LESS THAN two months after taking up her position as foreign press and public affairs adviser to the prime minister, Col.(res.) Miri Eisin had her first meeting last Wednesday with the Foreign Press Association, whose chairman, Simon McGregor Wood, she met during her first week in office.
Recognized at home and abroad as one of Israel's best spokespersons, Eisin is not a solo flyer. She's a team player who obviously wants to make it clear that the native English speakers in the forefront of Israel's information campaign are not in competition with each other, but are all on the same side.
This would explain why a seasoned speaker of her caliber would bring along Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev, Government Press Office director Daniel Seaman and David Baker, the foreign press liaison in the Prime Minister's Office, whom she calls her producer. The affection and admiration is mutual. "She's a gift," says Baker. "She's a real gift to the State of Israel."
Aware of the frustrations generated by offthe-record briefings, Eisin immediately put her audience at ease by announcing that everything she had to say was on record.
She didn't duck any issues, answered questions candidly and articulately, and when she didn't know the answer, as in a question related to former Comverse Technology CEO Kobi Alexander, she replied frankly that she would have to go and find out.
The question was whether Israel has an extradition treaty with Namibia, where Alexander, who is wanted in the US for alleged fraud and conspiracy, was arrested two weeks ago and has since been freed on bail.
Regev stepped in to help her out. Israel does not have an embassy in Namibia, he said, and to the best of his knowledge had not been approached by any of the players in the drama.
Most of the questions focused on Lebanon or matters related to the Palestinian Authority.
Eisin's preamble included a quick review of changing priorities in the aftermath of the war in Lebanon.
Initially listing the economic revival of the North as the government's key concern, she quickly corrected herself, and said: "The top priority of the State of Israel and the prime minister is the safe return of our three kidnapped servicemen Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser," whose pictures Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has in his office facing him, she said.
Other than that, the main issue, she then said, was the economic rehabilitation, bolstering and building up of the North and communities surrounding the Gaza Strip in the South.
"It goes together with reassessing realignment," she said, clarifying that contrary to some media reports, the realignment plan for Judea and Samaria is still part of government policy, but is being reassessed.
From the FPA's point of view, the most important question was whether it could host the prime minister within the framework of its 50th anniversary celebrations in 2007. Although she could not give an absolute guarantee, Eisin promised that she and the PM's communications director, Asi Shariv, would work on it.
ALTHOUGH ISRAELIS usually want to be at home when the country is engaged in a war, Naftali Tamir, Israel's ambassador to Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji, considered it a privilege to be in Australia during the recent war in Lebanon.
In an address to the Israel-Australia, New Zealand and Oceania Chamber of Commerce, Tamir explained that for all of Israel's ambassadors abroad, the war was a test of the strength of the relationship between the countries in which they serve and Israel.
He was pleased to report that despite the pressures put on the Australian government by some of its 600,000 citizens of the Muslim faith, including 25,000 dual nationals of Lebanese origin, Australia continued to be a true friend to Israel.
Tamir said that he found commitment to Australia's policy towards Israel across the political spectrum. In his talks with government leaders and those of the opposition, he encountered a broad understanding for and sympathy with Israel. Despite a freeze in relations between New Zealand and Israel last year, Tamir also found a keen understanding of Israel's predicament among New Zealand's political leaders.
Financial constraints notwithstanding, Tamir believes that it would be in Israel's best interests to reopen its consulate in Sydney and set up an embassy in Wellington.
SUCCOT IS a time when members of Emunah worldwide flock to Israel. The president of World Emunah hosts a reception for them and their spouses to thank them for their efforts and to update them on current needs. Past presidents have usually had to make use of a public facility to accommodate the crowd. Fortunately, Naomi Leibler, the current president, has a huge roof-top garden where she and her husband Isi Leibler also set up an exceptionally large succa.
Close to 100 people found their way past the penthouse to partake of a sumptuous meal and to listen firstly to Haifa Chief Rabbi Sha'ar Yashuv Cohen and then to go downstairs to a communal hall shared by the residents of the building to listen to Rabbi Benny Lau, rabbi of the Bet Morasha Institute and of the Ramban Synagogue, Jerusalem.
The occasion was also used to celebrate Isi Leibler's birthday. Cohen said that he had never been in a private succa of this size. As a representative of the North he said, he wanted to thank Emunah for the tremendous work it did on behalf of people in distress in the N o r t h during the war, especially with regard to evacuating children and placing them in its facilities elsewhere.
Since he was speaking at the end of the meal, he referred to the grace after meals and quoted his late brother-in-law, former chief rabbi of the IDF and later of Israel, Shlomo Goren, who on commenting that the prayer for peace comes towards the end of the grace, had explained: "First you do all the things you have to do to build up the country. Then you make peace."
Lau also referred to the war, and said that he was much more optimistic now than he had been a year earlier following disengagement from Gaza. At that time he said, religious Zionist groups felt that they had been abandoned by the rest of the Jewish world and that the trauma of disengagement was only their problem.
"We felt there was something wrong with our relationship with the Jewish People. Then came the war in Lebanon and immediately we were as one people, one family with one heart." PS: The Leiblers will have further cause for celebration next week, when Naomi Leibler's mother, Bertha Porush, marks her 103rd birthday.
THE OCCASION was the annual Succot breakfast hosted by the Bank of Jerusalem for its local clients and its non-resident clients who make a point of celebrating the festival in the Holy Land.. The guest speaker was former IDF chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon, and the topic of his address was "The Centrality of Jewish Zionist Education in Building National Resilience."
"It's good not to speak about the military but about education," said Ya'alon in his opening sentence, and promptly continued to talk about the Lebanon campaign, the threat of Katyusha and Kassam rockets, conventional and non-conventional warfare, terrorism, the propaganda war, disengagement, et al. Yes, he did get around to education, but only at the tail end of his remarks, and then only via subtitles, rather than getting into the nitty-gritty.
TRUTH AND fiction sometimes meld in the most unexpected way. In her book Four Mothers, fifth-generation Jerusalemite Shifra Horn wrote of a wonder child born with a tooth in its mouth. Now it appears that such things really do happen. Horn's own granddaughter, Gefen, was born with a tooth in her mouth, and Horn, who still can't get over the coincidence, tells anyone who will listen.
She related the story once again at a brunch hosted by wellknown Jerusalem attorney Tami Raveh. Other authors present included Naomi Ragen and Yehudit Rotem. Also in attendance were reviewer Tzipi Shohat and fashion designer Dorit Sadeh. Between them, they had a lot to talk about.
WRITING AND painting is very much a family affair in the home of international household word artists Yosl and Audrey Bergner, who in 1950 moved from Australia to Israel and instantly became leading figures in the Tel Aviv art scene. Vienna-born and Warsaw-raised Yosl Bergner, whose signature as an artist is reflected in the soulful Jewish eyes of his subjects, is the son of worldrenowned Yiddish writer Melech Ravitch, and the nephew of the equally well-known Yiddish writer Hertz Bergner.
Sydney-born Audrey Bergner is an illustrator, theater costume designer and writer. Her book, Tel Aviv Short Stories, which originally appeared in English two years ago has just been published in Hebrew by Yediot Aharonot as Sippurim mi Tel Aviv. But given that the family's literary heritage is Yiddish, the Hebrew version of the book was launched at Beit Levick, the Tel Aviv home of the Yiddish Writers Association. Among those present at the almost familial gathering were the Bergners' daughter Hindl (who works at one of the Steimatzky bookstores), musician and the book's translator Dory Parnes (whose Hebrew versions of Hamlet and Flaubert's Letters and Songs of Lorca are now on sale in local bookstores), members of Beit Leivick and several of the Bergners' close friends.
Among them were actress and psychologist Edith Astruc, Hebrew writer Boaz Evron and Leah Shlanger, who used to broadcast in Yiddish on Israel Radio. Shlanger recently returned from her annual visit to the Edinburgh Festival where she presented a one-woman show in Yiddish. Speaking in Hebrew and Yiddish, journalist Itzhak Luden, the publisher of the Yiddish newspaper Unser Velt, spoke warmly of the Bergners. He was followed by popular Yiddish author and poet Rivka Bassman Ben Hayim with a reading in Yiddish of Shoelaces, one of the stories from Audrey Bergner's book.
Journalist Diana Lerner, who had prepared a speech in Yiddish, decided after listening to Luden's beautiful command of the language that she would rather speak Hebrew. Several of those present who have known her for years were unaware of her fluency in Hebrew and were pleasantly surprised. Lerner spoke about the art of telling stories.
LERNER WAS also among the invitees at a gathering hosted by Gottex founder Leah Gottlieb in celebration of her 89th birthday. Gottlieb, credited for establishing Israel's place on the international fashion map, invited some of the living legends who had worked with her throughout the years.
Lerner discovered Gottlieb during the period in which the latter was still manufacturing raincoats and continued to profile her in publications in Israel and abroad for more than half a century. There was instant chemistry, possibly because both women were born in Hungary.
Then there was fashion photographer Ben Lamm whose marvelous photographs turned every Gottex catalogue into a masterpiece that people wanted to keep on their coffee tables. There was former house model Tziona Primor, who has lost neither her figure nor her dazzling smile, and Helena Yaniv, who for years managed the Gottex shop and showroom at the Tel Aviv Hilton.
And there was Cissy (whose surname has always remained a mystery), who was a Gottex employee for 23 years and currently acts as Gottlieb's personal assistant, as well as many other former executives and staff involved in the Gottex success story. Gottlieb told her guests that she had brought them together as a bridge from the past to the present "because we are one family."
Still elegant and quietly dynamic, with an eye to the future, Gottlieb, now creating a new line under own signature label, looked almost youthful in her white pants suit. She and her fluffy white Pekinese that accompanies her everywhere had just returned from Paris and Milan, where the exacting Gottlieb had inspected fabrics produced to her specifications.
Gottlieb declined birthday gifts but asked that donations be made to the Judith Charity Fund, which she established in memory of her daughter Judith Gottfried, a talented designer in her own right and vice president of Gottex. Gottfried died from cancer shortly after Gottex was taken over by Lev Leviev. The Judith Fund cares for needy families, impoverished students, the elderly and the infirm.
CHAIRMAN OF the Israel Museum board of directors, Isaac Molho, and his wife, Shlomit, hosted a reception in their Caesarea home in honor of Dan and Susan Propper the new co-chairs of the Association of Israeli Friends of the Museum. They succeed Shlomo Nechama, chairman of the board of Bank Hapoalim, who is now honorary chairman of the organization.
Among those who came to congratulate the Proppers in their new roles were Israel Museum director James Snyder and his wife Tina, property developer and philanthropist Alfred Akirov and his wife Hava, Jerusalem Foundation president Ruth Cheshin and her husband retired Supreme Court justice Mishael Cheshin, Michael Federmann, who inter alia is chairman of the Dan Hotel Corporation, member of the boards of governors of the Weizmann Institute and the Hebrew University, and president of the Israel-Germany Chamber of Commerce with his wife Liora, Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer and his wife Rhoda, Oded Gera, executive director of the international board of governors of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, scientist Prof.
Michael Sela and his wife Sara, banker and real estate developer Zalman Shoval and his wife Kenna, Elem president and president of the Friends of the Rabin Medical Center, Nava Barak, advertising agency executive CEO Moshe Teumim and his wife Irit, and Reuma Weizman, ardent activist for the Micha School for the Deaf and widow of Israel's seventh president.
One of Israel's leading business personalities, Dan Propper is chairman of the board of the Osem Group. He is also a former president of the Israel Manufacturers Association and has earned numerous awards and citations in recognition of his contributions to Israel's industry and economy. British-born Susan Propper is active in numerous organizations. She is a past president of the International Women's Club and sits on the boards of Elem and Micha. Both she and her husband have been actively associated with the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora.
ANOTHER PROMINENT businessman who has accepted the position of chairman of the friends of a cultural organization is Teva CEO Israel Makov, who is continuing the work of his recently deceased wife Nira by taking over the chairmanship of the Friends of Gesher Theater.
An announcement to this effect was made within the framework of a special performance of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard under the direction of Yevgeny Arye as a memorial tribute to Nira Makov and her work for the theater during her four-year tenure as chairperson of the group. The performance was held in the presence of her family, her personal friends, Friends of Gesher and members of Israel's business community. Nira Makov with her passion for culture and art, put her heart and soul into Gesher.
Her gala fund-raisers in Tel Aviv and Toronto were legend. To preserve her memory in perpetuity, her family and friends established a fund in her name that will be used exclusively on behalf of Gesher, including the financing of at least one top quality production per year.
n IT'S NOT uncommon for institutions of higher learning to bask in the limelight of their successful alumni. It is not yet certain whether attorney Kinneret Barashi and her client will achieve their goal, which is to remove President Moshe Katsav from office and to have him charged with a series of offences.
Barashi represents "A," the former Beit Hanassi secretary who alleges that the president coerced her into a sexual relationship and that he took payments lodged in foreign bank accounts for granting pardons.
Katsav has not been indicted, but Barashi's alma mater, the Netanya Academic College, has already put out a press release explaining that Barashi met "A" at an Open Day in which preparatory students are introduced to graduates who are well-known to the public.
The statement lists other alumni such as MK Moshe Kahalon who chairs the Knesset Economics Committee, journalist Ronel Fisher, Beit Shemesh Mayor Danny Vaknin (who's facing a few personal legal problems right now), and some other notables.
The college seems to be putting the cart before the horse. Most Israelis had never heard of Barashi until the Katsav affair, and may quickly forget her if the case dies a natural death.
THE ISRAEL Britain and Commonwealth Association (ICBA) is gearing up for the annual Balfour Dinner, which this year will be held on November 6 at the Tel Aviv Hilton in celebration of the 89th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. It is customary for the event to include two speakers - one from the United Kingdom and another from Israel.
In the past, it has generally been the custom to bring over a British dignitary or celebrity - last year it was Sir David Frost - but given the fact that British Ambassador Tom Phillips is such a relatively recent arrival, the Balfour Dinner seemed an appropriate opportunity to introduce him to a large gathering of British expatriates living in Israel.
The Israeli speaker will be Dan Meridor, a former cabinet secretary, former justice minister, former finance minister and currently chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation.
IBCA chairperson Brenda Katten is already thinking ahead to next year's Balfour Dinner - mainly because round figures signify milestones, and the 90th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration will indeed signify a milestone in Anglo-Israel relations.