'ISRAEL WAS at our side during our time of trouble; it is now our obligation to be with and in Israel at this period of crisis," Louis Greenwald, president of the Coalition of Jewish Communities of Latin America," told President Moshe Katsav on Monday.
Greenwald and a group of a dozen Jewish community leaders from Argentina and Uruguay met with Katsav in Jerusalem to express the solidarity of the Jewish communities of Latin America with Israel. The delegation included the chief rabbi of Argentina, Rabbi Shlomo Ben Hamu, whom Katsav warmly embraced.
"We may be a small country, but we have one of the most pro-Zionist Jewish communities in the world," said Gerardo Stuczynski, chairman of the Zionist Federation of Uruguay, who noted that more than 40 per cent of his country's Jewish population had migrated to Israel.
"Every Jewish family in Uruguay has a relative in Israel, which is why we came. We are one people. We are brothers."
Arye Ben Ami, the Jewish Agency emissary to Latin America, said that in traveling from country to country he had come across considerable anti-Israel material in Latin American publications, but when talking to the various Jewish communities, he had discerned broad understanding for Israel's position in the war against Hizbullah.
"Everyone knows that this was an unavoidable war," he said.
Katsav referred to the two major terrorist attacks that shook the very foundations of the Argentinean Jewish community - first in March 1992 in which 29 people were killed and some 250 injured in the bombing of the Israel Embassy, and then in July, 1994, when an explosion in AMIA, the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires killed 85 people and left 240 wounded. The president expressed concern that the files might be closed due to the expiry of the statute of limitations.
Investigations by the Argentinean authorities led to the conclusion that the attacks were perpetrated by Hizbullah with the possible involvement of two Iranian diplomats, but no one has been charged with the crimes.
Returning to the current conflict, Katsav said that it was untenable for close to a million Israelis to be under constant threat of Hizbullah rockets. In the six years since Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon, he said, Israel had resisted numerous Hizbullah provocations until now, when it was no longer possible.
Katsav, whose days are taken up with visiting the bereaved families of soldiers who fell in battle, said that wherever he goes, the relatives, friends and neighbors of the fallen soldiers tell him that they are behind the government and the IDF, and that Israel must continue in its endeavors to eliminate the Hizbullah threat.
WHEN TIMES have been especially tough throughout the history of modern Israel, Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America has been in the forefront of solidarity missions to Israel. This time, however, Hadassah came behind several other solidarity delegations from various parts of the Jewish world - not because they were hesitant, but because they wanted to devise a plan of action. The decision to come was taken last week in Nashville, Tennessee at the Hadassah National Convention, where 70 women immediately signed up. Yesterday, they landed in Israel and went straight from Ben Gurion Airport to Haifa.
"We wanted to show solidarity with Israel in general and with Haifa in particular," said mission leader Marlene Post, a former national president of Hadassah.
"Just as we sent one mission after another during the intifada," she said, "we are here now."
Hadassah has been involved from day one of the war in providing shelter, recreational and medical services for evacuees from the north.
Hadassah national treasurer, Marci Nathan, believes that the least that Americans can do for Israel at this time is to come in vast numbers, fill the hotels to boost morale, provide jobs for people in the hospitality and tourist industries, and contribute to Israel's economy. "I couldn't tolerate being far away from Israel in a time of crisis," she said.
ALSO QUICK on the mark to come to Israel in times of trouble is New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who visited last week with twenty community, political and business leaders - among them New York Councilman David Weprin (from Queens) - and headed north to present ZAKA, the identification and rescue organization, with close to $25,000 contributed in the US for the purchase of 50 bulletproof vests and helmets. The group also went to visit wounded soldiers in Rambam Hospital, distributed food in bomb shelters in Nahariya, and met with families in Ma'alot, Carmiel, Kiryat Shmona, Metula, Safed, Tiberias, and Afula. Their eye-witness reports will make it easier for the United Jewish Communities to raise $300 million to be used in emergency aid to help repair the damage done by Katyusha rockets across the Galilee. As part of the fund-raising effort, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday made a video conference appeal to the American Jewish leadership.
ARRIVING IN Israel even before Hikind, Hawaii-based attorney, Shale D. Stiller, president of the Weinberg Foundation, announced that the foundation would donate $5 million to the UJC Fund through the Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore for the provision of humanitarian aid and social services primarily to aged and child victims of the conflict. The late Harry and Jeanette Weinberg lived in Baltimore and made generous contributions to Israel and to Jews in the Soviet Union through the Joint Distribution Committee. The Weinberg Foundation continues to distribute $100 million annually to causes in the US, the FSU and Israel.
THERE'S a great deal of talk about people from the center and south of the country opening their homes and hearts to people from the north. It also works in reverse. Menahem Horowitz, Channel Two's man in the north, opened his home to colleague, Moshe Nussbaum, who has temporarily put the police beat on the back burner as he reports on the conflict across the northern border. Since Horowitz has a reputation for being a generous host, there is little doubt that for Nussbaum, his stay in Galilee has been home away from home in the best ways possible despite the chaos going on around him.
HOTELS IN Jerusalem have never had so high a domestic occupancy rate as in the past three weeks. For some of them, such as the Jerusalem Gate Hotel at the entrance to the capital, it's a repeat performance, with a different cast. Exactly a year ago, general manager Rachel Goldberg had to rearrange the hotel to suit the needs of families evacuated from their homes in Gush Katif. This year, the hotel is full of evacuees from the north, some of whom, says Goldberg, have never stayed in a hotel before, and are reluctant to stray beyond the lobby - which is a pity because there are plenty of interesting things to see and do in Jerusalem. More people are arriving daily in the hope of finding accommodation and in most cases are being regretfully turned away.
"It's not that we don't have rooms," says Goldberg. "We don't have beds. Most of the families came with small children and don't want to be separated from them, so we had to put additional beds in the parents' rooms."
The experience may prompt the hotel to buy additional beds for future emergency situations she says but the real challenge is not the beds but the floors.
"Now we have to get plastolina out of the carpets again," says Goldberg recalling the mementos left throughout the hotel by the Gush Katif youngsters.
CONGRATULATIONS ARE in order to Israel's longest serving parliamentarian, Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who celebrates his 83rd birthday next week. The last of Israel's generation of founding fathers to still hold office, Peres continues to work at the pace of men half his age, and commands tremendous respect abroad as Israel's elder statesman. He is also said to be one of Israel's contenders for the presidency when it is vacated by President Moshe Katsav, whose term officially ends at the end of July, 2007, but which could end early due to police investigations into allegations of sexual harassment. Despite reports in the Hebrew media about the immediacy of such investigations, according to Katsav's spokeswoman, Hagit Cohen, no arrangements have yet been made for police to question the president.
TAKING UP a new position in the midst of a conflict is never easy, but it may not be quite as difficult for Tom Phillips, CMG, the new British ambassador as it might be for some of his colleagues. The reason: Phillips has been here before. This is his second tour of duty in Israel, albeit his first as ambassador. He was previously in Israel from 1990-1993, serving as consul-general and deputy head of mission. Phillips arrived in Tel Aviv over the weekend, saying that he was very pleased to be back and very much aware of the challenges being faced by the region. He expected his new posting to be both fascinating and demanding. Prior to taking up his present position, Phillips served as director of South East Asia and Afghanistan at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Previous overseas posting include Kampala, Washington and Harare. Phillips' predecessor, Simon McDonald, returned to the UK last week and will take up his new position as head of the Iraq directorate at the Foreign Office later this month. Due to current tensions in the region, the British Embassy is urging all British nationals to register with the consular section at 1 Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv.
PROMISES PROMISES. So many international entertainers who were scheduled to come to Israel at this time - including Depeche Mode, which cancelled at the last moment, have opted to stay out of the war zone - that it is difficult to believe that those who have promised Liel Kolet (the remarkable teenage singer from Kibbutz Kinneret who wowed Bill Clinton and who has appeared on stages around the world) to come to Israel this week, will keep their word. However, if all goes well, Scorpions' soloist Klaus Meine will be at the port of Tel Aviv this coming Thursday night to join her in singing, "Send Me an Angel." The song is the signature tune for a massive fundraiser to be held at Hangar 11, with all proceeds designated for people in the north. The target is $1 million. Other celebrities invited by Liel include David D'Or and Uri Geller. The show will be emceed by actress-singer, Sarit Vino-Elad. Organized by local and overseas businesspeople, as well as members of the entertainment industry, the event is being sold on the basis of $10,000 for a table. Hangar 11 can easily accommodate more than one hundred tables - but the total number of participants is estimated to be well in excess of the 1,000 people that could sit around one hundred tables. Other tables are being reserved for wounded soldiers and for some of the "angels" working with the soldiers and with the residents of the north. Anyone wanting to attend or contribute should telephone: 09-7750771/78/63
AMONG THE many singers who've been visiting wounded soldiers in hospital to cheer their spirits is protest singer Aviv Gefen, who seems to have changed his tune during this particular war, and has been quoted as saying that this war was legitimate, and that Israel entered Lebanon not because it wanted to, but because its survival was at stake. Among the soldiers for whom Gefen performed at Rambam Hospital was guitarist and rock enthusiast Or Bar-On, who lost both his legs when a missile hit his tank. Gefen said that he found it heart-breaking to perform in front of Bar-On, who had been a talented performer himself before he was wounded. It truly hurt Gefen, who did not serve in the army himself, to see the legless Bar-On. The optimistic and talented Bar-On, who has been an inspiration to family and friends alike, may surprise everyone and still become a star performer, regardless of his handicap.
FAITHFUL LISTENERS of Reshet Bet may have wondered why parliamentary reporter Benny Teitelbaum disappeared from the airwaves for around a week. The answer: he was on paternity leave. Teitelbaum and his wife, Nitza, have become the parents of a boy, whose brit was on Shabbat. Since both sets of grandparents live in Haifa, it was out of the question given the security situation that the brit would take place in the synagogue in which Teitelbaum was raised. Teitelbaum and his wife live in Modi'in, but there is no synagogue within comfortable walking distance of their home and since the families on both sides are observant, the best solution was to find neutral territory. So everyone spent the weekend at Beit Meir, a village outside Jerusalem.
SINCE HER husband became prime minister, Aliza Olmert has seen very little of him, especially during the past month. Last week, she entered what has become his turf, and visited communities in the north of the country, not only in her capacity as the wife of but as the head of Orr Shalom, an organization that runs family-style homes for children from dysfunctional families or children suffering neglect. Mrs Olmert is extremely concerned about the welfare of children, and made a point of visiting community and day-care centers, as well as talking to children and their parents inside bomb shelters.
IF YOU'RE doing something good, you may as well go all the way. When British philanthropist Michael Gross brought his wife, Danielle, and their two children to the Soroka Medical Center for the rededication of the renewed Vascular Institute which he had funded, he learned during the ceremony that an important item of medical equipment was not in working order and would need to be replaced. Without hesitating for a second, Gross donated an additional $25,000 to enable the new equipment to be purchased as soon as possible. Gross, an ardent supporter of Soroka and Ben Gurion University of the Negev, is also a personal friend of Prof. Gabriel Sandro, the head of the Vascular Institute. Soroka Medical Center director, Dr. Eitan Hai-Am, emphasized the significance of the gift during such a crucial period in which Soroka is attending to the medical needs not only of the residents of the Negev but also of many people from the north who have moved temporarily to the south, where it is safer.