Grapevine: Lighting the torch

In Ireland, fried jelly doughnuts go well with a pint of Guinness, and Irish expats in Israel continue to celebrate Hanukka in this way.

By
December 18, 2014 21:49
Menorah

Menorah. (photo credit: REUTERS)

While political pundits are forecasting that Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid will suffer the same political fate as his late father, Tommy Lapid – who soared and later plunged in the Knesset election results – it seems the former finance minister has a large following among young English-speaking olim. The Tel Aviv International Salon, which caters to the city’s young professionals, had invited Lapid to speak this coming Sunday.

The demand for seats was so high that organizers had to change the venue to larger premises.

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It would seem that Lapid, a fluent English speaker, is particularly interested in courting this sector of the electorate – because the event, which starts at 7:30 p.m. at Trask in the Tel Aviv Port – is scheduled to conclude at 10 p.m. That’s quite a long time for any politician in the midst of an election campaign to stay in one place. And of course, during Hanukka, there couldn’t be a politician with a more appropriate name – which translates as “Lighting the Torch.”

■ SOME PEOPLE never step down from the world’s stage, even when they are out of office. One example is former US president Bill Clinton. Another is Israel’s ninth president, Shimon Peres, who met this week with President François Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and other influential French dignitaries, in a bid to persuade them to defer any proposal to the UN Security Council in connection with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until after the March 17 elections.

Peres still has at least one current title, as head of the Peres Center for Peace, and in that capacity – whether he’s sent on a mission by the government or the prime minister himself – can conduct meetings with the world’s Who’s Who on peace-related matters.

Peres is not backtracking on his advocacy for a two-state solution, but argued in favor of negotiations rather than an imposed timetable.

In the talks in Paris, he also voiced concern about the rise of anti-Semitism in France and other parts of Europe.

■ WHILE ON the subject of soccer, popular soccer commentator Zuhair Bahloul may disappear from the airwaves.

Many sports writers and commentators gravitate to covering or even entering politics.

Examples include Dan Patir, Dan Shilon, Silvan Shalom and Israel Radio’s political commentator Hanan Kristal, who often punctuates his political analyses with parallels from the sports world. Bahloul, who is among Israel’s leading Arab intellectuals, is considering throwing his cap into the political ring in hopes of trying to achieve from the inside what he was unable to do from the outside, and may vie for a place on the Labor Party’s Knesset list.

In broadcasts in both Hebrew and Arabic, Bahloul has often complained of discrimination.

Famous though he is, the feeling of equality as an Israeli citizen has eluded him, just as it has eluded Druse prize-winning journalist and former Channel 1 broadcaster Rafik Halabi, who went into local politics and is currently the mayor of Daliat al-Carmel.

■ DUTCH AMBASSADOR Caspar Veldkamp opened the 15th combined photo exhibition of “World Press Photo” and “Local Testimony” photographs. The annual photojournalism exhibition is the largest and most important of its kind in Israel, and will remain on view at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv until January 23.

Curated by the World Press Photo Foundation (WPPF) of Amsterdam, the World Press Photo exhibition is considered the world’s most prestigious exhibition of international photography. Local Testimony is an annual exhibition that features the best documentary and press photos from Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Photojournalists from around the world participated in the World Press Photo contest, presenting the best press and documentary photographs of events that took place around the globe over the past year. It is never easy to select the best from the best, and in such a contest, the multitude of entries is mind-boggling.

WPPF adjudicators had to weigh the significance 98,671 photographs submitted by 5,754 photographers from 132 different countries. The jury awarded prizes in the categories of politics and society, culture and art, nature and the environment, sports and portraits.

This year’s opening event focused on human rights, in particular freedom of expression.

Representatives of several human rights organizations were present to hear Veldkamp declare that World Press Photo stands for freedom of expression, a freedom that is not self-evident. He was proud that the contest, which originated in the Netherlands, continues to generate so much interest in Israel and around the world.

■ IN IRELAND, fried jelly doughnuts go well with a pint of Guinness, and Irish expats in Israel continue to celebrate Hanukka in this way. They did so at the Shamrock Irish pub in the Netanya industrial zone, with the perennial host of the annual Hanukka get-together: Malcolm Gafson, chairman of the Israel Ireland Friendship League.

Despite a touch of the flu, Irish Ambassador Eamon McKee made a special effort to attend, and joined in the traditional candle- lighting ceremony that first night of Hanukka. Ambassador to Ireland Boaz Modai sent greetings that were read out by Gafson.

Entertainment was provided by up-and-coming Israeli singer Michal Hoter from the Golan Heights, who is back home after spending a year in Ireland – where she studied at Dublin’s New Park Music College on scholarship. Now, she’s carving out a career for herself on the home front.

The occasion was also used to farewell Julian Clare, deputy head of mission at the Irish Embassy, who is returning to Dublin to take up a senior post at his country’s Foreign Ministry.

As exciting as the first night of Hanukka was for him, Gafson was even more excited on the second night – when he and his wife, Leah, celebrated their 36th wedding anniversary –a very propitious number in Jewish tradition.

The anniversary gift from one of their children is an anticipated bundle of joy due to enter the world before the end of Hanukka, thereby bringing the Gafsons’ total of Sabra grandchildren to six.

■ PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu is known for keeping both Jewish and Mediterranean mean time – meaning that not only is he invariably late, he’s very late.

He ran true to form on Wednesday at the annual meeting with members of the foreign press, at a reception at the Israel Museum organized by the Government Press Office.

The invitation was for 4 p.m., and GPO director Nitzan Chen told anyone who asked that Netanyahu would arrive at 6:30 p.m. Actually, he didn’t arrive until 7:05 – which was somewhat earlier than predicted by Glenys Sugarman, executive secretary of the Foreign Press Association.

There was a lot of mingling and networking, plus glad cries of recognition among people who had not seen each other in a while. The foci of particular attention were Linda Rifkin, a longtime GPO veteran now with the Jerusalem Press Club; and Moshe Milner, who for many years was the leading GPO photographer but now works as a tour guide.

A small but impressive photo exhibition presenting a worm’s-eye view of history in Israel’s contemporary saga included a photo taken in May 1938 in a tower and stockade kibbutz, where water for drinking, bathing, laundry and irrigation came from a row of flexible taps attached to tall vertical pipes.

Another striking photo was that of the arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport of Natan Sharansky, following his release from prison in February 1986. He is shown with his wife, Avital, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir, and their combined smiles could have lit up a whole room. By contrast, the photograph of Gilad Schalit’s release from Hamas prison is rather dreary.

Coincidentally, there was a Hanukka miracle on the same day as the GPO event: US contractor Alan Gross, who happens to be Jewish, was released after almost five years in a Cuban prison, and said it was the best Hanukka he had experienced in years.

During the week of Hanukka, Netanyahu and other dignitaries are running from one candle-lighting ceremony to another, which they do every year – but it’s harder when it coincides with an election campaign. Once under way, the GPO event also started with a candle-lighting ceremony, and the singing of the appropriate songs by IDF chief cantor Shai Abramson.

Israel Museum director James Snyder was doing a lot of networking during the reception, and in the course of conversation said he doubted any of his colleagues abroad had experienced what he went through this past summer – when 22 members of museum staff were summoned to active duty in Operation Protective Edge. Snyder maintained telephone contact with them whenever they came out of Gaza, and was happy to report that all 22 came home without injury.

“They’re my children,” he said. It’s very important to him that all of his staff members – Jews and non-Jews alike – feel part of a cohesive extended family.

■ WHILE A 1947 UN resolution paved the way for Israel’s statehood, it is the Bible which testifies to Israel’s centuries-old legitimate right to the territory in this part of the world. Yet too many Israelis are barely familiar with the Bible.

To amend this lacuna, MK Avraham Wortzman dreamed up 929, a method of getting people from all over to study one Bible verse each day. Spearheading the project, which was launched this week at the President’s Residence, is Rabbi Benny Lau, spiritual leader of the Ramban Synagogue in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood, a fellow of the Israel Democracy Institute and the leader of the President’s Bible Study Circle. Almost concurrent with the 929 launch was the announcement in the US that Lau is one of this year’s recipients of the Liebhaber Prize, for promoting tolerance and pluralism in Israel.

The 929 project, which has been five years in the making, has many supporters, including former education minister Shai Piron – who President Reuven Rivlin said will always be education minister for him. Other speakers voiced similar sentiments.

■ BEING PRESIDENT certainly makes for variety.

Just this month alone, among the things Rivlin has done are receiving the credentials of new ambassadors; hosting children with cancer; attending a gala dinner for children with special needs; presiding over the ceremony for distinguished service awards for police officers; attending the Globes Business Conference, the Yasmin conference promoting small to medium businesses run by women, and the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference; and hosting comedians Shaike Levy and Gavri Banai, who are celebrating the 50th anniversary of comedy trio HaGashash HaHiver (The Pale Scout), as well as various dignitaries such as Tony Blair and Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka.

■ WORLD JEWISH Congress president Ronald Lauder, who is founder and owner of the Neue Galerie in New York together with Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, hosted the fourth annual diplomatic Festival of Lights celebration on the first night of Hanukka.

Lauder is a former diplomat himself.

The candle-lighting ceremony was performed by Rabbi Arthur Schneier, senior rabbi of Park East Synagogue, and founder and president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation together with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird. Prosor took the opportunity to announce that Israel will contribute an additional $8.75 million towards the global effort to combat Ebola.

“We believe that global cooperation to address this threat is both a moral obligation and an investment in the long-term prosperity and security of all people. The menorah we will light this evening in many ways symbolizes the goal of Israel’s Mission to the UN. Tradition tells us that the menorah should be placed in a location that is visible from the street; it should illuminate the night and radiate warmth. And every day at the UN, my delegation works to shine a light on Israeli innovations in medicine, technology, agriculture and entrepreneurship that are helping millions of people around the world.”

Among the approximately 300 guests representing many countries were also some American celebrities, such as veteran broadcast journalist and television personality Barbara Walters.

■ HOW MUCH would you pay for a double magnum of wine? Last week, the second annual kosher food and wine festival was held in Miami, Florida. Exhibitors included 11 Israeli wineries, all of which received high praise from wine tasters.

At the opening $1,000-a-plate gala dinner, at which there were only 90 invitees, Israeli celebrity chef Moshe Segev proved yet again that kosher food can be as palate-pleasing as non-kosher food, and sometimes even more so. Appropriate wines for the seven-course meal were provided by Yaacov Berg, the proprietor of Psagot Wines, who also delivered a lecture on the quality of Israeli wines. This was followed by an auction for Psagot’s choicest wines, among them among them a three-liter double magnum of Red Special Reserve 2009 – which was sold for $8,000! The sale was highlighted by a battle between two prominent Miami Jewish families: Mercedes and Manny Ivcher and Lawrence Friedman. In the final analysis, it was decided that both were deserving, and each went home with a magnum. Proceeds from the evening went to WIZO.

Founded in 2003, Psagot is situated on a hillside on the heights of Nahalat Binyamin, north of Jerusalem. A boutique winery, it was established by Berg and his wife, Naama, who planted their first vines in 1998.

■ THE INTERFLORA slogan, “Say it with flowers,” has taken on a new meaning at the Ramat Aviv Mall – where an exhibition of hanukkiot by some of Israel’s leading artists includes a 2.20 meter high x 2 meter wide floral hanukkia fashioned from 5,000 flowers by Bentzi Gil, one of the top designers at Gil Flowers, the prestigious school of floral design run by Gil Shaked. Other exhibitors include Ilana Goor, Michal Negrin, Adi Seidler, Ofra Shalev, Hanoch Ben-Dov, Anat Basanta, Gitit Tan Pi, Reuven Gafni, Ruti Simon, Ofer Vanvel, Shahar Peleg, David Gerstein and more.

■ INTERNATIONALLY CELEBRATED Israeli- born architect Moshe Safdie, whose projects here include the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem, the Mamilla Mall and the David Citadel Hotel, and whose most stunning project in Asia is the Marina Bay Sands complex in Singapore owned by Sheldon Adelson, is the winner of the American Institute of Architects’ 2015 Gold Medal. The AIA’s board of directors decided Safdie was worthy of the profession’s highest honor in recognition of his humane approach to designing cultural and public spaces across the world, and for the way his work has influenced at least two generations of young architects.

Safdie was born in Haifa in 1938 and moved with his family to Montreal in 1953. He came to international attention in 1967 at the Montreal World’s Fair, with his Habitat series of stacked terraced residential units.

Currently based in Somerville, Massachusetts, Safdie has taught architecture in various universities including Ben-Gurion University, and has also written extensively on the subject.

greerfc@gmail.com


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