WORLD EMUNAH President Naomi Leibler will go to extraordinary lengths to organize and participate in the celebrations of members of her large family - but when it comes to her own happy occasions, she shies away from fuss. Thus, when she and her husband Isi, who is a regular columnist with The Jerusalem Post in addition to being actively involved with several think tanks and other organizations, marked their 50th wedding anniversary in December, she resisted the arguments of her four children and absolutely insisted that there be no party. Instead, she and her husband decided to celebrate alone in Eilat. Later in January the Leiblers agreed to co-host a Kiddush in their synagogue in honor of their jubilee anniversary. But their offspring remained determined to do something a little more festive and enlisted the aid of family friends, retired diplomat Yehuda Avner (who is also a Post columnist) and his wife Mimi. Two of the Leibler brothers Gary and Jonathan and their sister Tamara Grynberg, who live in Israel, organized a gala dinner at the Jerusalem Sheraton Plaza and kept their other brother Romy, who lives in Australia, apprised of what was happening. Meanwhile the Avners told the senior Leiblers that they had to entertain a couple of visiting diplomats and asked them to come along and contribute to the conversation. Unsuspecting that a surprise party was awaiting them, they readily agreed.
Though fairly genial these days, Isi Leibler in his younger years was known for his impetuous expletives, and when he and his wife entered the banquet room, a four letter word did in fact escape his lips, but the outpouring of affection and applause was contagious and although the couple was initially embarrassed, the red soon disappeared from their faces, to be replaced by warm and delighted smiles. Nine of the guests had actually been at their wedding. Some of the guests almost let the cat out of the bag, but somehow the surprise element of the party remained, even when Romy and two of his three children arrived from Australia. Romy regularly commutes for business reasons and since two generations of the family spent study periods in Israel, there was nothing too unusual about Romy's children doing the same.
Naomi said she felt privileged to have shared so much with her husband over the years. Isi, a seasoned orator who is seldom at a loss for words, admitted that on this occasion, he hardly knew what to say. He was just grateful to belong to a five generation family. His mother and mother-in-law are still alive and living in the Leibler household. He has four "marvelous" children, 17 grandchildren aged from 26 to less than a year, and twin great grandsons who celebrated their first birthday last Friday. Family friend Rabbi Shlomo Riskin (yet another Post columnist), made the point that all the people who had come to join the Leiblers were not there because they had to be, but because they wanted to be.
n CONVENTIONAL WISDOM says that a lady doesn't reveal her age. But at a certain point, it becomes a matter of pride. In fact, philanthropist and social activisit Raya Jaglom, who turns 90 in April, brought her birthday forward by two months so that she could celebrate it on Tu B'Shvat together with 30 Hebrew University students who were the recipients of scholarships that she had donated last June at the meeting of the HU Board of Governors. Jaglom and her late husband Joseph began donating scholarships as far back as 1968. Jaglom is a hands-on philanthropist who likes to be involved in the projects to which she contributes. Unfortunately, 15 of the students were taking exams so she could meet only half of those to whom she had given scholarships last year. They included secular and Orthodox, Jews and Arabs, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, male and female from a variety of disciplines and from different parts of the country. What they had in common, aside from their place of study, was that Jaglom's generosity had relieved them of the need to work and had enabled them to focus on their research.
Jaglom was thrilled that the university had arranged a lecture and a musical interlude as well as a buffet lunch so as to create an academic, yet relaxed atmosphere. What made her even happier was that the lecturer was Rachel Milstein, who heads the Institute of Asian and African Studies and who studied at the HU together with Jaglom's daughter Nurit, a well known jewelry designer. Milstein gave a power point presentation on the symbolism of the six pointed star, which has long been part of Muslim and Christian tradition even though most commonly identified with Jews. Speaking without hesitation and without notes, Jaglom shared brief anecdotes about most of the people in the room, several of whom were retired Israeli diplomats who had given her the most gracious of welcomes when she visited the countries in which they were stationed.
The students, who had each introduced themselves to her after Milstein's lecture, came to thank her again before she returned to Tel Aviv. She urged them to fight for their rights and declared that the government had been derelict in its responsibilities to the nation by cutting the budget for higher education. Jaglom sits on the boards of governors of both the Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University, but she has a very special relationship with the HU: It saved her life by sending her a certificate 70 years ago, enabling her to get out of Europe on the eve of the Holocaust.
n ANYONE WHO emerges from a period movie saying that they were born in the wrong century because they're so in love with the costumes that they saw on screen, would have simply swooned at the Shenkar College presentation of garments from the Middle Ages to the mid-19th century. It started as part of a course in the students' first semester, explained Leah Perez, head of Shenkar's Fashion Department. The students were required to learn how the garments that were emblematic of specific historical periods were made. They became so enraptured with the whole concept that it became a project that they undertook with enormous enthusiasm. The students made the garments themselves, working with basic fabrics in shades of white, off-white and cream. They made the patterns for the outfits, cut them, sewed them, trimmed them and focused on every detail, including underwear, shoes, headgear, hairstyles, wigs, parasols and fans. In all, there were 50 costumes, many with intricate pleating, shirring and gathering, that were shown to an audience of students, teachers, parents and friends whose approval was resounding.
The show opened with a 15th century bridal gown designed by 24 year old Israel Ohayon, whose proud parents were in the audience. Ohayon's brothers are all in hi-tech, "but he has golden hands," said his father. Several of the models - students and their friends - came on stage in period style underwear with lace-trimmed pantaloons, tight-fitting bodices, ribboned corselettes, wired hoops; in fact, wearing more in terms of underwear than is worn today as outerwear. The bride, who was also in her underwear, was dressed layer by layer by the other models, until she was clothed in a magnificent gown which drew an appreciative burst of applause. There was something special about every garment shown, but the romantic mid-19th century wide-skirted, layered, off-the-shoulder ballgowns, designed by Joe Greenbaum and Karin Feldman, got the most accolades as the two models glided across the stage. "This is a wonderful lesson on how the most elegant apparel can be made from the cheapest and most basic fabrics," said Perez, who asked the models to mingle with the crowd in the lobby so that everyone could see the workmanship up close.
It was one of those rare, totally positive occasions in which everyone was smiling and full of compliments. Parents and friends were madly snapping photographs for posterity. Some of the young women were asked if they would keep their costumes to wear at their weddings - and the answer was affirmative. When the same question was put to a young man, he said he wouldn't wear it to his wedding, but he might wear it on Purim.
n IN HIS "The Way We Were' weekly program on Israel Television, anchorman Yigal Ravid usually brings former entertainment stars into the studio. This week, on the eve the elections, he brought in former political star Aharon Abuhatzeira, who confessed that he had trouble deciding where to cast his vote because two major parties were headed by people who had failed as prime minister, while a third was headed by someone who had been tasked to form a government - and had also failed. As a veteran political fox, Abuhatzeira forecast that regardless of who heads the new government, it will not last long.
n ANOTHER FORMER MK, veteran journalist and peace activist Uri Avnery, whose writings are regularly distributed by Gush Shalom, compared the elections to an old British Army joke about dirty socks. "I have some good news and some bad news," the sergeant in the joke tells his men. "The good news is that you are going to change your dirty socks. The bad news is that you are going to exchange them among yourselves."
n IT MAY not occur in the lifetimes of some of the current residents of the two Jerusalem streets that intersect at the Prime Minister's residence, but a new permanent residence for the prime minister is already underway and $25 million have thus far been invested in the planning and groundwork of the structure which, when completed, will vie with any presidential or prime ministerial complex in the world. The estimated cost for completion is NIS650 million, a factor that has been seized on by the media which vehemently opposes the project at a time when so many social needs are not being met. In the course of his perigrinations in his various ministerial positions, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has seen his fair share of presidential and prime ministerial residences and offices, many of which are housed under one roof. It is Olmert who pushed through the idea of going ahead with the project, which has been on the back burner of the national agenda for well over a decade and is scheduled for completion in 2020.
At its final meeting on Sunday, the outgoing government approved the project, although Tzipi Livni abstained from voting while Roni Bar-On, Yuli Tamir, Gideon Ezra and Yaacov Edri voted against. Tamir went so far as to speculate what the cost of the project could do for school budgets. When Moshe Mizrahi, currently a senior staff member at Beit Hanassi, was working in the Prime Minister's Office during the second tenure of Yitzhak Rabin, he told Rabin that the residence was not only unsuitable for the purpose, but it also posed frequent inconveniences for the prime minister's neighbors in that the two streets and occasionally adjacent streets were closed when visiting dignitaries were due to arrive for visits. More recently, the streets have also been closed for security maneuvers.
After Ariel Sharon took office, the inconvenience increased because security personnel introduced decoy convoys to mislead anyone with malicious intent. The convoys drive through the neighborhood at lightning speed with sirens going full blast regardless of the time of day or night.
Both Balfour Road and Smolenskin Street are one-way streets, but that has not deterred security personnel from driving in the wrong direction - simply because it is more convenient than going around the block. Sharon was acutely conscious of the fact that it was not a good idea to have the Prime Minister's residence located at the intersection of two small, narrow streets. Thus, work towards a new residence in the vicinity of the Prime Minister's Office, adjacent to the Foreign Ministry, began on his watch. The chief architect for the new complex, which will include not only the prime minister's office and residence but also a synagogue, reception hall, auditorium, recreation rooms, catering facilities, fitness center, guest rooms and much more, is Israel Prize laureate Ram Carmi, who designed the Supreme Court building in Jerusalem, the revamped Habima Theater in Tel Aviv and many other prestige projects.
When completed, the structure will close the geographic circle between the prime minister's office, the Knesset and the Supreme Court. More important, it will unite all the scattered satellites of the prime minister's office and residence, if not under one roof, at least across the same stretch of ground, thus enabling an estimated saving of some NIS5 million per annum. It will require less security personnel, no further outlay on travel between the PM's residence and the PM's office, fewer vehicles and drivers and no embarrassment caused through having to erect security tents for VIPs. Dignitaries will be able to drive through a courtyard for a proper red carpet welcome. None of this will happen before Israel celebrates its 70th anniversary, but hopefully, unlike the railroad and light rail projects, this one will keep to schedule - unless the incoming prime minister decides to overturn Sunday's vote.
n WELCOMING A top level Hadassah mission comprising leaders from 13 states, President Ehud Olmert found a Hadassah hook on which to hang a story. He shared the experience of visiting a wounded officer in Hadassah Hospital who, like Olmert, was born in Binyamina. After a few moments conversation it transpired that they had more than a common birthplace connection. As a student, Olmert had tutored the officer's father.
This wasn't the only instance in which the Hadassah mission encountered a story of this kind. Accompanied by Hadassah Director of Public Relations Barbara Sofer (also a Post columnist), the mission went to Sderot and was briefed by IDF spokesperson Major Michael Vromen. Following the briefing, they heard that a busload of pilots who had been engaged in Operation Cast Lead would soon be arriving in Sderot. The mission members decided to stay and applaud them. Sofer took it upon herself to introduce them to Hadassah National President Nancy Falchuk, checking first whether they all knew English. "You have the president of Hadassah," said one of the officers, "we have the commander of the Air Force." Major General Ido Nehushtan stepped forward to greet the group and to thank them for coming. At the conclusion, Sofer complimented him on his English and reminded him that she had been his high school English teacher when he was a student at University High School in Jerusalem.
n DURING HER Mossad career in Paris, Tzipi Livni learned to love the songs of Edith Piaf and even joined in the singing of Piaf's "I have no regrets" at a Women's Rally on her behalf at Binyanei Ha'Uma in Jerusalem on Friday where the singers who came to salute her included Eurovision diva Dana International.
n AMONG THE 300 plus conservative rabbis who flocked to Jerusalem to participate in the Rabbinical Assembly conference this week was former Rabbinical Assembly President Rabbi Gerry Zeller, who is coming back in the summer with 40 people, aged 9-84, who have never been to Israel before. Zeller's congregation has an endowment fund, which among other things subsidizes trips to Israel, so that participants pay only $1000 and the endowment fund takes care of the rest.
n YIDDISH CULTURE lost one of its most noble warriors this week with the passing at age 102 of Mordkhe (Modechai) Tsanin. An author and journalist, Tsanin was the founder of the Yiddish newspaper Letzte Najes and defied Ben Gurion's efforts to erase what he considered to be the language of the ghetto. Tsanin and others of his generation kept Yiddish alive as a spoken and written language, organized Yiddish seminars, symposia and language classes and encouraged Yiddish theater productions that Tsanin attended even beyond his 100th birthday.
n REGARDLESS OF the final results of the elections, the Labor Party will have something to celebrate on Thursday - the 67th birthday of Ehud Barak. The Labor Party chairman, who is known for his remarkable ability to take apart watches and put them together again, was presented with the new JNF Blue Box when he met up with Keren Kayemet World Chairman Efi Stenzler at the annual Herzliya Conference last week. Stenzler told Barak that the new box was burglar proof. Barak tried to pick the lock, but on this occasion his talents failed him. The Blue Box, which was once a permanent fixture in almost every Jewish home with families depositing coins before Shabbat to collectively redeem land in Eretz Israel, has now been revived as an educational tool in schools.
n IN OTHER Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemet news, Yael Shaltieli, a member of Kibbutz Neve Or in the Beit Shean Valley, has broken through the green if not the glass ceiling by becoming the first woman in KKL's 108 year history to be appointed as the organization's general manager. Her appointment was approved this week by the KKL Board of Directors. Shaltieli has a record as an achiever. Positions that she has held include Mayor of the Beit Shean Regional Council, Chairperson of MATI the Business Development Center, and Chairperson of Military Industry Parks.
n WHETHER ACTIVELY or passively, Israeli ambassadors to Sweden have a knack for making headlines. Most recently it was Benny Dagan, who was at Stockholm University to talk about the Israel elections at the invitation of the Foreign Policy Association. Like former US President George Bush, Dagan became the target of a shoe that was hurled in his direction, followed by books and a notebad which all found their mark. Dagan was not as good as Bush at ducking. Prior to that, in January, 2004, one of his predecessors, Zvi Mazal caused an international headline-hitting sensation by pulling the plug on an art installation, "Snow White and the Madness of Truth," that glorified a Palestinian terrorist who had murdered 21 people, including children, in a Haifa restaurant. Mazal had also knocked part of the installation into a pool. To his detractors he became an opponent of freedom of expression, and to his admirers a champion of the Jewish people, who fearlessly responded to outrageous attacks against his nation.