JOINING THE concerted effort to bring home kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, Kanyonei Yisrael (Israel Malls) will on Friday release 18,000 yellow balloons with a green imprint that translates as “Dedicated with love to Gilad Schalit.” The balloons are intended as a means of raising national consciousness on the fourth anniversary of Schalit’s incarceration, and hopefully some of them may find their way to the place in Gaza where he is being held. One never knows how far the wind will carry anything.

Kanyonei Yisrael marketing manager Ilanit Grayowitz-Berger says it is company policy to work for and with the community and to be involved in social issues that are part of the national ethos and affect national morale. The balloons will be released between 10 a.m and 1 p.m. in malls across the country, including those in areas close to Gaza.

■ THERE WAS cotton candy, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in a choice of flavors, freshly made popcorn, balloons in many colors and – probably most important – lots of babies, toddlers and children younger than 10 who will form the backbone of the country’s future, and who for the most part will be a bridge between North America and Jerusalem. The occasion, two weeks ago, was the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Shir Hadash Center for Jewish Life which will be located in part of the forest area bordered by Rehov Dubnow and Rehov Graetz in Talbiyeh on the edge of Jerusalem’s German Colony.

Founded in 2000 by Arizona-born Rabbi Ian Pear and his New York-born wife Rachel, soon after they came on aliya, Shir Hadash is a modern Orthodox community and educational center dedicated to bringing Jews closer to Judaism and to one another in a spirit of love, mutual respect and the shared expansion of Jewish knowledge.

Shir Hadash already runs a synagogue, nursery school and vast array of educational programs and aims to emphasize the positive attributes of Judaism. Pear, who in addition to his rabbinical degree from Yeshiva University holds a law degree from New York University and a degree in international politics and security from Georgetown University, was previously director of the Hillel Foundation on the Tel Aviv University campus.

His parents-in-law Bob and Diane Abrams were on hand for the celebration and have been solid supporters – both morally and financially – of Shir Hadash since its inception. Local couples who are also strong supporters include Alan and Leya Lurie, Ian and Sharon Brown and Harvey and Judy Kasdan. Bob Abrams was the New York state attorney-general for 18 years. Guests of honor at the event were Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and one of his deputies, Naomi Tsur, who was delighted to hear from Pear that Shir Hadash will be the first green synagogue in the country.

Barkat, who had met the community before, described it as “fascinating” and called it “the most hugging community in Jerusalem.” It was a community that was very active in taking responsibility, and giving new immigrants a soft landing on arrival, he said. He also commended the community’s tolerance and its inviting environment.

“Your community will pave the road for other communities in the future.

You with all the young children are exactly what Jerusalem needs to strengthen the city.” Donning a blue plastic hard hat as a workman’s symbol, Barkat was the first of many to dig the spade into the earth.

■ THE NATIONAL Day of the Federation of Russia and Independence Day of the Republic of the Philippines both fall on June 12. In previous years, ambassadors of both countries held receptions on the same night, with one in Herzliya Pituah and the other in Tel Aviv. But now they seem to have reached an accommodation, with neither hosting a large function on June 12.

The Russians had their mega get-together on June 14, and Petronila Pena Garcia, ambassador of the Philippines, in a departure from the norm, hosted a luncheon at the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv instead of an evening reception. She also invited fewer people than in past years, but what didn’t change was that she and all her staff were attired in national costume.

Both Garcia and National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau spoke of the long friendship that has existed between the two countries. Garcia heard Landau talk about how that friendship included visas for Jews escaping Nazi Germany. One of her predecessors had labored long and hard to get Israel to publicly acknowledge its debt to the Philippines, but died without having succeeded. Landau also congratulated President-elect Benigno Aquino III as well as outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who has been in office since January 2001.

■ RESIDENT OF Jerusalem, native of Bamberg, Germany, and citizen of the world, Werner Loval, who has led an extraordinary life on three continents and has been actively involved in numerous organizations and enterprises, decided to give his 12 grandchildren an illustrated history of his life, which he put together in a series of scrapbook-style vignettes that evolved into an intriguing book, We Were Europeans, that he launched last week at Beit Avi Hai in Jerusalem. Proof of his popularity and many contacts was evidenced in the fact that the auditorium was more than half full way before starting time.

The urbane Loval is best known as the driving force behind Anglo Saxon, the country’s largest real estate agency.

But he was also one of the founders of the Reform Movement here, and likewise one of the founders of Jerusalem’s Nayot neighborhood, a cooperative housing development for American and Canadian olim.

Descended on both sides from affluent and influential Jewish families, he spent his adolescent years in England after being thrown out of school in Germany, later fought with the US Army, came here, became active in the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, and met his future wife Pamela Sabel, with whom he continues to share a charmed life.

Their wedding on September 2, 1956 was the first kosher wedding at the King David Hotel, and was attended by Moshe Dayan, Moshe Sharett, US ambassador Edward Lawson, Foreign Ministry directorgeneral Walter Eytan, director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office Teddy Kollek, Jerusalem mayor Gershon Agron, commander of the Jerusalem area Chaim Herzog and a host of other dignitaries. They also celebrated their golden wedding anniversary at the King David with guests including some of the people who had been there 50 years earlier.

Before becoming a real estate guru, Loval worked as a diplomat, and very soon after his marriage was posted to Guatemala. As a member of the Foreign Ministry’s staff in Jerusalem, he often took care of visiting dignitaries, and the book contains photographic evidence, including photos taken with Eleanor Roosevelt. The Lovals have been associated with so many facets of the development of Jerusalem, and to some extent of the country, that it’s hard to believe that all this was achieved in a single lifetime. What’s even more amazing is the extent to which all this is documented in an easily readable and visually appealing manner. The vignettes are written more or less the way that Loval speaks, and each is a story in itself, so they don’t necessarily have to be read in sequence. Although Loval intended the book for his grandchildren, its contents hold something for everyone.

■ AND WHILE on the subject of books, Betar Jerusalem soccer player Shimon Gershon, who has authored a children’s book called Noam’s Football Secrets, has discovered that he has fans way beyond the capital.

Gershon was in Ashdod’s C Mall recently for a book launch, and was pleasantly surprised to have youngsters standing in line to have him autograph their books.

■ WHO WOULD have imagined 20 years ago and more that Russian Jews would come together in a fancy Moscow hotel to donate money to a cause in Israel? But that’s what happened this month – and not for the first time. The hotel was the Ritz Carlton, and the cause was the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, which held its initial Moscow gala and raised the equivalent of half a million dollars.

Admittedly there were several Israelis of Russian background present – most notably Lev Leviev, whose AFI Development Company earlier this year opened another luxury hotel in Moscow – the Aquamarine.

Leviev has considerable real estate and diamond interests in Moscow, and it was recently announced that his daughter Zvia, who was in charge of the Ramat Aviv Mall before it was sold to the Ofer family’s Melisron company, has relocated to Moscow to oversee the opening of the Mall of Russia which is due to become operational around September-October.

Other people at the gala event at the Ritz Carlton included Berel Lazar, chief rabbi of Russia, Anna Azari, musical oligarch Yosef Kobzon, Russian pop star Lima Vicula, Russian Jewish Congress president Boris Spiegel and Merab Elashvili, who with his brothers owns an enormous chain of restaurants throughout the Baltic states.

Leviev and his wife Olga are keen supporters of Sheba and donated the Lev Center – a play on words – in that Lev, in addition to being Leviev’s first name, also means heart in Hebrew.

■ PRIZE-WINNING Australian director, producer and screenwriter Robert Connolly, who has screened his films at more than 30 international film festivals, was in Jerusalem this week for the opening night of the seventh annual Australian Film Festival sponsored by the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange. Speaking at the screening of Balibo, the powerful opening film, Connolly, who is here for the first time, said that one of the privileges of making a film is the travel involved in the first year following its release.

Although the main character in Balibo is veteran investigative reporter Roger East, played by Anthony LaPaglia, who goes to Balibo to learn what befell five young Australian journalists who were murdered by Indonesian militia during the invasion of East Timor and is subsequently murdered himself, Connolly advised the audience to take note of another character in the movie – a 24-year-old man who survived, and who wanted his role to be played by George Clooney. Connolly opted for Oscar Isaac. The survivor, who spent many years in exile as his country’s spokesman, and won a Nobel Prize for his efforts, is Jose Ramos-Horta, who today is president of East Timor.

Among those attending the opening was Australian Ambassador Andrea Faulkner, who said the film festival was the highlight of the Australian cultural calendar in Israel.

Faulkner, who seems to spend more time in Jerusalem these days than in Tel Aviv, was asked at a recent function what she would do with the Australian residence (which is not a rented property) if and when Jerusalem was universally recognized as the capital. Reasonably sure that this would not happen for a long time, and certainly not on her watch, Faulkner said that someone had told her to look on Jerusalem as a suburb of Tel Aviv. If she waits long enough, it will be Tel Aviv that becomes a suburb of Jerusalem.

■ ONE OF the major sponsors of the Elton John concert last week was Israel Discount Bank, and Matthew Bronfman, one of the bank’s controlling shareholders, flew in with his daughter Gabriella to be on hand to greet the nation’s business leaders as they took their places in the VIP section. During the concert, the exuberant John announced that he was dedicating a song to Romi on her birthday. People in the audience shrugged and asked each other, “Who’s Romi?” She is the daughter of soccer coach Avraham Grant. John, who is an avid soccer fan, spent some time with the Grant family before the concert and learned that it was Romi’s birthday – so he gave her his gift in front of 45,000 people.

■ SOME PEOPLE get married after a whirlwind courtship, find they’re not really suited and get divorced a few months later.

Other people leave the nuptials on hold, live together and even have a child or two or three before they decide to tie the knot.

Shira Margalit and Ilan Shiloah fall into the latter category, having first set up house together, then bringing a child into the world and getting married after almost 10 years of being each other’s significant other. The wedding took place last Friday at their home in Tzahala, with another round of celebrations on Saturday.

It was the second time around for Shiloah, who also has children from his first marriage. Margalit said that she was glad to be accepted by them. Margalit, executive vice president for content and programming at Reshet, on of the two Channel 2 franchisees, made headlines last year as one of the victims of the late Dudu Topaz, who blamed her among others for his fall from grace. Shiloah is the CEO at McCann Erickson.

■ BUT A long relationship is not necessarily a guarantee of a happy marriage. Former Miss World Linor Abergil conducted a cross-continent romance with basketball star Sarunas Jasikevicius for quite a while before accepting his proposal of marriage.

Her family was unhappy because he wasn’t Jewish, and radical right-wing activist Baruch Marzel even sent her an open letter in 2006, urging her to reconsider. It’s a little pointless talking that way to a girl in love, so Abergil went ahead with the wedding and came home for the much publicized celebrations. But romance faded quickly, and the next time around, Abergil opted for a nice Jewish boy in the person of Oron Halfon. This time it will be a Jewish ceremony in her home town of Netanya.

■ IT’S A big day tomorrow for Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who will be celebrating his 60th birthday.

■ THE FACT that a saying is trite doesn’t mean that it’s not true. Proof of the pudding is Ze’ev Stub, who certainly lives up to the saying that one person can make a difference. Stub has directly and indirectly influenced the lives of thousands of persons over the past nine years. Last week he celebrated the ninth anniversary of Janglo, an Internet system of connecting Englishspeaking Jerusalemites who want to sell things, buy something, are looking for work, are looking to hire people, are publicizing services and events, etc. Janglo was so popular and so successful that Stub branched out to form Tanglo for the Tel Aviv Anglos. Today, he has 35,000 registered users, 2.200 listings in Janglo’s business directory and 120,000 visits per month on his Web site.

■ GERMAN AMBASSADOR Harald Kindermann joined Adi Stern, head of the Visual Communications Department at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, in opening an exhibition of illustrations of love as depicted in children’s books. The exhibition is at the Hatahana Complex in Tel Aviv- Jaffa’s old train station. On display till the end of the month are works by students of illustration from leading academies of design and illustration in Korea, Germany, Bulgaria and Israel. There are many kinds of love: maternal love, imaginary love, a love for a doll and unrequited love, with each country having its unique cultural vocabulary of images, traditions and style. A close examination of children’s books, which are usually highly illustrated, allows viewers to examine the way in which the universal theme of love is explored in so many facets.

greerfc@gmail.com

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