As important as his meeting was with President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Moscow this week, it was no less important to President Reuven Rivlin to visit the Russian National Library to view some of the items from the extensive Ginzburg collection of Jewish books and manuscripts, some dating back to the Middle Ages.
The collection was amassed by three generations of the Ginzburg family up until Baron David Ginzburg, who died in 1910.
Following his death, many efforts were made to bring the collection to the Holy Land and subsequently to the State of Israel.
In May 1917, Russian Zionists donated 500,000 rubles for the future purchase of the collection by the National Library in Jerusalem. A contract was signed and the money was delivered, after which the collection was crated for shipment, but in the final analysis it never left Russia. The First World War was still in progress, and after the Bolshevik Revolution, the collection was seized by the Soviet authorities and sent to the Lenin library in Moscow.
Since then prominent Jewish personalities as well as the State of Israel itself have raised the issue, as did Rivlin while in Russia.
■ ZIONIST UNION MK Shelly Yacimovich took a swipe at Israel’s wealthiest woman, Shari Arison, claiming that she had introduced Good Deeds Day only because she had the money to do so, and not by any other authority. Yacimovich called it an ostentatious and trivial day and took Arison to task for not lowering the interest rates of Bank Hapoalim, of which she is the major shareholder, and not giving most of her wealth to charity.
Yacimovich apparently does not realize that while philanthropy may owe its generosity to successful business, business practices and philanthropy do not go hand in hand. Some of the toughest business people in the world, especially those involved in banking, insurance and other financial enterprises, are tough cookies almost to the extent of being cruel. But the other side of their persona gives back to the community with amazing largesse.
Yacimovich may not be aware of the fact that together with her late father, Ted Arison, Shari Arison established the Ted Arison Family Foundation that gives back to society in the spheres of health, education, children and youth, culture, art and sports, populations in distress, and disabilities.
The foundation was launched in Miami in 1981 and became active in Israel in 1993.
It has invested more than $311 million in social causes in Israel and has helped more than 1,400 organizations. Now under the leadership of Shari Arison’s eldest son, Jason Arison, the foundation not only gives but encourages others to give.
Understanding that not everyone has money to donate, Shari Arison came up with Good Deeds Day, which enables people to give of themselves as individuals or as part of a group. There is nothing ostentatious or trivial about painting the home of an elderly person, reading a story to a housebound child, helping a person with physical disabilities to climb the stairs, and so on.
When Shimon Peres was president, he joined a Good Deeds Day team in painting a rusty fence in a low income Jerusalem neighborhood.
This year he brought Arab and Jewish high school students together at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa and told them that good deeds should not be reserved for just one day of the year, but that everyone should try to perform at least one good deed on every day of the year. Jaffa has known some severe terrorist attacks, including last week, he said, but the students, by putting aside their differences and congregating together, were ambassadors of peace and tolerance.
■ GENERALLY SPEAKING, on the day that new ambassadors present credentials, their embassies get together to share the expense of a vin d’honneur reception so they can meet their colleagues from the diplomatic community as well as representatives of major companies that do business with their respective countries.
For whatever reason, there was no such get together on the day that Japanese Ambassador Koji Tomita presented his credentials, so he took the opportunity to have a party of his own at his residence in Herzliya Pituah this week, and chose to do it on the fifth anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 2011, which claimed some 16,000 lives and caused total destruction of towns and villages.
Tomita credited Israel with being the first to send a medical team to Minamisanriku and to open a field hospital in the area worst hit by the tsunami. He also praised IsraAID and ZAKA for their sterling efforts in response to the disaster. Their presence made a great difference and a strong impression, he said, praising the Israelis for being “compassionate, resilient and united.”
Tomita regretted that his wife, Noriko, had not yet come to Israel. She had remained in Tokyo to be with their son, who was taking his entrance exams for university. Fortunately, he succeeded. “I’m happy for my son, I’m happy for my wife, but above all I’m happy for myself because my wife can soon join me,” said Tomita.
Mark Sofer, who is the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general for Asia and the Pacific, noted that Tomita is an expert on Churchill and has even written a book about him.
The British-born and educated Sofer is quite knowledgeable about Churchill himself and offered Tomita three Churchillian quotes to introduce Israel to him. Although the quotes, when initially made, did not pertain to Israel, they currently apply to both countries. The first was “All great empires of the future will be empires of the mind,” which related to Japanese and Israeli superiority in hi-tech.
The second was “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity and an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” The last, said Sofer, was definitely more Israeli than Japanese: “Don’t interrupt me while I’m interrupting.”
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Rami Ben Efraim, who had been the IDF attaché in Tokyo, said that initially the injured Japanese were wary of being treated by the Israelis, but after the mayor, who had also been injured, agreed to be examined by IDF Chief Medical Officer Col. Dr. Ofir Cohen-Marom, their fears abated.
Although Japan was the most prepared country in the world for a nuclear crisis, said Ben Efraim, “this was a crisis which no country could control.”
Shachar Zahavi, the founding director of IsraAID, said that IsraAID continues to work in Japan and now feels part of the Japanese people. “In the five years after the tsunami, we have learned more than we have taught.”
As to Israel’s efforts, much as they were appreciated by Japan, Zahavi did not want to overstate their importance. “Let’s not be mistaken.
Our assistance was just a drop in an ocean of sorrow.” Also present at the reception were representatives of ZAKA and Nissim Ben-Shitrit, who had been ambassador to Japan at the time, and who had directed Israel’s aid operations.
■ ATTE NDA NCE AT the lecture and dinner at the Jewish People Policy Institute in Jerusalem this week was top heavy, as several of the journalists – both foreign and local – who showed up had not responded to the invitation, and an additional table had to be set up at the last minute.
Most had come anticipating that Dennis Ross, diplomat, author and teacher, who served as director of Policy Planning in the State Department under George H.W. Bush, special Middle East coordinator under president Bill Clinton and special adviser for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, was going to analyze the current political situation in the US and cast some light on the presidential election race.
But Ross was more inclined to talk about his prizewinning book Doomed to Succeed, which examines the US-Israel relationship from Truman to Obama. The first draft was much longer, said Ross, who cut 200 pages after his publisher told him that if he wanted more people to read the book, he couldn’t leave it at 750 pages.
In introducing Ross, who really required no introduction and is in fact a JPPI co-founder, JPPI president and founding director Avinoam Bar Yosef, a former US bureau chief for Maariv, told Ross: “Your politics are becoming more complex and difficult to understand than ours.”
Notwithstanding the fact that the US has always been regarded as Israel’s best friend, “every US administration saw Israel more as a problem than a partner,” Ross disclosed.
The teacher in him wanted to test the audience, and so he asked questions about the attitudes of different administrations toward Israel. One of these questions related to the suspension of weapons. President Ronald Reagan twice suspended weapons to Israel, and five times threatened the US-Israel relationship. He was the toughest president with Israel, but also the most transformative, said Ross. President John Kennedy was the first US president to send defense equipment to Israel. President Dwight D. Eisenhower never suspended weapons to Israel, “because he never provided weapons to Israel,” said Ross, but president Richard Nixon suspended F4 Phantom jet fighters to Israel because he wanted to reach out to Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Then secretary of state Henry Kissinger was against the suspension, but Nixon took this to be because Kissinger is Jewish. However, in the final analysis, it was Kissinger who established US relations with Egypt and Syria.
Ross admitted that America has consistently misread the priorities of Arab leaders.
Israel has to focus on the two-state solution to its conflict with the Palestinians, said Ross, because this will help to defeat the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which is not interested in a two-state outcome but is interested in no Israel at all. “It’s a mistake not to deal with the Palestinian issue,” he said, but clarified that “we will not fix the region if we fix this.”
Ross also warned that within the next few years, the majority population of the United States will be Asian, Hispanic and African- Americans who do not have a historic relationship with Israel. It would be very wise of Israel, he said, to sustain its image as a nonpartisan issue, and to take the initiative in reaching out to these communities – “not just to those who represent them on the Hill” but to community and church leaders.
As to the US elections, he said that he does not know what Donald Trump will do. All he could say was that “a lot of anger and frustration is reflected in the voting.”
In responding, Prof. Shlomo Avineri, who came with his wife, Dvora, said that the American political system is largely dysfunctional, and cited as an example the fact that Barack Obama was twice elected with a large majority, and yet is unable to implement his ideas, because the Republicans won’t let him.
Others present included former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy and his wife, Hadassa; Former Maariv editor Ido Dissenchik and his wife, Batya; former Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria chairman Dani Dayan, whom Brazil rejected as an ambassador; former justice minister Yaakov Neeman; former ambassadors to the US Sallai Meridor and Zalman Shoval. The latter, who came with his wife, Kena, has twice been ambassador to the US and will be launching his own book early next month.
■ IN HEBREW “yahad” means together.
It’s also the name of a failed political party.
There was an interesting form of togetherness when Yahad leader and former Shas leader Eli Yishai married off his daughter last week, with Jerusalem’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar among the guests. At one of the sheva brachot gatherings this week, guests included former prime minister, foreign minister and defense minister Ehud Barak, who as previously mentioned in this column is now sporting a beard. Someone, mindful that Purim is around the corner, plopped a Borsalino hat on Barak’s head, and he looked to all intents and purposes like a member of Shas or Yahad. Yishai posted the photograph on his Facebook page and wrote that his friend Barak has contributed greatly to Israel’s security.
Barak was interviewed on Israel Radio on Wednesday in connection with a new instagram that can instantly relay messages to police, paramedics, firefighters, etc., from people in distress and can show an image of where they are. He even instanced the possibility of someone sitting opposite a person they suspect of being a terrorist. The instagram can easily be sent to the police, who can see what the person looks like, which will make it easier for them to locate such a suspect. Barak has invested $1m. in the development of this application by Reporty Homeland Security.
Interviewed by Esti Perez, Barak refused to comment on anything political or of a military nature, saying that there are perfectly capable people dealing with these problems.
Perez kept pressing and also asking him if he is returning to politics. Barak said he isn’t, but she persisted. He retorted that he had already replied several times in simple Hebrew. The word has two letters, he said – lamed and alef – lo! No! He was not as definite, however, in a Channel 2 interview. When asked if he is returning to politics, he simply said that he is not there now and that he is not a prophet. Political pundits believe that with his new bearded image, the 74-year-old Barak is poised for a political comeback, and this forecast received greater impetus on Wednesday evening with the conclusion of the five-year feud between Barak and former chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, 62, who is being courted by various political parties. It would hardly come as a surprise now if the two joined forces to create their own political party.
■ ONE OF the highlights of the annual meeting of the Israel Hotel Association at the Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem this week was the presence of the next generation in the hospitality business. Not all are following in their fathers’ footsteps and going into the hotel industry, but they are engaged in related ventures.
Daniel Federmann, the son of Michael Federmann, who heads the Dan Hotel chain, is actually a third-generation representative.
The Dan chain was founded by his grandfather and great-uncle, Yekutiel and Samo Federmann. Also among the next generation were Roy Weiner, the son of Rafi Weiner, who is the general manager of Tamaris Hotels Israel, and Assaf Fattal, whose father, David, heads the Fattal hotel chain, which is one of the fastest-growing in the country.
The main thrust of the conference was the revolutionary impact of technology that enables the individual guest to choose a hotel in the exact location, at the best price, with the best amenities and with instant, push-button access to hotel services via cellphone or iPad.
What hasn’t been revolutionized as yet is the number of women at the top of the hotel pyramid. While there are a handful of hotels with women as general managers, females attending the conference were overwhelmingly outnumbered by males.[email protected]