Grapevine: The first ladies in their lives

President-elect Reuven Rivlin, when making his maiden speech in his new role, congratulated his wife on soon becoming Israel’s first lady.

Reuven Rivlin raises a toast (photo credit: REUTERS)
Reuven Rivlin raises a toast
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The old adage that behind every great man is a great woman is not always true, but it is nice to hear men in high-ranking positions publicly pay tribute to their wives. President-elect Reuven Rivlin, when making his maiden speech in his new role, congratulated his wife on soon becoming Israel’s first lady. Meanwhile, former chief rabbi Yona Metzger, at his inauguration at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue, looked up at the women’s gallery and thanked his wife for having walked with him in the wilderness.
■ It hardly came as a surprise that the Jerusalem supplements of daily papers devoted much space to native son Rivlin, and to his wife, Nechama, who was born on Moshav Herut and was staunchly left-wing in her political orientation when she met him at the Hebrew University, where she eventually became a long-term employee.
Although Rivlin insisted on taking her with him when traveling abroad, for the most part she has remained in the background, shunning the limelight. Some have compared her to Sonia Peres, who also shunned publicity but supported her husband in his endeavors – except when he decided to run for president. It is anticipated that while Nechama Rivlin will continue to avoid the spotlight whenever possible, unlike Sonia Peres, she will stand by her husband’s side at official presidential events – just as Gila Katsav did. Like Rivlin, Katsav is a very private person, with a great love for children. What she loved to do most as first lady was go to kindergartens and read stories to tiny tots.
Among the things that Rivlin will have to forfeit as first lady will be her weekly shopping tours in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market, and her frequent strolls through the alleyways of the capital’s Old City. On the other hand, she may be able to go strolling with a security guard in tow, just as Yitzhak Shamir did when he was prime minister – going for his nightly constitutional around Rehavia with a security guard walking with him, and another trailing him in a car.
Security was less stringent in the years when Menachem Begin served as prime minister. His wife, Aliza, used to go shopping at the local grocery store on one side and get her hair done at a local beauty parlor on the other, without anyone bothering her, and most of the time without a security escort.
■ An alma mater is an alma mater, regardless of how much time elapses from the time of graduation. Only two days after his election, President-elect Rivlin was back at his alma mater, the Hebrew University, for a jubilee reunion at Belgium House on the Edmond J. Safra Givat Ram campus with the Law Faculty class of ’64.
Of course, way back in those days, all the men had full heads of hair and neither male nor female graduates were showing gray or white roots. And of course, their faces were largely unwrinkled. Though most of them have continued to meet with each other, there was the possibility that here and there, some had changed beyond recognition, and so everyone – including Rivlin – wore name tags.
Addressing his former classmates, Rivlin recalled that from its earliest days, the Faculty of Law trained its students to be not merely lawyers but also leaders of academia, politics and society. From its ranks, he said, came people who played significant roles in formulating social and civic norms, creating a common Israeli legal language and espousing values that despite social and ideological differences, are geared towards equality.
Among other alumni present were former justice minister Yaakov Neeman, who is a founding partner in one of Israel’s largest and most prestigious law firms; Clalit Health Services chairman Eli Admoni; former Globes editor Mati Golan; and Micha Yinon, former director of the Israel Bar Association, whose son Eyal is a Knesset legal adviser. Micha Yinon is also a former chairman of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, director of the Cultural Authority of the Culture and Sport Ministry, and head of the Cultural Directorate of the Science, Technology and Space Ministry. Master of ceremonies was Prof. Yuval Shany, dean of the Hebrew University Law Faculty, who is somewhat younger than the jubilee merrymakers.
■ Although he declared in his victory speech that as of that moment, he was no longer politically affiliated, Rivlin on Sunday attended the annual memorial ceremony for the victims of the Altalena, marking the 66th anniversary of its sinking by the Israel Air Force and Navy on the orders of David Ben-Gurion. The ship, which was filled with munitions, also carried somewhere in the range of 900 men, most of whom were Holocaust survivors. They were all affiliated in one way or another with the Irgun, of which Menachem Begin was the leader.
While Rivlin was paying his respects to the martyrs of the Right, outgoing President Shimon Peres was hosting the annual ceremony for the awarding of defense prizes.
This is a highly censored event in which with few exceptions, the names of the winners and the defense technologies they have developed can never be made public.
This year’s ceremony was particularly poignant, not only because Peres has had such a long involvement with the defense establishment and this was the last time that he would presiding over such an event, but also because it came at a time when the nation was caught up in the abduction of the three yeshiva students.
■ Polish ambassador Jacek Chodorowicz last week hosted a ceremony at the new premises of the Polish Institute, on the 22nd floor of Beit Psagot in Tel Aviv. A number of Israelis received decorations and medals in recognition of their contributions to Polish arts, sciences and diplomacy – among them artist Elka Jagoda, who received the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit for her involvement in Polish-Jewish-Israeli dialogue.
It was an especially significant day for the Israel Council on Foreign Relations (ICFR) of the World Jewish Congress. The Hebrew University’s Prof. Shlomo Avineri, a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry who recently joined the ICFR’s international advisory and editorial board, was presented with a certificate of merit from the prestigious Krakow-based Polish Academy of Learning, an institution that dates back to 1872. In addition, ICFR director Dr. Laurence Weinbaum was awarded the Foreign Ministry’s Benito Merito medal, for contributions to strengthening Poland’s position in the international arena.
Avineri was born in Bielsko, Poland; Weinbaum received his PhD in history from the University of Warsaw. He previously received Poland’s Gold Cross of Merit from late president Lech Kaczynski.
While a student at Georgetown University in Washington, Weinbaum was an assistant to legendary Polish hero and academic Jan Karski.
In his remarks, Chodorowicz warmly praised the ICFR’s Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, which Weinbaum edits, calling it one of the very best publications in the field.
Later that day, back in Jerusalem, Avineri chaired an ICFR event at the Hebrew University’s Belgian House, at which Dr.
Gregor Gysi, chairman of the Die Linke faction, head of the opposition in the German Bundestag and former chairman of the Party of Democratic Socialism, was the guest speaker. Relating to whether the international community is facing a new East-West conflict, Gysi said that had he ever been told, before the collapse of Communism in his native East Germany in 1989, that he would one day be speaking in Israel on relations between independent Ukraine, Russia and the EU, he would have committed himself to a lunatic asylum.
■ Traditionally, brides wear something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. It’s not certain whether Michal Silverman wore something blue (though both the mother of the bride and the groom wore blue gowns), but presumably her shoes were new. However, her veil and gown were borrowed and old.
The veil was not so old, as it was worn by her cousin Tzippy Quint when she married Gilad Bendheim in New York last year. Although Tzippy was unable to be in Israel at this time, she sent the veil, and her branch of the family was represented by her parents, David and Rachel Quint, and one of her brothers, Yossi Quint.
The exquisite bridal gown – with its high neck, long sleeves, lace bodice, fitted waist, billowing tulle skirts with a scattering of embroidered flowers, long train and fine row of pearl buttons down the back – belonged to the bride’s mother, Naomi, who wore it 29 years ago when she married Bob Silverman. It was worn again two years later by family friend Amy Farkas, after which it was packed away in mothballs, until Michal insisted she wanted to wear it at her own wedding to Uzi Hershkowitz. It looked completely new, and was perfect for the bride’s tall, willowy figure.
The wedding was held in the delightful setting of the Chafetz Chaim Gardens, where most of the many guests had never been before, and pronounced themselves impressed. Several guests came from the US, where both bride and groom have relatives; there were also some from Australia, where the bride was sent during her period of national service. She made a lot of close friends during her year in Melbourne, and some were more than happy to come and celebrate with her despite the distance.
The bride’s maternal grandmother, perhaps because she was a child Holocaust survivor whose whole family was murdered, likes to share her grandchildren’s bar mitzvas and weddings with her friends – and brought a busload of friends from Jerusalem to the kibbutz to join in the festivities.
It’s the done thing at weddings in the national-religious camp for the friends of the groom to dance and sing in front of him as he is being led to the huppa. Some grooms actually need cheering up, but not Uzi, who was led by his parents Jay and Nancy Hershkowitz. All three of them were singing at the top of their lungs, all the way to the stage on which the canopy was mounted.
The grandparents of both the bride and the groom were present. Ruth Silverman, the paternal grandmother of the bride specially came from America; The maternal grandparents, Rabbi Emanuel and Rena Quint, live in Jerusalem.
The groom’s grandparents are Marvin Hershkowitz and Eleanor and Monroe Korn. The parents of both the bride and groom live in Beit Shemesh, where sheva brachot were held over the weekend.
■ Only two days to go, and the family of Esther Levin-Porath is getting increasingly excited about celebrating her last double-digit birthday before she moves into the triple-digit lane next year.
She is the mother of a rabbi – Jonathan Porath, who lives in Jerusalem; and Sara, a New York-based television producer. Five of her six grandchildren live in Israel, and one in the US. One of her grandchildren is a Sabra, as are all three of her great-grandchildren.
For 65 years, Levin-Porath was the wife of Rabbi Tzvi Porath, a fourth-generation Jerusalemite whose family moved to Cleveland in 1923, when he was seven years old. The Porat family, which originally spelled their name without an “h,” were from among the pupils of the Vilna Gaon, who settled in what is now known as the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.
Rabbi Tzvi Porath served as a rabbi in Washington for 50 years, before deciding to return home to the city of his birth. He and his wife arrived in Jerusalem in 2003, and managed to have four more years together before he passed away in 2007 – a week short of his 91st birthday, which would have been on Hanukka. He died in the hospital in which he had been born.
By the time he died, it had changed its name from Wallach’s to Shaare Zedek Medical Center, and had also changed its location – but it was essentially the same hospital.
Though already at an advanced age when she was widowed, Levin-Porath, instead of wallowing in grief, did something creative and constructive. She wrote her autobiography under the title, A Lady Ahead of her Time: The Story of Esther Porath; it was published in 2012. It revealed that Esther Porath was born in the US; her father was Rabbi S. I. Levin, the dean of Orthodox rabbis in Minneapolis. She is a graduate of the world-renowned Minneapolis Talmud Torah, and was a lifetime social worker and family therapist.
After publishing her autobiography, she and her son collaborated on another book dedicated to her husband, Loving Memories of Tzvi: The Life of Rabbi Tzvi H. Porath, which was published this year.
Respecting Levin-Porath’s enthusiasm for new experiences, her family is taking her to lunch this coming Friday, June 20, at the recently opened Waldorf Astoria, to wish her Happy Birthday and immediately begin planning for her centenary next year.
■ This was a great week for cinema buffs, as the Australian Film Festival opened at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Sunday with Tracks, based on the book by Robyn Davidson, about her camel trek across the Australian desert; the Greek Film Festival opened on Monday at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque with Brides, the extraordinarily sensitive, award-winning film directed by Pantelis Voulgaris, considered Greece’s greatest film director.
The Australian Film Festival is an annual event sponsored by the Australia-Israel Cultural Exchange, but the Greek Film Festival is a novelty in more ways than one. Whereas the Australian festival is showing films by different directors, the Greek Film Festival is a retrospect of Voulgaris’s film career; all the films being shown are directed by him.
But perhaps more important is the fact that according to Yair Garbuz, director of the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, there hasn’t been a Greek Film Festival in Israel for at least 10 years. Things might have continued on this way but for the fact that in honor of the Greek presidency of the Council of the EU, the Greek Embassy in conjunction with the Foreign Affairs Ministry of the Hellenic Republic and the Greek Film Center, decided it was high time for Israeli audiences to be exposed to Greece’s best filmmaker, whose work reflects the turbulent political history of Greece throughout the 20th century.
Greek Ambassador Spyridon Lampridis, speaking first in fluent, accentless Hebrew and then in English, was thrilled to see that the large auditorium was almost completely full, and thanked the audience for giving priority to a Greek film over football in Brazil. Indeed, in the numerous bars, coffee shops and restaurants on nearby Ibn Gvirol Street, hordes of people, while eating and drinking, were focusing on games shown on big screens that decorated the street. So it was quite a compliment to Greek cinema that so many people showed up at the cinematheque for the premiere of the Greek festival.
The supremely eloquent Theodore Daskarolis, who is one of the greatest experts on Voulgaris, gave an extremely informative talk about Voulgaris and Greek culture in general, noting how fortunate it was that today’s Greeks speak almost exactly the same language as the ancient Greeks – enabling them to appreciate the culture of their ancestors. He also spoke of the Greek heritage of freedom of thinking and expression. Lampridis apologized that Voulgaris was not present since he was at the Shanghai International Film Festival, but promised he would arrive in Israel later in the week.
Both the Greek and Australian Film Festivals are taking place at the Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa cinematheques. There was a much smaller audience at the Australian premiere, which was a pity because it was a really good film that Nir Becher, the deputy director and COO of the Jerusalem Cinematheque and Jerusalem Film Festival, said marked the beginning of the summer season.
At the reception preceding the film, the fare included Australian wines and Tim Tams, Australian chocolate-coated cookies filled with chocolate cream. Becher said it was easy to get addicted to both.
Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma paid tribute to AICE for making the Australian Film Festival possible and noted that Emile Sherman, the Sydney-based producer of Tracks, is Jewish. Because Sharma’s wife, Rachel, remained home in Herzliya Pituah to tend to the two younger of their three daughters, Sharma was accompanied by the oldest of the three, seven-year-old Diana, who has all the poise and grace of an adult.
■ Just as a woman cannot be a little bit pregnant, a prime minister who cheats the public cannot be a little bit corrupt.
He or she either is or is not corrupt, and purchasing furniture for private use for a reported sum of NIS 30,000 at the expense of the public purse is no less an example of corruption than double-billing on trips abroad, as in the Rishon Tours case.
The story initially published by Yediot Aharonot about the purchase of garden furniture for use in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s private residence in Caesarea, is not the first time in his political career that personal luxuries for his family members have been acquired at the expense of the public. One cannot help but ask why these violations of public trust are dealt with more leniently than those of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who was pressured to step down from office long before he was brought to trial.
In the case of the furniture that was originally, according to media reports, delivered to the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem and subsequently transferred to his private residence in Caesarea, the question begs to be asked: If Yediot Aharonot had not come up with its latest Netanyahu scoop, would the furniture have remained in Caesarea once Netanyahu was out of office, or would it have been returned to the official Jerusalem residence to which it was initially delivered? It’s rather sad that great men (and women) get tripped up by small stupidities.
In the ongoing Netanyahu saga, if media reports are correct, he is being tripped up more by his wife, Sara, than by his own foibles; the decision to send the furniture to Caesarea was reportedly hers.
Incidentally, after Yitzhak Rabin completed his term as Israel’s ambassador to Washington, his wife, Leah, neglected to close her bank account. During Rabin’s first term as prime minister in March 1977, journalist Dan Margalit, who was then working for Haaretz, revealed that in violation of Israeli foreign currency law at the time, the bank account was still open and operating. Rabin accepted responsibility for his wife’s misdemeanor and resigned that April.
While Leah Rabin was often openly disdainful of many Israeli rules, regulations and customs and came in for a great deal of criticism, she was more or less forgiven because she was a great fund-raiser for various Israeli causes – particularly Alut – The Israel Society for Autistic Children, which she chaired from its inception, making a point of personally meeting with each and every autistic child under the organization’s auspices.
Leah Rabin also played tennis regularly; she was one of Israel’s fashion icons, and a patron of the arts. In other words, she was a personality in her own right, with no need to trade on her husband’s title.
Sara Netanyahu may be doing a lot of good things in secret. But if so, the Israeli media has yet to discover what her good deeds are. She seems to have little respect not only for the public purse, but also for religious sensitivities.
Indeed, while it is true she wore a modest dress to Yeshivat Hakotel for the sheva brachot following the marriage of Shas leader Arye Deri’s daughter, she did not cover her head. It’s not as if she doesn’t own a hat; she wore one to the funeral of Margaret Thatcher. This begs the question: How is it that the wife of a prime minister of Israel, who has been battling to introduce legislation to the effect that Israel is the national homeland of the Jewish people, gives greater respect to Christian tradition than to her own Jewish tradition?
■ Israel Prize laureate Dani Karavan, who is one of the country’s foremost sculptors and has exhibited extensively abroad, including in France, will tonight receive the French Legion of Honor, at a reception hosted by French Ambassador Patrick Maisonnave at his residence in Jaffa.