AMONG THE more frequent diplomatic guests at the Israel Museum is Japanese Ambassador Jun Yokota. Part of the reason for this is the focus that the museum has placed on its connections with the Far East in general and Japan in particular.
"This is the Japanese season," declared museum director James Snyder at the opening last week of two exhibitions: "All that's not me," by Japanese photographer Kimiko Yoshida who lives in Paris; and "Far and Away - The Fantasy of Japan in Contemporary Israeli Art," featuring Japan-inspired images by 10 Israeli artists who have never been to Japan.
Snyder also mentioned another exhibition - which opened at the end of last year and is still on view - "Rising Sun, Melting Moon," featuring 18 contemporary Japanese artists.
Yokota said that it was good to be at the museum at monthly intervals and expressed his gratitude to Snyder and the museum team for exposing his country to the Israeli public. There are two words that define Japaneseness, he said. One is minimalism and the other stylization.
"Japanese artists don't want to reproduce an object, but they want to represent it using the least possible strokes," he said. There are a lot of blank spaces in Japanese art, Yokota continued, "but the spaces have meaning."
Referring to the second exhibition, he said that he was always interested in how other people saw Japan. Yokota also mentioned the Japanese penchant for smallness in which context he referred to Japanese cameras. Latvian Ambassador Karlis Eihenbaums, attending the opening, muttered under his breath that the world's smallest camera, the Minnox - often referred to as a James Bond camera, because it was featured in the movie, Casino Royale, and because it is popular with spies - was invented in Latvia, not in Japan.
IN A wide-ranging discourse about Japan, Yokota also noted the large number of Israelis, especially young people, who travel to Japan. He was amazed at how many of them he bumped into in the Herzliya Mall, who insisted on using whatever Japanese vocabulary they had at their disposal.
But he hastened to dispel claims by some Israeli women that they had worked as geishas in Japan, when all they had done was work for a month in a Japanese bar.
"It takes at least five years to become a geisha," he said.
GENEALOGY BUFFS, who have thus far depended primarily on the archives at Yad Vashem and Beit Hatefutsoth in their efforts to track their family trees, now have an additional resource: the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy and the Paul Jacobi Center, a newly launched facility located in the Jewish National and University Library at the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University.
While many of the people engaged in Jewish genealogy are amateurs in search of their own roots, there is an important academic aspect to genealogy. One of the main goals, according to director Yosef (Neville) Lamdan, is to make Jewish genealogy a recognized academic discipline within the realm of Jewish studies.
The Institute is the result of two years of effort by a founding committee headed by Sallyann Sack of Washington, one of the leading figures in the world of Jewish genealogy. Sack plans to be in Israel next month to discuss plans for a genealogy symposium that will set down guidelines for the Institute's operations. Part of the Institute's mission is to be user-friendly and to collaborate with organizations and individuals engaged in various aspects of Jewish genealogy. The Institute is in the process of building a Web site.
JERUSALEMITES ARE notorious for their lack of punctuality, but apparently no one told this to controversial philanthropist Arkady Gaydamak, who was the guest of honor at a fund-raising dinner at the Inbal hotel in aid of the Jerusalem Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The invitation said 8 o'clock. Most of the guests arrived after nine, and therefore missed out on meeting Gaydamak, who arrived on time, and hung around for half an hour cooling his heels.
He then shook a few hands and sat down briefly at a VIP table, where he was monopolized for another 15 minutes by deputy mayor Yigal Amedi, the municipality's official gadfly.
Then, without any fanfare, he simply got up and left.
One of the interesting aspects of the evening was that each table was scattered with photographs of stray dogs that had been brought to the JSPCA kennels. On the back of each photograph was a thumbnail, first-person story of the dog. Some stories revealed that the dog had already been adopted by a loving family. Others stated that they were still waiting for a permanent home. The event was organized by society photographer and socialite Sara Davidowich, who invited a veritable who's who in Jerusalem, but the person who attracted the most attention was Shula Zaken, who has been Ehud Olmert's right hand throughout his political career. Zaken, who arrived after Gaydamak's departure, was plastered with kisses as she made her way through the banquet hall, and as soon as she sat down at a vacant table, people from other tables, led by restaurateur Amir Turgeman, the ex-significant other of MK Gila Gamliel, sat down to join her. The circle grew ever wider as people brought chairs with them so that they could be seen seated at her table.
PARTICIPATING FOR the first time in the annual International Mediterranean Tourism Market, which opened this week in Tel Aviv, is Papua New Guinea. Due to the close relationship between PNG and Australia, Mary-Clare Adam Murvitz, the Honorary Consul for PNG, was able to persuade Australian Ambassador Tim George to host a reception for Peter Vincent, the CEO of the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority.
George spent a lot of time in PNG when he was a student at Adelaide University, and he was happy to oblige. Which was just as well, because as fate would have it, on the day of Vincent's arrival in Israel, tragedy struck the Honorary Consul with the death of her husband, Moshe Murvitz, the former first violinist with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Even so, she had to perform some of her consular duties, because Vincent arrived without a visa, and there was a bureaucratic tangle to unravel.
Tourism has only recently become a priority for PNG, Vincent revealed, adding that the biggest challenge for anyone engaged in tourist promotion to his country was in getting people to know where it is. Vincent uses confusion as an opportunity for a sales pitch. As has happened to him many times in other parts of the world, when he got into a taxi in Tel Aviv, the driver asked him which part of Africa he comes from. This immediately provided an opening for his spiel on PNG, which is 160 km north of Australia, with 1200 islands, a population of 5.5 million and 800 indigenous languages.
Speaking to a group of people at George's Herzliya Pituah residence, Vincent enthused: "It's a destination full of color. Of all the Pacific Island countries, PNG is totally unique."
George described it as "spectacular" and suggested that, because Australia and PNG are so far away from Israel, anyone contemplating a long-distance vacation should make a point of visiting both. PNG, according to Vincent, is particularly attractive to diving enthusiasts, who have a series of diving resorts available to them.
VETERAN ISRAELI sports fans can not forget the pride they felt in 1977, when Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball club won its first European Cup championship. The most poignant scene that remains in public memory is that of MTA captain Tal Brody being hoisted on the shoulders of ecstatic fans and declaring: "We are on the map; we'll stay on the map - not just in sports but in everything."
Without detracting from any of the credit that belongs to Brody and the rest of the team, that victory might not have been possible had the coach not been Ralph Klein. Hoopsters with whom he played in Maccabi and the Israel national team, and those whom he later coached, rejoiced last week at the announcement that Klein, 74, would be a recipient of the Israel Prize for his unique contribution to Israeli basketball, both as an outstanding player and as an outstanding coach.
One of the great legends of Israeli sports, the Berlin-born Klein in recent years faced a much tougher battle than on the courts, but applied himself to overcoming cancer with the same dogged determination that he displayed as player and coach - and he won.
Another sporting personality who will receive the Israel Prize on the evening of Israel Independence Day is Ya'akov Hodorov, 78, a sabra who is widely regarded as the greatest goalkeeper in the country's history, and one of the world's great goalkeepers in his generation. Even to this day, Hodorov, who started his sporting career in his hometown of Rishon LeZion and went on to play 30 international matches as a member of the Israeli national team, is held up as an example and an inspiration to young soccer players. Unlike today's players, who can't wait to play for an overseas team, Hodorov in 1951 turned down an offer by Arsenal that was willing to pay him what was then a princely sum compared to anything he could earn in Israel.
Interviewed on Israel Radio, Hodorov said that he was glad that he would now have something more tangible to show for his contribution to Israeli sport, and added that he was particularly delighted to share the podium with a sporting personality of the caliber of Ralph Klein.
EVEN THOUGH he has been nominated in the category of Best Orchestral Performance at tonight's 2006 Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, conductor Leon Botstein chose to remain in Jerusalem, where he is rehearsing with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra for its February 9 concert, American Originals.
However, Botstein will be abroad next week. He is taking the JSO on a month-long eight-state tour of the US, including a performance at Carnegie Hall.
PS: the orchestral performance for which Botstein won a Grammy nomination is a recording with the London Symphony Orchestra of Popov's First Symphony paired with Shostakovich's early Theme and variations Op. 3.
IN THE brouhaha over renaming the Tel Aviv Museum for Sami and Aviva Ofer in return for a $20 million donation - and the subsequent withdrawal of that donation, following major protests - it should be remembered that although the Ofers, who are among the country's leading philanthropists, have nixed the $20 million to the museum, they have not shut their wallet.
In a letter they published as an ad in the Hebrew press, they state their willingness to be part of a group fund-raising effort, so anyone still bad-mouthing them should take that into consideration.
In the final analysis, the protests may have been to their benefit. The Sallah Shabati syndrome, in which name plaques are changed on the same grove in a JNF forest, was not a mere figment of Ephraim Kishon's imagination. Case in point is the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance, named for philanthropist and Faberge perfume founder Samuel Rubin, who, during his term as president of the America-Israel Cultural Foundation, established music and drama academies and cultural centers in Israel. For decades, the academy in Jerusalem and the conservatorium in Tel Aviv bore his name in their titles. But if you look for the Tel Aviv facility on the Internet, you will now find it listed under the Buchman-Mehta School of music; while in Jerusalem the name Rubin has been superseded by that of Younes Nazarian, president of the Nazarian Companies.
An Iranian-born billionaire living in Los Angeles, Nazarian has co-founded and owned several heavy construction equipment companies in Iran and Israel. In the US, he was inter alia a co-founder, director and major shareholder in Qualcomm Inc., a company involved in the development of digital wireless communications and technologies around the globe, and chairman of Otron, an international turnkey contract manufacturer. He also sits on several other boards, including the Advisory Board of Bear Sterns Merchant Banking Partners. Rubin is long dead, and although there is a Samuel Rubin Foundation which still engages in philanthropic activities, it does not appear to be pursuing the immortalization of his name in Israel. Nazarian is involved in numerous philanthropic efforts in this country, as is his brother, Izak. Together with other wealthy Iranian Jews in LA, Younes Nazarian established Yedid, a non-profit organization that distributes coupons worth NIS700, enabling Israel's impoverished families to make purchases in accordance with their needs. He's been extremely generous with regard to the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, which is located on the Safra Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University. In addition to underwriting the cost of buildings and equipment, he has also made funds available for numerous scholarships.
Sami Ofer should live long and be well, but he had no guarantee that his name would remain on the Tel Aviv Museum forever. If some bigger donor was to surface in years to come and reached an agreement with some future city council and museum board of directors, it wouldn't matter whose name was engraved at the entrance to the museum - the chances are high that it would either disappear or be reduced to space on a small plaque.
JOURNALIST AND former Soviet Jewry activist Judy Lash Balint was amazed when she visited the Aba Taratuta's Soviet Jewry archive to see a metal bracelet inscribed: Mark Dymshitz, Prisoner of Conscience, Let My People Go. The inscription is over a logo of a Star of David entangled in a chain, with the year 1970 inscribed underneath.
The bracelet arrived in Israel last month. It was sent by Nancy Campana of Medway, MA. She had picked it up more than 20 years ago at a garage sale. She didn't know its significance, but recognized it as being something special and therefore didn't want to throw it away. For years she asked friends about it and tried to find out who Dymshitz was. Eventually, around six months ago, when she was about to move house and clear out the things she didn't really need, she made one last attempt and did a Google search for Dymshitz. She came across an article that Balint had written about former prisoner of Zion Yosef Mendelevich, who is living in Jerusalem.
Mendelevich and and Dymshitz were both part of a group that attempted to hijack a plane from Leningrad to make the world aware of the plight of Soviet Jews. Both were arrested and served long prison sentences in the Gulag. Dymshitz, who was the pilot of the ill-fated flight, is now 80 and lives in Rehovot. The bracelet that Campana had purchased in the garage sale was one of a series created by the American Soviet Jewry movement to arouse public consciousness and as a form of identification with Soviet Jews who were being denied the right to freedom. Campana contacted Balint and finally learned the history of her bracelet. Rather than keep it or throw it out, she decided to donate it to the Soviet Jewry Archives.
When Balint went to see it, she was caught in a wave of nostalgia, not only for the movement to which she was strongly attached when living in the US, but also for a time when Jews the world over were more united in their goals and in their values.
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