Grapevine: A ‘biblical weather event’ at the Israel Museum

A kosher Europe Day reception, Polish Embassy marks Constitution Day and Ezer Mizion fouder receives honorary doctorate.

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May 11, 2010 21:24
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grapevine 88. (photo credit: )

 
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THE LAST thing that Israel Museum director James Snyder anticipated – at the ceremony naming David Jesselson of Switzerland and Israel, Patricia Lazar Landau of France, Ninah and Michael Lynne of the US, Isaac Molcho and Amos Oz of Israel and Jonathan Rosen of the US as honorary fellows of the museum – was a dust storm. The ceremony was held outdoors and more than 500 people from 15 countries shivered as the wind disheveled their appearance, howled through the microphone and blew dust into their faces.

Making the best of the situation Snyder in observing that many challenges still have to be faced in Jerusalem, said: “We’re having a biblical weather event.” To gales of laughter he added: “Don’t worry about how your hair looks, because I don’t worry about how my hair looks.” Snyder’s white mane is usually immaculately coiffed.

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He was actually unperturbed about the inclement weather, because he was so thrilled that this was the largest gathering on record of the International Council, with 520 people from 15 countries despite the global economic slump. Many of the attendees raved about Snyder’s sophisticated fund-raising talents, and the Israeli expatriates present said that in light of what he has done to win friends of affluence and influence for the museum, he was deserving of the Israel Prize. Snyder protested that he could never receive it because he doesn’t have Israeli citizenship. But it was noted that Israel Prize laureate Zubin Mehta is likewise not a citizen.

AMERICAN MEMBERS of the Israel Museum’s International Council were very excited about the appointment of Elena Kagan to the US Supreme Court. “Not only another woman, but another Jewish woman,” one exclaimed in a mix of joy and wonder.

GENERALLY SPEAKING, when heads of foreign missions hold receptions in their residences, the food is not kosher, though occasionally there may be a small kosher table for guests who are religiously observant. However at the Europe Day reception hosted by the head of the delegation of the European Union, Ambassador Andrew Standley and his wife Judith, the whole affair was kosher, and many people commented favorably about the standard of catering and the fact that there were food islands all over the spacious garden of the residence, ensuring that people would not have to stand in long lines.

This was the couple’s first Europe Day celebration since their arrival last year, and it was a milestone Europe Day in that it marked the 60th anniversary of the vision and declaration of then French foreign minister Robert Schuman that marked the beginning of the integration of Europe and the laying of the foundations of the EU. Schuman envisaged a supranational community which would prevent war on European soil and would encourage world peace.

Standley noted that 27 member countries were simultaneously celebrating Europe Day. He also emphasized the EU’s commitment to Israel’s right to exist in peace and security and said that the EU supports Israel’s dream to live in peace with its neighbors. As a result of the Treaty of Lisbon that went into force in December 2009, said Standley, EU delegations around the world will be called to play greater roles in the EU’s foreign policy. In this context, he looked forward to closer relations with Israel.



Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, who represented the government, saluted the achievements of the EU and referred to Europe’s relationship with the Jewish people that spanned a period of more than two millennia. This relationship had at times been dramatic and painful, he said, and other times creative and progressive.

At the conclusion of the official ceremony Standley, Neeman and Gad Propper, the honorary consul for New Zealand, went into a huddle. But they weren’t discussing politics. They were talking about skiing. Neeman is known to be a great ski enthusiast.

AMONG THE guests at the EU reception was Ibrahim al-Waqili, who represents 45 Beduin communities which are not recognized by the government even though their rights to the land on which they live were recognized by the Ottoman authorities before the British Mandate. The 80,000 people living in these communities receive support from the EU, said Waqili, but not from the State of Israel. He spent much of the evening in one-on-one discussions with various ambassadors to explain that contrary to Israeli arguments that they could not possibly own the land they claim because they are nomads, the Beduin have been where they are for centuries and are only semi-nomadic.

ACTING ON behalf of the queen of England, British Ambassador Tom Phillips last week presented an honorary MBE (member of the Order of the British Empire) to Natie Shevel, regional director for Israel of the United Jewish Israel Appeal, in recognition of his services toward strengthening links between the UK and Israel. The investiture ceremony was attended by Shevel’s family, friends and UJIA colleagues.

Phillips paid tribute to Shevel’s central role in overseeing the delivery of some £8 million annually from funds raised in the UK to charitable programs here, noting his part “in an organization at the heart of the people-to-people links between Israel and the UK which make such an important contribution to the bilateral relationship between our two countries, and of course to Israel’s development.”

THE WHO’S who of the early heroes of the Zionist movement were frequent guests at the home of her parents in London, and Esther Lucas, 92, likewise played her role in history. She related some of the details recently to youngsters in Herzliya within the framework of an United Nations Special Committee on Palestine project they were doing in conjunction with the city’s celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Theodor Herzl’s birth. Lucas told them about an UNSCOP delegation that convened in Jerusalem in the summer of 1947 from June 15 to July 20.

It wasn’t secondhand information that she was conveying. In 1946, she was seconded from the British Foreign Office to the UN Preparatory Commission in London, where she became a documents officer. She attended the UN’s first Security Council and General Assembly. This prompted Jewish Agency executive Walter Eytan, whose lectures she had attended as a student at Oxford University, to ask her if she would like to liaise with the UNSCOP delegates.

At the time, Lucas was living in Kibbutz Kfar Blum and could only get a release from there via a letter signed by Golda Meir. Lucas was already familiar with Moshe Sharett whom she’d known through Habonim, and who had come to see her off in London, giving her a shopping bag to pass on to his sister who was married to the head of the Hagana. It was only much later that Lucas realized that there must have been an important message sewn into the lining of the bag. She also knew Abba Eban, whom she had met through the Jewish Students’ Organization when she was at Oxford.

In talking to the students Lucas recalled UNSCOP delegates Emil Sandstrom, a pro-Zionist from Sweden, a country that had been neutral during the war and was not one of the original allies. He shared the sentiments of Enrique Fabregat of Uruguay, who was very interested in there being a Jewish state and voted for partition. In the final vote, seven delegates voted for the motion, four pro-Arab delegates voted against and one abstained. The delegates not only visited Jewish, Arab and other communities, they also went to surrounding countries and to the DP camps in Europe. Lucas accompanied them only in Palestine and was invited to their receptions. “All through the proceedings in 1947 we were wondering what the results would be,” she says. “I’m glad to have experienced what followed and to be able to look back and say: I was there.”

MAY 3 is known as Constitution Day in Poland, commemorating the constitution of May 3, 1791, which is regarded as Europe’s first and the world’s second modern national constitution (following the 1788 ratification of the US Constitution). It took on an additional dimension this year, because it came soon after the tragic death in an air crash of Polish president Lech Kaczynski. Thus Polish Ambassador Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska dedicated this year’s Constitution Day to a memorial concert by the Ra’anana Symphonette Orchestra for Kaczynski, his wife Maria and all 96 victims of the tragedy.

In an emotion-filled address, she voiced appreciation to all the friends of Poland who had expressed their condolences to her personally and who had signed the condolence book at the Polish Embassy and in Jerusalem. Among those present were Ra’anana Mayor Nahum Hofree and Russian Ambassador Piotr Stegny. Magdziak-Miszewska also used the occasion to honor three Israelis of Polish background – Zvi Bergman, Aleksander Klugman and Yossi Levy – for their exceptional contributions in enhancing ties with Poland. They were conferred with the high Polish orders, which were officially approved by Kaczynski before the tragedy.

GREEK PATRIARCH Theophilos III is blessed with a radiant smile and a perpetual expression of serenity tinged with humor. The smile is so magnetic that most of the guests attending a cocktail reception at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel hosted by Tasos Tzionis, the ambassador of Cyprus, in honor of Marios Garoyian, president of its House of Representatives, were instantly drawn in his direction. In response to a comment on the smile, Theophilos said that he had realized as a very young man that he had been blessed with a lifelong gift. “People can take anything away from me except my smile,” he said.

Most ambassadors who send out invitations include their names. Tzionis didn’t – perhaps out of force of habit. For instance, he refused to reveal anything that had taken place during Garoyian’s meeting with President Shimon Peres, even to the extent of making the motion that indicated that his lips were sealed. “Anyone would think you belonged to Mossad,” said the reporter who was trying to pry information out of him. “As a matter of fact,” he confessed, “I was in charge of the Cypriot Security Agency for five years before I came to Israel.”

Aside from a large representation of Greek Orthodox clergy, guests included former ambassadors to Cyprus Mordechai Paltzur and Aharon Lopez and former Foreign Ministry director-general Shlomo Avineri, who arrived late because he had attended a dinner hosted by the Israel Council on Foreign Relations in honor of Araz Azimov, the deputy foreign minister of Azerbaijan.

Among the other guests were members of the Israel Cyprus Friendship Association, including Shimshon Bober, chairman of its sports committee who had been to Cyprus 30 times with Israeli teams and who unfortunately died a few days after the reception. Other association members included Prof. Emanuel Gutman, who as an envoy of the Yishuv, had worked in the British detention camps in Cyprus, teaching Hebrew to future immigrants. Some of members of the association were born in Cyprus to Holocaust survivors in the camps, and others came to Cyprus as child Holocaust survivors.

Among those born in the camps was Zahavit Blumenfeld who, until some 12 years ago, hadn’t given much thought to her place of birth until she happened to have been a cancer patient at Tel Hashomer. One day she saw a couple wandering around in the corridors, not sure of where to go. She asked if she could help, and it transpired that the man and his wife were from Cyprus and had come here for the wife to be treated for cancer. Blumenfeld told them that she was also born in Cyprus but didn’t remember much. A friendship developed. She took them around the country. They invited her to Cyprus and she subsequently discovered that many Cypriots come here for cancer treatment. She became active in the association and chairs its health committee.

AMONG THE recipients of honorary doctorates conferred by Bar-Ilan University this week was Rabbi Chananya Chollack, 55, the founding director of Ezer Mizion. A graduate of Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, Chollak, as a young newlywed, became personally aware of the needs of hospital patients and their families when his father-in-law was hospitalized. Chollak spent a lot of time visiting his father-in-law and noticed that no provisions were made for families that spent long days and nights at the bedsides of seriously ill relatives.

In 1979 he founded Ezer Mizion as a modest initiative. Initially, the organization provided hot meals cooked by his wife, Leah, to the families of hospital patients. He expanded the distribution and organized for neighbors to put extra vegetables and water in the soup, and a little more meat in the pot, so that more food could be made available. Word got out and requests came pouring in. Chollak didn’t know how to refuse, and his initially modest venture grew into an empire of volunteers.

Under his capable leadership Ezer Mizion grew to become the country’s largest nonprofit organization, which today does a lot more than distribute food. It lends medical equipment, offers medical advice, helps the elderly, maintains community welfare services, supports children with special needs and establishes sheltered housing for people with mental disorders. Although he has 16 children, four of whom he adopted when their parents succumbed to fatal diseases, Chollak continues to direct Ezer Mizion and remains accessible around the clock, providing a personal role model for the professional staff and volunteers.

Ezer Mizion and Chollak have received numerous awards including the Israel Prize.

The organization’s flagship project revolves around the work that it does with cancer patients, especially juveniles. In 1996, Ezer Mizion, along with Dr. Bracha Zisser, established Oranit for children from outlying parts of the country, so that they could have a place to stay and to study while undergoing treatment. Another vital project spearheaded with Dr. Zisser was the establishment of a national bone-marrow registry, which has facilitated hundreds of life-saving transplants.

THE EVER gracious and vivacious Lady J, formally known as Lady Amelie Jakobovits, left an enormous vacuum when she died last week. Lady J used to raise a laugh when she told the story about knowing that the food was kosher when she and Lord Jakobovits were invited to dine at Buckingham Palace. The kosher caterer who supplied the food for the then chief rabbi and his wife was given the menu that would be served to the other guests. The food was served on new royal crested dishes, but there was nonetheless an obvious difference. The kosher portions were much larger.

EVERYONE WILL be metaphorically on the ball tonight at the residence of French Ambassador Christophe Bigot, who is a hosting a welcome reception for Luis Fernandez, the new coach of the national soccer team. Though born in Spain, Fernandez played on France’s national team for 10 years as well as for teams in Paris and Cannes. He also managed several French teams following his retirement as a player, and from 2005-2006, he was the coach of Betar Jerusalem.

IN RECENT years, Yad Vashem, in conjunction with the Immigrant Absorption Ministry and other organizations and institutions, has placed the main focus of its VE Day commemorations on veterans of the Red Army. Busloads of beribboned and bemedalled elderly immigrants from the former Soviet Union come to Yad Vashem for a ceremony which is conducted in both Russian and Hebrew.

This year, the Jerusalem Municipality, World War II Veterans Association, Organization of Disabled Soldiers and Partisans together with the ministry also organized a festive march through downtown Jerusalem to the Harmony Culture Center which is largely a cultural outlet for Russian-speaking immigrants.

MOST EVENTS at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center are fairly well attended, but it was quite a surprise to see how many IZL veterans filled the auditorium, lined the stairs and enthusiastically belted out the song of Betar for the 100th anniversary commemoration of the birth of David Raziel, who was appointed by Ze’ev Jabotinsky to be the Irgun’s commander in chief. Raziel had joined the Hagana in Jerusalem in reaction to the Hebron massacres of 1929, but broke away and became one of the founding members of the Irgun.

Although the Irgun was dedicated to fighting the British, Raziel decided in 1939 that it was more important to fight the Nazis. In 1941, he was sent to Iraq where he was killed in action. The Iraqis refused for years to return his body. Eventually, the British transferred it to Cyprus for temporary burial, but it was not until 20 years after his death that his remains were brought here and reinterred on Mount Herzl. His wife Shoshana died only a few weeks ago. She had been pregnant when he left for Iraq and gave birth to a boy after he was killed. She had intended to call the child David, but the infant died when he was only a few days old. She never remarried, and devoted her life to preserving her husband’s memory.

Among the speakers at the 100th anniversary commemoration was Mordechai Sarig of the Jabotinsky Institute, who declared that of the eight commanders-in-chief of the Irgun, only two had left a permanent impact – Raziel and Menachem Begin. Among the other speakers was Begin’s son, Minister without Portfolio Bennie Begin.

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