WHILE THEIR husbands are discussing international affairs, Nechama Rivlin and Michelle Obama will be getting together for the first time and discussing common interests, such as healthy living, community service, education and the rights of adults and children with disabilities. It is customary on state visits for the visitor to bring gifts.
Generally speaking, the gifts are not of a personal nature, but the gift that Nechama Rivlin will present to the fashion-conscious Michelle Obama is very personal, yet simultaneously of a historical and ethnic nature.
Although ethnic trends are very much part of the current fashion scene, they are more of the European folklore and exotic Asian variety than the desert sands of the Middle East. Rivlin will give Obama what was once the signature fashion item of Israel – the desert coat designed for the original but long defunct Maskit by the late Finy Leitersdorf, who was Israel’s iconic designer.
Her inspiration for the cape-style coat came from the Beduin of the Negev. Leitersdorf was the head designer for the original Maskit founded by Ruth Dayan, and the desert coat was her much-admired creation, snapped up by foreign visitors to Israel and also worn by many Israelis, including Rivlin herself.
In the fashion world, what goes around comes around, and many of the styles that were fashionable a half a century and more ago have been revived and updated. Rivlin wanted to give Obama a gift that was both Israeli and universal, not to mention beautiful and useful. The current Maskit headed by Sharon Tal came into being nearly two years ago. Tal, a highly talented designer, spent three years in London as head embroidery designer for Alexander McQueen, and after returning to Tel Aviv decided that she wanted to resurrect the Maskit brand name.
She contacted Dayan and received both her blessing and her help – and all the rest is history.
■ THE LATE Michael Elkins, a celebrated journalist who reported from Jerusalem for Newsweek, CBS and the BBC, wrote the book Forged in Fury about Jews who resisted the Nazis in wartime, and who tracked them down after the war and executed them to avenge the evil perpetrated against the Jewish people. He would be happy to know that one of those avengers, Haim Miller, who is still living, will receive the Kibbutz Industry Prize. The award will be given at a festive ceremony in the framework of the annual kibbutz industry conference, which will take place at Kibbutz Shefayim on Wednesday, December 16.
The prize is in recognition of Miller’s contribution over a period of seven decades to the success of Kibbutz Kfar Menachem’s metal factory. Miller was among the German immigrants who came to the kibbutz in the early 1940s and established a small repair shop for metal appliances. Over the years, the repair shop developed into a large metals plant.
Miller joined the German-speaking division of Palmach during World War II, and was sent to Europe, where he joined the avengers unit that executed Nazis known to have murdered Jews. He returned to the kibbutz in 1946, and has worked in the factory plant ever since, taking time out to serve in the War of Independence. He still arrives early in the morning and works a full shift into the evening.
When Miller was 90, the plant’s security manager told him that in view of his advanced age, he could no longer drive a forklift truck, a directive that Miller was most unhappy to receive. He still has plenty of energy, he says.
■ THIS SEEMS to be an era in which nonagenarians remain active. Former Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar, who turned 90 in August this week, launched his autobiography Tam Ve Lo Nishlam, roughly translated as It’s Over, But Not Yet Completed.
A large representation of Israel’s legal luminaries attended, as well as people not in the legal profession, such as Israel’s most famous nonagenarian Shimon Peres, 92.
Also in their nineties and still active are peace activist Ruth Dayan, 98, honorary World WIZO president Raya Jaglom, 96; former secretary general of Naamat Tamar Eshel, 95, journalist Walter Bingham, 91, and Jerusalem Post archivist and journalist Alexander Zvielli, 94, who has been employed at the paper for more than 70 years.
Joining the nonagenarians in the last week of December will be former Knesset member Geula Cohen, who is the mother of Tzahi Hanegbi, and who in her post-Knesset period has devoted herself to perpetuating the works of Uri Zvi Greenberg; and former foreign and defense minister Moshe Arens. Cohen will turn 90 on December 25 (which incidentally was also the birthday of slain Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who was born 97 years ago), and Arens will celebrate his 90th birthday on December 27.
While radio stations in many parts of the world will be playing Christmas carols on December 24, in Israel in all likelihood, there will be a Yaffa Yarkoni marathon.
Yarkoni, who died in January, 2012 was born on December 24, 90 years ago.
■ LON GEVITY WAS a rarity two centuries ago when the first chancellor of Germany Otto von Bismarck in 1889 determined that retirement age and pension eligibility would be 70. The average life expectancy in Prussia at that time was 45. Anyone aged 70 or more was regarded as ancient. But these days 70 is relatively young.
When he was 24 years old, and elected mayor of Kiryat Malachi, it is doubtful that Israel’s eighth president Moshe Katsav imagined in his worst nightmare that he would celebrate his 70th birthday in prison.
Katsav, who turned 70 on December 5, was the first resident of Kiryat Malachi to earn a university degree. He was also the first president of Israel to be sentenced to prison. He was also the first president elected to serve a seven-year term, which he did not quite complete.
Curiously, his prison sentence for rape, other sexual offenses and obstruction of justice was likewise for seven years. Katsav entered Maasiyahu prison on December 7, 2011 and has already served more than half his sentence. Prior to his election, presidents of Israel served a five-year term with an option for a second term. The seven-year period was introduced during the second term of Israel’s seventh president Ezer Weizman, who had to step down due to the discovery of fiscal improprieties.
Although not charged with bribery and tax evasion, following a very public investigation, Weizman had to yield to public pressure. His lawyer at the time was Yehuda Weinstein who is today the Attorney General.
The last president to serve two full five year-terms was Israel’s sixth president Chaim Herzog.
Katsav comes to mind, not because he is in prison, but because one of the most positive aspects of his presidency was the emphasis he placed on the welfare of senior citizens.
This week Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli would have certainly earned Katsav’s support when he spoke at the Knesset Labor and Social Welfare committee meeting about how his late grandmother Sayida had been cheated by the system, along with more than a million other senior citizens who required nursing care, due to reforms in the collective insurance law for nursing care. Many of those affected had been paying insurance for upwards of 25 years and were certain that they would be properly cared for in their old age. But in fact all those payments have gone down the drain, and many of those in need of nursing care do not have the financial resources to pay for it, and so far, no one is going to reimburse them for money lost.
■ IT IS purely coincidence that Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan decided to celebrate the birth of his son Arel, the youngest of his four children, a day after Roni Alsheikh officially became Commissioner of Police. The baby was born two months ago, and the circumcision ceremony was held in a small family circle. But the somewhat larger party on Friday looked like a Likud reunion of past and present ministers and MKs, plus a coalition partner or two such as Arye Deri.
Of course Alsheikh was there, but even more interestingly was the presence of both President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who could have saved themselves a lot of time by riding back to Jerusalem together and having their meeting in the car. The two met on Friday to discuss, among other things, Rivlin’s visit to the United States to meet with President Barack Obama, whom Rivlin is scheduled to visit at the White House Wednesday. Rivlin, who unfailingly tells visiting American politicians that Israel’s foreign policy is based on three essential points: relations with the US; relations with the US; and relations with the US, is bound to say something of a similar nature to Obama.
Rivlin is unwavering in his belief that America is Israel’s greatest ally.
■ ON THE subject of babies, on December 1, Adi Huja gave birth to a baby girl.
This was in the nature of a pre-Hanukka miracle, not only for her but for Prof. Avi Rivkind, who in January 2001, as head of the Hadassah General Surgery and Trauma Department, treated Adi, then 14 and at death’s door following a terrorist attack in downtown Jerusalem, and against all odds brought her back to life. Every life he saves is a triumph for Rivkind, but in this case, it was an additional triumph to see Adi and her baby.
■ IN OCTOBER , Jerusalem’s Waldorf Astoria hotel was ranked #1 in the Middle East and seventh in the world in the 28th annual Readers Choice Awards conducted by Conde Nast Traveler, with 128,000 travelers participating. Now the hotel is vying to have a dish jointly created by Waldorf Astoria Executive Chef Itzik Barak and Joseph JJ Johnson, from The Cecil and Minton’s in Harlem, New York, chosen for the top spot in the Taste of Waldorf Astoria competition, a global culinary contest conducted by Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and the James Beard Foundation (JBF), one of America’s leading culinary arts enterprises.
They are competing with five other contestants to create the iconic Waldorf dish to be placed on the menus of all 25 Waldorf hotels. Some 50 people, including food writers, journalists in other fields, PR people, chefs, and vinters were invited to a tasting of a Seven Species Fish dish, which was exquisitely garnished and presented with a crunchy topping. The dish met with general approval, even though palates may have been somewhat blunted by a variety of pre-tasting servings of various Waldorf menu items, including the famed Eggs Benedict.
While the food was indeed tasty, the service was slow and left much to be desired.
Although it was difficult to see what was happening at other tables, the waitress assigned to the table of this columnist dumped individual helpings in the center of the table instead of serving them to each diner, and there were never enough for everyone, even taking into account that one person at the table was vegetarian, and some of the dishes included meat.
Worse still, when the dessert platters of fruits and pastries were placed on the table, the server neglected to bring plates and forks. Motti Verses, head of Hilton Israel Public Relations, acknowledged the slow service saying, “at Waldorf we do things slowly but surely.” The compensation for the inferior service was a box of the renowned Waldorf Red Velvet cake, which, though somewhat of a shocker to the eye, is absolutely delicious and retains its soft, moist texture for several days.
The final judging for the Taste of Waldorf will take place in New York on February 24, 2016 when a panel of culinary luminaries will determine the winning dish. Asked if he will remain in Jerusalem or move to the Big Apple if he wins, Barak laughed and replied that he couldn’t say beforehand. He would have to win before making a decision one way or the other.
■ THAILAND’S AMBASSADOR Angsana Sihapitak made sure that her guests at the Tel Aviv Hilton who came to join her in celebrating the 88th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej would have a taste of Thai food, but contrary to usual practice, they had to wait until the formalities were over before they could eat.
Welfare and Social Services Minister Haim Katz was originally scheduled to represent the government and to convey birthday greetings via the ambassador to the king, but was called to an urgent meeting, and his place was taken by Likud MK Miki Zohar, who treated the assignment with far greater respect than demonstrated by ministers and read the text that had been prepared by the Protocol Department of the Foreign Ministry, with great feeling and a tone of utter sincerity, which made an excellent impression on a large number of his listeners.
What was quite amazing was when both he and the ambassador spoke, there was absolute silence in the room. Usually there is so much noise at such events that even those who stand close to the speakers have trouble in hearing due to the background cacophony.
Sihapitak, wearing a superbly crafted traditional Thai silk outfit, bowed to her guests before she spoke, and noted that the king is the world’s longest reigning monarch, having been crowned in May 1950. Throughout his reign, she said, he has dedicated himself to the betterment of his people, bringing them happiness and well-being through numerous projects that he initiated.
In addition, he has remained the center of unity in the nation. A wide-ranging exhibition in the foyer leading to the ballroom illustrated the many good works which the king has personally engaged in for the benefit of his subjects.
The ambassador also touched on Thailand’s upcoming elections in 2016 to reinstall national stability and ensure sustainability in all aspects. Both she and Zohar spoke of the excellent relations between Thailand and Israel, which were established 61 years ago, and of the attraction which Thailand holds for Israeli tourists who flock there in their multitudes. Zohar also mentioned that Mashav, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation and TICA the Thailand International Cooperation Agency held a course on water management resources and the uses of water in family agriculture at Thailand’s Khon Kaen University. Hinting that Israel may divert its major market interests from Europe to Asia, Zohar said that Thailand, as a key member of the Association of South East Asian Nations, with one of the largest economies in Asia, could help Israel by promoting Israel’s economic involvement with ASEAN member countries.
Like all of the previous King’s birthday celebrations, this one included traditional Thai dancers and musicians, but this time, the musicians also played Hava Nagila. After the formalities, some of the Israelis present asked the Thais to teach them the steps of the Thai dances, and the circle kept growing bigger and bigger as more guests joined in.
■ A COUPLE of months back, Chinese ambassador Zhan Yongxin, at his national day reception at the Hilton, made sure that a variety of Chinese delicacies were served, and now the Dan chain is going Chinese throughout all the hotels in the chain.
Rafi Sadeh, the general manager of the Dan chain, along with Amir Halevy, the director general of the Ministry of Tourism, hosted a reception for a group of visiting Chinese chefs at the Dan Tel Aviv.
The Chinese chefs were in Israel to conduct workshops for their Israeli colleagues working in the various Dan hotels. Among the guests at the reception were Haim Spiegel, the food and beverage manager of the Dan chain, and Raviv Schwartz, the head of the Dan Gourmet cooking school. While the Chinese chefs were teaching the Israelis the secrets of Chinese cuisine, the Israelis were sharing with them the secrets of Israeli cuisine, which means that Israeli visitors to China will soon be able to get a taste of home, even when so far away.
■ KAZAKHSTAN AMBASSADOR Doulat Kuanyshev has no doubt asked the chefs at the David Continental Hotel to prepare some of the delicacies that are popular in his country for the Kazakhstan National Day reception that he will be hosting tomorrow night, but before that he will spend a good part of the day in Jerusalem at the opening of an international conference on Great Migrations: Settlements of Asia Minor, which will be held at the Hadassah Academic College. Kuanyshev will be one of the speakers as will several Kazakhstan academics.
Other scheduled speakers are from Israel, Norway and Russia. The conference, organized within the UN “International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures” (2013- 2022) framework and in support of Action Plan of UNESCO for the above mentioned decade, is hosted by the embassy of Kazakhstan in collaboration with Hadassah Academic College and the Kazakh non-profit private Culture Foundation.
■ NOT ALL dignitaries and celebrities are instantly recognized by the public. While the names of such people may be household words, photographs of them may not often appear in the media, and thus even seasoned journalists might fail to identify them. That’s what happened to Makor Rishon’s Yitzchak Hildesheimer when he went to the President’s Residence to cover the visit of German President Joachim Gauk, who had arrived with a huge media contingent as well as a large number of German officials.
Standing next to a grey-haired woman, Hildesheimer asked her if she speaks English, and when he detected an accent in her reply, asked if she also speaks Hebrew.
“I should,” she replied. “I’m the wife of the President of the State.” Hildesheimer could be excused. Although as a boy he’d lived in the same Jerusalem street as Reuven Rivlin’s grandparents, whom he knew well, he had never met Rivlin’s wife Nechama.
■ ONE OF the many qualities of left wing icon Yossi Sarid, who passed away last Friday, was his well-honed sense of humor.
Though many people may have thought it insensitive on the part of Yediot Aharonot to run a cartoon about him on the day of his funeral, one suspects that Sarid in all likelihood would have been amused. The cartoon, by Yotam Fishbein shows Sarid arriving on a cloud in heaven to be greeted by a white-gowned Shulamit Aloni, his predecessor as Meretz leader. “Ho, Shalom,” she says, to which Sarid replies: “I understand that here it’s still possible to use that word.”
■ THE SEVENTH annual Australia, Israel UK Dialogue will take place at the King David Hotel and the Knesset on December 13 and 14. The dialogue is being led by Albert Dadon, Chairman of the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange Ltd (AICE) and founder and executive chairman of the Ubertas Group, a prominent property development company of medium and high-density projects in residential apartments.
The company markets its products in Australia and Asia.
Dadon supports numerous philanthropic initiatives and is deeply involved in a range of activities covering international affairs and cultural events within Australia and abroad.
In 2008, Dadon was awarded an Order of Australia for services to the arts – particularly through the Melbourne Jazz Festival – to the community through philanthropic support for cultural and charitable organizations, and to business.
He founded AICE in 2002, and more recently the Australia Israel Leadership Forum, which promotes bilateral relations between Australia and Israel. The first Forum took place in Israel in June 2009 under the leadership of Julia Gillard, who later became prime minister of Australia.
Following the success of several forum gatherings, Dadon decided to expand participation to include British leaders as well.
Dadon, who was born in Morocco and grew up in Dimona, and subsequently in Toulouse, France, before settling in Australia in 1983, is also a jazz musician and has released five albums since 1990.
Subjects to be discussed by speakers at the forum include BDS, Facebook jihadism, and the US-Iranian deal.
■ FORMER LITHUAN IAN Ambassador Darius Degutis and his wife Nida had an extraordinary affinity for Israel. Their love for and familiarity with the country – its beauty spots, its food, its culture and its history, transcended that of many ambassadors of the Jewish faith, who, though they made no secret of their Zionist sympathies, simply did not equal the enthusiasm and outpouring of affection that Degutis and his wife lavished on all things Israeli. Unlike the overwhelming majority of their colleagues, they chose not to live in Herzliya Pituah or Kfar Shmaryahu, but in the heart of Tel Aviv, where they could feel the true pulse of Israeli life. The multi-talented Nida Degutis wrote books and magazine and newspaper articles about Israel and continues to do so.
Moreover, the couple never forgets to send appropriate greetings to Israeli friends and acquaintances on every Jewish holiday, including Hanukka. The message for the festival read: Hag Hanukka Sameach from Vilnius, with warmest wishes and lots of love, Nida and Darius.