Grapevine: Pretty women

MARCH 8 is the date on which one of the 20 finalists in the current Miss Israel contest will be crowned.

February 16, 2010 22:18
Grapevine: Pretty women

grapes 88. (photo credit: )

MARCH 8, which coincidentally happens to be International Women’s Day, is the date on which one of the 20 finalists in the current Miss Israel contest will be crowned at a gala ceremony at Haifa’s International Congress Center. The contest was launched in 1950 by the women’s magazine La’Isha, which means that this year’s contest will be particularly festive in that it will be marking the 60th anniversary of the advent of Israeli beauty queens.

The rules have changed somewhat over the years. The first winner, Miriam Yaron, was married with a baby. Married women are not eligible for the contest today. In the initial years of the contest, anyone not chosen could compete again and again. This, too, is no longer the case.

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Of the winners to date, 14 were born abroad, and 14, including Yaron, live abroad. Yaron, who is now 81, was born in Germany and lives in Brazil. The second winner, Jerusalemite Michal Harrison, who Hebraicized her name to Michal Har’el, is better known to the world as Michal Modai, and is an honorary life president of World WIZO. Despite travels around the globe, she has remained untempted to move away from Israel.

In 1976, Rina Messinger changed her name to Rina Mor after winning the Miss Israel contest and went on to greater glory by winning the Miss Universe contest. She was the first Israeli to win an international beauty pageant. In 1998, Linor Abergil won the Miss World contest, and a year later, Rana Raslan became the first – and so far the only – Arab woman to be named Miss Israel.

In addition to winning the right to represent Israel in international beauty contests, Miss Israel receives a new car and a contract with the Look modeling agency. Becoming Miss Israel can lead to a lucrative international modeling career, as it has done for more than a dozen of the winners, but it can also lead to an acting career in Hollywood, as in the case of Gal Gadot, Miss Israel 2004.

The finalists in the Miss Israel 2010 contest can all be seen on March 8 in a live broadcast on Channel 2, which since 1993 has opened the viewing of the finals to the whole country.

AUSTRALIAN FOREIGN Minister Stephen Smith has appointed Andrea Faulkner as Australia’s first female ambassador to Israel. Notwithstanding her extensive diplomatic experience, this will be Faulkner’s first ambassadorial appointment. Although she is no stranger to Tel Aviv, having previously served in the Australian Embassy as second secretary from 1992-1994, her surroundings will be new to her. Her immediate predecessor, James Larsen, who returned to Australia in January, moved the embassy from its previous location in Europe House to its current premises in the Discount Bank Tower in south Tel Aviv.

Faulkner, who previously spent time in Hanoi and Paris, was most recently assistant secretary in the Africa Branch of Australia’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs. She is due to take up her new appointment sometime in March, and will in all probability become deeply immersed in bilateral cultural endeavors. She holds a bachelor’s degree in music and arts (honors), and a diploma in education from the University of Adelaide.

Australia was among the first countries to establish relations with Israel in the first year of its independence.

CZECHOSLOVAKIA WAS also among the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, and Tomas Pojar, the new ambassador of the Czech Republic, is likewise no stranger to the Jewish state. Born in Prague in 1973, he is the son of Milos Pojar, the first Czech ambassador to Israel following the reestablishment of diplomatic relations in 1990.

The new ambassador, who arrived in the country on February 1 with his wife Martina and their three children Eduard, Rachel and Elias, went to high school in Kfar Shmaryahu. He has had a diverse career working in journalism, humanitarian endeavors and foreign relations. He was the director of one of the largest Central and Eastern European NGOs, People in Need, which deals with the development of cooperation and support of human rights and democracy in the Balkans, the former USSR, and recently in Iraq and Afghanistan as well. After 10 years in the non-governmental sector, he continued his professional career at the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From 2006 until his present appointment, he was first deputy minister for security affairs, EU affairs and bilateral relations with European states.

As in Faulkner’s case, this is his first ambassadorial posting. Like his predecessor Michael Zantovsky, who is now the Czech ambassador in London, Pojar is a graduate of Prague’s Charles University. The embassy in Tel Aviv was without an ambassador for four months. Pojar has yet to present his credentials.

CANADIAN MAPLE leaf flags were flying outside the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange last week. The reason: the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Ester Levanon, CEO of the TASE, and Ungad Chadda, senior vice president of the Toronto Stock Exchange. Levanon, who wore a red blazer for the occasion, said that she had been tempted to wear a white blouse, too (to complete the Canadian national colors), but decided that this would have been too much.

On hand to bless the birth of the relationship between Tel Aviv and Toronto were some of the “midwives,” including Canadian Ambassador Jon Allen and Jerusalem attorney Yehuda Raveh, honorary president of the Israel-Canada Chamber of Commerce. There was a bell on the table to symbolize the Trade Opening Ceremony, but as Saul Bronfeld, chairman of the TASE board of directors explained, the ringing of the bell is only metaphoric. These days, trading starts with the push of a button, but “there’s a strong correlation between the pressure on the button and the movement of share prices,” he quipped.

MEMBERS OF the International Women’s Club meet so frequently that they often participate in several consecutive functions on the same day. Last Wednesday was a prime example. After a morning of activities that included language classes in German and Italian, plus a meeting of the knitting and stitching group, they gathered again in Ramat Gan at the residence of the British Ambassador, whose wife Anne Phillips hosted a musical afternoon featuring the Barberina women’s Barber Shop Quartet, which actually comprises 15 women and one man – their director, Alex Eshed.

Barberina is actually an a capella choir with a barbershop focus, but its repertoire includes jazz, gospel, folk, Israeli and Yiddish melodies. From there, many of the members went on to the Herzliya Pituah residence of Egyptian Ambassador Yasser Reda and his wife Nahla, who hosted a farewell party for Israel’s new ambassador to Egypt, Itzhak Levanon, a veteran diplomat who is fluent in Arabic, English and French and who was most recently ambassador to the UN in Geneva. Levanon will be Israel’s 10th ambassador in the land of the pharaohs. Fittingly, he will arrive, almost to the day, on the 30th anniversary of the February 21, 1980 opening of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo. He and his wife Edna will have to get acquainted with some Egyptian staples such as carcadet, a sweet drink made from of hibiscus flowers, and taamiya, falafel made of ful instead of chickpeas.

Levanon and his wife received the good wishes of some of their colleagues, such as Jordanian Ambassador Ali al-Ayed and US Ambassador James Cunningham, as well as a Foreign Ministry delegation led by director-general and Ambassador-Designate to France Yossi Gal. Also in attendance were former ambassadors to Egypt Shimon Shamir and Zvi Mazel, Eyal Sisser from the Dayan Center, and friends and acquaintances. Mazel was also a member of Israel’s first diplomatic mission in Cairo when the ambassador was the late Eliahu Ben-Elissar, who made history by being Israel’s first ambassador to an Arab country.

FROM THE Egyptian residence, some of the IWC members made their way to Kfar Shmaryahu to the impressive Weill Auditorium, where the Moscow Rachmaninov Trio was performing a benefit under IWC auspices for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, which goes out of its way to grant the wishes of seriously ill children, most of whom have terminal diseases. As it happens, IWC President Margarita Stegniy knows the members of the trio very well, and when they told her they were coming to Israel, she asked them if they would do the benefit. The answer was overwhelmingly positive.

The concert was under the patronage of Russian Ambassador Piotr Stegniy, but he was unable to attend because he was busy with plans for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to Russia this week. Those who did attend were EU Ambassador Andrew Standley and his wife Judith, and Japanese Ambassador Haruhisa (George) Takeuchi and his wife Nobuko. Also present were Prof. Uriel Reichman, president of IDC Herzliya, and his wife Nira; Janet Gillerman, wife of former ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman; Make-a-Wish Israel founder and director Denise Bar-Aharon and her husband Avi; and Idan Ofer and his wife Batya , the Make-a-Wish chair.

Every child suffering from a life-threatening illness gets to realize a wish that may be his or her last, said Batya Ofer.

“You have no idea of how important it is,” she told the audience.

“ALLOW ME to greet those of you who are still here and have the patience to listen,” said archeologist and director of the City of David Temple Mount Project Dr. Gavriel Barkai at the opening plenary of the Jerusalem Conference, where many participants voted with their feet. It started with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who arrived almost half an hour late, presenting his vision for Jerusalem for the umpteenth time and then leaving immediately afterwards. Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin – substituting for Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, who was accompanying Netanyahu to Russia – likewise didn’t tell the audience anything they hadn’t heard before, with the possible exception of his having been born at the nearby Hadassah-University Hospital, Mount Scopus, and therefore having more than just a spiritual connection with Jerusalem, where he lives. Two of his grandchildren were also born there. Begin, who will celebrate his 67th birthday on March 1, left before all the speeches were over. So did Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who on February 11 celebrated the 24th anniversary of his initial arrival in Jerusalem and recalled how he had insisted on going to the Western Wall because it symbolized so much for him.

Of the six speakers at the opening, Barkai, a child Holocaust survivor who was liberated from the Budapest Ghetto by the Red Army, was by far the most interesting and provocative. There is enormous evidence that the Holocaust took place, he said, but there is no evidence that the Temple stood in Jerusalem, because the Waqf, which has been given control of the Temple Mount, will not permit archeological excavations. It is only when bulldozers working on non-archeological projects near the area unearth antique coins and artifacts that there is any proof that Jews lived in Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago. Barkai spoke of a seal from the priestly Imer family that had been found in debris from the northern area of the Temple Mount.

ON THE other side of town, Benjamin Pogrund was hosting his final meeting at the Yakar Center for Social Concern, where he had worked in close harmony with late Rabbi Mickey Rosen, founder of Yakar. Pogrund was associated with YCSC for the best part of 12 years. His swan song was a conference on “How to Solve the Refugee Problem,” co-organized by Yakar and the Palestine-Israel Journal. Panelists were Dr. Yuval Benziman, a Hebrew University lecturer on conflict resolution and director of research and policy planning for the Geneva Initiative, and scholar Dr. Adnan Abdelrazek, formerly of the UN. Both agreed that the refugee problem was one of the core issues that had to be resolved to have peace based on a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Abdelrazek said it was important to demystify the refugees as a threat to Israel’s existence and territorial integrity, and listed a series of concrete options for solutions to the problem. Benziman said the public didn’t fear of the refugees per se, but that its primary concern was for the permanent solution to guarantee the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. He and his Geneva Initiative colleagues formulated a plan combining refugee rehabilitation with financial compensation, primarily in the future Palestinian state, but also in the current host countries, third-party countries and Israel. He said the solution should be total and end all future claims by refugees. Also participating were the two co-editors of the Palestine-Israel Journal, Ziad AbuZayyad and Hillel Schenker. AbuZayyad noted that to get to the Yakar Center, he had to pass through Rehov Kovshei Katamon (the conquerors of Katamon), where many Arabs had once lived, and Schenker suggested that there should be an Israeli-Palestinian “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” established as part of the future agreement, to air all grievances on both sides. Gilla Rosen, who shared her late husband’s vision of an inclusive Judaism with outreach to all people to secure peace between Israelis and Palestinians, thanked Pogrund for his “inspiring and devoted leadership of the Center for Social Concern,” and looked forward to “continuing to work together and to being challenged and inspired by his passionate commitment to justice and peace.” Her sons Shlomo Dov and Chananel are continuing their father’s work and the running of YCSC.

GIVE OR take a year, 150 is this year’s magic number. It’s the 150th anniversary of Theodor Herzl’s birthday, which was on May 2, 1860 and which will be the central theme of this year’s Independence Day Celebrations.

Coincidentally May 2 is the opening date of the meeting of the International Council of the Jerusalem Foundation, which is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the establishment of Mishkenot Shaananim. With its famous windmill, Mishkenot Shaananim was the first Jewish residential complex outside the walls of the old city, paving the way for the construction of modern Jerusalem. And Hadassah, at the end of this year, will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the December 21, 1860 birth of Henrietta Szold.

However, because Hadassah and Esther are interchangeable names, the Nechama Chapter of Hadassah-Israel is getting in early and is hosting a pre-Purim celebration on Thursday, February 18, under the title “Esther and Hadassah: The Women Behind the Masks.” It will feature a playlet by Sybil Kaplan based on Szold’s diaries, performed by JEST players Elinor Slater and Marvin Meital, and a lecture by journalist, author and Jerusalem Post columnist Barbara Sofer. The venue is the Ramat Zion congregation in the capital’s French Hill neighborhood.

CONTROVERSIAL CASINO czar and mega-philanthropist Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miri had a twofold reason for being in Israel last week. The first was to attend the annual Media Watch awards ceremony, at which Amos Regev, the editor-in-chief of Adelson’s freebie newspaper Yisrael Hayom, was one of the prize-winners. The second reason was the bar mitzva of their son Adam, which they celebrated at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem.

Speaking at the awards ceremony at ZOA House in Tel Aviv, Adelson, who has been reported many times as having launched his paper to support Netanyahu’s political ambitions, denied this and said that in 27 years of coming to Israel, he had spoken to many people in different walks of life, but had not seen their political opinions reflected in the media. It was this lacuna that prompted his decision to launch a free newspaper that would present the news in a truthful and balanced manner, he said.

WHAT GOES around comes around. When technology was not as advanced as it is today, radio and television interviewees had to come into the studio for live interviews, sometimes getting up before dawn to drive a long distance for an appearance of only a minute, or in the best of cases, a few minutes.

Over the past couple of weeks, due to sanctions imposed by technicians at the Israel Broadcasting Authority, this has yet again been the case. It is amazing how many people have been willing to come to the studios to be interviewed for news and current affairs programs, from before dawn to late at night, simply because the technicians have clamped down on telephone interviews.

Not everyone agrees to drive for an hour or more for a brief appearance. Among those who refused the honor was Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon. In the previous era of live interviews, even the president and the prime minister came into the studio, though occasionally a recording team went to their residences and rushed back to Romema in Jerusalem in time to broadcast the interview as if it were live. Moti Amir, the current CEO of Israel Radio, appearing last Thursday on It’s All Talk, hosted by Ayala Hasson, recalled that prime ministers and members of the government used to come to the radio before 7 a.m. to be interviewed. On one occasion, when a team went to the Prime Minister’s Residence very early in the morning for a recorded interview, Yitzhak Shamir received them in his pajamas, and the interview was conducted that way. There was no embarrassment, because there were no visuals.

INTERNATIONAL SINGING star Dudu Fisher, whose crowning achievement was arguably his role in Les Miserables, has dedicated “Bring him Home” – one of the most moving songs from the musical – to abducted soldier Gilad Schalit. More than 60 Israelis – among close to 750 passengers cruising the Caribbean in the last week of January for Jewish Music Festival at Sea – heard Fisher sing the song and were almost moved to tears. This was probably the largest kosher cruise ever, and was jointly organized by Eddie’s Tours and Kosherica.

Other entertainers included Avraham Fried, Lipa Schmeltzer, and cantors Avi Albrecht, Binyamin Helfgot, Naftali Hershtik, Netanel Hershtik, Bentzion Miller and Yaakov Motzen. Motzen actually celebrated his wedding on board the first night, with other cantors intoning the sheva brachot (seven blessings): Yaakov Yitzhak Rosenfeld, Aaron Shifman, Shlomo Simcha, Yaakov Stark, Benjamin Warshawski, and Berel Zucker. Also performing were the Amiran Dvir band and the NY Synagogue Choir. Passengers were literally hit by a wave of music, and they loved every minute of it.

All food was prepared on board by award-winning chefs from some of Israel’s top hotels, leading Eddie’s Tours CEO David Walles to note that there was no need for religiously observant Jewish travelers to compromise on culinary quality.

ITALIAN AMBASSADOR Luigi Mattiolo hosted a reception at his residence in Ramat Gan in honor of Ronni Benatoff, who heads the Israel-Italy Chamber of Commerce, and conferred on him, on behalf of Italy’s president, the Legion Commandatore. Among the guests were former ambassador to Italy Avi Pazner, former ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval, former minister Mudi (Eliezer) Sanberg, a parliamentary delegation from Italy, and many others. Benatoff has been active in bridge-building between the two countries in various spheres.

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