Australia is among the few countries that can claim to have a strong
relationship with Israel since long before the establishment of the state. Four
Australian Light Horse brigades as well as a battalion of camel troops helped
the British defeat the Ottoman armies during 1916- 1971. In fact, the Australian
and New Zealand Light Horse Brigades were instrumental in the winning of the
Battle of Beersheba. Australian soldiers were also here and in other parts of
the Middle East during World War II.
Herbert Evatt, then Australia’s
foreign minister, was chairman of the UN General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on
Palestine, and worked hard to have as many countries as possible vote in favor
of the partition plan. Though heavily pressured by the UK and other Commonwealth
countries to abstain from voting on the resolution, Australia, which has a
cultural tradition of aiding the underdog, was the first country to vote in
favor. Not long after the proclamation of the sovereign State of Israel, full
diplomatic relations between Australia and Israel were established, on January
Australia is one of a handful of countries that actually own
their permanent ambassadorial residences; and there has always been Australian
bipartisan support for Israel.
Two Australian prime ministers, Bob Hawke
and John Howard, who are diametrically opposed on most political issues, were in
harmony over their respective pro-Israel attitudes and policies. Each also
visited Israel both in and out of office. Australian soldiers who fell in battle
here are buried in Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries in Israel and Gaza, and
are commemorated on ANZAC Day and Battle of Beersheba ceremonies, held annually
in April and October by the Australian ambassador.
Dave Sharma and his wife, Rachel Lord, have dove headfirst into local and
international causes since their arrival in Israel less than six months ago. On
December 10, they will be launching a grassroots campaign aimed at all sectors
of Israeli society, regardless of social standing or religious or political
affiliation. The campaign, which is in support of the current effort to reach a
resolution with the Palestinians by Spring 2014, is inspired and endorsed by
Australia’s ANTaR Sea of Hands, the first of which was held in October 1997
outside Parliament House in Canberra.
ANTaR stands for Australians for
Native Title and Reconciliation, and was originally applied to a petition on
behalf of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders by members of Australia’s
non-indigenous population. It has since become a symbol for the people’s
movement for reconciliation.
Hundreds of thousands of Australians have
signed plastic hands in endorsement of the movement. Now, the Australian
ambassador and his wife want to introduce a similar concept in Israel, in the
hope that both sides will find a way to reconcile their differences with the
encouragement of the local population.
■ NATIONAL AND local government
leaders who lament the exodus of so many Israelis to Berlin would have been
greatly enlightened by the conversation between Keren Neubach and Oded Shahar on
Each was recently in Berlin, where the cost of living is
much more affordable than in Israel. Supermarkets are much more luxurious and
better stocked, and most basic products are half the price or less than charged
for similar or identical products in Israel. Staff at checkout counters are
fast, polite and efficient, never running out of change and having to leave
customers waiting, as they do in Israel), while they go to exchange bank notes
for bags of coins.
Judging by the conversation, Israelis will be
traveling to Berlin with empty suitcases. They should remember to keep their
receipts to show the people at airport customs when returning to Israel that
they didn’t overspend the legal allowance.
■ IMMIGRANT WEEK opened last
Thursday at Jerusalem’s Gerard Behar Center, with most of the speakers and
performers demonstrating that immigrants can make a difference and rise to very
high positions. The most obvious example was Jewish Agency chairman Natan
Sharansky; also present were Masha Novikov, former deputy mayor of Jerusalem,
who held the city’s Immigrant Absorption portfolio; Shifra Kirschenbaum, head of
the Southern District branch of the Immigrant Absorption Ministry; and Pini
Glinkovitch, head of the Municipal Authority for Immigrant Absorption.
Entertainment was provided by Galit Giat, Arkadi Duchin, Pablo Rosenberg and
Rudy Beensin. The hall was packed to capacity, mostly with immigrants from the
former Soviet Union, Ethiopia and France.
■ OF THE truly veteran Israeli
fashion houses with international reputations, only three remain – Castro,
Gottex and Gideon Oberson, with Gottex having changed ownership, but Castro and
Oberson still in the hands of their founding families. Many fashion houses that
were once household names in Israel have fallen by the wayside, with no attempt
by the next generation to revive them.
One of the most famous of them all
was Maskit, which was founded by Ruth Dayan to preserve the arts and crafts of
immigrant artisans and craftspeople, but more importantly, to provide an income
for those who had come to Israel with little or no formal education, but with a
wealth of tradition. Dayan encouraged them to form cottage industries that
supplied the Maskit stores; some of the items were so unique they were exported
abroad. Fashion-wise, Maskit was most famous for its desert coat designed by
Variations of this theme appeared for many years in the
Maskit creations, though easily recognizable, were
acquired by women who wanted to look unique. The intricate embroideries and
gorgeous fabrics were something exciting to behold. Then, almost 20 years ago,
Maskit closed down after four decades as a showcase for the creativity of
immigrant designers and artisans. It was devastating for regulars, who could
only take comfort in the fact that they had several Maskit creations in their
Over the years, many people suggested to Dayan that Maskit be
revived, especially following a Maskit retrospective exhibition at the Eretz
Israel Museum 10 years ago, but none of them were sufficiently serious. Then
along came Tel Aviv-based Sharon Tal, a Shenkar College of Engineering and
Design graduate who had interned with Lanvin and Alexander McQueen. Tal’s
curiosity about Maskit had been piqued while she was still a student. Shenkar’s
fashion archives include original Maskit creations, and Tal was able to see and
feel what everyone had been so excited about.
She went to see Dayan, who
this time was encouraged not only by Tal’s talent and experience, but also by
her sincere desire to revive Maskit. Tal also spoke to industrialist Stef
Wertheimer, who liked the idea and agreed to invest in her business, so that she
could get Maskit back into public focus.
Tal has since adapted several of
the original Maskit designs to comfortably integrate into current trends. This
was relatively easy because fashion, with minor changes, tends to repeat itself.
But Tal’s Maskit will not be the same as Dayan’s Maskit, as circumstances and
tastes have changed. Yet there will be a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean flavor
to all that she creates, which may once again help to put Maskit on the world
■ NOT EVERYONE who attended the General Assembly of the
Jewish Federations of North America, which recently took place in Jerusalem,
went home immediately afterwards.
Many of the participants at the GA
support organizations and institutions in Israel stayed longer to visit their
In this way, Bar-Ilan University welcomed a delegation of
Jewish Federation leaders from Chicago – some of whom had just participated in
the GA, and others who had just touched down at Ben-Gurion Airport. The visit to
BIU began with a meeting with Prof. Malka Schaps, who recently made headlines in
Israel and around the Jewish world as the first ultra-Orthodox woman in Israel
to be appointed a faculty dean. A convert to Judaism who received her PhD from
Harvard, Schaps is a professor of mathematics who has until now headed the
financial mathematics program at the university. Now the dean of the Faculty of
Exact Sciences, she has authored several novels and non-fiction works under a
Dr. Amit Dagan, of the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of
Israel Studies and Archeology, greeted the delegation with T-shirts showcasing
BIU’s annual archeological dig at Tel es-Safi, the biblical Gath of the
The dig has yielded extraordinary finds, he said, including
a Philistine temple with a number of ritual items dating back to the Iron Age
(10th century BCE). With its two central pillars, it is reminiscent of the image
that is described in the well-known biblical story of Samson and the
Philistines, when Samson knocks down the temple by standing between the pillars
and pushing them down. Also among the findings was a ceramic shard with the
earliest decipherable Philistine inscription ever discovered, containing two
names similar to Goliath.
Each summer, the month-long dig headed by Prof.
Aren Maeir draws approximately 150 people from all over the world, the youngest
of whom has been five and the oldest 94.
Dagan also enthused about the
university’s additional archeological digs, explaining why they were so
“It’s not talking about the Bible. It’s being in someone’s
house from the Bible,” he said.
“Since I’m new here, maybe you can tell
me a little bit about Bar-Ilan,” quipped Rabbi Prof. Daniel Herschkowitz to his
guests, while acknowledging the role he recently assumed as president of the