Grapevine: Broadening artistic perspectives

Holocaust rescuer Chiune Sigilhara to be honored and US high schoolers to help the poor.

February 2, 2010 23:17
Benfitting Bezalel: Fashion designer Donna Karan (

ruth westheimer dkny 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

AFTER HAVING honored Shenkar College in previous years, iconic fashion designer Donna Karan attended a gala benefit dinner for Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design last Thursday in New York. Addressing a large gathering of Bezalel supporters that included internationally famous sexologist Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Karan said: “Bezalel embodies the values I hold dear because it is about bringing people together for the purpose of creativity, diversity, spirituality, passion, imagination, innovation – art. Professionally, as an artist and a designer I understand the need for young artists to receive instruction and formal training in an open and tolerant environment. Bezalel cultivates innovators whose artistic messages of beauty and unity transcend borders and politics.

“Bezalel provides a forum for students from all over Israel to interact, engage and ultimately broaden each other’s artistic perspectives. Bezalel programs empower youth and preserve the cultures of all ethnic and religious groups in Israel through art. They break down cultural prejudices, building a greater understanding of the region’s shared heritage as a means to respect and appreciate the area’s diverse cultures and to advance peace in the region.

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“For young Jews and Arabs growing up in all corners of Israel, their dreams can be realized by all of the opportunities that a Bezalel education has to offer. Our presence here together makes that possible.”

Aside from bringing together some of New York’s more affluent and best known figures, the event also showcased the work of fashion and jewelry students and recent graduates from the Bezalel Academy. Several students from the academy currently on exchange programs in New York attended and were excited to have the opportunity meet Karan and talk to her about their work.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who was in the Big Apple only a couple of months ago, was unable to schedule a return visit at this time, but sent a videotaped message of appreciation. Each guest received a wine bottle and T-shirt featuring the “Butterflies” image of Bezalel alumnus and New York resident, Nir Hod.

n AND IN London in the same week, fashion designer Pnina Tornai, appearing at a fund-raiser on behalf of the Israel Cancer Association, showed off her latest collection. Sitting in the audience in addition to British supporters of ICA, were singer Rita, a close friend of Tornai, and Ambassador Ron Prosor. An auction for a custom-made Pnina Tornai gown fetched £4,500, which notwithstanding the falling rate of exchange is still a very pretty penny to pay for a dress, even if it is a one of a kind creation.

n BEFORE HE visits Bethlehem today prior to returning home, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will be hosted by President Shimon Peres at a luncheon at Beit Hanassi where Rita will provide the entertainment. Entertainers at such events sometimes ask to bring their spouses and children. Rita, who split from Rami Kleinstein nearly three years ago, asked to bring their daughters Meshi, a singer in her own right, and Noam. She also asked to bring her current beau, investigative journalist and author Ronen Bergman, whose books include The Secret War with Iran, which should make him feel right at home given the place that Iran has occupied in talks between Israeli and Italian leaders.

Among the gifts that Berlusconi will be taking back will be a large basket of men’s toiletries from the Dead Sea. It’s always a big headache to find appropriate gifts for foreign leaders, but Yona Bartal, deputy director of Beit Hanassi, knowing that the impeccably groomed Berlusconi has a sense of history, wanted to give him something that comes from an historic place, but which he will be able to use instead of simply putting on display. Despite the elegant suit that he was wearing when he arrived on Monday, Berlusconi did not mind getting his hands dirty when planting a tree in the JNF Nations of the World Forest in Jerusalem. In fact, he looked as if he was enjoying himself.

n KIWIS AND anyone else from the Antipodes will be welcome at the annual Waitangi Day Reunion at Yad Lebanim in Ra’anana on Sunday, February 7. For those who are not aware of this particular holiday, it’s the national day of natives of New Zealand. The actual date happens to be on Shabbat, which is the reason that it is being celebrated on Sunday.

This year’s celebrations will also feature a more serious note in that it will honor the memory of Chiune Sigihara, the Japanese consul in Lithuania who in defiance of the orders of his government, issued thousands of transit visas for Jewish refugees including a small number of Jewish families that made their way from Lithuania to the safe haven of Wellington, New Zealand. The visas enabled them to cross Russia to Japan from where the Joint Distribution Committee and the Polish government in exile in London helped them to other countries. The New Zealand government issued some 50 entry permits to the refugees.

Among the beneficiaries of Sugihara’s extraordinary humanity was Bert Schor, who together with members of the Frankel family also received an entry permit to New Zealand. Schor will relate some of his memories of that epic period, in addition to which a film about Sugihara will be screened. Sugihara was born of January 1, 1900, so the event will also celebrate the 110th anniversary of his birth.

n MOST NEEDY people here barely know what the outside of a hotel looks like, let alone the inside. On the other hand, people who frequently stay at hotels know that most, even three star, give away toiletries. Sometimes it’s only a tiny bar of soap, but in five star hotels it can include solid soap, liquid soap, shampoo, conditioner, shower cap, toothpaste, toothbrush, nail file, shoe horn, shoe cleaner and sewing kit. Some stay in hotels so often, that they actually stock their bathrooms with these giveaways.

However a group of American high schoolers has decided to stock the bathrooms of the country’s poor by collecting toiletries and bringing them here. The project, which was started by the Lions Club in Herzliya, found a willing spirit in Alexandra Grant who attends the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester. At her initiative an Israel Club was set up in the school and collected toiletries which Alexandra has sent with her sister Sydney, whose whole eighth grade class is here on a two week tour.

Some of the youngsters have also added deodorants and other hygiene products to give the recipients a little bit of pampering. None of the products have been previously opened. Israelis who want to join in this project should contact Janet Agassi, project coordinator, at (09) 771-0334 or (054) 667-8097

n IT IS wise for debaters to be familiar with their subject. The most articulate speaker will not convince too many people if he or she is obviously speaking out of ignorance. Thus when debaters from the Herzliya Gymnasium and the Meitarim School in Ra’anana were getting ready for their model UN debate on relations between North and South Korea to be held at the American International School this month, they went to the best possible source for guidance. Korean Ambassador Young-sam Ma was delighted to brief the students on the history of the dispute and the current political situation. He also told the students that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had been his boss before taking up his UN position. “You can never know what’s going to happen to you in the future,” said Young-sam.

At the time of his appointment, Ban was Korea’s minister of foreign affairs and trade. It was a source of great pride to the ambassador that a fellow South Korean, especially one with whom he had had a working relationship, was serving in such a prestigious position. As an ambassador, Young-sam is supposed to maintain a degree of objectivity. This would not be a problem if the debate was on another subject. But since the Meitarim School is representing South Korea, there’s little doubt as to which team will have the ambassador’s support.

In subsequent news about South Korea, there’s a possibility of a state visit by President Lee Myung-bak, who in the course of a meeting with President Shimon Peres in Davos last week, was officially invited to come to strengthen political and economic cooperation with South Korea.

n KNESSET MEMBER Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List) is known both for his acerbic tongue and for his delicious sense of humor, often expressed in spontaneous reaction to events around him. But he was neither acerbic nor humorous when he addressed the Knesset on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In fact he was so empathetic and so eloquent that Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin could not refrain from saying that it was one of the best speeches on the Holocaust that he had ever heard. Many other MKs, including Yossi Peled, a child Holocaust survivor, were equally impressed, as was Israel Television’s political reporter and commentator Ayala Hasson, who is the Thursday anchor for Israel Radio’s It’s All Talk.

Hasson was so taken with Tibi’s oratory that she brought him onto the program to repeat some of what he said to the Knesset plenum. She also complimented him on the high level of his Hebrew, but diplomatically refrained from saying that his command of the language is superior to that of several Jewish MKs. Tibi had said in the Knesset that Holocaust denial was futile and served no purpose. He had also noted that International Holocaust Remembrance Day was the most natural reason for all Knesset factions to unite in condemning the forces of evil that sent so many millions of people – Jews, Soviets, Poles, Gypsies and political rivals to a terrible death which had become an industry generated by an ideology of hatred, racism and ethnic cleansing.

“We must stand and protest loudly against all forms of discrimination, racism and the politics of hate,” said Tibi. “Racism and hatred for anything that is different, including Arabs, have also raised their heads among Israelis. Racism has long ago become ‘mainstream.’”

On radio Tibi said with regard to the Holocaust: “You have to remove all your national and religious hats and deal with it only from the universal humane aspect. It is the most immoral of atrocities ever perpetrated. I have the greatest empathy for the victims of the Holocaust all over the world but particularly for those among whom I live. The Holocaust stands on its own as a human catastrophe and should not be compared with any other.”

n SOME OF the Wall Street bigwigs who used to be regulars at the annual Davos conference were conspicuous by their absence this year. Just a few days before the conference Weber Shandwick which since 2007 has annually monitored the top 22 executive conferences, took some of the luster away from Davos with the release of its findings which took the World Economic Forum down from the top of the totem pole to fourth place. Number one place went to the Clinton Global Forum hosted by former US president Bill Clinton who was also in Davos and was quick to compliment President Shimon Peres on the fantastic life saving achievements of the Israeli rescue and medical teams in Haiti.

The Wall Street absentees who gave Davos a miss did show at the Clinton conference in New York last September. During his tenure as president, Clinton attended many top level conferences and was frustrated by the fact that so many of them were just talk. His conferences culminate with concrete plans for action – which may suggest why they are more popular.

n APROPOS PERES, when he received his January salary this month, it had been increased by NIS 942 to NIS 48,099. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu earns less. He too received a pay hike, and his new monthly salary is NIS 40,739, but the most highly paid public servant is Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch whose salary increased from around NIS 55,000 to just over NIS 56,000. Ministers received just over NIS 1,400 more than in December and now have a monthly salary of NIS 36,758, while MKs have to be satisfied with NIS 33,924, up from NIS 33,259. Meanwhile textile and other factories are closing in the North and South, because owners can’t afford to pay workers the minimum wage of NIS 3,850. No wonder people want to enter politics.

n NEWS THAT Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov had shaken hands with his Iranian counterpart at the 30th Fitur International Tourism Trade Fair in Madrid was vehemently denied by Iran, and it since transpires that at the time the Iranian minister had not been aware that he had shaken hands with an Israeli. However, despite the stalemate in peace negotiations, Israelis at the fair did meet with Palestinians. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Rafi Shelef, CEO of International Travel and Congresses, proved that there are levels of cooperation when he met with Palestinian Authority Minister for Tourism and Antiquities Khouloud Daibes Abu-Dayyeh who posed for a photo with him. The two discussed the possibility of cooperative ventures.

Misezhnikov, within two hours of his return, was already in Eilat to attend the conference of the Travel Agents and Air Carriers Association, and warmly welcomed newly installed El Al CEO Eliezer Shkedi, for whom this was a first experience of a mass representation of the travel industry.

Misezhnikov appears to do better on home turf than abroad, where his behavior seems to be problematic. Public desecration of the Sabbath by a minister has generally been a no-no, but it didn’t seem so to Misezhnikov in Minsk or in Brazil. His cavalier attitude in Madrid has already been well documented in the Israeli media, and in Brazil and Argentina, where he travelled in part together with President Shimon Peres, it was an embarrassment, not only because his late arrivals kept so many people waiting, but also because of his schoolboy resentment that Peres was getting so much publicity and he was getting hardly any. His aides tried valiantly to persuade the journalists travelling with Peres to include items about Misezhnikov in their reports, but he didn’t seem to be doing anything worth reporting. Peres tried to help him by hosting an informal press conference in his hotel suite, where Misezhnikov was also given the floor but lacked the finesse to take proper advantage of the president’s gesture.

n WILL WHITE House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel backtrack on his decision to celebrate his son’s bar mitzva at the Western Wall? After being warned by extreme right-wing activists Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir that demonstrations would be waged against him, Emanuel – who has allegedly made some unsavory comments about the current Israeli government – may opt to stay in the US and save his son and other relatives unpleasantness and embarrassment. Aside from having to muddle over the wisdom of coming here and getting pelted with rotten tomatoes, Emanuel is also trying to squelch rumors that he is running for mayor of Chicago.

While hotly denying these rumors, Emanuel is becoming so unpopular in Washington that maybe he will find it more comfortable to go home to Chicago, especially if he can return in a blaze of glory.

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