IF PESSAH is here, can the Mimouna be far behind? Obviously not. The Mimouna celebration always comes immediately after Pessah is over, though it's problematic for visitors from abroad, because for them, it's still Pessah and they can't partake of the moufletas, the special pancakes coated in jam or honey that are traditionally eaten at Mimouna banquets.
The central Mimouna festivities this year will be held in Ashdod, which is celebrating its jubilee year and which is one of 111 initially rural areas (including moshavim) that were settled by immigrants from North Africa. There has always been a high ratio of Moroccans in the Ashdod community, though the demography changed percentage-wise with the influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
Nonetheless the Moroccan influence is still evident. Sam Ben Chetrit, the chairman of the World Federation of Moroccan Jews which is one of the major sponsors - together with Beyahad, which Ben Chetrit founded in Jerusalem in 1978 - of Mimouna activities throughout the country, this year intends to revive the true spirit of Mimouna as it existed in the Morocco of his youth. The first visitors in Jewish homes immediately after the Pessah holiday were Arab neighbors, who brought in leavened food, plus all the ingredients required for the moufletas.
Toward this end, Ben Chetrit has arranged for a delegation of Druse dignitaries from Daliat-el-Carmel, a delegation of Israeli Arabs headed by Tira mayor Khalil Kaseem, and a delegation of Beduin from Rahat in the Negev headed by Rahat Mayor Talal el Krenawi to attend the opening night Mimouna gala at the Ashdod Opera House.
Curiously enough, it won't be Moroccan-born Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar who blesses the people of Israel at home and abroad. Instead, it will be the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger.
Amar, who lives in Jerusalem, will be at the key Mimouna celebrations in the capital's Binyanei Ha'Uma where speakers will include Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, Vice Premier Shimon Peres, MK Zvulun Orlev, deputy mayor Yigal Amedi, City Council member David Hadari and Haim Cohen, the chairman of the Association of Jewish Communities of North Africa in Jerusalem.
Instead of the rowdy Mimouna picnic replete with blaring musical entertainment that is held on the day after Pessah, Ben Chetrit has decided to place a more intellectual slant on this year's event by holding an international symposium in Ashdod on "The Mimouna: the contribution to the social fabric of a festival of Moroccan Jewry that has evolved into a national festival of Israel." Heading the list of speakers is former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi and currently Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau.
Although there will be traditional Moroccan foods at Binyanei Ha'Uma, it's not absolutely certain that they'll be serving moufletas. They certainly didn't in previous years when the celebration was held at the David Citadel Hotel which, because of its foreign clientele, had to maintain Pessah food standards for an additional day.
For those Jerusalemites more interested in moufletas, belly dancers and the opportunity to make merry, the place to be on the evening of April 9 is the Israel Mall in Talpiot where in addition to the singing and dancing there will be hundreds of moufletas laced with honey to symbolize the sweet year ahead.
n WRITER AND film director Amos Kollek did not have to take as much flak last week as his sister Osnat after the media in Israel and abroad disclosed that their famous father Teddy Kollek, the legendary mayor of Jerusalem, systematically informed MI5 of the clandestine activities of members of the Irgun and the Stern Gang which enabled the British Mandate authorities to crack down on them and arrest them. Amos Kollek was in Canada making a film called Restless, when the news broke, but his sister was assailed by various media outlets.
Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Boim, whose parents were part of the Binyamina commune that was raided by the British after its members had been fingered by Kollek, was interviewed on Israel Radio and recalled how, as a small boy, he had been taken by his grandmother to visit his incarcerated parents. Had he not been abroad on a fund-raising mission for weapons and ammunition, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's father would also have been apprehended, said Boim, adding that there was later some satisfaction in the fact that Ehud Olmert, the boy from Binyamina, had defeated Kollek in Jerusalem's mayoral elections. Another person arrested not in Binyamina, but in Tel Aviv, as an outcome of information that Kollek had supplied to the British, was former MK Geula Cohen, who is one a number of people who will be honored by the Municipality of Jerusalem on the 40th anniversary of the reunification of the city.
n AT THE ceremony at Beit Hanassi last week in which retired Judge Hadassah Ben Ito was awarded the Herzog Prize - which is given every two years by the Hebrew University in conjunction with Yad Chaim Herzog to a person whose life's work best emulates one of several fields for which Israel's sixth president was known - Herzog's his wife Aura said that she often felt that she was married to five people within the one man. Although he was the son of a chief rabbi and had started his life in the Land of Israel as a yeshiva student, the motto by which Irish-born Chaim Herzog lived did not come from Jewish teachings, his wife revealed, but from Dublin-born dramatist, literary critic, outspoken socialist and Nobel Prize literature laureate George Bernard Shaw, who wrote: "Some people see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not?"
n STRAINS OF "Advance Australia Fair" along with well-known Australian folk songs could be heard in the background at the opening last week at Beit Hatefutsoth of a photographic exhibition of Portraits of the Jewish Community of Melbourne by Angela Lynkushka. It was not surprising to see former residents of Melbourne, who were there for a nostalgia kick, along with a group of young Australians who are spending a year on kibbutz, and a delegation of Australian businesspeople, headed by lawyer Paul Rubinstein, who had come to explore Israel's real estate market, and who discovered a portrait of Rubinstein's business partner on one of the walls of Beth Hatefutsoth. Nor was it surprising to see Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association chairperson Brenda Katten, considering that Australia is part of the Commonwealth. But one couldn't help wondering what it was that had attracted World WIZO chairperson Tova Ben Dov. The answer soon became clear. Ben Dov is going on a lightning mission to Australia in mid-May, and the exhibition was by way of a familiarization tour.
Australian Ambassador James Larsen, who brought his wife Antoinette and his mother-in-law, said that Lynkushka was a great credit to the Australian Jewish community and to Australia as a whole, and credited her with "bringing a terrific insight of Melbourne" to Israel. The exhibition, he said, demonstrates how wonderfully the Jewish community integrated, what they contributed to Australia and what a difference they made to Australia and to Israel.
Keren Hayesod World Chairman Avi Pazner recalled a visit to Melbourne in 1999, and said that he was struck by the warmth of the community both towards him and his wife and towards Israel. Keren Hayesod was instrumental in obtaining funding for the exhibition and the catalogue from the Gandel Charitable Trust, headed by John Gandel, one of the wealthiest Jews in Australia, and a generous donor to many causes in Israel including Keren Hayesod. Pazner also paid tribute to philanthropist Leonid Nevzlin, chairman of the Beit Hatefutsoth Board of Trustees, who came to the museum's rescue when it was under threat of closure for lack of funds. "Were it not for Leonid Nevzlin, I don't want to think about what Beth Hatefutsoth would look like today," said Pazner, who had formed a positive impression of Nevzlin when they had met in Moscow before Nevzlin came to live in Israel. "I saw his deep interest in Israel so I'm not surprised that he became so involved with Beth Hatefutsoth," said Pazner.
n PUBLIC RELATIONS and advertising executive Ruthie Sheetrit, who heads the Sheetrit Media Group and is the wife of Housing and Construction Minister Meir Sheetrit, was in Rome on business and didn't really intend to do any shopping, till out of the corner of her eye she saw a window display of an Alberta Ferretti vintage dress that she simply couldn't resist. Together with the accessories the bill came to something in the range of 4,000 Euro, which was a little steep even for Sheetrit, whose closet is filled with designer label creations. But the outfit appealed to her so much that she decided to go over her usual limit. The added impetus was a family wedding in Israel the following day. Sheetrit wore her Ferretti acquisitions, for which she received many compliments.
However on the day after the wedding, her mother called and said: "Ruthie, with all the gorgeous clothes you own, you had to choose that dress? It's the sort of thing I wore 30 years ago when I was miserable." The quick-thinking Sheetrit replied that she hadn't wanted to outshine her sister, so she'd deliberately chosen to wear the vintage dress. Satisfied with the explanation her mother said: "If that's the reason, then it's all right."
n EXPATRIATE BUSINESS tycoon Meshulum Riklis, who moved to the United States shortly before Israel gained independence, but is considered both here and there to be an Israeli - a presumption which is technically debatable - nonetheless has family and business interests in Israel, and visits from time to time. On his most recent visit toward the end of last month, Riklis spoke to students and faculty staff of the Netanya Academic College about the business empires that he had helped to build in America over the years, including the Elizabeth Arden cosmetics company, Cartier Jewelry and Carnival Cruise Lines.
The way that Riklis told it, he gave a job at Carnival Cruise Lines to a former schoolmate with whom he had studied at the Gymnasia Herzliya. Some time later, he transferred 50 per cent of the shares in the company to this friend, and subsequently sold him the remaining 50 per cent. The school friend was Ted Arison, who turned Carnival Cruise Lines into the world's biggest and most lucrative venture of its kind, and subsequently bought Bank Hapoalim which is now run by his daughter Shari.
Riklis said that his business success story was one that was taught in the business schools of major American universities, but the students were more interested in his marriage to actress and singer Pia Zadora, with whom he had two children before they divorced. One of those children, his son Kristofer, accompanied Riklis to Netanya.
n SEVEN YEARS after the death of remarkable singing star Ofra Haza, Bezalel Aloni, who discovered her in 1971 when she was still an adolescent in a Hatikva Quarter theater group and became her manager, has published a book Letters to Ofra which was inspired by a dream he had about her - the only time he dreamt about her following her demise. Aloni had a very special relationship with Haza - almost that of a surrogate father. She became part of his family, without in any way rejecting her own family. It was only after she married Doron Ashkenazi in July, 1997, in what turned out to be a tragic liaison, that relations between Haza and Aloni became strained.
Ashkenazi tried to distance her not only from Aloni but also from her siblings, and in the immediate aftermath of her death, there were many acrimonious exchanges between Aloni, Haza's sisters and Ashkenazi, who died in 2001 from an overdose of drugs. Some time later, Haza came to Aloni in a dream, reciting a poem. "Why are you declaiming?" he asked her.
"Because I can't sing any more," she replied. I'm no longer here. I'm there. I could only sing here. I can't sing there."
Aloni decided to write a series of letters to Haza to remind her of what she had accomplished and how much she is missed. The letters have now been compiled into a book.
nWHILE ON the subject of books, internationally acclaimed architect David Azrieli, who introduced shopping malls to Israel and who divides his time between Israel and Canada, is writing a book on Canadian Zionism and intends to include Canadians who have made aliya and contributed to Israeli society. He's enlisted the help of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel to track down individuals who would qualify, but he could save himself a lot of trouble by checking the membership list of the Israel-Canada Chamber of Commerce, where he would find the names of some highly successful Canadian olim who are involved in a variety of outreach programs for the benefit of the weaker sectors of society.
A name that instantly springs to mind is that of Indigo founder Benny Landa, who though born in Poland, grew up in Canada. Other well-known Canadian olim who have contributed to Israeli society include Leon Kofler, Jonathan Kolber, Rubin Zimmerman and Marc Belzberg. Although Charles Bronfman is not an oleh, he spends enough time in Israel to be counted as one, and has contributed to Israeli society on a number of different fronts.
n THERE ARE many ways to celebrate a milestone birthday. Michelle Katz, the wife of Reva L'Sheva lead singer Yehuda Katz and mother of their large tribe, has found an interesting and constructive way to share her birthday in perpetuity with others. An extraordinarily positive person who radiates goodwill, Katz has decided to beautify the immigrant absorption center at Mevasseret Zion "in honor of our holy Ethiopian brothers and sisters who currently live in the un-landscaped drab-looking premises."
Katz is coordinating a springtime project in which she, together with her relatives and friends and any Ethiopian immigrants who want to join in, will plant colorful and fragrant flowers, fruit trees and organic vegetables to make the surroundings pleasanter for hundreds of present and future residents. The project will also give participants a good excuse to return to Mevassaret to check out the flourishing orchards and gardens.
n DUE TO arrive in Israel next month is American fashion icon Donna Karan, who is this year's recipient of the Shenkar College Honorary Fellowship Award. The presentation will be made at a Gala Event in the course the annual meeting of the Shenkar Board of Governors.
During a previous visit to Israel, Karan saw the work of one of Shenkar's students and was so impressed that she promptly offered her an internship. This time around, she will teach a Master Class to students studying fashion design at the college. Moreover, thanks to the American Committee for Shenkar College, Karan's name will be associated with Shenkar for many years to come. The Committee is establishing a scholarship in her name to provide funds for Fashion Design students.
"Journey of a Woman," a retrospective exhibition of Karan's work and design philosophy, will open at Shenkar's Lorber Galleries on May 10 and will remain on view till June 10.
Last year's recipients of the Honorary Fellowship Awards were Suzy Menkes, the International Herald Tribune's fashion editor and chief fashion writer, and Italian fashion designer Silvia Venturini Fendi of the famed Fendi fashion house. In the previous year the prestigious award went to Shenkar graduate Alber Elbaz, the creative director and head designer at Lanvin, whose creations elicit rave reviews from the international fashion mavens. In January of this year, Elbaz was named a Knight of the French Legion of Honor. Two years ago, he was honored by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and has of course received numerous other awards and citations.