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IF YOU ask a member of President Shimon Peres's staff about the exact date of his birthday, there will be a moment of uncertainty because in published thumbnail and longer biographies it has been given as August 2, August 16 and August 21. "I don't think that he knows the real date either," said someone close to him in response to the question. But since he is more often listed as being born on August 2 than on the other dates, and that's the date on his Knesset biography, we feel perfectly in order saying Happy Birthday Mr. President - 84 years young!
LAST WEEK, on the day after Tisha Be'Av, Peres hosted a ceremony for the completion of the writing of a Torah scroll donated by Jerome and Debbie Falic of Miami to the soldiers who pray at the Western Wall. On a table at the entrance to the Beit Hanassi reception was a table with white cardboard kippot - but with one or two exceptions, they were unnecessary. Almost every male present keeps his head covered nearly all the time. There was quite a galaxy of religious leaders and political figures, among them Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and his predecessor Yisrael Meir Lau, Haifa Chief Rabbi Shaar Yashuv Cohen, Vice Premier Eli Yishai, Minister Responsible for Religious Councils Yitzhak Cohen, MK Rabbi Benny Elon, MK Rabbi Meir Porush, Israel Prize laureate Rabbi Yitzhak David Grossman, Cantor Itzhak Meir Helfgott and many others. Given the nature of the occasion and its proximity to Tisha Be'Av, there was a lot of talk about symbolically placing oneself at Mount Sinai where the Torah was handed down, the power of the Torah over evil and the importance of according dignity and respect to everyone, including those with whom we disagree. Lau, in deference to Peres's age, quoted the fifth of the 613 commandments in the Torah: "Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be longâ€¦" The commandment was not only in regard to one's biological parents, he said, but to the four matriarchs and three patriarchs of the Jewish people who as an acronym symbolize all the Children of Israel. Lau illustrated the point by going through the Hebrew spelling of Israel: Yod - Yitzhak and Yaacov; Sin - Sarah; Resh - Rivka and Rachel; Aleph - Avraham; and Lamed - Leah.
EVEN THOUGH she had attended most of the rehearsals, Faigie Zimmerman, who chairs the Israel Vocal Arts Institute, was overcome by emotion at the premiere of the opera "Lost Childhood," based on the memoirs of Polish child Holocaust survivor Dr. Yehuda Nir and his conversations with Dr. Gottfried Wagner, the look-alike great grandson of composer Richard Wagner and great-great grandson of composer and piano virtuoso Franz Liszt. Two central characters in the opera, though fictitious, are meant to represent Nir and Wagner. The two characters are psychiatrists who meet at a conference. One is Jewish, the other is German. The Jewish one more or less narrates the play taking place on the stage, depicting what happened to a typical bourgeois Jewish family in Poland during World War Two. The buzz word at the intermission and at the conclusion of the performance was "powerful."
Although there were minor criticisms, no-one was left unmoved. "That's exactly how it was in our house!" exclaimed Bulgarian Holocaust survivor Rojy Ben Yosef. Her Auschwitz number clearly visible on her arm, Roma Nutkiewicz-Benatar, who survived the Warsaw Ghetto and several concentration camps, and who has written her own memoir and is familiar with the whole plethora of Holocaust memories, admitted that despite all this, the opera gave her a jolt.
The premiere was part of the annual International Opera Summer Program and Workshop conducted at the Tel Aviv-Yaffa Music Center by a team of visiting voice and music experts headed by charismatic artistic director Joan Dornemann, assistant conductor at the New York Metropolitan Opera and one of the world's most respected vocal coaches. The final decision on whether to stage the opera was Dornemann's. "I looked at this opera for a long time before I made it happen," she said. "The music is so difficult, and I marvel that the singers can sing it. It's a very important work and it's being filmed in high resolution, so that when this opera is performed around the world and the next generation picks up the score to study, it will see that it was first performed in the workshop of Tel Aviv-Jaffa."
The music was composed by Janice Hamer and the libretto by Mary Azrael. Both came to Israel for the premiere which was completely sold out. The singers were amazing and deserved the cheers and long standing ovation they received at the conclusion of the performance.
Wagner is a great advocate for dialogue between Jews and the offspring of families that were once actively Nazi. The dialogue between the two characters who play the Jew and the German serves to explain why.
"There is no forgiveness!" thunders the Jew.
"I was born after the war into silence and denial," counters the German. "Every morning when I awake, I tell myself I am not my father."
Further into the plot the Jew talks about the nightmares that will not go away, to which the German says: "I have my nightmares too."
The Jew regards him with incredulity. "You want me to help you with your nightmares?"
In another section of the dialogue, the German, who cannot live with the idea that his father killed people, says to the Jew "You are always right. Those who suffer are always right."
It's an observation that is no less valid today.
HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR Miriam Yahav of Beersheba, who electrified the world during the commemorative ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz - when she broke through the official ranks to commandeer the microphone and ask what right the Nazis had to made her an orphan, kill her family and kill her people - was on the air again on Monday.
The diminutive but feisty Yahav, who has an Auschwitz number tattooed on her arm, recalled in January, 2005, how at age 16 she had stood naked in the snow. "It was here that they brought my family and burned everyone," she raged. "Here, they took away my name and gave me a number instead. Here, I became a number!"
Yahav, who had not been scheduled to speak, but whose anguish was conveyed to the whole world, was widely quoted afterwards. When interviewed on Israel Radio on Monday as part of a nationwide campaign to give Holocaust survivors their due, Yahav accused a succession of Israel governments of being shameless, denying Holocaust survivors their rights, and waiting for them to die rather than to allow them to live out the twilight of their lives in dignity.
Interviewed by Estee Perez, Yahav worked herself up into a frenzy and refused to believe any of the promises made by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert regarding payments that would be made to Holocaust survivors. "He's a liar," she charged.
When Perez told her that Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog, who is trying to right some of the wrongs done to Holocaust survivors, was next in line to be interviewed, Yahav refused to be placated, despite the fact that Herzog's late father Chaim Herzog, had, as an officer in the British Army, been among the liberators of the camps.
Referring to the younger Herzog she said: "I want him to look me in the eyes and tell me why Holocaust survivors are being treated in this shameful fashion."
Yahav, born Merka Szewach, was quoted in the Knesset two months after her Auschwitz outburst by Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, during his official visit to Israel.
GOOD DEEDS are not always rewarded by long life. World renowned, legendary banker, the late Edmond J. Safra, gave generously to many causes and established various funds to aid both gifted and needy people in many countries, but most notably in Israel. One of eight children born in Beirut in 1932 to wealthy Syrian banker Jacob Safra, Edmond Safra proved at an early age that he was a banking genius. He established banks in different parts of the world and all of them flourished under his guidance. Although his mind was in perfect working order, his body was not. He suffered badly from Parkinson's and required constant nursing care. His male nurse, seeking to become a hero, set fire to a section of the luxury Safra apartment in Monaco, from where he planned to rescue Safra and presumably reap a fine reward. But the fire got out of hand, and Safra died an awful death in December, 1999.
His wife Lily, an extremely wealthy woman in her own right, decided to continue with his commitment to improve the quality of lives of others through the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation, which supports hundreds of organizations in more than 50 countries by contributing to projects related to education, science, medicine, religion, culture and humanitarian relief. Known for her exquisite taste and her obsession with perfection, Lily Safra last week lived up to that reputation to the nth degree when she hosted a three-day social and cultural fest in Jerusalem to mark what would have been her husband's 75th birthday. The marathon event included tours of important cultural and historical institutions in Jerusalem, lectures by local and international experts in their fields, an IPO concert conducted by Zubin Mehta at the Hebrew University amphitheater on Mount Scopus and meticulously planned meals in specially constructed and beautifully decorated tents in the King David Hotel and the Hebrew University's Safra campus on Givat Ram.
The foreign guest list, which included some 150 people from several countries, remained constant, whereas the Israeli guest list changed from day to day. Among those who came from abroad were: British parliamentarian Baroness Rawlings, Peggy Noonan, who was the chief speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, eminent writer and broadcaster William Shawcross, British philanthropist Dame Vivienne Clore Duffield, whose foundation supports several educational, communal and leisure-time projects in Israel, international socialite Simcha Stern, widely acclaimed lawyer and Auschwitz survivor Samuel Pisar and his wife Judith, Walter H. Weiner, long-time friend and colleague of Edmond Safra and chairman and chief executive officer of Republic New York Corporation and Republic National Bank of New York, founded by Edmond J. Safra. Weiner came with his wife Nina, who is President of ISEF, the International Sephardic Education Foundation of which Lily Safra is Honorary Chairman. ISEF was founded by Edmond Safra in 1977.
Among the Israelis were former ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon and wife Ann, Hebrew University President Menachem Magidor, Israel Museum Director James Snyder (who strictly speaking is an American who resides permanently in Israel), Israel Museum President Dov Gottesmann, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, World WIZO Honorary President Raya Jaglom, former Weizmann Institute President Prof. Michael Sela and his wife Sarah, Council for a Beautiful Israel Founder Aura Herzog, MK and former Israel consul general in New York Colette Avital, and many of the students and Hebrew University faculty members who are beneficiaries of Lily Safra's largesse.
Because she cares so much about Israel, as did her late husband, Lily Safra wanted to make his birthday party a meaningful experience both emotionally and intellectually. Thus, after organizing a group tour through Yad Vashem, she had international prize-winning architect Moshe Safdie talk about what inspired him to design the impressive Holocaust history museum at Yad Vashem in the way that he did. For those of her guests who support brain research projects, she provided an additional fillip by way of an in-depth panel discussion on frontiers in brain research in which the speakers were Prof. Stephen Minger, Adi Mizrahi, Idan Segev, Hermona Soreg and Eitan Vaadia. Not only did Safra provide an excellent program, but she also proved to be an excellent hostess, greeting each and every one of her guests at the entrances to the tents.
IN WHAT has become an annual tradition, regardless of the identity of Peru's ambassador to Israel, business tycoon Yossi Maiman hosts the annual Peruvian Independence Day celebrations in the spacious garden of his Merhav Group headquarters in Herzliya Pituah. Maiman is the Honorary Consul for Peru, and personally funds many Peruvian activities in Israel. This year's celebrations were particularly special due to the guests of honor mentioned both by Maiman and by Peruvian Ambassador Luis Mendivil Canales. It's rare for an envoy of a foreign country to be able to welcome a former president of that country to an Independence Day reception abroad, and for Mendivil Canales, it was particularly pleasurable to welcome former president of Peru, Dr. Alejandro Toledo and his wife Eliane, because he had been part of their entourage during their state visit to Israel in May 2005, only a few months before Mendivil Canales was appointed ambassador. He also welcomed his opposite number, Israel's ambassador to Peru Walid Mansour and his wife.
Mendivil Canales was very pleased with this posting, he said, because Israel is a land of hope and prosperity in which he feels very much at home. Speaking of the strong ties between Peru and Israel, the ambassador noted that each year some 500 people make aliya from Peru. He also spoke of expanding economic ties and cooperation on many levels. This was also referred to by government representative Ruhama Abraham-Balila, who said that Israel was well aware of Peru's needs in water management and was sending an expert to Peru in August. Guests were entertained by Peruvian singers, dancers and musicians. Unlike previous years, the garden was pleasantly cool - not because there had been a sudden drop in the humidity, but because Maiman had revamped the garden and had installed walkways and fans.
VISITORS TO the Akirov Mamilla Mall, which forms a bridge between east and west Jerusalem, can see a duplicate of the engagement ring which film star Brad Pitt chose for Jennifer Aniston, along with their wedding rings. The rings were made by veteran Italian Jewelers Damiani, who signed a contract with Pitt to become one of their associate designers. Even though Pitt and Aniston's relationship ended in divorce, his relationship with Damiani remains strong. Damiani is prominently displayed in the elegant Miller Jewelry store. This is the first store that the Miller chain, which operates in Tel Aviv and Herzliya Pituah, has opened in the capital.
At an invitees only opening night, Miri Shetreet, the wife of legal expert and former government minister Prof. Shimon Shetreet fell in love with a beautifully wrought gold necklace and mentioned that she had a birthday coming up soon. The store offered her a discount. When her husband heard the final figure, 16,000, he asked whether it was shekels or dollars. When told it was shekels, he said he might consider it, but his wife said that as much as she craved the necklace, she didn't crave it at that price.
One of the other guests, Hadassah orthopedist and eighth generation Jerusalemite Prof. Rami Moushayof, who came with his wife Yael, could not believe the amount of activity that was going on late at night. People were strolling through the mall, all the coffee shops were full, and traffic was heavy on the road outside. When he was a boy, all of Jerusalem was asleep by 9 p.m., he said.
Among the other guests were Revital Balashnikov, the wife of the director general of the Knesset and Hezi Ballas, the brother of Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik, who flashed an almost identical brilliant smile to that for which Itzik is famous. Also present was Mauro Checchin, the Switzerland-based area manager for Damiani International, who was paying his first ever visit to Israel. He had been totally enchanted by Jerusalem's Old City, he said, and looked forward to coming back. "There is nothing like Jerusalem, there are no words."
IT'S NOT at all uncommon in Tel Aviv to have Friday noon concerts, operas and theater performances. The idea has yet to catch on in Jerusalem, where there have been occasional late morning and noon time events on Fridays, but not nearly as many as there are in Tel Aviv. That may be the reason that despite a well structured advertising campaign, the hall at the Intercultural Center for Youth was not even half full at the designated starting time of the premiere of "Jerusalem Stories." The audience that did show up was informed that there would be a slight delay because the show's producers were waiting for a certain group to arrive. After around 20 minutes, they decided to let the show go on regardless.
Curiously, the stories were originally written in English by Carol Grossman and translated into Hebrew by Melisse Boskovitch. For the benefit of those people whose command of Hebrew is poor or non-existent, there were printed copies of the text in English. Most of the people present were in fact native English speakers, though a lot of them were fluent in Hebrew.
Actors Chava Ortman and Royi Naveh play a series of characters, each of whom presents a monologue. Ortman is a brilliant actress who completely threw herself into her diverse roles, radically altering her appearance, her voice and her intonation. In one of her roles, she spoke rather rapidly, because her character was a quick, nervous type. Boskovitch pulled her up short and asked her to slow down because not everyone could understand her. Ortman looked as if she was having a heart attack. A wave of expressions crossed her face - and then she finally said: "Well that's never happened to me before." However, true trooper that she is, she inhaled deeply and resumed from where she'd left off - but at a slightly slower pace.
SHE'S A highly successful business woman, a former MK (albeit for the briefest of periods), a captivating speaker who is much in demand, a singer, a former model, and someone who's obviously discovered the elixir of youth. Now, Pnina Rosenblum can add another string to her bow. She also has a diplomatic connection. Rosenblum has rented out her luxurious home in Ramat Gan to the Embassy of Uzbekistan on a long term contract. The house, which includes a home movie theater and a swimming pool, had been on the market for quite some time, but Rosenblum couldn't find a buyer who would meet her price.
IN A country of immigrants from more than 100 different national and ethnic backgrounds, there are bound to be foreign influences on the native tongue. For instance balagan meaning mess, chaos or fiasco, is not a Hebrew word at all, but an import from the Russian lexicon. In fact, the word exists in most Slav languages.
Then there are universal words such as psychiatrist or psychotic, the pronunciation of which may change from language to language, but which nonetheless is not a Hebrew word. Whereas in English the 'p' is silent, in Hebrew it is pronounced, and someone who is mentally unstable is referred to as psychi. Among the other words included in the list of universals are "radio" and "television," though in Hebrew the latter gets a local suffix and is called televizia.
People responsible for the correct usage of Hebrew on Israel Radio and Army Radio are getting a little worried about faulty pronunciation and grammar. Of course, it's easy to mispronounce when most of the vowels in the language are under-vowels, which rarely appear in printed texts other than holy books. A Jerusalem Post staff member was stopped recently by someone with a Sabra accent who asked the way to "Bluffer Street." She'd never heard of it, certainly not in that particular neighborhood. When he showed her the printed address, she realized that he had probably not learned about the Balfour Declaration, The street that he was looking for was Balfour and he was right next to it.
As for grammar, Hebrew is such a complicated language that it's not surprising that people get it all wrong. Many feminine words have masculine endings both in singular and plural, and there are masculine words with feminine plurals. Imagine how those nouns affect verbs, adjectives and adverbs. The pitfalls -- even for natives -- are endless.
To try to overcome the ever increasing mistakes on the part of Hebrew broadcasters, Ruth Almagor-Ramon, Israel Radio's Hebrew language expert, and Avshalom Kor, her Army Radio counterpart, are launching a cooperative effort towards correct Hebrew on the airwaves. One of their pet peeves is a common error related to the North and South Ayalon Highways. Saying Ayalon North or Ayalon South, according to the two experts, is incorrect. This particular language concept, they claim, is borrowed from the English, whereas in Hebrew, the proper way to refer to the direction of the highways is Ayalon Northwards (Ayalon Tzafona) or Ayalon Southwards (Ayalon Daroma), which suggests continuity in travel. Most radio and television announcers say Ayalon Tzafon or Ayalon Darom.
The two radio stations have thus far agreed in principle to improve the quality of spoken Hebrew on their respective outlets, but have yet to reveal how they intend to go about it.
Occasionally an interviewer corrects an interviewee who has played havoc with the language. The question is who will correct the announcers and the anchors when they make mistakes - and will such corrections be broadcast so that listeners can hear the difference?