Grapevine: Paying homage to the Bard of Avon

Even though Shakespeare is widely acclaimed, he does not appeal to everyone.

By
January 24, 2012 22:06
David Weston with actors

David Weston with actors 311. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir)

LET’S BE HONEST: Even though William Shakespeare is widely acclaimed as the greatest playwright and poet in history, he doesn't appeal to everyone. Those who do not have a fondness for the bard, and are even ill-disposed toward his works, might well change their minds after hearing British actor, director and author David Weston, who has acted in 29 of Shakespeare's 37 plays, knows all of them inside-out and has gone the gamut from youthful roles to those of hoary old men. Weston, whose one-man show, “Shakespeare in Jerusalem,” attracted a full house last Friday at the Konrad Adenauer Center under the auspices of the Friends of the Hebrew University, took none of the proceeds for himself, instead directing them toward scholarships at HU for drama students at the university’s department of English. There’s a saying that where there are two Jews, there are three opinions. Then again, there are exceptions to the rule, and this was one of them. At the end of a truly memorable mix of narration and performance, people in the audience left in the most upbeat of moods, saying how much they enjoyed it and how they wished that there was something like this every week.

Weston is not only a great actor but a superb raconteur, who changes not only his voice but his appearance and body language as he moves deftly between story-telling and acting. The remarkable thing is that without benefit of make-up, Weston has the gift of contorting his face to change his visage to that of the character that he plays. But even more important than bringing history to life, as Weston did to the obvious delight of his listeners, was his revelation of Shakespeare’s contribution to modern English. In fact, according to Weston, Shakespeare invented the modern English language. His plays contain 17,500 different words, whereas the King James Bible has only 5,500 different words, said Weston. Of the words used by Shakespeare he added, 7,000 were used only once. Many of the expressions we use today were invented by Shakespeare, including “tongue-tied,” “hoodwinked,” “in a pickle,” “short shrift,” “cold comfort,” “dead as a doornail,” “milk of human kindness” and “too much of a good thing.” Weston asserted that Shakespeare wrote for all times and for all people. “It's the words that matter,” he said. “The words are still so relevant.”

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The Friends of the Hebrew University, many of them native English speakers who were already familiar with Shakespeare but who, thanks to Weston, learned to appreciate him more, owed his appearance to Dr. Joe Borman and his wife Ruth. The Bormans, who have developed a friendship with Weston and his wife, actress and fashion designer Dora Reisser, first met them at the home of friends in Tel Aviv where Weston gave a performance for a far more intimate gathering. On their way back to Jerusalem, the Bormans could not stop talking about his performance. So when the Friends of the Hebrew University sought an idea for an event, Ruth Borman called Weston in London, barely daring to ask whether he would come to Jerusalem. To her great joy, the response was instantly positive.

At the reception prior to the performance, HU drama students in Shakespearean attire mingled with the crowd but on stage, Weston stood alone. University President Menachem Ben Sasson, who delivered a welcoming address about the importance of the humanities, starting with an incomplete quote from Hamlet, “To be or not…” left at the beginning of the performance and truly missed out. In his case it was not to be.

■ DISTANCE IS sometimes an advantage. Whereas most foreign delegations that come to Israel spend a week or less in the country, the 10-member Australian Psychologists Study Mission, which arrived last week, is spending two weeks in Israel, combining tourism with exchanges of ideas with Israeli colleagues. On a professional level, they have met with Dr. Esti Galili, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Jerusalem Crisis Intervention Center as well as the Center’s cofounder, Dr. Fortunato Benarroch, founder of the International Center for the Enhancement of Learning Potential Prof. Reuven Feuerstein, deputy directorgeneral for clinical services at Alyn Naomi Gefen, libraries director at Yad Vashem Dr. Robert Rozett and Australian expatriate Arnold Roth who, together with his wife Frimet, established the Malki Foundation in memory of their daughter Malki who was killed in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem in 2001. One of their other children, to whom Malki was greatly attached, is a special needs child and the Malki Foundation enables quality home care for special needs children.

The group still plans to meet with several professionals in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba. Group leader, Prof. Amanda Gordon, is a member of Australia’s veteran and widespread Blashki family, which has been living on the island continent for more than 150 years., She is also the president of Hadassah New South Wales and the sister of former politician and former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry Jeremy Jones, who is currently director of international and community affairs at the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council. As it happens, Jones is this week leading a political delegation to Israel. The siblings are combining business with the pleasure of a family wedding they will be celebrating in Israel at the end of the month.

The psychologists also had a very interesting meeting at the Cardo Restaurant in Jerusalem’s Old City with Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem. Zuroff has visited Australia five times on speaking engagements and Gordon, who knows him well, felt that her delegation should have the opportunity to hear him in Jerusalem. Zuroff explained why his organization continues to hunt down Nazi war criminals. There’s a certain skepticism when you try to get people in their late 80s and 90s to go to trial, he said. But “old age shouldn’t offer protection for killers. It doesn't turn them into righteous gentiles.” Quoting the famed late Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, Zuroff said that holding Nazis accountable is an obligation owed to victims of the Holocaust. “Everyone we bring to justice is a victory.”



■ IT DIDN’T make newspaper headlines but Israeli Noam Gershony, 28, won the men’s quads singles in the 2012 GIO Sydney International Wheelchair Tennis Open this week. Gershony and his coach Nimrod Bichler are currently in Melbourne where Gershony is competing in the Australian Open Wheelchair Championship. Last November, Gershony achieved a historic result for Israeli wheelchair tennis by winning the Wheelchair Tennis Masters Quads singles in Belgium. Participants in the by-invitationonly tournament included the top four ranked players in the world. After winning the Masters, Gershony earned 1,100 ranking points, the most a player can win on tour.

Prior to the helicopter crash during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, that left him paralyzed, Gershony had taken a total of five tennis lessons in his life. Being the sole survivor of the crash and losing the use of his legs was a traumatic experience that required a long rehabilitation process, during which he began to play tennis – and the rest is history. Jews abroad tend to delight in Israeli successes and this case was no exception. Congratulatory statements punctuated with pride were issued by president of the Friends of Beit Halochem, Victoria, John Furstenberg, and president of the Zionist Council of Victoria Sam Tatarka. IDF veterans requiring rehabilitation usually receive therapy at Beit Halochem.

■ WITH THE evolution of the Arab Spring and the collapse of the old regime in Egypt, the affable Egyptian Ambassador Yasser Reda has maintained a relatively low profile. But this week he accepted the invitation of the Netanya Academic College’s Center for Strategic Dialogue and was warmly greeted by NAC president Prof. Zvi Arad and the center’s chairman and former government minister Brig.Gen (Res) Dr. Ephraim Sneh. Reda did not leave the college empty-handed. He was presented with a stained glass statuette symbolizing human rights.

■ AS PART of the 20th anniversary celebrations of diplomatic ties between India and Israel, speakers from both countries will meet today at 4:30 p.m. at Tel Aviv University’s Recanati Business School to discuss the future of India-Israel trade relations. The event, co-sponsored by the Israel-Asia Center and the Sofaer International MBA Program at Tel Aviv University, will include as panelists head of the Indian Embassy’s commercial section Vani Rao, State Bank of India Tel Aviv CEO A. Purushothaman, director of economic relations with India & China, Economic Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Eli Belotsercovsky and chairperson if the Israel-India and Nepal Chamber of Commerce Anat Bernstein-Reich.

■ EVEN THOUGH Canada is not celebrating a milestone anniversary of its diplomatic ties with Israel this year, the present Canadian government has proven to be among Israel’s staunchest allies and its officials receive high-profile treatment when they come to Israel. Their Israeli counterparts are eagerly awaiting the arrival at the end of this month of John Baird, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs and James Flaherty, Canada’s minister of finance. It’s a fairly safe bet that both their Israeli counterparts, Avigdor Lieberman and Yuval Steinitz, along with several other government ministers and members of Knesset, will be among the guests at a reception in Jerusalem co-hosted in honor of the two Canadian ministers by chairman of the Canadian Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs David Koschitzy and Canada’s ambassador to Israel Paul Hunt.

In the realm of the exchange of high-ranking visits, Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak was in Canada last November, where he met with his counterpart Peter MacKay to discuss the Iranian nuclear threat. MacKay was in Israel last January. In the past two-and-a-half years there have been visits to Israel by several Canadian government ministers and visits to Canada by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as well as Lieberman and Steinitz. Barak has been to Canada twice in that time span. If proof of friendship is needed, suffice to say that the Harper government was the first Western government to cut off funds to the Palestinian Authority in 2006 following the Hamas takeover. Canada was also the first to announce it would boycott the anti-Israel Durban II and III conferences and the first to support Israel’s military offensive against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

■ IN SEPARATE interviews last week on Israel Radio, both Dalia Itzik and Nachman Shai spoke out on behalf of Ehud Olmert, who as a side bar to his legal problems has become a subject of added controversy because he is advising both Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni.

“We love Ehud Olmert very much,” said Itzik, while Shai reminded the public that although Olmert has been charged with corruption, it has not yet been proved and the former prime minister has not been convicted. Before people start passing judgment on whether politicians or would-be politicians should meet with Olmert, they should wait for the outcome of his trial, Shai advised. What neither of them said was that the legal authorities have not confiscated Olmert’s passport but have enabled him to continue to serve Israel’s interests by addressing audiences abroad on issues vital to Israel.

■ MANY OF us sometimes go to events where we don't know a single soul, yet Israel, as a small country, has the reputation of being a place where everyone knows everyone else. There’s a certain truth to this, as for instance with author Haggai Linik, the winner of the prestigious 2011 Sapir Prize for literature for his book Prompter Needed. One of six brothers, the eldest of whom, Zohar, fell in battle, Linik received congratulatory calls from Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Barak. Linik and Barak have known each other for years and Linik worked as part of Barak’s campaign team in 1999 and 2001. It transpired that Netanyahu had served with Zohar Linik in an elite combat unit and Peres had known Linik’s late father, Mordechai, when the latter was head of the Yehud Regional Council. Peres, who was the only one of the three top-ranking callers who had read the book, told Linik that he had recognized his father in some of the pages. Linik will receive NIS 150,000 in prize money. The four runners-up will receive NIS 25,000 each. They are Dan Benaya Ser’i (Artur), Moshe Sakal (Yolanda), Matan Hermoni (Hebrew Publishing Company), and Orly Castel-Bloom (Winter Life).

■ IT TAKES a lot to shock high-tech and social entrepreneur Erel Margalit, the founder and managing partner of Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP). Margalit, who several years ago established the Media Quarter in and around the old Jerusalem train station as a springboard for diverse social and cultural activities, was under the impression that the platform area of the train station, which has been closed since 1999, would eventually fall into his hands and that he would then be able to expand the cultural activities of the capital. It took a long time for tenders to be published for the project and when they finally were, JVP put in a substantial bid, as did a group headed by fellow Jerusalem entrepreneur Avi Murdoch – and Murdoch’s offer was accepted. The result was quite a blow for Margalit, whose efforts have been steadfastly praised and encouraged by Mayor Nir Barkat.

Murdoch has been to the old train station in Jaffa to see how it has been converted into a boutique shopping area with restaurants, art galleries and couture clothing stores plus displays of remnants of the old railway station so as to preserve its historic identity. The Jerusalem station will follow similar guidelines. Regardless of whether it’s Murdoch or Margalit whose project helps to express Barkat’s vision of a city of arts and culture, many Jerusalemites, especially those who live in Abu Tor, think there’s too much of it. Celebrated photographer Aliza Orbach has organized a protest petition to cut down on the noise and to stop interference with people’s freedom of movement. Concerts at the Sultan’s Pool disturb both Arab and Jewish residents of Abu Tor. Sometimes the noise from the Media Quarter is nearly as bad; and construction is resuming in the so-called cultural center on the intersection of Naomi Street and Hebron Road. It seems that the cultural center has given way to a cinema city, which makes the residents very unhappy. The frequency with which Jerusalem streets are closed to traffic and often to pedestrians as well because of the increase in sporting activities, street concerts and other events is not contributing to Barkat’s popularity, especially with elections almost around the corner.

■ NOTHING IS forever, especially in the fashion business – with the possible exception of Galit Gutman who, for well over a decade has been the muse for designer Dani Mizrahi and continues to inspire his exotic evening and wedding gown creations. Actress and film director Noa Tishbi commuted several times a year between Los Angeles and Tel Aviv for years not only to feature in ml catalogues and runway shows but also to participate in social welfare projects sponsored by ml.

But now all that is over because ml owner Avi Malcha has decided to introduce a new face as the presenter for his company, which specializes in large size trendy clothes for men and women. While expressing appreciation for what Tishbi has done for his brand, and acknowledging her remarkable public relations talents, Malcha said that the time had come to introducer a new presenter with whom Israeli women could find a closer identification. The choice was actress/singer Miri Mesika, who up till now has declined all offers to be a presenter for a fashion company. But a oneyear contract for NIS 550,000 with an option for renewal is not to be taken lightly. Within the context of the campaign, Mesika will also revive a song from her first album, “Tipa Tipa,” which will be released as a single.

The last few months have not been easy for Tishbi, whose marriage to Australia television icon Andrew Gunsberg, known professionally as Andrew G, came to an end last month.

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