Finland is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary of independence.
At a reception hosted this week by Ambassador Anu Saarela at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Jaffa, guests were treated to a wonderful performance by Finland’s famed Tapiola Youth Choir, conducted by Pasi Hyokki. The choir has been to Israel before and is currently here to perform seven concerts in different parts of the country with the Israel Camerata Jerusalem Orchestra.
Also in Israel for the occasion was Paula Lehtomaki, state secretary to the prime minister and chairwoman of the 100th anniversary festivities, which in Finland and abroad come to a total of some 4,000 events and projects.
Representing Israel’s government was Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who, in sharp contrast to his colleagues, not only came on time but actually arrived early and engaged in pleasant conversation with Saarela and Lehtomaki. The Education Ministry works in close cooperation with Finland.
Bennett said that he had just come from a meeting in which discussion had centered on how to import Finnish methodologies into Israel’s education system, because Finland understands that the most important thing is education. Bennett, who was a hi-tech entrepreneur before entering politics, also praised Finland for its innovation and its “culture of flexibility.”
Saarela welcomed representatives of Supercell, one of the world’s leading developers of mobile games and a key success story of Finland’s innovation. She said that Finland looks forward to further cooperation with Israel in education, innovation and research, adding that her embassy has a long history of cooperation with the Peres Center, with which it is currently helping to build trust by bringing together Israeli and Palestinian soccer players.
Although Finland is celebrating 100 years of independence, she said, the focus must be on the future. She felt it important to say this specifically in the Peres Center because Shimon Peres had always looked to the future and to innovation. Saarela also announced that Finland’s embassy is expanding and will have to relocate as a result.
Lehtomaki said that peace and innovation, which are the objectives of the Peres Center, are also those of Finland and that she was pleased to be able to honor his heritage, his life and his work.
Acknowledging that 100 years is not very long in the history of a country, she emphasized its importance for Finland, “a small country with a big neighbor who was not always friendly.” For many centuries, she said, Finland had been part of Sweden and subsequently part of Russia. The First World War and the Russian Revolution had created the momentum for Finland to become independent. Even before that, women in Finland were given equal rights as far back as 1906, and today, she said, Finland has one of the most stable democracies in Europe and is one of the least corrupt.
■ AS A kid in New York’s Bronx, Marvin Hershkowitz liked to practice basketball moves in the local schoolyard. As he grew older, he proved to be a truly talented hoopster, first as a star player in high school, then at City University and later Yeshiva University, where he captained the team, and where his prowess helped the YU Maccabees achieve triumphs such as they had never known before. He also helped the American basketball team score its victory at the 4th Maccabiah Games in 1953. He subsequently returned to YU as assistant coach to the legendary Red Sarachek.
Hershkowitz left again and returned again.
In 1960, he left YU for the Ramaz School, where he was both physical education instructor and basketball coach. Several students at the school were Israelis living temporarily in the US because their parents were in America either as emissaries of some kind or as academics or businesspeople.
Two such students who were coached by Hershkowitz were Isaac Herzog, currently leader of the opposition in the Knesset, and prizewinning filmmaker Avi Nesher.
After settling in Israel, Hershkowitz paid more attention to tennis than to basketball and regularly played at the Wingate Institute, where he also became an unofficial athletic coach. A promising young athlete who came under his wing was Yossy Gev of Rehovot, whom he persuaded to go to America and continue his studies at YU. Gev did very well in the classroom and even better on the basketball court. As a result, he and Hershkowitz were last month inducted into the inaugural Maccabees Hall of Fame.
Due to his mobility problems, Hershkowitz was unable to attend, and sent two of his sons, Jay and Arthur, who are twins, to represent him. However, his family and friends were so proud of him that they wanted to celebrate his induction in Israel as well, and on June 2 held a festive breakfast in his honor at YU’s Jerusalem campus in Bayit Vegan. Master of ceremonies was his eldest son, Stuart. So far, three generations of the Hershkowitz family have been born with the basketball gene, which is a source of great pride to Marvin.
Among the hundred or so people who congregated to congratulate him and wish him well were men with whom he had played many years ago and somewhat younger men, including members of his family, whom he had coached. Nesher sent a video in which he said that he had never seen Hershkowitz play, but that he’d been a great coach and that it had been a great experience playing for him.
The Hall of Fame plaques for Gev and Hershkowitz are inscribed: “Yossy Gev is the all-time YU men’s basketball points leader with 1,871 points. He played on the men’s basketball team from 1998 to 2002, serving as captain for three out of the four years. He was also the assistant coach from 2002 to 2005. He has earned many awards, including being named to the New York Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association Division III All-Star Team (four times), National Association of Basketball Coaches Division III Atlantic All-District All-Star Team, and East Coast Athletic Conference Division III Men’s Metro Basketball All- Star Team.”
“Marvin Hershkowitz was the first-ever basketball player in YU history to score 1,000 points. In the 1949–1950 season, he led Yeshiva’s scorers with a total of 269 points. From 1954 to 1956, he served as assistant coach, and from 1956to 1957 he was assistant athletic director. Six decades later, Hershkowitz is still ranked 23rd in team history in total points scored.”
Among the other inductees was Sarachek, whose first name was actually Bernard.
It was Sarachek who saw Hershkowitz’s potential and helped him to reach his peak. Sarachek served as coach of the YU men’s basketball team from 1942 to 1943 and from 1945 to 1968.
■ DESPITE CRITICISMS of what is known as Mizrahi songs, mainly songs reminiscent of and performed by singers with North African roots, such melodies and lyrics continue to prevail, and Mizrahi singers such as Eyal Golan, Sarit Hadad, Maya Bouskila, Dudu Aharon, Ninet Tayeb, Amir Benayoun, Zehava Ben, and even those of an older generation such as Raymonde Abecassis, Shimi Tavori, Margalit Tzan’ani and Avihu Medina continue to fill concert halls and arenas.
Recordings of long-dead Mizrahi performers such as Shoshana Damari, Zohar Argov, Ofra Haza, and Jo Amar are frequently played on radio.
Now, another medium has been employed to pay tribute to some of these and other Mizrahi singers. The history of Mizrahi music over the past 20 years in particular, and since the founding of the state in general, is the focus of an art exhibition which opened this week at the Ashdod Art Museum, in the presence of Ashdod Mayor Yehiel Lasry. It was also an occasion for Golan, who is consistently at or near the top of the hit parade, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his first album, Beladaich (Without You). The exhibition has been curated by Eran Litvin, whose name gives an unbiased perception to the exhibition.
■ TIMING IS everything. Only a few days after the Knesset unanimously approved an amendment to the Communications Law, thereby permitting international news channel i24NEWS to broadcast in Israel, Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic relations with Qatar and Qatar’s Al Jazeera news channel.
Up till now i24 fans in Israel could watch it only online, but in a few months will be able to follow its broadcasts in Arabic, French and English on television. No doubt viewers in some of Israel’s neighboring countries will also be watching i24 on their television screens. The amendment removes broadcast restrictions on Israeli- produced international news channels, including i24News, which broadcasts 24/7 and is often first with breaking news.
Its CEO, Frank Melloul, said that “the approval of the law, which comes immediately after the launch of i24News in the US, is a very significant milestone for the channel. Like many countries around the world, Israel can also be blessed today with an international news channel that gives the world current reports on three separate channels in three languages – English, French and Arabic.”
Currently, i24News is distributed through cable and satellite companies to nearly a billion households in Europe, Asia, Africa and the United States. Under the amended legislation, the Cable and Satellite Council will set rules and grant a license within the coming few months to i24News, making it available and accessible to all Israeli viewers on HOT and other Israeli broadcasting platforms.
■ IT WILL be interesting to see how much influence Ayoub Kara, the newly appointed communications minister, can wield. Kara has often been the butt of the media, but this week, several members of the Druse community, including Daliat al-Carmel Mayor Rafik Halabi, came to his defense. Writing in Facebook, Halabi, who several years ago was a senior reporter and editor on the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s Channel 1, described Kara as a political genius “who knows all the paths to glory.”
Halabi wanted to know which politicians holding ministerial positions were experts in those areas, and declared that Kara is not less qualified for his position than Miri Regev for hers, or Ze’ev Elkin and Ofir Akunis or any other minister for theirs.
Halabi regarded the ridiculing of Kara as a form of racism, and said the Druse community is fed up. If there is proof that Kara is unsuitable for the job, he wrote, then he would shut up – but that proof is not forthcoming. Halabi suggested that much of the criticism currently leveled at Kara is born out of envy.
■ APROPOS REGEV, it is rumored she had her eye on the Communications portfolio.
How much input, if any did, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have in the sacking of veteran Israel Hayom journalist Dan Margalit? Actually, with his criticisms of Netanyahu, Margalit saved the reputation of Israel Hayom, which, though it is a freebie, purports to be a proper, balanced newspaper. It was Margalit who provided the balance and actually gave Netanyahu and the paper’s owner Sheldon Adelson good cause to say that all those stories about no one at Israel Hayom being allowed to criticize Netanyahu are untrue. They would be very wise to give Margalit back his job.
Presumably, Israel Hayom’s relatively new editor Boaz Bismuth, who gave Margalit the boot, forgot that in the days when he himself worked for Yediot Aharonot and before that for Maariv, he, too, was a bit of a rebel.[email protected]