Grapevine: Strike fallout

Each day that the labor dispute of Foreign Ministry employees continues, lessens the realization of the planned pilgrimage to the Holy Land by Pope Francis.

March 25, 2014 21:37
Pope Francis waves as he delivers his first "Urbi et Orbi"

Pope Francis waves as he delivers first "Urbi et Orbi".. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Each day that the labor dispute of Foreign Ministry employees continues, lessens the realization of the planned pilgrimage to the Holy Land by Pope Francis.

The Pope’s projected visit in May, if it takes place, is not only an important milestone in relations between the Vatican and the State of Israel, but also between Christians of different denominations.

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Aside from his meetings with senior Israeli officials beginning with President Shimon Peres, whom he has met before, a crucial part of the visit was intended to center on an ecumenical meeting at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Eastern Orthodox Archbishop of Constantinople, with a view to commemorating the historic meeting 50 years ago between Pope Paul VI and the Patriarch Athenagoras I.

That encounter symbolized the genesis of ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, and led to a joint declaration in December 1965, whereby the two great spiritual leaders affirmed their desire ”to overcome their differences and to be again as one.”

The schism between Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism dates back to 1054, and there had been no meeting between a pope of Rome and an ecumenical patriarch for more than 500 years. A year ago, Patriarch Bartholomew, who is the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians around the world, traveled from New York to Rome for the enthronement and inaugural mass of Pope Frances. It was the first time that a primate of Constantinople had attended the installation of a primate of Rome.

If the Finance Ministry becomes more flexible and reaches an accommodation with the employees of the Foreign Ministry to end the general strike, history will be made again on May 24-26, when the two primates meet in Jerusalem.

Bartholomew also enjoyed a good relationship with Pope Benedict XVI, with whom he attended the opening of the Year of Faith in St. Peter’s Square in 2012, but did not attend his inauguration.

■ THE FOREIGN Ministry strike – which was still in force at press time – may also adversely affect the annual Chabad Seder in Kathmandu.

For 26 years, Israelis and other Jewish backpackers traveling through Asia have set their Passover compasses in the direction of the Nepalese capital, to participate in the world’s largest Seder, run by Chabad.

Although Chabad receives all the credit for organizing the Seder, it is in fact run in conjunction with the Foreign Ministry, which makes all the arrangements for shipping supplies and does all the paperwork, which is completed by the Israel Embassy in Nepal.

Because of the ministry’s general strike, the Passover products may not cleared by customs, and the Seder, if it takes place, will be a meal of affliction with little more than matza and wine – providing that Rabbi Chezky Lifshitz, the Chabad emissary in Nepal, can improvise a matza-baking facility.

At the time of this writing, Lifshitz and his friends were seeking alternatives to the shipment from Israel, so that the Seder could be held just as it has been in the past.

Every year more than 1,000 people attend the Kathmandu Seder, pouring in primarily from India, but also from other parts of Asia.

For some, who had no previous contact with religion and no particular curiosity about their heritage, this Passover experience is often a turning point in their lives.

It is this fact which may prompt Chabad to find other means, even at such short notice, of getting the necessary supplies. Chabad has always been known for its resourcefulness, and now has the challenge of trying to come up with a solution – without the help of the Foreign Ministry.

Chabad tycoon Lev Leviev annually provides Passover products for community Seders throughout the former Soviet Union.

Whether he can be prevailed upon to extend his largesse to Kathmandu remains to be seen.

Argentine millionaire Eduardo Elsztain is also a chabadnik, and donates to many causes. He is the key supporter and fund-raiser in Latin America for the World Jewish Congress, for Taglit-Birthright and of course, for Chabad – given that he is the president of Chabad Argentina.

Australian mining millionaire Joseph Gutnick, who has paid for the construction of many Chabad projects, including ritual baths and banquet halls across Israel, is a Chabadnik from birth – and the type of person who would not like to see the demise of the Kathmandu Seder.

Another Australian, property tycoon Harry Triguboff, is also a great Chabad supporter and in December 2012, stepped into the breach during a fund-raising crisis – whereby the Sydney Chabad Lubavitch hierarchy was in danger of being evicted from its headquarters.

Trigubuff shelled out $6 million to help Chabad out of its financial crisis.

Chilean philanthropist Leonardo Farkas is yet another generous supporter of Chabad – so if push comes to shove, Lifshitz has where to turn. If the above-mentioned and a couple of other Chabad millionaires got together to finance a fresh load of supplies, they would hardly feel the pinch, but would bask in a great mitzva.

■ THE WORLD Center of Baha’i is located in Haifa and Acre and consists of the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, honoring the founder of the Baha’i faith; the glorious Baha’i gardens an Mount Carmel, which are visible from many parts of Haifa, are in themselves a city landmark. Yet for all that, when members of the Baha’i faith resident in Israel celebrate their New Year, they do so in Jerusalem.

This year’s celebration was of special significance because for the first time, it was not presided over by Secretary-General Dr. Albert Lincoln, but by his son Joshua – who last year was appointed secretary- general of the Baha’i international community, a position that makes him the senior officer acting on behalf of the Universal House of Justice.

In welcoming the guests and thanking them for their friendship, Dr. Joshua Lincoln began his address in Hebrew. His accent was a little strange, but his grammar was more than passable.

The event, which takes place each year at the David Citadel Hotel, is organized by Baha’i Jerusalem representatives Kern and Barbara Wisman, who are on a frequent commute between Jerusalem and Haifa – as well as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem and Herzliya Pituah – as they are on the guest lists of most embassies, consulates and the representative bodies of most faiths practiced in Israel.

Last year, even though the Wismans had made all the necessary arrangements with the hotel, the New Year celebration was canceled.

Lincoln termed it a “POTUS freeze,” meaning that it had been frozen out by the president of the United States. Unfortunately, the date coincided with the visit of President Barack Obama, and vehicles other than those of the presidential entourage were not permitted to enter King David Street, where the David Citadel is located.

Lincoln said he was glad that Jerusalemites had overcome both the POTUS freeze and the blizzard that paralyzed the capital last December.

Even this year’s celebration was not quite what it should have been, because the area leading to the hotel ballroom was undergoing repairs and guests needing to use the restroom could not do so on the same floor, and had to climb a staircase to answer the call of nature.

However, the cuisine was vastly improved and included a delicious celery puree that many mistook for potato, until they sampled it and then went back for more.

It’s possible that the David Citadel has improved its standards due to the competition from across the road. After several delays in opening, the Waldorf Astoria, Jerusalem’s newest luxury hotel, will definitely be open for Passover and will add to the competition in the hotel belt leading to the Old City.

Lincoln was not the only speaker.

Following his address, he invited Amy Palmer, the charming director- general of the Justice Ministry, who was appointed only two months ago, to address the crowd.

A proud Jerusalemite, and the mother of a 22-year-old son who is an officer in the IDF and a 19-yearold daughter who is completing a year of national service before joining the army (as did her son), Palmer said she was delighted to see so many people coming to her home city.

During her two months in office, she said, she has learned a lot about the special relationship between Baha’i and the Justice Ministry. An important link between the two was their mutual commitment to the broad spectrum of human rights, said Palmer.

■ ISRAEL ABOUNDS with scandals and conspiracy theories, and both may now apply to the latest drama surrounding Silvan Shalom, who has been an MK since 1992; was the first male parliamentarian to serve on the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women; and since 1998, has held a half-dozen ministerial portfolios, including that of the Finance and Foreign Ministries. He has also served as deputy prime minister and vice prime minister – and during none of these roles did reports surface in the media about any alleged sexual misconduct.

The only titillating stories were about the negative relationship between Shalom and his wife Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes, and Danny and Anne Ayalon, when Ayalon was serving as ambassador to the US, and Nir-Mozes stirred up the dust with regard to complaints by the embassy’s household staff of being mistreated by Anne Ayalon.

When Silvan Shalom aspired to take over the Likud leadership, his current accuser did not come forward.

She may have still been afraid, or she may have been counseled not to drag herself through the mud – as happened with Orly Revivo, whose story landed former president Moshe Katsav in prison.

It has been suggested by various reporters and by Silvan Shalom himself that the allegations against him, particularly at this time, are designed to thwart his chances of becoming president. That may be partly true but what may be even truer, if we’re going into conspiracy theories, is that there may be people who do not want to see Nir-Mozes as Israel’s first lady.

A free spirit and very outspoken in her views, some people thought she might be a liability to Shalom’s political career when they married.

But as Shalom said afterwards in an interview, the world didn’t fall apart when she dropped her first verbal bombshell after their wedding, and he’s fine with whatever she says and does.

But her personality may not be the only reason there is concern about Nir-Mozes becoming the first lady. It should be remembered that she is the sister of Noni Mozes, the powerful publisher of Yediot Aharonot, and that she herself owns part of the family’s media empire. She is also a seasoned journalist with wide experience in print media, radio and television, and had no trouble gravitating to social media as well.

In addition, she is a hands-on worker for a number of philanthropic causes, and a devoted mother of five.

There are those who would not like to see her wielding any sort of influence in the presidential compound, where Yediot Aharonot already wields more influence than other publications – with the annual prize ceremony for the company’s outstanding employees taking place there, and frequent presentations being made to the president of books published by the paper, which always makes sure to run a photo of the president, the book, its author and the CEO of Yediot Publications.

It is to Yediot Aharonot’s credit that it treated the Silvan Shalom story in the same way as any other national scandal, with the exception that Sima Kadmon, its veteran senior political commentator, took to task the women journalists’ group that has been pointing the finger at alleged sex crimes by prominent figures. These include male journalists and television personalities Emmanuel Rosen and Sharon Gal – who in the final analysis were not charged, but whose reputations were sullied far and wide.

Kadmon states that it is very clear someone wanted to prevent Shalom from ever becoming president.

Even if he is completely cleared, the stain on his name will remain, she writes.

■ APROPOS YEDIOT Publications, it has organized a series of book launches for Yehoshua Matza’s autobiography Two Guns, which has been published under the Yediot imprint. Among those who have received the book are Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik.

Matza, a 12th-generation Jerusalemite, is descended from a family that came from Greece after having been expelled from Spain, and settled in Jerusalem’s Old City. His most recent position was that of president of Israel Bonds. As an adolescent, he joined the Irgun to fight the British, and after the establishment of the state joined the IDF, rising to the rank of captain.

Matza was elected to the Jerusalem City Council on a Likud ticket in 1965, and from 1969 had a 10-year stint as deputy mayor. He was elected to the Knesset in 1984, and from 1996-1999 served as Health Minister. He remained in the Knesset until 2002, when he was appointed president and CEO of Israel Bonds, and during his tenure there was headquartered in New York.

■ ON THE subject of Jerusalem, tomorrow – Thursday – it will be the scene of a major culinary fest.

Several Michelin chefs, at the invitation of prize-winning Israeli chef Shalom Kadosh, the executive chef for the Fattal Hotels chain, will cook up a storm at the Leonardo Plaza Hotel for a gala NIS 2,000-a-plate dinner in aid of Ezra Avot, an organization which cares for needy senior citizens.

Ezra Avot was in the process of building a new center when it ran out of funds. Kadosh agreed to come to the rescue, and because of his connections in the international world of cuisine was able to invite European and Israeli celebrity chefs – as he has done for other events in the past – to come and exercise their culinary talents in the kitchen of the hotel in which he has worked for close to 40 years.

Among the chefs will be Marc Haeberlin and Philippe Legendre from France, Harald Wohlfahrt from Germany and Israel’s own Moshik Roth, who has achieved enormous success in Holland and is regularly seen as a judge in Israeli culinary competitions screened on Channel 2. Local Israeli chefs taking part in the spectacular five-course culinary happening include Aviv Moshe; Golan Gurfinkel; Yoram Nitzan; Meir Adoni, who appears with Roth as a judge on Channel 2; Mika Sharon; Ezra Kedem; Moshe Segev; and Eran Schwartzbard.

Together, they will prove it’s not true that too many cooks spoil the broth. On the contrary, the cooperation also involves a degree of competition, and all the chefs will be doing their best to prove another adage – that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

■ LEGISLATION NOTWITHSTANDING, getting women onto the boards of directors of stateowned companies remains problematic.

But women are at the forefront in other enterprises, and some of those who are prominent in their respective fields will be among the participants in the OnLife Women’s Business Conference at Jerusalem’s First Station on Thursday, March 27.

Among the participants are local politician Rachel Azaria, who sits on the Jerusalem Municipal Council; Ofra Strauss, who heads the Strauss Group of companies; Eti Rotter, the co-director of Castro; Tamira Yardeni, the CEO of Teddy Productions; plus many other well-known personalities, including at least one man – Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

■ THE GROWING rift between two former political allies, Yesh Atid leader and Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Bayit Yehudi leader and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, may extend to a rift between Lapid and Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen, a member of his own Yesh Atid party, who has announced his intention to stop funding the Warm Homes for Holocaust survivors in Haifa.

Lapid, who is the son of a Holocaust survivor, has a very warm spot in his heart for Holocaust survivors, and one of the positive things he has done as finance minister is to provide more benefits for survivors.

One of the wings in the Haifa facility is named for his late father Tommy Lapid, and the finance minister is among several ministers who have visited there and praised the initiative of Shimon Sabag, the founder of Yad Ezer L’Haver, and the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, which joined in to provide decent housing, food, companionship and other amenities to destitute Holocaust survivors.

The ICEJ, particularly its German branch, is doing what it can to help with funding but the Israeli government, which should be increasing its share, is decreasing it. The government should remember that reparations from Germany, which played a significant role in Israel’s development, were largely intended to help Holocaust survivors return to a normal life. It is ironic that in this respect, a series of Israeli governments cheated the very people whose suffering made restitution from Germany possible.

What happened to morals and ethics? Those survivors who are still with us are in the twilight of their lives. Is this a time to deny them yet again? ■ AT DEMONSTRATIONS by Israel Broadcasting Authority employees and their supporters last week, several speakers, in comparing programs on Channel 1 and those on commercial television, commented that many of the documentaries shown on Channel 1 would not be shown on commercial television because they were unlikely to attract high ratings. Public television, they said, is more interested in quality than in reality shows, which command high ratings but are lacking in substance.

As for the carrot dangled under the public’s nose, with Communications Minister Gilad Erdan announcing cancellation of the broadcasting levy... For one thing, if he follows through on his threat to close down the IBA, there will be no purpose in imposing a levy.

Legal analyst Moshe Negbi explained that it is important to maintain the levy, which is the IBA’s prime source of revenue, because it represents the public’s share in public broadcasting, whereas if the entity that will supposedly replace the IBA is funded by the Finance Ministry, it will make the new public broadcasting service reliant on a political ministry – and thus the politicization of public broadcasting will be intensified, instead of being eliminated.

■ A PUBLIC broadcasting series that viewers would be unlikely to see on commercial television is the trek across Israel by the IBA’s Itai Vered, who walks across ancient Roman paths; stops to talk to people along the way; samples fruit, to learn about strains imported from various Mediterranean countries developed and improved upon in Israel, and the produce exported back to the countries from which the strains were taken. Vered looks at graceful animals that are running wild, and at endangered species that nature-lovers have saved from extinction.

He also introduces viewers to amazing initiatives such as the Lakiya Negev Beduin Weaving project, whereby Beduin women who use centuries-old techniques to separate the fleece, dye and spin the wool, and weave the carpets are simultaneously learning Hebrew and English, business practice, how to use a laptop and how to enter the modern world without sacrificing their traditions.

This is not the kind of content that appeals to commercial television.

Moreover, if it did appear on commercial television, it would have to be considerably edited to make room for the commercials.

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