Given all that he has done for the State of Israel and the Jewish people, World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder has accrued precious little reward.
He has not received any of the prizes awarded by the presidents of Israel to outstanding members of the Diaspora. He did receive an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University in 2009; but all things considered, he hasn’t really been given the recognition and appreciation that he deserves. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that he has been chosen by Bar-Ilan University’s Ingeborg Rennert Center as the recipient of this year’s Guardian of Zion award, which honors those dedicated to the perpetuation and strengthening of Jerusalem.
There are many outstanding philanthropists who have given much to Israel and to their hometown communities, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Most favor one or two particular causes, but Lauder’s philanthropy cuts a very wide swathe throughout Europe, the United States and Israel. Moreover, he’s a hands-on philanthropist with respect to several of the projects that he supports.
Some of his titles include former president and current chairman of the board of the Jewish National Fund of America; trustee and/ or member of the board of the American Joint Distribution Committee, the Anti-Defamation League Foundation, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Brandeis University and the Abraham Fund. He is a member of the International Society for Yad Vashem and the International Board of Governors of Tel Aviv Museum. He is also chairman of the Jewish Heritage Program of the World Monuments Fund, in which capacity he is involved in the restoration of landmark synagogues around the globe.
An avid art collector, he is also engaged in advocacy for the restoration of, or restitution for, works of art looted by the Nazis from Jewish homes. He has also served as chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. He is the founder of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya’s Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy, and a year ago he inaugurated an employment center in Beersheba with a view to attracting talented graduates of Ben-Gurion University to remain in the Negev.
And that’s just a brief outline of his Jewish and pro-Israel activities. He also has an impressive CV with regard to the general community.
Through the Lauder Foundation, he has played a significant role in reviving Jewish life in Austria, Hungary, Poland, Germany and the former Soviet Union. Many of the Jews from these countries, who have reclaimed their heritage, have subsequently made aliya and contributed to Israel’s security and development.
In addition, Lauder has created a nonsectarian international student exchange program linking New York City high school students with their counterparts in Vienna, Budapest, Warsaw, Prague, Saint Petersburg, Berlin and Sofia. A high percentage of these students are Jewish, and so the program indirectly contributes to Jewish identity and the sense of belonging to a global community.
A former US ambassador to Austria, he has also engaged in diplomatic activity in Syria at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has invested heavily in Israel’s communications industry, not only aiding in its development but also providing numerous jobs. He is an eloquent opponent of anti-Semitism and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and travels all over Europe and the US to speak out for Jews and Israel.
The award instituted by American Jewish community leaders Ingeborg Hanna and Ira Leon Rennert will be presented to Lauder by Ingeborg Rennert at a gala dinner at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on June 14, at which time he will deliver the annual Distinguished Rennert Lecture on “The Future of the Jewish People.” Before coming to Israel in June, Lauder will, on May 22, preside over the annual Jerusalem Post Conference in New York.
■ FOLLOWING HIS meeting last week with President Reuven Rivlin and heads of different faiths, in which they issued a joint call for the cessation of violence, terrorism and incitement, Greek Patriarch Theophilos III on Sunday traveled to Jordan to meet with King Abdullah. According to a report by the Petra news agency, the patriarch and the monarch discussed the king’s generous gesture in offering to pay at his own expense for the renovation of Jesus’s tomb in the Church of Resurrection. Theophilos voiced appreciation for the king’s efforts to safeguard the Christian and Muslim holy sites of Jerusalem. For Christians of the Orient, he said, this signifies restored hope for a brighter future.
■ IN ITS present format, the Knesset Channel, operated by the Channel 2 News Corporation, represents democracy in action, in that some of the people interviewed on the Knesset channel are critical of the Knesset. However, this particular demonstration of democracy does not sit will with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who wants to introduce a number of significant changes in the nature of the broadcasts, and who in February appointed a committee to carefully examine program content and to make recommendations accordingly.
Edelstein would like the Knesset Channel to focus exclusively on Knesset sessions and not on other newsworthy issues which sooner or later come up for discussion in Knesset committees, though not necessarily in the plenum.
Several journalists have interpreted this as a form of censorship designed to stifle any negative comment about the Knesset. As things stand, the Channel 2 News Corporation franchise expires in November and may not be renewed. Dr. Yifat Ben Hai Segev, who chairs the Israel Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting, intends to publish a call for tenders, and the Channel 2 News Corporation may find itself ousted by channels 10 or 20, which have each expressed an interest in securing the franchise for the Knesset Channel. They may be less eager if new rules limiting the freedom of whoever operates the channel are introduced.
■ WHOEVER SERVES as president of the state is deluged with invitations to appear at special events, and sometimes there are so many requests for functions on the same date that the president barely has time to breathe, rushing from one event to the next. Sometimes, no matter how important the occasion, the president has to refuse because he has already committed himself to something else.
But there’s one event that Rivlin would not miss under any circumstances, and that was to join in the 80th anniversary of Beitar Jerusalem Football Club, of which he is a former legal adviser, team manager and chairman, not to mention a lifelong fan. The festivities were held at the Begin Heritage Center on Sunday night.
Also present were Mayor Nir Barkat, former Beitar Jerusalem chairman Yehoshua Matza, who chairs the Begin Center, former star players and current members of the team, along with many supporters. In a sense, it was almost like a Likud convention, given that so many Beitar supporters vote Likud.
Rivlin, 76, said that he and Beitar were almost the same age and that his childhood memories were inseparably suffused with Beitar. “To be a Beitaree was, from my perspective, a way of life and a great honor,” said Rivlin. “We always used to say that one had to be fanatic out of love for the team and not out of hatred for the other.” This was the authentic Beitar which was loved by everyone, he continued, alluding to the racism and xenophobia which have pervaded Beitar in recent years. Rivlin said that he hoped the day would not be long in coming when Beitar fans would embrace the original values of the club, and that Beitar would be a great team with a warm, big heart, and would continue to be Zionist in the spirit of Judaism and would learn to understand the need to live in peace with everyone in Israel.
One of the highlights of the evening was the screening of Yarin Kinor’s documentary film Beitar is something else. Following the screening Rivlin, Barkat and Kinor participated in a panel discussion together with former Beitar player Yitzhak Jano.
■ EIGHTY IS the big number this year. In addition to the 80th anniversary of Beitar Jerusalem, the 80th birthday of conductor Zubin Mehta, whose birthday concert with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra last week was also attended by Rivlin, the IPO’s own 80th anniversary at the end of this year, and the 80th anniversary of public broadcasting in Israel, it is also the 80th anniversary of the triumph of African-American track star Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It was more than an embarrassment to Hitler to see the best Aryan runners beaten by Owens and other Afro-Americans on the American team.
Although the record-breaking sprinter brought honor and glory to America, he continued to be a victim of racism even at a reception held in his honor following his return from Berlin. He was not allowed to ride in the regular elevator for hotel guests but had to get to the banquet hall via the service elevator.
Despite the four gold medals, President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not invite him to the White House, nor did he confer any honors on him.
The biographical sports drama Race, a film about Owens that was released in the US in February of this year, was the movie chosen for the annual Pre-Passover get-together jointly hosted at Cinema City Glilot by the Tel Aviv Hilton management and Moshe Edery, one of the owners of Cinema City complexes throughout Israel. Tel Aviv Hilton chef Rafik Jabarin prepared an American-style menu; and the hotel’s general manager, Ronnie Fortis, and Edery greeted the hundreds of guests, who were by and large regular business clients of the hotel.
Also among the guests was former Israeli track and field champion Esther Roth-Shahamorov, who at one stage held five Israeli national records – one of them for more than 20 years. She won several gold and silver medals in the Asian Games; and in the traumatic Summer Olympics in Munich in 1972, in which 11 members of the Israeli team were murdered by Black September, she qualified for the semifinals of the 100-meter hurdles, but together with the rest of the team withdrew from the Games following the massacre.
In the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, she was the flag bearer of the Israeli team and became the first Israeli to reach the finals in any Olympic event.
■ UNTIL RECENTLY, when he became a copy editor at The Jerusalem Post, author, syndicated journalist, photographer, sculptor and licensed tour guide Gil Zohar had freelanced for 25 years. He was forever surfing the Internet to find ways to make some money. Around two years ago, he came across a notice from Mitchell Lane, US publishers who specialize in publishing books about different countries for high school students and young people. The company was interested in finding a writer who could produce an interesting book about Israel, telling the story as it really is without painting too rosy a picture.
Zohar – who is extremely knowledgeable about a vast array of Israel-related subjects, and who is also a perceptive and engaging writer who can punctuate even the most humdrum or fearful of situations with humor – applied, and was given a trial. He apparently passed with flying colors, because in the final analysis he was commissioned to write six books over a two-year period. Published in the Voices from Israel series, the books are titled The Experience of Israel: Sights and Cities; Americans in the Holy Land; Israel and the Arab World; Israel Stories of Conflict and Resolution, Love and Death; Israel, Holy Land to Many; and Cultures, Customs and Celebrations in Israel. All the books are written in a light and interesting style, and each, despite being a slim volume, contains loads of information that adults can appreciate just as easily as high schoolers.
After two years of email correspondence with the publisher, Barbara Mitchell, she visited Israel and joined the Zohar family for Shabbat dinner.
Here and there, he has shared personal stories with his readers telling them about his Jerusalem stone house that was built in 1886, and still has the original floors; or his tour guide exam in which only four people received licenses out of a class of 30. In describing Israel in a nutshell, he wrote: “It’s the world’s biggest tiny country.” Revealing that he had been arrested for retaliating against a driver who nearly ran him down, Zohar, in a crack at Israel’s justice system, describes it as “a practice of law and disorder.”
Each of the books is dedicated to important people in his life, the first to his mother, Joyce Raymond, who was born and raised in London, but spent nearly all of her adult life in Toronto, where Zohar and his twin brother were born. His mother, who made aliya in 2014 at age 85, was present at the book launch party at the literary café Tmol Shilshom, named for one of the most famous works by Israel’s first Nobel Prize laureate, Shmuel Yosef Agnon. The second book was dedicated to Zohar’s wife, Randi, a creative jeweler, and another to a Palestinian friend, Hajj Ibrahim Abu El Hawa, who for many years has been a peace and reconciliation activist.
Zohar said that he had taken on the assignment in the hope that the books would be an antidote for the anti-Israel poison that appears in the media. “The whole world is fascinated with the State of Israel and the Jewish people,” he said.
Following the launch, Zohar and his wife invited everyone to join them at home for a glass of wine and a barbecue. They didn’t have far to go. The Zohars live next door to Tmol Shilshom. The entrance to their home is in Yoel Moshe Solomon Street, and the dining room balcony looks out onto Shammai Street with a view of the length of Nahalat Shiva, bordered by Jaffa Road on one side and Hillel Street on the other.
In the final analysis, the festivities were held at Zohar’s mother’s home. She lives next door to him on the other side, and the reason for the slight change in venue was that Randi Zohar had already made her house kosher for Passover. Raymond, who is a life member of Hadassah and Na’amat, is also creative, but her shtick is knitting. In the entrance to her beautiful apartment is a bag with 100 children’s sweaters that she has knitted, which she intends to donate after the holidays.
■ WHEN FORMER president Shimon Peres was in Monaco last week to inter alia present Prince Albert II with the Friends of Zion award, it was not their first meeting. Albert came to Israel in 2013, along with hundreds of other dignitaries and celebrities, to join Peres in celebrating his 90th birthday and to participate in the fifth Facing Tomorrow conference. During that visit, following a tour of Yad Vashem, he also planted an olive tree sapling in an intimate ceremony at the Grove of Nations in the Jerusalem Forest just behind Yad Vashem. It was not his first visit to Israel.
He had previously visited in April 2001 with his sister Princess Caroline and her third husband, Prince Ernst of Hanover.
Prior to his visit in 2013, Albert and Caroline attended a special IPO concert in Monte Carlo featuring Violins of Hope – stringed instruments that had been rescued and restored after the Holocaust and in continued use for inspiring music after the murder of their owners by the Nazis.
Last August, Albert, with Nazi hunters and Holocaust researchers Serge and Beate Klarsfeld at his side, apologized for his country’s role in deporting Jews to Nazi death camps during the Second World War. Many Jews had sought refuge in Monaco, believing it to be neutral. In a moving address the prince acknowledged what had been done by his fellow countrymen and asked for forgiveness.
The Klarsfelds had encouraged his late father, prince Rainier, to examine Monaco’s wartime policy and actions. Albert also unveiled a monument at the Monaco cemetery bearing the names of Monaco’s deported Jews, close to 70 of whom had been rounded up and deported on the night of August 27-28 , 1942. They were among a total of 90 deportees from the principality. Only nine survived.
■ JEWS PRIDE themselves on having survived centuries of oppression and persecution, while larger, more powerful civilizations disappeared into the dust of history. But if Jews are to be admired for their staying power, Samaritans are deserving of even greater admiration, because they, too, have been persecuted and oppressed, and they are among the smallest populations in the world, numbering in total less than a thousand souls. They live in accordance with the laws of the Bible, but are neither Jews nor Muslims – nor Christians for that matter. They observe many of the religious rules and customs observed by Jews, but not necessarily in the same way.
With the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, Jews stopped offering the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb, but symbolically introduced a lamb shank to the Seder table. The Samaritans were not permitted to sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem, and instead carry out their sacrifices on Mount Gerizim, near Nablus.
There are actually two Samaritan communities – one in Nablus and the other in Holon.
The Samaritans, who have never left the Holy Land, continue to offer a Passover sacrifice of the Paschal lamb on Mount Gerizim, which they will do on Wednesday. The Samaritans ascend Mount Gerizim on the three pilgrimage festivals. Abdullah Tawfiq is currently the high priest, and Hosni Wassaf, who is also a Samaritan priest, is the curator of the Samaritan Museum.
All the participants in the ceremony of the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb are dressed in white. At noon the kilns are ignited under the supervision of the priests, and at sundown everyone gathers around the altars. The high priest leads the prayers, with everyone joining in, after which the priest declares that all the sons of Israel will slaughter the lamb. The animal is skinned and its innards are burned on the altar. The lambs are then placed on spits in the kilns, which are low in the ground.
The kilns are subsequently covered with mud, and the lamb roasts for around three hours. At midnight everyone comes together, and the high priest orders the kilns to be uncovered.
Every family removes its share of the Passover sacrifice, which is eaten quickly. Any meat left over is burned before dawn. At approximately 3 a.m. all the males congregate in the synagogue for prayer.
■ APROPOS STAYING power, Alexander Zvielli, the most veteran member of the Post family, who works in the Post’s archives department and who writes a regular column in addition to occasional features and book reviews, celebrated his 95th birthday on Tuesday.
Zvielli has been working for the Post for more than seven decades.
■ HIS INTEREST in 3D printing and educational technology prompted New York bar mitzva boy Noah Helfstein to donate $76,000 of the money he received for his bar mitzva to launch what is believed to be Israel’s first ever portable hi-tech innovation lab to bring innovative do-it-yourself technology to Israeli youth living in peripheral areas. A seventh grade student at the Abraham Joshua Heschel School, Noah, his parents, Stacy and Jason Helfstein, and his younger sister, Talia, are currently in Israel and will launch what they call the Maker Bus at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, April 21, at Jerusalem’s Sacher Park.
The bus will travel the length and breadth of Israel, and its occupants will provide regular weekly courses as well as one-time workshops to students in the eight to 15 age group, with particular emphasis on Jewish and Arab students residing in outlying areas, particularly those who come from homes of economic hardship and from haredi families.
Back home in America, Noah partnered with the UJA-Federation of New York’s “Give a Mitzvah-Do a Mitzvah” program to get the project going; and in Israel, he’s partnering with the Reut Group and Ofanim to bring the Maker Bus to communities in the north and south of the country, where it can do the most good. Noah is grateful to relatives and friends for helping him to make his passion for wanting to help Israeli youngsters not just a dream but a reality, and needless to say his parents are very proud to have a son who is demonstrating social responsibility at such an early age.
■ THE CONFESSION by Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) that he eats bread on Passover has not rocked the government coalition boat, though it did cause a minor uproar.
Speaking last Saturday at a Shabbat Tarbut event in Holon, Steinitz said that while he is fond of tradition, nothing will stop him from eating bread on Passover. Perhaps the reason that the confession excited only mild media interest is that politicians participate in cultural events of this kind every week, and not necessarily in the towns and cities where they live, which indicates that they desecrate the Sabbath in order to get to their destinations. If they make any shattering political statement in the course of their appearance at the event, this is duly reported by the media, and it is the statement, not the public desecration of the Sabbath, that makes news. However eating bread in public or admitting in public that one eats bread on Passover seems to arouse greater consternation, as more Israelis refrain from eating bread during the Passover week than those who observe the Sabbath.
By the way, this year, due to the fact that the last day of Passover is on Friday, Israelis, like Jews in the Diaspora, will have an eightday instead of a seven-day festival, as Jewish bakers will not be baking bread till Saturday night. This is also good news for the hotel industry, which every year gets complaints from domestic tourists because the hotels, in deference to guests from overseas, keep the Passover dietary regulations for eight days and not seven. This year, domestic tourists will be more understanding.
■ THE OPENING two paragraphs under the heading of a New York Times article on wedding gowns “The Sexy Bride Look and the Designers Behind Them” read: “Led by three Israeli designers, a growing number of wedding dresses have taken on a distinctly Mediterranean flavor: low backs that skim the derrière, deep navel-revealing necklines and a shocking amount of sheer fabric. The sexy bride has become the rising norm, said Mark Ingram, the owner of an influential namesake bridal atelier in Manhattan, who has added the Israeli designers Inbal Dror, Alon Livne and Mira Zwillinger to his lineup.”
Later in the story, written by Bee Shapiro, other Mediterranean designers with similar concepts are mentioned, including Lebanese designers Zuhair Murad and Elie Saab.
Another Israeli whose designs are featured in the article is veteran designer Galia Lahav, who was among the first Israeli designers to promote low-cut body contour bridal wear with long, swirling trains.
Other than in traditional and religious circles, demure bridal wear is out, and sexy bridal wear is in. Pnina Tornai, yet another Israeli designer featured in the article, was also among the early advocates of sexy bridal gowns, and even went so far as to design them in colors other than white, cream or ivory.
Berta Balilti, another Israeli designer of bridal wear, is quoted as saying that some people see Israel as a religious country, but it’s a very sexy email@example.com