Grapevine: Ongoing celebration of a triple-digit birthday

For 100-year-old activist Ralph Goldman,it’s one party after another – hosted by family members, the Joint Distribution Committee and the Israel Cultural Foundation.

By
September 11, 2014 21:23
Herzliya

Shimon Peres and Herzliya Mayor Moshe Fadlon at the city’s 90th anniversary celebrations.. (photo credit: Courtesy)

People with a very large circle of friends and acquaintances either don’t celebrate their birthdays at all, so as not to insult anyone by excluding them from the guest list, or they have several parties that reflect different chapters in their lives.

In the rare instance of being a 100-year-old activist like Ralph Goldman, who has had his finger in countless pies that were part of the development of the State of Israel and the fate of the Jewish people, it’s one party after another – hosted on the real date of his birthday by members of his family, and on other dates this year by the Joint Distribution Committee and most recently, the America- Israel Cultural Foundation (AICF).

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Though his name is most closely linked with Malben/JDC, which honored him a couple of months back at its own 100th anniversary celebrations, his wide-ranging activities in service to his people include: helping Teddy Kollek acquire arms for the Hagana; serving as director of the technical assistance department in the Prime Minister’s Office during David Ben-Gurion’s administration; directing AICF out of an office on New York’s East 45th Street; working in coordination with Israeli diplomats, establishing Malben/JDC’s presence in Europe, the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia; being at the forefront of the establishment of the Israel Education Fund; and formulating networks of assistance programs for young and old, and those with special needs.

Goldman was among the founders of the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, and long before that was engaged in obtaining funds for the construction of the Israel Museum.

He was also involved in establishing the Batsheva Dance Company, and was a member of Habimah Theater’s board of directors – and that’s just a short list.

When moving from one position to another, Goldman retained an interest in everything he had done before, and maintained contact with each and every organization and institution.

This is why today’s beneficiaries of AICF grants and scholarships – who, as AICF executive director Lee Perlman puts it, are less than onefifth of his age – know him and love him.

When the AICF decided to host a tribute for Goldman and salute him on his 100th birthday, it was obvious that the best way to do so was through some of the people whose career development had been helped by AICF. First up was Yiddishpiel founder Shmuel Atzmon-Wircer, who almost stole the show from Goldman. While mounting the stage at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem, Atzmon-Wircer, 85, lost his footing and fell heavily, hitting his head along the way. People rushed to his aid, but being a veteran trouper who lives by the motto that the show must go on, Atzmon-Wircer rose magnificently to the occasion, stating that everything was fine and there was no cause for concern.

Aware of Goldman’s love for Yiddish, Atzmon-Wircer’s presentation was partly in Yiddish and partly in Hebrew, proving once and for all that everything really does sound better in Yiddish, and moreover, can mean something altogether different. For instance, “Ani b’aretz, tov b’aretz,” which would ordinarily translate into English as “I’m in the Land [of Israel], It’s good in the Land [of Israel].” But the Yiddish translation is “Ich bin in der erdt un gut in der erdt,” which in colloquial albeit not literal English would read, “I’m dead meat and really screwed.”

Atzmon-Wircer said he owed much to Goldman. In 1962, he had received a Ford Foundation scholarship, but without Goldman he would not have been able to take advantage of it – because he could not afford plane fare to New York. Goldman was able to get him a ticket and paved the way for him in the Big Apple.

Beit Avi Chai executive director David Rozenson, who has also known Goldman for quite some time, said that all of us want to make a difference in the world, but Goldman has made a difference in everything he has touched, “and has accomplished more than anyone I know.”

Perlman quoted something that Goldman had said to him at their first meeting: “Artists grow in flower beds. They don’t grow in the grass.”

To the AICF director, this signified the essence of Goldman’s leadership, understanding and ability to transform vision into practicality; it also characterized Goldman’s generosity and ability to give.

Among the young artists who performed for Goldman was his granddaughter Yael Baumgold, a pianist and composer. Another performer and MC for the evening was Ra’anana 12th-grader Noa Gabay, a remarkable harpist who came on aliya from Wales only a year-and-a-half ago and speaks flawless Hebrew without any trace of a foreign accent.

Goldman’s daughter Judy Baumgold, speaking on behalf of the family, said she had asked her father what he considered his most important achievement while director of AICF.

The answer was raising $2,500 for violinist Itzhak Perlman so he could take taxis instead of the subway, because the subway was too uncomfortable for him. (Perlman had polio as a child, which seriously affected his mobility.) Perlman is now returning the favor and will host AICF’s 75th anniversary gala on December 14 at New York’s Lincoln Center, where Goldman – who oversaw Perlman’s first AICF scholarship in 1956 – will receive a lifetime achievement award.

Since its establishment in 1939, AICF has distributed scholarships and grants to more than 16,000 artists.

In addition to Perlman, some other recipients of note include Shlomo Mintz, Miriam Fried, Gil Shoham, Pinchas Zukerman, Daniel Birenbaum, Shlomi Shaban, Yefim Bronfman, Eytan Fox, Dover Koshashvili, Oded Kotler, Itay Tiran, Rita, Dani Karavan, Menashe Kadishman and Ohad Naharin.

■ More than 12,000 residents gathered in Herzliya Park on Wednesday night to celebrate the city’s 90th anniversary. Former president Shimon Peres, the guest of honor, told the merrymakers that Theodor Herzl had a vision, but the dream was smaller than the city that bears his name, which has surpassed all expectations.

“I salute Herzliya, which is home to successful hi-tech industries and a vibrant city center,” said Peres, adding in jocular fashion, “You’re just babies. The first 90 years are only the beginning.” Peres turned 91 in August, so it may be presumed he’s on his second wind.

The gala event, presided over by Mayor Moshe Fadlon, was a spectacular festival of entertainment that included Rita, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gil Shohat, and recitals by local opera singers. Schoolgirl Bar Mahlouf presented Peres with a painting of peace, a winning piece in an international children’s contest for paintings and drawings based on peace and tolerance.

■ It's amazing how many people have never set foot in an art gallery or museum, and have never felt the inclination to do so. Some of those who might never see the inside of a museum or an gallery unwittingly make up for lost opportunities if they happen to go on a group tour abroad, as itineraries usually include at least one museum.

Jerusalem Theater management long ago came up with a solution to the problem of luring people in to look at art and listen to artists.

It established an open indoor gallery near the entrance, which theater patrons pass on their way to their seats upstairs or to the coffee shop, on the opposite side of the ground floor.

Before any show or during intervals when there is nothing better to do, patrons stop by the gallery and subconsciously develop an appreciation for art – especially when they hear others talking about it.

Jeremy Kimchi designs and makes unique, handcrafted furniture in which he blends art with practicality.

Some of his friends, and some of his clients who have become friends, joined Kimchi and his relatives at the official opening of his exhibition last week. They listened intently as he described the various pieces on display, saying that in most cases, he doesn’t really know in advance what function he will give to a log of wood. Some of the items were truly breathtaking, with some in essence forming a wooden Rorschach test – because both the carvings and the natural grain of the wood evoke so many different images. There are no rough edges in Kimchi’s work; he is a perfectionist.

At the opening, he took the assembled guests from one item to another, discussing the nature of the wood and how he had carved it into something that evolved of itself. One of his favorite pieces was a sculpted throne with a spiral base, almost like a woman’s floor-length gown, blown by the wind in one direction like a pleated sail. When he began sculpting the mapa burl, Kimchi had no idea what would evolve, but is nonetheless pleased with result. Another striking piece, fashioned from maple and apple wood, was a hall table inspired by a gazelle.

Kimchi obviously loves his work, and to listen to him speak about it certainly made the experience different than standard art exhibition openings, in which the curator rather than the artist explains the work.

■ There is no doubt that Finance Minister Yair Lapid is a poster boy for the government. A former television personality before entering politics, Lapid knows about the importance of smiling a lot, putting the right inflection on words and wearing elegant, unrumpled suits. Indeed, he was the representative of the government at the 23rd anniversary celebration of the independence of the Republic of Uzbekistan, hosted by equally smart and smiling Ambassador Oybek Eshonov at the Tel Aviv Hilton.

In the foyer leading to the banquet hall was an exhibition arranged by painter, poet, writer and antiques collector Shoshan Ichak, whose parents hailed from Uzbekistan. Ichak has assembled traditional Uzbek costumes, with their eye-catching, exquisite fabrics, musical instruments, pottery and other artifacts, which she displays at galleries, museums and events for the Bucharan community.

Inside the ballroom, the Hilton went above and beyond its menu and provided several examples of Uzbekistan cuisine, which were highly appreciated by members of Israel’s Uzbekistan community. The hotel must also be complimented for the way it organized the food islands, so that queues were minimal and all the many guests were able to sample the copious offerings with barely any wait time.

It is customary at such events to play the national anthems of the host country and the country celebrating its national day. Often, this is canned music played through a loudspeaker though increasingly, ambassadors have sought to have professional singers performing the anthems. This was the case with Uzbekistan, as opera singer Julia Masti-Moroz, who has a powerful voice and great vocal range, sang both anthems with such feeling that the audience applauded at the end of each one. Later, there was also a performance of traditional Uzbek music and song by other performers.

Eshonov said that 23 years ago, his country embarked on a new, historic stage of development. It now has achievements in all spheres to its credit, particularly in the transformation of the standard of living of families in towns and villages. He was proud to report that his country’s economic growth is consistently 8 percent per annum, and that Uzbekistan is living up to its goal of becoming a democratic state with a market economy.

The ambassador paid tribute to Israel being one of the first countries to recognize Uzbekistan, establishing diplomatic ties. Uzbekistan is relatively free of anti-Semitism, and Eshonov observed that not many countries can boast of 1,000 years of friendly relations with their Jewish populations the way his can.

Lapid took this a step further, saying Israel will never forget the role of Uzbekistan in providing shelter for Jews fleeing the Nazis during World War II. In reviewing relations between the two countries, Lapid referred to joint economic enterprises, cultural exchanges and strong government dialogue.

On the eve of the Jewish New Year, Eshonov – who is Muslim – wished success, peace and prosperity to every Israeli household.

■ At this time, it would seem that the man who was New Zealand’s ambassador-designate to Israel will not be attending the annual ceremony on October 31 to commemorate the victory by the Australian and New Zealand Light Horse Brigades over the Turks in the 1917 Battle of Beersheba. The event, in the southern city, is usually attended by both Australian and New Zealand ambassadors as well as Beersheba’s mayor; a Turkish Embassy representative is also present.

Jonathan Andrew Curr, who was initially listed as the fourth of five new ambassadors who were to present their credentials to President Reuven Rivlin yesterday, was the subject of great controversy, due to the fact that the Foreign Ministry refused to recognize him after it had already accepted him. New Zealand’s envoys to Israel are non-resident, and are stationed in Turkey. Since 2008, according to New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully, New Zealand’s envoys have also been in contact with the Palestinians.

The truth is that Israel-based diplomats from many other countries also have contact with the Palestinians, but unlike Curr, are not officially accredited to represent their countries in the Palestinian Authority. Several countries maintain consulates in Jerusalem to deal with Palestinian affairs, and of those with representatives in Ramallah, much of their staff usually resides in Israel.

Curr – who, attired in a Maori cloak, presented his credentials on August 8 to Turkish President Abdullah Gül at the Çankaya Presidential Palace – previously served as deputy director- general of the Department for the Middle East and Africa at New Zealand’s Foreign Ministry. The retraction of approval of his representation by Israel’s Foreign Ministry was in a sense raining on Rivlin’s parade, as it was the president’s first experience of receiving the credentials of ambassadors.

Rivlin was reportedly angry with the Foreign Ministry, because the insult to the New Zealand envoy jeopardizes diplomatic relations between the Jewish state and Wellington – which became fragile in 2004, when Mossad agents were convicted of trying to obtain New Zealand passports under false pretenses.

An editorial in the New Zealand Herald suggested that Israel’s attitude is based on recent criticisms by McCully of Israeli policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians, and makes the point that there is good reason for the New Zealand ambassador to also have contact with Ramallah, as it enables the shaping of a more informed and nuanced view of the region. It is also in Israel’s interest, the editorial continued, that countries such as New Zealand gain a deeper understanding of the region.

“But Israel seems to have no interest in allowing that to happen, except in a way that involves considerable added expense for New Zealand,” it read.

In truth, the Foreign Ministry does not mind if ambassadors stationed in Israel have contact with the Palestinian leadership, so long as they do not present them with any written documentation that would imply or openly state they are also their countries’ representatives to the PA – because from Israel’s perspective, official representation would be tantamount to recognition of a Palestinian state, which does not yet exist.

■ Among the many exhibits at Beit Hatfutsot – the Museum of the Jewish People are models of buildings that were once integral to Jewish communities, and were destroyed during pogroms or by the Nazis. One such building was the Turner Temple, which was consecrated in Vienna in 1871 by the Sechshaus congregation, and served as a symbol of the community’s autonomy and as a model of Jewish identification.

The building was torched during the ugly Kristallnacht riots of November 1938 and in 2010, a memorial was unveiled on the Turner Temple site as a permanent reminder of Nazi destruction and oppression.

The monument includes text that tells the story of the temple, and its importance to the Viennese Jewish community.

A model of the Turner Temple was unveiled at Beit Hatfutsot this week in the presence of Prof. Moshe Yehuda, who was a boy in Vienna at the time the temple was destroyed and witnessed it burning to the ground.

Seeing a model of the building in Israel marked the closing of a circle for him, he said.

Also present at the unveiling of the model were Hannah Lessing, secretary- general of the National Fund of the Republic of Austria; and Prof. Herwig Hosele, secretary-general of the Future Fund of the Republic of Austria, who specially came from Vienna for the occasion – which was attended by many guests from Israel and abroad, including Ami and Michal Federmann, and Yossi and Daniela Beilin.

Beit Hatfutsot chief curator Dr. Orit Shaham-Gover said the institution, which already houses many models of synagogues from both East and West, was proud to include the Turner Temple in its collection. The model will be part of a new permanent exhibition that will be on display to the public from the end of 2017.

■ Speculation is rife as to whether diamond, real estate and chemicals tycoon Lev Leviev is returning to live in Israel. Leviev moved to a palatial residence in London in 2007, but remained on a frequent commute to Israel. He is now on the verge of completing another palatial residence in Savyon, which could well be for the family of one of his many children, but could just as easily mean he’s coming home.

■ Not a week goes by in which Israeli cinema’s famous brothers, Leon and Moshe Edery, are not engaged in some new project. This week, at Cinema City in Glilot, they launched their soundtrack for the blind, enabling them to follow the plot of Zinuk B’Aliya (Hill Start). One of several new Israeli films, it stars Shlomo Bar-Abba, Mali Levy, Itay Tiran, Rotem Zussman, Idit Teperson and Yousef Sweid.

Among those who attended the launch, in addition to the Edery brothers, cast members and people who record literature for the blind, was Reuma Weizman, the widow of Israel’s seventh president Ezer Weizman, who for some years has suffered from visual impairment – but has a marvelous ear for voices, and instantly recognizes people even if she has not met them in a while.

■ In 1990, a year prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, celebrated television personality Haim Yavin went to Russia to film a documentary.

The result was Whispering Embers, a remarkable eye-opener on what remained of Soviet Jewry. In his travels across the country, Yavin discovered Birobidzhan, which at that time was relatively unknown in the West, and even today is not widely known.

Birobidzhan, near the Chinese border, was designated a Jewish autonomous region by Joseph Stalin, and was one of the last bastions of Yiddish; some even considered it to be an alternative homeland for the Jewish people. It was intended as a Yiddish-speaking utopia, but failed because it had very little by way of Jewish tradition.

A musical drama, Soviet Zion, based on the lives of two very different families who chose to stay in Birobidzhzan, is due to have its world premier on October 19 at the London Jewish Museum. One of the families is American, the other Ukrainian, and the time frame is 1939. The storyline explores questions of identity, integrity and faith.

The libretto by Giles Howe is based on a story developed with Roberto Trippini; with music composed by Howe and Katy Lipson. The director is Bronagh Lagan, and the musical director is Joseph Finlay with Colm O’Regan; the production stars award-winning soprano Kate Milner- Evans and opera, theater and television celebrity Alex McMorran.

greerfc@gmail.com


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