Grapevine: A double cause for celebration

By
December 25, 2013 00:08
Tzipi Livni

Tzipi Livni 521. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The annual gala of the Israel Friends of Beit Hatfutsot is always cause for celebration, and this year’s celebration of the tastes and tunes of Jews in the lands of their dispersion certainly was a feast for both the palate and soul.

But for Irina Nevzlin Kogan, chairwoman of the Beit Hatfutsot board of directors, and her father Leonid Nevzlin, who chairs Beit Hatfutsot’s international board of governors, it was a double celebration – in that a long struggle had come to an end.

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Leonid Nevzlin is the close friend and partner of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who a decade ago was the wealthiest man in Russia, and a staunch opponent of President Vladimir Putin. Khodorkovsky was released from prison on Friday after 10 years behind bars for tax evasion and other fiscal violations – offenses to which he never admitted. Had Nevzlin remained in Russia, he would have also been imprisoned at Putin’s command.

In fact, according to The Moscow Times, this past June he was sentenced in absentia to six years in prison.

Fortunately for him and for Beit Hatfutsot, he had come to Israel, and when it looked as if Beit Hatfutsot might have to close for lack of funds, Nevzlin came to the rescue at the request of thenprime minister Ariel Sharon. In the interim, Nevzlin has introduced many initiatives to Beit Hatfutsot, including the construction of the Museum of the Jewish People, which his daughter said would get underway in some 18 months’ time. She announced a $5 million contribution to the construction costs, pledged by American donors during the past month.

Although her father had put on a happy face for the public, Nevzlin Kogan said, inside he was very sad during the decade of Khodorkovsky’s incarceration, and had worked tirelessly to try to secure his freedom. Leonid Nevzlin told the writer of this column that he was now “very happy,” and yes, had spoken to Khodorkovsky since the latter’s arrival in Berlin but could not say more, because he had promised Khodorkovsky he would not say anything about him until given permission.

The gala was largely organized by Irit Admoni Perlman, executive director of the Friends, with a lot of help from many sources, which she happily acknowledged. Friends chairman Gideon Hamburger also thanked a number of people, including his wife Hani, along with sponsors Lizika and Amy Sagy of the Sagy Group; the Nadav Foundation, which is headed by Leonid Nevzlin; and Harel Insurance Investments and Financial Services, of which Hamburger himself happens to be the chairman.



Among the 300 guests who crowded into the Hilton Ballroom were Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Perry and his wife, Osnat; Gad and Etti Proper; Jenny and Hananya Brandeis; Eitan Ben-Eliyahu; Batsheva and Moshe Bublil; Gad Zeevi; Yael and Rami Ungar; Hedva and Gil Sharon; Shosh and Amos Hadar; Sallai Meridor; Avi and Marti Pazner; Yehuda Raveh; Tammy and Ori Slonim; Benny Don-Yihye; Ran Rahav; Dan Tadmor; Nurit Jaglom; Tova and Sami Sagol; Ronit and Dan Lahat; Shalom and Ziva Zeidler; and Janna Gur, co-editor of gourmet food magazine Al Hashulchan, who talked about food nostalgia and voiced her yearning to eat the traditional foods prepared by her grandmothers when she was a child in Riga.

Traditional recipes are disappearing, Gur warned, and anyone who has a grandmother should pry all traditional recipes out of her and write them down for posterity. Guests were given a souvenir of The Treasure of Jewish Cooking, a hefty multi-ethnic cookbook that was co-compiled and co-edited by Gur.

The old adage that the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach proved to be true, as guests crowded the buffets of delicacies from Eastern Europe, Iraq, Morocco, Bukhara, Persia and Turkey. As they moved from one buffet to the other, guests began to sample what they already had on their plates. The sighs of contentment and the exclamations of delight said it all.

For some, it was definitely a reminder of a mother’s or grandmother’s kitchen.

The authentic dishes were prepared by cooks from an organization called Women Cooking, who spent several days with Hilton chefs preparing the food with them in the hotel kitchen. If the food went over well, the music played with verve by the Street Philharmonic was an even greater hit.

The Street Philharmonic, which was assembled some two years ago by Jonathan Winkler and his friends, is a ZeZe project. Winkler explained that many of the street musicians were immigrants from the former Soviet Union, where they had performed with major orchestras and in some cases had extraordinary solo careers.

Unable to find work in Israel but wanting to support themselves, they became street musicians. Brought together to create a street orchestra, they play klezmer music, as well as Balkan, Russian, Greek, Latin American, Middle Eastern, Indian and Yemenite tunes. Appearing with them was a trio of Yemenite sisters, who have been singing with them ever since the Street Philharmonic hit the first note.

While the event per se was a culinary and musical trip to yesteryear, the attire was not. Once upon a time, people attending a gala came formally dressed. It seems that wives can no longer tell their husbands what to wear. Many of the men came in casual outfits, including jeans, and some of those who wore suits didn’t bother with ties. Most of the women were dressed up, but preferred pants to skirts or gowns.

■ GUEST SPEAKERS addressing members of the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association are usual presented with a book as a token of appreciation.

Former foreign and defense minister Moshe Arens, who spoke to the IBCA at Herzliya’s Sharon Hotel on Monday, also received a book – but on top of that a pleasant surprise, when a waiter came bearing a birthday cake and the crowd began singing Happy Birthday. Arens celebrates his 88th birthday this week, and the cake was a couple of days premature.

He and his wife Muriel looked pleased with the gesture, though some of those present were incredulous when they heard moderator Dr. Alex Deutsch announce the age of the youthful-looking Arens, whose sharp mind, wit and focused presentation did not jive with the stereotyped image of a man in his late 80s.

The event had been listed as an English-style afternoon tea, but there were no scones or thin cucumbers sandwiches. Although the fare provided was indeed tasty, it was not exactly English.

The topic of Arens’s address was given as, “Where do we go from here with the Palestinians?” but Arens, who has a fine sense of humor, deliberately took a while getting to the crux of the subject.

When he had received the invitation to speak to the IBCA, he said, he considered speaking about the relationship between Britain and the Zionist Movement, beginning with the Balfour Declaration and continuing with the Churchill White Paper of 1922 – which was the beginning of Britain’s retreat from its commitments, even though Winston Churchill was a great friend of the Zionist Movement. “But you didn’t want that,” said Arens to his hosts.

Then Arens thought that he might talk about the Commonwealth’s contribution to Israel’s War of Independence, in which he and his American- born wife had fought together with some 3,000 other volunteers from abroad, including 800 from South Africa. “But you didn’t want that either,” he said, reflecting on how Israel might look today had there been 10,000 volunteers instead of 3,000.

Eventually he got around to addressing the Palestinian issue by defining the Palestinians of today, about whom there is a lot of ignorance, he said, adding that there was no relationship between today’s Palestinians and those who lived in ancient Judea in Roman times. The Romans had wanted to erase any sign of a Jewish presence, and actually renamed Judea after the Philistines.

Today, he said, 20 percent of the people living in Israel are not Jewish, and the best way to integrate them into Israeli society is through the army. The best proofs of his theory are the Druse followed by the Circassians, for whom military service is obligatory. While it is not compulsory for the Beduin or other Arabs, there is a Beduin Brigade in the IDF, and Christian and Muslim Arabs are increasingly volunteering for the IDF and national service, said Arens.

With regard to the Beduin, Arens was critical of a series of Israeli governments, which had neglected the community’s problems until the space taken up by Beduin encampments was needed for Negev development, particularly by the army. A succession of Israeli governments had mistakenly thought that by denying the unrecognized encampments community infrastructure and services, the nomadic Beduin would opt to become urbanized – but this didn’t occur. Rather, the Islamic Movement came down from the north and stepped in with its anti-Israel doctrines. Before that, said Arens, the Beduin were not particularly religious, but today there is a mosque in every village and every encampment.

Arens said he did not particularly endorse the Prawer-Begin Plan for the Beduin, and thought that not recognizing the encampments was “terrible.”

The only solution for them, he said, is education. When the Beduin have professions, they will move into towns and villages of their own free will, he predicted. But if they are not integrated into Israeli society, he warned, they will become increasingly hostile and their numbers will grow.

Following the War of Independence there were 18,000 Beduin in the Negev, and now there are 220,000 – because they practice polygamy. “If you have four wives, you can have 38 children,” said Arens.

Turning to the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Arens was doubtful they would bring an end to the conflict, since Mahmoud Abbas does not speak for all Palestinians, and his mandate as president of the Palestinian Authority has expired. It is also unlikely that Israel will yield to attempts to return to the pre-1967 borders.

Even if there is another unilateral withdrawal by Israel, said Arens, it will not bring an end to the conflict, as Abbas cannot promise an end to terrorist activity if he reaches an agreement with Israel.

Arens outlined four alternatives currently facing Israel. One is Jordan, where 70% of the population is Palestinian – which makes it a Palestinian state, even though those running the Hashemite Kingdom are not Palestinians.

While Jordan could ultimately be the partner with whom Israel could settle the conflict, King Abdullah II does not want that, and Israel is not interested in destabilizing Jordan.

The second alternative is an agreement which Arens doubted would materialize. The third is annexation of the West Bank by Israel, and the fourth is to maintain the status quo – which has proved to be sustainable.

Asked about the pressure the US might put on Israel if the negotiations fail, Arens said such pressures are greatly exaggerated, and he doubted that any such effort would be supported by the US Congress.

■ IT WAS a long time since she’d been in the presence of so many presidents, quipped Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

She was speaking at the farewell for Nili Arad, the outgoing president of the National Labor Court, and the welcome for her successor, Yigal Flitman, who now serves as the fifth president of the NLC – following in the footsteps of Zvi Bar-Niv, Menachem Goldberg, Steve Adler (who was present) and Arad. Also present were President Shimon Peres and Supreme Court President Asher D.

Grunis.

Livni said that in a sense, the event symbolized the closing of a circle for her, because 30 years earlier she had clerked for Goldberg – who had left his office to become president of the NLC.

Later in her legal career, Livni worked with Arad, and as a lawyer, she had also represented workers who felt their rights were being abused.

The event at which Livni spoke was double-barreled, in that in addition to saying farewell to Arad and welcoming Flitman, it was also a swearing-in ceremony for 25 new judges and four registrars.

Livni, Grunis, Arad and Flitman all emphasized that not only must the new judges constantly be on their best behavior and serve as examples to the public, but their families were expected to do likewise.

Judge Michael Spitzer, who is director of administration of courts, was the moderator for the evening, and at the outset asked the families of the incoming judges to refrain from taking photographs, explaining that they were getting in the way of professional photographers and that photographs would be made available to them. He might as well have just saved his breath. If there’s anything definitive about Israelis, it’s lack of discipline.

People from the most respectable of families persist in doing their own thing and breaking the rules, regardless of where they happen to be.

This was also obvious during the snowfall, when police asked the public not to drive to Jerusalem because the roads were dangerous and had been closed. The announcements about the danger were on Facebook, the radio and television, as well as on the police website. But Israeli perversity being what it is, some 2,000 cars got stuck in the snow and the ice, and many people, some with infants in their cars, spent long hours in the freezing cold until suitable transportation was found to take them to an emergency center.

■ FINANCE MINISTER Yair Lapid last week came out strongly against the purchase of a plane for the prime minister and the president for their frequent trips abroad. Actually, such a plane could also serve senior ministers and Knesset delegations, though Lapid seems to think it would be more economical to continue to pay for commercial flights rather than bear the expense of purchasing and maintaining a plane. Considering that both the president and prime minister often travel with a large entourage (not counting business delegations that travel with them and pay their own way), it’s possible Lapid’s arithmetic is faulty.

As for a new residence and office complex, work on such a project began while Ariel Sharon was still in office.

Later, Ehud Olmert, who has far-sighted vision and who saw how inadequate existing premises for both the prime minister and president have become, realized that much larger premises were required for future needs. He commissioned the architectural firm of Ram Karmi, which had previously designed the Supreme Court.

One of the things Olmert had in mind was to save on the rentals of all government offices, and to concentrate them under one roof. He also wanted an underground section that would enable the government to function in safety, in the event of war or a natural disaster. A theater would be among the many amenities of the complex, thereby saving on security and travel expenses – because events attended by the Prime Minister would be held in the theater, thereby obviating the need for a motorcade to transport him (or her). By the same token, a smaller security detail could protect the prime minister.

The government had already approved the plan when Netanyahu came into office. At that time the cost of the project, including a residence for the prime minister, was NIS 650 million; the more recent estimate is NIS 800 million. When Netanyahu came into office in the elections prior to last, he shelved the plan – possibly because he didn’t want to endorse any of Olmert’s ideas. But the longer it is delayed, the more expensive it will become, and the more the prime minister’s neighbors will suffer in the interim – as the area in which they live becomes uglified and more and more like Fort Knox, with its many security barriers and members of the prime minister’s security detail trampling through everyone’s gardens and invading their privacy in other ways. Some of the things they do actually endanger public safety and they are frequently berated by one of the neighbors, Varda Borowski, who lives three doors from the prime minister’s residence.

■ TODAY, DECEMBER 25, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra will pay tribute to the memory of one of its bestloved former members, Zvi Haftel, who had been a pupil of Bronislaw Huberman, the Polish-born founder of the IPO. A special concert conducted by Andras Schiff will be held on the same day that Haftel’s widow, Chaya, celebrates her 100th birthday. She will be in the audience with her two daughters, Mira and Dalia, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, many of whom have traveled from abroad to be with her on this special day.

Composer and conductor Noam Sheriff will also be present to honor the memory of his longtime friend and mentor. A unique character, Haftel combined the roles of concertmaster, director and impresario, and traveled the world as the new orchestra’s ambassador. He was instrumental in bringing Zubin Mehta to the IPO.

An exhibition in the foyer of the Charles Bronfman Auditorium will include the newly renovated bronze bust of Haftel, plus aspects of the orchestra’s history.

Coincidentally, Bronislaw Huberman was also born in December, six days and 31 years ahead of Chaya Haftel.

■ JANUARY 27 was designated by the UN as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is commemorated at the UN as well as in many of the UN member states that have established Holocaust studies and memorials, and have sent teachers to Yad Vashem to participate in courses on how to teach Holocaust history.

Next month, there will be an added dimension to the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at the UN, with the launch on January 28 of an exhibition of Holocaust-themed photos, prose and poetry taken not from the Holocaust era itself, but from the reactions of participants in the March of the Living. Dr. Shmuel Rosenman and Eli Rubenstein, chairman and education director respectively of the International March of the Living, have spent the past six months combing through thousands of examples of photos, prose and poetry culled from March of the Living archives, in which the impressions of participants marching from Auschwitz to Birkenau in memory of the victims of Nazism have been documented.

The exhibition, titled “When You Listen to a Witness You Become a Witness,” is intended to be an educational tool for future generations, and includes powerful images taken during 25 years of the march.

■ FORMER US ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer, who has visited Israel several times since his retirement from the Foreign Service, came to Israel last week in his present capacity as chairman of Middle East policy studies at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He brought a dozen of his students to see the Middle East up close, not just via theoretical study.

■ THE EARS of one of the young soldiers serving in the Tank Corps in the Gaza Strip area pricked up when he heard familiar accents emanating from a group of English-speaking teenagers, who were touring the southern part of the country with their guides. He asked where they were from and they replied they were students from Moriah College in Sydney.

This immediately resonated with the young soldier, who asked whether they had ever heard of Sam Fisher.

Indeed they had. Before making aliya with his wife Joan in 1991, Fisher had been a president of both Moriah College and Sydney’s Central Synagogue.

In addition, there is a Sam Fisher Walk on the college grounds that was dedicated in 2002.

Fisher, joined the board of Moriah in 1952, a year before the school actually opened, and in subsequent years served as honorary treasurer, honorary secretary, vice president and trustee of the college. In 1979 he was elected president, serving until 1984.

Members of the Fisher family are all community-minded, and serve in voluntary capacities in various organizations.

The Fishers’ daughter and three sons also live in Israel, having migrated one after the other between 1980 and 1991. Some of the Fisher grandchildren were born in Australia, and others are Sabras.

The young soldier, Bezalel Fisher, is one of the Sabra grandchildren.

That was not the only coincidence.

One of the guides of the Australian group was Zoe Naumberger, whose late grandfather, Max Naumberger, had also been a prominent activist inside and beyond Sydney’s Jewish community. Max Naumberger had joined the board of Moriah at the same time as Sam Fisher, so the two grandchildren had something to talk about. Incidentally, Sam Fisher died in Jerusalem in April, 2012.

■ INTERNATIONAL MONETARY Fund director Menno Snel last Wednesday wound up a five-day visit to Israel, following meetings with Finance Minister Lapid, Bank of Israel Gov. Karnit Flug and other Israeli dignitaries involved in the nation’s finances and economy. On the eve of his departure from Israel, Snel and his counselor, Amit Friedman, were hosted by Netherlands Ambassador Caspar Veldkamp, at a reception that he held in their honor at his residence in Herzliya Pituah.

Israel is represented by the Netherlands on the boards of the IMF and the World Bank in Washington. Israel is part of the Dutch “constituency” at both Bretton Woods institutions, as Israel does not have sufficient shares to allow for independent membership.

Veldkamp spoke of his country’s pride in representing Israel, and noted that when Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was in Israel during the first week of December, he and Netanyahu confirmed the good relations and high level of cooperation between their two countries.

■ IT WAS almost like a French invasion when 1,000 high school students from 25 Jewish schools across France arrived in Israel last week for Bac Bleu Blanc (Seniors in Blue and White), a week-long program run by the Jewish Agency with the support of Keren Hayesod. Last Thursday, they gathered for a spirited megaevent at the Jerusalem International Convention Center, which featured addresses by Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky and Keren Hayesod France president Richard Prasquier, along with entertainment by singer Yonatan Razel, IDF chief cantor Lt.-Col. Shai Abramson, and an IDF singing troupe.

To ensure that the bottom line of the Zionist message got through, there were also some young immigrants from France who chose to live in Israel after participating in Bac Bleu Blanc in previous years. Sharansky told the teens that the French Jewish community is leading a new wave of aliya. Prasquier noted that although many of the youngsters had previously visited Israel on vacation, they were now at a decisive moment in their lives – and must seize the real Israel, and make the decision that will impact the rest of their lives.

greerfc@gmail.com


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