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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.