After a series of tycoons born in the former Soviet Union made headlines in the Israeli media in recent weeks, it was once again the turn of Leonid Nevzlin, who was honored by World Keren Hayesod, which hosted a festive dinner in Jerusalem to celebrate Nevzlin's nomination by Keren Hayesod as its representative on the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency.
Regardless of all the negative things that have been said about the Russian oligarchs, two things they all have are charm and a willingness to share their wealth with less fortunate Jews. Nevzlin is no exception, and is probably one of the most charming of them all.
Present to hear the accolades heaped on their son were Nevzlin's parents Irena and Boris Nevzlin, who followed him to Israel and live in Netanya.
Carole Solomon, chairwoman of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, spoke of what Nevzlin is doing to try to secure the release of his friend and former partner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is serving a prison sentence for what many people believe are trumped-up charges.
"It's easy to be a friend in good times," said Solomon, "but to do what you do in bad times - you have my complete respect."
Keren Hayesod World chairman Avi Pazner described Nevzlin as "one of Keren Hayesod's most generous friends" and recalled that when Keren Hayesod reached out to potential donors in the former Soviet Union, Nevzlin, who was then a member of the Russian Senate and one of the foremost Jewish leaders in Russia, was among the first to respond. He was always proud of his Jewish identity, said Pazner, and sought out Jewish institutions that needed rehabilitation.
ANOTHER LATECOMER to the dinner for Nevzlin was Harvey Wolfe, a former chairman of the Keren Hayesod-UIA World Board of Trustees, who had literally just flown in from Ethiopia, where he had led a Canadian Keren Hayesod mission to take a close look at members of the Falash Mura who have been waiting far too long to be brought to Israel.
We called our rescue of Ethiopian Jews 'Operation Promise,'" said Wolfe. "I don't know what promise means. Our people live in hovels."
The Jewish community, he reported, had for the most part moved from Gondar to Addis Ababa in anticipation that they would soon be going to Israel.
"Some have been waiting for eight years," he said. If there are people who are not going to be accepted, said Wolfe, "let's tell them now so they won't have to live in hovels."
To illustrate the enormity of the situation, Wolfe said the Joint Distribution Committee feeds 2,300 children two meals a day. The mothers won't eat, he said. "They want to make sure their children are fed."
Keren Hayesod has an urgent responsibility, said Wolfe. Nevzlin reacted immediately, saying what Wolfe said had touched him.
"I will give money for this project," he said. "It will be a big amount, but it will not be easy for me. Right now, I can't even buy a football team. If the Russians give back what they stole from me I'll be a big donor to Keren Hayesod and the Jewish Agency."
AT LEAST one of the Jewish oligarchs of the former Soviet Union is not interested in investing in an Israeli football team. Alexander Machkevitch, president of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, and who in 2004 paid for the construction of the first synagogue in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, is well connected to political leaders in his region. He is also a frequent visitor to Israel, where as yet he has no business interests.
Channel 1's Ya'acov Achimeir surmised it was because he has been frightened off by the police scrutiny applied to other FSU billionaires. When Achimeir asked Machkevitch whether he was interested in buying an Israeli football team, the response was: "I have no time for football teams. I am too busy with the Euro-Asian Congress."
IN THE many eulogies for Shoshana Damari, she was called the voice of Israel, and those who referred specifically to her voice spoke of its unique quality, saying there was none like it. The truth of this was quickly evident at her funeral service and in the days that followed, as several of Israel's leading singers sang some of her best known songs.
Recordings of Damari singing the same songs were played endlessly on radio, and Damari's superiority was painfully obvious. The closest anyone came to looking and sounding like Damari was her daughter Nava, who came from Canada for the funeral.
She was one of the singers who presented Damari's songs at the Cameri Theater, where thousands gathered around her flag-draped coffin to say farewell. Damari's family and friends had to fork out a pretty penny for her burial plot in the Trumpeldor Street cemetery in the heart of downtown Tel Aviv, where many of Israel's cultural icons are buried. Singer and composer Mati Caspi thought it outrageous that the city of Tel Aviv did not follow the example of several other major cities in the world and make burial plots available free for people of Damari's stature.
KOREAN AMBASSADOR Kyungtark Park has endeared himself to many people during his term in Israel, but all things must come to an end, and Park and his wife are moving on to his next assignment; farewell parties are already underway. Park will host his own - which will be the biggest of them all - some time next month, while Oybek Usmanov, the Ambassador of Uzbekistan who also completed his tour of duty, has already departed.
SOME OF the Israelis attending the AIPAC Conference in Washington next month will be able to renew their acquaintance with Raiminder Jassal, the former Indian Ambassador to Israel. The genial Jassal, who made many friends during his service in Israel, is currently second in command at his country's embassy in Washington, and will participate in an AIPAC panel discussion on the growing ties between India, Israel and America.
WHETHER IT crosses the threshold or not in the upcoming Knesset elections, Hetz, the breakaway party from Shinui led by Knesset member Avraham Poraz, has already achieved something that no other political party in Israel has done before: It has produced a potential 10-member Knesset list in which half the candidates are female.
Admittedly, there are more females in the second half of the list than in the first, but no other party can boast the same gender ratio. Frontliners among the females are Knesset members Etti Livni and Mali Polishuk-Bloch. The others are Ronit Erenfreund, a member of the Yavne City Council, Irit Nasi, who specializes in education for excellence, and Knesset member Arela Golan.
WITH HIS typically quirky sense of humor, Supreme Court Judge Mishael Cheshin, after listening to all the accolades directed at him, quipped that the speakers had convinced him to change his mind and stay. The wishful thinking raised a laugh, but in some places it opened the door to serious discussion. On Israel Radio for instance, Gabi Gazit, in conversation with political commentator Hanan Kristal, asked why judges have to retire at 70 when there is no cut-off age for the politicians who appoint them. To add weight to the argument, Kristal commented that there are countries in which a judicial appointment is for life, as long as the judge is mentally competent or unless the judge decides to retire.