LAST YEAR turned out to be much better than anticipated, Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer told President Shimon Peres last Wednesday when he presented him with the bank’s report for 2009, prior to discussing some of its contents at a media conference.
Speaking as an economist, Fischer said that the annual report is always interesting, but much more so on this occasion, given the fact that the country emerged relatively well from the global economic crisis.
Peres had words of the highest praise for Fischer, declaring that he had performed a tremendous service for the country. He credited Fischer’s tenacity and adherence to principle to its having emerged from the global economic crisis “stronger than almost any other country.” This had raised the morale, the honor and even the standard of living for many citizens, he said, adding that there is absolutely no dispute that Fischer stands at the center of this success.
This did not surprise him, said Peres, recalling that when he had first met Fischer some 25 years ago, he had advised Israel to take certain measures and that everything had turned out exactly as he had predicted.
Peres expressed admiration not only for Fischer’s banking skills, but for his stubborn determination to speak Hebrew before he became fluent in the language.
Addressing himself directly to Fischer, Peres said: “I always thought that an economist has to be a pessimist, but you bring us results that give us cause for optimism. It proves that if you are adamant and stick to principle, you get the desired results.”
In response Fischer recalled that when he had worked with the International Monetary Fund, and had to deal with various crises around the world, he had said to people on the team: “If you’re not optimistic, you don’t belong here.”
Peres also congratulated Fischer on his second term in office. Fischer reminded Peres that as president he had to sign the appointment, and had not yet done so.
IT WAS to be expected that this year’s Freedom Day celebration hosted by South African Ambassador Ismail Coovadia and his wife Suraya would focus largely on the upcoming World Cup, but guests did not realize until entering the reception hall at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv to what extent it would figure in the festivities. The lunchtime affair took people by surprise. Egyptian Ambassador Yasser Reda said that he had never been to a lunchtime celebration of a national day before – but as they gazed out at the glorious blue of the calm sea, almost everyone thought it was a brilliant idea to take time off in the middle of the day for a celebration.
The overwhelming majority of male guests wore suits, but Coovadia left his at home and instead proudly wore a South African national team soccer shirt in the gold and green of his country’s national colors. In fact nearly all embassy staff wore the eye-catching T-shirts, while many of the women from other African countries came in national costume. The stage was adorned with African flowers as well as two spears and hunting or battle shields. At the entrance to the reception room stood Zakumi, the official mascot of this year’s World Cup. Zakumi is a friendly green and gold leopard with a big grin, a white T-shirt with the FIFA 2010 logo and green shorts. Zakumi was clutching a huge soccer ball and stood alongside Coovadia in the reception line.
Minister without Portfolio Bennie Begin, who represented the government, referred initially to South Africa’s national anthem, which Elizabeth Smith, deputy head of mission at the embassy, when announcing the playing of the anthems of both countries, had described as a song of hope, without offering any comparison to “Hatikva.” Begin noted that “Hatikva” means the hope, and said that as long as Jewish eyes are directed toward Zion, Jerusalem and the Land of Israel, there is hope.
HERE TO meet with government ministers, business leaders, human rights activists and policy planners is Dr. Behrooz Behbudi, the founding president of both the Council for Democratic Iran, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote and pursue an independent, peaceful and democratic Iran, and Global Unity Partnership, a Canadian-based nonprofit geared toward providing humanitarian relief to countries severely affected by war or natural disasters.
Behbudi recently established WIN-TV and Radio Koocheh. Headquartered in Washington, WIN-TV is an American-owned satellite news and information channel broadcasting in Farsi. Radio Koocheh aims to be a source for journalists, bloggers and professional authors to speak their minds openly and freely for the benefit of listeners in and out of Iran. There are plans to have a full WIN-TV launch in the Middle East and Southern Europe before the end of spring.
WIN-TV general manager is Farrell Meisel, a veteran American international broadcaster, who has launched and managed channels and media enterprises in the US, Russia, England, Germany, Poland, Singapore and the Middle East. Meisel is married to Jerusalemite Vered Kollek, a public relations and development agent who is largely responsible for Behbudi’s decision to visit. She told him that Israel is the only country in the region which permits people of all faiths to practice their religions, and similarly is the only country in the region that practices democracy.
WORK CAME to a halt briefly at The Jerusalem Post last Thursday, as colleagues took time out to congratulate managing editor Steve Linde on reaching his half century. Linde commented that when he’d been younger he thought that 50 was ancient, but in point of fact, he didn’t feel old at all. Nonetheless, he could not resist reading a humorous poem about aging written by his octogenarian father, entitled “I got too soon oldt, unt too late schmart!”
Editor-in-chief David Horovitz complimented Linde on his professionalism and his generally calm temperament, saying that anyone who came to discuss a problem with him, even if they left without actually resolving it, nonetheless felt better simply for having spoken to him.
GUEST SPEAKER at the annual gala Independence Day dinner hosted by the Jerusalem Great Synagogue was Rabbi Ari Berman, a comparatively recent immigrant from New York, who has made a great impact in the year and a half that he has been living here. Berman told a story about one of his neighbors who is also a congregant at the synagogue where he attends services. The neighbor, who was raised in the Soviet Union, requested a visa in 1979 to immigrate to Israel. The request was denied.
The man became a Hebrew teacher, and gave clandestine lessons to small groups. The authorities were aware of what he was doing and told him to stop. He refused. He was arrested in 1985 and sent to the gulag. On May 5, 1987, he was freed from prison. His first act as a free man was to recite Minha outside the prison walls. Coincidentally, May 5, 1987 corresponded with 6 Iyar, Israel Independence Day. Soon after, the man was allowed to leave. His name is Yuli Edelstein. He has served in five Knessets and is currently the minister for information and Diaspora affairs.
AN UNEXPECTED reunion took place in the foyer of the Jerusalem Theater last Friday when retired social worker Frances Saltzberg met Eliezer Shmueli, a former director-general of the Education Ministry. When both were in the early stages of their careers, they had been awarded fellowships by the National Council of Jewish Women. The fellowship included study in the US, and Shmueli wanted to take his wife with him at his own expense, but the NCJW would not allow it. He even got rapped on the knuckles for speaking about Israel in public forums, without receiving official permission from NCJW to do so.
The two met at a photo exhibition “I Was Born in Afikim” by kibbutz artist Anat Tcherikover, who works in several media, and who decades ago enjoyed publicity in The Jerusalem Post because the late Helen Rossi, the paper’s legendary women’s editor and founder of the Jerusalem Post Funds, had spent a long period in Afikim before moving to Jerusalem. Tcherikover’s parents were among the founders of Afikim.
Veteran journalist Diana Lerner, who was one of the people who had written about Tcherikover at Rossi’s request, came with a copy of an interview she had done with her in September 1980. Lerner was one of Rossi’s protégés as was Saltzberg, who worked at the Post for several years before embarking on a full-time career in social work. Another of their contemporaries at the Post, but who was not at the exhibition, is Betty Shiloah, widow of Reuven Shiloah, the founder of the Mossad.
THE USUAL locations chosen by the Israel Australia Chamber of Commerce for the holding of receptions are the observation deck of the Azrieli round tower in Tel Aviv or the lobby and auditorium in Bank Hapoalim’s headquarters. However, conscious that Australian Ambassador-Designate Andrea Faulkner is very keen on the arts, chamber chairwoman Orna Berry and executive director Paul Israel decided on the Golconda Contemporary Art Gallery in Tel Aviv.
The gallery, located in a refurbished factory, which in 1929 served as the country’s first humous and tehina plant and later was converted into a printing works, was the brainchild of art collector Ronald Fuhrer who operates another gallery in central Tel Aviv.
The official program began with a performance by the Tel Aviv Dance Company, which initially pranced across the floor without any musical accompaniment, with the result that many of the guests were unaware of what was happening. Shai Braitner, managing director of the gallery, who was introduced to the chamber five years ago when he was working with the Atalef Foundation that supports soldiers in elite navy units, became so enamored that he began to represent Australian business enterprises here, but realized that it was important to understand the Australian culture. So he went there to watch the famous Melbourne Cup horse races, and discovered that no one really cares about the horses – just the food, the drink and the socializing. Two years later, he joined the Peres Center team that went to Australia to play Australian Rules football and found out that “it’s less of a culture than a religion.”
Faulkner, who was previously here as a junior diplomat, said that it means a lot to her to be here now. She was touched by the warmth of the welcome she had received, she said, and was particularly happy to meet an old friend, Yehuda Gat, with whom she had worked in the 1990s helping him to import kangaroos to join other Australian wildlife in Gan Garoo zoo and park near the Jordan Valley. Looking around at the gallery, which most of the time is deliberately plunged in darkness, Faulkner said: “Being in this innovative place is a great symbol of where the Australia-Israel relationship is going.”
THOUGH NOT yet officially in office until she presents her credentials, Faulkner has been very busy in the two months since she arrived, and last Sunday also presided over the annual ANZAC Day ceremony at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Jerusalem. After all the official wreaths were laid at the catafalque, people who wanted to pay a floral tribute were invited to come forward. There was only one – Rachelly Roggel, a former Jerusalemite now living in Rehovot. Roggel brought a bouquet which her husband Amir had plucked that morning from the tops of two olive trees that stand outside the old town hall in Rehovot.
The bouquet was in honor of General Sir Henry George Chauvel, the highest ranking Australian soldier fighting in the Middle East during World War I, and commander of the Desert Mounted Corps which pursued and defeated the Turks, eventually capturing Jerusalem and entering Damascus on October 1, 1918. Chauvel’s headquarters were in Rehovot, where he took great pride in planting an olive tree. Someone took it away, but no one had the heart to tell him. In 1945, when he was already an old man, he sent a priest who was visiting the Holy Land to see his olive tree. Of course there was no tree. After the local authorities explained to the priest what had happened, he decided to plant another tree for Chauvel. This too disappeared.
In 2003, Roggel decided to plant two olive trees – one for Chauvel and the other for the priest. When Chauvel’s granddaughter was here two-and-a-half years ago for the reenactment of the charge by the Australian Light Horse Brigade, Roggel took her to see the olive trees and told her the background.
THE DIPLOMATIC Spouses Club headed by Dina el-Souefi, wife of the deputy head of mission at the Egyptian Embassy, held its annual charity bazaar last weekend at the Walworth Barbour American School in Even Yehuda. Many members are also members of the International Women’s Club, so they were able to attract a lot of other IWC people as well as members of the general public, and were thus able to raise thousands of shekels for the benefit of Dror, the Israel Association for Housing Discharged Psychiatric Patients, which is chaired by veteran IWC member Daniella Oren. A different charitable cause is selected each year by the DSC to ensure that as many organizations and institutions as possible can be helped by their efforts.
The bazaar was chaired Ana Sovic, wife of the Slovenian ambassador, and among the 40 booths was one that was operated by the IWC, whose members opted to sell cakes. Among the key activists to ensure the bazaar’s success were Tomomi Shimazu, wife of the Japanese defense attache, and Alexi Grimes, of the American Embassy. Among the vendors selling international food and gift items were Leslie Cunningham, wife of the American ambassador, and Reinoutje Artz, wife of the Netherlands ambassador. Working hard to sell food and raffle tickets were Suzette Reyna, immediate past president of the IWC; Shirley Elms, wife of the Canadian military attaché; Sheryn Hylton-Parker, wife of the US consul-general; Rachel Alkalay and cartoonist Yaakov Kirschen.
WHAT DISTINGUISHES the University of Haifa from all other institutes of higher learning here? For one thing, its library is the only library in the country to contain the entire writings of Mahatma Gandhi. This recent acquisition can be credited to Indian Ambassador Navtej Sarna who presented university president Aaron Ben-Ze’ev with this gift of manuscripts. The collection includes 100 volumes, some of which are rare, expensive and difficult to come by. The gift expresses the embassy’s ongoing support of the Modern Indian Studies program at the university’s Department of Asian Studies, which is the only program of its kind here. The presentation was made in the course of the Ninth Annual Israeli Asian Studies Conference taking place this week at the university.
ALTHOUGH SHE failed in her bid to become chairwoman of Bank Leumi’s board of directors, in other respects it’s been a great year for Leumi CEO Galia Maor. She has acquired a new apartment in one of Tel Aviv’s prestige residential towers. On Friday, May 7, she will receive Tel Aviv University’s Hugo Ramniceanu Prize in Economics for 2010 and in June she will be among the distinguished personalities upon whom the Technion will confer an honorary doctorate.
Among the other recipients will be Amram Mitzna, the former mayor of
Haifa and more recently of Yeroham. After spending five years in
Yeroham to get it out of the quagmire, Mitzna feels that he’s done
whatever he could, and is heading for home.
During May and June the various institutions of higher learning vie
with each other over the dignitaries upon whom they will bestow honors.
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev may be just a step ahead, and its
honorary doctorates this year will be conferred on Simone Weil, former
president of the European Parliament; and Spanish Foreign Minister
Miguel Moratinos, who a few hours prior to the ceremony will
participate in a symposium on “The European Union, the Middle East and
the Jewish Communities in Europe.” BGU will also honor its former
president, Minister for Minority Affairs Avishay Braverman, with a
Lifetime Achievement Award.
POLISH AMBASSADOR Agnieszka Magdziak Miszewska will on May 3
host a concert at the Ra’anana Music and Arts Center to celebrate
Poland’s Constitution Day and to honor the memories of the victims of
the presidential plane crash on April 10.