Grapevine: The highest accolade of all

Rivlin traveled to Tel Aviv’s Charles Bronfman Auditorium to join in the gala celebration for Rabbi Elimelech Firer, the founder of Ezra Lemarpeh.

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November 20, 2014 20:53
President Reuven Rivlin

Presdident Reuven Rivlin with Rabbi Elimelech Firer. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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After an emotionally draining two days on Tuesday and Wednesday – in which he visited the IDF induction center to talk to young conscripts and later participated in the funerals of the victims of the terrorist attack in Jerusalem’s Har Nof – President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday night had a happier task.

Rivlin traveled to Tel Aviv’s Charles Bronfman Auditorium to join in the gala celebration under the patronage of philanthropist Leonid Nevzlin, to honor Rabbi Elimelech Firer, the founder of Ezra Lemarpeh – which helps individuals and families get the most efficient and effective diagnoses and treatment for any illnesses that individuals or family members may have. Firer is familiar to physicians all over Israel and around the world, and has an amazing grasp of medical knowledge though he has had no formal training in medicine.

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Nevzlin attended the event together with his current companion, art consultant Tatyana Greenberg.

Rivlin, in praising the work of Ezra Lemarpeh, said residents of communities on the confrontation line not only have to cope with constant security concerns, but also with their place on Israel’s list of priorities. Sometimes a different spirit enters the gap between the government’s priorities and the needs that arise from the any given place in Israel; sometimes a spirit of mutual responsibility intervenes.

The spirit of giving and the spirit of the heart are personified by Ezra Lemarpeh, said Rivlin.

It is impossible to estimate how many lives have been saved by Firer’s intervention and his ability to point people in the right direction, towards a physician who can best treat a specific malady. He has already received Israel’s two highest civilian accolades, the Israel Prize and the President’s Medal of Distinction.

But perhaps for him, as a representative of the haredi community, the highest award is living up to the Talmudic maxim, “He who saves a single life, saves the entire world.” Firer has saved many, many worlds.



■ Scores of leading figures from Israel’s business community were hosted by Ilan Sasson, representing the Rom Kinneret Investment Group, at the laying of the cornerstone for the 400-room luxury Sea Hotel – which will be built on the Bat Yam beach at an investment of NIS 550 million. Guests enjoyed an exhibit of Ferrari and Maserati cars, as well as the launch of the new Padani jewelry collection and a performance by singer Shiri Maimon. Sasson said the Sea Hotel, scheduled to open in 2017, will be part of a tri-hotel complex that will turn the Bat Yam beach into the Israeli Riviera.

Italian Ambassador Francesco Maria Talo and his wife, Ornella, were thrilled to see the cars, which Talo described as the pride of Italy.

Other guests included Oren Hadad, CEO of Auto Italia; Honorary Consul for Austria Pinchas Zeltzer and his wife, Miri; Ran Presberg, the proprietor of Bulthaup Israel; and several lawyers.

■ Veteran Danish-born journalist Richard Oestermann held the launch of his latest book, Me and the Middle East, at Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim – where the overwhelming majority of the guests were Scandinavians. Oestermann, who writes for Danish and Norwegian publications, came to Israel in 1961 to cover the Eichmann Trial and decided to stay.

Among the interesting mix of people attending the book launch were Norwegian Ambassador Svein Sevje, and Danish-born Chief Rabbi of Norway and former Israeli cabinet minister Rabbi Michael Melchior. Sevje is a longtime admirer of Oestermann, having for years read his reports in the Norwegian press; Melchior, who has lived in Jerusalem since 1986, is also quite familiar with Oestermann.

Sevje previously served in Israel for four years in the late 1990s, as his country’s minister counselor; before that, he came for two separate stints as a kibbutz volunteer. He is also proud of the fact that Norway contributed €3m. to Polin, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, for the purpose of underwriting the museum’s educational program promoting tolerance and multicultural awareness. He is equally proud of the fact that in November 1947, Norway voted in favor of the partition of Palestine leading to the establishment of the State of Israel.

Sevje expressed admiration for the fact that Oestermann, at 88, is still writing. Oestermann left no doubt of this and announced that in addition to the English edition of his book, there would also be Hebrew, Norwegian and Danish editions.

Ilan Greenfield, CEO of Gefen Publishing, said this was the third book by Oestermann published by Gefen; the other two were Every Second Counts and Born Again, an anthology of 35 human interest stories about Israelis the headlines ignored. Greenfield and subsequently, veteran photojournalist David Rubinger, made the comparison between journalists of Oestermann’s pre-computer generation and those of today. “We had a different approach to our work, a more thorough approach – because we had time,” said the nonagenarian Rubinger.

Modern journalists don’t have that luxury because of the Internet. News is old within seven minutes, Rubinger continued. Another difference he pointed to was that the journalists of his and Oestermann’s generation tried to explain to the public the background against which the news was set. “Journalists today don’t have a chance to look at events more deeply.” He instanced television sound bites, which are sometimes no more than 10 seconds.

While Rubinger was diplomatic on the subject, Greenfield was just a step away from being brutal in his criticism of current journalists. Unlike contemporary journalists who can easily refer to computer files, Oestermann has a scrapbook archive of everything he has ever published, said Greenfield. To glean material for his current volume, he needed to go through his scrapbooks – which, in all honesty, was painstaking work.

Throughout his career, Oestermann has not allowed anything to sidetrack him when he’s interviewing someone.

He comes with 25 prepared questions; if his interviewee wants to ask him something, Oestermann is quietly insistent that he be allowed to ask his own questions first.

The ploy worked with Harry S. Truman and subsequently with David Ben-Gurion. At the end of the interview, Ben-Gurion for some strange reason asked Oestermann about his mother’s maiden name. To which Oestermann replied: “The same as yours: Gruen. You must be my longlost Uncle David.”

■ Melchior did not speak at the book launch but only a few days earlier, had been very vocal at a discussion with Reverend Canon Andrew White, known as the Vicar of Baghdad, and British journalist, columnist, author and public commentator Melanie Phillips. They were debating whether religion can be a cause for peace rather than a cause for conflict in the Middle East; this was only a few days before the callous Har Nof attack There were very few empty seats in historic Weizmann Hall in the Jewish Agency Building, at the event organized by Europeans for Israel.

However, it soon became clear that the bulk of the audience comprised a Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland delegation, plus a group of rabbis and trainee rabbis under the auspices of Rabbi Gideon Silverstone.

Unfortunately, some of the visitors missed out on a lot of what was said because, tired from what must have been an exhausting day, they nodded off.

There was consensus that Jerusalem is at the heart of the problem, with Phillips commenting that when it comes to religion, Britain as a post-religious society is “an equal-opportunity hater.” Britain denies Islamic jihad or that it has anything to do with religion, she said. “In Britain, Islamic terror is a perversion of Islam – because Islam is a religion of peace.” Phillips does not share this view of so many of her fellow countrymen, and noted that “history teaches us that Islam is a religion of conflict.”

Jerusalem, she added, is the flashpoint for religious conflict and has been manipulated to incite violence.

The religious component in the conflict has not been sufficiently recognized, she stated. Looking back at centuries of Jewish persecution at the hands of Christians acting in the name of religion, Phillips underscored that Christianity has reformed itself, and wondered whether it was also possible to reform Islam.

White, who has worked on several interfaith projects with Melchior, called him “my real rebbe.” A close friend of the Karliner Rebbe, whom he also calls “my rebbe,” he repeated that Melchior was his real rebbe.

“I am completely committed to Judaism,” he said. “I love my Muslim brothers, but the relationship is completely different.”

Relating to the topic of the discussion, White said religion has the power to cause beauty or total destruction. “Sadly, it has been mostly about destruction.” Nonetheless, based on positive relationships they have forged with Muslim clerics, both he and Melchior remained optimistic that even in a post-religious era, religion can be a force for peace.

For all that, Melchior said he could not blame those who look at the world today and say religion is the problem. “Religion is the major source of conflict in the world today,” Melchior declared. And to his credit, he made no effort to whitewash Jewish religious extremists, who he observed include both rabbis and politicians that, when coming into power, have created “a dangerous slippery slope.”

There was consensus among the three that democracy is the best road to take towards peace. Democracy is not just a question of casting a vote, said Melchior, but of building dialogue between groups in society to make it function. The language of religious peace is different from the language of secular peace, he said, because religious peace is based on values whereas secular peace is one of interests.

■ Begging the question as to whether there is such a thing as Jewish fashion, Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People assembled the creations of some leading international designers who happen to be members of the Jewish faith, displaying them in a most interesting manner in one of the museum’s galleries.

Elsewhere, there were blown-up photographs of early-20th-centrury sweatshops, Polish tailors, the Levi Strauss jeans revolution and other illustrations related to the history of fashion and the Jews who contributed to it.

The exhibition, under the title “Dream Weavers,” opened this week, and posed another question related to fooling the public. There was a time when couture fashion was defined not only by the design but also the meticulous workmanship, in which for instance not a single stitch was visible in hand-sewn garments, and elegant evening dresses were conversation pieces for the beauty of the cut and the fall of the fabric. Then came a period in daywear in which street urchins were the inspiration for couture design, and fashion was dictated by cut-offs, unfinished hemlines and threadbare knees in pants. The unfinished hemline with threads poking out in all directions also penetrated formal attire, as did cheap-looking fabrics – some of which can be seen in the Dream Weavers exhibition.

The question that any honest viewer must then ask is: Has the garment been classified as couture because of the design, or the name of the designer? Too often, the brand name is a camouflage for shoddy work. Some of the garments on display obviously earned whatever praise fashion reviewers had heaped on them, simply because no one wanted to mess with the designer and miss out on being invited to future fashion shows.

This does not mean there was no real couture; there certainly was. A stunning white gown specially designed for the exhibition by Alber Elbaz, featuring long trains front and back with white goose feather trim, was reminiscent of the decadence of the bootleg era of the 1920s, with the kind of glamour that went hand in hand with the illegal sale and consumption of alcohol.

It’s common knowledge that Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs and Diane von Furstenberg are Jewish, but not necessarily that Sonia Rykiel is also a member of the tribe.

Certainly, there is nothing in their creations to suggest Jewish designers work in accordance to a certain theme or code.

Veteran Israeli designer Miri Shafir, who is married to Israel’s fifth president Yitzhak Navon, was not among the exhibitors, but was one of many Israeli designers who came to see and be seen. She couldn’t understand why there was an emphasis on Jewish designers – when there is no such thing, she said, as Jewish design. It was merely coincidental that so many Jews had achieved fame and fortune in the rag trade.

Also seen among the veteran Israeli designers was former head of the Shenkar College Design Department Tamara Yuval Jones, known for her avant-garde creations before she worked for Shenkar, in animated conversation with Leah Perez, the longtime head of Shenkar’s Fashion Department.

No less interesting than the clothes on display were those worn by women attending the opening of Dream Weavers, with the range running the gamut from super sophisticated to super shlock.

■ Money makes the world go round, according to the old adage, but also often leads to family feuds.

That’s what happened with the estate of the late Shoshana Damari, one of Israel’s greatest singers.

Damari, who was born in Yemen in 1923, was brought to Israel as an infant in 1924 and grew up in Rishon Lezion. She was only 16 when she married her manager Shlomo Bosmi. Known for her deep, powerful and husky voice, and the exotic costumes and glittering, oversized chandelier earrings she wore, Damari was also the darling of the IDF – as was her supposed rival Yaffa Yarkoni, who was also known for her dramatic on-stage attire and ornate, eye-catching jewelry.

An Israel Prize laureate, Damari had more or less faded from the limelight in her later years and taken up painting, for which she displayed an extraordinary talent. In 2005 she teamed up with Idan Raichel, recorded two tracks for his project and occasionally sang with him in live performances. There had been a lot of publicity about them doing another project together, but in 2006 Damari, just a month shy of her 83rd birthday, was struck down by pneumonia and did not recover.

Her signature song “Kalaniyot” (Anemones) was sung at her hospital bedside by relatives and friends.

Damari had a strained relationship with her only daughter, Nava Bosmi, who lived in Canada, but left her whole fortune to her.

Bosmi died six years later and willed her inheritance to a cousin, Yigal Be’eri. This shocked other equally close relatives, who according to a report in Yediot Aharonot, asked lawyer Boaz Kraus to have Bosmi’s will invalidated, as it was written only eight days before her demise, when she was very ill and possibly not in control. Judge Yehoram Shaked of the Tel Aviv Family Court ruled the estate should be equally divided between all immediate relatives, meaning each would receive in the realm of NIS 700,000.

At present, what was Damari’s estate consists of two apartments in Tel Aviv and one in the Herzliya Marina, plus hundreds of thousands of shekels in various bank accounts.

Yigal Be’eri may feel cheated, but he was not totally deprived – he is also one of the beneficiaries of the judge’s ruling.

■ Is CNN presenter and economics expert Richard Quest making aliya? The outrageously flamboyant and irreverent Quest – who was once offered a job on the English-language Al Jazeera network, which he turned down on the grounds he didn’t think it would be a good fit given that he’s both gay and Jewish – will be back in Israel next month.

He will participate in the annual Globes Business Conference, which each year brings together leading Israeli and international figures from the realms of economics, commerce, politics and academia, as well as decision-makers, diplomats, young entrepreneurs and then some. The event also features international media personnel, who either write on economics or broadcast on subjects directly or indirectly related to it.

At last year’s conference, Quest interviewed then-president Shimon Peres. He’s back again this year, and in all probability will be interviewing Bank of Israel Gov. Karnit Flug.

Given that Tel Aviv is widely recognized as one of the gay capitals of the world and that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, Quest may very well decide one day that the homeland is home.

The conference will take place on December 7-8 at the David Intercontinental Hotel, Tel Aviv.

greerfc@gmail.com

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