1947: Researching the Relationship.”
This was meant to be the first of two lectures, but illness prevented Gilbert from delivering the second. Sivan doubted that British Jewry would ever produce another historian of his caliber.
President Reuven Rivlin issued a statement in which he said of Gilbert: “We owe him a debt of gratitude for his invaluable contribution to the documentation and conservation of the history of the Jewish people.”
Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky said: “I will personally remember him as someone who not only wrote history, but also took part in its making. He understood the importance of the struggle of Soviet Jews while it was taking place, and did not hesitate to turn into a human rights activist, joining the international efforts to remove the chains of the Communist regime and help us in our fight to break free.”
Although he also made feature films, Shagrir was essentially a historian – in that his documentaries told the story of Israel and the Jewish people; part of his legacy is now in state archives. Throughout half a century of creativity, the prize-winning Shagrir documented the evolution of the state with movies, in much the same way that photographer David Rubinger created documented evidence for posterity with stills.
Not only that, but he was the spiritual father of many of Israel’s leading filmmakers, many of whom worked with or for him early in their careers. Generous in allowing them to explore their potential, Shagrir encouraged and supported them – something they acknowledged time and again.
When his wife, who was also a filmmaker, was killed in the bombing of a Paris synagogue in 1980, Shagrir established the Aliza Shagrir Foundation – which encourages young documentary filmmakers.
He also headed the Foundation for the Encouragement of Quality Films, which evolved into the Israel Film Fund; and initiated the Cinema Jerusalem project, in which the capital is documented from every conceivable aspect.
At the time of his death, Shagrir – who succumbed to a long battle with cancer, and bequeathed his body to science – was working with fellow Jerusalem filmmaker Ruth Diskin on an Internet archive of all of his approximately 600 films, to make them accessible to the general public. He had plans for additional projects, and Israel will be the poorer for his inability to realize them.
■ WITH JUST over a month left in which to discharge his duties as agriculture minister, Yair Shamir, who will not be vying for a seat in the coming Knesset election, visited the large exhibition of produce that was the outcome of technological advancement by the Central and Northern Arava R&D Station in the Arava Valley, near the Hazeva Reservoir.
Shamir was accompanied by his wife, Ella, who seems to participate more than other ministerial wives in their husbands’ tours in Israel and abroad; not so long ago, Ella accompanied him to India.
In the course of their Arava tour, they came across two new strains of tomatoes – one that tastes like pears, another with the aroma of blackberries – produced by Seeds Technology. More than 200 growers showcased technological innovations in agriculture, water, environmental quality and gardening.
■ ADULTS WHO despair of the younger generation would do well to look at the 10th-grade students at Jerusalem’s Hartman School, who decided that poor people have the right to celebrate important family occasions in the same manner as the more affluent.
Lior Mizrahi, 16, who is in one of the school’s two 10th-grade classes comprising 50 girls, said the students want to collect garments, preferably new ones, so that all immediate family of a bar mitzva boy as well as the boy himself will be festively attired. Then, they want to approach catering establishments to ask them to more or less tithe themselves – by producing one pro bono event each month for a bar mitzva boy; they want to make similar deals with DJs and musicians.
In this way, everyone can have a piece of the mitzva pie, and go home feeling good about contributing to the positive start of a young boy from a poor family, taking his first steps into manhood.
Anyone who wants to be part of this enterprise should call the girls’ teacher, Madi, at 050-869-0463.