It certainly wasn’t the intention of Israel’s ninth president Shimon Peres to rain on the parade of the Bahai community, which on Tuesday evening celebrated its Naw Ruz, the Bahai New Year. The celebration is always held in Jerusalem, even though Haifa is Bahai’s main center of activity in Israel. The guest list included members of the diplomatic community stationed in Israel, and in former years a very large representation did indeed attend.
However, this year there was a snag. Peres had planned a gala Purim party at the Peres Center for Peace on Sunday night, but the plans were changed due to the death of former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, whose funeral took place on Sunday afternoon. Peres, who was a very close friend of Dagan, and who was among those who delivered eulogies, decided that it was inappropriate to go from a funeral to a party, in addition to which it was somewhat tiring for him to travel to Rosh Pina and back and then get into party mode. So the Purim party was moved from Sunday to Tuesday night, and although it started an hour later than the Bahai reception, there was really no way that diplomats who had been invited to both events could get from Jerusalem to Jaffa on time.
The amended Peres invitation stated that 40 ambassadors from around the world would arrive in costume to honor the Jewish tradition. The invitation added that the event would be attended also by artists, leading figures in culture, CEOs, mayors and representatives of the international diplomatic community. The latter probably referred to diplomats of lower rank than ambassador. The invitation also included a timetable which indicated that Peres would speak at 10 minutes past eight, followed by his director-general, Efrat Duvdevani, who headed his office when he was president.
The dancing and the judging of the best costume started at around 8:30 p.m.
That may have opened a possibility for diplomats to be at both events, if they were prepared to miss the formal proceedings. It is not unusual for diplomats to go to two events or even three in one night, but the geography is usually between Tel Aviv and Herzliya Pituah or even all in Tel Aviv or all in Herzliya Pituah.
Who went where vis-a-vis Peres and Bahai could not be determined by press time, but some light may be shed on the subject in Friday’s Grapevine.
■ APROPOS THE funeral of Dagan, aside from leading figures from Israel’s security establishment who accompanied him on his final journey, the security aspect was emphasized by the fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, Peres and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon each came with his own personal bodyguard, and each of the bodyguards stood behind his charge in the second row. As necessary as this may be, it is extremely annoying to people who at any time sit behind such dignitaries because the bodyguards effectively block the view of what is taking place.
■ PEOPLE WALKING or cycling in the area adjacent to Tel Aviv City Hall last Thursday were amazed to see the whole building lit up in green, and wondered why a member of the Irish Defense Forces was standing outside and playing the bagpipes. The occasion was Saint Patrick’s Day, not necessarily a familiar date to Tel Avivians; and this year, instead of holding the celebration at her residence, Irish Ambassador Alison Kelly joined many of her colleagues in different parts of the world in raising a glass of Guinness in a public building that had been greened.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai was not averse to having a glass of beer himself, and when he came on stage, he said it was the first time that he had been allowed to do so with a glass of beer in his hand.
Many of the guests wore green items of clothing or accessories. The ambassador was sporting a long green feather boa, and at least one of the female guests was wearing green nail polish. Kelly said that it was great to have so members of the Irish community in Israel come together. There were also hundreds of other people, including diplomats, entertainment and sports celebrities and business leaders.
Most of the evening’s entertainment was provided by a marvelous five-piece Irish band The Bloomers, led by guitarist and singer Daniel Manor, whose thick Irish accent does not for one moment betray the fact that he was actually born and raised in Tel Aviv to a family of Scottish descent. Singing and playing since childhood, he first came across Irish music in 2005 during a trip to Australia, where he met an Irish tin whistle player and was captivated by the sound of the music. Two years later he began playing Irish music himself, and by 2010 he was so immersed in it that he moved to Dublin, where he spent a year before returning home and sounding to all intents and purposes like a native Irishman.
For part of the evening The Bloomers provided the music for Irish dance exponent Yair Werdyger and two of his talented students from the Israel Academy of Irish Dance, which Werdyger opened in 2002. Selftaught from videos, he is the only accredited teacher and adjudicator of Irish dance in Israel and has been invited to dance and judge Irish dancing in different parts of the world. He is so talented that in January 2013 he danced with Lord of the Dance during its Israel tour.
Like many national and local government personalities, Huldai is often a hit-and-run dignitary in that he comes to a function, says whatever he has to say and moves on to the next event. But this time, he stayed around, swaying and tapping his feet in time to the music. Equally rapt was Polish Ambassador Jacek Chodorowicz, who stood right at the front of the crowd, almost mesmerized by The Bloomers’ energetic playing and singing and the intricate Irish dance steps.
■ ALTHOUGH THE site for the new National Library was made available quite some time ago, the laying of the cornerstone for what promises to be an extremely impressive complex has taken the best part of two years. The ceremony is scheduled for Tuesday, April 5, in the presence of Rivlin and Netanyahu.
The target for completing the project, including the transfer of properties from the present National Museum on the nearby Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University, is 2020. That seems to be a very long time, even though the project is relatively large. For some strange reason, construction projects in Jerusalem tend to take much longer than those in Tel Aviv, with its constantly changing skyline of tall towers. A massive, multistory construction project near the north Tel Aviv bus terminal is close to completion in less than three years. Could it be that there is less bureaucracy in Tel Aviv than in Jerusalem? ■ AT THE meeting of the Israel Hotel Association at the Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem last week, hotel general managers and representatives of the Tourism Ministry were bemoaning the decline in incoming tourism.
However, down the street from the Waldorf at the historic King David Hotel, which is largely favored by the diplomatic community, there are no rooms to be had at the end of this month. In fact, the hotel is overbooked by dignitaries and their delegations, which are all arriving in the same week.
The largest delegation is that of Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong, who is a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China and is the highest-ranked female holding political office in her country. This is not her first visit to Israel. She was here in May 2014.
This time she will be arriving with a large entourage of ministers and deputy ministers who will sign at least 15 cooperative agreements.
The Chinese have so far reserved 60 rooms in the hotel. Also arriving in the same week are United States Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Frank Lowenstein; Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and a congressional delegation headed by Lindsey Graham, the senior Republican senator for South Carolina, a former presidential candidate who last week gave his endorsement to Sen. Ted Cruz.
■ GETTING BACK to the Israel Hotel Association conference, where there was a huge attendance and a great deal of networking, Dan Marantz, the CEO of the Zomet Institute for Science and Halacha, met with Tourism Minister Yariv Levin and Yishay Barnea, the general manager of the Yehuda Hotel, who is also the chairman of the Jerusalem Hotel Association. He told them that a solution to a problem that has long plagued communal Seder night dinners at hotels has been found. Many guests sitting at the far ends of the dining room have been unable to hear the person conducting the Seder. This year several hotels have ordered sound systems that have been adapted for use on Shabbat without transgression of halachic rule. These systems are of course equally suitable for Seder night, which will help to make the occasion all the more enjoyable for numerous guests in hotels throughout the capital and beyond.
■ THE ISRAELI media in February gave loads of publicity to the Tel Aviv Marathon, and this month to the Jerusalem Marathon, but Australian diplomat Ben Rhee, the second secretary for political and economic affairs at the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv, is currently on a 16-day cross-country run on the Israel Trail, covering roughly 70-90 km. each day. The total distance is around 1,100 km.
Is Rhee crazy? No. He just happens to love Israel’s natural beauty, regards Israel’s nature trail as one of the best in the world and says that Australians have a natural connection to this land, having fought here with their allies against the Ottoman Empire in World War I, thereby paving the way for what would become the State of Israel. The Balfour Declaration was issued two days after Australian and New Zealand light horse troops won the Battle of Beersheba, which led to Gen.
Edmund Allenby’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem on foot in December 1917.
Rhee has the blessing of Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma, who is quite an athlete himself, and who while still in Australia competed in the Iron Man contest.
While understanding Rhee’s motivation, Sharma gave him only two weeks in which to complete his self-assigned mission, which he began last Friday. This means he has to be back in Tel Aviv by April 2. Rhee is looking forward to meeting a lot of interesting people along the way.
■ AS IS the case every year with the Jerusalem Marathon, special provision is made for people with disabilities who want to join the runners, even if only for a few meters. Among such people were the children of Aleh in their phosphorescent green T-shirts, who were helped in their quest by Mayor Nir Barkat, food expert and television personality Michal Ansky and Police Insp.-Gen. Roni Alsheich. Access is not only a means of getting into a building or a room. Access is also being able to participate in mainstream activities.
■ POLAND HAS more Righteous among the Nations than any other country, which stands to reason as there were more Jews in pre-World War II Poland than in any other part of Europe. Given the thousands of Poles who risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis, one would have expected the State of Israel to do more than give them a medal and a certificate; or if not the State of Israel, an umbrella group of Jewish organizations. But no, almost 71 years after the war, the Ulma Family Museum in Markowa, which is first and foremost a tribute to Wiktoria and Jozef Ulma and their six children who were brutally killed by German military police for sheltering Jews, was mainly funded by the Polish government.
Wiktoria was pregnant with her seventh child, and the Szall and Goldman families whom they sheltered were also murdered. There were good humanitarian Poles and evil anti-Semitic Poles. The humanitarian Poles risked their lives and those of their families in helping Jews, and the anti-Semitic Poles betrayed both the Jews and their Catholic neighbors to the Nazis, and sometimes even participated in the killing sprees.
The humanitarian Poles hid Jews, fed them, smuggled them across borders, gave them money for train journeys – in fact did everything that a decent human being could do for another. Though named for the Ulma family, the museum symbolizes the courage and moral conscience of thousands of Poles, some of whose stories are recorded in the museum exhibits.
The official opening of the museum last week was attended by some 2,000 people, including Polish President Andrzej Duda and Ambassador to Poland Anna Azari as well as Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich. Prayers were said and wreaths were laid in the cemetery in which the Ulma family is buried, and a service for both Jewish and Polish victims of Nazism was held at a synagogue in Lancut, the main town in the region.
One of the former Jewish residents of Markowa, Avraham Segal, 86,who was saved by local farmers and later went to Israel, sent a recording to the ceremony.
Speaking in Polish, he thanked those who had rescued him during such a critical period, and said he was grateful to have lived to have a progeny of three children, 14 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
His children and two of his granddaughters traveled from Israel to Poland to honor the righteous Poles.
Without overlooking those Poles who had brought shame to Poland, Duda said during the ceremony: “We Poles may be proud that among us were those who were not afraid to help others, even at the cost of their lives. They were true heroes.”
■ COINCIDENTALLY, THE weekend edition of The Independent carried an interview that Robert Fiske did with 104-year-old retired journalist Clare Hollingworth, who is still waiting to receive her last assignment.
In August 1939, Hollingworth was the first British journalist to report on the imminent Nazi invasion of Poland, and when it actually happened and she called the British Embassy in Warsaw from her hotel in Katowice, the diplomat who answered the phone would not believe her until she held the phone out of the window so that he could hear the rumbling of the tanks. Over the years she has also reported from Germany, Algeria, Lebanon, India, Israel and China. A journalist who enjoyed action, she always managed to be where the action was taking place.
■ ONE OF the things that people don’t know about US presidential candidate Donald Trump is that when visiting the home of his Jewish daughter, he’s probably played the role of Shabbes goy more than once. To the uninitiated, a Shabbes goy is a non-Jew who can perform tasks forbidden to a Jew on the Sabbath. One is not supposed to ask him directly but to hint at what needs doing. Some things are obvious. If the light goes out in the dining room because someone accidentally leaned against the light switch, the Shabbes goy knows exactly what to do without anyone having to play charades. Some tasks are a little harder to understand.
Trump’s daughter is a convert to Orthodox Judaism and his grandchildren are all kosher Jews. Trump likes to eat with his daughter’s family on Friday nights, and undoubtedly there have been times where his services were required.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency writer Uriel Heilman discovered that quite a few other famous personalities played the role of Shabbes goy, among them Elvis Presley, Barack Obama, Mario Cuomo, Colin Powell and Thurgood Marshall. Powell even managed to learn Yiddish. With Elvis, it was a little dicey because he may have been halachically Jewish. According to his cousin Oscar Tackett, their maternal great-great-grandmother Nancy Burdine Tackett was Jewish.
■ BOYCOTT, DIVESTMENT and Sanctions notwithstanding, people of note are still coming to Israel, and rumor has it that Kevin Costner, who stars with Gal Gadot in the action thriller Criminal, will come to Israel in early April and join Gadot at the Israeli premiere of the film.
Israeli talent is well represented in the production.
The director is Ariel Vronen. Co-producers include Boaz Davidson and Lati Grobman. Though born in Russia, Grobman has strong Israel connections. Her father is Israeli artist and poet Michail Grobman and her brother is Israeli architect Yasha Jacob Grobman.
■ WILL THE new public broadcasting service, if it ever becomes a reality, evolve into an Israeli version of Pravda? Veteran journalist and Israel Prize laureate Haim Yavin, long known as Mr. Television, believes that it will. Writing in The Marker this week, Yavin, whose career as a broadcaster began with Israel Radio in 1956, and who was the first broadcaster on Israel Television (now Channel 1) in 1968, is doubtful that the replacement for the Israel Broadcasting Authority now in liquidation will come into being, but if it does, he predicts that it will have the same personnel problems, the same budgetary problems, the same bureaucratic problems and the same political problems, with one major difference. They will all have been created by the government administration.
Yavin further predicts that the new public broadcasting service will lack objectivity and that all the positive and educational aspects of Israel Radio and Channel 1 will disappear. He doesn’t deny the faults in the IBA, but he believes that it would be a travesty to destroy a democratic institution that has served the nation so faithfully and for so long.
■ MOLDOVA IS spreading its wings in Israel and is investigating the possibility of deepening its connection with Ashdod. Moran Mano, the vice president and deputy CEO of Mano Maritime, who was recently appointed Moldova’s honorary consul in Ashdod, accompanied Moldova’s Ambassador Gabriela Moraru and Moldovan Consul Grigor Botach to a meeting with Ashdod Mayor Dr. Yehiel Lasry to discuss the opening of the Moldovan Consulate in Ashdod and areas of cooperation between Ashdod and Moldova.
The meeting, held in the presence of senior members of the Ashdod Municipal Council, was productive.
Lasry had obviously given thought to the subject and outlined a number of ideas and also asked Moraru about her proposals. It was agreed that they would meet again to discuss the issue in greater depth, but meanwhile Moraru invited Lasry to visit Moldova and to experience various aspects of the country for himself.
■ GIVEN CANADA’s good relations with Israel, it is surprising that there is not yet an inter-parliamentary Canada-Israel friendship group. That lacuna will be amended next Wednesday at a morning conference taking place in the Knesset, with the participation of members of the Canadian Parliament, the Knesset, of the Foreign Ministry, the Canadian Embassy and other interested parties. Speakers will include Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely; Liora Herzl, head of the North America division at the Foreign Ministry; David Weinberg, director of the Israel office of the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs; Ralph Jansen, deputy head of mission at the Canadian Embassy, and MKs Dr. Anat Berko and Yoel Hasson.
■ EVEN THOUGH they don’t exactly coincide this year, the person who will be happiest with the arrival of the Easter and Passover holidays will be Thessalia- Salina Shambos, the ambassador of Cyprus, who is extremely busy taking care of the itineraries and needs of visiting dignitaries from her country who are arriving almost back to back.
“Everyone wants to come – mayors, ministers, educators,” she says, explaining that it’s not only the gas deal that prompts close relations between Israel and Cyprus but also post-Holocaust history and the number of Holocaust survivors interned in Cyprus by the British Mandate authorities, who would not allow them to come to the Land of Israel, though a large number managed to be smuggled in with the help of the Hagana, which also had strong ties with Cypriot resistance fighters against the British.
During the Christian and Jewish holiday periods, Shambos will be able to take a much needed respite and will have more opportunities to spend quality time with her family.
■ WHAT HAS become an almost historic tradition among Jews, the mixing of joy with sadness, occurred last week with the death of Rabbi Ya’acov Kochav, 32, whose seventh child was born on the day he died.
Regarded as a great scholar, Kochav was the head of a kollel (an institute for advanced study of the Talmud and rabbinic literature) in Modi’in Illit. Several months earlier, Kochav had been diagnosed with a terminal disease. He was hospitalized at Tel Hashomer, and his wife was with him when he died. She then went into labor and gave birth the same day at Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center in Bnei Brak.[email protected]