Grapevine: ADL celebrates its centenary

Yadlin, a former head of Military Intelligence, voiced optimism about the situation in the Middle East during his latenight, 45-minute overview.

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November 7, 2013 20:08
MEMBERS OF the Campus Leaders Mission to Israel tour near the Old City in Jerusalem.

Students on ADL trip in Jerusalem 370. (photo credit: Courtesy ADL)

 
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The keynote speaker at the Anti- Defamation League’s Centennial Gala Celebration held at the Israel Museum on Wednesday night was Maj.- Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Yadlin, a former head of Military Intelligence, voiced optimism about the situation in the Middle East during his latenight, 45-minute overview, but the ADL informed journalists that his remarks were off the record.

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Earlier, there were addresses by ADL national chair Barry Curtiss-Lusher, who observed with regret that “fighting anti-Semitism is still a real issue,” and ADL national director Abraham Foxman, a child Holocaust survivor who personifies the ADL’s ongoing battle against anti-Semitism and all forms of racism. More visibly and vocally connected to ADL than any other of its activists, Foxman is reminiscent of the immortal line in Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem “The Brook” – “For men may come and men may go, but I go on forever.”

Foxman noted that when the ADL was founded in 1913, anti-Semitism was rife in America, but today “Jews are comfortable in their own skins,” and country clubs and law firms no longer bar them. Although Foxman works for the ADL in a professional capacity, it’s not just a job: “For me, it’s a sacred duty,” he said.

Also listed on the program was Phyllis Gerably, director of the ADL’s Israel Office, who decided not to speak and merely took a bow.

The theme of the dinner was “Imagine a World Without Hate.” To bring home the message, there was a creative video demonstrating how different history might have been without the premature and unnatural deaths of people such as Anne Frank, Martin Luther King Jr., Yitzhak Rabin and Daniel Pearl.

Among the honored guests who spoke were former champion runner Esther Roth Shahamorov, who had been a member of the Israeli team at the ill-fated 1972 Munich Olympics, at which 11 Israelis were murdered by Palestinian terrorists; Miriam and Samuel Sandler of Toulouse, whose son Jonathan and grandchildren, Arye and Gavriel, together with eight-yearold Miriam Monsonego, were murdered in March 2012 in a terrorist attack on a Jewish school there. Shahamorov said that if more had been done to deter terrorists in the aftermath of the Munich Massacre, 9/11 and other terrorist attacks might not have occurred.



Sandler, the son of Holocaust survivors, spoke not only of his personal tragedy but of the July 1944 deportation to a death camp of 34 Jewish girls aged seven-14 from Versailles. “The Shoah was not only in Poland, but also in Versailles,” he said.

On a happier note, start-up guru and active proponent for equal educational opportunities Yossi Vardi was also honored.

Vardi, one of the leading personalities who fought for the right of the children of migrant workers (whether legal or illegal) to receive education in a fearfree environment in Tel Aviv’s acclaimed Bialik-Rogozin School, credited Foxman and Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel with helping him persuade Israeli authorities to keep the immigration police away from the school, so that it could be a safe studying space for the children.

■ AMONG THOSE attending the dinner was Phyllis Goldman of Denver, Colorado, who had come to Israel with the ADL mission and had broken her hand during a visit to the Knesset. She was sporting a cast nearly all the way to her elbow, but considers her accident a fortunate experience in her life – because it enabled her to get some impressive signatures on her cast. Among the signatories were President Shimon Peres, Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett and Israel Museum director James Snyder.

Goldman hasn’t quite decided what to do with the cast when it comes off, but she certainly won’t throw it away.

Also among the ADL guests were former Knesset speaker Dan Tichon and his wife, Ludmilla, who have maintained contact with Byrganym Aitimova, Kazakhstan’s first ambassador to Israel, later ambassador to Italy and since 2007, ambassador to the UN. When she first arrived in Israel in January 1997, Aitimova appeared to be a typical product of the former Soviet Union: a solid-looking woman in a severely tailored suit who gave the impression she meant business.

In fact, she looked like a Soviet commissar.

She had never been an ambassador before, but had been through the ranks of the Communist party machine – and though not schooled in the airs and graces of diplomacy, had learned the art of networking.

Aitimova also knew that as a greenhorn diplomat, the most important thing to keep in mind was, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” She proceeded to do just that.

During her first two years in Israel, Aitimova never refused an invitation. She visited military installations and attended weddings, bar/bat mitzva and brit mila ceremonies, factory and restaurant openings, and scores of diplomatic events. She went through a gradual metamorphosis, losing weight, wearing more fashionable clothes and getting a trendy hair style.

The Tichons were among the Israelis who took her under their wing and opened many doors for her. It helped that Ludmilla was a native Russian speaker, like Aitimova. The friendship remained strong after Aitimova left Israel, and the two women remember each other’s birthdays and phone or email from time to time. When the Tichons travel to New York they always spend time with Aitimova, who lives in the Trump Towers, where her neighbors are ambassadors from the most affluent countries.

According to Ludmilla, the metamorphosis continues. Aitimova has perfected her English, wears couture clothes, has a sophisticated hairstyle, exercises regularly and maintains a strict diet, so that hernow svelte figure remains that way. Her daughter, who was with her in Israel, has married an American Jewish businessman, thereby forging even closer ties between Kazakhstan, Israel and the Jewish people.

■ POLISH-BORN, Canadian-Israeli architect, real estate developer and philanthropist David Azrielihas received many honors in Canada and Israel, yet is always touched when another is conferred upon him – as happened this week, when he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Weizmann Institute of Science in recognition of his lifetime achievements.

A designer, architect and entrepreneur, Azrieli has left his imprint on Israel’s landscape, and his many philanthropic activities have over the years added to the quality of life of Israel’s public. He is the pioneer of shopping malls in Israel, and through the ones that his company has built, has set the tone for those constructed by his rivals. Through the Azrieli Foundation, which he established in 1989 and in which members of his family are involved, the 91-year-old, stillactive Azrieli has supported numerous projects and programs, including scientific and medical research, architectural education and excellence, opportunities for education through scholarships and fellowships, excellence in music and the arts, Holocaust survivor memoir programs, and more. The foundation and Azrieli himself are involved in numerous projects in nearly all of Israel’s universities, as well as the nation’s museums.

Azrieli and his wife, Stephanie, divide their time almost equally between their homes in Israel and Canada.

Weizmann Institute president Daniel Zajfman noted at the ceremony that the institute has for four generations given honorary degrees to people who have significantly contributed to change in the fields of scientific research, the arts and philanthropy.

■ WHEN US Secretary of State John Kerry entered the small reception room at the President’s Residence on Monday evening, he planted a kiss on the cheek of Yona Bartal, the president’s deputy bureau chief, and warmly shook the hand of spokeswoman Ayelet Frish. Several other female members of staff, all of them with attractive faces and beautifully proportioned bodies, were in the room, prompting Kerry to turn to President Peres to ask why he was surrounded by so many gorgeous women.

“Are you jealous?” asked Peres.

“Yes, I am jealous,” Kerry replied candidly.

Friends for many years, Kerry and Peres have such a warm and friendly relationship that contrary to normal practice, in which the guest enters the reception room and waits for the president to enter, Peres went outside to greet Kerry on arrival. The two embraced, and then with arms around each other walked along the red carpet into the building.

■ BELGIAN AMBASSADOR John Cornet d’Elzius will host a twofold reception next Monday, in honor of Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Reynders, who is due to arrive in Israel today, and of world-renowned researcher of and authority on the Holocaust Prof. Yehuda Bauer. Few people are as well-versed in the manifold aspects of Holocaust history as Bauer, on whom Reynders will confer the honorary distinction of Commandeur de l’Ordre de Leopold.

On Tuesday, prior to concluding his visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Reynders will visit Yad Vashem, where he will deliver an address on the Belgian contribution to the digitalization of the section of the Yad Vashem archives devoted to Belgian Righteous Among the Nations.

■ PLACING AS much emphasis as possible on Anglo-Israel relations, organizers of the 10th Anglo-Israel Colloquium selected Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem, which owes its original existence to British philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore, as the venue. The three-day event, which begins on November 14, will be opened by Prof. Viscount David Samuel, the first and only Israeli to have served in Britain’s House of Lords, having been a member from November 1978 until November 1999.

One of the founding fathers of the Faculty of Chemistry at the Weizmann Institute, the Jerusalem-born Samuel, a chemist and neurobiologist, is the grandson of Herbert Samuel, the first Viscount Samuel, who was the first British high commissioner of Palestine; and the son of Viscount Edwin Samuel, who was the last director of the Jerusalem-based Palestine Broadcasting Service during the British Mandate period. The PBS subsequently became the Israel Broadcasting Service, which evolved into the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

An after-dinner guest speaker at the colloquium will be British Ambassador Matthew Gould, who will review the prevailing political situation in the region and will also discuss relations between the UK and Israel. Gould happens to be Britain’s first Jewish ambassador to Israel, and while staunchly British, makes no secret of his Zionist sympathies.

Asher Weill, one of the key organizers of the colloquium, is a well-known editor and writer. A British expat who has been living and working in Israel for more than 50 years, he still has a distinctly British air about him.

The actual topic of the colloquium does not dwell on Anglo-Israel relations, but on the global issue of ethics and responsibility in an interconnected world.

■ IMMIGRANTS FROM Britain whose parents or grandparents were part of the Kindertransport rescue mission may be interested to know of a play that will be staged in venues across Britain from November 12 to December 2, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the first Kindertransport at 10 stations across Britain.

The play Suitcase, which symbolizes all that some of these children had left of their former backgrounds, was created by the daughters of Jo Merkin (nee Hacker) – who in December 1938, as a 10-year-old, arrived in England from Vienna with her two younger sisters, Paula and Melanie. They left behind their baby brother, Max, who was too young to come on the Kindertransport, and their parents, Koloman and Franziska. They all died in the Holocaust; Max and Franziska were murdered in Auschwitz in October 1944, and Koloman in Kaufering, Dachau, in January 1945.

Some of the Kindertransport children later came to Israel and made their homes here. Although bashing Britain for its failure to honor its Mandate commitment has been par for the course over the years, it should not be forgotten that the UK provided a haven for nearly 10,000 children, most of them Jewish, from Nazi Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland. The first Kindertransport of 196 children, most of them from a Berlin Jewish orphanage that had been burned by the Nazis on Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938, left Berlin on December 1, arriving in Harwich the next day.

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