• PURIM IS a time for gift giving. The gifts usually consist of candies, cookies and wine, but the gift that the children of Sderot received was a $5 million recreational facility fully funded by the American Jewish National Fund. On hand for the inauguration ceremony were minister for the development of the Negev and Galilee Ya'acov Edri; Sderot Mayor David Bouskila; chairman of JNF-US Ronald Lauder; its president Stanley Chesley; its CEO Russell Robinson; and numerous children and their parents. Securely reinforced against rocket attacks at safety standards exceeding those stipulated by the Israel Defense Forces, the recreational facility has been created inside a former textile factory and can comfortably accommodate 500 people.
  • PURIM TOOK to the streets all over Israel, with adults as well as children dressing up for the occasion. Ruth Ackerman Dana, the proprietor of Salon Mary on Emek Refaim, also got into the Purim spirit, with a rich, colorful window display that caught the attention of many passersby. There's so much bad news floating around, they told her, that it gave them a good feeling to see something that exuded happiness and fun.
  • AMONG THE frequent and most popular Torah readers at Hazvi Yisrael Congregation in Talbiyeh is Dr. Yonatan Halevy, the director of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Last Saturday congregants had a double dose of Halevy because he read the Torah portion, and his son Noam, who got married on Sunday to Reut Berkowitz of Bnei Brak, read the Haftara. What was particularly interesting was that the candies to be thrown at the bridegroom were contained in a stunning creation that looked like a three-tier wedding cake trimmed with tiny cascading pink roses. The kiddush hosted by Halevy and his wife, Adina, in honor of the occasion was also different from the usual fare, with brightly colored tablecloths and a variety of fish salads served on thinly sliced exotic fruits and vegetables. The bride's parents are Zvia and Avishai Berkowitz.
  • THE PROTEST tent for Gilad Schalit, which was put up alongside the wall of Terra Sancta, around the corner from the Prime Minister's Residence, has been there since the eve of Rosh Hashana. When Noam Schalit, Gilad's father, went there then, it was only for a few hours. At that time he was joined by relatives, friends and strangers, who all went to support him in drawing attention to his son's plight. This week, six months later, the number of people in and around the tent grew after Noam Schalit returned with his wife, Aviva, and decided to stay there to pressure Prime Minister Ehud Olmert into doing more to bring their son home. Some of the media covering the protest in the tent were verbally attacked by Schalit supporters, who said that the media should be doing more toward the young soldier's return. On the second day of the current protest, Aliza Olmert, the wife of the prime minister, invited the Schalits into the residence. MANY FOREIGN diplomats and their spouses who served in Israel maintain contact with the country long after they leave, and frequently they return for visits. Best known in this category are former US ambassador Sam Lewis and his wife, Sallie. More recent US ambassador Daniel Kurtzer and his wife, Sheila, bounce in and out of Israel like yo-yos as does Martin Indyk, another former US ambassador. Colombian ambassador David de la Rosa and his wife, Grace, returned to live in Israel. Former Canadian ambassador David Berger and his wife, Monica, are intensely involved with the Canadian Friends of the Jerusalem Foundation of which Monica is the executive director. Former Swedish ambassador Robert Rydberg is a frequent visitor to Israel due to his current position in his country's foreign ministry. Former Polish ambassador Maciej Kozlowski, who is currently deputy director of his foreign ministry's department for Africa and the Middle East and the foreign minister's plenipotentiary for Polish-Jewish relations, has been back to Israel many times both on his own and accompanying Polish dignitaries. Former Latvian ambassador Karlis Eihenbaums and his wife, Inara, currently in Estonia, regularly e-mail friends in Israel. She used to be the head of the Diplomatic Spouses Club in which capacity she organized numerous charitable events on behalf of various Israeli social welfare organizations. Even now, she maintains contact with these organizations, and this week sent an e-mail to members of the Diplomatic Spouses Club and the International Women's Club to remind them to support the Jerusalem Bazaar in aid of the Ben-Uri residential home for the mentally challenged. Situated in Givat Hamoreh in Afula, Ben-Uri runs a series of workshops for people in different age groups who produce high-quality handicrafts which are sold at the bazaar. The profits from the sales partially fund Ben-Uri's ongoing operations. The sale will take place on Friday, March 27, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the premises of Amanda and Ishai at 237 Rehov Haharuv in Moshav Aminadav, Jerusalem. ONE DOESN'T usually think of haredim as being muscle bound, but the Kosher Gym in Givat Shaul, which prides itself on caring for both the fitness of the body and the well-being of the soul, is producing results that don't conform with the stereotypestereotypical image of haredim. One of its regulars is Mordechai Buchnik, 21, a student at Darchei Haim Yeshiva, who has been steeling his body since he was 14 years old and works out daily at the Kosher Gym. Not only is he extraordinarily fit, but as a result of his body building he's also Mr. Young Israel. While many yeshivot and seminaries for young women today recognize that the body needs exercise no less than the brain, the yeshiva that Buchnik previously attended was not so inclined. After he won his first title, the yeshiva gave him the choice between study and fitness. Buchnik wanted both, so he switched yeshivot. Buchnik is not the only body-building enthusiast at the Kosher Gym. Yuval Shaul, who has won the Mr. Israel title five times, works out there and is also a trainer. Religious women also work out at the Kosher Gym, but at different hours. The equipment is state of the art, and there are sauna and shower facilities, as well as a cafeteria that serves nutritious snacks. Mothers don't have to worry about what to do with their infants when working out. The gym has a free, toy-filled baby-sitting center that looks out onto the gym so that tiny tots can see their mothers and not feel afraid or abandoned.
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