PRIME MINISTER Binyamin Netanyahu does not allow affairs of state to interfere with his attention to important events in the lives of his children. He remained in contact with the hospital when his daughter Noa gave birth to his grandson Shmuel Roth; he was present at the induction into the army of his son Yair; and last week, he was on hand together with his wife Sara and with Yair, who came in uniform, to cheer on and later congratulate his younger son Avner on winning the Jerusalem District division of the Bible Quiz. Avner now has to compete in the national championship and if he wins, he will represent Israel at the International Bible Quiz which is held on Independence Day.

There’s one snag. If Avner does make it to the finals, there may be a need to change the rules. Traditionally, the prime minister poses a question, but if he asks a question that other contestants find difficult but Avner answers correctly, the media will have a field day about nepotism and will accuse him of having told his son what the question would be. To make life easier all round, it’s possible that the prime minister may not pose a question this year.

It’s almost in the cards that Avner will succeed. It’s a genetic thing. His three maternal uncles were each Bible Quiz champions, and his mother might have been, had it not been for the Yom Kippur War, which prevented the preliminary heats of the Bible Quiz from being held. Amatzia Ben-Artzi came second in the International Youth Bible Quiz; Matanya Ben-Artzi won the national Bible Quiz at age 10; and Hagai Ben-Artzi won the International Youth Bible Quiz. Avner’s maternal grandfather Shmuel Ben-Artzi is a celebrated teacher of Bible and also wrote a Bible quiz textbook.

But even before basking in any of Avner’s future victories, the Netanyahu family has to set about planning a very special celebration, the 100th birthday of the prime minister’s father, noted historian Benzion Netanyahu, whose centenary year begins on March 25.

FORMER PRIME Minister Ehud Olmert is having a great social life since leaving office, and the business community appears to have taken him to its bosom. Olmert will be the star attraction on Sunday evening February 14, at Tel Aviv University’s Business-Academic Club, where he will review what has happened in the country in the year since the last Knesset elections. Coincidentally, although the Knesset annually celebrates its anniversary on Tu Bishvat, February 14, 1949 was the date on which the first Knesset was convened.

Olmert is the guest of TAU President Joseph Klafter and Amos Shapira, chairman of the Friends of TAU. Among those who have indicated their attendance are Alrov chairman Alfred Akirov, Makhteshim Agan chairman Avraham Biger, Steimatzky CEO Iris Barel, Tsomet Books CEO Ami Shumar, Hamashibir chairman Rami Shavit, El Al CEO Eliezer Shkedi and Sheba Medical Center general manager Ze’ev Rotstein. Most of the same people will meet again on the following evening at the Israel Museum for a fund-raising gala on behalf of the Council for a Beautiful Israel, which is seeking to finance its environmental education programs.

ITALIAN PRIME Minister Silvio Berlusconi is known to have an eye for a pretty woman, and he also has a healthy respect for religion. This may account for his display of both within the space of less than half a minute at the close of a luncheon that President Shimon Peres hosted in his honor last week.

As he was exiting the banquet hall, Berlusconi bent and kissed the hand of Papal Nuncio Archbishop Antonio Franco, and then turned around to shake the hand of the exotic looking and ultra-fashionably attired Dalit Kool, who is the events organizer at Beit Hanassi. “Fantastica!” he exclaimed as he traced her silhouette in the air behind her.

At the start of the luncheon Peres told Berlusconi: “You are the most sunlit leader I have ever met. When the sun shines, it radiates on things that are positive and you are the same. You bring joy and hope and courage. It’s irrelevant what they write in the newspapers – the Italians continue to vote for you. It seems they have good taste.”

Peres also commended Italy for its large and long serving UNIFIL contingent in Lebanon, and for the humanitarian aid that it has provided for the Palestinians.

Berlusconi said that it was very difficult for him to respond adequately to the sentimental and poetic words. But so as not to distance himself entirely from Peres’s poetry, he said, alluding to the CD which features different musical interpretations of the poem “Ray of Hope” that was authored by Peres, “I’ll send you a CD of 100 songs that I wrote.” He then paused as his audience burst into laughter.

All of Berlusconi’s remarks to Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and theirs to him, had to be made through interpreter Mayana Corinaldi, who kept moving backward and forward along the head table to be the translating voice for whoever was speaking.

It is customary for visiting heads of state or of government to deliver their addresses in their own language, but they usually have English as a common language in which to converse with their hosts. It would seem that Berlusconi does not speak English, although this was not a problem for Channel 2 news anchor Yonit Levy, who chatted to him in Italian.

A place had been set at the head table for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman who backed out at the last minute. Neither Foreign Ministry protocol personnel nor Beit Hanassi’s spokeswoman knew the reason for his absence.

FOR SINGER Rita, it was an incredibly exciting week. On Wednesday she sang for Berlusconi and on Thursday she sang for Zubin Mehta at the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s tribute to him in celebration of his 50 years with the IPO and 30 years as its artistic director.

IT IS almost ironic that the Russian authorities have torpedoed the plans of Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky to hold the meeting of the agency’s Board of Governors in St. Petersburg later this month, forcing its relocation to Jerusalem. It just so happens that Sharansky this week celebrates the 24th anniversary of his initial arrival here following his release from Soviet incarceration on February 11, 1984.

IN PAST years veteran journalist Diana Lerner, whose byline has appeared in numerous publications here and abroad, including The Jerusalem Post, used to spend her birthday with the friends of her youth in New York. This year, following a serious operation, she decided to stay in Tel Aviv to celebrate not only her birthday, but also her recovery. Lerner and some of her relatives, friends and colleagues took over Café Café on the corner of Ben-Yehuda and Arlozorov for a birthday brunch that continued into the late afternoon.

Lerner is one of the colorful characters of Tel Aviv and can seldom walk down the street without bumping into people who recognize her. She was so much appreciated by many editors as a journalist who could see a story in just about any situation, that they overlooked the extraordinary number of typing errors that punctuated her copy.

In fact, one of her nieces, Toby Atlas, wrote a poem in which she noted that Lerner’s script was unreadable and “your prose is at its ripest with help from a typist.” In this computer age, Lerner, who has never mastered one, has to turn to her nieces for help, because editors expect clean copy.

A long time fashion and beauty writer before she embraced additional subjects, Lerner interviewed such icons as Helena Rubinstein, Pauline Trigere and Donna Karan, and treasures a three-strand pearl necklace that was given to her by Rubinstein. Several of her interviewees, among them singer Yaffa Yarkoni, gave her gifts of jewelry because they loved her style. Among the guests at her party were Batsheva Tsur, Penina Peri, Ruth Seligman, Zipporah Porath, David Rich, Renee Singer, Tsipi Saltzberg, Sarah Shapira, Rachel Talitman and Hadassah Mor.

EVEN THOUGH it was somewhat chilly on the terrace of the Jaffa residence of French Ambassador Christophe Bigot last week, no one seemed to mind. The small group of French-speaking Israelis was too busy playing the “do you remember” game and sipping the excellent French champagne provided by Bigot who was hosting alumni of the Paris Institute of Political Studies – Sciences Po for the initiated – one of the world’s most prestigious universities, ranked more or less on par with Oxford in England and Yale in the US.

The occasion? After a long hiatus, Sciences Po was reaching out to its former students here and the ambassador – both a former student and professor there – had volunteered his home. In the country’s early years, there had been a sizable Israeli presence in the school. There were no tuition fees, and affordable accommodations and subsidized meals were available.

Among the first Israeli graduates was the late Yehuda Horam, who went on to be ambassador to Korea, Switzerland and Sweden. He graduated from Sciences Po in 1951. The late Eliahu Ben-Elissar, who was the first ambassador to Egypt, after which he served as ambassador to the US and France, graduated in 1955. Another distinguished graduate, Meir Rosenne, class of 1953, and also a former ambassador to the US and France, was not present, but Michael Bavly, class of ’61, former ambassador to the Netherlands and today representative of UN High Commissioner for Refugees, was there, as was Zvi Mazel, former ambassador to Rumania, Egypt and Sweden and today a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs who graduated with the class of ’63. It was at Sciences Po that Mazel met his French-born wife Michelle, who graduated in 1961.

The various alumni stood reminiscing with fellow student Michael Bar-Zohar, well known author and former MK, class of ’61, and Yohanan Manor, class of ’63, who was for many years in charge of information at the Jewish Agency and is now chairman of the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Tolerance in Culture Education.

On the French side was Christophe Linden, head of the International Relations Desk at Sciences Po, who said he was happy to announce that Israeli students were now coming back and that students from that venerable institution were presently here within the framework of an exchange program, and that Prof. Astrid von Busekist, also present, was currently teaching in the Political Science Department at Tel Aviv University.

SOUTH AFRICAN and Zimbabwean (Rhodesian) expatriates who missed out on paying their last respects to Leib Frank, who passed away a month ago at 91, will have the opportunity to do so at the consecration of his tombstone on Friday at the Kfar Shmaryahu cemetery. Frank served from 1962-1979 as the director of the South African Zionist Federation, now known as Telfed. One of his four children, the late David Frank, was for several years a member of the editorial staff of The Jerusalem Post.

While still in South Africa, Leib Frank was one of the founding members of Hashomer Hadati, which was the forerunner of Bnei Akiva. In 1940, together with many other Jewish youths, he volunteered for the South African army to fight the Nazis. He was severely wounded and lost a leg. After returning to Johannesburg, he married Rachel (Luffy) Josephson. In 1949, Frank was appointed director of the Rhodesian Zionist Federation, in which capacity he hosted Moshe Dayan and Moshe Sharett.

In 1961, he finally realized a long-cherished dream and settled here. A year later, he became the director of what was to become Telfed and was instrumental in making the absorption process of many immigrants from South Africa and Rhodesia much easier. His interest in South African immigrants remained steadfast even after his retirement, and he found ways of helping them through the various boards on which he served. Frank’s two surviving children are Lironne Bar-Sadeh, a diplomat currently serving in Italy, and Gillam Keinan, director of Foreign Investments at the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor. He is also survived by eight grandchildren.

SEEING ISRAEL in its many facets is among the prime activities of the International Women’s Club, whose local members try to expose their foreign colleagues to a broad spectrum of the Israeli experience, especially in the case of new members who have only recently arrived in the country. Sometimes their work is made easier by invitations from establishments eager to promote themselves. This was the case with the Golden Crown Hotel in Nazareth which was interested both in promoting the city as a tourist destination and in showing the IWC what it has to offer in terms of facilities, food and service.

Hotel general manager Miki Swartz hosted 45 members of the IWC including Janet Olissa, the wife of the Nigerian ambassador, who has been making her farewells for more than half a year while awaiting instructions from her country’s Foreign Ministry. The popular Olissas are due to leave in March. The women toured the city, visiting the Mount of the Annunciation and Mary’s Well. They also planned to visit at least one Muslim site, but spent so much time at a fascinating spice store in the market that they had to leave for their next visit. At the hotel, they were feted to the extent that they could barely rise from their chairs to get back on the bus to Tel Aviv. They kept on eating because the food kept on coming. Each time they thought that the meal was finished, another delicacy appeared, which nearly everyone wanted to at least taste.

This was particularly difficult for Nobuko Takeuchi, wife of the Japanese ambassador, who was going to Jerusalem for dinner that night, and for Leslie Cunningham, wife of the US ambassador, who was also going out to dinner. Among the others present were Nahla El Shimy, the wife of the Egyptian ambassador, and relative newcomers Nida Degutiene, the wife of the Lithuanian ambassador; Judith Standley, the wife of the ambassador of the European Union; and Carmen Borg, the wife of the ambassador of Malta. The Israelis included Daniella Oren, Sali Ariel, Yaffa Weinberg, Paulette Ben-Haim and Grace de la Rosa, the wife of the former ambassador of Colombia who now lives here.

The group was also addressed by Nazareth Mayor Ramez Jeraisy, whose remarks contained political content. IWC President Margarita Stegny, the wife of the Russian ambassador, had to gently remind him that the IWC is an apolitical organization.

A VERY active member of the IWC during the period in which her husband served as US ambassador, Sheila Kurtzer is arguably the diplomatic community’s most frequent flyer back to Israel. She’s in and out several times a year and was back last week to attend the Herzliya Conference and to look up relatives and old friends.

IT’S NOT often that someone wins the same prestigious prize on more than one occasion. Among the exceptions to the rule is Prof. Moshe Rosman, of Bar-Ilan University’s Koschitzky Department of Jewish History, who at a ceremony in New York City on March 9 will receive the prestigious 2009 National Jewish Book Award presented by the Jewish Book Council. The award is for Rethinking European Jewish History, a book he coedited with Prof. Jeremy Cohen, of Tel Aviv University. The book was selected “as the best written, most comprehensive and engaging book” in the category of anthologies and collections, according to the panel of judges. It looks at the Jewish past in Europe in light of the major cultural, ideological and social changes which occurred over the past century. The work was published by the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization.

This is the second National Jewish Book Award to be conferred on Rosman. In 1996 he received the award, in the history category, for his book Founder of Hassidism: A Quest for the Historical Baal Shem Tov. The Hebrew version of the book received the prestigious Zalman Shazar Prize. Rosman is currently on sabbatical as a visiting professor at Yale University. Prior to his return later this year, he will spend time at the University of Wroclaw in Poland and at Leipzig University in Germany.

greerfc@gmail.com

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