CONSPIRACY THEORIES abound about the timing of revelations of alleged political, fiscal, sexual and other indiscretions on the part of leading Israeli figures. Journalists who regularly cover Beit Hanassi initially believed that charges against President Moshe Katsav had been timed in his final year as president in order to prevent him from returning to politics.
A return to politics on the part of the president is not unusual. Israel's fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, stepped out of the presidency and back into the political arena and became education minister. But in this case, it is surmised, Katsav poses a certain threat to the Likud leadership.
This has led to many questions about why stories are suddenly surfacing of other incidents surrounding Katsav, during previous ministerial stints, that had been under wraps until now.
Similar questions have been raised about the charges against former justice minister Haim Ramon, who, before having his career put on hold due to an alleged kiss, was intent on introducing certain reforms in the Justice Ministry.
WITH REGARD to Katsav, some conspiracy theorists are claiming that there has been foot-dragging in his case. One of the explanations given is that several of his counterparts are due to pay official visits to Israel in the near future. They are leaders whom Katsav has met during his own visits abroad, or during previous visits they have made to Israel. One case in point is the upcoming visit of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, for whom Katsav will host a state dinner on Monday night. Kaczynski, who will be accompanied by his wife, Maria, previously visited Israel in his capacity as mayor of Warsaw, and during that visit worked toward raising funds from Polish expatriates living in Israel for the construction of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews - a $60 million project for which the city of Warsaw provided the land and for which the Polish government undertook to provide some of the funding.
Jews lived in Poland for almost a thousand years, and contributed much to all spheres of Polish life. According to Ian Traynor, the Central European correspondent for The Guardian, Poland will attempt to name as many as possible of more than six million Poles who perished during World War II, in a project aimed at countering what Kaczynski and his twin brother, Jaroslaw, who is Poland's prime minister, see as German attempts to rewrite history. The brothers are reportedly outraged about a Berlin exhibition on the plight of millions of ethnic Germans expelled from Eastern Europe.
In post-war calculations in 1947, it was estimated that 6,028,000 Poles - half of them Jews murdered in the Holocaust - lost their lives in the war. The new project was announced this week at ceremonies coinciding with the 67th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Poland in September, 1939, and no doubt will be discussed by Kaczynski in the course of his meetings in Israel.
REGARDLESS OF the outcome of the Katsav case, the race for the presidency is on, with ongoing proposals for candidates. One of the most recent is prize-winning author Amos Oz, who has been nominated by leading attorney Ram Caspi.
SIX DAY War paratrooper Dr. Yitzhak Yifat, whose awestruck expression on arrival at the Western Wall in June, 1967 was captured for posterity by celebrated photographer David Rubinger, has added his voice to those of protesting reservists. While Yediot Aharonot holds the copyright for the bulk of Rubinger's extensive photo archives, the famous photograph of three paratroopers at the wall has been appropriated as an historic symbol frequently reappearing in the media around the world, in official and unofficial publications and as an emblem on tee-shirts. It was part of series of photographs that Rubinger took for Time magazine when Israeli troops entered the Old City of Jerusalem that had been inaccessible to Jews for 19 years. Rubinger would have selected another photograph for publication, but his late wife, Annie, insisted that this photograph was more expressive - and history has proven her judgment sound.
AUSTRALIA'S NEWLY arrived ambassador to Israel, James Larsen, is extremely enthusiastic about being here. He thinks it's a beautiful country and only hopes that he gets to see all that he wants to see before his three year tenure expires. However, one of Larsen's predecessors, Ross Burns, who was suspected during his period of service from 2001 to 2003 to be anti-Israel, but who surprised everyone with the eloquence of his farewell address at the conclusion of his term, has stated publicly that Australia has lost respect in the Middle East because of its uncritical defense of Israel. Burns, who has retired from the diplomatic service, said in a speech in Perth last month that the present crisis has "outed" Australia's lack of a Middle East policy. "All we have is an Israel policy," he said. "Our government's response to the crisis has made it abundantly and publicly clear that Australia no longer seeks anything approaching balance."
Burns charged that the Australian government is ignoring the sensitivities of 300,000 Australians of Lebanese origin. "Australia seems to be happy to be a stalking horse for Israeli ambitions," he said.
Burns, who was addressing the Australian Institute of International Affairs and the Centre for Muslim States and Societies at the University of Western Australia, called Israel's reaction to the kidnapping of two soldiers "a blunder of major proportions."
He could find no justification for Israeli policies or military operations, regardless of any actions perpetrated against Israel from any direction. Burns's own lack of balance might be attributed to the fact that he was in Cairo in the aftermath of the October 1973 war, and subsequently served as ambassador to Lebanon and to Syria before taking up office in Israel.
ADL NATIONAL Chairman Abraham H. Foxman combined business with pleasure during his most recent visit to Israel, and brought along his wife, Golda, their children and grandchildren. Foxman's visit happened to coincide with that of former Italian president Francesco Cossiga, who was wined and dined by representatives of ADL Israel, ADL USA and ADL Italy in one of Jerusalem's finer restaurants. Others enjoying the gourmet food included: Alessander Ruben, the president of ADL Italy; Israel ambassador designate to Italy Gideon Meir, who for several years has been the main thrust of the Foreign Ministry's hasbara efforts; and former Israel ambassador to Italy Ehud Gol.
IT'S NEVER too late to come on aliya. Morris Gastwirts, who last week celebrated his 100th birthday at Ramat Rachel, in the company of his relatives and close family friends, was 99 and a half when - after annual visits for some three decades - he finally agreed to move to Israel from Florida, at the behest of his son and daughter-in-law, Harold and Lorraine Gastwirts, who live in Jerusalem. But his compliance was conditional. He did not want to live in a retirement home, nor did he want to live with his son. He valued his independence and he wanted his own apartment. His only concession was that he agreed to the employment of a caregiver.
"He's my oldest oleh," said Jewish Agency aliya emissary Moshe Ben Ami. "When I heard that he would be celebrating his 100th birthday at the end of August, I said that's when I'm coming back to Israel, so I came to the party."
Born in Manhattan, and one of seven siblings, Morris Gastwirts has a younger sister, Bertie Hall, 92, who came from the US for the celebration.
Working from his early teens in the family grocery store, Gastwirts did not have much time for education, though he did go to night school for a year. Nonetheless, he acquired an amazing vocabulary which enabled him to breeze through the crossword puzzles of The New York Times. He retired at 51, and went with his late wife, Regina (who died in 1997), to live in Florida, where he became an avid swimmer and a shuffleboard champion, as well as a familiar figure on his bicycle. He continued to cycle around Florida until he was in his mid-nineties. He was slowed down somewhat by a hip replacement operation, but even though that affected his mobility, it did not, according to his older son, Larry, affect his wit, which continues to be as wry as ever.
Surprising though it may seem, Gastwirts is not the oldest person to make aliya - certainly not from the United States. That distinction belongs to Belle Goldstein, who, after making more than 40 trips to Israel in a 52-year period, finally came on aliya in 1998 at the age of 102.
A former national president of American Mizrahi Women, now AMIT, she was active in the organization for most of her life and attended numerous Zionist Congresses. She continued to be active after settling in Israel, keeping abreast of the news and addressing AMIT gatherings.
Surrounded by a huge family, that included her great niece, Jerusalem Post health and science reporter Judy Siegel, she thrived in Israel and died three months before her 106th birthday.
That gives Morris Gastwirts quite a record to break.
EVERY BRIT (circumcision) is a happy occasion, even if it involves a little pain for the infant. However, Yeshaya Naftali Rozenman hardly gave a whimper, and his twin sister, Shalva ("calm" in Hebrew) Penina lived up to her name and slept through the whole ceremony.
The birth of these particular twins, the children of Chaya Libi and Noam Rozenman, was rather special, because Noam Rozenman is a survivor of a terrorist attack, who was hospitalized for a long time. He has made what can only be called a miraculous recovery.
Even more excited than grandparents Elana and Tzvi Rozenman of Jerusalem was the babies' 92-year-old great-grandfather, Israel Rozenman, who was given the honor of being the godfather. Usually the godfather briefly holds the baby before the circumcision ceremony, but Israel Rozenman kept an eagle eye on his first great-grandson for the rest of the morning, occasionally caressing him, while the infant continued to sleep. The Mayanot synagogue, where the brit was held, reverberated with the sound of Carlebach melodies rendered by several singing guitarists.
The families of both the father and the mother of the twins had strong connections with the Carlebach family, and Yeshaya Naftali is in fact named after the father of another pair of twins, the late Rabbis Shlomo and Eli Chaim Carlebach.
IT'S BEEN more than 20 years since Jonathan Pollard was incarcerated for espionage on behalf of Israel, and the United States authorities continue to deny him his freedom. Pollard's wife, Esther, who is currently in Israel, believes that a succession of Israeli governments have not really addressed the issue. She is convinced that were it otherwise, her husband would be realizing his dream to live in Israel. Tonight (Wednesday) at 8 p.m., Esther Pollard discuss all and any aspects of her husband's case at the Hanassi Congregation on Ussishkin Street in Jerusalem. Entrance to the event is free of charge.
IT'S NOT easy for the offspring of celebrities to become personalities in their own right, but opera singer Sharon Azrieli, the daughter of internationally acclaimed architect and shopping mall developer David Azrieli - who came from Montreal to participate in the Yiddishpiel experiment of Yiddish community singing in the amphitheater of the Azrieli tower in Tel Aviv - didn't need any family connections to win audience approval. They absolutely loved her rich voice, and sang along with gusto. When Yiddishpiel director Shmuel Atzmon was mulling over the idea of a community singing project, he recalled that he had once heard Azrieli sing in Yiddish and had been so impressed that he decided she had to be part of the new venture.
Azrieli, who obviously enjoyed herself in what is a somewhat different genre for her, will be back in Israel next month doing what she does best with the Israel Opera.
The community singing project proved to be such a popular success that it will now become a regular feature of Yiddishpiel activities, according to Atzmon. The Yiddishpiel ensemble had some intensive practice before the show, because, like other members of Israel's entertainment industry, they went around to bomb shelters in the North to sing with the local population. It was a little more intimate then than it was in the amphitheater - but it certainly helped to set the ball rolling.