Grapevine: The street where he lives

A round up of news and events from around the country.

March 19, 2015 19:46
israel election

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts his ballot in the 2013 election[File]. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)


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The Hebrew media reported extensively on the cost of the election to the Knesset, including the cost of printing the ballot slips. What was not so publicly calculated was the outlay for enhanced security.

Early Wednesday morning, 10 security personnel who had been assigned to Benjamin Netanyahu embraced those colleagues still on-duty and piled into a sleek white mini-bus; their luggage included guns and business suits. The mini-bus was parked for quite some time on the capital’s Smolenskin Street, some dozen meters from the entrance to the Prime Minister’s Residence.

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Just as the media were wrong in their weekend forecasts of the election results, they are consistently wrong in listing the street on which the Prime Minister’s Residence is located.

Admittedly, the house is on the corner of Balfour and Smolenskin streets, but the main entrance is definitely on Smolenskin Street, not on Balfour – where there is only a side door at the far end of the property. Yet for some perverse reason, the media keep on referring to “the house on Balfour Street.”

Perhaps it’s because the name of Lord Balfour is more familiar to the Israeli public than that of Peretz Smolenskin, an enlightened Russian-born 19th-century novelist, poet and editor who embraced Jewish nationalism and wrote in Hebrew. He settled in Vienna, where he founded a high-standard Hebrew-language monthly magazine that he published for some 17 years before his death.

For the record, prior to the advent of Waze, very few Jerusalem taxi drivers could pinpoint Smolenskin Street. They all knew how to get to the Prime Minister’s Residence, but they didn’t know the name of the street.

■ Another expenditure will relate to the perks to which former MKs are entitled. Approximately one-third of the 19th Knesset will not return to serve in the 20th Knesset; of these, close to half were first-time MKs who served for slightly less than two years. Some will not really be missed, but people such as Yesh Atid’s Dov Lipman – who had an exemplary parliamentary record – will surely be a loss to the legislature, especially because he loved his job more than his seat. Lipman’s role as the only American-born legislator will be taken over by Kulanu’s Michael Oren.

■ It would seem that Kulanu’s Moshe Kahlon may indeed be the next finance minister. Outgoing Hatnua MK Meir Sheetrit, who after his failed bid for the presidency decided to quit the Knesset, was invited to sit on a Channel 1 panel on election night. Sheetrit advised Kahlon not to take on the Finance Ministry, and hinted this was the road to destruction. Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid lost Knesset mandates and his predecessor, Yuval Steinitz, made it to just within the halfway mark in the Likud primary. Sheetrit thought Kahlon was better-suited to the Construction Ministry, where he could influence the much-needed reforms to enable young couples to afford the purchase of a home.

■ As for Kahlon, he is to be commended for stating after the election that this is a time for reconciliation, and that he forgives everyone who bad-mouthed, insulted and undermined him during the campaign period. If Shas leader Arye Deri had accepted the white flag offered by Eli Yishai a couple of days before the election, both Shas and Yahad might have fared better – because Sephardi voters would have been delighted the rift had been healed. Deri, who has suffered lack of forgiveness on his own skin, should have been more magnanimous under the circumstances.

■ On Election Day, rivals Netanyahu and Isaac Herzog dressed patriotically when they went to vote – in white shirts and blue ties. Each usually prefers a blue shirt, and a black one when they’re being super-casual.

■ In bygone years, there was frequent reference to “Likud princes” in media reports on the Knesset elections. Now, only three princes are left. Bennie Begin was brought back to the political arena by Netanyahu; and Tzachi Hanegbi returned following his resignation, after he had been suspended on charges of perjury; and then there is the prime minister. Had this not happened, the Likud princes – mostly second-generation Likud MKs whose fathers and/or mothers served in the Irgun or the Stern Group, were taken prisoner by the British, were members of the Revisionist Movement, and/or were members of the Herut or Gahal factions – would be history in the Knesset (with the exception of Netanyahu himself).

Herut and Gahal were forerunners of the Likud. Among the princes were Reuven Rivlin, Ehud Olmert, Dan and Sallai Meridor, Roni Milo, Yair Stern, Uzi Landau, Yair Shamir, Arye Naor, Yaakov and Yossi Ahimeir, and several others. There were also two princesses: Limor Livnat and Tzipi Livni. But the era of Likud princes and princesses is almost over. Likud members and supporters say Livni’s parents would turn over in their graves, given her current political affiliation.

■ On the other hand, given that Yair Netanyahu accompanied his parents to the polling station to vote with them and on Wednesday accompa nied his father to the Western Wall, he may well be grooming himself to follow in his father’s footsteps. Netanyahu’s younger son, Avner, who is serving in an IDF combat unit, voted together with other soldiers.

■ Though not a Likud prince himself, former three-time foreign minister David Levy – who entered the Knesset on a Herut-Liberal Bloc ticket, and subsequently as a member of the Likud, Gesher and the Likud again – is proud of the fact that two of his 12 children, Orly and Jackie, will be serving in the 20th Knesset. Orly Levy-Abecassis is a member of Yisrael Beytenu and served in the 18th and 19th Knessets. As was his father before he entered the Knesset, Jackie Levy is a former mayor of Beit She’an and a first-time MK who followed his father into the Likud. This is the second generation of Levy siblings serving as legislators. David Levy and his younger brother – the late Maxim Levy, who was also mayor of Lod – served in the Knesset together. In fact, Jackie Levy bears a remarkable physical resemblance to his uncle.

■ To mark the end of the 30-day mourning period for senior citizens minister Uri Orbach, who before entering politics was a journalist and gifted writer of children’s stories with an amazing linguistic ability, Channel 1 will feature a program in his memory at 10 p.m. this Saturday, aptly titled The Jewish Home – which was not only the name of his political party, a.k.a Bayit Yehudi, but was also the ideal by which he lived.

Among his good friends professionally and in the Knesset was Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich, who will appear on the program together with Sahara Blau, who created the documentary which features rare archival footage.

■ One of the favorite hangouts of the diplomatic community these days is the elegant Ritz-Carlton Hotel, which sits on the edge of the Herzliya Marina. The boardwalk deck of the hotel, overlooking the area in which the boats are moored, was the venue this week for the annual charity brunch of the Diplomatic Spouses Club of Israel, headed by Rachel Lord, wife of Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma. Although diplomats do frequent the hotel on an individual basis, it has not yet developed into a location for diplomatic events in the way Tel Aviv hotels such as the Hilton, the Dan, the David Intercontinental and the Sheraton have succeeded in doing.

Ritz-Carlton general manager Gadi Hassin, who is married to an Australian, was dining with Sharma and Lord not that long ago and was racking his brain about how to attract the diplomatic community en masse. Lord mentioned that the DSCI was looking for a venue for its charity brunch, and the proverbial match in heaven instantly took place. Hassin personally supervised all the details and on the actual day, was present throughout to make sure that everything was perfect. He also had more waiters and waitresses on hand than is the norm, ensuring service would flow without a hitch.

The buffet brunch, which started with champagne, had some delicious offerings – especially for fish-lovers, who kept returning for seconds of the various fish dishes; there was also a wide choice of pastas and cheeses.

Yet for the laid-back and casually sophisticated Hassin, this was his last day on the job before handing over to the new general manager, Ned Capeleris – who coincidentally happens to be Australian. Capeleris was previously the manager of the Ritz-Carlton in Bahrain.

Hassin, an ex-kibbutznik from Mashabei Sadeh in the Negev, has decided to go into private business and is looking for something suitable in the hospitality industry. After 22 years of working for international companies and spending 15 of those years outside of Israel, Hassin wants to do something on the home front, but wants to be his own man.

Each year, the DSCI chooses a particular charity whose services are open to all Israelis regardless of ethnic or religious background. This time it was Beit Ruth, an educational and therapeutic village for at-risk girls. Located in Afula, it takes in girls from dysfunctional families or those who have run away from home. The girls, many of whom have been victims of violence and sexual abuse by family members and family friends, are often broken in spirit with an extremely low self-esteem. They are all referred to Beit Ruth by the courts.

From an emotional and psychological perspective, Beit Ruth – named for the biblical Moabite Ruth, who told her Israelite motherin- law, Naomi, that where Naomi went, Ruth would go – asks the girls to commit themselves to a better life, and indeed provides the first step for them through the new physical environment in which the girls find themselves.

The public areas are spacious and well-furnished; the dorms are comfortable and spacious. House mothers, therapists and teaching staff all exude warm personalities and are sympathetic to each girl’s needs. The buildings are surrounded by beautiful, flourishing gardens; the atmosphere is totally inviting. The girls are encouraged to invest in their own futures by completing their high school education, so they can qualify to go on to higher education.

Prior to the relatively recent opening of the Beit Ruth Village, it operated on a smaller scale in Rishon Lezion, where it could accommodate only 13 girls. In Afula there is room for 45 girls, but presently there are 36 living in the village, said Ronit Lev-Ari, program director of Beit Ruth. An expansion plan will eventually enable 200 girls to be housed there.

Lev-Ari also circulated a photograph of an attractive young woman who was born into a destructive family; her parents and six siblings were always taking advantage of her. She could never develop her identity and had no self-confidence; they made her feel life was worthless. After she swallowed sleeping pills in an attempt to commit suicide, she was taken to a psychiatric hospital and subsequently transferred to Beit Ruth, where it took some time before she began to trust the people who were helping her realize her own potential. The young woman has since blossomed and changed so much that she even changed her name to Lavi, which means lion, and to her it signifies she is no longer a zero.  Her mother has disowned her. “We are now her family,” affirmed Lev-Ari.

Iris Twerski, executive director of Beit Ruth, was full of praise for Susan and Michael Ashner of New York – who have thus far donated around $12 million for the construction of the village. Susan Ashner, who had a tough childhood, was particularly keen to establish such a facility in order to give abused or neglected girls a fresh start in life. DSCI members will be visiting Beit Ruth in April to see for themselves the good work they are supporting.

■ Seder night is almost upon us. Of all the festivals in the Jewish calendar, Seder night is the one where every effort is made by well-meaning individuals, organizations and institutions to ensure every Jew has a place at the table. The most famous and largest Seder in the world is that of Chabad of Kathmandu, which becomes a magnet for every Israeli and other Jewish backpacker in India and Nepal.

Chabad organizes community Seders in many parts of the world – and Jerusalem is no exception. Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg, director of Chabad of Rehavia, is in the process of organizing his third-annual community Seder in the entrance hall of Heichal Shlomo adjacent to the Great Synagogue. The community Seder always draws a large attendance of families and singles; the cost is NIS 250 for adults and NIS 175 for children aged two-11.

Aware there are people who cannot afford to pay these amounts, or who in some cases cannot afford to pay at all, Goldberg promises no one will be turned away for lack of funds. It is to be hoped, however, that people who can afford to pay will not con their way into a discount or a freebie. (In the same vein, during the election, many of the parking spots reserved for the disabled were taken over by able-bodied people who couldn’t care less that as a result of their selfishness, disabled drivers who wanted to vote could not do so.)

Anyone wishing to participate should reserve by March 26. Overseas visitors who expect to be in Israel at that time can pay $75 per adult and $50 per child, via Chabad of Rehavia’s secure website. For more information: (02) 800-1717 or

■ Two major culinary events are taking place on March 24. Nir Elkayam, executive chef at Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel, will at 6 p.m. show Israelis and interested people around the world how to prepare a Passover meal, which even experienced Jewish cooks tend to find daunting. The demonstration from the Inbal kitchen will be live-streamed at 6 p.m. IST and can be accessed at There will also be an opportunity to ask questions via live chat. Elyakam will present American, European and Moroccan dishes, while pastry chef Doron Gruner will weigh in on dessert.

Meanwhile in Tel Aviv, celebrity chef Jonathan Roshfeld, executive chef of the Adi’s Lifestyle Group, will host chef Carlo Cracco at his Herbert Samuel restaurant. Cracco is the owner of the famed Cracco Peck restaurant in Milan, and a judge in the Italian MasterChef contest. Roshfeld, who was already wellknown through his restaurants and catering services, came to wider public attention as a judge in the Israeli MasterChef contest. Cracco is one of several Italian chefs who will be in Israel next week for the Italy- Food-Design conference and demonstration, taking place in Holon and Tel Aviv. Italian Ambassador Francesco Maria Talo will also host a reception in their honor.

■ As someone who has recently flown El Al, the writer of this column detected a definite improvement in service and food – although flying tourist class is still as close as any human being can get to identifying with the contents of a sardine can. It’s bad enough for vertically challenged people like yours truly, but it must be agony for athletes who are usually tall and have minimal legroom. The same can be said about Egged buses.

Be that as it may, El Al staff are doing something worthwhile beyond the call of duty. Quite a large number of the members of El Al’s air crews have volunteered to be part of Israel’s information campaign, and when they are abroad act as goodwill ambassadors, taking on speaking engagements in which they try to counter negative concepts and misinformation about Israel by conveying the true story.

Some of them, accompanied by El Al CEO David Maimon, met this week with President Rivlin and shared their experiences with him. An air hostess who was born in the US and whose parents brought her as a child to live in Israel, said that only after joining the goodwill initiative did she understand why it was important to her parents to raise her not only as a Jewess but also as an Israeli. Rivlin was visibly moved by this, and said he would make note of it for future use.

■ Aside from having his book My Promised Land being made into an HBO film, journalist Ari Shavit – who writes for Haaretz and is a political commentator for Channel 1 – may have it published in Japanese. Kaori Matsutomi, wife of the Japanese ambassador, was so enamored with the book she decided to translate it into Japanese and has already been in touch with one of her country’s largest publishing companies, which she says has demonstrated interest. So far, she’s translated just over 60 pages, but is very enthusiastic about completing the task – and firmly believes this is a book the Japanese people should read.

■ When he was tourism minister, Isaac Herzog came under severe criticism for using supermodel Bar Refaeli as a promoter for tourism to the Jewish state. There were many people who objected strongly to the fact that someone who had evaded army service by entering into a marriage of convenience should be selected to present Israel’s charms as a vacation destination to the world. Values may have changed since then, because Refaeli has more recently been selected to judge a video contest launched by the Foreign Ministry and its Washington Embassy, to encourage American college students to demonstrate positive attitudes towards Israel through creative videos. The prize is a trip to Israel, which includes a meeting with President Rivlin – albeit not with Refaeli herself.

The advertisements announcing the contest feature a seductive-looking Refaeli against a sunny beach backdrop, with text that reads: “For years you judged Bar Refaeli – now it’s her turn to judge you.” Applicants whose videos are ranked in the top three places will win a trip to Washington where they will meet with Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, who will invite them to his Independence Day party. Dermer is also on the adjudicating panel along with artist Yael Efrati and musician Yoni Bloch; the best videos will be uploaded onto the Israel Embassy’s Facebook page.

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