Grapevine: Largesse from Down Under

There are 70 international dragon boat festivals around the world including Israel, and according to local organizers, dragon boating is now the fastest-growing sport on water.

By
June 4, 2015 22:05
The Hebrew University

The Hebrew University. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

 
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Australian accents prevailed among those sitting in the auditorium of the impressive Rabin Building on the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus.

Most were members of the Australian Friends of the Hebrew University, and a good many were relatives or close friends of the late Berel Ginges and his wife, Agnes.

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The gathering was in fact a tribute to Berel Ginges, who had revolutionized the university through his gifts of computer centers and information libraries. Most of his immediate family was present, including his sister Seyma Lederman, who at age 80-plus came on aliya to join those of her six children who live here. Naturally, Agnes Ginges was there with most of her family as well.

Eliyahu Honig, a former associate vice president of the Hebrew University, was master of ceremonies – not only in the capacity of an Australian expat who happened to be closely linked with the university, but also as a friend of Ginges of almost 70 years’ standing from their days together in Melbourne’s Habonim.

Berel Ginges, who died just over a year ago, had been introduced to the university by his wife’s uncle John Hammond, who had been president of the New South Wales Friends of the Hebrew University.

Ginges was eulogized by current president Michael Dunkel, who happens to be his brother-in-law, and described him as a man of integrity and honesty with a reputation for being fair.

The involvement of Berel and Agnes Ginges began with scholarships and expanded to computer centers, followed by a medical information center and several library information centers. Berel Ginges was a handson philanthropist who was keen to have the beneficiaries of his largesse benefit in the best way possible for them. According to a series of professors, he revolutionized the system of learning on all Hebrew University campuses, working in close collaboration with three of the university’s presidents – first Prof. Hanoch Gutfreund, who got him started on computer centers; then Prof. Menachem Magidor; and after him, current incumbent Prof. Menachem Ben-Sasson, who said that what Ginges had done had been emulated by every other university in Israel.



Ginges had initially intended to come to Israel in 1948 together with those Habonim friends who had helped establish Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi, north of the Sea of Galilee. He maintained life-long friendships with them and brought them by bus to the dedication ceremonies of his projects. Michael Federmann, chairman of the university’s international board of governors, could relate to Ginges on many levels, but was happy to learn he had been in Habonim – because Federmann’s parents had both been in the movement in Germany.

Rosalie Hirsch, one of the four Ginges siblings, broke down and wept as she spoke of her father and his meticulous attention to detail. Agnes Ginges made the shortest speech of all, saying she was moved by the tributes. She and her husband had been full partners in life, she said, and also in their efforts for the university, its students and its scientists, who are so important for the future of Israel; she pledged to continue supporting the university, “because this is Berel’s legacy.”

Incidentally, the Ginges family is but one of many Australian-Jewish families and individuals who have donated huge sums to Israel through Friends organizations, the Jewish National Fund, United Israel Appeal, WIZO, etc. Some of the more familiar names are Marc Besen, John Gandel, Frank Lowy, Jeanne Pratt and her late husband Richard, Harry Triguboff, Shloimie Werdiger and Mark Leibler, to name but a few.

■ THOUGH INVITED to the Republic Day celebration hosted at his residence by Italian Ambassador Francesco Maria Talo and his wife, Ornela, President Reuven Rivlin was unable to attend because he was hosting the central Unity Day event in memory of the three murdered yeshiva boys, Eyal Ifrah, Gil- Ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel. The unity which engulfed Israel at the time was not restricted to its Jewish population, or even to its citizens.

In his address to more than 1,000 people gathered in his expansive garden, Talo referred to the three victims as “three of our children killed by barbaric terrorism.” He had visited the families more than once, he said, including on one occasion with Italian Senate president Pietro Grasso. He had also attended the funerals together with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and would never forget the dignity of the families.

Speaking of the feeling of unity not just among Israelis but between Israelis and Italians, Talo said that unity is also a sense of working together; overcoming difficulties, specific interests, history and narratives; and having a real dialogue. He also noted that for many Jews who had survived the Holocaust and were on their way to what was then Palestine to build a new land, Italy had been a stopping point and haven of harmony for Aliya Bet operations. Talo credited the Jewish Brigade with liberating Italy in 1945 and also paid tribute to Enzo Sereni, who he said had been a patriot of both Rome and Jerusalem.

All this, he said, “is only part of our common past” and spoke of “our common future,” based on technological and security cooperation and cultural exchanges. On the cultural side, he mentioned the Arakne Mediterranea music and folk dance group, which the previous evening had danced the tarantella in the Tahana in Tel Aviv’s Neveh Tzedek and at Talo’s reception had danced around the garden, pulling guests into the circle. He also mentioned the opera Tosca at Masada, the premiere of which was to be attended by some of his guests, and made the point that like Masada itself, the opera is a symbol of freedom.

Among the guests Talo specifically recognized was Efi Stenzler, world chairman of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, with whom Talo had planted a pomegranate tree in his garden. In addition, KKLJNF had planted a grove of 120 trees in honor of the Milan Expo 2015 – for which Stenzler subsequently presented Talo and his wife with a certificate. The Italian ambassador also noted the presence of Pasquale Preziosa, chief of staff of the Italian Air Force.

Interestingly, Construction Minister Yoav Galant, who was representing the government, has a personal relationship with Italy.

His father, a Holocaust survivor, had spent two years in Italy before arriving in Israel to fight in the War of Independence, and had learned to speak Italian fluently. Galant himself, as a Navy Seal, was trained with Italian equipment and according to Italian methods.

On a broader scale, Galant stated that Israel’s connection to Italy dates back to ancient Roman times, and that the Jewish community of Italy was the oldest in Europe, believed to have been established by Jews who came following the destruction of the Second Temple. Fast-forwarding to contemporary Italy, Galant thanked the Italian government for its condemnation of the anti-Semitism that is now spreading throughout Europe, and for its steadfast support of the peace process. Like Talo, he spoke in glowing terms of Expo Milano 2015, whose theme is feeding the world; he then underscored that the Israeli pavilion is an example of what can be achieved through agricultural technology.

There was a congratulatory videotaped message from Rivlin, and a direct video connection was made with the head of expo in Milan. On view was a gorgeous, bright-red Fiat 500 CCC, which will soon be seen on Israel’s highways and byways, and there was a raffle for a trip to Italy via Alitalia. There was also a variety of Italian culinary delights, with fresh pizza and Italian ice cream as the big hits.

■ THE BEGIN Heritage Center in Jerusalem in conjunction with the Polish Institute will host a special screening on June 14 of the film Karski and the Lords of Humanity by Slawomir Grunberg. The screening will take place in the presence of Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna, who is coming to Israel to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the renewal of Warsaw-Jerusalem diplomatic relations. It is a biographical exhibition on Jan Karski, a hero of the Polish underground who escaped Poland and tried to tell world leaders – particularly US president Franklin D. Roosevelt – what was happening in Europe, but the leaders refused to believe him. Karski was an honorary citizen of Israel.

■ AFTER INVESTIGATING and reporting political news on Channel 10 for well over a decade, Nadav Perry, one of its most outstanding journalists, tweeted on Tuesday that he had just notified his friends at the channel that he was leaving to take up a new path. Over the past 17 years, he wrote, he had covered seven Knessets and the time had come to tackle new challenges.

The announcement sparked a flood of responses, for which Perry tweeted his thanks and said that in coming days, he would take up his new appointment as head of the external relations department of Delek Drilling and Avner Oil and Gas Exploration.

Former colleague Shelly Yachimovich, who went from journalism into politics, was horrified that someone of Perry’s ability had forsaken the noble profession to cast his lot with Yitzhak Tshuva, the controversial head of Delek – but the company released a statement saying Perry had always been fascinated by the whole issue of gas and what it could do for Israel’s economy. To a lot of people in the profession, it seemed strange that Perry’s decision to quit Channel 10 came at a time when the channel was emerging from a period of uncertainty to one of economic stability.

■ LEADING POLITICAL figures from France, the UK, the US, Nigeria and Argentina will be among the speakers at the LGBT Global Conference taking place in Tel Aviv on June 9-11. Widely regarded as the gay capital of the world, Tel Aviv has long respected the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and has been sympathetic to its needs.

Tel Aviv’s heterosexual Mayor Ron Huldai has no problem appearing at LGBT events and will undoubtedly welcome colleagues from abroad, including Christophe Girard, the mayor of Paris’s Fourth Arrondissement and the opening keynote speaker at the conference; and Ed Murray, Seattle’s mayor, who will deliver the closing keynote address. Titled “40 Years of Pride,” the conference, organized by The Aguda: The Israeli National LGBT Task Force and A Wider Bridge, is expected to attract 150,000 people from around the world, representing many nations and communities with an array of religious and secular practices, comprising many races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and gender identities.

This is yet another proof of the folly of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.

According to Arthur Slepian, executive director of A Wider Bridge, the conference is being held in Israel “because we believe the Israeli LGBT community has something important to add to the global conversation about LGBT rights. There are so many places in the world where LGBT people face severe oppression and cannot be open: Russia, China, most of Africa and the Middle East, among others.

“Israel is a society that is open enough to have created an environment where it has been possible for an LGBT community to grow and develop, and stand up for itself.

This community deserves to be a part of our global conversation about LGBT equality.”

Many international conferences in Israel are multifaceted or multi-disciplined, and this one is no exception. One of the more interesting sessions will be on “Church, Synagogue, Mosque and State,” in which it will be recognized that spirituality and LGBT identity have a complicated relationship in all faith traditions. An even more knotty problem is the struggle for LGBT equality in countries with varying degrees of separation between state and religion.

Part of the conference will also be held in Jerusalem, with participants visiting the Knesset to talk to MKs and party leaders about LGBT issues; while the discussions will be thoughtful, the tongue-in-cheek title of this session is “Queering the Knesset.”

Far more serious will be the visit to Yad Vashem, where tribute will be paid to the millions of Jews, LGBT people and other oppressed minorities who were victims of the Nazi regime.

Aside from Hen Arieli of The Aguda, participants will include Yaniv Jember of the Kala Ethiopian LGBT Organization; Yiscah Smith, a transgender Jewish educator; Daniel Jonas of Havruta: Religious Gays in Israel; and Rev. Dr. Monica Corsaro of the United Methodist Church.

■ CHILDREN CAN be selfish, but they can also display an amazing generosity of spirit – as was the case with 90 Manchester youngsters who presented a check for £12,000 to the Malki Foundation in Jerusalem.

As part of their Year 9 trip to Israel, students from King David High School, the Yavneh Yeshiva High School and Yavneh Girls from Manchester, UK, visited Yad Sarah headquarters in the capital and saw how the Malki Foundation operates in a joint venture with Yad Sarah warehouses, thus enabling the management and delivery of home-care equipment to families throughout Israel.

The Manchester project has paid for six new customized supportive chairs and four new walking devices for children with disabilities, which the Malki Foundation will lend out to families caring for a disabled child at home.

Each piece of equipment will be used by multiple families for many years, helping to make their lives easier.

“Our main aim is to empower families to look after their children at home,” explained Malki Foundation chairman Arnold Roth.

“Specialized equipment like these chairs and walking devices can be transformative for many families, who are determined to care for their special-needs children at home instead of institutionalizing them.”

The Malki Foundation was started by the Roth family, whose 15 year-old-daughter Malki was killed in the Sbarro pizza parlor bombing in Jerusalem in 2001. Arnold Roth visited Manchester last year to meet the schoolchildren and speak about Malki’s dedication to helping others during her short life; moved by the story, the youngsters spent nine months fund-raising.

Speaking at the presentation of the £12,000 check, Jacob Rudolph and Omri Simon from Yavneh Yeshiva High School explained how their class of 14 students raised half the sum by packing supermarket bags and organizing sponsored bike rides, quizzes and raffles.

“This project showed us what we are capable of when we are motivated to help others who can do less than we can,” they enthused.

While in Jerusalem, the students met Kiro Kolavita, a parent of a child with Cerebral palsy, who spoke about the significance of the equipment provided by the Malki Foundation.

“Many of these Manchester students are the same age Malki was when her life was tragically cut short. It is heartwarming to see how her legacy lives on in the hearts of Jewish children around the world,” noted Malki’s father.

Yad Sarah managing director Moshe Cohen thanked the children for their good works.

“Your initiatives throughout the year are inspiring, and will help dozens of children with special needs for many years. I hope this project will point the way for you to live lives full of hesed [acts of lovingkindness] and tzedaka [charity] all your lives.”

Cohen then expressed his gratitude to Arnold Roth for his fruitful cooperation with Yad Sarah these past 12 years. “During these years we have had the privilege of helping over 2,800 children through the Malki Foundation.

The new equipment we will be able to purchase thanks to the contribution of these schoolchildren is good news, and will enable us to expand our service to even more children.”

■ ISRAEL’S MELTING pot society incorporates the cultural traditions of different faiths, nationalities and ethnic groups, such as the Chinese dragon boats – a dynamic, centuries- old team boat race. In Israel, it is a combined Canada-Israel-China initiative that is gaining in popularity and simultaneously supports charitable causes.

At the end of last week, the third annual Dragon Boat International Festival on the Sea of Galilee proved to be a great success. Proceeds this year went to Hebrew University’s Institute for Medical Research projects in autism and Alzheimer’s disease, with more than 700 participants from Israel, Canada, the US, Australia and China competing in the two-day festival.

On-hand to perform the opening ceremony was Chinese Ambassador Zhang Yongxin, who was obviously enjoying himself. Canada was represented by Ralph Jansen, director and deputy head of mission at the Canadian Embassy, and Prof. Ronnie Friedman, vice president for advancement and external relations of the Hebrew University.

Thirty teams from all sectors of society competed. The Hebrew University was represented by teams from the Law Faculty, Rothberg School of Business, East Asia Studies Department and Confucius Institute. Teams of blind paddlers, breast cancer survivors, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Chinese nationals and local teams from the Galilee region competed against corporate teams from Ex Libris and Habonim, along with a number of international teams.

There are 70 international dragon boat festivals around the world including Israel, and according to local organizers, dragon boating is now the fastest-growing sport on water.

greerfc@gmail.com

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