JERUSALEM IS a favorite place for pilgrimage - especially at this time of the year. But the large group of mainly business people congregated at the King David Hotel on Monday night had come not to recite penitential prayers, but to get close to Warren Buffett, reputed to be the second wealthiest man in the world. At a lavish reception organized by Stef and Eitan Wertheimer, who since May of this year have been able to count Buffet and his long-time partner in Berkshire Hathaway, Charlie Monger, as supportive partners in their Iscar enterprise, more than a dozen photographers and TV cameramen swamped the affable Buffett, whose genial smile never left his face. Former Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu came by to pay his respects, while the moneyed minglers in the crowd included Sammy Ofer, Yitzhak Tshuva, Alfred Akirov, Arieh Mintkowitz, Zalman Shoval, Avi Gabai, Ofer Nimrodi, Zvi Yemini, Mickey Federmann, Mozi Wertheim, and Zadik Bino, whose combined wealth by far exceeds the national budget. Also present from the public rather than the business sector were former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy, former Jewish Agency chairman Sallai Meridor, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski and Shas leader and Minister for Industry and Trade Eli Yishai, who left the bedside of Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to attend what had been billed as a lecture by Warren Buffett, but which turned out to be some delightful repartee that had the audience laughing uproariously again and again.
If he wasn't so busy buying up companies, Buffett could still be a rich man working as a stand-up comedian. He's a natural. Before the so-called lecture, Eitan Wertheimer was happily organizing photo opportunities for some of his guests with Buffett and Monger, but when he urged Bino to join one of the groups, the latter declined on the grounds that he wasn't wearing a jacket. "Take mine," said Wertheimer.
Bino preferred to stay out of the picture. Once everyone was seated, Buffett was asked about the highlights of his visit. "We've been here for 31 hours and I don't think we've ever received a welcome like this one," he said, then joked "Maybe it was because they didn't know us."
Noting that Berkshire Hathaway had invested $4 billion in Iscar without coming to see it, he quipped, "I'm glad to report it's really there," adding that "it's a truly remarkable business run by remarkable people in a remarkable country. We've never seen a better management."
Responding to the question, "How do you make $40 billion in a lifetime?" Buffet replied: "You start early and live a long time."
Asked how come he chose Israel as his first investment outside America, Buffett's response was: "Some Americans came looking for oil, so they didn't stop in Israel. We came looking for brains, so we did stop in Israel."
On the secret of his success, he commented: "The real trick in business is not to be a genius but to associate with geniuses. We acquired 40 businesses run by outstanding people. We're good at applauding. We recognize when people do a sensational job."
Buffett also made it clear that in order to succeed you have to love what you're doing, at which point Eitan Wertheimer chimed in: "Warren says that if you don't tap dance on the way to work, you're in the wrong business."
Iscar founder Steff Wertheimer never misses an opportunity to urge other Israeli industrialists to invest in the Negev and the Galilee and to use his Tefen Industrial Park as a model for their own enterprises. Running an operation such as Tefen in the Galilee, said the senior Wertheimer, "proves that we can make Israel an industrial country and influence our neighbors." Wertheimer made two short speeches on the subject during the evening and thanked Buffett for the opportunity of bringing together the business and industrial community so that he could once again pitch his ideas for the development of the Galilee and the Negev.
IN AN interview with The Jerusalem Post during her state visit to Israel last February, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberge was asked whether she would put forward her candidacy for the position of secretary-general of the United Nations. "It's not the sort of job where they ask for candidates to apply," she responded, but indicated that if nominated, she would certainly be interested. It has been widely reported that she has the support of US President George W. Bush. Even so, she doubted whether the five members of the UN Security Council who have the power of veto would elect someone from Eastern Europe, and a woman to boot. Asked whether gender is important in international politics, Vike-Freiberge replied: "Gender becomes less important as we have more equality."
Citing Germany, Chile and Liberia which are all led by women, Vike-Freiberge said: "It's a good sign that those countries recognize that half the population is female. Now it's time for the UN to have a woman as its head." She is not alone in her thinking. Last Friday, she was officially nominated by the governments of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. In announcing her candidacy, Vike-Freiberge said that she was personally committed to the strengthening of human rights, democracy, freedom and gender equality. "The time has come for a woman to be taken seriously as a candidate for this prestigious position," she said.
Karlis Eihenbaums, Latvia's ambassador to Israel like Latvian envoys elsewhere, is doing all that he can to gain support for his president.
ALTHOUGH ISRAEL now has a woman president of the Supreme Court, a woman Speaker of the Knesset who also stands in for the president of the state when he is unable to fulfill his duties, a woman foreign minister, and once had a woman prime minister, there are no women listed in the "Man of the Year" awards to be screened on Channel Two on Wednesday evening. That's probably why it is not called "Person of the Year." The candidates have been narrowed down to eight, and include Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, philanthropist and international business entrepreneur Arkadi Gaydamak, industrial park pioneer Stef Wertheimer, Pensioners Party leader Rafi Eitan, Nobel Prize laureate Robert Aumann, Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav and the IDF reservists. The Keshet franchise running the contest did a vox pop to get the reactions of the man and woman in the street. There were several whose choices did not include any of the above. In fact some people thought that the honor belongs to Ariel Sharon, who though incapacitated since January this year, had a profound effect on the nation's turn of events. Curiously no one mentioned State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, whose relentless probing into the workings of government ministries and state institutions has brought to light numerous disturbing irregularities, some of which may eventually lead to charges of corruption.
WHILE NOT absolutely dictated by protocol, reciprocity is customary during visits by heads of state. The visiting head is given a state dinner by his or her host, and invites the host to a reciprocal dinner the following evening. However it did not work that way during the visit to Israel last week by Polish President Lech Kaczynski. The event was largely a Polish affair, attended by members of Kaczynski's entourage and Polish expatriates living in Israel. President Moshe Katsav was not invited, which may explain why security was not as tight as it usually is on such occasions and how Israel's most notorious gatecrasher managed to get through the door. Among the invited guests was Israel Radio's Arye Golan, who had moderated two major events during the Polish president's visit, speaking Hebrew at one and Polish at the other. Golan, who was born in Poland, recalled that when former president Lech Walesa had come on a state visit to Israel, he had been recruited as Israel Radio's man from Poland, to act as translator when Walesa addressed the Knesset. "Protesting that he was not a professional translator and that he had left Poland as a child and therefore was not as fluent in the language as he might be," Golan was nonetheless induced into the role. Fearful of making a mistake, he asked for an advance copy of the speech, which he translated and was prepared to read in Hebrew whenever Walesa stopped for breath. However, Walesa changed the text in the last minute and Golan had no option but to translate simultaneously. He obviously acquitted himself well, because he is assigned by Israel Radio to cover almost every event that it broadcasts from or about Poland.
SHARING A table with Golan were three Israeli Chabadniks who live in Warsaw. One was Rabbi Shalom Stambler, who is in charge of the Chabad Center for Jewish Revival in Poland, and the other two were his sister-in-law, Rivka, and his brother, Meir Stambler, the president of Maripol, a huge real-estate development corporation. Among other things, Rabbi Shalom Stambler is the director of the Jewish Business Center in Warsaw and also oversees the daily activities of the Chabad yeshiva and synagogue. The Jewish Business Center includes an elegant glatt kosher restaurant. Rumor had it that the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson would not send any of his people to Poland, calling it the largest Jewish graveyard in the world. When the Stambler brothers were asked how come Chabad is thriving in Poland despite the Rebbe's veto, Meir Stambler offered an explanation, saying that when philanthropist Ron Lauder embarked on his mission to restore Jewish life in Poland, he came to the Rebbe and told him that he wanted to bring in a sizeable number of Jews to act as a nucleus. The Rebbe reportedly replied: "If you're asking me, I'm advising against it. Instead you should make every effort to get the remaining Jews out of there and take them to Israel. If you're telling me, then I say more power to you because those Jews who are still living there should be encouraged to remain Jewish."
More recently in Poland, a number of people who grew up Catholic have learned that they are actually Jewish, and some have chosen to reclaim their spiritual heritage. Aside from that, a lot of Jews from Israel, the United States and Germany do business in Poland on a regular basis and need a meeting place - so there are many good reasons for Chabad to be active in Poland. The Stambler brothers are on good terms with President Kaczynski who was formerly mayor of Warsaw, and have secured his agreement to participate in a Chabad function later this year. Rabbi Shalom Stambler, who was obviously delighted to meet Arye Golan, invited him to come to Poland to moderate the event - and Golan was of course delighted to accept.
LOS ANGELES-BASED stage, film and television actor, singer and presenter Mike Burstyn and his wife, Cyona, were in Poland for the Warsaw Jewish Festival before continuing on to Israel where Burstyn participated in the gala evening of the Israel Academy for Films Oohir Awards. The two were keen to visit the new Holocaust Museum at Yad Vashem and telephoned Cyona's uncle and aunt Joe and Freda Schorer of Jerusalem who are both Holocaust survivors to ask them to arrange a tour.
As it happens the Schorers are extremely friendly with Rena Quint, a child Holocaust survivor and volunteer guide at Yad Vashem, so the tour was easily arranged. However, Quint was unaware of Burstyn's fame, and was very surprised when taking him around when people kept running over and shouting "Kuni Lemel, Kuni Lemel." They were referring to the hero of one of Burstyn's best-known films, "The Two Kuni-Lemels," in which he plays twin brothers - one a good natured, gullible, religiously observant nerd, and the other a con merchant who breaks all the rules.
Curiously, one of the things that Burstyn did while in Israel last week was to meet with Keshet President Alex Giladi to discuss the possibility of doing an update on Kuni Lemel based on a script that he wrote with his mother, the actress Lillian Lux, who died last year. In the updated version, Kuni Lemel becomes the prime minister of Israel, wanting only to do good. When his brother occasionally steps into the role, sparks begin to fly. Burstyn and Giladi also discussed the possibility of doing an Israeli version of the American police series, "Barney Miller." Meanwhile, Burstyn appears as the crooked lawyer in "Elvis," the Israeli soap opera on Channel 2.
ACTIVE FOR many years in the Peace Corps, interfaith, inter-ethnic and women's organizations, Jerusalemite Elana Rozenmann decided some months ago to do something for the women of Sderot whose lives are plagued by Kassam rockets. When she arrived there with a group of other mostly religiously observant women from Jerusalem, she was invited to the home of Yaffa Alon, a local activist. When Rozenmann asked Alon what she could do for the women of Sderot, the reply was: "Get us out of here and take us to Jerusalem." This gave birth to a new organization TRUST, of which Rozenmann is the founder and director. One of its purposes is to regularly take Sderot women out of their regular environments and to give them an all women's fun-filled evening in the capital. This week, it had special relevance because the women wanted to go to the Western Wall to recite penitential prayers. Before that, they were wined and dined at a Jerusalem facility that faces the walls of the Old City. There was also a lot of singing and dancing enlivened by the performance of Jerusalemite Oshra Attia, a professional trilingual rapper who made aliya from Los Angeles five years ago and performs in Hebrew, English and Arabic. Her family is originally from Egypt so she's been familiar with Arabic all her life. Funds for the event were raised by Rabbi Debby Hachen of the Beth Am congregation in New Jersey. Hachen also raised funds for school and art supplies for the children of Sderot.
EVERY ORGANIZATIONAL chairperson's nightmare is the failure of the guest speaker to show up at a well publicized event. That's what happened to Brenda Katten, who chairs the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association. Katten had announced that the speaker at last week's luncheon would be Jewish Agency chairman Ze'ev Bielski, but Bielski had to suddenly fly to the US, so Katten who is also active in Israel's hasbara efforts, immediately turned to the most obvious source, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev, who cheerfully filled the breach. Katten announced that once it became known amongst the membership that Regev would be the speaker, there was an appreciable increase in the number of luncheon reservations.
IT'S GOING to be quite a day to day for stage and screen personality Dudu Topaz, who is celebrating his 60th birthday - a major milestone in his life. Last week Topaz launched his new show on Channel 10, not an auspicious occasion given that it was competing with the television awards screened on Channel 2. As result, the ratings were very low for the man who used to be billed as 'First in Entertainment.' He was mercilessly panned by reviewers the following day, with some suggesting that he was already over the hill and that his brand of entertainment was pass in 2006. Of course they didn't take into account that viewers who are not cable television subscribers or who don't own a satellite dish cannot receive Channel 10 on their screens.
BIRTHDAY GREETINGS are also in order for internationally acclaimed actor Haim Topol, who turned 71 last week. It's not a milestone year, but just over a month in advance, he did get the kind of birthday present one receives in a milestone year - a life achievement award. However, he had to travel a long way for the presentation at the Lyric Theater in Sydney, Australia, where dressed in full shtetl garb similar to that worn in his most famous role as Tevya the milkman in "Fiddler on the Roof," he received the Helpmann Award. Established in 2001 by the Australian Entertainment Industry Association, the Helpmann Awards are Australia's equivalent to the Tony and were named in honor of the late Sir Robert Helpmann, a brilliant Australian-born, world renowned actor, dancer, choreographer and director whose dancing partners included prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn. He died in 1986 at age 77.
WHILE MOST people are focusing on Rosh Hashana which will be celebrated this coming Friday night, Indian restaurateur Reena Pushkarna is already thinking ahead to December 31 and how to infuse something different into New Year's Eve festivities. Her solution: A Bollywood night in all the restaurants in her Tandoori chain. Pushkarna who has long been known as the unofficial or honorary ambassador of India, successfully promoted Indian food in Israel along with various aspects of Indian culture. Now that Israelis have discovered Bollywood, she says, she wants to give them a large dose.
IN ADDITION to being an internationally recognized singer and guitarist, David Broza is also a peace activist, and recently hosted some 100 Israelis and Palestinians in the garden of his Tel Aviv home. All of the Israelis had been members of elite army units, and the Palestinians had all been incarcerated in Israeli prisons for acts of violence against Israeli citizens. Both sides have come to the conclusion that violence offers no solution and have formed a non-profit organization called Combatants for Peace. Committed to fostering dialogue and thereby changing attitudes on both sides, they initially held clandestine meetings until they learned to trust each other. Now, they're out in the open, and their numbers keep growing. Their trilingual Web site contains informative material in English, Hebrew and Arabic.