Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s belief that he is being subjected to a witch hunt is not entirely without foundation. The media and others, are seeking to make him responsible for the alleged misdemeanors of his wife, simply because he had signed the check for return of funds allegedly taken for his family’s use from the public purse. Yet while much was made in the media of the fact that wives of Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein and then defense minister Ehud Barak employed illegal immigrants, neither Weinstein nor Barak suffered the repercussions.
Someone should do a little thinking about remuneration for partners of public servants who are often expected to arrange and host events, spend time with spouses of visiting dignitaries, take an active interest in various social welfare causes – all gratis.
Perhaps if they did receive some form of payment, distinct from an allowance for expenses incurred in hosting receptions and dinners, they might be less inclined to take money from the return of bottle deposits for themselves.
■ IT LOOKS as if Harel Tubi, the director- general of the President’s Office, will be burning the midnight oil in the coming months. As of Monday morning, he and his wife Sharone have expanded their family with two bundles of joy. They are the parents of twin girls, who were joyously welcomed by their older siblings.
■ VETERAN JOURNALIST Diana Lerner who is still going strong, this week celebrated her 93rd birthday in the company of half-a-dozen friends whom she invited to join her for Devonshire Tea in the delightful vintage ambiance of the Montefiore Hotel in Tel Aviv. Renee Singer, who grew up in Britain where scones are par for the course pronounced the Israeli variety to be tastier and with a better texture. Lerner still roams around her beloved Tel Aviv as she has been doing since she first came from America before the creation of the state.
One of her favorite pastimes these days is to regularly attend Yiddish cultural events.
She is extremely au fait with much of what goes on in Tel Aviv, and among her circles of friends and acquaintances she continues to hold sway with aplomb.
■ EVEN THOUGH Arabs have voting rights, are a presence in all of Israel’s universities, reach high-level positions in the nation’s hospitals and have even served in the country’s diplomatic corps, the general feeling among them is of inequality. That’s the opinion of Rasha Athamni, a 29-year-old Israeli-Arab alumna of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who was born in Baka al-Gharbiya, lives in the capital’s Nahlaot neighborhood and is the first female in her family to graduate high school and university.
In addition to Arabic, she speaks Hebrew like a Sabra and English like an American. She looks like a Yemenite, is fiercely independent, believes in women’s empowerment and is yet respectful of the community from which she stems. She is an eloquent and convincing speaker who would love to go into politics, but not as a member of any of the existing Arab political parties. She would like to form a party that includes both Arabs and Jews and that works to improve life for Israeli Arabs rather than for Palestinians. She is familiar with the Knesset, having worked there as a guide, but the most important item on her curriculum vitae is the fact that she was selected to be Israel’s first youth delegate to the United Nations General Assembly and spent three months there representing the state as an Israeli Arab. She had documents with her from the Foreign Ministry attesting to her status, but that wasn’t good enough for Israeli security guards before she boarded a plane to return to Israel from New York. While other passengers answered the usual security questions and were quickly processed, she was made to sit on the side, her boots were taken away for a long time and everything in her luggage was closely examined several times.
They were not interested in her Foreign Ministry ID card or the fact that for three months she’d represented Israel in New York. There is such a thing as being over zealous about security, which would explain why Athamni is both hurt and angry. On her return she wrote a letter to the Foreign Ministry about the humiliation she had endured. The reply was that they were aware of the problem but there was nothing they could do about it. Yet despite humiliation and other aspects of inequality, the charismatic Athamni is returning to the US in two months time to undertake a speaking tour aimed at setting people straight on misconceptions about Israel.
■ FOR GRANDMOTHERS and great-grandmothers who were in the audience at the showing of the Castro Spring-Summer runway collection, there was a distinct feeling of déjà vu, with the return to the sophisticated ultra glam of fashion eras in which the classic simplicity of the cut and the dramatic fall of the fabric conveyed a sense of supreme but effortless elegance. In recent years, designers aiming for innovation came up with combinations of pleats, flounces, ruches and patchwork all in the one garment. Castro has in the past used one or at most two of these elements in any one piece, its accent has generally been on simplicity. However, this time, the design team truly outdid themselves, with wrapped tops and skirts, A-line dresses, skirts reaching to mid-calf and overalls with Palazzo pants. Most of the female collection can be worn by women of any age group. Castro is the largest fashion house in Israel, so it stands to reason the shows that launch its new collections are also the largest. Some 50 male and female models including presenter and Hollywood star Gal Gadot, international model Liraz Dror and popular male model Omer Dror strutted and glided around the edge of a square runway at the new Arik Einstein Sports Arena at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds.
Three generations of the four generation Castro family were present. There was Lena Castro, who with her husband Aharon built up a business that had been started in Aharon’s mother’s apartment when the Castros came to Tel Aviv from Greece. There was Lena’s daughter Eti Rotter, who with her husband Gabi heads the company; and there was actress, model and television presenter Rotem Sela, who is married to the Rotters’ son Ariel. Their offspring are still too young to bring to a fashion show.
Well-known faces spotted in the crowd belonged to personalities of stage, screen and runway including Maya Dagan, Yael Goldman, Yarden Harel, Eliana Tidhar, Anna Aharonov, Shiri Maimon, Agam Rodberg, Ivri Lider, Linor Abargil, Gal Uchovsky, Ravit Assaf and Einat Erlich. Also present were Yael Huldai, the wife of Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, and a large representation of Israel’s business community.
■ IT’S HARD to keep a secret from Barbara Goldstein, the deputy executive director in the Israel office of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.
There were several times in recent weeks when the cat was almost let out of the bag, but people about to say something they shouldn’t, stopped themselves just in the nick of time. What helped preserve the secret of the honor that was in store for her at the Meir Shefeya youth village near Zichron Ya’acov, was the fact that another Hadassah project was being officially inaugurated at the same venue on the same day. The late June Walker, who was a much beloved national president of Hadassah, had always wanted to set up a science and technology school within the youth village. Although such a school was indeed set up some time ago, it was never officially launched. The presence in Israel of a large delegation of the Hadassah National Board was considered to be a good reason to officially inaugurate the June Walker High School for Science and Technology.
But there was another project that had to be kept under wraps until after that ceremony was over. Goldstein may have become a little suspicious when she saw members of her family and some close friends in the auditorium, but attributed their presence to the fact that all of them had great affection for Walker. To the chagrin of several people present, Judy Sherick, a friend from Goldstein’s youth who had been with her in Junior Hadassah, paid a warm tribute to her following the June Walker dedication ceremony, presenting her with a huge bouquet of flowers. If Goldstein stumbled on to what was happening, she played the game and didn’t let on. However, the expression on her face after going outside and being asked to unveil a large new sign board, would suggest that she was genuinely surprised.
There was already a square named in her honor at Meir Shefeya, and this time around, Hadassah and the management of the village wanted to demonstrate the depth of their affection for her by dedicating Barbara Goldstein Avenue.
■ AMERICAN COMEDIAN and television host Chelsea Handler, who during her recent visit toured the country caught up with some of her heritage, made a point of visiting The Peres Center for Peace and getting into a long discussion with the state’s ninth president Shimon Peres, who was so taken with her that he gave her a personal tour. Handler was pretty taken with Israel and posted photos of herself, at least once topless on a camel ride in the South.
At other spots, she kept her shirt on, including the Western Wall. Part of the message that she posted was “Homelanding in my homeland.”
Peres, meanwhile, continues to accept speaking engagements abroad. He is scheduled to fly to London in May to speak at the gala dinner of the Zionist Federation whose director Alan Aziz was quoted by the London Jewish Chronicle as saying that this would be particularly poignant as Chaim Weizmann, a former president of the federation, was subsequently the first president of Israel. Peres had previously been scheduled to fly to London for the opening of the Olympic Games, but canceled the visit when it was realized that the opening would continue into Shabbat. As the Olympic committee refused to allow him to sleep in the Olympic Village, and there was no hotel within convenient walking distance Peres decided not to attend.
Although not religiously observant, during his periods as president and prime minister, he refrained from public desecration of the Sabbath. In November 2008, Queen Elizabeth II conferred an honorary knighthood on Peres. It is not known at this stage whether he will ask for an audience with the queen when he visits in May, and whether she would have time to receive him even if he did ask.
■ NOTWITHSTANDING THE fact that all three of her daughters took turns in staying home sick from school transformed Julie Fisher, wife of US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, into a nurse and waitress, she still managed to host an event in Herzliya Pituah for chefs, restaurant owners, food writers and other aficionados with American cookbook author and chef Paula Shoyer otherwise known for her book The Kosher Baker. Fisher says that she had fun introducing Shoyer to an audience that included well known local chefs such as Reena Pushkarna, Jamie Geller and Tom Franz. She lauded Shoyer as being “not only a fantastic baker, but also a talented and enjoyable speaker.”
Shoyer, a celebrated pastry chef and mother of four, owns and operates Paula’s Parisian Pastries Cooking School in Chevy Chase, Maryland. She received her pastry diploma in 1996 from the Ritz-Escoffier École de Gastronomie Française in Paris, and has authored and edited popular kosher cookbooks. She teaches classes in French pastry and Jewish cuisine to adults and children. A former attorney and speech writer, who while living in Europe enrolled in a pastry course in Paris simply for fun, discovering that her forte was more in baking than law. After being asked to bake for friends, she began operating a dessert catering business in Geneva, Switzerland.
During her two years there, she was asked to teach some classes to help raise money for Jewish organizations. On her return to America, she began teaching classes in French pastry and Jewish cooking and baking initially in the Washington, DC area and subsequently throughout the United States.
Shoyer had planned a career in medicine.
But while a pre-med student in college, she suffered a chemistry accident and switched to law. It was a satisfying profession for a few years, but she’s having a much better time as a traveling chef. She’s even got a built-in team to sample new recipes.
■ CERTAIN ISRAELIS have long been preoccupied with the marital status of supermodel Bar Refaeli, who is arguably the best known non-political Israeli in the world. When Refaeli, or rather her parents sought to find a means for her to evade mandatory army service, they arranged for her to enter into a fictitious but legally binding marriage with family friend Arik Weinstein. She subsequently had a series of romantic liaisons the most famous of which was the on-again-off-again romance with Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio. That one lasted four years from 2005 to 2009.
Thereafter, a few more short term romances until Refaeli met up with businessman Adi Ezra who is 11 years her senior. Here too it has been an on-againoff- again affair – but mostly on over a 30-month period. A couple of months back the two took up residence together in one of the luxury high-rises in north Tel Aviv, leading to a speculation that they would soon announce that they would wed. In fact, last week the rumor was so hot that it led several media outlets to publish reports to the effect that Ezra had proposed and Refaeli had responded in the affirmative.
However, the following day, in the course of a photo shoot for Carolina Lemke Berlin eyewear, Refaeli told reporters that the rumor was nothing more than poppycock.
It could be one of those Shakespearean things about protesting too much, but if Refaeli and Ezra are happy in their relationship, which they most certainly appear to be, neither may see the need for making it official.
Almost a year-and-a-half ago, Refaeli was one of more than 20 Israeli celebrities featured on a video that supported a civil marriage bill proposed by Yesh Atid. The bill called for marriages not performed by a rabbi to be recognized as legal and for couples who chose a civil over a religious ceremony to receive full marital rights.
Refaeli will turn 30 in June, at which time she may decide to consider marriage, but she may also decide that she doesn’t want a rabbi at her wedding, and could conceivably fly to Cyprus when she decides to say “I do.”
■ IT’S A three-decade-old tradition for Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to host a reception early in the year for religious leaders and members of the diplomatic corps. This year the event was graced by Jerusalem’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Aryeh Stern, who was elected last year after the capital had been 10 years without a chief rabbi.
Stern was one of the speakers at the event, as was Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III. Other speakers included Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma and chairman of the Sur Bahir Community Council Dr. Ramadan Dabash. As the host and mayor of the city, it was only natural that Barkat would officially welcome guests.
In his address he said: “This has not been an easy year for the world, and for Jerusalem.
This year fortified our understanding of the fact that the moderate forces – those who wish to build, create and advance – must stand united against extremists wherever they are. We are opposed to all manifestations of racist and nationalist violence.
It is our duty to act decisively and forcefully against all violence in Jerusalem. Jerusalem has responsible leaders that understand the importance of dialogue. Your leadership benefits of all of the city’s residents.”
Sharma said that “as the tragic events of past weeks have shown, in Paris and even in my home town of Sydney, they are values which are – sadly – not yet universal, and which are under threat around the world.
Let us commit in 2015 to work together to defend, protect and uphold such values, in Jerusalem and around the world.”
■ IF BRITISH-born Ashley Perry, who is 20th on the Yisrael Beytenu list succeeds in winning a Knesset seat, it will in a sense mean the closing of a circle. His father, the late Dr. Woolf Perry was deputy world chairman of Keren Hayesod Joint Israel Appeal, chairman of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, vice president of the World Jewish Congress, vice chairman of the World Confederation of General Zionists and a member of the executive of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization. His personal friends included people such as David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Sharett, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir and Zalman Shazar whose names are linked in perpetuity with the founding of the state. Born in London, Woolf Perry was the product of a well established and assimilated Sephardi family, and grew up with neither a religious nor a Zionist background. He served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, and rose to officer rank. While based in Egypt he decided to spend a weekend in Palestine that was then administered by the British Mandate authorities. It was a visit that changed his life. For reasons that the eloquent Perry could never explain, he became a committed and ardent Zionist.
Once the war was over, he devoted himself to the Zionist enterprise, speaking on Israel’s behalf in many parts of the world, raising funds and participating in secret negotiations with foreign governments.
Although he was part of the decision making process for Israel’s future, he was never a member of the Knesset or the government.
For his son to fill that void would indeed mean the closing of a circle.
■ SOME PHILANTHROPISTS give generously to various causes without taking the trouble to see how the money is being used.
Not so the trustees of the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, who like to keep tabs on everything that the Helmsley Trust supports. Thus trustees Sandor Frankel and Walter Panzirer from the US visited Ben-Gurion University of the Negev to inspect the robotics research that is funded by the Trust. In Israel, the Trust focuses on developing game-changing research, in this case with a $6.2 million donation to BGU in the field of agricultural, biological and cognitive (ABC) robotics.
Frankel said that the Trust “is proud to support the highly innovative robotics project that will help to make the world a better and safer place.”
ABC Robotics Initiative leader Prof. Yael Edan and her researchers showed the trustees and their wives research efforts to communicate with a computer using one’s mind, a robot that tracks and follows an individual person, attempts to harvest energy generated from people walking and a training system to prevent the elderly from falling.Greerfc@gmail.com