Grapevine: People of the book

President Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, hosted a reception this week for members of the Global Forum of the National Library of Israel.

October 21, 2014 21:31
Reuven Rivlin.

President Reuven Rivlin.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

In the pre-digital age – when libraries attracted people who loved books not only for their content, but for their hardcovers, smell and the way they were bound – a few volumes invariably went missing, often never to return but occasionally reappearing after a year or two or three. Sometimes borrowers surreptitiously placed the missing books where they would easily be found, other times borrowers shamefacedly owned up to having been somewhat tardy in retracing his or her footsteps.

But the record for returning a long-lost book goes to President Reuven Rivlin, even though he was not actually the guilty party.

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At a reception which he and his wife, Nechama, hosted this week for members of the Global Forum of the National Library of Israel, Rivlin surprised National Library chairman David Blumberg by returning an old book published nearly 200 years ago, and presumably borrowed from the library.

The book, Birat Migdal Oz (Tower of Strength), was written by Rabbi Ya’akov Emden (aka The Ya’abetz) in the early part of the 1800s. It had been found in the synagogue at the President’s Residence, and Rivlin – who has enormous respect for both literature and the law – decided it should be restored to its rightful place.

■ HAD SHE not died prematurely, fans of Amy Winehouse would have probably paid a lot more than the NIS 450 a ticket that Friends of Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People shelled out for the gala opening of the exhibition on the artist this week.

The affluent and generous Friends of Beit Hatfutsot make it possible for families from peripheral communities, soldiers and others far from the echelons of wealth to come and enjoy all the museum has to offer. In addition to the usual guests, attendees included British Ambassador Matthew Gould and his wife, Celia, and guitarist Robin Banerjee, who accompanied Winehouse at her concerts.

Both the exhibition and the ambiance were on a different plane from anything participants had previously experienced at Beit Hatfutsot, and even Assia Reuven, its longtime public relations director who has more or less been there, done that and seen it all, was sufficiently impressed to exclaim, “This is something else!” Gould said he would have loved to have met Winehouse, whom he described as an incredible artist and a talented musician-singer. What they both had in common, he observed, was being descendants of Jewish great-grand parents who had migrated to the UK from Eastern Europe in the 19th century.

Banerjee recalled that Winehouse frequently used Hebrew words in her patter, and that she was very close with her family. “I would trade all the memories just to have her back,” he said.

Alex Winehouse, the singer’s brother, was unable to attend but sent a message, noting that his sister had been incredibly proud of her Jewish-London roots. “We weren’t religious, but we were traditional,” he said, adding that he hoped the world would get to see the other side – not just of Amy, but of their typical Jewish family.

He was very happy the exhibition honoring his sister was going on show in Tel Aviv, he said. Approximately a month after her passing in 2011, he had come to Israel with his wife and been blown away by the warmth and love that had been shown to them. “It is fair to say that the openness and empathy shown by the people of Tel Aviv helped us through what was an incredibly traumatic and sad time,” he stated. Thus, when the opportunity came to take the exhibition to the White City, the Winehouse family was obviously delighted to give its consent.

The entertainment naturally centered on songs from the Winehouse repertoire, only this time the singer was Cali Rivlin, who was of course accompanied by Banerjee. Rivlin’s website includes a photograph of her and Banerjee standing against the backdrop of a huge portrait of Winehouse; the performance was under the title of “Back to Amy.” The event was hosted by Reuven Adler, the chairman of Friends of Beit Hatfutsot and his wife, Ronit, along with Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, chairman of the museum’s board of governors; Irina Nevzlin Kogan, chairwoman of its board of directors; CEO Dan Tadmor; and Irit Admoni Perlman, director of the Friends.

Seen in the crowd were Ami Federmann, the deputy chairman of the Dan Hotels chain who came with his daughter, Daniela; Eti and Gad Propper; Tova and Sami Sagol; Pnina Ramon; Eti and Gabi Roter; Lizika and Ami Sagi; and Tova and Amnon Dotan. They were among many other well-known figures from Israel’s business community, which despite all the criticisms leveled at the nation’s tycoons, continues to actively support numerous cultural, educational and social welfare projects.

In keeping with British tradition, the fare was fish and chips.

■ “KANPAI,” THE traditional Japanese toast equivalent to “Cheers” or “L’chaim,” was pronounced many times on Monday night, as guests at the official opening of Japanese Culture Week in Jerusalem’s First Station downed glass after glass of sake – urged on by the ebullient Atsuhide Kato, the 11th-generation president and CEO of Katokichibee Shoten, which produces prize-winning ranges of sake.

The event started later than anticipated because some of the dignitaries, including Japanese Ambassador Shigeo Matsutomi and his vivacious and charming wife, Kaori, had been busy across the way attending a traditional Japanese tea party. Like several of the Japanese women present, Kaori Matsutomi chose to wear an exquisitely embroidered Japanese kimono, with her feet clad in the traditional sandals and white socks.

Among the dignitaries present were Japanese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kentaro Sonoura; legendary sumo wrestler Konishiki Yasokichi, who good-naturedly agreed to pose for photos with dozens of admirers; outgoing Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who came with wife, television personality Geula Even – who has a profession in common with Kaori Matsutomi; Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who came with his wife, Beverly; Foreign Ministry director-general Nissim Ben-Shitrit, who is a former ambassador to Japan; former cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser; outgoing bureau chief in the Prime Minister’s Office Eyal Haimovsky; former chief of staff in the Prime Minister’s Office Gil Sheffer; and former deputy mayor of Jerusalem Yigal Amedi.

Master of ceremonies was Eli Cohen, Ben-Shitrit’s immediate predecessor as Israel’s ambassador to Japan, who also happens to be an exponent of Japanese martial arts – of which he gave a demonstration, using a genuine Samurai sword. The Matsutomis, when asked whether he was good, replied that Cohen was indeed very good and very focused. In his role as MC, Cohen – who is also fluent in Japanese – translated from Hebrew to Japanese and back, and dropped a few sentences in English as well: just another example of the multi-talents of the members of the Foreign Ministry.

Prior to the official part of the evening, guests were treated to a kosher buffet that proved there’s a lot more than sushi to Japanese cuisine, though the sushi was certainly plentiful and varied. There were also performances by the dazzling Heavenese drum band from Tokyo, which is visiting Israel for the first time; as well as by singer Mieko Miyazaki, playing a traditional Japanese instrument like a harp but horizontally rather than vertically, accompanied by violinist Manuel Solans and Tel Aviv jazz musician Hagai Leshem.

Barkat said that he and his wife had visited Japan many times, most recently around three months ago, and had always been intrigued by the country’s culture – which though as ancient as Jewish culture, is so different. When the idea of a Japanese cultural event was first proposed, he said, he did not want it to be a single happening, but a full week of cultural exchange, so that Israelis could get a comprehensive taste of it.

He hoped to see a Jerusalem Week in Japan some time soon. “The more people know about Jerusalem and our heritage, the stronger we become,” said Barkat.

Sa’ar took the concept a little further, and said he looked forward to an Israel Week in Japan. He was most appreciative of the fact that “in Jerusalem, we are beginning to climb the high mountain of Japanese culture.”

Sonoura noted that cultural festivals of this kind serve to deepen bilateral relations not only on the part of governments and politicians, but also between the citizens of both countries. The current Japanese Culture Week, he said, enables people to experience the diversity of traditional and modern Japanese culture. Currently gaining popularity in Japan, he added, are Israeli Laline soaps and Max Brenner chocolates, in line with an array of other Israeli products including Jamila Soaps, whose kafiya-wearing CEO Fuad Hir was also present.

Sonoura announced that both Israel and Japan are working towards granting work visas that will enable young people to work in each other’s countries.

■ AFTER CAMPAIGNING intensively for more women to be on the boards of public companies, Vered Swed, director-general of the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women, has scored a victory with regard to the incoming Council of the Second Authority for Television and Radio. Of the 15 members, 10 are women, and needless to say, the chair will also be a woman.

Swed called on retired judge Shalom Brenner, who is responsible for investigating appointments to government bodies, to give his seal of approval to the council, which had already been approved by the government in its acceptance of the proposal of Communications Minister Gilad Erdan. Brenner answered the call with alacrity, and gave the new council the green light.

In welcoming the decision, Swed said it heralded a new era in television, because a female majority is likely to tackle numerous issues in a different and more gender-balanced manner than has been the case to date.

■ MANIFESTATIONS of xenophobia among both Jewish and Arab sectors of Israeli society pose a serious threat to the stability of democracy.

Both President Rivlin and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu have come out strongly against any and all expressions of racism and incitement, as has Education Minister Shai Piron.

But xenophobia is not the only social malady casting an ugly blot on Israel’s social image.

Another is sexual perversion, and to avoid misunderstandings, this does not refer to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, but to pedophiles and unscrupulous physicians – nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists – who turn children and naïve or fragile patients into victims. The worst part is that there is no specific profile which would help identify such people before they cause the kind of harm that turns life into an ongoing traumatic nightmare for those preyed upon.

Judges, lawyers, police, doctors, academics, journalists and others rank among pedophiles, who have been apprehended by law enforcement officials over the last few years. Pedophilia has become much more rampant with the advent of the Internet, and parents often remain blissfully unaware of the traps into which their children are walking.

Channel 1, on its Second Look (Mabat Sheni) program at 9 p.m. tonight, will introduce the public to the pedophilia hunters – private individuals who have taken it upon themselves to do all they can to prevent this scourge from robbing Israel’s children of their innocence.

The task is complex, not only because hundreds of pedophiles freely roam the country, but because after they are arrested, charged, convicted and imprisoned, they return to their old haunts and habits after serving their time.

Some realize they are sick and opt to have treatment that will eliminate their sexual urges.

However, the majority does not seek treatment and refuses it when it is offered.

The program, which every parent of a young child should watch, will also be screened in HD on HOT and YES channels.

■ ARGUABLY THE most dedicated supporters of Musicians of Tomorrow, a teaching and training program for musically gifted children living in communities in Israel’s northern periphery, are Evelyn and Howard Ross, formerly of England and for many years residents of Herzliya Pituah. Musicians of Tomorrow was established in 2006 by internationally acclaimed violin virtuoso Maxim Vengerov and Dr. Anna Rosnovsky, who was previously first violinist in the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Rosnovsky and Evelyn Ross go back a long way. Ross was one of the famous 35, a group of British Jewish women in their mid-30s, most of them housewives, who bonded together in the struggle for Soviet Jewry. Rosnovsky, who hails from Moscow, was one of the Soviet Jews on whose behalf they staged demonstrations. Rosnovsky eventually got to Israel in 1974, and she and Ross have maintained an ongoing relationship – not only on the basis of the past, but also due to a shared love of music. While Ross is not a professional musician, she loves to sit and play the grand piano in her living room.

When Musicians of Tomorrow came into being, it was a given that Ross would be swept along on the tide of enthusiasm, and that other supporters would include other former members of the 35 who have settled in Israel, as well as the large number of British Jews who live in north Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Kfar Shmaryahu, Hod Hasharon, Ra’anana and Netanya, and continue to socialize with one another and contribute in different ways to numerous cultural and social welfare organizations.

With barely a handful of exceptions, the 80-plus people who crowded into the Ross home for a musical memorial tribute to late loyal supporters David Clayton and Michael Gee were all Brits, who for the most part were well-known to each other and included members of the Clayton and Gee families.

All the musicians were MoT veterans, with the exception of the highly personable 9-yearold Evyatar Even-Haim from Hatzor, whose self-confidence and charming grin enabled him to steal every heart. This was the first concert for the young cellist, who began playing only five month earlier under the tutelage of Leat Sabbah, who studied cello and composition at the Manhattan School of Music and London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

When she came to Israel four years ago, Sabbah settled in Rosh Pina and went looking for students, placing notices in places where she hoped they would be seen. As it happened, Rosnovsky saw a notice Sabbah had pinned to a tree, listened to her play, and instantly put her on staff. Sabbah has brought the students to new heights. The Musicians of Tomorrow are so good and so well-trained that they inspire people to contribute to their future, and to that of other young musicians who will come after them.

Genia Gerchikov, one of the graduates of the program, who returned to play in the memorial concert, had an old violin that was falling to pieces. Thanks to contributions by supporters, she was able to acquire a new violin.

In fact, when pledge cards were distributed at the conclusion of the concert, almost everyone present filled them in – which means the project can expand, and more musically gifted youngsters whose parents cannot afford to buy them a musical instrument will receive one anyway.

Rosnovsky treats all the children and their parents as extended family members. “People who live in the periphery are not just part the scenery, they’re human beings, and their talents should be respected and taken into consideration,” she said.

Thanks to the fact that enlarged premises were made available, the project curriculum has been expanded and Rosnovsky looks forward to the day when there will be sufficient financial support to pay teachers of all major musical instruments – so that the potential of the Musicians of Tomorrow will not go to waste. She sees them as great cultural envoys for Israel.

■ SEVERAL DAYS before Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes sent a letter to Michelle Obama, asking America’s first lady to convene an international conference of the wives of leading politicians in the hope they might succeed in making peace where men have failed, more than 200 well-known and lesser-known personalities, including among others several Israel Prize laureates, singer Achinoam Nini; writer and former MK Yael Dayan and her mother, Ruth Dayan; former government minister Yair Tsaban; sculptor Dani Karavan; Yona Oren, one of the founders of Kibbutz Magen in the western Negev; Jerusalem Post columnist Gershon Baskin; and retired diplomat Alon Liel, signed a petition which appeared as a full-page advertisement in Haaretz, asking US President Barack Obama and Netanyahu not to miss a window of opportunity in the Middle East, and to respond to the order of the day by convening an international Middle East peace conference based on the Arab peace initiative.

If the matter was raised during the meeting in Washington between Obama and Netanyahu, it has remained a secret – because as far as the wider public is concerned, nothing was done.

This being the case, Nir-Mozes decided that if a male Obama couldn’t do the trick, perhaps a female Obama might be more amenable. Time will tell if she was correct in that assessment.

■ DURING HIS visit to Israel last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stayed at the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv, which is not at all surprising considering the Dan has been the venue for Korean National Day, tourist promotion and business events. Prior to becoming secretary-general, Ban was a career diplomat with South Korea’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.

South Korea’s current Ambassador Kim Il-Soo is just finishing up his tenure, and will soon be going home.

Meanwhile, construction is continuing on South Korea’s permanent embassy in Herzliya.

The project was commenced by Kim Il-Soo’s predecessor Yong-Sam Ma. In April 2009, the government of the Republic of Korea decided to purchase 0.4 hectares (about 1 acre) of land on which to establish a permanent embassy building. The cornerstone was laid in July 2011, and the expectation is for the building to be completed some time in 2015 or 2016.

Dan Hotel general manager Itai Eliaz had staff roll out the red carpet for a guest of Ban’s importance, and also organized a cocktail reception in his honor. Ban arrived at the Dan Hotel at the head of a sizable entourage.

■ IT IS rare for Sarah Klein, a resident of Jerusalem who made aliya from Australia more than 20 years ago, to have all three of her children in her home. Her daughter, Nava, lives within walking distance, but is frequently abroad within the framework of her profession. Her son Ishai lives in Singapore, but makes a point of coming to Jerusalem for Succot. Her other son Gideon is temporarily living in California, and she had no warning that he would knock on her door only an hour before Simhat Torah, though in a phone conversation earlier that day he had asked her what was on the menu for dinner.

But Klein has a milestone birthday coming up at the end of the month, and her children decided the best present they could give her – albeit not on the actual date – was for them to all be together. So they organized a surprise party.

As soon as the holiday period was over, Gideon decided to take her to coffee at Mamilla Café, where Nava, Ishai and friends from Australia were waiting along with Ishai’s wife, Tammy, and their three children; Tammy’s parents, Noah and Ellen Lightman, who were visiting from Baltimore; and Gideon’s in-laws, Ariel and Claude Richard-Tenenbaum, who live in Jerusalem but also have an apartment in Tel Aviv. Klein stood open-mouthed in amazement.

Even her grandchildren, the youngest of whom is three, who had been in on the secret, had managed not to let the cat out of the bag.

Good things often come in clusters, and Klein may not have to wait as long for another family reunion. Gideon’s sister-in-law is getting married in December, and it looks as if the Klein siblings and their mother will be together again on that occasion.

■ WHEN HE travels to Poland next week, President Rivlin will be greeted by Anna Azari, Israel’s new ambassador to Poland, whose embassy is proof that in the Foreign Ministry, women tend to suffer less discrimination than elsewhere. Azari is one of several female ambassadors representing Israel abroad but in her case, her deputy is also a woman. Ruth Cohen-Adar, who serves as deputy chief of mission, took up her new posting together with Azari at the beginning of September.

Moreover, the cultural attache at the Israel Embassy in Warsaw is also a woman – Anna Ben-Ezra.

Azari, who succeeded Zvi Rav-Ner, who completed his term in August, previously served as ambassador in Russia, Ukraine and Moldova. Unlike most of her predecessors in the embassy in Warsaw, Azari was not born in Poland, but in neighboring Lithuania.

■ GERMANY AND Israel are this year marking the 50th anniversary of a diplomatic relationship, which met with angry opposition when it developed out of frank but cordial meetings between founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion and Germany’s first postwar chancellor, Konrad Adenauer. While the atrocities committed by the Nazis remain an indelible mark of shame on Germany’s history and a permanent scar on the Jewish psyche, initial mistrust by Jews both in Israel and the Diaspora was replaced by strong bonds of friendship.

Incongruous though it may seem, Germany is one of Israel’s best friends in Europe and Israel’s third-largest trading partner after China and the US. Moreover, Germany is one of the few countries – if not the only country in the world – in which the Jewish community is growing rather than shrinking, enhanced in recent years by an Israeli exodus to Berlin.

There, in the German capital, with the exception of housing, prices are cheaper, culture is more plentiful and intellectually stimulating, and the rest of Europe is so much more easily accessible by plane, train, bus and car; in some places, one can even cross the border on foot.

Within the framework of the jubilee celebrations between Germany and Israel, as well as to mark the Day of German Unity – the celebration of which was delayed in Israel due to the holiday period – German Ambassador Andreas Michaelis will this Thursday host a reception at which Rivlin will be the guest of honor.

While Germany’s political, diplomatic and trade relations with Israel are fairly common knowledge, less is known about the many scientific and cultural agreements between the two countries or the amazing number of Germans, from high schoolers to senior citizens, who come to Israel to do volunteer work with Holocaust survivors and with children and adults with mental and physical disabilities. Some of these volunteers come two to three times a year, and although their initial visits may be out of a sense of guilt, they have learned to love the country and have endeared themselves to the people who benefit from their care. This special kind of people-to-people contact has helped dilute lingering antagonisms.

Furthermore, there are several German foundations operating in Israel and in the social-cum-commercial sphere, the annual Munich Oktoberfest inspired celebrity chef Yonatan Roshfeld to have a similar beer festival, albeit on a much smaller scale, at his Tapas Restaurant on Tel Aviv’s Ahad Ha’am Street, beginning on October 26 and continuing until November 1.

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