JERUSALEM POST news editor Amir Mizroch is usually skeptical of conspiracy theories. But when the opportunity came to participate in a genuine conspiracy, he jumped at the chance. It all began on a Sunday in mid-October with a phone call from Nir Shimoni, who has a long and serious relationship with Post police reporter Rebecca Anna Stoil. Shimoni was looking to make the relationship permanent, and although he and Stoil had an understanding that eventually they would stand under a bridal canopy, he had never actually popped the question. What he wanted was Mizroch's help in creating a situation whereby the unsuspecting Stoil could be lured into a romantic setting while under the impression that she was actually on assignment. Mizroch thought long and hard about how to accomplish the mission. Having grown up in South Africa, which is now experiencing grave problems with Israeli and Russian mafia and organized crime in general, Mizroch decided that the ideal cover story would be that Chris Ngcobo, chief of the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department, had come to Israel to consult with the International Serious Crimes Unit on the best manner in which to rid himself of the Israeli mafia plaguing Johannesburg. Mizroch didn't say anything to Stoil till last Thursday morning. He then told her that he had an exclusive, very hush-hush story that she could not divulge to anyone. She was not to call the Serious Crimes Unit, nor was she to call anyone close to Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter.
Stoil was instructed to go to the Sheraton Jerusalem Plaza Hotel where Ngcobo was allegedly staying. And she was told that she would have to go to his room for the exclusive interview, because Ngcobo, concerned that the Johannesburg-based Israeli mafia had put out a contract on him, did not want to meet her in the hotel lobby where a hit-man could easily target him. Shimoni, meanwhile, had primed the hotel security guards to give Stoil a hard time, and to demand proof of her identity not only via her ID card but through her press card issued by the Government Press Office. Shimoni had also brought along two of his friends, to pose replete with earpieces, as Ngcobo's bodyguards. Everything would have worked out perfectly, but for the fact that eager beaver Stoil, hoping to get a little more time than the half-hour that she had been allocated, arrived early.
When she went to knock at Ngcobo's door, the "bodyguards" instead of standing watch outside, were inside with Shimoni, and the violinist who he'd hired to help create a romantic ambience had not yet taken his violin out of the case. But the elegant room-service dinner complete with champagne and a dozen roses was in place, the glitches were overcome, and although she'd been had, Stoil chose to be in a forgiving mood. She may not have got a scoop on organized crime in Johannesburg, but she now has an exclusive on Shimoni.
AFTER ALL the international controversy generated by the construction of a security fence between Israel and Palestinian villages, there's going to be further controversy over the construction of a high security wall along the length of the capital's Smolenskin St. to protect the prime minister from any suspicious characters who might be lurking in the grounds of the Terra Sancta compound across the road from the prime minister's official residence.
Ehud Olmert is not to blame for the over zealousness of his security detail which has already made him unpopular with the neighbors because they insist on sounding blaring sirens during his frequent comings and goings including on Shabbat and late at night. The once quiet, tranquil street has lost its identity. Beefed up security is evident by the color markings on the fence surrounding the residence.
The once low wall is now too high for even a pole-vaulter to clear, and part of the street has been cordoned off - even to pedestrian traffic. Now the proposed security wall will change the whole character of the street, will reduce apartment values even more than in the past half year, and will shut out natural light for the priests, congregants and students at Terra Sancta, since the windows are at a lower level than the designated height of the wall.
People living in the area are wondering how much more discomfort and violation of aesthetics will be inflicted on them while the prime minister continues to live in a house that was never really intended as his official residence. It was simply taken over by Yitzhak Rabin because the house that Golda Meir had lived in was in a state of disrepair. In a turnaround of the famous Churchillian quote about what the many owe the few, one could well ask, why in a democratic society, do so many have to suffer to accommodate the needs of so few - namely the prime minister and his wife. Construction of a new official residence adjacent to the prime minister's office and the Knesset has been deferred for lack of funds. Meanwhile, there is no compensation for the residents of Smolenskin St., some of whom have lived there since before Olmert entered politics.
DIAGNOSED THREE years ago with life threatening breast cancer, sculptress and young mother Dana Zemler, whose passion for living and creativity was so strong that, despite the odds, she not only survived but is today healthy, celebrated her recovery with a powerful yet whimsical exhibition called "Dana Kama" (Dana Arose).
Aside from three generations of her family and her closest friends, the opening at the Einav Cultural Center gallery in Tel Aviv was arranged in coordination with the Israel Cancer Association within the framework of International Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The extremely female oriented exhibition which includes figures with exaggerated breasts, figures with no breasts and figures lying face down so that no-one can tell whether they have breasts, reflects the fears and hopes of all women diagnosed with breast cancer. But Zemler, who now works with ICA support groups, is not obsessive about the theme, and also sculpts graceful swans and humorous animal figures including elephants, hippos and tortoises in vibrantly colorful mosaics and sometimes in monochromes. She works with paper pulp, epoxy and concrete. Ruth Sofer, speaking on behalf of Tel Aviv City Council's Committee on the Advancement of the Status of Women, said that no one could fail to be moved by the powerful beauty of Zemler's work.
She called Zemler "an example of triumph over cancer and an inspiration to others."
Levana Cohen, who heads the ICA's welfare committee, said that she had known Zemler ever since her illness had been diagnosed.
"She's healthy now, and she supports other women in crisis. It's very important when a young woman recovers that she helps other women who are in crisis," said Cohen. When she was first diagnosed recalled Zemler, her condition was thought to be fatal, "but I proved to them that it wasn't. I went through hell for one-and-a-half years, but I love life, and I thank God for all the love He's given me."
Zemler is already working on another exhibition that will be shown in New York. Among the many women present were other recovering or recovered breast cancer patients, including singer and actress Sharon Haziz, who like Zemler, is now giving encouragement to other women who are encountering similar traumas to those that she experienced.
THOUGH STILL waiting to serve his prison sentence, former MK Omri Sharon is far from idle. Sharon is one of the frontline activists seeking to prevent the implementation of the controversial large scale Jerusalem residential project generally and unfairly known as the Safdie plan. An avid environmentalist since his youth, Sharon, who was not very talkative during his days as an MK, is now extremely vocal about preserving Israel's nature spots especially the forest in Jerusalem's Ein Kerem.
LEUMI CEO Galia Maor mixed business with pleasure during the Succot holiday period when she took her grandchildren to the Naftali Forest near Tel Hai on a tree-planting outing. Following the damage inflicted by Katyusha rockets on northern forests, the bank initiated a re-afforestation project with the aim of rehabilitating all the forest areas that had been affected.
Jewish National Fund forest rangers who were on hand to direct the thousands of visitors who had come to plant trees were amazed at Maor's knowledge of afforestation, her awareness of the degree of damage, and her familiarity with the types of trees that grow best in the north. Also on hand was Louis Roth, the bank's legendary union leader, who on this particular issue had no quarrel whatsoever with management, Gideon Shor, head of the bank's external relations department, beauty queen Yael Nezri and JNF World Chairman Efie Stenzler. Maor promised that the bank could continue to support what she considers to be a vital project and said that she would be back in a few months to review the progress of the forests.
HUNGARIAN AMBASSADOR Andras Gyenge and his wife Aniko celebrated their country's national day by commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution, and noting that 1956 was a year of hope and freedom.
Interestingly enough, the celebration on October 23 almost coincided with the birthday of one of Hungary's most celebrated composers Franz Liszt, who was born in the village of Doborjan on October 22, 1811. Not surprisingly, his Hungarian Fantasy brilliantly played by Hungarian pianist Jozsef Balog, was included in the program of the Israel Chamber Orchestra, whose festive concert under the baton of amazingly expressive Hungarian conductor Gabor Hollerung, had the audience cheering and calling "Bravo! Bravo!"
Balog won the sustained applause not only of the audience but of the members of the orchestra. The recital at the Einav Cultural Center in Tel Aviv, also included Beethoven's Egmont Overture which was the only recording available in Budapest's makeshift underground radio station during the Hungarian Revolution, Bartok's Hungarian Sketches and Kodaly's Dances of Galanta.
After the concert, Hollerung returned to the stage many times to acknowledge the enthusiastic ongoing ovation - but there was no encore. Prior to the concert Gyenge spoke of October 23, 1956, the day on which the short-lived revolution started, as an important day for Hungarians and non-Hungarians around the world who value freedom, independence and democratic values.
The uprising against Stalinist oppression and humiliation he said was an important symbol of a free society. It was a moral obligation he said, to commemorate the aspirations of those who were brave enough in 1956 and again in 1989 to break free of Soviet tyranny and to return to the family of democratic nations. Gyenge recalled that Time magazine in its January 7, 1957 issue had named the Hungarian Freedom Fighter the Man of the year.
Government representative, Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog, addressing an audience that included diplomats and Hungarian expatriates, some of whom had been among the freedom fighters, declared that what was being commemorated was the "first crack in the wall of Stalin's ruthless regime." It took more than a generation from the onset of the revolution to the fall of Communism and the attainment of freedom and independence not only for Hungary, but for other East European countries and for Russia, he remarked, noting the Hungary paved the way for so many other nations to lift the banner and raise the spirit of freedom in their respective countries.
IN THE days when it was difficult for Jews to get out of the Soviet Union, for the majority of those who did succeed, Austria was a transit point en route to the west. But that spirit of cooperation seems to have waned after the fall of Communism.
Austrian Ambassador Kurt Hengl who is tomorrow hosting a reception to celebrate his country's national day as well as the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties with Israel, is doing so on the same date and at the same time as Russian Ambassador Gennady Tarasov is hosting a reception to mark the 15th anniversary of his country's diplomatic ties with Israel. Hengl's reception is in Herzliya Pituah; Tarasov's is in Tel Aviv. The Austrian invitations went out well in advance of the Russian, but for those people who were invited to both, the time factor will be far less relevant than the political one.
On Monday evening, Hengl was still waiting to find out the identity of the minister who will represent the government at his event. Two years ago, he had hoped that President Moshe Katsav who had just been to Austria would attend, but that didn't happen. Last year, no government minister was available and a message was read out by a representative of the Foreign Ministry. Hengl hopes that the government will take a more serious attitude to the half century celebration. He doesn't mind if the choice falls on Avigdor Lieberman before the Knesset officially approves his ministerial status.
APROPOS LIEBERMAN, whenever someone says anything about his purportedly extreme views in the presence of Moldovan Ambassador Larisa Miculet, she quickly comes to his defense, saying that she finds him to be very balanced in his thinking. For those who don't know, Lieberman hails from Moldova - but Miculet insists that she's not biased.
JERUSALEM CITY planners have for some years been talking about turning the downtown section of the city into a hub of activity. One of the first steps in this direction was designating a long stretch of Jaffa Road and adjoining streets into a restaurant area with a huge variety of wine and dine options. Another step was the restoration of the old Bezalel Academy of the Arts building.
Bezalel, which this year celebrated its centenary, transferred to the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University in 1990, and although there was much more room there to develop, the ambience of the original site was lacking.
Bezalel President Prof. Arnon Zuckerman has been urging the return of the Academy to its roots. It may take a while for that to culminate, but the wheels have been set in motion with the restoration of the historic Bezalel building, which took three years to complete at a cost of $3 million.
The powers that be at Bezalel plan to expand the downtown campus and towards this end have published an international design contest. Meanwhile, the festive rededication of the restored Bezalel building attracted a large number of well-known figures including chairman of the Bezalel Board of Governors Aharon Dovrat, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, Education Minister Yuli Tamir, internationally acclaimed architect Moshe Safdie, former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, publicist Rami Shalmor - and of course Zuckerman and many other well-known figures.
AS OF last year, the Steimatzky chain of bookstores, launched in Jerusalem in 1925 by Yechezkel Steimatzky, changed hands. The new owners, Markstone Capital Partners Fund, purchased the 150 plus stores in the chain from Eri Steimatzky the son of the founder for a sum in the vicinity of $60 million.
Markstone's California-based founder and chairman, Elliott Broidy and his wife Robin recently hosted President George W. Bush at a reception in their Los Angeles home. Bush, who is known to be pro-Israel, spoke to approximately 250 guests who had come to demonstrate support for the president and the Republican Party candidates. In an address that lasted almost an hour, Bush reiterated his steadfast support for Israel and the safety and security of its people. Broidy, in turn, lauded Bush for his exceptional leadership, courage and moral conviction, as well as his commitment to the war on terror and his determination to fight hatred, intolerance and anti-Semitism throughout the world. Broidy added that a strong Israeli economy not only benefits Israeli society, but also has positive implications for security in the region."
WHEN HER husband Sammy Shushan stepped down from heading the Mitzpe Rimon local council so that she could serve in the post, the decision aroused more than a little controversy. She wasn't the sole candidate, but it was on the cards that Flora Shushan would win - due in no small measure to the help of her brother who was on hand for her victory speech.
"I'd like to introduce you to Defence Minister Amir Peretz," she told the crowd. He's the brother of the new head of the Mitzpe Rimon Council.
MANY VISITORS flocked to the Succa of Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef during the week of Succot to wish him well, especially in the wake of his recent hospitalization. The most welcome of the guests was Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, whom Yosef thanked profusely for urging so many people to pray for his recovery. Yosef is one of Amar's predecessors in office. He served as Sephardi chief rabbi from 1973-1983.
FAREWELL PARTIES are usually held on the eve or the day of the honoree's departure from office. But it took Vice Premier Shimon Peres just over a month after she stopped working with him to host a farewell for Jill Marie Reinach, his foreign media liaison in his present and former capacities. Much as she loved the job, Reinach, who had been on loan from the Foreign Ministry, could not resist when offered a senior position with the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. In the interim, Peres had traveled abroad on several occasions, Reinach had traveled abroad and there was Succot. So the farewell party was postponed until after the holidays.