Grapevine: Triple-digit birthdays

Who was the oldest immigrant ever? • Muslim leaders have to choose between Iftar dinners with the president and US ambassador.

October 9, 2007 18:59
Grapevine: Triple-digit birthdays

grapes 88. (photo credit: )


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ONE OF the things they used to teach in pre-cyberspace journalism was to never - other than when writing about sporting events - make the claim that something is the first, the best or the only. If such a claim must be made, temper it with the phrase "believed to be" the first, the best or the only. Apparently, they don't teach the same lesson in public relations. Almost every journalist can testify to receiving numerous press releases touting a product to be the first, the best or the only of its kind, or a person to be the first, the best or the only in his or her field. It happened again last week when Nefesh B'Nefesh spokesman Arik Puder put out a press release about the 100th birthday of Irma Haas, with a headline stating that she was the oldest person to immigrate to Israel. Haas arrived in Israel three years ago as part of a Nefesh B'Nefesh group, and though at 97, she may have been the oldest person to immigrate under the auspices of Nefesh B'Nefesh and was undoubtedly one of the oldest people to make aliya, she was not the oldest by several years. Two immigrants from what was then the Soviet Union came to Israel at the reported age of 111. A few years later, in March 1988, they were followed by Belle Goldstein, 102, a relative of Jerusalem Post reporter, columnist and feature writer Judy Siegel. Goldstein, who died in September 2001, is reputed to be the oldest-ever immigrant from North America. Her arrival in Israel was duly reported in The Jerusalem Post, and no one came forward with the name of any North American who had arrived here at a more advanced age. That, of course, does not detract from the 100th birthday celebration of Irma Haas or the fact that she too was well into her third decade when she decided to make her home in the Holy Land. It's no longer unusual for people in Israel to reach a triple-digit age. There are literally scores of people in the 100-plus age group. Among them is former financier Joseph Jaglom, who celebrated his 104th birthday on Rosh Hashana; and Bertha Porush, the mother of World Emunah President Naomi Leibler, who will celebrate her 104th birthday on October 17. Both Jaglom and Porush continue to function quite well. Although President Shimon Peres at 84 is a spring chicken in comparison, the intensity of his working day and the degree of travel that he does all over the country would wear out someone half his age.

  • LEADERS OF Israel's Muslim community were in somewhat of a quandary this week. President Peres and US Ambassador Richard Jones each hosted an Iftar dinner to mark the end of the Ramadan fast day. It was sheer coincidence that both Peres and Jones chose the same date on which to host an Iftar ceremony. Obviously the guest list was not identical, but there were people who were invited by both. While it is sometimes possible to dance at two weddings at the same time, it becomes a little difficult when one event is in Jerusalem and the other in Herzliya Pituah.
  • SUCCA HOPPING is a Feast of Tabernacles pastime, especially in Jerusalem's old city where so many people know each other and are in and out of each other's homes like yo-yos. But few people could boast as many guests as the amazingly hospitable Aba and Pamela Claman, who had hundreds of people traipsing through their elegant dining room to one of their three large succot at different levels of the building. Not only that, but the food platters were replenished every five minutes, and not just with nibbles but with real food. Although the Clamans, who are strong on Jewish outreach, were happy to welcome everyone who came through their front door, the warmest welcome was reserved for young soldiers, some of whom often join them at their Sabbath table. The Clamans have initiated and are deeply involved in several projects on behalf of members of the IDF. Extremely proud of her son and daughter-in-law was family matriarch Ruth Claman, who said she was proud of all of her ten children, most of whom were also there, along with some of her grandchildren.
  • FOR REVA L'Sheva lead singer Yehuda Katz, his wife Michelle and their children, Succot this year was in the nature of a house warming. After several years of living on Moshav Meir where they used to have some great jam sessions, the Katz family moved to the Jerusalem suburb of Ramot just in time for the holiday period. The succa in their new home was larger than in their old one, which made it more comfortable for guests to move around. Although there have been several changes in their lives what didn't change was the number of musicians who beat a path to their door and who together with the master of the house made beautiful music. Aside from singing and composing, Katz plays a number of string instruments.
  • AMONG THE Succot readings is Kohelet - Ecclesiastes - in which we are told that for everything there is a season. As far as former windy city couple Joe and Hannah Sondheim are concerned, their 'Open Succa' season is over - and not just for the year ahead. After 40 years of having an open succa first in Chicago and then in Jerusalem, the Sondheims decided that the party's over and it's time to stop. Time was catching up with them and it was no longer easy to entertain so many people. This past season was their last for an open succa, with somewhere in the range of 200 people showing up. This year's guests included Rabbi Emanuel and Rena Quint, Rabbi Reuven and Chaya Leah Aberman, Rabbi Aron and Pearl Borow, Rabbi Yom Tov and Hadassah Herzog, Rabbi Nathan and Leah Weiss, Rabbi Chaim and Pam Pollack, Rabbi Yehoshua and Esther Zemel and Rabbi Yisroel and Perel Azaria. Other guests included old friends visiting from Chicago, plus many relatives and friends from many parts of Israel. According to the Sondheims, they were never once rained out in their 40 years of making people welcome in their succa. Even when it rained in Chicago in the morning, it cleared up by the afternoon, they recall. But two years ago in Jerusalem, they were forced to move food into the house when it began to drizzle. The Sondheims are avid globe trotters and their succa decorations testified to their many trips abroad. Instead of the usual succa decorations, the Sondheims used souvenirs from China, India, Bangkok, Russia, South Africa and elsewhere. The fact that they've decided to call it quits doesn't necessarily mean that they won't change their minds when Succot rolls around next year. But for that, we'll have to wait and see.
  • MANY MEMBERS of Ireland's Jewish community - including expats - can trace their backgrounds to Latvia and Lithuania. Among them is Malcolm Gafson, chairman of the Israel Ireland Friendship League, who was delighted by the huge turn-out at Yad Lebanim in Ra'anana at a morning screening during Succot of Irish Jewish film director Louis Lentin's docudrama, Grampa, Speak to Me in Russian, which was screened to great acclaim at the Haifa International Film Festival. Lentin, who came to Israel for the occasion, stayed on to address the Ra'anana audience and talk about what prompted him to make the film, which traces the roots of his paternal grandfather who settled in Ireland in the early twentieth century. Lentin went to Lithuania and Latvia to do on-location shoots for the film. His visit to Israel was enabled by the generous support of the Cultural Department of the Irish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Irish Ambassador Michael Forbes, who attends almost every event of the Israel Ireland Friendship League endeared himself to the audience by opening his remarks in Hebrew. He was not the only diplomat present. Latvian Ambassador Karlis Eihenbaums was quickly surrounded by people whose parents or grandparents came from Riga. Lithuanian Ambassador Asta Skaispiryte would have loved to have been there but had a prior engagement. However, she sent a message of apologies and good wishes. Also present were Irish Embassy Deputy Head of Mission Maeve Clery and Irish-born Father Eamon Cleary, a representative of the Holy See who is second in command at Pontifical Institute Notre Dame Jerusalem. Retired diplomat Zvi Gabay, who was Israel's first resident ambassador in Ireland, and is a permanent fixture at IIFL events, was there with his wife Margalit. Gabay, who is the brother of celebrated actor Sasson Gabay has been named an honorary patron of the League.
  • PERU'S AMBASSADOR Luis Mendivil Canales hosted an intimate reception for members of FIRST (Fast Israel Rescue and Search Teams), who spent time in Peru working with survivors of the recent earthquake in which more than 500 people were killed, approximately 1,400 were injured and more than 34,000 families were left destitute. The FIRST delegation which included volunteer doctors, paramedics and nurses provided extremely valuable service, and even diagnosed life threatening illnesses that had been overlooked by local medical teams. FIRST is part of ISRA/AID, an umbrella organization formed in 2002 that enables Israeli and International Jewish Humanitarian Organizations to respond instantly and work together for humanitarian causes. The mission to Peru was largely funded by B'nai B'rith International and the American Jewish Committee. Founded in 1843, B'nai B'rith is one of the world's oldest and largest Jewish human rights, community action, humanitarian and disaster relief organizations, working not only on behalf of Jews but also for humanity at large. The AJC, established in 1906, worked for similar causes. As member of ISRA/AID B'nai B'rith and AJC, together with FIRST volunteers who are on call 24/7 to go anywhere at any time, were able to provide substantial relief over a relatively short period and to show Peruvians the most positive side of Israel. "I want to thank you in the name of all the people of Peru," said Canales, whose voice reflected his emotion. "Even though distance separates Israel from Peru, your heart is close to us and you are close to our hearts." As a result of the earthquake, he said, 90,000 people had been left homeless. It was important to know, he stated, that in emergency situations such as this, Peru can rely on Israel. He hoped, however, that the next time that members of the FIRST team visit Peru, they will go as tourists and not as rescuers. Team members seemed slightly embarrassed by Canales's effusive expressions of appreciation, and said that it had been an honor for them to be able to go to Peru and to help in some way.
  • ALTHOUGH AUSTRALIAN Prime Minister John Howard has yet to name a date for this year's federal elections, he would have been heartened to hear the praise heaped on him by Brenda Katten, chairperson of the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association at an IBCA event hosted by Australian Ambassador James Larsen and his wife, Antoinette, at the Australian ambassador's residence. Katten praised Howard's leadership and commended him for taking sanctions against Iran. "Please tell your prime minister," she urged Larsen, "that we appreciate his dynamic leadership." Katten also paid tribute to opposition leader Kevin Rudd for raising the matter of the prospect of Australia taking legal action against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The excellent relationship between Israel and Australia throughout Howard's 11-year administration has caused some people to forget that although relations between the two countries go back for close to a century - way before Israel achieved sovereignty - there have been upheavals under different leaders. Those who needed reminding that the situation has not always been idyllic, were enlightened by Dr. Chanan Reich, an Israeli who teaches at institutes of higher learning in both countries, and whose field of expertise is Australia and Israel, which is the title of a book that he researched. An Israeli scholar who has spent many years in Australia and who continues to commute, Reich did his PhD at Monash University in Victoria, and focused on comparisons between the Jewish and Greek communities, analyzing their ethnic identities and translating these into demands from the Australian government. While the Greeks were interested in social welfare services, the Jewish concerns were political and focused primarily on Australia's foreign policy with regard to Israel. It was understandable that Reich would become hooked on collecting information about the latter - so much so that one of his Melbourne friends calls him a political archaeologist. While describing the current relationship between the two countries as "very good," Reich attributed much of Australia's pro-Israel sentiment to the late Dr. Herbert Evatt, who played a leading role in the creation of the United Nations, chairing a special committee on Palestine at the second General Assembly and serving as president of its third General Assembly.
  • PORTLAND TRUST chairman Sir Ronald Cohen will be killing at least two birds with one stone when he comes to Israel at the end of the month. On November 1, he will participate in the Prime Minister's Conference on International Cooperation for the Development of New Regions, and on November 5, which happens to coincide with Guy Fawkes Day, he will be one of the keynote speakers together with Minister Isaac Herzog at the IBCA Gala Dinner marking the 90th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. Actually, November is a very commemorative month in that it includes inter alia, Armistice Day, the 30th anniversary of the historic visit to Jerusalem by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, the 60th anniversary of the UN Resolution on the Partition of Palestine ,the 85th anniversary of the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen, the 224th anniversary of the first flight by man in a hot air balloon, and the 133rd anniversary of the birth of Winston Churchill, to name but a few historic hallmarks, to which presumably, the Annapolis peace conference will be added.
  • MORE THAN 500 people came to the gala tenth anniversary dinner of Torah MiTzion, not only to support the organization on a decade of religious Zionist educational outreach activity, but also to honor Larry and Marsha Roth, Haim Zohar and Zeev Schwartz, who have been Torah MiTzion devotees since its inception. The Roths, who ran a successful business in the US, sold it in the summer of 1997 so that they could put more time and effort into Torah MiTzion. They treating it as if it was a business investment in terms of training its people and promoting its product, which is religious Zionism. Larry Roth served as TM's chairman of the board from 1999 to 2006, and currently serves as President. He and his wife are associated with numerous educational projects including Pardes. Haim Zohar, 82, who is now a TM senior adviser, but was vice chairman of the board from 1999-2006, has spent well over half his lifetime strengthening relations between Israel and the Diaspora, promoting Jewish education at all levels and working as a diplomat, Jewish Agency official and journalist - callings which enabled him to advocate Jewish unity and Jewish education. Zohar volunteers for several organizations whose objectives are in these directions. TM's founder and former executive director Zeev Schwartz, who currently chairs the board, was initially motivated by the challenge of re-establishing the spiritual high that young men and women experience in their post high school year in Israel. He wanted to recreate that feeling in the diaspora through Kollel-trained emissaries who could inculcate a love for learning and for Israel among Jews living abroad. The staunch and growing support for TM is indicative that the challenge has been successfully met, and that if TM continues over the next decade as it did in its first, it will make a major contribution not only to Jewish knowledge but also to aliya. The thick dinner brochure coupled with the huge crowd that gathered at the Renaissance Hotel in Jerusalem were ample testimony to the popularity of the honorees and the institution which they collectively represent.
  • THERE'S A great deal of excitement in Israel's Polish community in anticipation of the official opening on October 18 of the Polish Institute in its new location at Beit Asia in Tel Aviv. The opening ceremony is considered so important that it will be attended by Maria Kaczynska, the first lady of the Republic of Poland, Undersecretary of State Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka as well as other dignitaries from Poland and Israel, who needless to say will include Polish Ambassador Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska. The Polish Institute, which is headed by Elisabeth Frister, was established in 2000, and has successfully promoted Polish culture in cooperation with leading culture-oriented institutions and festivals in Israel. It has also successfully encouraged Polish - Israeli educational exchanges and has contributed extensively to bilateral people to people relations. The opening will include diverse presentations of Polish culture.
  • OPPOSITION LEADER Binyamin Netanyahu will be thinking less about politics this weekend and more about family affairs. Netanyahu and his wife, Sarah, will celebrate the bar mitzva of their younger son, Avner, in the same restaurant in the Galilee as they celebrated the bar mitzva of his older brother, Yair, a couple of years back.
  • MUSIC LOVERS in the capital are no less enamoured with the broad spectrum of knowledge and power of oratory of Leon Botstein, the musical director and principal conductor of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, than by his musical abilities. Botstein is back in Israel for his fifth season with the JSO and will conduct the concert marking the start of the JSO's 70th anniversary celebrations on October 11 at the Henry Crown Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theater. He will give his usual scintillating pre-concert lecture in the lobby. The JSO was the official radio orchestra of the Palestine Broadcasting Service before the creation of the State and continued to be the official orchestra of the Voice of Israel as Israel Radio is known in Hebrew. The JSO was under threat of closure as a sacrificial lamb on the altar of the Israel Broadcasting Authority's financial woes, but saved by the intervention of a number of public figures including Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog, whose responsibilities include the IBA, and MK Rabbi Michael Melchior, who chairs the Knesset Culture Committee. And of course there was quite a lot of lobbying by Botstein and his supporters. Under Botstein's charismatic leadership, the American Friends of the JSO have reaffirmed and increased their commitment to the orchestra and will sponsor a second American concert tour later this year. The 80 JSO musicians, comprising both veteran Israelis and new immigrants, can now look forward to a year of harmony instead of one of discord.
  • IT WILL be interesting to see how long it takes before the dress-code directives issued by the Prime Minister's Office and Knesset Director-General Avi Balashnikov are adopted by government offices and banks. After all, it's not that long ago since certain Knesset members were rebuked for wearing open-necked shirts and sandals over bare feet. And let's not forget that smoking was once permitted in movie theaters, supermarkets, buses and restaurants. Admittedly, there are still a few miscreants, but in general, Israelis have learned to conform to the rules, and despite the protests over the past couple of days, will eventually learn to dress in keeping with the institution and the occasion.

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