Grapevine: Filling the gap between right and left

Dinner with William Hague, an educational playground is dedicated in Netivot, Irish expats welcome the returning envoy, and the remarkable back story of a 92-year-old’s bar mitzva.

November 9, 2010 21:11
William Hague

William Hague 58. (photo credit: Associated Press)

GUESTS COMING from the Jerusalem area to the dinner hosted by British Ambassador Matthew Gould and his wife Celia at their residence in Ramat Gan in honor of British Foreign Secretary William Hague were fearful of arriving late because of traffic congestion.

Some were on the road for more than two hours. Fortunately Hague was also coming from Jerusalem, so he too was late.

The key purpose of the dinner was to announce the formation of a new top-level UK-Israel Life Sciences Council.

Hague sees science as one of the cornerstones of the bilateral relationship, since both countries are leaders in science and technology. He hailed the Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange program, now in its second year, and commended its founders and supporters, the British Council in Israel, the Pears Foundation, UJIA and the Zabludowicz Foundation, as well as leading British and Israeli academics and both governments.

Several hi-tech companies had display booths, but the one that attracted the most attention, including Hague’s, was AposTherapy, headed by Amit Mor, that relives pain in back and joints and enables comfortable mobility. Hague also took a look at NDS Technologies, then moved with ease among the guests. He had to go through the usual photo opportunities before he could sit down to eat in the Moorish-style tent on the lawn, posing with Science Minister Daniel Herschkowitz, Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman, Ambassador to the UK Ron Prosor and various other dignitaries and businesspeople.

Among the guests were Weizmann Institute president Daniel Zajfman, Technion president Peretz Lavie, Ben-Gurion University president Rivka Carmi, MKs Einat Wilf and Meir Sheetrit, Prof. Ruth Arnon, president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, hi-tech entrepreneur Yossi Vardi, chairman of the Kadima Council Haim Ramon and business tycoon and philanthropist Poju Zabludowicz and his wife Anita, who flew in from England for the occasion and who cosponsored the dinner.

Hague said he was delighted to see Gould as ambassador. “I inherited him as private secretary and I sent him immediately to Israel,” said Hague, plainly confident Gould would do a good job. Earlier in the day Hague had visited President Shimon Peres, whom he always sees when he comes here.

Herschkowitz observed that Hague had been seated between two ministers who represented the left and the right of government, prompting Vardi, who was sitting back to back with Hague, to pass him a note reading: “In the right nothing is right and in the left nothing is left.” Hague chuckled, as did others at the table.

■ HONORARY HUNGARIAN Consul- General for Jerusalem Josef Weiss and his wife Anita hosted Hungarian Foreign Minister János Martonyi at their home this week.

Only a handful of the guests could not be counted as either Hungarians or Hungarian expatriates. It was the third time that Martonyi had been feted by the Weiss family, and it was his fourth visit.

Weiss noted that the importance that Hungary attaches to its relations with Israel was evidenced in the fact that Martonyi was here only five months after taking office. “Those of us with Hungarian background,” said Weiss, “have both good and bad memories, but an abiding interest in what goes on in Hungary.” He also praised Ambassador to Hungary Aliza Bin Noun and Hungarian Ambassador Zoltan Szentgyorgi. Both were among the guests, as were Eytan Bentsur, a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry; Vera Aran, whose late husband was a chief of protocol at the Foreign Ministry; Vered Swid, the prime minister’s adviser on the status of women; and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger.

Reflecting on his first visit in 1991, two years after the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Martonyi, who had then been a junior secretary in the Foreign Ministry, recalled a reception at the King David Hotel attended by the late Robert Maxwell. Seated to the right of Martonyi at his table was a young man “with a special device in his ear.” Martonyi had mistakenly presumed he had a hearing problem. He subsequently discovered that the young man was Ehud Barak, and the device had nothing to do with any hearing impairment.

Martonyi, who is unabashedly fond of Israel, pledged to come back “as soon as possible” and noted that aside from trade, investment, political and cultural ties, there are strong emotional ties. Of 20,000 Hungarianspeaking Israeli citizens, he said, 15,000 have applied for and received Hungarian citizenship.

In a serious vein, Martonyi, when asked about the return of Hungarian Jewish property looted by the Nazis, declared that Hungary had been the first country, as far back as 1945, to restore property to the original owners and had “reconstituted title of everything taken away.” But then the communists nationalized everything, including Jewish property. Since the fall of communism, some things that had been nationalized had been given back, he said, but not everything.

■ ONE OF the activities of the International Women’s Club is “Meet My Country,” which generally includes a brief travel documentary, a musical interlude and the cuisine of the country being introduced. Such events are usually hosted by the wives of ambassadors, but with the ever increasing number of female ambassadors, some are now being hosted by them, as was the case last week when Polish Ambassador Agnieszka Magdziak Miszewska opened her home for the first such function on the IWC’s current calendar. The IWC year begins in October. With Chopin melodies playing softly in the background, the ambassador said that she was happy, in the 20th anniversary year of renewed relations, to be able to host such a large group.

She also made the point that the current relationship, unlike that severed in 1967, is with a free, democratic and sovereign Poland. She spoke of the long history of Polish Poles and Polish Jews, and the unique civilization that Jews had created in Poland. While in no way ignoring Jewish suffering on Polish soil, Magdziak Miszewska underscored that despite the tragedy of the Holocaust, a thousand years of Jewish life in Poland should not be forgotten.

Kibbutznik Shiri Vilan, whose husband Yahel was deputy head of mission at the Israel Embassy, said that Warsaw was their fifth posting in 13 years, and her personal favorite. Both of Vilan’s parents were Polish-born, so when she got to Poland there was a sense of familiarity in the language and the food.

Polish Institute director Joanna Stachyra spoke of the numerous cultural exchanges and said that Poland was interested in expanding them into a network of artists in every field of the visual and performing arts in the hope that this would provide a platform for dialogue that was completely unrelated to Holocaust issues.

■ INSTITUTIONAL FUNCTIONS honoring activists and philanthropists more or less follow a routine pattern.

Libby and Moshe Werthan, who were being honored by Pardes, the Jerusalem-based Jewish studies center, wanted something different – and got it. For one thing, instead of the usual glossy papered brochure, there was a digital brochure with greetings on screen, some of them just printed and others featuring their relatives and friends actually expressing their good wishes and their affection. In addition, there were study sessions on different topics related to Rabbi Akiva, his family and his students.

After that there was a tour through a section of Kibbutz Ramat Rahel where actors and actresses playing characters from the era of Rabbi Akiva told of events and people of their time.

Then there was a sumptuous buffet for close to 400 of the couple’s relatives and friends as well as teachers, students and staff of Pardes. Speeches were kept to an absolute minimum.

■ TOWARD THE end of last month, the 500th anniversary of the birth of Dona Gracia – the 16th century businesswoman who preceded Theodor Herzl in envisaging the reestablishment of a Jewish state and preceded Baron Edmond de Rothschild, in the acquisition of land for Jewish settlement – was celebrated at Beit Hanassi in Jerusalem. Dona Gracia purchased land in Tiberias and would have undoubtedly continued to buy land, but for her untimely death. Dona Gracia, for most of her life, had to hide her Jewish identity, as did so many Portuguese and Spanish Jews who practiced their true faith in secret. This was one of the reasons she financed and promoted a return to the Jewish homeland, so that Jews could practice their religion openly.

From November 15-18, Tiberias will celebrate her birthday with some of the country’s leading Sephardi entertainers, such as Galit Giat, Yehoram Gaon, Mickey Gabrielov, Avi Toledano, Shimon Parnes and Aharon Perera.

■ ON MONDAY, The Jerusalem Post published an AP photograph of a 92- year-old celebrating his bar mitzva at the Western Wall. Beyond stating that Hans de Leuw had fought against the Nazis, there was no background story. Some of the details were subsequently provided by former ambassador to Belgium and Switzerland Yitzhak Meir, who met de Leuw earlier this year when both were invited to Bratislava to participate in the 65th anniversary of the Red Army’s victory over the Nazis.

Meir was with the Israeli delegation and was one of the speakers. Later, someone told him that there was a man who wanted to speak to the ambassador. Meir went over, introduced himself, heard the man’s name and immediately suspected that he was Jewish.

“What’s your real name?” he asked.

“I just told you,” said de Leuw.

Meir persisted.

Eventually de Leuw told him that his name was Eliezer ben Moshe. De Leuw’s daughter, who accompanied him, was surprised, and exclaimed: “I never knew that.” To Meir, the latter part of De Leuw’s surname was reminiscent of Levy, and he had simply put two and two together.

Meir was born in Antwerp and was on the last train out on May 12, 1940, after the Nazi conquest. His father had tied a tag around his neck with his name on it. When the boy asked why, his father explained that in case there was an explosion on the train, it would identify him to whoever found him. “But there’s no address,” said the boy.

“We don’t have an address any more,” his father replied.

By coincidence, de Leuw was on the same train, which as it happened was bombed. Meir’s family survived and got to southern France. De Leuw also survived and headed toward the sea, joining the British and later volunteering for the Canadian army with which he landed at Normandy. In the course of their conversation, Meir learned that de Leuw was not involved with the Jewish community and that he had never had a bar mitzva. It was something that he had always regretted, he said. Meir asked him if he would like to have a bar mitzva in Israel and the answer was affirmative, but de Leuw added that he would like to have it with young students.

Meir then contacted Keren Yaldeinu, an organization that provides educational enrichment and social services to economically disadvantaged Jewish children and their families. He persuaded them that de Leuw was a symbol of survival.

Accordingly, he was included with a group of seven boys and seven girls from Kiryat Shmona who were taken to the Western Wall for their bar and bat mitzva celebrations.

For both de Leuw and Meir, the bar mitzva was an emotionally moving experience. “Now I feel that I belong,” exclaimed de Leuw, who said he might not have felt the same way had he celebrated his bar mitzva at a younger age. Next week, he is scheduled to meet with Belgian Ambassador Benedicte Frankinet.

■ AT A CEREMONY in Netivot some five months ago, Keren Hayesod Geneva chairman Jo Benhamou inaugurated an educational playground that he and his wife Viviane were giving to its children. Last week, they formally opened Children’s World in memory of Benhamou’s parents, who are buried in Netivot. The town is one of those at which missiles have been aimed from Gaza. Keren Hayesod has been supportive in good times and bad and has donated numerous projects to the town. Benhamou has been involved with Netivot since the 1970s and has contributed to its spectacular development.

The dedication ceremony was attended by Keren Hayesod chairman Eliezer Sandberg, Mayor Yechiel Zohar, other dignitaries and, of course, a lot of children.

■ HER WRITINGS have appeared from time to time in The Jerusalem Post and she has won a National Jewish Book Award for her spiritual memoir The Blessing of a Broken Heart, which has been translated into three languages and adapted for the stage.

Now Sherri Mandell, who teaches creative writing in Jerusalem and lives in Tekoa with her husband and children, has won the first prize in the Moment Magazine short story contest for “Jerusalem Stone.”

Mandell, who made aliya from the US in 1996, is better known as the codirector of the Koby Mandel Foundation, established in memory of her 13-year-old son Koby who was murdered by terrorists in 2001. The foundation runs summer camps for bereaved children and mothers.

■ MASTER SAUSAGE-maker Marcel Hess, who has won numerous gold and silver medals in international competitions in which he was the only kosher competitor, decided to reveal some of his secrets to a select group of journalists. His family has been in the sausage-making and deli business since 1795, starting in Germany, then moving in 1912 to Basel, Switzerland. A little over a decade ago, they made aliya and opened a restaurant and deli in Ra’anana. After a few years, they moved to Jerusalem and opened a restaurant downtown.

Then they opened a sausage-making factory and deli in the Givat Shaul neighborhood.

Eventually, it all got to be too much for Hess and he contemplated closing down. His son Doron, who when on leave from the army had been helping his parents in the business, was horrified at the suggestion. “You can’t close down after more than two centuries and seven generations,” he told his father. Doron and one of his sisters said they would take over, and they’ve also modernized the premises and added new items to the menu while sticking to the traditions of meat and spices with no preservatives and no extras such as flour or bread crumbs. At most they’ll add a vegetable to a sausage mixture to enhance its flavor.

As for retirement, for Marcel Hess it’s currently on the back burner.

Tomorrow, he’s reopening his Ra’anana restaurant and deli in the same premises as before.

■ AWARE THAT during his four years as ambassador to Ireland Zion Evrony had encountered more than a little anti-Israel feeling and had bravely soldiered on, the Irish expat community turned up in force at Yad Lebanim Ra’anana to listen to the recently returned envoy talk about the highlights of his mission.

Many of those present had attended a farewell for Evrony at the home of Malcolm Gafson, chairman of the Israel Ireland Friendship League, and now they were happy to welcome him back to Israel.

Evrony spoke frankly about the frequency with which he had defended Israel against those who sought to defame and to delegitimize it, and was equally frank during the Q&A.

Also present was Irish Ambassador Breifne O’Reilly who, in an effort to prove that it wasn’t all black, gave examples of the positive aspects of bilateral relations.

To ensure that Ireland would be more than just a memory or an addition to his CV for Evrony, Gafson presented him with the newly published Hebrew translation of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Evrony’s successor Boaz Modai already has a copy. O’Reilly, who was celebrating the first anniversary of his posting here, also received a book from Gafson: a copy of Martin Gilbert’s newly revised Israel – a Comprehensive History.

■ AMONG THE names being bandied around as possible external candidates for the leadership of the Labor Party is that of Chemi Peres.

Yes, his father left Labor for Kadima prior to his election to the presidency, but there are many families whose members are affiliated with different political parties. Anyway, the word is out that both Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Ofer Eini have their eye on him.

For the record, he’s a former pilot who served in the IAF for 10 years, and later served as a senior consultant to Israel Aerospace Industries..

He’s a managing general partner and cofounder of Pitango Venture Capital and is chairman of the board of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. And he serves on the boards of numerous companies, nonprofit organizations and several institutions of higher learning.

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