This month marked the 80th anniversary of the demise of philanthropist Baron Edmond de Rothschild, and the 130th anniversary of his funding of the settlement of Rishon Lezion.
Known throughout the Land of Israel as Hanadiv (The Benefactor), he not only financed settlement in Israel but 90 years ago established the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association, which acquired large tracts of land in which new communities settled.
He also funded new industries, and played a significant role in financing the development of electricity and Israel’s wine industry. It was Rothschild’s money and influence that led to the establishment of the Carmel Mizrahi winery in 1886. At one stage David Ben-Gurion, who was to become Israel’s founding prime minister, was head of the workers’ union at the winery.
Rothschild’s great-grandson Baron Benjamin de Rothschild is a seventh-generation descendant of Mayer Amschel Rothschild, the founder of the Rothschild banking dynasty. He is the son of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother who converted to Judaism. His wife, Ariane, née Langner, the mother of his four daughters, is not Jewish – but is an expert in high finance with impressive professional experience. It is for this reason her husband decided to appoint her vice president of the Edmond de Rothschild Holding SA.
The Jewish and Christian customs practiced in their home run the gamut, so the girls will be sufficiently informed to decide which religion they want to follow. Like the Rothschilds, whether born or married into the family, Baroness Ariane de Rothschild is greatly committed to Israel, which she says is very precious to her, and is in fact ingrained in the Rothschild family legacy. Her Israel interests through the Edmond de Rothschild Foundations include the arts, culture, education, health, environment, social entrepreneurship and intercultural dialogue.
The baroness was in Israel this week to receive honorary citizenship from Rishon Lezion Mayor Dov Tzur and city council members.
Also present were her mother, Michelle Langner; Shlomo Yanai, vice chairman of the Rothschild Caesarea Foundation; Dr. Yossi Bachar, chairman of the public committee of Habait Le’Ivrit Rishon Lezion; descendants of the original settlers of Rishon LeZion; and Adam Montefiore, a member of the family of another great benefactor, Moses Montefiore.
The baroness met the younger Montefiore, who writes extensively on wines (including for The Jerusalem Post), while visiting the Carmel Winery after first touring the Rishon Lezion Museum, where there is a comprehensive exhibition in tribute to Edmond de Rothschild.
She thanked the people of Rishon Lezion for the honor and said: “I am very proud to be a citizen of this great city; I would love to come back and get to know the city even better.”
The following day, she received yet another honor – when she was awarded an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in recognition of her exceptional work in philanthropy and the promotion of academic and social excellence.
■ FEARS THAT Israel Hayom may close down, if the proposed legislation barring the distribution of free newspapers on a daily basis passes a final reading, were allayed by the paper’s owners, Miriam and Sheldon Adelson – who this week published a letter addressed to the paper’s management and workers in all departments, assuring them they were proud of what they had achieved in making the paper the most popular publication in Israel.
The addition of “a different voice” to the Israeli media was beneficial to Israel’s democracy, the market of ideas and competing publications, they wrote. They also berated those who tried to delegitimize their publication, with specific mention of Yediot Aharonot, which for years held a near-monopoly in Israel’s media world and dictated the public discourse – until its readership was surpassed by that of Israel Hayom.
The Adelsons hope that in the final analysis, the legislature will realize the proposed legislation contravenes that of freedom of expression and is a law which more than anything else, is targeted at a personality.
“The fight against us is a mark of honor for all of us, because it points to our success in changing the agenda of the media,” they stated. They promised to spare no effort in continuing the fight for Israel Hayom to be distributed free of charge.
Israel Hayom is here to stay, they declared, and is not dependent on any individual – other than the public which chooses to read it.
■ DURING THE month of November, several members of Israel’s diplomatic community – especially the Australians, including Ambassador Dave Sharma – were sporting mustaches as part of Movember men’s health awareness month. An Australian initiative that began 11 years ago and went global, the Movember Foundation, which aims to change the face of men’s health, is now one of the top 100 NGOs in the world. Although the research and therapeutic work done by Movember is year-round, the fund-raising effort is primarily in November itself.
Movember is a hybrid word of “Mo,” which is the Australian diminutive for mustache, and “November.”
Alex McCauley, second secretary for political and economic affairs at the Australian Embassy, has been running Movember events for the past seven years, three of them in Israel. This week, the embassy hosted a fund-raiser at Zou Bisou, a very elegant Chinese bar and restaurant in Tel Aviv, on one of the rainiest days of the season.
During the first hour, it looked as if less than 20 of the invitees would show up. But suddenly there was a huge influx of people from other embassies, plus a sizable showing of members of Israel’s Australian community, from Haifa, Rehovot, Herzliya Pituah, Kfar Saba, Ra’anana, Tel Aviv, Mevaseret Zion and Jerusalem.
From the diplomatic community, members of the Greek, US and Italian embassies joined the Aussies in growing mustaches, which in most cases will come off on Sunday night or Monday morning. Guests from all these countries as well as the UK and Germany attended the fund-raiser, and there was even someone from Greenland. New Zealand was also represented by its Honorary Consul Gad Propper.
Among the Aussies were Garry Stock, who represents James Richardson in Israel; Paul Israel, executive director of the Israel- Australia, New Zealand & Oceania Chamber of Commerce; and international human rights lawyer and freelance journalist Arsen Ostrovsky, who came in just a few minutes before the raffle and dropped his name into the basket, saying he never wins raffles. This time was an exception; bottles of wine were supplied from the cellars of Sharma and McAuley, and Ostrovsky won a very good one – which he can share on his buck’s night prior to his wedding next month.
Then to everyone’s pleasant surprise, Gadi Hassin – general manager of the Ritz Carlton, who also happens to have Australian citizenship – offered a night at the hotel as a contribution to the evening’s festivities. The lucky winner was Naomi Fagin.
Why the mustache? Sharma and McCauley each explained that it’s an icebreaker, and a talking point for conversation that leads to many other subjects. Sharma said he recently met with a minister to discuss something of great importance, but before they got around to it the minister commented on his mustache, which gave him the opportunity to speak about Movember.
The health issues currently on the Movember agenda are prostate and other male cancers and depression. Some people may be surprised to know that neither cancer nor heart disease are the major causes of male fatalities; the main cause in many countries around the world, including Australia and Israel, in men aged 18-49 is depression, which leads to suicide. In Israel it’s the biggest killer, especially in the IDF, said Sharma.
The final Movember gala in Israel will be held on Saturday, November 29 at 8 p.m.
at Kastiel, 2 Moshe Maor Street, Tel Aviv.
The entry charge is NIS 90, after which food and drinks are on the house. The Golden Mustache Award will be presented during the evening.
■ WHEN CZECH Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka called on President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday, he was accompanied by Czech Ambassador-Designate Ivo Schwarz, who will present his credentials to Rivlin next week. The Czech Republic has no qualms about sending members of the Jewish faith to Israel, and Schwarz is one of four or five Czech ambassadors of Jewish background who have served in Israel. He is one of a crop of new ambassadors who will be presenting credentials before the end of the year.
Among the other new faces on the diplomatic circuit is Korean Ambassador-Designate Lee Gun-tae, who is also presenting his credentials next week, along with the ambassadors of Peru and Kazakhstan. Then, a week later, it will be the turn of the ambassadors of Angola, the Philippines and Jamaica to present their credentials. The following day Rivlin will confront even more ambassadors, when he addresses the Post’s annual Diplomatic Conference.
■ MEMBERS OF the Diplomatic Spouses Club met this week with Shimon Peres at the Peres Center for Peace. DSC president Rachel Lord, the wife of Australian Ambassador Sharma, missed out because her parents were visiting and her priorities were with them. But she intends to be free next month, when the guest speaker will be celebrated author Amos Oz. Meanwhile, the event at the Peres Center was chaired by DSC vice president Julie Fisher, the wife of US Ambassador Dan Shapiro.
DSC events are generally well-attended, and this one in particular had one of the largest turnouts to date. There are some highly educated women in the club, according to Lord, and in order to maintain their interest, top-grade personalities are invited to speak at meetings. Fisher, due to the special relationship between the US and Israel, was delegated to get Peres to address the group, and Peres – who has long advocated equal rights for women in all areas of endeavor – could hardly refuse.
Although the overwhelming majority of DSC members are female, there are some male members married to or partners of female diplomats accredited to Israel, on all levels of the diplomatic ladder. On this occasion, there were 64 people representing more than 25 countries, including: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Croatia, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Latvia, Lithuania, Nigeria, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Taiwan, Thailand and the US, as well as the European Union.
Fisher explained that DSC’s goal is to introduce members to various aspects of life in Israel, through lectures, trips and activities, thereby providing unique opportunities to enhance their knowledge of the Jewish state.
“Our club builds bridges between Israel and other nations,” she said.
Peres responded to questions from Mary McGillis McKee, the wife of the Irish ambassador; Lanre Obasa, the wife of the Nigerian ambassador; and Edward Stachow, husband of the Australian consul; who wanted to know what advice Peres had for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, asked about the early days of the state and voiced curiosity as to what Peres believes to be Israel’s greatest achievement. Peres spoke of how the early pioneers transformed the desert and swamps into livable land; the importance of coexistence and respect for all people, and the need to give opportunities to all people. He also discussed many initiatives of the Peres Center for Peace, which bring people from diverse backgrounds together, then launched into one of his favorite subjects: the need for continued innovation in science and technology.
But what particularly caught the attention of most of his guests was his tribute to his late wife, Sonia, of whom he spoke touchingly, emphasizing her years of service to others and how she volunteered her time and gave charity. He disclosed that he did not learn about some of her incredible quiet generosity until after her death, because she was so understated and modest about her giving. In this context, he stressed the importance of passing on good values of serving others and being generous.
Other than that, he didn’t dwell too much on the past, saying that he prefers to talk about the future – because it is more important.
■ TOMORROW MARKS the 67th anniversary of the 128th plenary meeting of the UN, at which representatives of member states voted on Resolution 181 on the Partition of Palestine that led to the creation of the State of Israel. Among the 33 countries which voted in favor of partition were: Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Byelorussian SSR, Canada, Costa Rica, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Haiti, Iceland, Liberia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Sweden, Ukrainian SSR, Union of South Africa, the US, the USSR, Uruguay and Venezuela.
The 13 which voted against were mainly countries with large Muslim populations, with the notable exception of Greece and Cuba. The others were: Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey and Yemen.
Of these, Egypt, Greece, India and Turkey later established diplomatic relations with Israel. Iran was actually the second Muslim country after Turkey to recognize the State of Israel, but after the 1979 Revolution, severed all diplomatic, military and commercial ties with Israel.
The abstentions were: Argentina, Chile, China, Colombia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Honduras, Mexico, the UK and Yugoslavia.
With the exception of nine countries, all the countries mentioned above have established diplomatic relations with Israel. Some of the above no longer exist and have been divided into a number of republics, which also have diplomatic relations with Israel. In addition, there are countries which were not member states of the UN at the time that have also forged diplomatic ties with Israel.
So despite all the doomsdayers, the Jewish state is not quite as isolated and alone as it may seem from some media reports. What should be interesting to both politicians and historians is the text of Resolution 181, specifically its reference to Jerusalem, which Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and members of his council should study carefully.
■ WHILE COUNTRIES across Europe have introduced intensive Holocaust studies in schools – to correct gaps in knowledge of history and in some cases, acknowledge the complicity and guilt of a previous generation, as well as combat current anti-Semitism – both the perpetrators and the victims are fading from our midst. To enable younger people to meet with remaining Holocaust survivors and hear their personal stories, the Association of Czestochowa Jews in Israel has arranged, in response to many requests, for three Holocaust survivors to meet with whoever is interested in hearing their first-person accounts, and will tell their stories and answer questions.
The meetings will begin at the Or Center for Holocaust Survivors and Heroes, 54 Ben- Eliezer Street, Ramat Gan on December 23 at 5:30 p.m. with Shmuel Willenberg, believed to be the last survivor of Treblinka.
The event will coincide with the lighting of the seventh Hanukka candle, which in Willenberg’s case is also symbolic – in that he was both a victim and a hero. After escaping from Treblinka, he fought against the Nazis with the Polish resistance forces.
On January 20, Yitzhak Szajn, who spent all of the war years in Czestochowa, will relate what transpired in both the large and the small Czestochowa ghettos.
On February 24, David Brauner, who was also in the Czestochowa Ghetto as well as in various concentration camps, will share his memories – which include a chance meeting with his sister during the war. He will also talk about the fate of a Torah scroll that was in his family’s home at 6 Aleja Street.
Autobiographies by Holocaust survivors are often very moving, but not quite as moving as actually hearing from survivors what they endured, and what it was that enabled them to withstand and survive.
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