A bar mitzva celebration with a Down Under connection

IBA English News celebrates its 20th, British envoy headlines annual Balfour Dinner and French honor kibbutznik with National Agricultural Order of Merit.

November 23, 2010 22:36
Livni hand

Livni doing a hand thing 58. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

AUSTRALIA IS celebrating the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Chabadniks, Moshe Zalman and Bere Feiglin, on its shores. They made sure that their children and their children’s children would have a good education. Their direct descendants remain active in the Australian Jewish community, as well as in Israel where many of them have settled. Today, there is a huge Chabad network in Australia.

According to Australian Ambassador Andrea Faulkner, there are 40 Chabad emissaries engaged in education, outreach and services to the needy in 30 Chabad centers throughout Australia. She imparted this information at a bar mitzva celebration that she hosted at her Herzliya Pituah residence for five boys living in a family unit at Ohr Simcha at Kfar Chabad. Ohr Simcha, under the direction of Rabbi Ze’ev Slavin, started out as a boarding school for boys from dysfunctional, low socioeconomic and broken families. The idea was to put joy and light into their lives so that they could grow up into happy, well-educated and productive individuals.

From a boarding school environment, Ohr Simcha is gradually being transformed into a series of family style units with surrogate parents who have children of their own and who give each boy in their care love and attention. When Faulkner visited Kfar Chabad and met with some of the boys from Ohr Simcha, she asked what she could do to contribute to their happiness, and the answer was to throw them a party – something she was very happy to do.

Among the guests was Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, who was full of praise for the work done at Ohr Simcha and in congratulating Shlomi Attias, Michael Gabrielov, Yossi Oskar, Yoni Borochov and Liran Heiman on the milestone in their lives. Metzger who has twice visited Australia noted that during World War II, when most of the world closed its doors to Jews, Australia took them in. Thus what Faulkner was doing in her home, which is really the Australian home, he said, was part of an ongoing tradition.

Attias, speaking on behalf of the guests of honor, declared: “Our lives changed at Kfar Chabad. We came out of the darkness into the light.”

Unlike most of the other boys, he comes from a well-adjusted family in Beit Shemesh. He was simply out of place at any school he was sent to there. His mother Rachel, who works in a facility for girls that is similar to Ohr Simcha, said that she was thrilled about the progress her son had made.

Faulkner, who was obviously enjoying herself immensely, was the perfect hostess, going from table to table to chat with her guests. The connection with Ohr Simcha, she said, had been a great opportunity for her to learn about the work of Chabad and about Jewish rituals and customs. The best part of the evening was the dancing, when several of the Chabad men hoisted the bar mitzva boys on their shoulders.

Metzger joined in the dancing and made a point of a forming a circle with the boys who could not quite believe that they were dancing with the chief rabbi.

The boys also went home with a lot of gifts. From Kfar Chabad, each received tefillin; from Faulkner they had kangaroo pins, koalas and engraved pens; from Paul Israel, executive director of the Israel Australia Chamber of Commerce, they got paperweights with a Star of David inside; and from Sonia Biner, the representative of a Swiss foundation that supports Ohr Simcha, they received watches. All the male guests went home with velvet kippot embroidered with their names.

Everyone received a metal hanukkia made by the boys, and Faulkner now possesses a magnificent silver hanukkia presented to her in appreciation.

■ FEW PEOPLE noticed Knesset Speaker Reuben Rivlin quietly sit down at the end of the front row at the 20th anniversary celebrations of IBA English News. Moderator for the evening Leah Zinder had apologized for the absence of IBA director-general Moti Sklaar who was engaged in last-minute negotiations with Treasury officials, the Histadrut and the Jerusalem Journalists Association about the Broadcasting Authority’s reforms, and was probably initialing the agreement “as we speak,” said Zinder, before she became aware of Rivlin’s presence.

Rivlin disabused her of the illusion, telling her that such contracts are never signed till the wee hours of the morning. He was right. The agreement was not initialed, let alone signed, and at press time, remains unsigned, despite the optimism of some of the people at the negotiating table.

For all that, it was a great nostalgia evening with many opportunities for reunions. Veterans of the English News team were delighted to see Anan Safadi, who was the program’s first executive producer and who according to editor-in-chief Steve Leibowitz “willed us with tough love into becoming a professional team.” Leibowitz recognized and gave credit to a lot of people, among them the late Steve Edwards, who had been the first editor- in-chief; Larry Price, who was the first male news anchor; and Yochanan Elrom, who has been with the IBA English News almost from the very beginning and who was dubbed by Leibowitz as Israel’s Walter Kronkite. What was particularly heart-warming was to see the number of relatively recent immigrants who faithfully watched the broadcasts abroad, and were excited about being able meet the news team face to face.

■ IF SHAKESPEARE were writing this column, he would borrow from Hamlet and slightly change a line to read: “The gentleman doth protest too much methinks.” British Ambassador Matthew Gould, sporting a Union Jack kippa which was emblematic of his loyalty to his country, while signifying his pride in his Jewishness, went to great lengths at the annual Balfour Dinner hosted at the Tel Aviv Hilton by the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association, in rejecting any charges of dual loyalty. This was the subject of his Balfour Dinner address, and may have been prompted by the emphasis that so many people have placed on his being the first British ambassador to Israel of the Jewish faith.

There have been at least a dozen Jewish ambassadors sent to represent their countries here (including two consecutive envoys from the US: Martin Indyk, who was born in England, raised and educated in Australia and who migrated to America in 1977, and religiously observant Dan Kurtzer, who found no need to broach the subject), but because of the convoluted history of the country’s relations with Britain prior to the establishment of the state, coupled with the controversial law of universal jurisdiction which makes travel to the UK difficult for Israeli politicians and leading personalities, along with anti-Israel boycotts imposed by academics and trade union leaders, Gould evidently felt compelled to declare where he stands nationally and religiously.

He said that he was glad that his first “big speech as British ambassador” should be the one related to the Balfour Declaration, which he termed “one of the great commemorations of the historical bond between Israel and Britain” and added that he was learning “that it is a bond of incredible closeness and depth, that the various twines of our countries are interwoven more than I had ever realized.”

Though called into account for the policies not just of the current British government, but of its predecessors stretching back at least a century, said Gould, he had nonetheless become aware that there is more affection, respect and warmth in Israel for Britain than he had anticipated.

Gould launched into his dual loyalty theme by presenting the key Jewish players in the Balfour Declaration, namely four “proud British subjects” who, Gould said, had all been accused of dual loyalty. One was Chaim Weizmann, a Russian Jew and passionate Zionist who became a British subject and then the first president of Israel. Then there was Walter Rothschild, the second Baron Rothschild, a British Jewish aristocrat, who fitted comfortably into British society and promoted the Zionist cause; and there was Edwin Samuel Montagu, the secretary of state for India, who was opposed to Zionism and was one of the draftees of the letter signed by Lord Balfour and addressed to Baron Rothschild; and rounding off the quartet was Leo Amery, political secretary to the cabinet,the son of a Jewish mother, who hid his Jewish background, yet used his influence to help Jewish causes.

The one with whom he identifies, said Gould, “is the one who was secure in his identity as a British subject, but also secure in his identity as a Jew; the one whose loyalty to Britain was unquestioned, but who nonetheless supported the creation of the State of Israel: the second Baron Rothschild – just without all the money.”

At the outset, in acknowledging Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman, Gould said that he was comforted by the knowledge “that however controversial and forthright I am this evening, I can be pretty confident you will be more so.”

■ DUAL LOYALTY is of course a twoway street, which may explain why during the playing of the national anthems, the singing of “God Save the Queen” by the assembled guests was louder than “Hatikva.” Of course the large British Embassy representation which sang the former but not the latter may have had something to do with it.

Aside from British expats, and Israelis with British interests or a Commonwealth background, IBCA events are also attended by members of the diplomatic corps. Among those welcomed at the Balfour dinner by IBCA chairman Austen Science were dean of the diplomatic corps and Cameroon Ambassador Henri Etoundi Essomba, Australian Ambassador Andrea Faulkner, EU Ambassador Andrew Standley, Kenyan Ambassador Augustino S.K.

Njoroge, Ghanaian Ambassador Henry Hanson-Hall and Sri Lankan Ambassador Donald Perera.

After listening to the speeches, several guests concurred that the best was by Brenda Katten, the immediate past chair of IBCA, who introduced the speakers. The toast to the president and State of Israel was proposed by Dame Shirley Porter, that to the queen by businessman Dan Propper, who not only has an MBE but also a British wife; and the toast to newly engaged Prince William and Kate Middleton by Gould.

■ THERE’S NOTHING unusual about the French Embassy promoting French cuisine, other than the fact that it is simultaneously promoting the specific cuisine of its young French chef Thibault Bera, 21, who loves to experiment with food and to devise new recipes. French Ambassador Christophe Bigot brought him into the French residence in Jaffa less than a year ago and is constantly singing his praises.

Among the delicacies that Bera concocted in his kitchen last week was a kind of coals to Newcastle offering in that all the delicacies that were made with caviar, were made not with French or Russian caviar but with Israeli caviar. A few days prior to a reception in his honor Avshalom Hurvitz from Kibbutz Dan brought Bera a kilo of caviar.

Hurvitz is the first Israeli recipient of the French National Agricultural Order of Merit, known colloquially in France as the Order of the Leek in reference to its shape and the color of its ribbon..

Over the past year, Bigot, in the name of the French government, has made numerous awards to Israelis in recognition to their contributions to bilateral relations in the arts, various fields of culture, trade and human rights, but this was the first time that France had officially recognized the outstanding contribution of an Israeli to the field of agriculture. This particular order of merit was instituted in July 1883 and is awarded only to the best and most professional of agriculturalists and food producers, said Bigot, adding that recipients also included the best of French chefs, top ranking restaurant reviewers and food and agriculture researchers.

Bigot praised Israel as a leading country in agricultural technology, and noted that here, as in France, agriculture is part of the nation’s culture and its history. It was important, he said, for the two countries to broaden their exchange of knowhow.

Hurvitz is the biologist at the Dan fish farms. Together with Prof.

Berta Levavi-Sivan of Hebrew University’s Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences, he brought fertilized sturgeon eggs here from the Caspian Sea some eight years ago with the result that Kibbutz Dan is now a major producer of caviar.

Hurvitz was reluctant to accept the honor for himself and said that it belonged to the whole kibbutz. Bigot would have liked to oblige, but in France there are no group honors of this kind. All that Bigot could do by way of compromise was to say that even though the honor was due to the kibbutz, because it is Hurvitz’s life, the award was being presented to him as its representative.

Israeli caviar is distributed in France and other parts by Europe by the veteran Paris-headquartered gourmet foods company Petrossian.

Also honored with the French National Agricultural Order of Merit was Roni Ozeri, deputy director of the veterinary services unit of the Agriculture Ministry, who is considered an international authority in his field. Among the guests were celebrity chefs Haim Cohen and Eli Landau, Erez Komorovski, the proprietor of Lechem Erez, Nir Zuk of the famed Cordelia Restaurant in Jaffa and Jessy Bodec, who was named Sommelier of the Year in 2005.

■ POLITICAL FIGURES are frequent speakers at Tel Aviv University’s Business- Academic Club, but tonight’s guest Kadima leader Tzipi Livni is likely to spark more interest than usual due to recent efforts from inside and outside of her party to get her to join the government coalition.

So far, she has resisted, but new developments may spur her in the other direction. Livni’s topic will be: “Israel – A Jewish and Democratic State: the challenge and the vision.”

According to the organizers, she’s agreed to take questions afterwards.

■ VETERAN BROADCASTER Ya’acov Ahimeir received a life achievement award this week at the annual journalists’ conference in Eilat. Ahimeir, 72, had hoped to succeed Haim Yavin as Mabat anchor when the latter retired in February 2008, but the powers-that-be at the IBA were frantic about improving ratings and wanted a new face. As a result, Channel 10 reporter Yinon Magal was brought in as a co-anchor with Merav Miller. But Ahimeir, despite having long passed retirement age, was considered too valuable a property to let go and continues to present early morning current affairs programs on Israel Radio and Seeing the World on Saturday night on Channel 1.

■ FRENETIC COMEDIAN Eli Yatzpan, who lampoons local and international dignitaries to the extent that he almost caused an international incident with a skit on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, has included Defense Minister Ehud Barak in his repertoire. The problem was that in mimicking Barak he went beyond the usual bounds of art imitating life.

According to Yediot Aharonot, just as the Barak family employed an illegal foreign worker in its home in Tel Aviv, so did the Yatzpan family in its home in Ramat Hasharon.

The essential differences were that the Yatzpans were caught redhanded, whereas the Baraks were not, although Nili Barak has several times confessed to breaking the law and has offered to pay the necessary fine. The other difference was that the Yatzpans were employing a lady from China, whose work permit had long expired, and even when valid did not include being employed as a domestic, whereas the Baraks employed a lady from the Philippines.

The bottom line in both cases was that they were acting against the law.

■ ISRAEL IS preventing Mordechai Vanunu from going to Germany to receive an award from the International League of Human Rights at a ceremony to be held in Berlin. Several Nobel laureates have signed a petition urging the government to allow Vanunu his moment of glory.

Vanunu was convicted of revealing nuclear secrets and served 18 years in prison – 11 of them in solitary confinement. Following his release, he was denied the right to speak to the foreign press and his movements were restricted. He has been arrested several times for violating the restrictions.

He has been nominated for the Nobel Prize on a number of occasions, and in some quarters is now being compared to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo who has been named as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, but who will not be able to attend the ceremony because the Chinese authorities, ignoring calls from world leaders, will not release him from prison.

■ IN REVIEWING the film Fair Game about the exposure from within the White House of CIA agent Valerie Flame, Israel Television’s Sari Raz gave only a cursory mention to Israeli actress Liraz Charhi, whose portrayal of Iraqi expatriate Zahara, received favorable reviews abroad. Charhi is one of several local actresses who have won significant roles in American movies. Among the others are Mili Avital, Ayelet Zurer, Noa Tishbi, Gal Gadot, Moran Atias and Esti Ginzburg, most of whom live in the US and come here from time to time for movie, television and modeling assignments. Atias lives in Italy, where she has a successful modeling and television career.

Charhi would rather live here, among family and friends, and commute to the US, whenever she is signed on for a movie. Fair Game is now screening in local cinemas.

■ APROPOS ATIAS, it seems that she will be taking over from super model Bar Refaeli as roving tourism ambassador.

Atias, who arrived here this week, was reportedly meeting with Tourism Minister Stas Miseznikov, whom she met previously through a mutual friend. Refaeli was recruited by then tourism minister Isaac Herzog to present Israel to the world.

Herzog was subjected to a lot of flak for the decision because Refaeli had evaded IDF service. Atias didn’t serve either. At 17, she left for Europe to pursue a modeling career.

But she has had experience in promoting a city. She was the official spokeswoman for the city of Milan for 2005-2006, and she has also promoted international causes, so doing something for her native country should be a breeze.


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