WHEN SHE presented an ancient Russian shofar to Russian Ambassador Gennady Tarasov as a farewell gift, Raya Jaglom, who for the past five years has been almost like family to Tarasov and his wife Elena, told him that she hoped he would never be in trouble, but that if he was, he should blow it, "and we'll all come to help you."
What she didn't say in his presence was how she had come by the shofar in the first place. It all started in 1964, when Jaglom headed an Israeli delegation that was invited by the Committee of Soviet Women to visit Russia. It was a very successful visit, yet Jaglom could not help but notice the plight of Soviet Jews.
In the synagogue, the rabbi didn't say much, but kept glancing upwards and moving his head in different directions to indicate the hidden microphones. Meanwhile, the shammes was writing furiously, and as the delegation left the synagogue, he thrust the page into Jaglom's hand. It was a letter to his brother in Petah Tikva begging him to get him out of the Soviet Union.
Jaglom, who on her return joined The Struggle for Soviet Jewry movement, took up the man's cause and succeeded in getting him out. As a sign of his appreciation he gave her the shofar which he had brought with him from Russia. Now that Russia allows Jews to live and worship in freedom, Jaglom thought it appropriate to return the shofar to the land from whence it came.
Jaglom forged a particularly close relationship with the vivacious Elena Tarasova who often came to Jaglom's home to tell her husband Josef about modern Russia and to bring him Russian books and magazines. Josef Jaglom was born in Russia in 1903, and left as a young man, but still delights in the language, the history, the culture and the politics of Russia.
Gennady Tarasov confirmed that he and his wife felt like members of the Jaglom family, adding that when they met Raya Jaglom, "it was love at first sight."
They considered her to be one of the most extraordinary people they had met not only in Israel but in all the countries in which they had served, and they considered her "the unofficial ambassador of Russian culture in this country."
Tarasov was also touched by the fact that Shimon Peres had made a special effort to attend. Describing Peres as "an outstanding personality," Tarasov said that no matter what time of day he had come to visit Peres in his office, the meeting always started with a bottle of frozen vodka.
"There's no way I can beat Shimon Peres in drinking vodka," he admitted, adding how much he had enjoyed listening to Peres's assessments of situations. When he came to Israel he said, he was not a young diplomat, "but I came as a humble student. This is a complex country and so many things happen here."
He recalled that at a farewell dinner for former Indian ambassador Raminder Singh Jassal (who is now second in command at the Indian Embassy in Washington), Jassal recalled that at their first meeting Peres had told him that Israel is a country in which "a lot of things happen." A lot of things did happen, said Jassal, "but unfortunately nothing much changed."
Echoing that sentiment, Tarasov said that what the international community wants to see is peace in the Middle East with political security for Israel. Peres spoke less about politics and more about culture, making comparisons between Shakespeare and Chekhov. At the end of a Shakespearean play, he commented, everyone lies dead on the stage. At the end of a Chekhov play, everyone is tired but never dead. Peres commended Tarasov and his wife for bringing Russian and Israeli culture together and fostering greater understanding between the two.
n "EIN FIRGUN" is a Hebrew expression which unfortunately is heard too often. Roughly translated, it means that there is no graciousness. Too many people lack the ability to be gracious about the accomplishments or good fortune of others. But the opposite was the case among people associated in one way or another with the frequently bitchy fashion industry when they crowded into the crystal-chandeliered Gabriela restaurant in Tel Aviv's Montefiore Street to view the Fashion Legends photo exhibition conceived by Lisa Peretz, the editor of Signon, Ma'ariv's glossy women's magazine, and writer Itai Yaacov. The exhibition featured twelve larger than life portraits of icons of the fashion industry - designers, entrepreneurs, models, fashion writers, teachers, as well as famed fashion photographer Ben Lamm, whose sophisticated fashion catalogues were easily as good as anything from abroad.
The start of the event was timed for 5 p.m., but Gottex founder Leah Gottlieb arrived 15 minutes early and was accorded the red carpet treatment reserved for the woman who put Israel's fashion industry on the world map along with fellow Hungarian, the late Leslie Fulop, who founded Beged Or. The exhibition was devoted only to live designers, but fashion illustrator Rikki Ben Ari, who died a week before the opening, was included, and the exhibition was rededicated in her memory. Three memorial candles flickered on a small black table placed beneath her portrait. Fellow designer Jerry Melitz, who had been in the army with her and had known her since they were both 18, said that she was a far greater talent than anyone realized.
"She had a sharp eye and a marvelous sense of style," he reminisced. Ben Ari was often frustrated and depressed by lack of appreciation, her inability to manage money and her constant battle with obesity. One of the ironies of her life was that after her job application was turned down by one of Israel's major fashion houses, she went to Paris to work alongside top designers at the Wool Center and later worked for Promostyl, which set the tone for future trends by producing designs two and three seasons ahead of their time.
She was one of many designers who worked for Promotstyl, but the designs purchased by the Israeli company which had rejected her, were all hers. The company was unaware that these were Ben Ari's designs, because the sketches were unsigned.
Ben Ari was the sister of controversial television producer and maker of documentary films Adir Zik, who died of cancer two years ago. Her husband Jackie, a jewelry designer, died two months ago. A fashion reporter who once came to Ben Ari's factory showroom to interview her found her in miserable condition because of her weight problem. The reporter who was not born in Israel told Ben Ari that in her home country there was a slogan: "The more there is of me, the more there is to love."
Ben Ari instantly brightened and wrote it in lipstick across a mirror. Other icons chosen for the exhibition were: Melitz, designer Gideon Oberson, Ruth Dayan, who founded the now defunct Maskit which combined fashion with ethnic traditions, models Karin Dansky, Nurit Bar Yaar, who later became a fashion writer of distinction, and Hani Peri, who was Israel's international fashion model, working for 13 years in the US before she returned home, master tailor Yosef Entebbe, Tovele Hassin, who specializes in exotic haute couture, Lena and Aharon Castro, who more than half a century ago founded the company that developed into a nation-wide chain of fashion stores, and Tamara Yuval Jones, who worked for 15 years in Italy with Roberto Cavalli and is both a well-known designer and a senior lecturer at Shenkar. After more than 50 years in Israel, Leah Gottliebstill refuses to give interviews in Hebrew. Besieged by television reporters, she agreed to be interviewed in English - and they graciously indulged her.
Three generations of people associated with the fashion industry crowded into the labyrinth of rooms in the restaurant, many with glad cries of recognition as they joyfully embraced colleagues whom they had not seen for years.
Lisa Peretz, who confessed to having butterflies in her stomach, was overwhelmed by the congratulatory remarks. If there was any criticism at all it was only that she had limited the exhibition to twelve people. But this in itself was also a good thing because it prompted those present to come forward with names of other Israel fashion pioneers, who even if they didn't get to have their portraits on the wall, certainly got a mention. Hopefully, some museum will take over where Peretz left off, and next time around will have a more comprehensive exhibition that will also include those who are now designing and modeling for the angels.
n IT'S NOT all that long ago that speakers addressing visiting delegations of women's organizations from the Jewish Diaspora would talk to them primarily about mothers and babies and take them on tours of kindergartens, day-care centers, hospitals, schools and community centers. Such tours are still on the agenda, but so are in-depth lectures on politics and security.
Two such examples over the past week involved WIZO and Hadassash. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev, who had a two-fold purpose in coming to Tel Aviv to address the meeting of representatives of World WIZO, also met up with his aunt, Renata Peretz, a member of Swiss WIZO who provides generous financial support for WIZO projects.
Regev, who hails from Australia, was welcomed by Australian WIZO president Jo Gostin, who like Regev is a graduate of Melbourne University. Regev, who spoke mainly about the Iranian nuclear threat, said: "If diplomacy fails, we will have to think about other options." He did not spell out what those other options were, and when it came to question time, none of the women present asked him.
"Perhaps they were too afraid of the answer," said World WIZO executive chairperson Tova Ben-Dov.
n A FEW days later, Giora Eiland, former security adviser to prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert spoke in Tel Aviv to Hadassah's mid-winter national board meeting. Eiland said that political and economic sanctions against Iran could be effective, but that the international community was not doing enough.
He also warned that if Hizbullah, which he described as "an Iranian proxy," regains its military capacity and its political legitimacy, it would be interpreted as a defeat for Israel after last summer's war in Lebanon. On the brighter side, he said that there were enough people in Lebanon today "who believe that Hizbullah is not the defender but the destroyer of Lebanon. If Hizbullah loses legitimacy, we will be able to say that despite Israel's poor performance, we did not lose the war."
n FOLLOWING EILAND's address, members of the national board celebrated the birthday of their former president Marlene Post, whom they had honored earlier in the day with a $750,000 gift in her name. It is customary for Hadassah to honor its past presidents by creating facilities in Israel in their names. The past president decides on the nature of the facility and Hadassah raises the funds to pay for it.
Post decided that she wanted to build an athletic center in the Hadassah-Neurim Youth Village. In typical Hadassah leadership fashion, Post shared her kudos for this achievement with a long list of people "without whom we could do none of this."
Recalling that her first activities in Israel were related to war veterans, and then a sports center in Ramat Gan, Post said she had come to realize that people can rise above their situations and do anything. She saw sport as a vehicle for change in that it stirs a desire to move forward.
Leah Raicin, Hadassah's National Youth Aliya chair, said that the sports center was an investment in gifted athletes. Many of the youth who will train there were formerly thought of as throwaways, she said. Others were recent immigrants, abused kids and youth with learning difficulties. Envisaging that some of them will become Olympic medalists, Reicin recalled the surge of pride when Israel won its first Olympic gold.
n AT THE Jerusalem Great Synagogue's Challenging of the Mind series, Rabbi Berel Wein discussed Christian and Muslim perceptions of Jews, and Jewish perceptions of Muslims and Christians.
He recalled having once been on a vacation in Norway in which 48 people had been on the bus. Of these 26 were Israelis, 16 were Jews from New York and the remaining six, affluent WASPS.
One of the latter asked him how many Jews there were in America and based on their distribution in the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, the New York Times and Hollywood, drew the conclusion that there must be at least 50 million.
"Go tell them you can't get a minyan," commented Wein wryly, as he noted that non-Jews have a completely different perspective of Jews than Jews have of themselves.
The same applies in reverse. Observing how much anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist feeling was being generated by certain Muslim sources, Great Synagogue chairman Asher Schapiro, who was leaving the following day for a business trip to Kuwait, where he had been before, said that on a one to one basis, Muslims were very nice people, but when they got together collectively against Jews it was a different story. Then again, they can't be as anti-Jewish as Jews think they are. Schapiro may be traveling on an American passport, but he's not traveling as Alan Smith. His name is a definite give-away and so far it doesn't seem to have caused much of a ripple in any Muslim country.
n VETERANS OF the Israel Broadcasting Authority were saddened this week at the death of one of their beloved mentors, Haggai Pinsker, 82, who after a brilliant career at Israel Radio, during which time he introduced innovative news programs that have stood the test of time and are still broadcast today (albeit in an updated format), became the founding head of Israel Television.
It was Pinsker who as director of Israel Radio decided to incorporate interviews into news programs, something which Israel's first prime minister David Ben Gurion would not tolerate. As far as Ben Gurion was concerned, news was news and interviews were interviews, and never the twain should meet.
Thus Pinsker was prevented from integrating interviews into news programs until Ben Gurion was out of office. After that there was no holding him back. But he was more than an innovator and a broadcaster. He firmly believed in encouraging young talent, and often gave up his own place at the microphone so that a promising young broadcaster could develop his or her potential.
Several of the people whom he encouraged became leading figures in Israel's broadcasting industry. Among them were Haim Yavin, Yaacov Ahimeir, Dan Shilon, Yaron London, Yossi Sarid, Ron Ben Yishai, Dalia Yairi, Shalom Kital, Gabi Gazit, Razi Barka'i, Yigal Lossin and many others whose names became household words. Just the names listed here are indicative of Pinsker's vision and influence. Early in his career, Pinsker spent time in London where he broadcast on the BBC's Hebrew Hour.
After leaving the IBA, Pinsker continued his association as an external consultant on major projects. He was also involved in planning the content for the second television channel before it went to air.
n AMBASSADORS FROM all the Latin American countries are expected to turn out in force this evening to listen to popular Costa Rican Ambassador Noemy Baruch, who will address the English Speaking Friends of Tel Aviv University on Latin America: A Changing Continent. The event, run in conjunction with TAU's Department of Political Science, will be held at 6.15 p.m. in Hall 003 of the Naftali Building on the Tel Aviv campus. Baruch, who used to be in the fashion business before she embarked first on a political and then on a diplomatic career, is arguably the best dressed ambassador not only in Israel, but possibly in the world. She has an extraordinarily extensive wardrobe and an eye-catching shoe collection that could vie with that of Imelda Marcos. She's also unfailingly charming, which is one of the contributing factors to her popularity, and in addition to being exquisitely dressed, she also has a sharp brain.
n IMITATION IS the highest form of flattery, but not all those who've had their ideas appropriated by others are happy when this happens. In contrast, Tel Aviv City Council member Sheli Hoshen is delighted. Hoshen who many years ago founded the Hand in Hand organization that provides warm meals daily and a haven for needy children and children at risk, and who also launched Ozen Kashevet, a hot line telephone service for troubled children who need the help of an adult outside their families, is thrilled that other people have set up similar services.
"It means that more children are being helped," she says, noting that no single organization can cater to the needs of all those who should be helped. After focusing for close to half a century on the needs of children, Hoshen, a Holocaust survivor who was born in Bulgaria, is now turning her attention to senior citizens and is launching Ozen Kashevet Legimlaim, so that senior citizens suffering abuse or in need of home care, medications, food or simply someone to talk to will have a sympathetic ear on the other end of the phone line. She will be more than pleased if this project is also imitated by others.