Friday is the official date of Purim in Jerusalem, and President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, will be celebrating with their grandchildren. But earlier in the week, they went to Hadassah-University Medical Center in Ein Kerem to celebrate with some 100 excited children, some of whom were dressed in Purim costumes. Rivlin explained that Jerusalem, as a walled city, celebrates the festival a day after the rest of the country, but also gets into the spirit of Purim well before the festival. Also present was hassidic singer Avraham Fried, who put his heart and soul into a performance for the youngsters and their parents, who all temporarily forgot the reasons for the children’s hospitalization, as everyone was having too much fun. Rivlin interacted with the children, embracing some of them, and before leaving, he and his wife distributed Purim gifts.
■ GUESTS ATTENDING the Baha’i New Year celebration at the David Citadel Hotel Jerusalem remarked that there seemed to be fewer people than in past years.
Most obviously there appeared to be a falloff in the diplomatic community.
Former El Salvador ambassador Suzana Gun de Hasenson, who lives in Israel, said she couldn’t see any other Latin Americans. Philippines Ambassador Nathaniel G. Imperial was among the first ambassadors to arrive and was surprised to see so few of his colleagues.
Informed that most of those who were absent were at a Purim party co-hosted by former president Shimon Peres and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, Imperial quipped that he didn’t have a costume and had therefore opted to come to Jerusalem.
Other ambassadors present included Periyasamy Pillai Selvaraj, the ambassador of Sri Lanka; Oybek Ishanov, the ambassador of Uzbekistan, and a good representation of ambassadors and charges d’affaires of African states headed by dean of the diplomatic corps Henri Etoundi Essomba, who is the ambassador of Cameroon, and including Sisa Ngombane, the ambassador of South Africa; Augustino Stephen Karanu Njoroge, the ambassador of Kenya; Martin Mwanambale, the ambassador of Zambia; and Ruben Marial Benjamin, the ambassador of South Sudan.
Some of the Africans went home via Jaffa and stopped off at the Peres Center for Peace, where the festivities were still going strong.
At the Baha’i reception, Joshua Lincoln, the secretary- general of the Baha’i International Community, began his greetings in Hebrew and then switched to English, saying that Naw-Ruz, as the Baha’i New Year is called, was a good opportunity for the Baha’i community in Israel to show its appreciation to its much valued friends in the diplomatic corps, various government ministries, state enterprises, academia, civil society and sister religions.
Baha’is in more than 180 countries were celebrating in similar events, he said. Naw-Ruz is more than a calendar date or a change of season, said Lincoln. It is an opportunity to reinvigorate the power of the spirit and explore how to contribute to the spiritual and material welfare of others. Lincoln hinted that next year will be a particularly momentous year for Baha’is around the world, as they celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith.
For Akiva Tor, who heads the department for world Jewish affairs and world religions at the Foreign Ministry, this was his first Naw-Ruz experience, and he was utterly charmed by the construction of a Baha’i garden in the lobby leading to the banquet room. Aware of the glorious Baha’i Gardens in Haifa, Tor said that the small taste of them in Jerusalem was “wonderful.” Having read up on the meaning of Naw-Ruz and its celebration following a month of fasting by Baha’is, he was impressed by the many positive things it symbolizes: joy, hope, renewal, beauty, perseverance and success.
He said that the State of Israel is proud of the fact that the Baha’i Gardens have been recognized by UNESCO, and he also commented that the Baha’i faith was the first major religion to advance equality of men and women.
■ AT THE Peres party, people from the entertainment industry seemed to be in the forefront and included David D’Or, Nissim Garami, Rita and Yossi Alfi.
Prominent among the politicians, in that she spent a lot of time with Peres, was Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni. The crowd at the Peres Center was enormous, and it was difficult to keep track of people.
Huldai came dressed as a Mexican and wore a huge sombrero and a red cape. Peres was somewhat more conservative, and his only concession to dressing up for the occasion was to substitute his elegant neckties with a large, gaudy gold replacement.
Among the diplomats seen in the crowd were Albanian Ambassador Dr. Bardhyl Canaj, Peruvian Ambassador Gustavo Antonio Otero Zapata, Paraguay Ambassador Max Haber and French Ambassador Patrick Maisonnave, whose own residence is within walking distance of the Peres Center.
Peres, who spoke briefly at the event, emphasized the need for unity in the fight against terrorism. “While our hearts go out to the Istanbul and Brussels victims and their families, we must continue to celebrate life and our festivals and not yield to terror,” he declared. Huldai endorsed what Peres had said. It’s still party time on Friday for Huldai, who will be joining the throngs who gather from 11 a.m. onward at the Purim street party in Tel Aviv’s Medina Square. Peres is in Paris, having flown there the day after his party, to sign an agreement with UNESCO.
■ VETERAN JERUSALEMITE Esther Rafaeli, who this year will celebrate her 90th birthday, was born in British Mandate Tel Aviv to parents who came from Poland.
When she was a year old, the family migrated to Australia, where she grew up. She made aliya in 1949 and soon after married Alexander Rafaeli, an immigrant from Riga, Latvia, with whom she had four children.
The family lived in the same Jerusalem apartment for more than half a century.
Earlier this month she read a news item about David Fremd, a resident of Paysandu, Uruguay, who when walking home from a meeting was attacked from behind by a jihadist, shouting “Allahu akbar.” The knife was plunged into his body several times, and he succumbed the next day. The rest of the story is in her own words: “When I read this my heart stood still and a big question mark appeared before me. How many David Fremds can there be in a town like Paysandu? They were a big family and there could be uncles or cousins with the same name. Two daughters of my cousin Mary de Kanovitz Szulc had married two brothers called Fremd: David and Mario. I had to clarify and I sent a mail to Mary (aka Miriam) to ask her if her family was involved. She immediately replied in the affirmative.
Mary’s father was a younger brother of my mother, whose family lived in Lodz, Poland. My mother’s father was a hassid of Ger; his wife bore 12 children of whom four did not live beyond infancy. My mother had seven brothers, and she was the second child. In the 1920s and ’30s, five of the siblings migrated; my mother and one brother went to Palestine, one to London, and two to South America. Mary’s father, Yehiel (aka Hiel), settled in Uruguay, in Paysandu, and when Mary married Avrum Kanovitz, she produced three daughters and a son. Two of the daughters, Ruth and Susie, married the two Fremd brothers. The family was very Zionist.
Susie and David had three boys and after graduating high school, each one came to Israel for a year’s leadership course. This was the occasion for us to meet.
One subsequently made aliya, while several members of the Fremd extended family had settled previously in Beersheba.
“In the 16th century, the English poet Donne said ‘No man is an Island.’ The Jews say ‘Kol Yisrael haverim.’ How right they both were.”
In the realms of Jewish geography, there’s another saying: When two Jews meet and have not established that they are related to each other, it’s because they haven’t been conversing long enough.
■ SOMETIMES, WORK takes precedence over Jewish holidays – even among the religiously observant. Barbara Sofer, a columnist for the The Jerusalem Post Magazine, is also the Israel public relations director for Hadassah of America. On Thursday morning she sent an urgent Facebook message to people she had invited for the Purim feast, asking them to come an hour later than scheduled because American comedienne Roseanne Barr, who actually lives in Hawaii, was coming to the hospital in the morning, and Sofer was accompanying her on the tour.
Fortunately, Sofer is a well-organized person with a very helpful and cooperative family. Barr, who is in Israel as the guest of StandWithUs, said at an anti-BDS event in California last month that she was thinking of moving to Israel.
■ LEADING FIGURES from Israel’s energy and infrastructure industries gathered at the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv this week to bid an emotional farewell to Patrick Kron, the global chairman and CEO of the French engineering conglomerate Alstom.
Kron is the son of Polish Holocaust survivors who moved to France at the end of the 1940s. Kron, who started his career in the French Ministry of Industry before becoming CEO of Alstom, has in his various Alstom capacities and executive roles in other companies worked in France, Sweden, Germany, Greece, Finland, South Africa and Israel. Kron, 62, announced several months ago that he wanted to retire.
Over the years he has been associated with some of Israel’s most important infrastructure and energy projects, including the Jerusalem Light Rail, the Ashalim solar project in the southern Negev, and Israel’s largest natural gas power station, located near Kibbutz Kfar Menahem at Tzofit.
Among those who came to express their appreciation to Kron were Pini Cohen, chairman of the Noy Fund; Eitan Meir, CEO of Dalia Power Energies; Israel Kroizer, executive vice president, engineering and operations for BrightSource Energy; Yaron Ravid, CityPass CEO; Doron Satt, chairman of the board of Dalia Power Energies; Avraham “Beiga” Shochat, CityPass chairman of the board, who twice served as finance minister; Yair Hamburger, main CityPass shareholder; Nissim Zvili, president of Alstom Israel and former ambassador to France; Ofer Bloch, CEO Israel Electric Corporation; Boaz Zafrir, CEO Israel Railways; Maisonnave; Orit Farkash-Hacohen, former chairwoman of the Israel Electricity Authority; Gil-Ad Boshwitz, managing partner at the Noy Fund; and Ran Shelach, managing partner at the Noy Fund.
Cohen, speaking in French, described Kron as a true friend of Israeli start-ups, who represents the spirit of entrepreneurship and leadership. Kron’s professionalism had greatly influenced the advances in Israeli infrastructure, said Cohen.
Zvili, speaking in Hebrew, English and French, said that Kron was one of those unique individuals who was able to surround himself with people of the highest professional quality. The period in which Kron had been involved with Israel was without doubt one of the most productive for Israeli infrastructure, said Zvili.
Speaking in Hebrew, Kron himself said that the time had come for him to purchase an apartment in Tel Aviv and to visit Israel with greater frequency.
■ MILLIONS OF viewers watching Fox, CNN, and other television news outlets may have seen the exchange between US presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz and former Yesh Atid MK Rabbi Dov Lipman following Cruz’s speech at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington. Cruz appeared to be engrossed in his conversation with Lipman. What were they discussing? The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Lipman introduced himself and highlighted his work in Israel advocacy and in combating BDS, and impressed upon Cruz the importance of American political leaders being proactive in this battle.
Cruz reaffirmed his commitment to making this a priority. Lipman also met with Gov. John Kasich and thanked both for their support of Israel and their denunciation of Palestinian terrorism.
■ CLOSER TO home, Public Diplomacy Minister Gilad Erdan, speaking at Bar-Ilan University’s Ambassadors’ Forum, warned diplomats from more than 50 countries that the BDS campaign against Israel is a threat to each of their countries, and urged them to work together with Israel to combat terrorist incitement and stop those who are spreading messages of hate.
Erdan also urged social media companies to become proactive in removing content and users that spread incitement. “Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube must stop making excuses and must be part of the solution.”
The BDS campaign threatens not only Israel but other countries in a variety of ways, said Erdan, citing as an example how the attempt to end Israel’s scientific, academic and economic ties with the international community would affect millions of people around the world who depend on Israeli innovations for their well-being.
He also stressed that if tactics against Israel such as intimidating opponents and silencing debate are allowed to succeed, they will quickly be adopted by others. The hypocrisy of the BDS campaign, which singles out Israel alone for condemnation while ignoring massive human rights abuses in other countries, not only undermines the basic idea of universal rights and standards but harms the effectiveness of the entire international system, he said.
But perhaps most significant is that the BDS campaign is a direct threat to those interested in a viable Israeli-Palestinian peace, and signals to the Palestinian leadership that there is no need to engage in difficult negotiations or make painful compromises.
“The BDS movement has not and will not influence the decisions of any Israeli government, right or left,” Erdan asserted.
■ FOR A fascinating glimpse of a Google Translate conversation between Channel 1 diplomatic correspondent Yair Weinreb and a young Turk who hates Israel and hates Jews, tune in to the Channel 1 weekend news roundup tonight. Those who don’t watch television on Friday night can catch up with it tomorrow night on TV or on the IBA website. Except for a few words in English such as “I hate you,” the young Turk is far from fluent. So the two men corresponded for half an hour via Google.