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WHILE MOST of the media's reports on Sderot have honed in on Kassam rockets, the hapless situation of the residents, the anger of Mayor Eli Moyal and speculation that Sderot is being targeted by Palestinian militants more than before because it is the home of Defense Minister and former mayor Amir Peretz, entertainer Yehoram Gaon decided to treat his radio audience to a different aspect of Sderot. Instead of commenting on current affairs, as he usually does in his Friday afternoon program on Reshet Bet, Gaon went to Sderot and explored some of its extraordinary musical talent.
An unusually high ratio of singers, instrumentalists, composers and poets - among them Kobi Oz, Smadar Levi, Shlomo Bar, Shimon Adef and Erez Biton - have come out of Sderot. Gaon chose to give the microphone to younger, up-and-coming performers who have yet to achieve stardom, and exclaimed more than once at the amazing quality of their singing and playing. When he asked composer and instrumentalist Micha Biton, who heads the city's cultural department, to explain this unusual output of talent, Biton replied: "We are blessed. Music flourishes in Sderot. Music is a gift, and Sderot is a blessed place in which many people are gifted."
Fears about the threat and effects of Kassam rockets, said Biton, are channeled into creativity.
Youngsters are encouraged to express their feelings in poems which evolve into songs. The singing generates positive energies, which in turn dilute the fears.
US AMBASSADOR Richard Jones keeps finding himself torn between conflicting obligations. Jones had agreed to address the Kesher L'Israel 2 mission of Project Reconnect of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) at its closing dinner in Jerusalem. In the interim, however, he discovered that he also had to be in Istanbul at a conference of ambassadors based in Mediterranean countries.
Even though he flew back to Israel on the date he was supposed to meet the Kesher L'Israel group, he could not get there on time. His stand-in was Helena Kane Finn, the Embassy's counselor for public affairs. Finn was introduced to mission members by Judy Yudof, a past president and the first female president of the USCJ.
Always glad to talk about America's public diplomacy, Finn said the effort in spreading the message of freedom, empowerment and democracy was something American diplomats often refer to as waging peace. There was no more urgent challenge for national security than to reach out to the world to share common values and confront common threats, Finn emphasized.
As for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Finn was convinced that if the matter had been left in the hands of NGOs from both sides, a peace agreement could easily have been signed a long time ago. All the polls indicate that most Palestinians are ready to accept a two-state solution, she said, but first "Hamas has to modify its policies" and "renounce violence."
With regard to America influencing the world to embrace democracy and civil rights, Finn underscored the importance of State Department-sponsored exchange programs, and noted prominent Israeli personalities who were alumni of these programs, namely President Moshe Katsav, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Justice Minister Haim Ramon, Construction and Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit and Culture, Science and Sports Minister Ofer Paz-Pines. In addition, Education Minister Yuli Tamir is an alumna of the prestigious Fulbright program.
IT SOUNDED a little strange when New Israel Fund (NIF) Israel director Eliezer Yaari disclaimed any connection with the Oscar-winning film Crash at a Jerusalem Cinematheque screening hosted by the NIF last week. The reason became clear once the lights dimmed and the credits appeared on the screen: one of the six producers of the film was Bob Yari - different spelling and no relation.
The screening was actually a peg for the NIF to spell out the fragility of civil rights, which Yaari said one has to be aware of constantly. The NIF actively promotes civil rights, but the civil rights community in Israel is dependent on overseas funding for its work, said Yaari, because there are no local financial provisions for civil rights activities.
The prelude to the movie was a lecture by Dr. Gadi Taub, who teaches in The Hebrew University's Department of Communications and School for Public Policy. Taub argued that multi-culturalism is a latter-day euphemism for segregation, allowing the elite to escape from civil rights issues.
"Multi-culturalism has made a fetish of the other," he said, and warned that it obstructs the kind of solidarity that causes the people of a nation to think in terms of "we." In the US, he said, it has become a new form of segregation with African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and gays all congregating in their own ghetto societies. Talk of the melting pot, he added, has become obsolete. "Now they talk about fruit salad, because in a fruit salad each fruit preserves its own color and flavor."
His personal preference is for cholent, he said, in which all the colors and flavors blend with each other.
ATTENDANCE greatly exceeded expectations for the opening of the Yad Vashem exhibition of some 280 works from a collection of 1,300 gouaches that make up an illustrated biography of the life of German-born artist Charlotte Salomon.
Despite the fact that she was Jewish, Salomon was admitted to Berlin's State Academy of Fine Arts in 1935. With the escalation of tensions in Germany, Salomon's father sent her to Southern France, where in 1940 she began working on her remarkable collection. That same year, she married Alexander Nagler, who was also Jewish, in a civil ceremony. She completed her visual diary in 1942 and dedicated it and entrusted it to a local physician active in the French Resistance, telling him: "Take good care of it; it is my whole life."
After the war, the works were transferred to Salomon's father and stepmother, who in 1972 donated the entire collection to the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam (JHMA). Her adored stepmother, the well-known singer Paula Lindberg, died six years ago at the age of 103, disclosed Hetty Berg, a representative of the JHMA who stood in for the museum's director, Joel Cahen, who could not attend.
Among those who did attend were Netherlands Ambassador Bob Hiensch, who spent a long time touring the exhibition by himself, Tobie Nathan, a counselor at the French Embassy, Vera Stercken, a counselor from the German Embassy and a delegation from the Bundestaag.
PART OF the job description of the president of Israel is to host or attend ceremonies. Sometimes there are as many as four or five in one day at Beit Hanassi, in addition to the many ceremonies which President Moshe Katsav and his wife Gila attend in different parts of the country.
But last week, they were driven to Hebrew University's Givat Ram stadium to see their son, Israel, the fourth of their five children, receive his law degree. Israel Katsav was one of 1,821 newly qualified lawyers who attended the traditional graduation ceremony for all of the country's law graduates.
Among the many other pairs of proud parents who attended were Interior Minister Roni Bar-On and his wife Bina, who is the director-general of the Industrial Corporation Authority. The Bar-Ons, both lawyers by profession, came to celebrate with their daughter, Maya, who was one of the graduates. The youngest of the 1,821 graduates was Riki Yishai of Beit Shemesh, who completed high school at age 15. She applied to several universities, all of which refused to accept such a young student. In the final analysis she was reluctantly accepted by the Ramat Gan Law College, where she was also given a hard time. Yishai, who is completing her army duty, is currently serving in the military court in Jaffa.