More than 1,000 former citizens of the Russian Federation and the former Soviet Union came to the Tel Aviv Hilton last week to say “dosveedanya” to Russian Ambassador Petr Stegny and his wife Margarita, who are leaving at the end of the month and who combined their farewell with the annual Russian National Day reception.
Stegny is not the only ambassador winding up his term in Israel. Also leaving by the end of the month or soon after are US Ambassador James Cunningham, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jun, German Ambassador Harald Kinderman, Finland’s Ambassador Per- Mikael Engberg, Dutch Ambassador Michiel den Hond and Peru’s Ambassador Jose Luis Salinas Montes. By contrast, Edward Iosiper, the popular ambassador of Romania, has had his posting extended by a year.
No other national day event in Israel has the proportions of the Russians’. Of all the immigrant groups in Israel, Russians are the largest, and a series of Russian ambassadors have had a remarkably close relationship with their country’s immigrant community; one does not have to be a professor, a company director, a star entertainer or athlete – or a politician, for that matter – to be invited to the ambassador’s mega-party.
It also offers an opportunity for aging veterans of the Red Army to trot out their medals and ribbons. Some have so many of these decorations pinned to their jackets that they are literally weighed down by them – but wear them with great pride. Then there’s the entertainment – a mix of classical music and Russian folk songs performed by members of the Ashdod Philharmonic Orchestra, who have been playing at this event since 1999 and are, of course, all Russian immigrants. There’s always at least one brilliant guest singer – and this time, both the singing and the musical performances were enhanced by visiting members of the Red Army Choir, whose balalaika player entranced almost everyone.
Although a diplomatic reception is usually timed for two hours, people enjoy themselves so much at the Russian events that they stay for much longer. This year’s red carpet reception included an exhibition of photographs of the earliest period of diplomatic relations, with scenes of Golda Meir as Israel’s first envoy to the Soviet Union in 1948, and Soviet ambassador Pavel Yershov, photographed with Israel’s second president Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, though it was to Chaim Weizmann that he presented his credentials. There is a common misconception that the US was the first superpower to recognize the nascent Jewish state, when in fact it was the Soviet Union. A copy of the cable to that effect, sent by then-foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov, was part of the exhibition.
There was also a prominent display of two separate issues of a Russian magazine with cover illustrations of, on one, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and his local counterpart Shimon Peres, and the countries’ respective foreign ministers Sergey Lavrov and Avigdor Lieberman on the other. Needless to say, Lieberman, who is extraordinarily popular in the Russian community, was the guest of honor, and he was completely in his element, relaxed and in fine humor. Speaking in both Russian and Hebrew, Lieberman said that as someone born and raised in the USSR, he saw the reality of today as little short of a miracle.
Had someone told him when he left to come to Israel that there would be a
Russian Embassy here and that former citizens of the USSR would play
such a dominant role, he would have said they were insane. In praising
Stegny’s contribution to enhancing relations between Russia and Israel,
Lieberman declared with confidence, “In 20 years, all our differences
will be behind us.”
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni recalled that her first connection with
the Russian aliya had been when she served as immigrant absorption
minister and quickly learned that they had not only a different
language, but a different culture, humor and symbols, which she had come
to respect. Stegny said he was leaving after four-and-a-half happy
years, knowing that relations between the two countries were “very
The Bloomfield family of Montreal, Canada, has been contributing to the development of Israel since day one.
There are several facilities across the country, ranging in size from
mega to modest, which bear the Bloomfield name, or to which members of
the Bloomfield family have contributed.
One of the latest is a monument in Jerusalem’s Yemin Moshe Bloomfield
Gardens dedicated to the heroism of the Etzioni Brigade, which fought
there during the War of Independence and which lost 575 of its soldiers
Lawyer Harry Bloomfield and his sister Evelyn, who were the major
contributors to the fund for the monument – a tall, bronzed flame
sculpted by ex-Palmahnik and former POW Gideon Graetz, who now lives in
Florence – were on hand for the dedication ceremony. So were some 60
veterans of the War of Independence, including members of the Moriah
61st Battalion, which had been part of the Etzioni Brigade and had
liberated Kibbutz Ramat Rahel; Zvi Zamir, who commanded the Harel
Brigade along with Zvika Levanon, chairman of the Hagana; well-known
veterans Romek Fein and Iska Shadmi; former deputy mayor Tamar Eshel,
who had been in the Hagana; members of the Tel Aviv Field Corps, who
came to supplement the Etzioni efforts; and commanders of the renewed
Etzioni Brigade, who may become the heroes of tomorrow.
Veterans who had fought in Yemin Moshe during the War of Independence
and who had seen their comrades die there had long been frustrated by
the fact that there was no memorial to them, and eventually approached
the Jerusalem Foundation, which immediately acceded to the request.
There was also bureaucracy to overcome at the Jerusalem Municipality,
and here former deputy mayor Amos Mar Haim was helpful, as were others.
Fein, chairman of the Etzioni veterans, said their joy in finally seeing
a monument was mixed with sadness as they remembered their fallen
comrades in arms. Because Jerusalem was cut off from the rest of the
country, he recalled, the battle for the city was the most difficult of
Most people, he said, know about the Palmah, but few know anything about
Etzioni, which fought many battles during the War of Independence.
Also present at the ceremony were Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Jerusalem Foundation president Ruth Cheshin.
Korean Ambassador Young Sam Ma does not take his country’s freedom for
granted. He is forever mindful that 16 countries sent troops to fight in
the Korean War, five countries sent medical support, and 20 countries,
including the young State of Israel, sent supplies. So a couple of years
ago, Ma decided to show appreciation to those soldiers who put their
lives on the line for Koreans’ freedom, and enlisted the help of the
Israeli media to find Korean War veterans living here so he could host a
ceremony in their honor and present them with peace medals and
citations in the presence of their families.
The response was far better than he had imagined: Last week, he held the
ceremony for the third time. Danny Koshelevisch, a member of the
embassy staff, who moderated the ceremony, also read out the names of
those veterans who will be honored next year. This year’s list included
Sydney Dubisky of Ra’anana, who was part of the third infantry division;
Reuven Geffen of Jerusalem, who was with the US Air Force in Korea;
Donald Rush, who was in the Marine Corps; Yoshua Sharon, who was a
squadron navigator; Robert Small, who served as a medic; German-born Max
Weissler, who had found shelter from the Nazis in the Philippines and
was then offered work in Korea by the US Forces during the war in
exchange for American citizenship; and Morris Wisotsky, a paymaster in
charge of the salaries of field artillery units and the Mobile Army
One of Wisotsky’s strongest memories is of a Pessah Seder organized by Jewish soldiers in Korea.
There was also Leonard Wisper, who had served with a machine gun unit in
the front lines and who, after being viciously attacked and wounded by
the Chinese forces, had promised himself that if he ever got out of
there, he would adopt a religious lifestyle. He kept that promise, and
now lives in Bnei Brak, where he works as a librarian. Some of his 11
grandchildren – all with white tzitzit, dark pants, white shirts and
black velvet kippot – were on hand to take photographs and cheer him on.
The family of Rabbi Jerome Pomerantz, who had served in Korea for three
years but passed away in Jerusalem in January 1994, thought his service
should also be acknowledged. The embassy agreed and gave his medal and
citation to his daughter Sephora Fils. The family of the late Jack
Goldman had also been listed to receive a medal, but the presentation
was deferred until next year.
Aside from the peace medals, Ma traced the original proposal made by
Abba Eban at the instigation of then foreign minister Moshe Sharett in
the archives of the United Nations. It was known that if Israel put
forward a proposal, all the Arab States would automatically vote against
it, so Israel stood back and let another country propose it instead.
However, the original is on record in the UN archives, and Ma found it
last year. He presented a copy of the official document to the former
foreign minister’s son Ya’acov Sharett.
Korea was one of the most devastated countries in the world, Ma said,
and the Korean War is not yet over, as evidenced by the two provocations
made last year by North Korea. But what the Republic of Korea and
Israel have in common, he added, quoting from the latter’s national
anthem, is hope and the desire for freedom.
Colombian Ambassador Isaac Gilinski commended Ma for his efforts to find
the Jewish veterans and noted that in all, 4,000 Jewish men and women
had served with the allied forces in Korea in a coalition effort to help
its people live in security. Thomas Goldberger, deputy chief of mission
at the US Embassy, was impressed by the ceremony, especially because
his father had served in Korea.
It was a particular honor in more ways than one for Mark Leibler, one of
Australia’s leading lawyers, to receive Keren Hayesod’s Israel
Goldstein Prize for Distinguished Leadership in recognition of his
accomplishments before, during and after his term as chairman of Keren
Hayesod’s World Board of Trustees. Peres took time out from
pre-conference preparations to come and congratulate him.
It was also the anniversary of the death of Leibler’s father, who had
been a noted community leader in Melbourne, where Leibler was born, and
who died at the early age of 47. But the ultimate honor was bestowed on
him by Keren Hayesod World Chairman and known pop fan Eliezer Sandberg,
who relinquished the opportunity to attend Monday’s Bob Dylan concert in
favor of the gala dinner for Leibler at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel.
A large, three-generation contingent of the Leibler family attended, as
did Australian ambassador Andrea Faulkner, for whom this was the
culmination of a complete Australia Day. Earlier on, she had attended
the dedication at the Hebrew University’s Rehovot campus of the Berel
and Agnes Ginges Library and Information Center, followed by the
Honorary Fellowship Awards ceremony at the Mount Scopus campus, which
included Prof. Leon Man of Melbourne among the awardees. There were
numerous other Australians and Australian expats at all three events.
Among those at the Leibler event was Saul Same, the elder statesman of
the Australian Jewish community who served in the Australian Air Force
in World War II and was the second of three Australians to receive the
prestigious Goldstein Prize in its 31-year history. The first was the
late Isador Magid; Leibler is the third.
Peres recalled having met Leibler several years ago during a visit to
Australia and said that he had never met a more active person. Leibler,
he said, had been constantly engaged and involved with Jewish existence
and was highly deserving of the honor. Sandberg, who met Leibler
comparatively recently, said that he’d heard a lot about him before
they’d met, and since working with him had discovered that Leibler fully
understood the responsibility of leadership.
Johanna Arbib-Perugia, who succeeded Leibler as chair of the World Board
of Trustees, called him “a man of deeds and a man of action,” and
underscored that it was through his efforts that the Australian
Government had voted to repeal the UN resolution equating Zionism with
racism. In emphasizing the importance of Zionism in Jewish life and
history, Leibler seemed less proud of his own achievements than of the
fact that he has four sabra grandchildren, two of whom were at the event
and to whom he paid the most attention throughout the evening.
Sometimes a dream gone astray produces the most incredible results.
That’s what happened in the case of Australian philanthropists Berel and
Agnes Ginges of Sydney. Sixty-three years ago, Berel had planned to
join friends from the Habonim youth movement who were going to Israel to
be among the pioneers of Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi. Family commitments
prevented him from doing so. He and his wife Agnes, who was also a
member of Habonim, maintained an abiding friendship with their Habo
mates, and made a point of seeing them whenever they visited Israel. But
they wanted to do more for the country.
They had been introduced to the Hebrew University by Agnes’s uncle.
Subsequently they met former HU president Hanoch Gutfreund, who had seen
a state-of-theart computer center at Columbia University that he wanted
emulate at his school. They donated the first of the Ginges computer
centers in 2000. Now there are eight on all the campuses of the
university, with two on Mount Scopus and two at the Edmond J. Safra
campus in Givat Ram. If Berel had gone to Kfar Hanassi in 1948, he would
never have been in the financial position to do so much to enhance
Israel’s higher education.
Their friends from the kibbutz and elsewhere in the country have come to
all Ginges Center dedication ceremonies, but the one in Rehovot was
special because it included the Kfar Hanassi Lounge, which is dedicated
to all the young, idealistic Australians who came from Habonim and
settled on kibbutzim. The plaque in the spacious and beautifully
furnished lounge was unveiled by Eddy Nemenoff, who said he represented
“the remaining bunch of Australians at Kfar Hanassi and the first
Australian pioneers from the kibbutz who participated in the War of
Independence.” Some of the people who came to the kibbutz eventually
left to join other kibbutzim including Yizre’el, Tzora, Gesher Haziv,
Kfar Blum, Nirim, Matzuba, Kedarim and Mevo Hama. Others settled in
urban areas, and many played vital roles in the country’s development.
Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture Ronnie Friedman said of the new
computer facility: “This library will give us the opportunity to do many
things we have not done before.”
Faulkner expressed pride in being an Australian at such a moment and witnessing such extraordinary generosity.
Australians will gather again Thursday at Kiryat Moriah in Jerusalem for
the dedication ceremony of the Frank Stein Memorial Garden to honor the
memory of Frank Stein, the devoted and enormously popular Israel
representative of the Australian Zionist Federation.
Stein succumbed to cancer in March 2009.
The national leadership of the Conference of Presidents of Major
American Jewish Organizations met in New York last week to pay tribute
to US Ambassador- Designate to Israel Daniel B. Shapiro, the third
Jewish person to be appointed to this august position. The other two
were Martin Indyk, who was appointed twice, and Daniel Kurtzer, both of
whom are in Israel this week to participate in the Presidential
Conference “Facing Tomorrow.”
Guests at the reception for Shapiro included US Ambassador to the UN
Susan Rice, Israel’s new Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor, and Israeli
Consul-General in New York Ido Aharoni. All of them addressed the
gathering of leaders from across the country on a range of issues,
including the proposed Palestinian unilateral declaration of
independence, the UN Durban III conference, the planned flotillas to
Gaza, and US-Israel relations. Other speakers included Dr. Richard
Haass, Mort Zuckerman, Dr. Asher Susser, and former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post
Bret Stephens, who is now with The Wall Street Journal. firstname.lastname@example.org