Grapevine: A sparkling diplomat

The stones were not the only subject that came up for discussion after Shapiro was greeted by Diamond Bourse president Shmuel Schnitzer.

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February 10, 2015 21:20
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Israel diamond exchange. (photo credit: NIV ELIS)

DIAMONDS ARE reputedly a girl’s best friend, but it’s mostly men, who are in the diamond business as Ambassador to the US Dan Shapiro learned when he visited the Israel Diamond Exchange in Ramat Gan this week. The stones were not the only subject that came up for discussion after Shapiro was greeted by Diamond Bourse president Shmuel Schnitzer.

It’s impossible to go anywhere these days without alluding to the upcoming trip to Washington and his projected address to Congress by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, so the mazel und brocha guys all wanted to know about the state of relations between the US and Israel. Shapiro was candid but circumspect, admitting to differences of opinion but voicing confidence that these differences would be resolved. Shapiro was at the Diamond Bourse for the opening of International Diamond Week that is being attended by buyers from the US, Canada, India, China and South Africa among others.

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■ IN DECEMBER 2010, David Rozenson, who was then not yet the executive director of Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem but was the director of the Avi Chai Foundation, went to Moscow. There in front of an audience of 6,000 people at the Kremlin Palace of Congresses, he received the Man of the Year Award on his own behalf and that of the foundation in recognition of their work in publishing and distributing Jewish literature in Russia, as well as for the creation and launch of Booknik.ru, a popular website in Russia.

He was back in Russia again this week – this time in St. Petersburg where he was one of the recipients of Honorary Citizenship of the city conferred by Mikhail Piotrovsky, the president of the prestigious Hermitage Museum. This award is given each year to a small number of people born in the city in recognition of their success in contributing to their country or their attainment of a personal, scientific or cultural achievement. Rozenson was chosen for the award in relation to his previous position as head of the foundation in the Former Soviet Union. The work he did was a significant factor in strengthening ties between Jews of the FSU and Israel.

Rozenson also received recognition for his role as executive director of Beit Avi Chai.

The final sentence in the citation read: “He has been successful in his endeavors and his influence can be seen in Israel and the Jewish world.”

The award ceremony was originally scheduled to take place on a Friday night, which would have precluded him from attending because he is religiously observant.

When the organizers became aware of this, they rescheduled, a gesture that he appreciated enormously not only because it indicated respect for him but also for the Jewish religion.

■ ISRAEL’S FIFTH president Yitzhak Navon, is a relatively modest man, who promotes projects such as the study and preservation of Ladino, but who hasn’t done very much insofar as pushing his own legacy. Several of his predecessors have had centers of learning and research named after them, but Navon, perhaps because he’s been granted long life, has somehow remained in the background.

His good friend, colleague and loyal co-disciple of founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion, president Shimon Peres established the Peres Center for Peace long before he ever took office. Some of Navon’s friends and admirers decided that it was high time to build a Yitzhak Navon Heritage Center. Leading the move is singer, actor, television and radio personality Yehoram Gaon, who like Navon is a of pure Sephardi descent on both sides of his family, and also like Navon, is a native son of Jerusalem. Others engaged in the project are Michael Federmann, the head of Elbit Systems and the Dan Hotel chain; Erez Navon, the son of the honoree; famed storyteller Yossi Alfi, who on several occasions has hosted Navon on storytelling programs; and several other leading figures from cultural and business circles.

Gaon is the chairman of the Public Council for the establishment of the Navon Heritage Center. The council will have its inaugural convention on February 17 at the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv where in addition to Gaon and Alfi, speakers will include former cabinet secretary Oved Yehezkel, Neot Kedumim Board of Directors chairman Micha Yinon and novelist Eli Amir.

The reason for Yinon’s presence is that he is a former head of the Arts and Culture Administration and the current chairman of Neot Kedumim, the Biblical Landscape Reserve somewhere on the halfway mark between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which is the projected site for the Navon Heritage Center.

■ ALTHOUGH THE Israel Museum will not officially celebrate its jubilee until May 11, celebrations for the 50th anniversary are already underway. For more than 30 of those years Teddy Kollek, the legendary mayor of Jerusalem was president of the museum. He was closely involved with the Jerusalem International Book Fair that was founded in 1963. He established the Jerusalem Foundation in 1966 and through it funded numerous municipal projects. It was a way to enable the adoption and development of projects that the city council could not or would not approve. The ribbon cutting ceremony of the Israel Museum on May 11, 1965, was a slightly premature birthday gift that Kollek who was born on May 27, 1911, gave to himself. The Israel Museum was preceded by the Bezalel Museum founded by Boris Schatz in 1912. But only 20 years later, the Bezalel Museum was already considered to be inadequate and Marc Chagall who joined Kollek in founding the Israel Museum, pronounced the Bezalel Museum to be to Jewish. His concept of a national museum was one that included Jewish art and artifacts but which was far more universal. Today, the Israel Museum ranks among the most prestigious in the world, and is arguably the largest cultural institution in the country, with an enormous and highly varied collection, not all of which is on view, and much of which has come its way as gifts from world famous collectors.

Next year, James Snyder, the charismatic, eloquent and dynamic director of the Israel Museum will celebrate his own 20th anniversary in that position.

Snyder, who in his previous tenure as deputy director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York oversaw that museum’s $60 million expansion, also oversaw the expansion and modernization of the Israel Museum not only in its physical sense but also as a presence on the global map of culture. He has cultivated colleagues and museum supporters around the world, has befriended diplomats stationed in Israel, some of who have helped the Israel Museum to acquire loans of works from other important museums in their home countries, and has hosted world leaders who on official visits to Israel have not only included the mandatory ceremony at Yad Vashem in their itineraries, but have also been guided through some of the treasures of the Israel Museum. Some of the retrospective exhibits planned for this year, will reflect the early years of the museum.

There are still people around who remember them, and some Jerusalemites in the 60-plus age group including Isaac Molcho chairman of the Board of Directors of the Israel Museum and former chairman of the Board Dan Meridor can remember playing as children on what used to be the barren hill where the museum now stands.

■ OVER THE years, Anat Hoffman, best known to the general public for her leadership of Women of the Wall, has had various titles. In her youth she was a Maccabiah Games swimming champion. Later, she spent 14 years as a member of the Jerusalem City Council. She was among the founders of the Kol Haneshama Reform Congregation in Jerusalem, and was a regular with the Women in Black who demonstrate in the capital’s Paris Square on Fridays calling for an end to the occupation.

For several years, she has been the executive director of the Religious Action Center, the legal and advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel.

Dov Elbaum, host of Channel 1’s Receiving Shabbat, has given her the title of “the Martin Luther King of the Western Wall.”

She had previously been compared to Rosa Parks, the African-American civil rights activist who refused to give up her seat in a Montgomery bus to a white man during the period in which segregation prevailed.

Similarly, Hoffman leads Women of the Wall, which includes Orthodox, Conservative and Reform women, who for 26 years have been struggling for the right to wear prayer shawls, pray and collectively read out loud from the Torah at the monthly gatherings at the Western Wall.

Elbaum who hosted Hoffman on his program last week, discussed the Reform Movement’s liberal attitude to non-Jewish spouses. Hoffman, mentioning that the weekly Torah reading was about Jethro, the Midian priest who in addition to being the father-in-law of Moses, was the architect of the legal system of the ancient Israelites, said that Jews have always benefited from the inclusion of non-Jews. Moreover she said, by rejecting the non-Jewish spouse, the Jewish community loses the whole family. By accepting the spouse, there is some form of guarantee that the family will remain within the fold.

■ FEBRUARY 11 is an important day in the life of Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky. It is the 29th anniversary of his release from a Soviet prison. Sharansky likes to joke that the difference between Israel and Russia is that in Russia people go to jail before they become ministers. Both he and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein were imprisoned by the Soviet authorities and later served as ministers in a series of Israeli governments. Sharansky received his first ministerial portfolio in 1996, 10 years after his release from prison and Edelstein received his first ministerial portfolio in the same year when they both served in the Yisrael B’Aliya party that Sharansky founded.

Several past and current Knesset members will be celebrating birthdays this month. Former prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak will turn 73 on February 12, and Binyamin Ben- Eliezer who is also a former defense minister will turn 79 on the same date. Shas leader Arye Deri will turn 56 on February 17 and Likud MK Gila Gamliel will turn 41 on February 24. Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi shares a birthday with late prime minister Ariel Sharon on February 26. Hanegbi will be 58, and Sharon would have been 87.

■ GUESTS WHO attended a party in Efrat hosted by Risa and Allan Schuman had two reasons to celebrate. One was the aliya of Zelda Schuman, who at age 83, decided to give up her home in Baltimore, Maryland, and come to live in Jerusalem; and the other was the 100th anniversary of the Schuman’s grand piano, a Hardman Peck that originally belonged to Zelda’s mother Lillian Gordon (nee Israel) whose parents bought it for her when she was 12 years old. The Israels were the first recorded Jewish couple to be married in Worcester, Massachusetts. Lillian played the piano as a youngster and when she married, she took it with her to her new home. After she died in 1966, her husband remarried and moved from Worcester to Florida. He sold the house and shipped the piano to the home of Zelda and her husband in Baltimore. Allan and his sister both learned to play the piano that sat in Zelda’s living room for 40 years. When Zelda and her husband sold the house and moved to an apartment, she decided to send the piano to Israel, because she wanted to keep it in the family. She knew that it would be played, because her daughter-inlaw Risa is an accomplished pianist.

The piano made aliya to Efrat eight years ago. After it arrived Allan and Risa decided to check out its provenance and went online to learn what they could. As it turned out, it was manufactured in 1914 and its 100th anniversary was last year.

They had planned to have a celebration for its centenary. But then they learned that Zelda who was widowed in 2009, had decided to come to Israel with Nefesh B’Nefesh, and the celebration was put on hold until after her arrival and a month long settling in period. She arrived in Israel on December 30, lives in the Beit Tovei Ha’ir retirement complex near the entrance to Jerusalem and loves being there.

Some 70 relatives, friends and neighbors of the Schumans came to the double celebration, including Shlock Rock entertainer Lenny Solomon, who provided what he called a rock-’n-roll kumzitz with alltime favorites of Elton John, Billy Joel, the Beatles and more. Solomon was excited at the fine condition of the 100-year-old piano. He said it sounded magnificent and had the legs of a 20 year old! The Schuman’s cousin, Zalman Deutsch, the celebrated synagogue architect and gifted musician and cantor in his own right, stunned fellow guests with his stirring vocal and instrumental rendition of “My Yiddishe Momme.” Also on the program was power point presentation of old family pictures among them one of Zelda’s mother in the 1920’s, and another of Zelda carrying an Israel flag at age 17 at Camp Young Judea in the summer of 1948.

“My grandparents would have loved to have been able to live in Israel themselves, and at least now, their descendants, with their names, and even their piano, are living and raising the next generation in the rebuilt Holy Land,” said Allan. “Our family has come full circle. It may have taken 120 years, but they have been gradually arriving from Lithuania to Jerusalem, with just a small 100-year detour in the United States.”

■ SEVEN YEARS ago, Dr. Herman Weiss, his wife Mia and their six children were asleep when a fire broke out in their New Hampstead home, destroying all their possessions.

Miraculously, the Weiss family escaped unharmed and took the incident as a sign that they should move to Israel.

They are now living in Beit Shemesh, and in appreciation of their good fortune commissioned the writing of a Torah Scroll for use at the AMIT Ramle Technical High School for children from economically disadvantaged families. Embroidered in Hebrew on the velvet cover of the scroll are the words “My Fire” with the letters forming a flame. In this context the reference is to the flame of life and Torah learning.

The Weiss family invited their friends to join them and the school’s students and staff at the dedication ceremony. An AMIT project was a natural choice because Mia Weiss who was the head of the AMIT New Hampstead chapter continues her volunteer work for AMIT in Israel.

■ FORMER ITALIAN president Giorgio Napolitano, who resigned recently, was a great friend of Israel and the Jewish people, and it appears that his successor Sergio Mattarella is like minded.

In his first address to Parliament, Mattarella referred to Stefano Gaj Taché, a twoyear- old Jewish child killed by Palestinian terrorists who attacked the Great Synagogue of Rome in October 1982. Matterella declared that Italy had paid the price of hatred and intolerance many times. He asked the Parliament members to remember that Stefano was not only a Jewish boy, but an Italian boy. The reference was deeply appreciated by Renzo Gattegna, president of Union of Italian Jewish Communities, who Mattarella had invited to attend the official ceremony at the Quirinale Palace to celebrate his election.

Mattarella’s first official act prior to the ceremony was a visit to the Ardeatine caves, where 335 people including 75 Jews, were killed by the Nazis. He observed then that the defeat of the Nazis, racists, anti-Semites and totalitarian hatred had been brought about by an alliance between nations and peoples. The same kind of unity in Europe and in the world will enable the defeat those who want to drag the world into a new era of terror, he said.

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