Grapevine: President on the run

President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, have a soft spot for people with special needs.

March 18, 2015 04:03
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN runs a stretch of the Jerusalem Marathon with special-needs kids

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN runs a stretch of the Jerusalem Marathon with Great in Uniform special-needs persons who have volunteered for the IDF. (photo credit: MEIR ALFASSI)


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President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, have a soft spot for people with special needs, and therefore made a point of encouraging a group of such runners in the Jerusalem Marathon last Friday – who ran under the banner of Great in Uniform.

The runners comprised a group of special-needs young people who have volunteered to serve in the IDF even though their particular disabilities would automatically exempt them from service. The IDF has made special provision for people in this category, enabling them to contribute their share towards shouldering the national burden, thereby enhancing their self-respect and self-image.

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Fifteen such young people, firsttime participants in the marathon who have been assigned to a variety of IDF positions within the framework of the Great in Uniform program, stopped by the President’s Residence to get his blessing. They got more than that: To the consternation of his bodyguards, Rivlin joined them briefly in the run and encouraged their endeavor.

“I’m very moved to be running with you,” he said. “In my eyes, you’re the great champions of the marathon.”

The Great in Uniform project was initiated a decade ago by Lt.-Col. Ariel Almog (res.), and thus far has enabled more than 250 people with special needs to become part of Israel’s mainstream and realize their dream of serving in the IDF.

■ THOSE PARTY leaders who say their faction will not sit in a coalition with a certain other party or parties, should learn from the example of the Arab parties – which despite sharp differences in ideology united in hopes that together, they would get more mandates than the sum total for Arab parties if they ran separately. In fact, if they ran separately, there was always the chance that one or more would not pass the threshold; on the premise that unity is strength, they joined forces.

■ ABSENT FROM this year’s Jerusalem Post pre-election debate at the capital’s Great Synagogue were synagogue chairman of the board Asher Schapiro and his wife, Lenore, who were seriously injured in a traffic accident.

The message Schapiro usually delivers about the Great Synagogue being an inclusive congregation with an outreach program that encompasses lone soldiers was read out by Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel executive director David London. He also made the point that while Israel’s English-speaking immigrants have been in the country for different lengths of time, have varying political viewpoints and affiliations, and come from across the religious and secular spectrum, they are united in their love for Israel and came in many cases from more comfortable backgrounds to make their lives in the Jewish homeland.

Quite coincidentally, two such people – Dov Lipman of Yesh Atid and former ambassador to the US Michael Oren of Kulanu – were among the panelists in the debate. Moreover, Oren – who came to Israel as a lone soldier 40 years ago and served in the Paratroop Brigade – had no relatives in the country, nor was there much concern at the time for the well-being of lone soldiers. Today, Oren is world chairman of the Lone Soldiers Association.

Lipman, who was the sole Anglo representative in the last Knesset, was honored last December for the most constant attendance and for voting the most on legislation; he voted on a total of 1,700 legislative issues between February 2013 and December 2014. Likud coalition head Yariv Levin, with 1,670 legislative votes, came in second; followed by deputy finance minister Mickey Levy of Yesh Atid with 1,580 votes. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) lauded Lipman as a “shining example of parliamentary responsibility,” adding that he was definitely deserving of the title of “legislation champion.”

Following the debate, some of the speakers were surrounded by audience members who wanted to engage them in conversation. It was suggested to Lipman that given his record, if he succeeded in being reelected, he should propose a bill whereby a limited number of MKs who had displayed conscientious responsibility in the previous Knesset – regardless of party affiliation – would be permitted a seat in the following Knesset. Lipman smiled at the compliment, but doubted that such a bill could pass.

On the other hand, because it would involve MKs from all parties, it might meet with more approval than anyone might anticipate – and would allow those MKs who genuinely represent the interests of the electorate at large to continue to serve the nation.

It’s just a pity to lose good people.

Bennie Begin, who was praised by Nachman Shai from the Zionist Union, was a case in point. Begin, a former minister and former MK with an excellent parliamentary record, was shunted aside in the Likud primaries for the 19th Knesset, and brought back into the public eye by a desperate Benjamin Netanyahu. Shai said he was truly sorry that Begin had not been reelected.

■ AMONG THE Israelis who returned home to vote in Tuesday’s election was Yoav Lapid, 27, the eldest of the three offspring of Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid. The younger Lapid is studying in Singapore, but came home to support his dad and joined him in a campaign tour of Sderot and Ashdod on Sunday.

■ ELECTION DAY yesterday was a public holiday, and supposedly a festive day for democracy. Veteran broadcaster Shmuel Shai says that today should also be a public holiday, in which everyone in the country should have the opportunity to listen to representatives of the various political parties apologize to each other for all the mud-slinging and ad hominem attacks. It would be a festival of contriteness, mutual respect and restoration of dignity.

■ WHILE SUPPORTING the Likud, under whose rule her husband has served in various ministerial capacities, Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes tweeted that she felt uncomfortable criticizing Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog because their mothers had been good friends, aside from which she personally likes Herzog. Nonetheless, she was convinced it was important for Israel that the experienced Likud administration remain in power.

■ INTELLIGENCE MINISTER Yuval Steinitz, at a meeting with Post editorial staff on Sunday, commended the paper for its objectivity and said he was happy to visit a publication that was not exactly hostile. He then went on to accuse other media – without naming names – of mounting a campaign to delegitimize Prime Minister Netanyahu. He found it incredible that Netanyahu’s popularity, which had soared following the operation in Gaza, had sunk so rapidly prior to the elections, and blamed the “aggressive media” for the change.

■ IN LAST Wednesday’s Grapevine, mention was made of Australians Sam Lipski and David Werdiger, who are attending the International Jewish Funders Conference in Tel Aviv this week. The overall delegation of Australian Jewish Funders has been in Israel since last Monday, traveling the country to look at projects and listen to inspiring personalities. The AJF Mission comprises some of Australia’s leading Jewish philanthropists who are committed to Israel.

Co-leaders of the AJF delegation are Debbie Besen Dadon, chairwoman of AJF and trustee and executive officer of the Besen Family Foundation; and Danny Almagor, founder of Small Giants, one of Australia’s leading impact investment companies.

The aim of the AJF Mission is to focus on strategic philanthropy, to be exposed to the issues and challenges facing Israeli society, and to look at specific topics like impact investing in Israel. Several of the people seated around the table had contact as parents of students or as former students themselves of Australia’s pioneer Jewish day school, Mount Scopus Memorial College, today one of the largest Jewish day schools in the world.

Some of them also donated funds towards the school’s extraordinary facilities. Tracie Olcha, who both studied and taught at Mount Scopus, is a three-generation representative of the school; her mother and her children also attend Mount Scopus. Current principal Rabbi James Kennard, who the writer of this column met during her recent trip to Melbourne, is particularly proud of the fact that 10 recent graduates of Mount Scopus College are currently serving or about to begin serving in the IDF. They are: Daniel Penso, Kyle Miller, Mai Guttman, Delilah Schwarz, Tamara Bach, Mikayla Freedman, Gabe Back, Josh Sacks and Abbie Debinski . Kennard said there may even be more graduates doing so, but these are the ones of which he is aware.

After touring the country and meeting a lot of impressive people, the AJF delegation had Friday night dinner at the King David Hotel, with Rabbi Shlomo Riskin as the guest of honor. Riskin, who visited Australia earlier this month, said that after Israel it is his favorite place, and that he manages to go there at least once a year.

Known for his positive attitude towards women’s Jewish education and their participation in almost all phases of Jewish life, Riskin spoke of his late grandmother, who had been such an influential factor in his life.

His father was a Communist who did not have a bar mitzva and his paternal grandfather was anti-religious, yet his maternal grandmother was very devout. The daughter of a Gerer Hassid who had no sons, she had been taught Torah, Talmud and Gemara by her father.

From the age of 10 through 20, Riskin spent every Shabbat with her, and she promised his parents she would supply them with meat on the condition they ran a kosher household. They kept the bargain, so he grew up at least eating kosher in his parents’ home. Because his grandmother was so steeped in Jewish learning, Riskin took it for granted that all Jewish women from Europe were thus educated, and was surprised to discover this was not the case; this spurred him to promote Jewish education for women. Most of his audience on Friday night was female, and they were all well-educated – at least in secular subjects, if not all in Jewish subjects.

Paul Israel, executive director of the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, who helped organize the dinner and has done so for many Australian trade delegations visiting the Jewish state, observed this was the first time there were more women than men around the table.

Aside from his own Australian background, what he had common with several of the people was that he too is a Mount Scopus Old Collegian.

■ UNLESS THEY are round-number milestones, anniversaries of historic events tend to lose their impact with the passing of time. Thus, the 35th anniversary last month of the opening of the first Israeli embassy in an Arab country passed almost unnoticed – except by those who served in Israel’s Embassy in Cairo in its initial period.

Those who are still alive are now all retirees, but continue to maintain contact with each other and convened in Jerusalem to reminisce about those heady days. There was Yossi Hadas, former director-general of the Foreign Ministry, who had the great honor of raising the flag for the first time on the embassy building; Nitsa Ben-Elissar, widow of Eli Ben-Elissar, Israel’s first ambassador to Egypt; Egyptian-born Ephraim Dubek, then deputy head of mission, who came back a few years later as ambassador; Zvi Mazel, counselor for political affairs, who was later Israel’s sixth ambassador to Cairo; Zvi Gabay, also counselor for political affairs, who could also have been an ambassador to Egypt but preferred colder climates; and Shimon Shamir, the first director of the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo in 1980, who also returned later as ambassador.

Indeed, in accordance with an old Egyptian saying that whoever drinks the water of the Nile will come back, several ministry staffers were later posted to the Egyptian capital.

David Sultan and Eli Shaked eagerly accepted the challenge of returning to take up the difficult post of ambassador.

On a more somber note, Yaakov Peri was head of administration in Cairo and helped Nitsa and Eli Ben-Elissar in what was their first diplomatic posting. As fate would have it, Peri was also head of administration in Paris when Eli Ben-Elissar took his post as ambassador to France; as such, he was on-hand to assist Nitsa in the difficult days following her husband’s death.

■ US AMBASSADOR Dan Shapiro was honored by ORT this week, in recognition of the US Embassy’s cooperation in the preparation and implementation of an extra-curricular study program that helps students in schools across the country, and in peripheral areas in particular, improve their English. Students not only learn English but are introduced to English literature and other cultural expressions of the language.

A special citation was presented to Shapiro within the framework of the Moshinsky Conference, for some 200 principals of ORT network schools, members of the ORT executive board and representatives of IDF technological courses. The presentation was made by ORT president Prof. Bracha Rager, ORT Directorate chairman Dr. Uzi Tzuk and ORT CEO Tzvika Peleg.

Shapiro spoke of the high regard ORT is held by the US Embassy and the US government, which recognize the quality education ORT is providing in Israel. Quality education from the earliest possible age is one of the most important investments that can be made in every child, he said, noting that US President Barack Obama had launched a Let Girls Learn program that helps young girls throughout the US complete their elementary and high school studies, thereby enabling them to go on to higher education and improve their quality of life.

■ ISRAEL MUST be “prepared” for new conflicts along its northern border with Syria, whose internal violence seems like “50 shades of black,” Maj.-Gen. Hertzi Halevi, head of IDF Military Intelligence, told the Friends of the IDF at their annual national gala in New York last week.

The FIDF raised $24 million, as more than 1,200 prominent business and philanthropic leaders from across the country gathered at the city’s historic Waldorf Astoria to demonstrate their love and support for Israel’s soldiers and FIDF.

“Syria has long ceased to be the state we all knew four years ago,” said Halevi.“We call it ‘50 Shades of Black,’ though I must admit I haven’t read the ‘grey’ version. One need only take a glimpse at their inner executions to understand why we must be prepared on the northern border.”

Halevi also said that the Arab Spring had turned into a wider religious war, redrawing the Middle East. “The maps of our area have been changing in front of our eyes; borders drawn more than a century ago are being recklessly erased.

The upheaval in the Middle East has turned into a religious struggle among armed factions.”

FIDF national board member Rabbi Peter Weintraub, who served as dinner chairman, has sponsored academic scholarships for more than 70 IDF combat veterans through FIDF’s IMPACT! Scholarship Program.

“Over the dozen years I’ve been involved in FIDF, I’ve been privileged to see how this organization makes a powerful difference in the lives of the brave men and women who defend and protect Israel – and the Jewish people,” enthused Weintraub.

“This gala provided a wonderful, stirring opportunity for us to say thanks, and to stand proudly with them.”

Special guests included 30 IDF soldiers of various ranks and military units, including Sec.-Lt. Enbal, an educational officer in the Artillery Corps whose brother, First-Sgt. Avi, was shot and killed in Beit Hanoun near Gaza during Operation Protective Edge this past summer. Addressing the audience, she shared her personal memories of her brother, who posthumously received a citation for his bravery.

Most of the soldiers who attended the gala received citations for heroism, including in Operation Protective Edge and Operation Pillar of Defense. Other special guests from Israel included former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi; Israel Defense and Armed Forces Attaché to the US and Canada Maj.- Gen. Yaacob Ayish; Consul-General in New York Ido Aharoni; and former ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon.

Prime Minister Netanyahu greeted all present via satellite, and thanked them for their invaluable support for Israel’s soldiers; $24 million was raised by the evening’s end. Notable among the donations was a $2 million anonymous matching gift made towards the FIDF Formal Education Program, which allows soldiers to complete 12 years of high school education as part of their military service. In addition, $5 million was pledged by the Marcus Foundation with Nefesh B’Nefesh to benefit lone soldiers. Several other gifts were earmarked for specific IDF educational, welfare and recognition projects.

Funds raised at the gala will provide services such as academic scholarships to former combat soldiers, financial support for underprivileged soldiers and lone soldiers from around the world, crucial aid for wounded veterans, weeks of rest and recreation for entire IDF units, as well as educational, cultural and recreational facilities.

■ COME JULY and Tony Blair, the former British prime minister who is currently the Quartet’s Middle East special envoy, will have even more reasons to visit Israel. Already an extraordinarily frequent visitor, Blair will be particularly welcome at the British Embassy, where his former private secretary David Quarrey will be installed following the completion of Matthew Gould’s term of office.

Gould is Britain’s first ambassador of the Jewish faith to be appointed to serve here. His term was extended by a year but the annual Queen’s Birthday reception he will host in June will also be his farewell party, one of many farewell events that usually mark the end of tenure of most ambassadors. Some are suddenly recalled to take up senior positions in the foreign ministries of their respective countries, and leave without fanfare or farewell – with the possible exception of a farewell luncheon hosted by the Foreign Ministry.

Quarrey’s appointment was announced last month. He worked as a private assistant to Blair from 2004 to 2006 during the ex-Labour chief’s decade-long premiership; he subsequently became head of the Foreign Office’s Middle East and North Africa department. Currently Britain’s top adviser on Middle East policy, Quarrey has worked for the Foreign Office for more than two decades and has joined UK missions at the UN in New Delhi, New York and Harare.

■ AT LAST week’s Canadian Crowdfunding Summit, OurCrowd CEO Jonathan Medved disclosed that his Israel-based firm will open a Toronto office by year’s end. “We think the innovation community there is a very much underserved,” he noted.

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