THE ISRAEL, Britain and the Commonwealth Association started off 2009 on the right foot by having Rabbi David Rosen explain some of the controversy related to Pope Pius XII, whose canonization has been delayed pending investigations as to the role he actually played in World War Two. IBCA's new chairman Austen Science said that judging by the number of people who had come to greet Rosen personally, he did not really feel there was a need to introduce him. Rosen himself said how glad he was to meet so many people whom he had known during various stages of his career.
A leading figure not just in Israel, but in the world at large, in working towards reconciliation between Christians, especially Catholics, and Jews as well as Muslims and Jews, the erudite and eloquent Rosen has a particularly close relationship with the Vatican and is arguably the best qualified person - at least the best qualified Jewish person - to discuss the controversy. The topic was so fascinating that Brenda Katten, the immediate past chair of IBCA, played hookey from the World WIZO conference in order to attend.
Much of the controversy surrounding Pius derives from an inscription at Yad Vashem stating that his record was controversial, but not explaining why. The inscription goes on to state that he negotiated a concordat with the Nazis, maintained Vatican neutrality during the war and took no initiatives to save Jews. For all that noted Rosen, when Pius died both Moshe Sharett and Golda Meir sent telegrams stating that when darkness reigned over Europe, he was one of the few who raised his voice in protest. "What Yad Vashem says is not necessarily wrong," conceded Rosen, "but it doesn't give us all the information." Rosen then proceeded to list some of the arguments of both the defenders and the detractors of Pius XII, and also quoted eminent historian Martin Gilbert, who says that Pius saved thousands of Jews.
n THIS WAS backed up to some extent by Lenny Maxwell, one of those attending the IBCA luncheon. Maxwell, who served with the British forces in Italy during World War Two, recalled that he and some other members of his unit had met with Pope Pius XII at the Vatican in 1946, at which time the Pope had thanked them for what the British had done during the war. Unlike the others in the group, Maxwell put out his hand instead of kissing the Pope's ring, whereupon the pontiff asked his religion. Maxwell told him that he was Jewish and that his parents were Jewish, to which the Pope responded that he had a lot of Hebrew artisans working for him and that they had been with him for a long time.
n TRUE PHILANTHROPY, according to Jewish tradition, is bestowed in secret. While much of the outpouring of generosity towards soldiers and residents of southern communities is altruistic and a genuine expression of solidarity, it does not conform with Jewish tradition, in that no-one wants to keep it a secret. Inundated with e-mails from organizations, individuals and public relations firms from all over the country as well as from abroad, journalists are fearful that their computers will crash because of the overload. With rare exceptions, the donors of time, goods, care and other services are terribly disappointed when told that journalists have much more information on moral, financial and physical support activities than they can ever use. However, it would be improper not to mention at least some of them.
Chabad is sending out 'Get Involved' e-mails, with the slogan spread in huge letters across a tank, alongside which a man in a prayer shawl is engaged in prayer. Within the body text is another slogan, 'United we will overcome.' Headlined 'War in Gaza,' the e-mail is intended for people who want to do something but don't quite know what. It offers extensive news coverage of the war, human interest stories, ways in which to write to a soldier, do a mitzvah, send a package, etc.
n Former Miss Israel Nicole Halperin, who is the presenter for Gigi Cosmetic Products, initiated a day of pampering in Tel Aviv for a busload of some 40 women from the South. Participants in the venture included A-Z Hairdressing, located in Tel Aviv's upmarket Kikar Hamedina, which gave the women free hair treatments, manicures, pedicures, facials, eyebrow shaping, permanent make-up et al.
Emunah has launched an appeal to help defray the extra costs incurred in family counseling around the clock for traumatized families; additional youth leaders to care for the emotionally disturbed children in the Emunah Neve Landy Children's Village located within the 40 km radius of fire; extra hours for staff in Emunah children's homes and schools replacing those on reserve duty; and additional expenses incurred by Emunah personnel traveling to work from within the 40 km radius.
n Hilton Tel Aviv General Manager Ronnie Fortis, on learning that a young couple from the South were urgently seeking a venue for their wedding because they could not have it in the hall near Netivot that they had originally booked, offered them the use of the hotel on the house. Sharon and Gilad Yaacobi of Kibbutz Gevim didn't mind postponing the festivities, but they didn't want to defer the wedding itself. So the Hilton provided a bar of alcoholic and soft drinks, lots of finger food and an impressive wedding cake. The hotel would have been happy to provide a fancy bridal canopy and musical entertainment as well, but the couple wanted a simple canopy held up by their friends and no music. They'll have plenty of music, they said, when the war is over. Then they'll go to the original hall and have a banquet for hundreds of their relatives and friends. As it was, some 100 of their nearest and dearest came to celebrate with them at the Hilton.
n Motorola President and CEO Elisha Yanay, together with Mirs CEO Abrasha Burstyn, toured Ashkelon and Ashdod and met with Mayors Benny Vaknin and Yehiel Lasri. They also took a close-up look at how Motorola and Mirs equipment operated under emergency conditions. While in the area they made a point of visiting the Barzilai Medical Center where they chatted with soldiers and heard some soul-stirring personal stories. They also brought multi-tray gifts for hospitalized soldiers who had been wounded in Gaza. The trays include a pillow, a reading lamp and a stand for a book or a newspaper. Yanay and Burstyn also brought toys for the children of hospital workers who have to spend time in bomb shelters while their parents are at work.
n THE EL AL Board of Management headed by CEO Haim Romano visited areas in the South to promote a little morale among people in the travel industry as well as to meet with mayors and assure them of their support. In addition to the mayors of Ashdod and Ashkelon, they also met with David Bouskila, the Mayor of Sderot. The warning siren was sounded while they were in Sderot, and they were quickly hustled into the bomb shelter, learning first hand what it is like several times a day for residents of Sderot to receive a rocket alert. Romano promised Bouskila that El Al would continue to support Sderot and as a symbol of this pledge gave him a model of a 777 aircraft.
Businessman Haim Pinchas, who was born in Ashdod, and who inter alia owns the Coliseum Club in Tel Aviv, decided to invite 3,000 youngsters from Ashdod to come and enjoy themselves at the Festigal in Tel Aviv. The tickets cost him NIS 150,000, but he thought it was money well spent.
n AMERICAN ASSOCIATES of Ben-Gurion University have launched a $10 million BGU-Negev Emergency Fund to address the growing crisis at the University and surrounding Beersheva community due to the Gaza conflict. BGU Board of Governors Chairman Roy Zuckerberg of New York and Carol Saal of Palo Alto, California are leading the effort.
n SEVERAL BUSINESS people are 'adopting' merchants from the south of the country and giving them space in their own enterprises to sell their wares. One such person is Tomer Goldberg, the proprietor of the Horkonos Cafe in Tel Aviv, who via Keren Shemesh, which encourages young entrepreneurs aged 20 -35, invited Eitan and Meital Ankri, from a moshav in the vicinity of Ashkelon, to come and sell their baked goods on his premises. Among the customers who eagerly snapped them up was super model Shiraz Tal.
n CRITICISMS LEVELLED at Israel in recent days were not forthcoming from a 10 member delegation of the Parliament of Europe, as well as of national parliaments in Europe that met with President Shimon Peres on Thursday night. The meeting was initially delayed by the late arrival of the group and further delayed because Peres was on the phone speaking to French President Nicholas Sarkozy. Peres also left abruptly in the middle of the meeting to speak to another political leader, but did not disclose who it was.
Led by Elmer Brok of Germany, who is a member of the European Parliament, the delegation included European Parliament members Nicolay Mladenov, Bulgaria; Ryszard Czarnecki, Poland, and Corina Cretu. Romania, along with Richard Mellie, Claude Goasguen, Patrick Beaudouin and Marcel Bonnot of the French National Assembly, Dennis Ducarme of the Belgian National Parliament and Marie Cecile Royen, a Belgian journalist traveling with the group.
Brok told Peres that the delegation had come at short notice to see the situation at close hand and to report back to the European Parliament, as well as to the national parliaments in their respective countries. "We want to ensure a secure state of Israel," he said.
The delegation visited Sderot and came away with an understanding of the security problem, said Brok, who reiterated "the security of the State of Israel is our number one priority."
Goasguen made it clear that the delegation understood that Hamas is a terrorist organization which is responsible for the present situation, and that Israel had no choice but to respond to Hamas attacks.
Charging that Hamas prevents the creation of a Palestinian state, Peres said that Gaza should be under Fatah authority. There was absolutely no reason for Hamas to attack Israel after Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and the dismantling of settlements, he said. Gaza was free of an Israeli presence and the passages were open. Yet Hamas decided to fire on Israel and continues to do so.
Alluding to those who find fault with Israel's response, Peres queried: "What would the reaction be in London, Paris or Bonn if 90 missiles a day were fired at them?"
He also made the point that Hamas uses children as human shields, mosques as arsenals and hospitals as hiding places. "If they win," he warned, "it will be a catastrophe for the whole world." He described Hamas as "fanatic and irresponsible," and declared that if Hamas does not respect the call for an end to terror, "we will continue to defend ourselves."
Israel already has a million people in shelters he said, and has no intention of putting the whole population in shelters.
He wondered aloud whether those people demonstrating against Israel's operation in Gaza could stop the firing of missiles if Israel put a halt to its retaliation. "What we did in 10 days took other nations years to do," he said.
n IN OCTOBER, 2006, Robert Rosenberg, successful author, internet pioneer, social activist and journalist who once worked for The Jerusalem Post, died of cancer. A month later, at the invitation of his widow Sylvia, scores of his friends and acquaintances gathered at a night club on the Tel Aviv Port to pay tribute to him in song, poetry and reminiscences. It was the kind of send-off that he would have enjoyed if his spirit had been hovering around to take note. Unfortunately, the beautiful, vivacious and dynamic Sylvia Rosenberg, who had often freelanced for The Jerusalem Post, writing about fashion and interior decor, was also stricken with cancer soon afterwards, but did not tell her friends just how sick she was. In fact, after undergoing treatment, she pretended that everything was fine. While Robert had been sick for a long time, giving people a chance to come to terms with the fact that his illness was fatal, Sylvia died suddenly, a little under a month ago.
Her passing was a terrible shock and many of those who would have wanted to honor her by attending her funeral were informed too late to be able to do so. For that reason, some of her friends have organized a memorial evening to be held next week on Thursday, January 22 at the Herzliya Pituah home of cartoonist Ya'akov Kirschen and his artist wife, Sali Ariel. The evening will be similar in many respects to the memorial that was held for Robert.
n THE TURNOVER in visiting dignitaries including presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, defense ministers, et al is so frequent that occasionally one gets mixed up, which is what happened to your faithful scribe last week, when commenting on the visit of Czech Foreign Minister Karl Schwarzenberg at the head of a European Union delegation.
While it was true that his previous visit to Israel last month was at more or less the same time as that of Austrian President Heinz Fische, he did not, as was published in error, accompany him.
Of course no journalist likes to make mistakes, but the best way to find out who is reading the column is to occasionally err. Czech ambassador Michael Zantovsky, who used to be a journalist himself and knows the pressure of heavy deadlines, was fairly understanding when he called to point out the faux pas, and didn't even ask for an apology - just a correction.
n THOSE PEOPLE who have tried to portray former Meretz leader Yossi Beilin as an ignoramus on Jewish heritage, typical of the Tel Aviv left, might be surpised to learn that until age 25, he was religiously observant, praying daily, donning phylacteries and even leading the synagogue services and reading the Torah portion of the week for the congregation. He stopped being observant during the Yom Kippur War, when so many of his friends and students fell in battle, but did not lose his love for the Bible, the Talmud or the Mishna, which he continues to study to this day.
As his mother Zahava Beilin was a Bible scholar and broadcast twice a week on radio talking about the Bible, Beilin imbibed the Bible with his mother's milk.
The story came to light last week when Beilin appeared on Dov Elboim's 'Welcoming the Sabbath' program on Channel One. Elboim, who comes from an even more religious background, has also had a lapse in faith, but who has not forsaken his love of Jewish teachings, had a wonderful time with Beilin because, in a sense, they were both on the same page - a factor that made for excellent entertainment, and enabled viewers to see a different side of Beilin not only in terms of his grasp of Torah, but his enthusiastic interpretations of it. The program is pre-recorded, and after Beilin, Elboim invited Big Brother celebrity Shifra Kronfeld. That particular episode was recorded at Beit Avi Hai in Jerusalem, and soon after the new celeb's arrival, scores of her fans broke into the premises, and when they found their path blocked stormed the windows, begging her to come out and give them her autograph. In the final analysis, the regular security detail at Beit Avi Hai had to be augmented to facilitate the dispersal of the people who wanted to get close to Shifra. Such is the price of fame.
n IF SINGING Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach were still alive today, he would be celebrating his 84th birthday. Yehuda Katz, lead singer of Reva L'Sheva, who frequently appeared with Carlebach in the US, Europe and Israel, is hosting tonight, together with his wife Michelle, a Carlebach memorial jam session in which other musicians who played and sang with Carlebach will bring their instruments to the Katz home in Ramot and join together in bringing out the sweetest Carlebach harmony.
n WAR OR no war, life goes on and many of the activities that people engage in during peace time continue even in war time. A public auction of Israeli art to benefit cancer research was conducted by Meni Pe'er at the Hamam in Old Jaffa. Haim Katzman, chairman of the Cancer Door Knock Appeal, invited art lovers and people concerned about cancer to come and buy. Among those who attended were MK Ophir Pines-Paz and his wife Orly, Leon Recanati, Chairman of the Israel Cancer Association, and his wife Dr. Shula Recanati, Haim and Edna Romano, Ronen and Vered Ashkenazi, Tammy Mozes, Danny and Orna Brenner, Ishai and Shira Davidi, and of course Katzman and his wife Dr. Shulamit Katzman. In addition to the original works of art, there were albums of 12 signed prints selling for $3600 per album. As is his usual practice, Haim Romano, in his capacity as EL AL CEO, produced two business class tickets to New York for the raffle. Raffle tickets usually sell at somewhere between NIS 10 - NIS 25, but this time anyone wanting to participate in the raffle had to part with $300. Proceeds from the event amounted to $50,000.
n AN EXPENSIVE bottle of perfume still remains one of the most popular gifts that a man buys for the most important woman or women in his life. Singer and composer Zvika Pick is no exception. While in Eilat, he picked up a bottle of Linga Sharira for his significant other, lanky model Shira Manor. The price tag: NIS 799.