Grapevine: Much ado about...

Meir Dagan on the Ofer scandal, a new-old hotel in Ein Kerem, kudos for the Rubinstein piano competition winner, and a ‘L’haim!’ in Japanese.

May 31, 2011 22:47
OUR MAN in Tel Aviv. The race to succeed Meir Daga

Dagan 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

FORMER MOSSAD chief Meir Dagan told reporters Monday night at the City of David, where he was one of the recipients of the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism, that preoccupation with the scandal surrounding the Ofer Brothers’ involvement with Iran had been exaggerated out of all proportion – and he maintained the air of mystery associated with the intelligence community when he refused to elaborate. Ever since completing his twice-extended term in office half a year ago, Dagan has been singled out for honors. In April, he received the Herzog Prize, and in May both an Honorary Fellowship of the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, and the Moskowitz Prize.

All three prizes recognized his contribution to the security of the state and the welfare of its citizens, along with his many years of dedicated service in various branches of the defense and security establishments.

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Among the other recipients of the Moskowitz Prize this year was Hanan Porat, who was listed as one of the leaders of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria. Porat has much more to his credit, and it was entirely appropriate that in the week of Jerusalem Day, he should receive this particular prize at the City of David venue, because in June 1967, he was among the paratroopers who, led by Mordechai Gur, captured the Temple Mount. After the war, he was instrumental in reconstructing the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, which had fallen victim to Arab hostilities in 1929, 1937 and 1948.

During the 19 years of Jordanian rule of the area, all the buildings in Gush Etzion were destroyed and all the trees, with the exception of a single old oak tree, uprooted.

■ OF THE scores of people from all over the country who made their way to Jerusalem’s picturesque, historic village of Ein Kerem – set high in the hills amid lush greenery – some who had previously been to the museum that was once the home of Jaber and Alegra Rachil were amazed by the change that the addition of modern amenities had wrought without destroying or even intruding on the beauty of the past. The property where the Rachils lived with their three children is now a boutique hotel developed by Yishai Malka of Herzliya and architect Gaddie Delman, a Jerusalemite who operates an architectural firm in Tel Aviv.

Jaber Rachil was the son of a wealthy, Christian Arab family and Alegra the daughter of a Sephardi rabbi. When the young man and woman fell in love, his family protested and hers disowned her. In fact, her father sat shiva for her as if she were dead. The couple eloped to Bethlehem, where they were married. Alegra converted to Christianity, and after being away from Jerusalem for some years, they returned to Ein Kerem in 1930 to live in the house there.

Though banished by her family, Alegra Rachil continued to keep track of her relatives, and when her father died, she took her three children and, dressed as an Arab woman, went to pay a clandestine condolence call on her mother, who immediately recognized her and threw her out of the house. In 1948, together with most of the Arabs in the village, the Rachils fled, never to return. In the 1960s, the house served as a synagogue, then in the 1990s as an outdoor museum.

Now, what was once known as The House of the Jewess has taken on yet another identity as the Alegra hotel.

Regrettably, the cuisine at the hotel is not kosher, though someone in management referred to it as “kosher lite,” explaining that there was no shrimp, no pork, no mixing of meat and dairy products – but also no separate dishes for meat and dairy.

Among the hordes of people who kept coming all afternoon last Friday was Israel Hotel Association President Ami Federmann, whose family has the controlling interest in the Dan chain of hotels. Federmann came with his wife Michal. Also present were former MK Shmuel Flatto Sharon, who owns Dizengoff Center; Harel Wizel, the CEO and chairman of the board of the Fox Group; lawyer Arieh Toussia-Cohen and his wife Efrat; Ilan Roman, a member of the Association of Israelis of Central European Origin executive; and graphic artist Ofer Zemach.

Every room in the hotel is named for a famous pair of lovers. The luxurious beds are all on raised parquet platforms, and each bathroom is individually designed, with different-shaped baths in different colors. The restaurant features an open kitchen, and the dining area seats a total of 18 people. However, the outside is full of patios and dining niches on different levels surrounded by trees, vines, bushes and flowers. The stairs are a little steep, but that’s a minor inconvenience. The only jarring note aesthetically was the bright yellow espresso machine in each bedroom.

■ UNFORTUNATELY THERE’S only one first prize in any contest. That doesn’t necessarily make the runners-up inferior.

It just means that winner found favor in the eyes of the jury – or in the case of the finals of the Rubinstein piano competition, in the ears of the jury.

There was little doubt after all six finalists had performed brilliantly that Daniil Trifonov of Russia had been blessed with that extra spark, as evidenced by the audience reaction, though in fact all six finalists, and especially the three who played on the last night, received accolades that will ring in their ears for years to come. All six received prizes, three of which were donated by Australia’s Pratt Foundation and presented by Jeanne Pratt, who was also in Israel for the 10th anniversary of the foundation’s multifaceted involvement in projects throughout the country, as well as for the Israel in Africa Conference that the foundation had co-sponsored.

In Israel with her were her daughter and son-in-law Heloise and Alex Waislitz, her sister Rosalyn Glickfeld, Pratt Foundation CEO Sam Lipski and his wife Aura – a singer, folk dancer and webmistress of an Israeli and Yiddish song site, on which hundreds of Hebrew and Yiddish songs have been transliterated and translated. She also maintains a site for Israeli folk dancing. Seated with the Pratt group were Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his wife Nili, who left during the interval between Trifonov’s Chopin performance and the announcement of the prize winners. One of the prizes was donated by Lady Anabelle Weidenfeld of London, who had lived with Arthur Rubinstein in the final years of his life.

The first prize was donated by Raya Jaglom, a resident of Tel Aviv since well before the establishment of the state and a stalwart supporter of many of the city’s cultural endeavors and institutions. Jaglom, who had met Rubinstein, is now 92, yet still has presence, walks straightbacked and without a cane, and has a phenomenal memory.

She received many compliments about her appearance throughout the evening. Her hair was immaculately groomed, her make-up meticulously applied and her blue silk pantsuit a classic eye-catcher. Jaglom was thrilled that her grandson Jonathan and granddaughter Daphna had flown in from Los Angeles and New York for the occasion.

Many people saw the finals on television, and in the comfort of their living rooms enjoyed close-up shots of fingers flying on the keyboard, and the facial expressions of the pianists. However, nothing could quite compare to the excitement of actually being in the Mann Auditorium without hearing a single cough or cellphone during performances, but a spontaneous outbreak of cheers and applause when each contestant concluded playing. The cheers were loudest, of course, when it became obvious that Trifonov, the favorite of the audience, was the outright winner.

■ AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR Andrea Faulkner hosted a reception at her residence in Herzliya Pituah in honor of the Pratt Foundation and of Sir Bob Geldof, the Irish singer and songwriter who has done so much to raise money to improve quality of life for people in Africa.

Geldof is closely associated with the Pratt family, who he said had welcomed him with open arms. He was in Israel this week to participate in the conference on Israel’s involvement in Africa, and to receive an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University in recognition of his human rights activities and his efforts to eradicate hunger in Africa.

The Pratt Foundation’s activities in Israel represent the closeness of the relationship between Australia and Israel, said Faulkner, who commended the foundation’s dedication to addressing inequality. She disclosed that one-third of Australia’s private donations were for Africa, and that her country provided 400 scholarships a year for people across the African continent. She was happy to greet ambassadors of African countries, a delegation from the Australia Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) headed by Colin Rubinstein, as well as other Australian visitors and expats living in Israel.

Speaking on behalf of the foundation, Alex Waislitz noted that it had given more than $100 million to Jewish and Israeli causes and that in recent years, following the recommendations of Lipski and Peter Adler, the foundation’s Israel director, it had become much more involved with Israel, supporting 400 human-needs projects and 180 organizations. It is also sponsoring the Peres Peace Team of Israeli and Palestinian players who are again going to Australia to compete in the international Australian Rules Football Championship.

Geldof said it was impossible to praise Jeanne Pratt and the Waislitzes enough, and described the Pratt family as “an incredible bunch of people.” He said that he had also met many Israelis and worked with some in Africa, remarking that “they represent the best of this country and are idealistically motivated.”

During the spirited concert by Idan Raichel and his group of singers and musicians, singer Avi Vassa jumped off the stage into the audience and pulled Lipski up to dance. He would have done better with Lipski’s wife, who was thrilled to be in Israel during the Jerusalem Day week because she had recently recorded a new, upbeat arrangement of “Jerusalem of Gold.” Vassa also danced with Ethiopian Ambassador Helawe Yosef, who spontaneously rose to the occasion, demonstrating that there’s amazing movement in diplomacy.

Others at the reception included Simon Fisher, the executive director of Save a Child’s Heart, along with SCH pediatric cardiologist Dr. Lior Sasson, AIDS expert Yinon Schenkar, Gila Almagor, Roley Mehta Horowitz, Australian expats David and Naomi Fidler, Hila Solomon, Eliyahu and Helen Honig, Paul Israel, George and Ann Fink, who divide their time equally between Israel and Australia, and Australian visitors Lee Lieberman, Helen Brustman, and Deidre and Keith Beville.

■ ALL GOOD things must come to an end, and following a wonderful month of varied aspects of Indian culture, it was time to say goodbye to those ambassadors of Indian culture who were still in the country. Indian Ambassador Navtej Sarna held an intimate farewell reception in the garden of his residence in Herzliya Pituah, where nearly all the women were gowned in exquisite saris of different colors and patterns.

Standing out among the non-Indian guests was Alice Krieger, who wore a stunning black and marine-blue outfit that she had purchased in Vietnam, and for which she received many admiring remarks. Krieger couldn’t stay until the end because she was hosting a parlor meeting for MK Isaac Herzog, who is campaigning for the leadership of the Labor Party. She had left Gary Cohen, who heads the Anglo division of the Herzog campaign, to house-sit her Tel Aviv home while she was in Herzliya, just in case any of the invitees came early, and was thus able to enjoy a performance by local Indian musician Eli Aaron before rushing back to the world of politics.

■ AMONG THE people who filled the patio at the back of Krieger’s house were singer Shlomit Aron, Dov Randel, who heads the Israel Pen Club, and Roz Clayman, plus a lot of young people who are first-time voters in the Labor Party and will be first-time voters in the next Knesset elections.

It was Herzog’s fourth parlor meeting that night, and he was going on to a fifth at 10:30 p.m. When someone asked Herzog if he wanted to be prime minister, he replied that he was not running for prime minister, but for the Labor leadership. He was careful not to say anything negative about the other contestants in the race, and even when speaking about Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his address to AIPAC, he acknowledged that while some of what Netanyahu had said was commendable, his speech was not that of a leader, but of “an excellent minister of propaganda.”

■ ONE OF the most common topics of interest in the Israel- Palestine conflict is what may happen between now and September, when the UN General Assembly will be asked to vote on the unilateral creation of a Palestinian state.

Is there any way to prevent such a resolution, and if there isn’t, what will be the repercussions for Israel? On hand to answer some of those questions or at least to speculate about possible scenarios is former Palestinian Authority prime minister Ahmed Qurei, who will be one of the keynote speakers at a two-day conference opening Wednesday at Ben-Gurion University’s Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy. Conference participants will examine the sweeping changes taking place across the Middle East, and will discuss how these changes may impact the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

■ IT APPEARS to be a good week for English-speakers. On Thursday, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni and French author and philosopher Bernard Henri Levi will exchange views on the Arab Spring’s impact on Israel, with New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner acting as moderator.

The event, under the auspices of the Abba Eban program for Political Science and Diplomacy at Tel Aviv University, will take place at 4 p.m. in TAU’s Bar Shira auditorium.

■ DIPLOMATS OFTEN invite each other to events, but the diplomatic calendar is so crowded that many diplomats miss out on some of the ones they would like to attend, because they’re hosting one of their own or participating in an official capacity or being honored. Among the events scheduled for this coming Monday, June 6, are an Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association event with Sir Martin Gilbert at the Ramat Gan residence of British Ambassador Matthew Gould; the Swedish National Day festivities, which are being hosted by Swedish Ambassador Elinor Hammarskjold at her residence in Herzliya Pituah; and the annual Guardian of Zion Award, which will be presented to former ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold. Gold, who has also served as a foreign policy adviser to Netanyahu, was a member of the team that accompanied him to Washington last month. Gold also served as an adviser to prime minister Ariel Sharon, is president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and has written extensively about Jerusalem.

“Defending Israel’s Rights to Jerusalem” is the topic of his address at the award ceremony.

Some of those invited to this event were also invited to the Swedish National Day reception and the event for Gilbert, which was overbooked soon after the invitations went out. But there is another opportunity to hear him – albeit not at the British residence. He will be speaking at the Cymbalista Jewish Heritage Center at Tel Aviv University on Sunday, June 5, at 6 p.m. His topic: “The End of the British Mandate and the Establishment of the State of Israel.”

■ KOSHER CUSTOMERS are the best on the market. If they like a product that conforms to Jewish dietary laws, they will buy it again and again. That may have prompted Choya Japan to apply to the Chief Rabbinate for kashrut approval, as a result of which the famous Japanese spirit producer’s products are now kosher. With this in mind, Dan Leeor, owner and general manager of the Scottish Trading Company, which imports spirit and wines from around the world, was happy to accept the invitation of Japanese Ambassador Haruhisa Takeuchi to meet with Shinji Inaba, the head of Choya’s global marketing department, and to raise a glass and say “Kampai” – more or less the Japanese equivalent of “L’haim.”

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