Grapevine: A two-legged Great Dane

Danish journalist Richard Oestermann dedicates a birthday sculpture and Aussies unite at the Israel Festival.

By
May 24, 2011 23:10
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon

Danny Ayalon 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Veteran Danish journalist Richard Oestermann has been living in Israel for half a century, writing for Danish, Swedish and Norwegian publications. Oestermann, who was educated in the US and in different parts of Europe, came to Israel in 1961 to cover the Eichmann trial – and stayed. Fifteen years ago he decided to share his milestone birthday presents with Jerusalem, the city he loves and calls home, even though he returns to Denmark every summer.

Long before making this decision, Oestermann was instrumental in bringing to Israel one of the Danish rescue boats in which Jews in 1943 had been ferried to Sweden for safety. In his book Born Again, Oestermann wrote of how he had discovered that Gilbert Lassen, a former Danish resistance fighter, had such a boat in his garden. Oestermann persuaded him to donate it to Yad Vashem, and it arrived in Israel in time for the 40th anniversary of the rescue operation.

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When he was about to turn 70, Oestermann realized he had just about everything he wanted and that any individual birthday present that anyone could give him would be superfluous. Instead, he decided that every five years, he would give something meaningful to a Jerusalem institution and ask his relatives and friends to help him pay for it in lieu of birthday gifts. Everyone liked the idea and pitched in enthusiastically. In this way, a forest was established with a grove of 1,000 trees; a bench was donated to the Jerusalem Cinematheque; a large hanukkia was given to Mishkenot Sha’ananim, and last week, a glorious, white marble sculpture titled “Concorde” was given to the Jerusalem Theater.

The sculptor, Jesper Neergaard, and his wife Lillian, long time friends of Oestermann and his life partner, art expert and author Iris Fishof, came to Israel for the dedication ceremony, and the following evening participated in Oestermann’s 85th birthday party at the restaurant at the Khan – as did Oestermann’s niece Dora Nathan, who also came in from Denmark. Masters of ceremony were brothers Robert and Werner Bachman, who sang ditties about Oestermann before they called up each new speaker. Danish Ambassador Liselotte Plesner who began her greetings in Hebrew and then switched to English, said that as the official representative of the queen of Denmark, she conveyed Her Majesty’s regards. Then, quickly correcting herself, she amused the guests by saying: “I’m not authorized, but if she knew about this, she would.”

Among the other guests was Esther Herlitz who had been Israel’s ambassador to Denmark from 1965 to 1971 and who retains an abiding involvement with Denmark and its people.

Quoting from one of Oestermann’s 10 books, Goran Larsen, former director of the Swedish Theological Institute in Jerusalem, recounted that when Oestermann, his mother and two sisters arrived in Sweden after disembarking from the fishing boat that had transported them, they were greeted on the shore by Swedish soldiers, who wept tears of relief with them to the extent that the water level of the sea may have risen by a millimeter. Although many of the guests were of Oestermann’s own generation, it was obvious when the band played “Rock Around the Clock” that age notwithstanding, they had not lost their ability to rock, and were able to teach Oestermann’s grandchildren a thing or two about dance floor agility.

Although Australia Day is on January 26, it certainly seemed as if May 23 was Australia Day in Jerusalem, with Australian Dance troupe Strange Fruit kicking off the Israel Festival high in the air on flexible poles in Zion Square. Later in the evening, Australians outnumbered Americans, Brits and South Africans at a film night hosted by the Jerusalem Friends of Alyn in the auditorium of the Alyn Hospital. Certainly the quartet on the podium prior to the screening of the film was entirely from Down Under. Guest of honor Australian Ambassador Andrea Faulkner sat with JFA Board Member Selina Beris, who had conceived the event and who was there with her Australian husband Jack. Flanking the ambassador were Australian filmmaker Monique Schwartz and Alyn Director-General Dr. Shirley Meyer, who also hails from Australia.



Among the Australians in the audience were David and Barbara Shaw, Rabbi Edward and Frances Belfer, Warren and Shirley Zauer, Norman and Libby Lourie, Paul Israel, Lionel and Adele Link, Dr. Michael Goldsmith and his South Africanborn wife Pamela, along with several others whose additional common denominators were Habonim or Bnei Akiva youth movements or Mount Scopus College.

Faulkner, who had previously visited Alyn, spoke of how impressed she was by the integration of diverse therapies, the professionalism and commitment of staff and the courage and determination of the young patients and their parents. She was also very pleased to hear so many Australian accents on screen and off. Schwartz, who has traveled extensively to some of Australia’s indigenous communities, clarified that this was not a film she had made, though she wished it were, and noted that what made Bran Nue Dae different from other films about aborigines was that instead of showing the somber, negative aspects of the indigenous experience, it was full of laughter and fun.

As if she didn’t have enough on her plate already, Ofra Strauss – who chairs the Strauss Group of companies, is active in several social welfare organizations, and is also a full time mother to young children – has been unanimously elected to chair the Israel America Chamber of Commerce, replacing Chemi Peres. The changing of the guard is scheduled for June 1.

In congratulating Strauss, Peres said that as one of the most influential businesswomen in Israel and as the head of a global business concern that in recent years has intensified its presence in the US, she was an ideal choice. When Peres came into office three years ago, he declined the title of president, saying that one President Peres in the country was enough, and decided to stick with the title of chairman. It remains to be seen whether Strauss will revert to the former title.

In other IACC news, at the chamber’s annual dinner at the US ambassador’s residence, a special award was presented to Given Imaging CFO Yuval Yanai and chairman Israel Makov, in recognition of the medical equipment company’s significant contribution to the advancement of trade relations between Israel and the US. In accepting the award, Makov, in an emotional speech, said that Given Imaging had grown from a modest local start-up company to an international leader in its field, with an annual sales turnover of $100 million in the US alone. Among those present were former ambassador to the US and former president of the IACC Zalman Shoval, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, and of course Strauss.

Colleagues from his old Likud days, as well as from Kadima, joined family and friends of the late Ze’ev Boim in honoring his memory at the dedication ceremony of a square in his name at the new settlement of Givat Eden, near Beit Shemesh. Boim, who died in March of this year after a long battle with cancer, had held several ministerial portfolios and was an MK at the time of his death. Among the participants at the ceremony were Boim’s wife Edna, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinowitz, minister Michael Eitan, MKs Otniel Schneller, Gideon Ezra, Ronnie Bar-On and Shaul Mofaz, Honorary Consul of Colombia Haim Aharon, attorney Tami Raveh, entertainer Moti Giladi, Jabotinsky Institute director Yossi Ahimeir and many other well-known personalities.

Givat Eden developer Ya’acov Leibowitz intends to invest more than $1 billion in building the first ecological village in Israel. Some 150 Jewish families from the US, Europe and Israel have already signed up for the purchase of homes in Givat Eden, where protecting the quality of the environment is high on the agenda.

Only a few days after celebrating the 50th birthday of World Georgian Jewish community leader and multi-millionaire Gabriel Mirilashvili in Jaffa on May 16, and dedicating a room at the Peres Peace House in memory of former community leader Moshe Mirilashvili, Georgian expatriates and their many friends will congregate Wednesday night at the Sultan’s Pool in Jerusalem to celebrate Georgian National Day.

The event, which is open to the general public, will feature entertainers who have flown in from Georgia for the occasion, as well as local singers and musicians of Georgian background. Prominent among the locals is Omer Adam, while the entertainers who came to Israel for the occasion include Buba Kikabdize, Lela Turtumia, Nino Chxeidze, Merabi Sepashvili, Sofo Halbashi, Nani Bregvadze and Giorgie Usikishvili. Also present will be Prof. Jemal Ahjashvili, the director-general of the Georgian-Jewish Congress, and Georgian Ambassador Vakhtang Jaoashvili, who will be hosting another Georgian National Day event in Tel Aviv on Thursday.

The event in Jerusalem with the participation of the ambassador is of great significance, considering that the only time other ambassadors celebrate their countries’ national days in Jerusalem is when they coincide with a visit from their president or prime minister.

Euro-Asia Jewish Congress President Alexander Machkevitch, who has for several years been ranked among the world’s richest people by Forbes magazine, is also listed as a Khazakstani-Israeli, although he was actually born in Kirgyztan. Machkevich, who made his fortune as co-founder of Eurasian Natural Resources Corp., now a global enterprise, was ranked No. 297 among the world’s richest people by Forbes last month, with an estimated fortune of $3.7b. Machkevitch last week had a housewarming for his new luxury apartment on Tel Aviv’s Herbert Samuel beachfront, with Metzger doing the honors of affixing the mezuza.

Last month, Machkevitch announced his intention of launching an Israel- and Jewishoriented international news network along similar lines to Al Jazeera, with the aim of combating the negativism to which Israel is frequently subjected in the international media. He and some unnamed partners have been working on the project for some time.

Danny Ayalon was interviewed last week by Leah Zinder, one of the most veteran anchors on IBA News, on her last broadcast for the network. Despite her colleagues’ urging that she retain her position, Zinder prefers at this stage of her life, to pay more attention to the role of savta (grandma).

Ayalon, who has appeared on the program on numerous occasions, presented Zinder with a farewell gift, thanked her for her many years of service to the English-speaking community and told her that she would be missed. Ayalon’s spokesman Ashley Perry was quick to post the stills from the interview on the Internet and to send them out to journalists, though the IBA, where Zinder worked for many years as a radio reporter before switching to television, did not send out a press release about her retirement.

Holocaust-related research seems to be endless because there are so many varied aspects that continue to defy the imagination.

For more than a decade, medical practitioners have been researching specific illnesses and diseases incurred during the Holocaust and the way in which they were treated. The 11th Conference on Medicine and Ailments during the Holocaust was conducted last week at the Nahariya Hospital in the Western Galilee, associated with the Technion in Haifa, whose Dean of Medicine Prof. Eliezer Shalev was among the participants. Also participating were Nahariya Hospital director Dr. Masad Barhoum and Rami Hochman, director-general of Lohamei Hagetaot.

Much as the Israeli media tends to focus on tensions rather than understanding between religious and secular elements, especially in Tel Aviv, it was heartwarming to read Yuval Abramovitz’s report in Yisrael Hayom of the Cannes premiere of Joseph Cedar’s prize-winning film Footnote, screened on the first Saturday night of the film festival. Because he is religiously observant and wears a kippa, and because Shabbat was not yet out at the scheduled time of the screening, Cedar declined the luxury limousine that would transport him to the theater and opted to walk from his hotel.

The other Israelis associated with the production, including lead actors Lior Ashkenazi and Shlomo Baraba, are not religious, but in a show of solidarity, they also spurned the comforts and prestige of a limousine and decided to walk with Cedar.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, who last week was one of the recipients of the prestigious Dan David Prize, has decided to donate $25,000 of his prize money to the Israel Democracy Institute’s Forum for Political Reform, which has formulated practical proposals for bringing about fundamental changes in the country’s electoral system, enhancing the strength of the Knesset.

It wasn't just Italy’s president who visited Israel this month. He was preceded Baron Francesco Ricasoli, who comes from a long line of Italian nobles, considering that he’s the 32nd baron. One of his famous ancestors, Bettino Ricasoli, his great-great-greatgrandfather, twice served as prime minister of Italy and is also credited with developing the original Chianti marketed under the Castello di Brolio label. In the 1960s, the brand name was sold to the Canadian Seagram company, which some three decades later sold out to Hardy – at which time the present Baron Ricasoli thought it was opportune to buy the label back, especially because Tuscan wines from the region in which his family has estates were doing so well on world markets.

Ricasoli is also reputed to be a food connoisseur, so his presence here was a delight to people in both the wine and food industries. Dan and Zvia Leeor of the Scottish Trading Company, specializing in wines and alcoholic beverages, hosted a gourmet dinner in his honor at the Herzliya Pituah residence of Italian commercial attache Lorenzo Ortona, with the participation of Italian Ambassador Luigi Mattiolo. Guests included Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Doron Sapir, attorney David Gilat, former minister and MK Ophir Pines- Paz, American Colony Hotel General Manager Paolo Fetz, entertainer, auctioneer and wine expert Meni Pe’er, and Judge Khaled Kabub, among others.

The baron, who used to be a professional photographer, discussed the art of photography as well as his love for motorcycling and deep-sea diving. He revealed that he’s also a collector of swords and guns, which are on permanent exhibition in his winery. Just before coming to Israel, he said, he had purchased a 16th-century carbine rifle.

By the way, Berlusconi was also here this month. No, not Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi; this was his nephew, Prof. Marco Berlusconi of Instituto Clinico Humanitas, who came to an international conference on orthopedics that was held at the Ziv Medical Center in Safed, where he was welcomed by the head of Ziv’s orthopedics department, Dr. Alexander Lerner.

Constantly visualizing new horizons in Israel’s future, President Shimon Peres will have the pleasure Wednesday evening of seeing the realization, or at least the nucleus, of one of his dreams. Before his election to the presidency, Peres was the minister for the development of the Galilee and the Negev. Even though he no longer holds the position, its goals remain dear to his heart, and he frequently tours, cities, towns, villages and settlements in those areas. During his term as minister, he proposed the establishment of a Galilee School of Medicine, not only to augment the health services in the region, but also to provide more opportunities for Arab students who wanted to enter the medical profession (there is a relatively large representation of the Arab community in towns and villages in the Galilee). On Wednesday evening, Peres will officially inaugurate the medical center.

Two former US ambassadors to Israel – Martin Indyk and Daniel Kurtzer - will participate in the Presidents’ Conference in Jerusalem next month. The key participant will, of course, be Peres, the initiator of the conference, whose son Chemi is also a participant.

Other dual-generational participants are Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer and his son David, and internationally renowned author Prof. Amos Oz and his daughter Prof. Fania Oz-Salzberger.

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