The Grapevine: Oak trees from little acorns grow

President Shimon Peres had been born in Vishnieva, a nondescript town in what is now Belarus.

June 20, 2013 20:41
Barbra Streisand and President Shimon Peres

Streisand and Peres370. (photo credit: Courtesy - GPO)


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One doesn’t have to be born in a big city or come from an illustrious family to achieve global fame – though this certainly has helped the Rothschild family continue its tradition of affluence and influence. In keeping with this, it was mentioned several times at the Presidential Facing Tomorrow Conference that President Shimon Peres had been born in Vishnieva, a nondescript town in what is now Belarus; and Peres, when presenting former US president Bill Clinton with the Presidential Medal of Distinction, spoke of the youngster from Arkansas who had matured into the leader of the entire world.

Peres said that Clinton had achieved no less out of office than when he had been in office, adding that the former president’s accomplishments through the Clinton Foundation were tempting him into retirement. Borrowing from Clinton’s “Shalom, haver” eulogy for prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, which has become part of the Israeli lexicon, Peres thanked Clinton for all that he has done for Israel and the Jewish people with “Toda, haver” – “Thank you, friend.” Peres was not content with merely saying “God bless you” at the conclusion of his address – adding the corollary “the God that blessed us with you.”

■ CRITICISM BY certain right-wing politicians of the lavish celebration for Peres’s 90th birthday illustrates how important it is for legislators to be fully aware of the facts. For instance, Likud MK Moshe Feiglin was quoted as saying that Peres should have instead solicited contributions for children who are being deprived as a result of cuts in child allotment payments. Feiglin should be aware that by law, the president does not solicit funds. It is not certain that the same generous people who contributed to the cost of the Facing Tomorrow Conference, of which the spectacular birthday extravaganza was only a part, would have been willing to make up for the Finance Ministry’s decision. They were not only willing but happy to honor a man who has contributed so much to national security and development, not to mention Jewish pride, and who continues, despite criticism at home, to put Israel in a positive light in the public eye of the world.

Whether one agrees with Peres or not, the prophet not heard in his own city reaps many accolades abroad. It is amazing how many honors have been showered upon him by foreign leaders and institutions of higher learning. His birthday party cost Israel nothing, but certainly made an impact on the economy – bringing in more than 2,000 visitors from abroad, part of whom came on some 60 private planes. They spent money in hotels, restaurants, places of entertainment, stores and beauty parlors.

Moreover, the party was broadcast around the world, giving viewers a perspective of Israel which differs greatly from the negative image perpetuated by Israel’s enemies.

Clinton may have been joking when he said that in the United States, saying nice things about someone from the other party could cost a politician his career, but it was his way of illustrating the gracious words of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who had been Peres’s political rival when the president was still in politics. “Shimon Peres has devoted his life to build Israel and to build peace,” said Netanyahu.

Graciousness is not an inherent Israeli characteristic. On the contrary, rejoicing in someone else’s accomplishments runs contrary to the norm, and gives rise to the frequently used Hebrew expression “Ein firgun,” “There is no graciousness” – in other words, we won’t recognize a paragon. This was also obvious in the area of the gallery where the media sat and talked amongst themselves.

One of the hot topics of conversation was the envy that Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, must feel toward Peres, in his being the recipient of so many plaudits and being honored with such a fantastic show.

But in fact, the Netanyahus displayed every indication of enjoying themselves. They sang along with Eyal Golan and Shlomo Artzi, clapping and tapping their knees in time to the music. They laughed at the hilarious remarks and appeared to be in high spirits throughout. Better still, Sara Netanyahu, who is often the butt of fashion jokes, had a slight but flattering change in hairstyle, and her black cocktail dress was entirely appropriate, even if she did show a little too much leg when sitting down.

Then again, she wasn’t the only woman in her age group to do so.

■ ENTERTAINMENT EXPERTS always warn against bringing children or dogs into shows because they are likely to upstage the star. Indeed, the president’s granddaughter Eden, who made the briefest of appearances, almost but not quite did that.

Adorable in her long white dress and with her bobbing curls, the tiny tot, who looked like an incarnation of child star Shirley Temple, came on stage to wish her grandpa happy birthday, then ran down to hug him and present him with a big red rose.

Sara Netanyahu and singer Barbra Streisand each found the child irresistible.

■I CONOCLASTIC COMEDIENNE Adi Ashkenazi is known for her irreverence and sharp tongue, and some people might have thought twice about putting her in the entertainment lineup for the Peres celebration.

But the president is totally cool about being on the receiving end of a satiric barb, and so the slightly built Ashkenazi with the big voice had the stage all to herself.

Her wisecracks must have also gone over well in translation, because most of the people whose faces were framed by earphones were laughing uproariously. Ashkenazi, who talks at breakneck speed, came on stage following speeches highlighting Peres as a visionary and an ardent pursuer of peace, as well as loads of video and Facebook greetings in different languages from around the globe. She said she felt so privileged to be able to appear before the man she admired most in the world – actor Robert De Niro. The audience, including Peres, cracked up, and De Niro looked pleasantly surprised.

Ashkenazi said that Peres looked great for his age, something that is frequently said about him. The problem, she added, is that no one knows what a 90-year-old should look like.

There were quite a lot of octogenarians and septuagenarians in the audience, prompting Ashkenazi to say: “Where else could you find a group of people like those sitting here, other than in line for an orthopedist?” She also suggested that Peres take a leaf out of the book of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, and have a little fun. The implication was loud and clear. She also told him to cut down on his meetings. “Do you really think that Putin sells missiles after 5 p.m.?” she asked.

Ashkenazi had some juicier material that was censored before the show, but there’s no telling whether she will use it in the future.

■ EQUALLY FUNNY but less acerbic was the ever popular Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the world’s best-known sex therapist, who laces serious advice with mirth and a delicious sense of humor. As she has done every year, Westheimer conducted a master class and filled one of the larger convention halls to capacity with an audience representing a broad age group – including many with white hair mixing with those in their late teens. “They made a terrible mistake,” said the 85-yearold Westheimer, referring to the organizers. “They gave me half an hour. That’s like a quickie.”

She explained that her method of teaching was borrowed from the Talmud, which she said advises that a lesson taught with humor is a lesson retained. Westheimer said that she never permitted her late husband, Fred Westheimer, to sit in on her lectures, but when television personality Diane Sawyer asked to interview her at home, she couldn’t very well ask her husband to leave. When Sawyer asked him, “Mr. Westheimer, how is your sex life?” his reply had been, “The shoemaker’s children don’t have shoes.”

Dr. Ruth, as she is known, is not embarrassed by anything and makes it a point to be very explicit when discussing sexual relationships, which she said should be constantly cultivated by married couples – especially because in this day and age, she increasingly hears there is no time for sex because both husband and wife are working. “Use whatever you have to, but sexual life must be kept alive,” she said.

Dr. Ruth is also dedicated to burying myths, particularly the one about women not being interested in sex.

Quoting the puritan British mother who told her daughter on the eve of her marriage to lie back and think of England, Dr. Ruth said that it has been proven that women become sexually aroused when reading erotic literature such as 50 Shades of Gray.

The bottom line, as far as she’s concerned, is that “boredom has to be thrown out of the bedroom.”

■ A DYNAMIC fireball, the diminutive Dr. Ruth was also the indirect star of the show at a plenary session on social media chaired by Yossi Vardi, who is Israel’s chief liaison to geeks and hitech companies around the world, and has an astonishing familiarity with diverse technological companies and the people who run them. Acknowledging the presence of Dr. Ruth, who was sitting in the second row, Vardi introduced the panel that comprised CEOs Tim Armstrong of AOL; Maurice Levy of Publicis, a French multinational public relations and advertising company; and Richard Gelfond of the IMAX Corporation.

Armstrong said that before starting his talk, he wanted to conduct a vote on whether the 1,000 people in the audience wanted to hear about his company, or if they wanted Dr. Ruth to discuss Vardi’s sex life. “This will be a very short session,” retorted Vardi.

“But an interesting one,” said Armstrong.

Levy said that it was a pleasure to be in Jerusalem again, and not just for the sake of seeing Dr. Ruth. Joining in the banter, Gelfond said that he had hosted Vardi and Dr. Ruth in his kitchen. “It was too X-rated to be an IMAX movie,” he said.

The conversation turned to Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In. Levy and Gelfond said they never tweet. Armstrong conceded that he occasionally tweets, but prefers to follow others.

Levy explained that the reason he doesn’t tweet is because he’s too impulsive, and might tweet something he would later regret. Vardi then called Dr. Ruth to the stage and asked how many people follow her on Twitter. Without hesitation, she gave the figure of 76,706.

Standing next to Gelfond, she said she wanted people to go to the movies rather than watch them on video or computer screens, because in the movies they will hold hands. She found it disturbing, she said, that people walk down the street holding hands, while each is using a free hand to tweet to others. Dr. Ruth is averse to Facebook friends, because “a friend has to be earned,” and also warned people to be very careful about what they tweet and what they post on Facebook – because once it’s out there, it can’t be retracted or erased.

She is careful, she said, but when she got a kiss on one cheek from Peres and on the other from Clinton, she felt this was something the world had to know about, and announced she would not wash her face for a week.

■ IT WAS amazing to witness the scramble on to the celebrity bandwagon this past week, particularly with regard to actress Sharon Stone and Streisand. Public relations companies were falling all over themselves to get their clients into print, because either Stone or Streisand had visited a particular facility or commercial enterprise.

The PR people for the capital’s Mamilla Hotel were really going overboard with Stone, who stayed there for the better part of a week and is due to check out tomorrow. Stone does not travel with a personal hairdresser, but Marcel Reboh, a hairdresser who had previously styled her hair on occasion in the US, has a salon directly opposite the Mamilla Hotel and was called to style her hair almost every day, and twice in one day on one occasion. He also blow-dried the hair of Clinton, which explains how the latter’s hair was so well-groomed.

Reboh, who used to frequently style the hair of the rich and the famous, was born in Morocco, came to Israel as a child, left with his parents and siblings after one of his brothers was killed in the Six Day War, and settled in Canada. Over time, he and his siblings built up a wellpatronized chain of beauty salons in Canada and the US, and counted several Hollywood stars among their regular clientele, with quite a lot more among their casual clientele.

This week, after working his magic on Stone and Clinton, Reboh asked if he could have his photograph taken with them, and now has a Jerusalem chapter to add to his photo album with the stars.

Stone was actually a very busy lady, actively participating in several Facing Tomorrow Conference sessions as well as running around here and there.

Streisand managed to do a fair amount of sightseeing in a brief period and one of the places she visited was the Israel Museum, where American- born director James Snyder gave her a personal tour that included the Herod exhibition, the Fine Arts Wing, and the Wing for Jewish Art and Life.

Streisand was favorably impressed by the universality and richness of the museum’s collections, and told Snyder how much she had enjoyed her visit.

She is obviously keen on museums, because in Tel Aviv she also toured Beit Hatfutsot as the guest of Irena Nevzlin Kogan, who chairs the museum’s board of directors. Streisand, who was accompanied by her husband, James Brolin, was very moved when the museum organized a genealogical background trace for her, which indicated that the name Streisand originated in the 19th century in the eastern Galician village of Brzezany, which at that time was located on the Austrian border. The surname in German means to scatter sand, an epithet that was given solely in Brzezany to people who distributed money.

Meanwhile, in an interview with Channel 2’s Dan Weiss, Stone said she thought she looked better now at 55 than at 20, and that she wants to be like Peres when she’s 90. “Tell me he’s not a hot 90[-year-old]...” she said. “He’s smart, innovative, interesting, alive, vibrant, globally conscious.”

Stone didn’t mention stamina, of which Peres has an ample supply – both physical and mental. The number of times during the past week in which he has had to stand, climb stairs, give speeches, participate in conference sessions, and meet and converse with visiting dignitaries and celebrities would have a devastating effect on someone half his age, which leads to many jokes about his immortality.

When Netanyahu wished him happy birthday, he went beyond the traditional Jewish greeting of “Till 120,” saying “200, 500” as if he was an auctioneer for longevity. If he inherits the genes of his late father Prof. Benzion Netanyahu, the prime minister will himself continue on to a triple-digit age.

■ EARLY IN the evening on the night of the party, Peres participated in the official opening of the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences at the Hebrew University, and said that “the next decade will be the greatest decade in science if we discover the secrets of the human brain. There are things that are more important than money – but they cost money too.”

Lily Safra, who has been a generous benefactress to the State of Israel and to the city of Jerusalem, especially the Hebrew University, noted that the center is home to some of the world’s most exceptional scientists and students.

In recognition of the the president’s personal involvement in neuroscience, she announced the establishment of an annual Shimon Peres postdoctoral fellowship for a young researcher.

■ THERE WERE several sessions at the conference that related to the region in terms of Iran, the Arab Spring and negotiations towards a final-status settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One such session was moderated by The Jerusalem Post’s Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde. At this particular session, Dore Gold, a former ambassador to the UN and a widely respected expert on Middle East affairs, warned against being duped into believing that Iran’s President-elect Hassan Rohani is a moderate. “I don’t see him so much of a dove as fox,” said Gold.

Former US ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer commented that since Gold had introduced the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo into the conversation, he wanted to talk about the ostrich and the eagle, using them as metaphors as to whether it was too soon to begin final-status discussions. “An ostrich tries to avert danger by not looking at it but in so doing, exposes a certain part of its anatomy which becomes vulnerable to shrapnel. The eagle preys on targets from above and looks out for opportunities to secure its prey,” he said. Neither Kurtzer nor former Mossad chief Meir Dagan could understand why finalstatus talks should be delayed.

Turning to Itamar Rabinovich, a former ambassador to the US, who advocated a two-state solution to the conflict but said the time was ripe for final-status negotiations, Dagan queried: “What do you mean it’s not the time? When will be the time?” ■ ISRAEL RADIO’s Benny Dudkevich, best known for being a maven on pop stars and their music, also covers events at the President’s Residence and gets to meet a lot of famous people as a result. No slouch when it comes to exercising that traditional Israeli character trait of chutzpah, the smiling, easygoing Dudkevich often asks for a photo with people who make headline news.

This week, reporters were told not to ask De Niro to pose for photos with them, but Dudkevich doesn’t take notice of instructions of this nature – and hung around until De Niro and his son Elliot emerged from their private meeting with Peres. With his usual audacity, Dudkevitch asked if he could have a photo with them, and received an affirmative answer.

On the previous day, when Streisand visited with the president, Dudkevich got friendly with her husband, Brolin, and posed for a photo with him. He then waited for Streisand to conclude her meeting with Peres and when she came out, Dudkevich thrust the cover of one of her discs in front of her and asked for an autograph. Streisand was taken aback, but was assured by Brolin that Dudkevich was a good guy. So she obliged, and Dudkevich also has photographs of himself with her.

But the real piece de resistance was when he accompanied Peres to Rome to meet with Pope Francis in the Vatican.

Never backward in coming forward, Dudkevich has a photograph of himself shaking hands with the pontiff.

■ MOVING AWAY from events of the past week to next week, several British immigrants to Israel will be going back to the old country next week, if they have not already done so. They are all people who were not born in Britain but were part of the Kindertransport, the noble rescue mission in which 10,000 European children, most of them Jewish, were saved from the clutches of the Nazis between 1938 and 1940.

This coming Sunday, to mark the beginning of 75th-anniversary commemorations of the Kindertransport, more than 500 of them together with members of their families will gather at the Jewish Free School in Harrow, where they will be addressed by Member of Parliament David Miliband, whose father was a refugee from Nazi oppression. Other speakers will include comedienne Maureen Lipman, who starred in Oscar-winning filmThe Pianist; UK envoy for post-Holocaust issues Sir Andrew Burns; and Baroness Joan Hanham, parliamentary under-secretary of state at the department for communities and local government. Participants will be flying to England for the occasion not only from Israel but also from the US, Australia, Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland and Belgium. On the following Day, Prince Charles will host a reception for the former kinder at St. James’s Palace. The Association of Jewish Refugees, headed by Sir Erich Reich, will in November of this year attend a special tea at the House of Parliament on the anniversary of the debate held there on November 21, 1938 – which paved the way for the arrival of the Kindertransport.

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