Grapevine: Xin nian kuai le and gong xi fa cai

IF the PM can learn enough Mandarin for a new years greeting, Jpost can at least try to emulate the effort in print.

By
January 31, 2012 22:13
Vered Oren, with Environment Minister Gilad Erdan

Vered Oren, with Environment Minister Gilad Erdan 390. (photo credit: Jabotinsky Institute)

 
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■ IF PRIME Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can learn sufficient Mandarin Chinese to wish the Chinese people a happy new year and prosperity in this, the Year of the Dragon, The Jerusalem Post can at least try to emulate the effort in print. Netanyahu, who is due to go to China soon, released a video two weeks ago in which, speaking in Mandarin, he wished the Chinese people a blessed new year. Then last week, on the second night of the Year of the Dragon, he did so again in front of a live audience, and looked mighty pleased with himself at having managed to pronounce the Chinese words correctly. Netanyahu, who is studying Chinese, was speaking at the Dan Hotel, Tel Aviv at the gala 20th anniversary celebration of diplomatic relations between Israel and China. At the event, which was hosted by Chinese Ambassador Gao Yanping, Netanyahu urged that Chinese be introduced as a regular subject in Israeli classrooms. The rise of modern China is one of the most significant events of modern history and has lifted more than a billion people out of poverty, said the prime minister.

Netanyahu stated at the event that he wants to build a rail link from Tel Aviv to Eilat so that cargo can then be shipped to the Far East. He announced his intention to bring this decision to the cabinet on Sunday and remained true to his word. He will also discuss the subject with Chinese government officials during his upcoming visit to China. The Eilat-Ashdod rail link has been on Netanyahu’s national agenda for the best part of a decade, but now his plan has become more urgent and more ambitious with his declared realization that there is a need for an alternative route to the Suez Canal.

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In reference to the remarkable volume of trade between Israel and China,Netanyahu said that he would like to see the doubling of figures double. “I think we've barely scratched the surface of Israel-China relations. I have no doubt that in coming years we’ll see a dramatic expansion of those ties.”

This will in part be achieved through a decision to bring 250 Chinese students to Israel on an annual basis.

Gao noted that whereas 20 years ago the volume of two-way trade was $50 million, it is expected to reach $10 billion by the end of this year. “The trade volume we now have in two days is equal to that of a whole year of 1992,” she said.

Uriel Lynn, president of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce, described the development of trade between Israel and China as “phenomenal” and said that trade figures in the first half of 2011 had reached $7 billion, with a 43% increase in Israeli exports to China, putting Israel close to a balanced trade with China.

To date, Israel has signed eight economic agreements with China, he said, adding “We should start thinking seriously about a Free Trade zone with China.” The Chinese share in global economy is increasing and by 2017, Lynn surmised, it will surpass that of the US.

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Zev Suffot, who was Israel’s first ambassador to China and who has remained deeply entrenched in the promotion of Israel-China relations on many levels, recalled that in the Holocaust years China had provided a haven for the Jews and in Israel there are still many families who remember their sojourn in China during that period.

Netanyahu also made reference to the Holocaust, saying that the Jewish people always remember “those who extend a hand to us in the hardest days.” The Chinese had opened their gates to the Jews when all other doors were closed, he said.

Tel Aviv University president Joseph Klafter proudly announced that Israel’s only Confucius Institute is to be found at TAU, which he said also has the largest department of Far Eastern Studies in Israel.

While a large number of Chinese officials have visited Israel, the number of Chinese tourists to Israel is still low. Gao quipped that Israel might have a problem if only 1% of the Chinese population came to Israel as tourists, because there are 13 billion people in China.

The importance of the event was illustrated by the presence of the large number of past and present government ministers including Moshe Arens who, as foreign minister, had made secret visits to China prior to the establishment of diplomatic relations and David Levy, who as foreign minister traveled to China to sign the diplomatic agreement when he was foreign minister. A large photograph of the signing ceremony was on display and Gao made a point of referring to it.

■ THE ONLY thing that marred the celebration was the rigorous body search that some of the invitees had to endure. While it is understandable that security must be tight when the prime minister is present, the Chinese had taken the precaution of issuing pre-typed name tags to guests who had confirmed their attendance, and who had been checked off on a list prior to receiving the name tag. Further along, the names were doublechecked by members of the PM's security detail. Those guests who, for health reasons, were unable to pass through the metal detector, were made to remove shoes and items of clothing. The Chinese were very apologetic, but it was out of their hands. In a country that prides itself on its high-tech advantages, such searches should not be necessary. More than a decade ago, researchers at Ariel College, which is due to officially become Ariel University in July, came up with something that looks like a fountain pen and can search several people at one time with better accuracy than a metal detector, without their even knowing.

■ IT’S A rare attribute for the leader of a world movement to be genuinely modest, but it is this very trait, coupled with what Emunah leaders from around the globe describe as charm, dignity, elegance, dedication, devotion, professionalism and gentle assertiveness that made Naomi Leibler, the outgoing president of World Emunah a popular and beloved figure. The glowing tributes she received at a gala dinner in her honor this week during the ninth International Convention of World Emunah were genuine expressions of admiration and affection. Leibler, a lady in every sense of the word, stated that she doesn’t cry easily, but acknowledged that she had on this occasion and said she was overwhelmed. She now holds the title of Honorary President and Emunah is still searching for a successor to fill her shoes because, as one person said, she was the best ambassador that Emunah ever had.

In her own address to the gathering, Leibler noted that the week’s Torah portion refers to Miriam, the sister of Moses, leading the victory song after the parting of the Red Sea. ”In those days there was no problem about women singing in public places,” she commented dryly. Emunah has been very outspoken about attempts to eradicate women from public life and decision-making processes.

Leibler is married to Jerusalem Post columnist Isi Leibler, a former head of the Australian Jewish community and a leading figure in several international Jewish organizations. Naomi Leibler said that over the years she had shared in her husband’s manifold community activities but that during the past 10 years he had more than compensated her by being supportive of all her Emunah endeavors. It’s possible that he understood her preoccupation with Emunah more than most other husbands because, before he became an Emunah husband, he was an Emunah son. His mother, Rachel Leibler, was the founder of Emunah in Australia.

Active in Emunah even before her marriage, Naomi Leibler was co-president of Emunah Aviv in Melbourne for many years and together with her husband was intensely involved in the struggle for the freedom of Soviet Jewry. The couple traveled many times to Russia and continue to welcome Russian Jews whom they met and helped in those years into their home in Jerusalem. It was no surprise, therefore, that one of the two guest speakers was Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who to this day is regarded as the icon of the struggle for Soviet Jewry. “Emunah” means faith and several times in his address, Sharansky juxtaposed the name of the organization with the meaning of the word. When he was interrogated by the KGB, he said, they laughed at him and told him that he would never succeed in his struggle because his supporters were students and housewives. But it was the students and housewives who gave him faith – emunah – and ultimately, their efforts were not in vain.

The organization plays a very important role in the world, said Sharansky, in that it links the land of Israel with the people of Israel and the faith of Israel and the unity of family. When the Soviet Union took away the freedom to practice religion, he said, many Jews had nothing left of their Judaism other than their family values. As a child he had lived with his family in Ukraine, and although there was nothing about them or any of the other Jewish families to indicate that they were Jewish, the gentiles always knew who they were because of their family values.

The other guest speaker was Knesset Member Rabbi Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz who is minister for science and technology. His presence caused Sharansky to remark that Israel is the only country in the world in which a rabbi and professor is also a government minister. Hershkowitz, whose mother and grandmother survived Bergen Belsen, chose to talk about the heroism of Jewish women and of those Jewish women who, in addition to anything else they did career-wise, devoted themselves to their families and to family values. When his grandmother was in Bergen Belsen, he said, she had split her own meager piece of bread in two and divided it between her two daughters. When his mother had asked her, “What about you?” the reply had been “I’m not hungry.”

For Hershkowitz, his grandmother’s attitude was true heroism. She was one of three women who had a profound influence on his life. The others were his mother and his wife. He recalled that when he received his PhD, his grandmother had said to him at the ceremony,: “The next stage is the rabbinate because that’s the tradition in our family.” Hershkowitz, who participated in various Holocaust remembrance ceremonies last week, declared that the real heroes are the people who survived and smuggled a potato into the ghetto.

■ AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADORS are under instructions from Canberra not to host large Australia Day parties at the expense of the public purse. While ambassadors from other countries get around this problem by having sponsors from companies in the host country and the major exporters from their own country, the Australians are reluctant to ask anyone else to foot the bill for a celebration. Several Australian ambassadors, including those serving in Israel, have found a way around this problem by hosting some kind of low-cost cultural event on the day prior to Australia Day, but late enough in the day to allow for the time difference between Israel and Australia. which is nine hours ahead, meaning that it's already Australia Day in Australia.

Thus, it came as no surprise when Australian Ambassador Andrea Faulkner decided to host an art exhibition at the embassy, that opened on the evening prior to Australia Day in Israel, while it was already Australia Day down under. The exhibition by Judd Yadid, who moved from Sydney to Tel Aviv’s charming Florentin neighborhood five years ago, was presented under the heading of “Ozraeli Art.” The exhibition was Yadid’s artistic debut in Israel and, via mixed media montages, reflected the environment of both Australia and Israel, that two pluralistic countries with large immigrant populations that have most shaped his identity.

Educated at Moriah College and at Sydney University, from where he obtained a bachelor’s degrees in history and political science, Yadid is very much preoccupied with the question of identity and how an immigrant to any society becomes part of that society while still retaining the identity of the society in which he was raised. While waiting to be discovered as an artist in Israel, Yadid is working in the public relations and communications department of Tel Aviv University, where he is also completing a masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies. He is fortunate to count among his friends past and present employees of the Australian Embassy, who encouraged him to exhibit his works. They include Esti Sherbelis, who is the personal assistant to the ambassador, Nicola Campion who is the third secretary at the embassy and who will be returning home in May after working under two ambassadors in Tel Aviv and Kevin Nafte, a former public diplomacy officer at the Australian embassy who is now a social entrepreneur and the head coach of the Israeli Palestinian AFL Peace Team that plays and competes in Australian rules football under the auspices of the Peres Center for Peace.

The exhibition was hung in a room that overlooks the sea and from the windows of the embassy, which is on the 28th floor of the Bank Discount Tower, the twilight view of which was truly spectacular.

■ ROMANIAN CHILD Holocaust survivor Prof. Moshe Liba is a retired diplomat, lecturer, writer, poet and painter with a most prolific literary output. Writing in several languages, he has published 66 books, short stories, essays, literary criticism, children’s books, theater-plays, albums and brochures, including 37 books of poetry. His latest book of poems. I Claim…, was launched on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the National Library in Jerusalem. The launch was in conjunction with the world premiere concert of “Five Tragic Songs,” for which Liba wrote the text and Uruguayan composer Leon Biriotti created the music whose discordant sounds were so evocative of the chaos of war. The concert was performed by the 21st Century Ensemble with soloist Bracha Kol, who was warmly embraced by Liba at the conclusion of her recital.

The event was co-sponsored by the Embassy of Uruguay and the music department of the National Library, which is headed by Dr. Gila Flam. As a prelude to the performance and taking into account that Yiddish was the most common language of pre- Holocaust Jewish Europe, pianist Ofra Yitzhaki played a moving medley of well-known Yiddish songs, causing Flam to remark that even though Yiddish culture is disappearing from the world, the melodies remain.

Jewish geography being what it is, it was an interesting coincidence that Rafael Barak, director- general of the Foreign Ministry, who noted that when he first joined the ministry Liba had been his boss and his mentor, had yet another poignant reason for attending. His parents had arrived in Uruguay just before World War II, he said, “and Uruguay gave them shelter.”

Uruguay’s Ambassador Bernard Greiver, speaking fluent Hebrew, said “We are all victims and survivors of the Holocaust, but we should also remember the Righteous among the Nations.” In this context, he mentioned Swedish envoy to Hungary Raoul Wallenberg and the lesser-known Florencio Rivas, the consul-general of Uruguay in Germany who hid 150 Jews on Kristallnacht and later provided them with passports. There were also other diplomats from other countries who took extraordinary risks to save Jews. Dean of the Diplomatic Corps Henri Etoundi Essomba, who is the Ambassador of Cameroon, one of the many countries in which Liba either served as a diplomat or was a university professor, spoke of his long friendship with Liba and of the special role played by the State of Israel in ensuring that the diplomatic community is made aware of the atrocities of the Holocaust so that they, too, are equipped to confront Holocaust deniers. Herzl Hakak, chairman of the Association of Hebrew Writers in Israel, described Liba as a man with a mission that goes beyond his creativity. “In all that he writes, his finger is on the pulse of the Jewish people. He has kindled an eternal memorial flame for those who did not survive.”

■ SOME 130 Etzel veterans, former members of Betar, members of Herut, young Likudniks and friends of the Jabotinsky Institute congregated at the Jabotinsky Museum last week to pay tribute to the memory of former Knesset speaker Dov Shilanski on the first anniversary of his passing. Keynote speakers were Environment Minister Gilad Erdan and Shilanski’s niece Vered Oren. who represented the family. Seen in the audience were Yehiel Kadishai. who had been prime minister Menachem Begin’s bureau chief, Prof. Arye Naor, who had been one of Begin’s cabinet secretaries and is today academic chairman of the Jabotinsky Institute and Yair Assiskovich, who is the incoming chairman of the Etzel Veterans Association. Current Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who was abroad at the time, sent a message in which he stated “Whoever knew Shilanski knew how much he cared.”

Jabotinsky Institute director Yossi Ahimeir who served as an MK with Shilanski in the 13th Knesset, recalled that Shilanski’s romance with politics began in 1977 when, just prior to Begin’s electoral victory, several of the survivors of the Altelena met with Likud activists at Kadishai’s home and decided that Shilanski’s rightful place was in the Knesset.

Oren spoke less of Shilanski’s glory days and more of the painful twilight of his life in which his illness was coupled with mourning for his wife. Erdan said that even though he himself had come from the National Religious background of Bnei Akiva, he found a great role model in Shilanski who, regardless of the situation, maintained a calm and smiling personality that was never at the expense of his ideology.

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