Grapevine: When Tony met Yonit

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

June 4, 2019 21:47
Grapevine: When Tony met Yonit

Yonit Levi with Tony Blair. (photo credit: SHACHAR MAMAN)

Former British prime minister Tony Blair, who more recently was for nearly eight years the Middle East envoy for the Quartet of international powers comprising the United Nations, the United States the European Union and Russia, and is currently chairman of the Institute for Global Change, was on Monday night the guest of honor of the board of trustees at Bar-Ilan University.

In an interview with Channel 12 news anchor Yonit Levi at the Trask banquet halls on the Port of Tel Aviv, Blair, in a wide-ranging, humor-tinged conversation that included Brexit, Israel and her neighbors, antisemitism in Britain, the technological revolution and the strange evolution of the British Labour Party, evaded only two questions. He refused to comment on the Israeli elections, and he would not say whether he would vote for Labour in the next British elections, though his remarks in response to other questions indicated that despite his concern that the party has veered away from the values it held dear when he was its leader, he would nonetheless remain loyal when casting his ballot.

Levi is a brilliant interviewer, so much better in English than in Hebrew, where for years she has been forced to adopt a ridiculous languid personality, whereas when she interviews in English, she can be herself. Keshet should seriously consider running an English-language interview program on Channel 12, with Levi as chief interviewer. She was great several years ago when she interviewed former US president Bill Clinton, and having assiduously done her homework, she was even better dropping the occasional bombshell on Blair.

The event was made possible by Iraqi-born Dr. David Dangoor and his wife, Judy, who have been supporters of BIU for almost 20 years. He was 10 years old, Dangoor said, when his family fled Iraq. Arriving in Britain with nothing, they were able to reestablish themselves because they were well educated. When his father, Naim Dangoor, who had been a man of substantial means in Iraq, once again acquired considerable affluence, the family decided to give back to society, and initially made education its main focus. It has since branched out to additional fields. David Dangoor recently established the Sir Naim Dangoor Center for Universal Monotheism at BIU to serve as a bridge between people of all faiths and cultures, primarily those of the Abrahamic religions, but not exclusively so.

Noting that Blair has visited Israel well over 150 times, BIU president Prof. Arie Zaban suggested that he make aliyah and become an ambassador for BIU.

Prior to Blair’s arrival, the numerous guests mingled at a cocktail reception on the first floor boardwalk balcony, as they watched the sunset over the sea and partook of delicious food offerings. Among those present were Michael Jesselson, chairman of the BIU board of trustees; still spry Iraqi-born nonagenarian Shlomo Hillel, 96, who is a former diplomat and politician, as well as a former world chairman of United Israel Appeal; celebrity lawyer Zion Amir, who is tipped to be the next president of the Israel Bar Association; Israel’s nonresident ambassador to Macedonia, Dan Orian; and Ofra Strauss, chairwoman of the Strauss Group and a longtime personal friend of Blair.

The delightful evening concluded with a great concert by the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour Band, which belted it pretty much like the original Beatles, but the timing was wrong. The dessert buffet opened just as the quartet began to play. Within minutes, nearly all the chairs had been vacated, as people made a beeline for the well-stocked buffet. Less than a dozen remained seated for what was really a masterful performance. Had the band played before Blair spoke, it could have set the British mood. Blair might have enjoyed it, because the Beatles were part of his youth.

■ GUESS WHAT? In less than a decade from now, it’s highly possible that the lead players in Israel’s hi-tech industry will be women from the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities who are currently students at the Jerusalem College of Technology – Machon Lev’s Tal campus for women in Jerusalem. It is one of the very few campuses where no one objects to babies in the classroom. Interdisciplinary teams of married and single young women work together on projects, and many of the married women are nursing mothers, who sometimes work out solutions to intricate hi-tech problems while holding the baby with one hand and punching a keyboard with the other. Proof of how good they are lies in the support they get from some of Israel’s top hi-tech companies, for which they often come up with creative ideas, such as an electronic bracelet for patients in multi-casualty incidents, to help paramedics do triage in the field; an “escape room” for the blind; and a product for homeland security that detects foreign objects in the sky. There’s a long list of other inventions that help in one way or another to improve efficiency and the quality of life.

Some of the most exciting of the inventions were developed last year at the first Tal Hackathon. Next week, some 120 of the students will participate in the second annual Tal Hackathon, in which they will be working 44 hours straight, with a minimum of sleep.

In both the men’s and the women’s campuses, there is a happy balance between Torah studies and technology. Dr. Hadas Tschiler, who is an ultra-Orthodox woman from Petah Tikva, was looking for an educational facility that would enable her to combine her religious studies with those for an academic degree. She chose the Tal campus, and earned a degree in computer science, which she now teaches at her alma mater.

■ THERE IS definitely life after the Knesset, as well as after a relatively long stretch as a member of the government. Limor Livnat, who served as an MK for 23 years and as a minister for 19 years, did not stand for reelection in 2015. Last week she was among the nonprofessional and former professional models at a fashion show that not only celebrated the 50th anniversary of the International Women’s Club in Israel, but also enabled another forward step in liberating women who had been lured or forced into prostitution. Proceeds from the event, which was held at the Einav Center in Tel Aviv, went to Turning the Tables, an organization that provides training in fashion design, production and business management in a studio environment for former prostitutes, giving them the tools for a more honorable profession while helping develop their creative abilities and their sense of self-worth.

In addition to Livnat (who also writes op-ed columns for Yediot Aharonot, and is a frequent guest on radio and television talk shows), other models at the fashion show, produced by Motty Reif, included cosmetics queen Pnina Rosenblum, a former professional model, who took time out from preparations for her daughter’s wedding to support this worthy cause; former beauty queen Ravit Assaf, who now runs a chain of clothing stores that sell budget-priced but up-to-date garments; Yael Huldai, the wife of the mayor of Tel Aviv; actresses Osnat Vishinsky, Gilat Ankori and Hanny Nahmias; public relations executive Naomi Cherpak; Leah Schenirer, an activist on behalf of Holocaust survivors; singer Efrat Rotem; and former Miss Israel, actress and film producer Ilana Shoshan. Some of the other models included women from the diplomatic community. All the garments modeled were in black, and were the creations of the women who are being taken out of prostitution, with the aim of becoming self-sufficient, productive and respected members of society.

■ NOT ALL Hilton hotels in Israel have the word “Hilton” in their title, but they all – in common with Hilton hotels around the world – are celebrating the chain’s 100th anniversary with special events and special palate pleasers in both the food and beverage categories. This includes not only new culinary creations, but also a revival of old favorites.

Last week Avner On, the general manager of the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria, which is also part of the Hilton stable, hosted a cocktail reception on the Garden Terrace where waiters and waitresses kept up an almost nonstop service of fish, meat and vegetarian delicacies plus a variety of desserts that included the famous Waldorf Velvet Cake. Invitees to the event also received a souvenir bottle of the hotel’s Jerusalem of Gold signature cocktail – a very sweet amber-colored liqueur with quite a kick to it.

■ SUMMARILY DISMISSED justice minister Ayelet Shaked is listed as one of the speakers at the 17th annual conference of legal advisers taking place on June 11 at Habimah Theater in Tel Aviv. The question is will she bow out in advance, or will she use the Habimah stage as an opportunity to get a lot of flak off her chest? It’s also possible that by then she may have decided to remain in the political maelstrom, and will use the opportunity to launch her election campaign. To use one of US President Donald Trump’s favorite catchphrases: “We’ll see what happens.”

By the way, Shaked will definitely be in New York on June 16, as one of the speakers at the annual Jerusalem Post Conference.
■ LAST WEEK, more than 600 students from Yeshiva University’s undergraduate schools were presented with their degrees at YU’s 88th commencement exercises, held at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The keynote address was delivered by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who received an honorary doctorate.

Friedman emphasized that his life has been deeply influenced by YU’s “teaching, its principles, its core values,” and spoke about the many members of his family who had attended YU, including his great-uncle, Dr. Pinchas Churgin, founder of the Teachers Institute; and his wife, Tammy, an alumna of Stern College for Women.

Friedman told the assembled graduates, “Whatever path you choose, bring to it a sense of purpose and a quest for meaning such that what you do matters more than just a paycheck. There’s nothing wrong with making a good living, but that alone won’t make you happy or bring us to a better place.”

Friedman underlined the importance of basing one’s principles upon a commitment to truth: “Follow the truth wherever it leads. Embrace it, confront it, challenge it, and, if you don’t like it, make it better. But always live by the truth.”

In addition to the new graduates, members of the classes of 1959 and 1969 were also honored as they marked the 60th and 50th anniversaries of their graduations, respectively, along with representatives of the class of 1949. In total, more than 1,700 degrees were conferred upon students across Yeshiva University during this commencement season.

■ WHEN 18-year-old Mary MacLeod, the 10th child in her family, migrated from the Scottish isle of Lewis to the United States in 1930, she could not have dreamed that one of her future progeny would one day shake the hand of the queen of England and dine at her table. In fact, in 1930, there was little thought that the four-year-old daughter of the Duke of York would one day become the longest reigning of British monarchs. In fact, there was little chance of her becoming a monarch at all.

Prior to her marriage, MacLeod worked as a domestic in New York. This week, Donald, the fourth of her five children, shook hands with Queen Elizabeth and sat at her table during a state dinner. MacLeod, who married real estate developer Fred Trump and became a socialite and charity worker in the New York suburb of Queens, often despaired of the antics of her fourth child, never imagining that he would one day become the most protocol-breaking president of the United States.

Donald Trump broke protocol at least twice during his state visit to Britain this week. He covered the queen’s hand when he shook hands with her, and at the dinner, there was speculation but no absolute proof that he patted her on the back. One thing that the president of the United States and the queen of England have in common is their Scottish ancestry. The queen’s mother, Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, though born in London, was the daughter of one of the most noble of Scottish families.

■ AMBASSADOR OF the Argentine Republic Mariano Caucino and his wife, Barbara, live in a beautiful residence in Herzliya Pituah. The spacious living room leads on to a large terrace and an even larger garden, but when close to 300 people congregate there to celebrate the national day of Argentina, it becomes somewhat crowded. That was the case last week when, in addition to the regular speeches by the ambassador and Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, there was also a recording of Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri sending greetings to those of his fellow countrymen and women who live in Israel.

There was also a ceremony in honor of internationally known economist Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, who currently chairs the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education. Trajtenberg was born in Cordoba, Argentina, and current Foreign Minister of Argentina Jorge Faurie thought that this particular native son was deserving of a special citation, which was presented to Trajtenberg by the ambassador.

Caucino said that under the new national authority, Argentina has developed into a peaceful, democratic and pluralistic nation. He characterized the current period as “one of the best and most productive times in relations with Israel.” He also noted that this is the 70th anniversary year of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Argentina and Israel, saying that Argentina was the first Latin American country to send an ambassador to Israel, in the person of Pablo Manguel, a leader of the Argentine Jewish community. He also emphasized that Argentina has the largest Jewish community in Latin America and the sixth largest in the world outside of Israel.

Both Caucino and Gamliel, in their respective addresses, spoke of the bombing of the Israel Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992, and of the AMIA building, which was the umbrella headquarters of the Jewish organizations in Argentina in 1994. A total of 114 people were killed in the two explosions and more than 550 people were wounded.

Caucino spoke of honoring the memories of the victims, adding that Argentina will continue to press the Iranian government to cooperate in the investigation. Gamliel expressed the hope that after so many years, the investigation will finally be completed. Though it is known that Iran was behind the bombings, no one has actually been charged. Gamliel stated that Iran continues to represent a threat to the world through its support for terrorist organizations. She also related to the increase of antisemitic attacks against Jewish people and their institutions, and said that unfortunately this is also happening in Argentina.

During the previous week, in honor of the 70th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Argentina and Israel, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai lit up the front of city hall with the flags of both countries.

■ A SERIES of Italian ambassadors have brought Italian entertainers to the ambassador’s residence in Ramat Gan to perform at the reception held in honor of Italy’s national day. There have been operatic and folklore performances, but this time Ambassador Gianluigi Benedetti and his wife, Sabina, brought a group of promising young musicians and singers from the Milan Music Conservatory’s pop rock band.

Not only that, but the fare was strictly Italian, with pizza prepared by authentic Italian chefs from Naples, and varieties of pasta and fried cheese balls prepared by chefs from local Italian eateries. As if that was not enough, every guest who entered was presented with an Alitalia coupon that entitled the bearer to a 20% discount on a ticket fare to Italy. In addition, there was a number on each coupon that made it eligible for one of two free round-trip flights to Italy by Alitalia, and there were also Italian souvenirs for the guests, as they departed after the traditional ceremony.

Benedetti said that Israel and Italy were two old-new countries on the shores of the Mediterranean that had emerged out of the Second World War, and both had made great strides in democracy and human rights. He was also proud of the fact that Rome has the most ancient Jewish community in Europe and one of the oldest in the world.

Jews have made an enormous contribution to Italy, he said, singling out Primo Levi, chemist, writer and Holocaust survivor. The centenary of his birth is being widely celebrated both in and outside Italy throughout this year, and his story, said the ambassador, “reminds us of the evils of the Holocaust.” Benedetti was also proud that among the older guests mingling on the vast lawns of his residence were people who had resisted the fascist regime.

Now that the scourge of antisemitism is again spreading its venom throughout the world, it has become incumbent on almost every ambassador to Israel to talk about it. “We must stand together to fight antisemitism, which threatens to undermine the security of our Jewish brothers,” said Benedetti. Then, harking back to the Second World War, he praised those Italians “who had listened to their conscience” and saved Jews.

Benedetti dismissed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement as a stupidity. “The notion of BDS is just ridiculous,” he said, as he pledged that “Italy will always stand by Israel, a stronghold of democracy in such an unstable region.” He said: “It is our duty to remain vigilant for the preservation of human dignity.”

Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, who represented the government, also raised the issue of antisemitism, saying: “We must fight it together around the world.” He also said that Israel wants to make peace with all the countries in the Middle East.

■ AMBASSADOR TO El Salvador Amir Ofek was among the participants at the inauguration ceremony on Saturday of President Nayib Bukele. The event was attended by eight presidents and 83 delegations. The Israeli delegation, which was headed by Ofek, included Israeli business executives who have significant investments in El Salvador.

■ FOR THE third consecutive year, a delegation of the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) came to Israel to visit the 20 Israeli companies listed on the ASX and to meet with executives of other Israeli companies that are interested in being listed. The delegation – which was led by ASX chairman Rick-Holliday Smith; Max Cunningham, ASX executive general manager for listings and issue service and investment products; and Matthew Gibbs, ASX general manager for media and communications – was hosted at Start-Up Nation Central by its CEO, Eugene Kandel.

Gibbs said that Israel must work to change its image in the world, because most people’s impression of Israel is based on the negative picture presented by the media. Those who come to Israel “quickly learn that what you see from there is not what you see from here,” he said.

■ THE FIRST advanced cardiac catheterization unit serving the capital’s northern neighborhoods was inaugurated last week at Hadassah-University Medical Center on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus. The cath lab was donated by the US Agency for International Development, through Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, and will each year provide lifesaving services to thousands.

“It is not every day we make history,” said Hadassah Mount Scopus director Dr. Tamar Elram, who noted that USAID has generously supported Hadassah for decades, sharing such values as excellence in medical care, equal treatment for all, professionalism and compassion.

Speaking on behalf of HWZOA, Dr. Rachel Schonberger, in thanking USAID and its work representing the United States government, said: “I like to call the cath lab a cath suite because it is so sophisticated. We know it will make a difference in so many lives.”

Prof. Zeev Rotstein, director-general of Hadassah Medical Organization, said, “Today marks the end of the three-year process in building the cath lab. Now, Hadassah offers equal services for cardiac patients at both our campuses.”

Rabbi Aryeh Lightstone, adviser to the US ambassador, said, “The relationship between USAID and Hadassah is five decades old.”
He related that his grandmother in Pueblo, Colorado, founded a chapter of Hadassah in 1931. “She is my role model because of her dedication to her country, the United States, and her Jewish heritage,” he said. He is sure that in 1931 she couldn’t imagine the day when her grandson would represent the greatest country in the world and stand on holy ground to open a cutting-edge medical cath lab. “It is miraculous,” he declared.

He said he was honored to be present with his colleagues from USAID to partner with Hadassah. He also affixed the mezuzah to the new facility.

Before unveiling the USAID plaque and cutting the ribbon to the cath lab, Karla Fossand, office director, Invention in the Next Generation, USAID, said, “Ours is the easy part. It’s you who put the needs of others in front of your own and your families. It’s you we want to thank.”

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