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