ALTHOUGH HIS image may have become somewhat tarnished on the home front as an outcome of stories of blackmail and sexual harassment emanating from Beit Hanassi, President Moshe Katsav has not lost his standing with the American Jewish leadership. When a delegation of some fifty representatives of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations called on Katsav at Beit Hanassi this week, they had to wait for several minutes for the president to enter the small reception room. As he came in they rose from their seats and applauded him. The heartening gesture put a new spring in Katsav's step as he circled the room shaking hands, greeting familiar faces and getting introduced to a few new faces. Deciding to introduce himself, Rabbi Stanley Davids, resident of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, included his honorific when giving his name.
"Hello rabbi, how are you?" said Katsav, as he shook his hand.
A broad, almost triumphant grin crossed Davids' face as he stepped back and gave the thumbs up sign.
"He called you rabbi," said Davids' wife, Rosa, in an incredulous tone of voice. Her comment was echoed by people around them, but Davids - who had unobtrusively put Katsav to the test on the recent controversy over whether the president would address Reform rabbis by their title - merely smiled and said, "Why not?"
AMONG THE participants in the Conference of Presidents solidarity mission was Mort Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, who kept reminding anyone who would listen what a mistake it was for Israel to pull out of Gaza. Amid the numerous pro-Israel rallies that are being planned by American Jewish organizations in the weeks ahead are memorial events marking the first anniversary of the unilateral withdrawal from Gush Katif coupled with a protest that the majority of the evacuees have not yet been allocated permanent housing nor do they have jobs.
The kippa-wearing Klein, who was one of the most aggressive opponents of the disengagement from Gaza, apparently doesn't have too much respect for protocol. At the meeting at Beit Hanassi, he sat down on a coffee table. One of his colleagues chided him and warned that the table might not be able to support his weight and could collapse under him. Nonetheless, Klein stayed put in his front row position, which was not only disrespectful bearing in mind that he was at Beit Hanassi, but also in breach of Jewish tradition, which prohibits the placing of one's posterior on a table - because a table is an altar.
BACK IN 1982 at the start of the beginning of the war in Lebanon, journalist and talk show host Dan Margalit initiated a new television show on Educational Television in which soldiers at the front were televised sending greetings to their families. The show, Erev Hadash, (New Evening), developed into a current affairs one on one talk show that is still going strong. However, the concept of messages from soldiers at the front has been adopted on a broader scale and not reserved for specific programs. Last Friday for instance, Channel Two's police reporter Moshe Nussbaum, who has been recruited onto the team reporting on events in the north, met up with Ilan Levy, the handsome brother of fashion model, Ilanit Levy. Channel Two arranged for a conversation between them, with the camera on Ilan and members of his unit. When Nussbaum introduced him, mentioned that he was Ilanit's brother and implied that he too had the looks to be a model, Ilan Levy retorted: "Modelling is her profession. This is mine."
OF THE many foreign journalists and photographers who flew into Israel searching for war-related stories, a television crew from New York that approached the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) asking to meet expatriates from the Big Apple to get their take on the situation got more than it bargained for when it met Rena Quint. A volunteer guide at Yad Vashem and the Tower of David Museum as well as a frequent speaker at events organized by a variety of organizations and institutions, Quint was contacted by AACI and asked to drop everything and talk to the crew. As it happened, she was hosting a lunch that day for relatives who were visiting from New York and she had also invited some other New Yorkers living in Israel to join in the meal. A well-known hostess who always has room for unexpected guests, Quint - after being contacted by phone by the television crew - told them to come for lunch as well. Impressed by the hospitality, the crew members heard not only Quint's views but those of everyone around the table. The ex-New Yorkers had only positive things to say about living in Israel, and said they could withstand the present conflict just as they had withstood the intifada. Quint does not know how much of what was said was or will be televised, but she was pleased when her visiting relatives announced that after listening to what everyone had to say, they were seriously contemplating aliya.
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM has it that no prophet is heard in his own country. Thus it was a supreme compliment for the Hungarian-born, Tel Aviv-based veteran journalist, Diana Lerner, to be invited by the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives to write the text for the catalogue and display items of its exhibition "Beauty - the Great Illusion," celebrating the lives and styles of three women of East European origin who became international household words in relation to the cosmetics and perfumes they created. The three are Krakow-born Helena Rubinstein, Pressburg-born Estee Lauder and Debrecen-born Judith Muller. Lerner who writes on many subjects, but who has been contributing to international cosmetics and perfume publications for years, was a natural choice considering that she interviewed both Helena Rubinstein and Judith Muller. In fact she's had a very close connection with Muller, often writing about her products as they were in the process of development. A former staff member and long-time freelancer with The Jerusalem Post, Lerner interviewed Helena Rubinstein on the paper's behalf, and had such a wonderful rapport with the cosmetics queen that the latter gave her a string of genuine pearls. After returning to the United States, she also sent her a large package of cosmetics products for which the customs duty was so exorbitant that it was beyond Lerner's ability to pay. Helen Rossi, who was then the influential gravel-voiced women's editor of the Post insisted that management pick up the tab - and so Lerner was able to take home her cosmetics. Had she lived, Rossi, who was at the Post for almost four decades, would have celebrated her 100th birthday this coming October. Lerner was one of many young journalists whom she took under her wing. This week Lerner was the guest of honor at the opening of the "Beauty - the Great Illusion" exhibition in Budapest, where she was given a very warm welcome and where she also spoke about beauty and her Hungarian roots.
NOTWITHSTANDING THE fact that the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association has been around for decades, it was more of an Israel-Britain thing, with representatives of Commonwealth countries tagging on, but not really playing an active role. All that changed last week when Australian Ambassador Tim George and his wife, Geraldine, hosted an IBCA event at the Australian residence in Herzliya Pituah. As far as current IBCA head Brenda Katten was aware, this was the first time that an ambassador of a Commonwealth country had played host to IBCA. It wasn't just the Australian residence that was made available to IBCA, but also an Australian feature film, The Lighthorseman, about the famous charge of the Australian Light Horse Regiment in the Battle of Beersheba in 1917. Referring to the theme of the movie, George noted that it further demonstrated the long association between Israel and Australia which began well before statehood. "It's an important part of the history of the region," he said, adding that it was significant from the Australian perspective because a total of 60,000 Australians lost their lives in World War I - a staggering proportion at a time when the Australian population was around five million. The film was screened a week before the unveiling in Beersheba on Tuesday of a bust of British commander, Gen. (later Field Marshall) Sir Edmund Allenby, who in 1917 captured Beersheba, Gaza and Jerusalem. Australians were engaged in those battles and George remarked that he was glad that recognition was being given in Beersheba "to that part of our history." Australians were proud to be part of the British Forces in World War I, he said, even though "the Australians regarded the British officers as pompous and the British officers regarded the Australian soldiers as uncouth." Referring to Australia's relationship with Israel, Katten noted that Australian Prime Minister John Howard has always been a good friend of Israel. Rumor has it that Howard will be visiting Israel some time this year, but this has yet to be confirmed. There is a standing invitation for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has been to Australia in other capacities, to pay an official visit as head of government, but given the current situation, it's doubtful that he will be able to travel down under in the foreseeable future.
SHORTLY BEFORE he became prime minister, Menachem Begin was invited to address a major donors' mission of the United Jewish Appeal at a gala dinner at Jerusalem's King David hotel. The chairman of the evening introduced Begin, not in accordance with his impressive resume, but as "the man who redesigned this hotel." The line raised a laugh, but taking into account the huge death toll, it was not exactly funny nor was it entirely true. While Begin as the leader of the Irgun, otherwise known by its Hebrew acronym Etzel, was responsible for the blowing up of a wing of the hotel in July, 1946, he was not the one who redesigned it after the rubble had been cleared. Last week, a 60th-anniversary commemoration conference took place at the Begin Heritage Center, and culminated with a tour of the hotel basement, which is the heart of its service network, led by Etzel veterans who had been involved in the operation. Ya'akov Elazar, who had been one of the key commanders of the Irgun, led one of the groups through the underground corridors, explaining the minute details of events of sixty years ago as if they had happened only yesterday. His disdain for the British High Command was still palpable, as he recalled how many times he personally had circled the headquarters of High Commissioner Sir Alan Gordon Cunningham, plotting on how to assassinate him. That particular project did not get beyond the plotting stage and Elazar produced a large photograph taken in May, 1948 when Cunningham drove out of Jerusalem en route to Haifa, and all the British flags were lowered to the ground, marking the end of Mandate rule. If Elazar was ill disposed towards Cunningham, he harbored real hatred in his heart for Sir Evelyn Barker, British military commander in Palestine from 1946 to 1948, and his Arab mistress Katy Antonius, the widow of Arab nationalist, George Antonius. Katy Antonius absolutely despised the Jews and when any of them were arrested, she wrote to her lover urging him to hang them, to which he replied, according to Elazar: "If only I could, I would."
VETERANS OF historic events of sixty years ago are gradually disappearing, so it becomes all the more exciting to discover participants of historic events that took place even further away in time. At Levinsky College, during a musical tribute to composer Hanina Karchevsky, whose immortal songs include "Al Sfat Yam Kinneret" (On the shores of the Galilee) and El Rosh HaHar (At the top of the mountain), master of ceremonies Eliahu Hacohen related that Karchevsky had conducted a 200-member choir and orchestra at the ceremony for the laying of the foundations of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1925, and that one of the musicians who had played the French horn on that historic occasion was sitting in the audience. Given the passage of time, this seemed a little far-fetched, but 95-year-old industrialist Ephraim Ilin happily acknowledged the applause, and confirmed what Cohen had said. Following that historic recital in 1925, Ilin became the country's first motor car importer, an industrialist, well-known art collector, philanthropist and board member of several major institutions.
NOTWITHSTANDING THE soothing tone of his voice, radio broadcaster Yaron Enosh, the co-chairman of the Jerusalem Journalists Association, is a very tough cookie, who does not allow himself to be intimidated and stands his ground against the most daunting of opponents. When he worked at Israel Radio, he was a constant thorn in the side of management as he defended workers' rights, and more recently in his capacity as head of the Jerusalem branch of the International Federation of Journalists, he issued a strong protest when the IFJ on July 14 condemned Israel's bombing of the Al-Manar transmission tower in Beirut. Al-Manar was the Hizbullah media vehicle, and although the IFJ acknowledged the connection including the fact that its broadcasts were banned in some countries - notably France, IFJ Secretary-General Aidan White nonetheless made the point that such action means that the media can become routine targets in every conflict and "should never be endorsed by a government that calls itself democratic." An outraged Enosh lodged a protest with White, who neither apologized nor retracted. The upshot was that Enosh last Thursday took Israel out of the IFJ. The move was widely reported on Israeli Internet sites. Had Enosh been running for elections, he would have been at the top of the popularity poll. The hundreds of responses that flooded into the various websites were overwhelmingly supportive of his action. Meanwhile, the IFJ continues to be critical of Israel and its own website is saturated with its own condemnations.
ORGANIZATIONS AND institutions in Israel have been agonizing about whether to continue with planned gala events or to cancel them because there is something inappropriate about holding them during a period of fierce conflict in which so many people are suffering and so many young lives are lost. On the other hand to cancel is to give in to the enemy. While noting the stressful circumstances, Shenkar College of Engineering and Design went ahead last week with its annual graduates' gala fashion show, sponsored as usual by Castro, which in addition to supporting the College in many ways also provides employment for some of its graduates. "To have such a joyous event in the midst of war and death is not easy," said Tamara Yuval Jones, who heads the faculty for fashion design. On a different level, it was likewise not easy to let go of the goslings leaving the nest after four years of work in which they were given the tools and taught the techniques, but encouraged to find their own forms of expression. "Now they're leaving as designers," she said. Castro's co-managing director, Etti Rotter, whose parents more than half a century ago founded the company that has become an Israeli household word, told the young designers that Castro was happy to have partnered their efforts to some extent. "We support the integration of design with imagination. We believe in your ability to have an impact on the Israeli public and we want you to take the challenge. Believe in yourselves and in what you're doing."