Grapevine: Taking a leaf out of KKL-JNF’s book

In the Negev, where it had been thought that nothing could grow, there are now two million olive trees.

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August 30, 2012 21:41
Olive tree (illustrative)

Olive tree 311 . (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)

 
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At the ceremony at the President’s Residence this week in which Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael- Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) was honored by the Council for a Beautiful Israel, President Shimon Peres recalled that when David Ben- Gurion visited Burma, president Ne Win had told him that Burma had too many forests and that the great challenge was to cut down trees to make the country habitable. When Ne Win paid a reciprocal visit to Israel, long before KKL-JNF had planted 240 million trees, he congratulated Israel on getting rid of its tree surplus, when Israel was in fact trying to do the opposite.

Peres was full of admiration for the fact that in the Negev, where it had been thought that nothing could grow, there are now two million olive trees that were planted by KKL-JNF. Toward the close of the ceremony, when KKL-JNF co-chairs Efi Stenzler and Eli Aflalo presented Peres with a carved olive-wood box for collecting coins for KKL-JNF, Peres quipped that he’s not supposed to accept gifts and that he will have to check with the attorney- general as to whether it’s permissible.

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“It’s okay,” said Stenzler. “There’s nothing in it.”

Peres also compared the national deficit to that of JNF-KKL. When the government faces a deficit, it calls in Stanley Fischer, he said. When KKL faces a deficit, it calls in a few millionaires from abroad. Peres quipped that the economy of the Blue Box was more effective than the budget of the government.

■ Few ties are stronger than one’s mother tongue, and even though Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov have been in Israel longer than they were in the former Soviet Union, both speak Hebrew with a Russian accent. They also tend to accept the invitations to Independence Day and other National Day receptions of countries that were once part of the Soviet Union, where they generally converse with other guests in Russian rather than Hebrew.

That was the case this week when they accepted the invitation by Ukraine Ambassador Hennadiy Nadolenko‘s invitation to his country’s Independence Day reception at the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv. The presence of the two ministers also drew Dan Hotel general manager Chen Michaeli into the banquet hall to ensure that everything was flowing smoothly – and of course he didn’t miss out on the photo opportunity.

Hotel managers are even keener than paparazzi when it comes to VIPs and celebrities who are big names in sport and entertainment.

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The event was enlivened by Ukrainian folk dancers.

■ When they met just over four months ago on what they describe as a semi-blind date, there was an instant click between Uriel Sturm, the sports editor of The Jerusalem Post and commissioner of the Israel Football League, and Leah Weisz, who runs Jerusitters, a baby-sitting agency for Anglo tourists. The two became inseparable. Thus when she planned to go back to Ohio to for the celebration of her grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary and he had a cousin’s wedding in Boston a few days later, it was obvious that they would travel together to the United States and also to Toronto, where Sturm’s parents live and where there was another family celebration.

Sturm, 32, moved to Israel five years ago and Weisz, 29, has been living in Israel for only a year. Before the trip, neither had met the other’s family, but at the wedding in Boston, Weisz met Sturm’s entire extended family, and in Ohio he met her family and friends.

The whirlwind of celebrations took them from Israel to Boston- New York-Columbus-Cleveland- Toronto-Columbus (again) and Toronto (again). After a wild two weeks of weddings, meeting parents, grandparents, siblings and communities and getting to know each other a lot better, they were exhausted and ready to return to the Holy Land.

An hour into their flight back from Toronto via London, Sturm had an urgent request and instead of buzzing the British Airways flight attendant, he went to look for her. A few minutes later her voice came across on the loudspeaker: “Is there a Ms. Leah Weisz on this aircraft? Can she please identify herself to the nearest flight attendant? I think the guy sitting next to you has something he would like to ask you.”

Weisz was working on matters related to her Jerusitters business at the time and Sturm had to tap her on the shoulder and say “I think they just called your name.”

Weisz was visibly surprised, and before she could collect her thoughts there were several flight attendants around their seats with champagne.

Following ancient tradition, though somewhat uncomfortably given where he was, Sturm got down on his knee and, above Weisz’s exclamations that he should “sit down, yes, yes, just sit down now!” he managed to pop the question and she accepted. Passengers in their section of the plane burst into applause. Sturm had ordered the diamond ring in Toronto and picked it up from a friend who is a jeweler that morning before boarding the flight – just in the nick of time. There was still another memorable event before they got around to planning the wedding. Their stopover in London was supposed to be for five hours but turned out to be 25 hours when their El Al flight to Tel Aviv was canceled and the airline had to put everyone up in the Hilton hotel by Heathrow airport. The finale of the two-week trip is something that they will remember for the rest of their lives.

■ People are used to seeing photographs of Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli in the skimpiest of swimwear. But now she’s graduated to the league of Katie Holmes, Ashley Judd and Kate Moss to become the face of H. Stern, the international jewelry company that is headquartered in Rio de Janeiro with some 160 shops in 12 countries.

Refaeli is the presenter for “My Collection” – a new campaign for the company’s young jewelry collection designed for the under-30 age group. Refaeli flew to Los Angeles for the photo shoot, where she was photographed wearing a variety of jewels worth thousands of dollars.

This week she was back on home turf, where it was officially announced by Israel CEO Israel Cort, at the company’s Israel flagship shop in the lobby of the Tel Aviv Hilton, that Refaeli is the new face for H. Stern. Hundreds of guests were present to admire both the jewelry and, of course, the model.

■ Yad Vashem and the Netherlands signed an agreement this week whereby the Dutch government will support the digitization of the files concerning the Dutch Righteous Among the Nations. The agreement was signed by Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev and Netherlands Ambassador Caspar Veldkamp. The digitalization will provide easier access for researchers, filmmakers, students and anyone else interested in learning about these extraordinary men and women, said Shalev, adding that the digitization process is a key aspect in commemorating the choices these individuals made not to be bystanders.

Over the past five decades, the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous has recognized more than 24,000 men and women who risked their own lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. Up to the present time, 5,204 rescuers from the Netherlands have been recognized.

In the course of the pilot project in preparation for the scanning, a unique document was discovered, casting light on the touching story of Berendina (Diet) Eman and Hein Sietsma, a young engaged couple from The Hague who were part of a group of non-Jewish youth that helped Jews escape the Nazis.

The Hein group, named after Hein Sietsma and also an acronym of the words “Helpt Elkander In Nood” (“help each other in need”), was initially involved in disseminating BBC news and arranging hiding places for Jewish fugitives. As priests and pastors were exempt from forced labor, all the male members of the Hein group posed as clergymen.

Before long, the Hein group was in charge of 60 Jews, among them Aronda and Sarina Niekerk and their parents, Hans and Ellie van Esso; the Koppel family; the Hartsuiker family; Rabbi Tal and his wife; Albert van Gelder; and the Nihom family. The group also took care of a large number of young non-Jewish men who were evading forced labor in Germany.

After many dangerous escapes and near misses, Eman and Sietsma were arrested separately. Eman was released after several months of imprisonment in Vught. Sietsma was sent to Dachau. In October 1944, he managed to send a note to his fiancée, folded into a 1-centimeter package: “Even if we never meet each other again on this earth, we will never be sorry for what we did,” he wrote. “We will never regret that we took this stand, and know, Diet, that of every human being in the world, I loved you the most.”

Sietsma died in Dachau. Both she and Eman were later recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

■ The Dutch government has this year also donated $15.9 million to UNRWA’s core programming as well as $5.7m. in response to UNRWA’s 2012 Emergency Appeal for the occupied Palestinian territory.

The donation to UNRWA’s core budget will support the agency’s education program, including reforms aimed at improving quality and its impact on almost half a million refugee children. In addition, it will fund reforms in UNRWA’s health program that are already being felt, including in the West Bank where they are being successfully piloted.

It will also support regular relief, infrastructure and camp improvement initiatives. The Dutch contribution to UNRWA’s 2012 Emergency Appeal will support emergency programming in the West Bank and Gaza, which aims to mitigate the effects on refugees of the deteriorating socioeconomic and security situation.

“Ultimately, this contribution assists in fulfilling the socioeconomic human rights of refugees,” said Birgitta Tazelaar, the Netherlands’ head of mission in Ramallah. She also voiced the hope that this contribution would be “an incentive for UNRWA to continue delivering these important services in the most efficient and effective way.” In expressing appreciation for the contributions to both the core programs and the 2012 Emergency Appeal, UNRWA Commioner-General Filippo Grandi said: “At a time of great economic difficulty for our donors, the strong Dutch support for both human development and humanitarian programming is especially appreciated and will go a long way to helping UNRWA deliver its important developmental programs as well as humanitarian aid to those in the greatest of need.”

Over the course of the last year, the Netherlands has supported a rehousing project for refugees in southern Gaza and a football project designed to promote the psychological well-being of its participants in the West Bank.

The Dutch government is the fifth-largest donor to UNRWA’s emergency programming and the eighth-largest donor overall.

■ Just before the start of the new school year this week, the Ethiopian National Project (ENP), a grassroots partnership of Israeli governmental agencies, global supporters and the leadership of the Ethiopian-Israeli community, announced that it had distributed backpacks and school supplies to 200 Ethiopian-Israeli teenagers. The supplies were donated by the Tel Aviv branch of Citibank and the Idan 2000 toy store. With 65 percent of the Ethiopian-Israeli community’s children living under the poverty line, many families – new immigrants and veterans alike – are simply unable to afford many of the back-to-school basics. This gift has helped alleviate these concerns for numerous families.

Howard Jackson, director of Citibank Israel, said that the bank was pleased to be able to make a difference and to lend a hand. “By supporting the Ethiopian-Israeli community through ENP projects, we believe that we are doing our part to help ensure the full integration of this cherished population into Israeli society.”

The recipients of the backpacks and school supplies are students in ENP’s Scholastic Assistance Program, a project that works to ensure that thousands of Ethiopian-Israeli students obtain the supplemental scholastic assistance they require to perform well in school and on their matriculation exams. ENP provides a variety of enrichment programs that assist Ethiopian youth with their studies and enable them to reach their potential and to become achievers.

■ There are also people outside of Israel who want to help youngsters in the Ethiopian community.

One of them is 13-year-old Stewart Harris, whose father, Joshua Harris is one of the owners of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team.

Stewart has grown up breathing basketball, and if he wanted to he could form his own basketball team with the money that he received for his bar mitzva.

In fact, that’s what he did. Stuart established a basketball club comprising Ethiopian youngsters in their mid-teens living in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood and came to Israel to celebrate with them. Of course he had a little help from some friends, but he’s made a lot of young boys very happy and very competitive.

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