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JADED JET setters who've been there and done that gazed in awe and admiration at the gift which Tel Aviv-based real estate developer Alfred Akirov gave to Jerusalem in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the city's reunification.
The official opening of the spectacular Mamilla Alrov Quarter that forms a natural bridge between past and present, and east and west Jerusalem, was a gala affair unrivaled by any previous major social event in the capital. Dancers clad in white moved gracefully on the ramparts.
The several thousand people, including many VIPs, who attended got a completely new perspective of the city from observation plazas at different heights. Whoever thought that Jerusalem was beautiful before could not help but be even more convinced not only by the vast panorama, but also by the proximity of the Jaffa Gate and the outer walls of the Old City, which were so close that they could almost be touched.
"There's nothing like Jerusalem," marveled the well-traveled Gabi Roter, CEO of Castro which is well represented in the new mall.
"It's just fantastic," declared business tycoon Benny Gaon, who was born and raised in a somewhat different Jerusalem.
Latvian Ambassador Karlis Eihenbaums and Croatian Ambassador Ivan Del Vechio missed out on the Georgian Independence Day reception hosted in Tel Aviv by Georgian Ambassador Lasha Zhvania because they thought that there was a certain significance in being at the Jerusalem event.
Eihenbaums, who came with his wife, Inara, and their two children, had spent the day touring Jerusalem and although he was enormously impressed by the Mamilla Alrov Quarter, he said the view from UN headquarters, which was initially the residence of the British High Commissioner in Mandate times, was better, because it included the Dome of the Rock and other Old City landmarks.
Yet for all its grandeur, UN Headquarters cannot compete with the simple yet magnificent design by world-renowned, Israeli-born architect Moshe Safdie, who like Akirov, walked around looking like a proud parent.
Indeed, they had every reason to be proud, because together they gave Jerusalem yet another measure of beauty.
For most of the evening, Akirov beamed as he posed for photos with some of his guests and accepted compliments and congratulatory comments. But when it was his turn during the official ceremony to make a short speech, he almost broke down with emotion and had difficulty controlling himself.
He is not a man of words, he said, but a man of deeds who had undertaken some very prestigious projects (including the grandiose residential tower that is home to Ehud Barak and his companion, Nili Pri'el), "but the sum total of everything I have ever done before cannot compare with this. It surpasses everything.
"I'm happy to have lived to see the realization of this dream, and I thank God," he added, as he recited an appropriate prayer for the occasion.
Akirov, who invested tens of millions of dollars in the project, said that it was not the money that counted, but to be able to stand so close to the walls of Jerusalem and to build what he hoped would be a bridge of peace.
Tourism Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who was born in Jerusalem, said that he was happy to be back because he loved the city, but he was especially thrilled to see the transformation of Mamilla, one of the oldest neighborhoods outside the walls, from an economically disadvantaged area to one of luxury and prestige. "No other place in Israel can convey a more positive image," he said.
Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski read an item that was printed in the now defunct newspaper Hamelitz 109 years ago when Mamilla was founded. None of the expectations for this new neighborhood was realized until now, he said.
The highlight of the evening was a performance by Sarit Hadad, who came on stage singing "Jerusalem of Gold," and asked the assembled guests to join in.
What has evolved into the hymn of the city was rarely sung with greater fervor. Hadad, who was in a superb mood, continued to sing from her vast repertoire, electrifying the audience, most of whom, regardless of age, ethnicity or social status, went completely wild.
Chefs and waiters clad in starched, pristine white uniforms kept bringing out endless supplies of food throughout the night. Yet regardless of the amount of food they received gratis, several of those present also paid for more, choosing to end their night at the mall at the Aroma cafe, which was filled to capacity. Most of the stores that were open attracted customers and did good business.
"WHERE'S THE moustache?" queried many of the guests who showed up at the David Intercontinental Hotel, Tel Aviv to bid farewell to Inbal Hotel Jerusalem general manager Rodney Sanders prior to his trip to the US to "ride America for Hadassah" in a 3,500-mile bike ride from Seattle to Washington DC to raise money for pancreatic cancer research at Hadassah Medical Center.
The moustache has been part of Sanders' ID for nearly all of his adult life - and he's now 62. Another part of his ID has been the perennial bowtie - which was also missing, but sitting in his inside breast pocket in case he felt the need for formality.
Without the moustache, and in an open neck shirt, Sanders looked 20 years younger.
The bike ride was prompted by the recent death of his wife, Hadassah (Dassie), who after a brief but courageous battle succumbed to pancreatic cancer.
Dassie Sanders had been treated at Hadassah Medical Center and her family decided to do what they could towards advancing research into pancreatic cancer in the hope that other victims could be saved in future.
Ironically, on the night of the fundraising farewell party, close to 1,000 people were congregating at the Inbal Hotel for a prayer for Rabbi Shimon Gershon Rosenberg (better known as Shagar), the head of the Siach Yitzhak Yeshiva, who is desperately ill with pancreatic cancer. Master of ceremonies at Sanders' party was his cousin, television personality Gil Riva, who was barely recognizable with brown hair instead of blonde, no make-up and regular clothes.
Etti Ankri and her band showed up to sing and play gratis. Among the guests were Sanders' brother-in-law, Israel Prize laureate Ian Froman, who was one of the six founding members of the Israel Tennis Center and had previously represented South Africa in the Davis Cup, former Hadassah national president Marlene Post, who flew in specially from America, Sima Mor, the president of WIZO Jerusalem, and documentary film maker Herb Crosney and his wife Mary.
Also there were Irona and Henny Teich, owners of the Hyatt Dead Sea, the David Intercontinental and the Tel Aviv Hilton, who had been represented by Sanders before he took up his position at the Inbal. Amira Lev, who is Dassie Sanders' niece, said that if she would have been invited to a fundraiser for pancreatic cancer research a year ago, it's doubtful that she would have come because the illness was so alien to her - but now, she's so involved.
Rodney Sanders recalled that for 35 years of his life he had started each day by saying, "Good morning Hadassah" - not to the organization, but to his wife.
His aim, he said, was to raise $100,000 and he was already beyond the half-way mark with $60,000. Sponsorship is $25 a mile.
Dr. Gideon Zamir, a cancer researcher with Hadassah, said that pancreatic cancer is still incurable and although chemotherapy and medications help to a certain extent, the overwhelming majority of patients die within a short time of being diagnosed.
What he is trying to do is to isolate the source so as to be able to find the cure. He pledged not to give up in this endeavor no matter how many disappointments he might encounter along the way.
Marlene Post termed the event "a love-in," in that everyone who was there had come to demonstrate their love for both Dassie and Rodney Sanders and their children. The ride through 14 states begins on June 25. Sanders will see Post again once he gets to Washington, where Hadassah will greet him with a welcome party in his honor.
VETERAN YIDDISH theater performers in Israel never tire of reminding themselves and each other of the days when Yiddish theater was banned by David Ben-Gurion or when voices of doom predicted that Yiddish theater had no future in Israel.
The subject came up again at the Yiddishpiel premiere of "Mazeltov Yidden," a fast-paced variety show with something for everyone ranging from nostalgic, long-in-the-tooth Yiddish comedy skits to contemporary politics, plus some hits from Broadway Shows - sung in Yiddish, of course - and a couple of side-splitting comedies of errors.
The show also marks the fact that one of its stars, Yakov Alperin, is celebrating 60 years on the Yiddish stage, and another of its stars, Yaacov Bodo, has already passed his half-century in Yiddish theater. Both are originally from Romania, the birthplace of Yiddish theater, and still in fine form and living proof that senior citizens can retain short-term memory as well as long-term memory.
All their wisecracks about politics and corruption were newly scripted. Among the dignitaries in the audience were Israel Prize laureates Orna Porat, Miriam Zohar and Lova Eliav, former Tel Aviv mayor Shlomo Lahat, Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar, MKs Zehava Galon and Lia Shemtov and veteran actor Yankele Ben Sira.
As is customary at Yiddishpiel premieres, the Yiddishpiel founder and director chose to honor someone with a long record in Yiddish theater. This time it was Paulina Tajman, who notwithstanding the fact that she is 100 years old, managed the stairs in the ZOA Theater and thoroughly enjoyed the show.
Tajman, who started her theatrical career at age nine in Argentina, played character roles and also appeared in musicals. She often appeared on stage with her husband, Yosef Mauer, as well as with most of the world's leading Yiddish theater actors. She retired from the stage when she was 85.
Tajman was accompanied by her daughter and son-in-law, Coca and Dr. Zelig Barak, with whom she lives, and by her grandson, Dr. Shimon Barak and his wife, singer Rutti Holzman, who was part of the Chocolate Menta Mastik group with Yardena Arazi and Lea Lopatin.
Theater is obviously in the family genes. Tajman's great-grandson, Yonatan Barak, is a stand-up comedian and actor who frequently appears on the Yair Lapid show.
SEVERAL MILESTONE anniversaries were listed in this column a couple of weeks back. Among those that were omitted was the 60th anniversary of a group of 250 Americans who volunteered to sail 10 old vessels filled with Holocaust survivors out of Europe to the Land of Israel, which was then known as Palestine.
Among the volunteers was the New York-born crew member of the blockade runner, "Hatikva," Murray Greenfield, who later founded Gefen Publishing House and subsequently wrote a book about his experience called The Jews' Secret Fleet.
Some of the people who were on board the "Hatikva" - both as passengers and crew - gathered at Greenfield's home in Tel Aviv recently for a 60th anniversary reunion.
Among those who swapped reminiscences were Harold Katz, one of the volunteer sailors, now a lawyer who has worked with the Ministry of Defense, and Hedva Gil, who had a visa for the United States in the Displaced Persons camp, but preferred to go to Palestine.
Her boyfriend, Reuven Gil, was a Zionist and so they came together on the ship and were married in the Cyprus camp.
The two live in Tel Aviv today after having been involved in the founding of Kibbutz Megiddo. Reuven later worked in Europe for Tnuva Export.
Also present was Irit Amiel, a hidden child, and at 76, the youngest person at the get together. She and her Israeli husband founded Amiel Tours, now managed by their son.
After so many years in Israel, the survivors still had questions about the past: "Where did we come from with the ship?" "How did we manage to come, when so many did not come to Palestine or to help in World War Two and its aftermath?"
What fascinated them was something that not all of them remembered: their climbing the rope ladder to get aboard the vessel on beaches in Italy in the middle of the night.
When told the ladder had a special name, they were more than surprised. Greenfield informed them that in merchant ships, it was known as "Jacob's ladder."
WHEN FORMER resident of Herzliya Pituah Viola Korn had a milestone birthday coming up, she decided that even though she was no longer living in Israel, she wanted to celebrate her 60th birthday with her Israeli friends.
Having made the decision, she and her husband Fred, who had been a member of the medical staff at Tel Hashomer, returned from Germany to live it up at the Tel Aviv Hilton.
After several years of living in Israel, the Korns, who made aliya from Germany, were forced to move back to Frankfurt last year when Viola Korn's mother took ill.
Initially, the Korns brought her to Israel, but the situation became increasingly difficult because she needed full time care and was unable to communicate with her Israeli caregivers who did not speak German.
The Korns tried every way possible to import a German-speaking caregiver, but could not get a work visa.
In the final analysis, they were left with no choice, and reluctantly returned to Frankfurt where they were able to secure the best of care. The Korns remained in contact with their many Israeli friends, most of whom were invited to the 60th birthday party, which Viola combined with her 35th wedding anniversary.
Among those present were artist Sali Ariel and her husband, Jerusalem Post cartoonist Yaakov Kirschen, Guatemalan Ambassador Moises Russ and his wife Bella, and several others. Altogether, guests originated from 18 countries. In her birthday address, Korn noted that what they all shared was a love of Israel.
SOME OF the same people attended an Indian Day at the Tandoori Restaurant in Herzliya Pituah hosted by restaurateur Reena Pushkarna, who notwithstanding the fact that she had a slipped disc in her back, gave a demonstration of Indian cuisine, standing throughout, even though she was obviously in pain.
Later she served up a huge Indian buffet. Helping to organize the event was artist Rajul Mehta, who wore the most magnificent of Indian costumes, along with Shruti Shukla, a medical researcher at Beilinson Hospital. Shukla is the wife of the second in command at the Indian embassy.
All the Indian women who attended wear native dress most of the time but, for this occasion, they selected special saris and regional costumes. Among the non-Indians who came in Indian garb were Clara Hirsh, wife of the Canadian ambassador, Soosan Shin, wife of the Korean ambassador, Hai Rydberg, the wife of the Swedish ambassador, Aniko Gyenge, the wife of the Hungarian ambassador, Jelena Isakov, the wife of the Serbian ambassador who is also the incoming president of the International Women's Club, Grace de la Rosa, the wife of the former Colombian ambassador, Barbara Gold and Sali Ariel, who recently returned from a trip to India where she purchased many items of Indian clothing.
The non-Indians who participated in a fashion show had their hands painted with henna designs, which is an Indian tradition, as is the presentation of gifts to guests.
JUST AS pundits in the media were speculating whether Sonia Peres, the publicity-shy wife of Vice Premier Shimon Peres, would move into the presidential residence in Jerusalem in the event that he is elected president, the lady herself penetrated the realm of public awareness by suffering from heart and respiratory problems, making headline news.
She was treated at Sheba Medical Center by her son-in-law, Prof. Rafi Walden, who is the hospital's deputy director general.
Walden told Israel Radio that he saw nothing amiss in treating his mother-in-law, who had suffered from coronary ailments for several years.
Happily, she was not at risk, and after an induced period of sleep, she was up and smiling.
Shimon Peres spent the first night of her hospitalization at her bedside.
Although she has remained in the background for most of his public career, she has consistently entertained local and visiting dignitaries in their home. When he was prime minister the first time around, she moved to the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem and fulfilled the expected role of the premier's wife.
TOWARDS THE end of March, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon agreed that Maimon would continue in his post until June 1, which is at the end of this week.
Maimon, who came into office in March 2003, when Ariel Sharon was prime minister, had planned to conclude his duties following the establishment of the present government. However, Olmert urged him to remain, and Maimon acceded to the request, while making it clear that he would leave before the term of the current government expires.
WHAT DO you give a man for his 70th birthday? Jerusalemite Libby Wertheim came up with an original idea. She had a documentary film made tracing her husband Moshe's genealogy. His family lived in Rotenberg, Germany for nearly four centuries and the records are available. Guests at his birthday party - even those with no German connections - found the film almost as interesting as did the man of the moment.
IT'S NEVER too early to learn the workings of politics. Not only has nine-month-old Eliana Miriam Hoffman accompanied her father, Jerusalem Post political correspondent Gil Hoffman, on the campaign trail, but also on his various other political assignments. This week she was marked by Ehud Barak as a potential voter in his camp. He observed that when she's old enough to cast a ballot, he will be the same age as Shimon Peres is now. He didn't say whether he would be running for president at that time.