Grapevine: Farewell to an articulate advocate for Israel

Relatives, friends and acquaintances were shocked to learn this week of the death of Charley Levine.

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November 19, 2014 00:40
Charley Levine

Charley Levine. (photo credit: LONE STAR COMMUNICATIONS)

Relatives, friends and acquaintances were shocked to learn this week of the death of Charley Levine, a leading, prize-winning figure in the public relations community in both Israel and the Jewish world.

The large Sephardi funeral sanctuary at Jerusalem’s Har Hamenuhot could not hold all the mourners who, braving inclement weather and traffic congestion, came to pay their last respects; the crowd was so huge that many were unable to get inside. Some indication of the esteem in which Levine was held could be seen in the number of English-language media outlets that eulogized him.

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Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh, said Levine was one of the finest advocates for and defenders of Israel. The two things that mattered most to him were Israel and family, said Fass, who initially met Levine years ago on a professional basis and noted that the relationship quickly developed into a close friendship.

Fass was supposed to fly out of Israel on Sunday night, but refused to leave before the funeral.

During the months Levine was ill following a massive stroke, family and friends expected a miracle – because Levine always came through in the end, and everything worked out as it should. This time, it didn’t.

Levine’s family and friends opened up a condolence page on his Facebook, and the messages from Israel and the US were swift and poignant – some from people with whom he had been at school, some from very close friends who had known him since his youth, some from people who had worked with and for him over the years, some who were professional colleagues, some who played poker with him – collectively representing different layers of his life. There were several from people whose jobs in Israel were with Levine in one of the PR agencies he ran, and who wrote that none of their subsequent employers measured up to him professionally, as a mentor and friend.

A couple of people posted a clip from a 1983 CNN interview with Levine, five years after he and his wife, Shelly, had settled in Israel. Levine was part of a team of American immigrants living in the Jewish state, traveling coast to coast to tell people about the great country of Israel. In those days, Levine was considerably slimmer, and with a mustache and huge horn-rimmed eyeglasses, looked slightly like a junior Groucho Marx.

Levine and his wife loved to travel. They went to China to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary, but made sure to be back in Israel in time for the official July opening of the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria – one of Levine’s clients. In fact, they returned on the day of the opening and Levine immediately got to work; in his laid-back manner, he sat in on an interview between some of Hilton’s international top brass and The Jerusalem Post. (Waldorf Astoria is Hilton’s luxury brand.) In addition to his work in public relations and public diplomacy, Levine liked to keep his hand in as a journalist and was a regular contributor to Hadassah Magazine. His interview with Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer was published in the August/September issue, while Levine was hospitalized at Hadassah University Medical Center – where he eventually died. There was something almost symbolic in that, because while still living in the US before making aliya, Levine was national public relations director of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.

There are many reasons to remember Charley Levine, but what perhaps will stand out when other memories recede will be his access to people in high places. Over the years, he was both friend and media adviser to Shimon Peres, Ehud Olmert, Silvan Shalom, Uzi Landau, Isaac Herzog, Gideon Sa’ar, Yuli Edelstein, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Mike Huckabee, Irwin Cotler, Rupert Murdoch, Ed Koch, Michael Bloomberg, Arnold Schwarzenegger and many others.

His association with Hadassah continued when he served as information director for the World Zionist Organization, and through the many interviews he wrote for Hadassah Magazine. Among his interviewees were: Benjamin Netanyahu, Thomas Friedman, Charles Krauthammer, Dan Shapiro, Moshe Ya’alon, Tzipi Livni, Eric Cantor, David Azrieli, Bernard Lewis, Lord Greville Janner, Chaim Yavin, Tal Brody, Mohamed ElBaradei, Olmert, Jeffrey Goldberg, Robert Satloff, Jonathan Pollard, Moshe Safdie, Joe Biden and a bunch of other well-known public figures, some of whom were present in the crowd that accompanied him on his final journey on a rainy day in Jerusalem. It was as if heaven itself was weeping.

■ EVERYTHING IN Israel has some kind of political connotation. Thus, when Prime Minister Netanyahu decided to spend some quality time with his son Avner at the Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa, to watch the match in which Israel’s national football team scored a satisfying win over Bosnia, the political pundits immediately characterized it as an election ploy. The fact that Netanyahu’s nemesis, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who had earlier in the evening on all three TV news channels assured the nation that now was not the time for elections, carried little weight with the pundits – given that Lapid was also present, looking far less statesmanlike than on the TV screen.

He had doffed his smart business suit in favor of the dark T-shirt and jeans that were his personal uniform before he became a politician, but wore a blue and white cowboy hat to signify he was rooting for the national team. Netanyahu did not change out of his suit for more informal attire, but wore a national blue and white scarf around his neck.

It might just be possible that Netanyahu and Lapid genuinely wanted to take time out from politics to simply enjoy what gives so much pleasure and aggravation to so many other Israelis. After all, there were more than 30,000 other spectators in the stadium.

On Friday, when national team coach Eli Guttman spoke to avid football fan President Reuven Rivlin, who was worried there might be violence in Haifa on Sunday night, Guttman said he hoped their next conversation would involve Rivlin congratulating him on the national team’s victory. Obviously, someone up there was listening...

■ APOLOGIES TO those who wanted to join the tour of the former Hansen Hospital in Jerusalem that was mentioned in last Friday’s column. The date was omitted. The tour will be on Thursday, November 20 at 2:58 p.m.

■ IT’S BEEN a long time since designer Michal peddled her Victorian-inspired jewelry on Tel Aviv’s Nahalat Binyamin mall alongside the Carmel market. Some of the other arts and crafts designers who brought their wares to Nahalat Binyamin during the same period as the ex-kibbutznik – who was born and raised on Kibbutz Na’an – are still there, and were not destined for the international fame and glory Negrin has achieved. But then, they didn’t come from David Ben-Gurion’s gene pool.

Several of Ben-Gurion’s close and distant relatives have been high achievers in their respective fields, and Negrin is one of them. Various biographies give different versions of the relationship, but it keeps cropping up one way or another.

Born in 1957 as Michal Green, she married Meir Negrin in 1984. Fortunately, he believed in and encouraged her creativity, which over the years expanded to include household furnishings and ornaments, amulets and religious artifacts, personal accessories, gift cards, whimsical dolls, and fashion. From a stall in Nahalat Binyamin, she graduated to a chain of more than 65 stores across Israel and around the world, including the US, France, Canada, Japan, Australia, Russia, Croatia, Italy, Belgium, Austria, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Hungary and Taiwan, among others.

In fact, it can safely be said that she and her husband control an international empire. At their factory plant in Bat Yam, they employ 250 talented craftspeople, and are proud to be able to produce “Made in Israel” merchandise which finds its way around the globe. Needless to say, given the Ben-Gurion connection, Michal Negrin stores can also be found at Ben-Gurion Airport.

Negrin doesn’t follow trends, nor does she create them. There is no doubt her fashion designs come under the category of vintage, yet they are quite different from items that can be found in stores that label themselves as such. She also takes into account that among the women who like her fashions, there may be Orthodox Jewish or Muslim women who go in for long sleeves and high necklines, or women who simply believe it’s sexier to cover up and create an aura of mystique than to bare all. At the same time, she does not ignore those women who want to show off their physical attributes.

Her designs are instantly recognizable.

While there have been copycats of her jewelry, it would be difficult to copy her clothes without being accused of fashion plagiarism – because her style is so uniquely her own that it is her signature.

Negrin has won several awards, and has just been named fashion design exporter of the year for 2013. She will receive her award during the seventh annual Holon International Fashion Week, taking place at the Holon Design Museum in the Mediatheque complex from November 24-29. The theme of this year’s Holon Fashion Week is “The Muse in Contemporary Fashion Design.”

Negrin says she’s very proud of the success her products have reaped abroad, not only in terms of personal satisfaction but because they represent Israel, a factor she says should not be taken for granted – especially today, when there is so much anti-Israel sentiment around the world. On the home front, she is very pleased to be in the position to provide employment for many people, who began working for her when they were new immigrants and could barely put together a sentence in Hebrew – but could do wonderful things with their hands in interpreting her designs.

Visitors to the factory plant can enjoy tours of the different fantasy departments and watch creativity in the making, then finish off in the Gallery Cafe and watch a film on Negrin’s life while they partake of coffee and cake.

■ ANOTHER ISRAELI woman who stands out from the crowd is Irit Rosenblum, who last week at New York’s Marriott Marquis Hotel added to all the trophies in her cabinet, when she received the Bronze Stevie Award in the category of female innovator of the year in a government or nonprofit.

The annual awards in numerous categories of business and innovation attract contestants from around the globe. This year, Rosenblum was competing against some 1,200 people with revolutionary ideas.

Rosenblum, a lawyer by profession and the daughter of Holocaust survivors, is the founder of the New Family Organization headquartered in Tel Aviv, which introduced a new concept in universal human rights that permits the creation of families regardless of gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation or legal status.

In 1998, when Rosenblum established New Family, thereby giving hope to samesex couples, it was very difficult for samesex couples to gain social acceptance and legal recognition. Male same-sex couples who wanted to bring children into the world, using surrogate mothers living abroad, had a hard time registering their offspring as Israelis and bringing them into the country. Over the years social attitudes and legal positions have changed, so that now a child born to a same-sex couple can have both parents – not just the biological one – registered as parents.

In her work, Rosenblum has helped create a global revolution. Religious authorities have still not come to terms with New Family, and Rosenblum has worked hard to circumvent religious authority, legal obstacles and social norms, to make it possible for anyone who wants to do so to be guaranteed of biological continuity. She is a pioneer (from a legal perspective) in the field of freezing ova and posthumous sperm to enable retrieval for IVF insemination, to enable biological continuity in families or even beyond existing families. There have been cases of young soldiers killed in action whose sperm was harvested and later used through surrogate mothers, to provide grandchildren for the soldiers’ parents and thereby guarantee biological continuity for at least one generation, if not longer.

Rosenblum has received numerous national and international awards, including a previous Stevie Award. In three different years, Lady Globes named her one of the 50 most influential women in Israel ■ LAST SUNDAY, US Army First Lt. (res.) Dan Nadel, a 94-year-old resident of Jerusalem, was honored by family and friends at the Yishai army base with the presentation to the IDF of a Torah scroll in his name.

Nadel is a quintuple-decorated hero of World War II. His military history includes leading troops in the Battle of the Bulge and helping to liberate France from Nazi occupation. The International Young Israel Movement (IYIM) selected Nadel for this honor not only in recognition of his heroism, but also because it was his birthday.

Nadel was a commander in the US Combat Engineers, so it was deemed appropriate that this particular Torah scroll be donated to the IDF Combat Engineers, who fought so bravely this summer in Gaza where they led the detection and destruction of terrorist tunnels. “We are very humbled to be able to honor such a great hero and such a great man,” said IYIM president Ceec Harrishburg.

The festive presentation ceremony, replete with a dancing procession as the Torah was passed from hand to hand, began with speeches from the Combat Engineers commander Gen. B., Central Command’s Rabbi Yuval and Nadel himself. The dancing was accompanied by the lusty singing of the IDF rabbinical choir, as the procession made its way to the base synagogue.

■ PEOPLE TAKE risks of some kind every day of their lives, but few people take as many risks as a soldier fighting in a war.

When interviewed last week by the Post, British Ambassador Matthew Gould – referring to a UK Remembrance Day service in Ramle he had hosted at the beginning of the week, which had been attended by 40 World War II veterans and two Chelsea pensioners who had specially come from England for the occasion – said one of them had almost tearfully told his military attaché that prior to Gould’s words of appreciation during the ceremony, no one had ever thanked him for serving in the army. The family of another veteran said he had been polishing his medals for weeks after receiving the invitation, and one veteran who was too ill and feeble to attend asked, when initially contacted by phone, that the invitation be sent to him regardless, so he could show people he had been valued for his service.

“Thank you” are just two simple words, easy to pronounce but not said often enough, especially to the people to whom these two words would mean so much.

■ AMONG A group of high school students from Amit Ashdod who recently traveled to Poland was Roni Vanunu. In the Tarnow forest where 800 Jewish children are buried in a mass grave, Vanunu – whose 19-yearold brother, Golani Brigade Sgt. Ben Vanunu, was killed in Operation Protective Edge – addressed her fellow students and teachers.

Making the comparison between the defenseless children and those Jews who are now in a position to defend themselves, Vanunu said: “My family paid the highest price during the events of last summer. My brother was killed in defense of the state; but when I stand here, I understand he was given the privilege of fighting in the Israeli army. When he fell, he was wearing the uniform of the IDF, and when he was buried, his casket was covered with the flag of Israel.”

■ WHILE ON the subject of Poland, a symposium in memory of Holocaust survivor and historian Prof. Israel Gutman, and to mark the publication of Gates of Tears: The Holocaust in the Lublin District by David Silberklang, will be held at Yad Vashem tomorrow morning, Thursday, November 20. Speakers will include: Robert Rozett, director of the Yad Vashem Libraries; Joanna Zetar of the Brama Grodzka Center Lublin, who will talk about Jewish life there before the Second World War; Holocaust historian Prof. Yehuda Bauer, who will share some insights from Gates of Tears; and Havi Dreyfus of Yad Vashem’s Center for Research on the Holocaust in Poland, who will talk about the Lublin District as being between the “wild east” and experimental territory. The final address will be that of author Silberklang, the senior historian and editor of Yad Vashem Studies, who will discuss the period between destruction, liberation and returning to life, with specific focus on the Jews in the Lublin District during 1944-1945.

■ AND ONE last item with regard to Poland: The success of the Polish food festival last year has prompted a second edition, but this year’s Polish Culinary Week is limited to Haifa and unlike last year, barring last-minute changes, will not be held in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Co-sponsored by the Polish Institute, Belvedere and Zubrowka vodka, and LOT Polish Airlines, the festival will be held in cooperation with the Haifa Municipality, whose mayor Yona Yahav is the son of Polish parents. Featuring the Polish-Jewish culinary heritage, the PCW will run from November 28 to December 6.

Part of the food festival will be held at Haifa Port and surroundings, in a symbolic gesture to the many Polish immigrants whose first step on Israeli dry land was at the port. The focus of the cuisine will be on homemade baked goods, with the aim of introducing Israeli chefs to the broad range of breads, cakes and pastries that have emerged from the Polish kitchen.

The event will also represent a firsttime collaboration between chef Erez Komorowski, the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and a number of leading Israeli pastry chefs from Tel Aviv, Rehovot, Eilat, Gesher Haziv, Bnei Yehuda, Kiryat Ata, Haifa and points elsewhere, along with visiting chefs from Poland. Because nearly all chefs like to experiment with recipes that are new to them, this guarantees traditional Polish baked goods will be included in bakeries and cake shops in many parts of Israel in the future.

Anyone interested in learning about the full program should telephone (03) 696- 2053.

■ THERE’S ALWAYS a gala at meetings of international boards of governors of Israel’s various institutions, and such events hosted at museums are often the most creative and interesting. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who is also chairman of the international board of governors of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, this week, together with his wife, Yael, hosted a gala attended by some 500 people. Attendees included Ziva Lahat, wife of late former mayor of Tel Aviv Shlomo Lahat, who died last month and whose 87th birthday would have been last week; and their son Dan, a member of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa City Council.

Several foreign diplomats were present as well, including former ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman and his wife, Janice; former diplomat and former world chairman of Keren Hayesod Avi Pazner and his wife, Marty; and MK Meir Sheetrit and his wife, Ruth. Also present were American artist Tom Friedman; businessman and philanthropist Jason Arison and his wife, Elital; premier public relations team Rani and Hila Rahav; singer Ivri Lider; high-class jeweler Benny Padani and his wife, Yael; actor and broadcaster Alex Anski; and many other well-known personalities. Entertainment was provided by Ninet Tayeb and her husband, Yossi Mizrachi, who are on the verge of parenthood, ■ NETHERLANDS AMBASSADOR Caspar Veldkamp was among the speakers at the reopening on Monday of the completely renovated Hazor Haglalit Magen David Adom station. Emergency response in the region will now be much more efficient.

The station has a strong volunteer force consisting of 50 medics and 50 youth volunteers, in addition to 10 permanent employees.

The renovation was a joint project of the Dutch and Swiss Friends of MDA; it is the second station opened by the Dutch Friends within a year, and the seventh to be built or renovated by them in recent years.

Veldkamp emphasized how Friends of MDA create a unique relationship between the Netherlands, Israel and other countries.

“This provides a good example of partnership between civil societies. It is something we have to cherish,” he said.

According to Veldkamp, “The relationship between the Netherlands and Israel goes deeper than top-down policy statements or business deals. The very interesting part of this type of cooperation lies in the phenomenon that it is based on bottom-up initiative.”

Many local residents, members of the MDA leadership and a delegation of the Dutch and Swiss Friends, including Dutch chair Dr. Marjan Sprecher, attended the reopening ceremony; diplomats from both countries were also present.

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