Grapevine: Presidential no-show

Rivlin feels so much at home at Hazvi Yisrael that he forgoes presidential formalities and shows up without suit or tie, and, like many Sabras and veteran immigrants, came in an open-necked shirt.

October 25, 2016 20:45

GAL GADOT IN CASTRO SPRING 2015 collection.. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Even presidents are subjected to flight delays. Fijian President Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Jioji Konousi Konrote was scheduled to meet with President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday morning, but the meeting did not take place, because the Fijian president was not yet in the country, due to a delay in his flight.

Presidents who use commercial airlines are, like the rest of us, subject to delays.

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Over the years, Fijian soldiers have been deployed in United Nations peacekeeping forces in the region. The highest-ranking Israeli to visit Fiji was president Chaim Herzog in November 1986, en route to New Zealand and Australia. When Rivlin’s postponed visit to Australia eventuates, he may care to take the same route.

IT’S A fairly well-known fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are movie buffs, and whenever they can find the time to catch a new movie at the cinema, for security reasons they sneak in after the movie starts, and sneak out before the end when the theater is still dark so that no one in the audience will recognize them. As of last Friday, the prime minister is eligible for a NIS 10 entrance fee, as accorded to all senior citizens.

The Netanyahu family celebrated his birthday by going to the Tel Gezer National Park and stood under a city gate that was built by King Solomon, a fact that Netanyahu underscored on his Facebook page, stating: “This ancient and unique site is another testimony to our deep connection to the Land of Israel.”

Netanyahu subsequently celebrated with Likud ministers and MKs as well as family members, and said he was very moved by all the congratulatory messages and birthday greetings that he had received.

Incidentally, both of the prime minister’s sons, Yair and Avner, are sporting beards – not as luxurious as the one that has added dignity to the visage of former defense minister Ehud Barak, but more along the jawline. By the way, Avner Netanyahu looks amazingly like his father at more or less the same age.

Yair Netanyahu inherited his looks from his mother.

ONE OF the indications that an Israeli politician has made it big time is a feature article in The New York Times. Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev’s attempt to change Israel’s cultural agenda was of sufficient interest to result in somewhere in the range of a 4,000- word comprehensive feature in The New York Times Magazine by Israeli journalist Ruth Margalit, who lives in New York but who came home to research Regev’s complex character, to interview her and accompany her around the country and interview other people who have had dealings with her, including Arabs and Ashkenazi and Mizrahi (eastern) Jews.

Margalit was surprised to discover that Regev, who was born to a Spanish mother and a Moroccan father in Kiryat Gat, grew up in a Labor Party family. Her father, Felix Siboni, was active in the Labor Party, but switched political affiliation after his daughter joined Likud. Though always a nationalist, Regev weighed her options about which party to join after concluding a 25-year career in the IDF, where she was chief censor and later spokeswoman. She realized that she wasn’t going to make much headway in the Labor Party and that her chances of entering the Knesset were much better on a Likud ticket.

Margalit went with Regev to her parents’ home, and then they went to the wealthier part of town, where her in-laws live. Regev’s husband, Dror, “is an engineer in the aerospace industry,” Margalit wrote in her New York Times Magazine article. “They met when Miri was 16 and he was in his early 20s – he spotted her at the city’s central bus station – and they now have three grown children.

Dror’s grandparents immigrated from Russia and Poland, and at first Miri felt intimidated by them and their European ways. ‘They were all teachers and spoke high Hebrew, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t fit in. But everything was OK. It was all in my head. Because I came from a culture that hugs and touches and kapara and ‘What do you want to eat?’ and huge pots of food. And at his house things were different. There was less touching and less – it’s not that there isn’t love, there is – but it’s different. The combination between the cultures isn’t an easy one.’ Nevertheless, she added, she and Dror are proud that their children are now ‘really Israeli’ and ‘have both the Eastern and Western in them.’” As a point of interest, Dror, like Miri’s father, used to vote Labor.

In Regev’s culture war, she admitted to not having read Chekhov, but Gesher Theater director Yevgeny Aryeh, in an interview with Yuval Abramovich in Israel Hayom, said that not all of those who are opposed to Regev’s policies, including people from Israel’s cultural world, have read Chekhov themselves. He had detected this even among the most severe critics who had reviewed his productions.

JUDGING BY the attendance in and around synagogues within easy walking distance of Jerusalem’s main hotel belt, the capital’s hotels did very well during the Succot period.

In some synagogues, tourist attendance outweighed that of locals to the extent that additional minyanim (prayer quorums) had to be conducted outside the building to ensure that every male present would be called to the Torah. This was the case with Hazvi Yisrael, where several VIPs, including Rivlin and Jerusalem City Council member Moshe Lion, who is a former director of the Prime Minister’s Office, a former head of Israel Railways and a former head of the Jerusalem Development Authority, were among the congregants.

It’s a pity that the congregation did not take advantage of one of Lion’s other talents. He comes from a family of cantors, and was a cantor in the rabbinical choir during his service in the IDF, and has often served as a cantor in civilian life. Rivlin also has a good voice, and in those parts of the service in which the congregation becomes the chorus, his voice could be heard above those of other congregants.

Rivlin feels so much at home at Hazvi Yisrael that he forgoes presidential formalities and shows up without suit or tie, and, like many Sabras and veteran immigrants, came in an open-necked shirt. He arrived early in the morning when there were very few people, entered without fanfare, leaving his security guard outside, and sat alone in the front pew for at least 15 minutes before other congregants came to join him. When he attends services at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue, Rivlin sometimes sits in splendid isolation alongside the Ark in a seat reserved for the president of the state or the chief rabbi, but at Hazvi Yisrael he is like one of the hevre.

WHEN SHE was 18, actress and model Gal Gadot won the 2004 Miss Israel contest, but failed to win the Miss Universe contest, which would have made her a one-year roving ambassador disseminating messages about peace, the control of diseases, and public awareness of AIDS in many parts of the world.

But good things come to those who wait.

After completing her army service and embarking on a law course at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, she appeared in a photo series on women in the IDF and a year later was chosen to be a presenter for Castro fashions, with which she is still associated, in addition to being the presenter for several international brand names, including Gucci fragrances.

She began making a name for herself in Hollywood seven years ago, after proving her talent in a couple of Israeli productions; and now, in her capacity as Wonder Woman, she is a United Nations honorary ambassador in the fight for gender equality, which happens to be item five in the UN goals for sustainable development by the year 2030.

There have been large-scale protests at the UN’s choice of a fictitious icon instead of a real person, but Gadot and other speakers pointed out that Wonder Woman is committed to justice, peace and equality and the empowerment of woman. “Sometimes we need someone or something to inspire us and to help inform our choices by setting an example,” said Gadot at a special ceremony at the United Nations last Friday.

Serendipitously, the event coincided with the 75th anniversary of the creation of Wonder Woman by William Moulton Marston and his wife, Elizabeth, at a time during the Second World War when America desperately needed a superhero. It was Elizabeth Marston’s idea that the comic book superhero, whose adventures have since been translated into many languages and have been the subject of a television series and a film, should be woman.

Another piece of serendipity in this latest chapter in the Wonder Woman saga is that Gadot also happens to be the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. Now all that remains to be seen is whether Castro will cash in on, or contribute to, the gender equality campaign by designing a collection inspired by Wonder Woman and naturally presented by Gadot.

IT’S NOT certain whether the frequent interviews given by singer, actor, author, current affairs commentator and television host Yehoram Gaon in advance of the premiere of the Goshen Theater production of Ani Yerushalmi (I am a Jerusalemite), a musicale based on a documentary of the same name that Gaon made in 1971, is to promote Gaon, to promote the upcoming 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem or the musicale itself.

The original documentary was made after Gaon returned to scenes from his childhood following the Six Day War. As a boy, he had frequently accompanied his father on visits to the Old City to see his grandfather, but after 1948, access to it was closed for 19 years. Gaon found several places much as he remembered them, and the documentary was infused with several appropriate songs about Jerusalem.

He subsequently made another documentary, which premiered in July 2009, under the title Ani Kvar Lo Yerushalmi (I am no longer a Jerusalemite). Long before that, Gaon moved to Ramat Hasharon, though he did maintain a home in Jerusalem during the nine-year period from 1993 to 2002 in which, as a member of the Jerusalem City Council, he held the cultural affairs and special education needs portfolio in the municipality.

The latter film was rescreened on television during Succot and, despite being seven years old, was still entirely relevant. A lot of footage was given to Gaon’s conversation with Yaron Tzidkiyahu, whose family has long been famous in the Mahaneh Yehuda market and beyond for its deli foods and nibbles. Gaon and Tzidkiyahu went on walks through the city, nostalgically remembering places that no longer exist, such as the soccer field at the YMCA, the Edison movie theater, and various once-popular coffee shops and restaurants. It simply wasn’t the Jerusalem of their youth, and it continues to change.

Also among the people with whom Gaon talked was archeologist Meir Ben-Dov, who told him that among the various important visitors whom he had escorted was astronaut Neil Armstrong, who, while standing on an ancient but still intact stone staircase, said to him that he would give almost anything to stand on a step where Jesus trod. To which Ben-Dov responded: “You’re standing on one now.” Armstrong was instantly overcome by emotion, and said that for him this was more exciting than walking on the moon.

Former Jerusalem City Council member Moshe Amirav, a resident of Ein Kerem, who veered from the political Right to the political Left, told Gaon that of all his friends, he was almost the last to remain in Jerusalem. His children had relocated to Tel Aviv. Given what is still lacking in Jerusalem, Amirav said that Jerusalem is not really the capital of Israel. It isn’t recognized by any country in the world, and the cultural, commercial and hi-tech hubs are in Tel Aviv. “Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people, and Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel,” Amirav told Gaon.

The most controversial interview in the film is with Palestinian historian and writer Nasser Eddin Nashashibi, at his home in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Nashashibi, who died in 2013, had also been involved in Palestinian politics, and had never given up hope of reclaiming what had once belonged to him and had been confiscated by Israel. He told Gaon that there would never be a territorial compromise. In addition to many plots of sequestrated land that belonged to him in Jerusalem, he said, he also owned half of Petah Tikva. He sometimes visited his lands, he said, and believed with all his heart that one day God would return his lands to him.

He regarded the Jews as infiltrators and said that Jerusalem was not the place for the Jews.

“Why should some Polish Jew be allowed to take over my land?” he demanded. Gaon pointed out that he had been born in Jerusalem, as had his father and grandfather. “For you maybe, we would make a special arrangement,” Nashashibi grudgingly conceded.

JERUSALEM-BORN actress and Academy Award winner Natalie Portman will be honored at the 30th Anniversary Israel Film Festival in Los Angeles which will be running November 9-23. She will receive the 2016 Israel Film Festival Career Achievement in Film Award at a gala dinner on November 9 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills.

Also in line for other awards at the event are Sharon Stone and Jay Sanderson. An announcement to this effect was made by Meir Fenigstein, Israel Film Festival founder and director. Honorary festival chairman is Israeli expat and generous philanthropist to Israel causes Arnon Milchan, the owner of New Regency Productions.

Several Israeli filmmakers will attend the festival and participate in Q&A sessions following the screening of their films. They include Elite Zexer, director of Sand Storm; Asaph Polonsky, director of One Week and a Day; Meni Yaesh, director of Our Father; Maya Zinshtein, director of Forever Pure; Dani Menkin, director, and Nancy Spielberg, executive producer, of On the Map; Itzik Krichli, director and producer, and Elad Gavish, producer, of The Last Band in Lebanon; Raphael Rebibo, director of Amor; and Estee Yacov-Mecklberg, producer of Sand Storm and AKA Nadia.

EVEN THOUGH he claims to have retired, and no longer has any patience for, or desire to, pursue his career, controversial singer Shimi Tavori, who recently married for the fourth time, choosing as his bride Yehudit Bauman, who some years ago claimed to be the love child of Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni, will nonetheless perform at the Cameri Theater at a musical tribute to mark the 12th anniversary of the passing of singer, songwriter and composer Uzi Hitman.

Tavori and Hitman collaborated early in their careers, and Tavori’s performance is by way of a moral obligation, though his wife is trying to persuade him to return on a more regular basis to the world of entertainment.

Tavori has seven children from his previous marriages, and Bauman has six. There were offspring on both sides who objected to the union and failed to turn up at the wedding celebration, and there were others who gave the union their blessing. With regard to those who were opposed, Tavori said that he would not allow his children to control his life.

Other performers at the tribute this coming Friday, October 28, include former Eurovision winner Izhar Cohen, Jonathan Miller, Yuval Caspin, Ohad Hitman, and Sagiv Cohen. There will be two performances, one at 11 a.m. and the other at 1 p.m.

IT’S HARD to believe that a month has already gone by since the death of Israel’s ninth president, Shimon Peres. Dignitaries, including Rivlin and Netanyahu, will once again deliver eulogies at a memorial service and tombstone consecration for Peres on Mount Herzl this coming Friday morning, though with fewer, if any, international dignitaries in attendance, with the exception of foreign ambassadors serving in Israel.

The custodians of the Peres archives at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, the National Archives, the Zionist Archives and other places where data on world leaders are stored, will certainly have their work cut out for them. It is doubtful that any Israel leader, including Yitzhak Rabin and Shas spiritual mentor and former Sephardi chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef had so much published about them in the span of a month and a half, even though Yosef’s funeral was reportedly the largest ever held in Israel.

Aside from items in the international media, in Israel alone there were numerous large-scale articles about Peres in the press following his heart procedure, and of course there was an avalanche following his demise; and almost every day since, at least one if not two or three Israeli newspapers carries a feature or an item about Peres, and will continue to do so – perhaps not at the same pace – for a long time to come.

Peres had his finger in so many pies that there will always be yet another anecdote that is not generally known, or another project that will be named after him.

For instance, when the Negev Nuclear Research Center is renamed in accordance with a proposal put forward by Netanyahu to call it the Peres Nuclear Research Center, the renaming ceremony in Dimona and the huge role that Peres played, as director-general of the Defense Ministry and later as defense minister, in the development of Israel’s nuclear capability will be reported over and over, and it will also be reported that he did not receive an invitation to the 50th anniversary celebration of the research center during the period that he was president, though many political figures were among the 3,000 guests.

The absence of the president was keenly felt, not only because he appeared in almost all the images of the establishment of Israel’s nuclear reactor, but because he had closely followed and defended its development, including during the period that he was prime minister; and even without all that, he should have been invited as president of the state.

Netanyahu was absolutely correct in stating that to name the facility after Peres would be a most appropriate memorial tribute.

On another totally unrelated issue, it was a source of great frustration to the men who meet on weekday mornings for the morning prayer services in the President’s Synagogue that stands in the garden of the presidential compound that Peres would never accept their invitation to join them in prayer. However, when Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople came to visit Peres in May 2014, during the last two months of Peres’s presidency, Peres took him to the synagogue, opened the Ark and told him the provenance of each Torah scroll.

There are thousands of little vignettes about Peres. Another one associated with religion was when Ovadia Yosef called on him and, in the course of conversation, slapped his face.

People who didn’t know that this was the rabbi’s way of showing affection were horrified.

But Peres grinned from ear to ear.

In July 2013, when Yosef was hospitalized in serious condition at Hadassah-University Medical Center, Peres visited him, and in October 2013 Peres released an official statement following Yosef’s passing: “A few hours ago I went to the hospital to say good-bye to my teacher, my rabbi, my friend Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. It was a difficult time. My eyes were filled with tears and my throat was choked with emotion. I held his hand which was still warm and kissed his forehead. When I pressed his hand, I felt I was touching history, and when I kissed his head it was as though I kissed the very greatness of Israel.”

WHILE AUSTRALIAN expats living in Israel, along with Australian diplomats, tourists, and members of Australian Zionist youth groups spending up to a year in Israel in leadership training courses will be flocking to Beersheba on Monday, October 31, for the annual commemoration of the Battle of Beersheba, which was won thanks to the efforts of the Australian and New Zealand forces, the second annual Beersheba Dialogue, which was launched last year by the BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in conjunction with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, will take place in Melbourne and Sydney.

The Beersheba Dialogue is in essence a military- to-military exchange, and the Israelis participating this year will include Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror; BESA director Prof.

Efraim Inbar, a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University; and Channel 2’s political commentator on the Middle East Ehud Yaari, who is married to an Australian and is a well-known figure on the Australian lecture circuit.

Their visit to Australia is being facilitated by the ASPI and by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. The discussion will center on Israel in a changing Middle East.

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