n WHEN ISRAEL is in trouble or appears to be in trouble, world Jewry not only sits up and takes notice but its leaders come to Israel to see the situation for themselves and to find out what they can do to help. There's been a steady flow of such visits over the past month, with probably the largest solidarity demonstration by the World Jewish Congress, which chose to have its 13th plenary in Jerusalem this week under the heading of "We Stand by Israel."
A few days prior to the arrival of the WJC, a delegation of the heads of the European Council of Jewish Communities under the leadership of President Jonathan Joseph of the UK arrived in Israel to tour the south and assess the situation, meet with mayors and other figures and to attend a conference of the Union of Local Authorities, so as to be better informed in making the case for Israel in Europe. The ECJC has NGO status at the Council of Europe and the European Union, with a network of Regional Representative Offices in London, Berlin and Kiev. The delegation also met with President Peres, who outlined Israel's policies on Hamas and Iran.
n SOON AFTER midnight (Israel time) on the day of President Barack Obama's inauguration, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu's office distributed via e-mail a photograph of Netanyahu with Obama. The photograph was sent to news editors and columnists. Some newspapers published it and some, presumably noticing that the photograph was taken in 2007, decided to ignore it. Judging by the painting in the background, the photograph was taken in the United States during one of Netanyahu's visits there, and with inauguration day being so close in time to the Israeli general elections, the photo was an irresistible campaign tool.
n PATRONS OF pop concerts know that the music is often canned, and sometimes the whole performance is canned with the star attraction mouthing into the microphone without making a sound, or simply singing into a dead mike without being heard beyond the stage. It doesn't seem to bother anyone. But it did bother a lot of people in the American media that violinist Itzhak Perlman, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, clarinetist Anthony McGill and pianist Gabriela Montero had prerecorded their rendition of "Air and Simple Gifts" that had been arranged by Oscar winning composer John Williams for the presidential inauguration. Anyone watching them on television may have been impressed by the fact that they were all having a good time together, and in all probability would have been oblivious to the fact that they were not really playing, but hamming it up. Concerned that they might not be able to tune their instruments to get the desired sound in the freezing cold, the quartet unanimously agreed to prerecord to ensure that the sound would be what it should be.
When the subject of the prerecorded performance became public knowledge, it got so much publicity that readers with little knowledge about music may have been led to think that the musicians had committed one of the greatest sacrileges in the world. Yo-Yo Ma will be in Jerusalem next week - unfortunately without Perlman, Montero or McGill - and he will be performing live with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Leon Botstein.
n EVEN PEOPLE with a minimal interest in politics are becoming a little more aware as February 10, the date of the election for the Knesset, draws ever closer. Mindful of this, Army Radio is expanding its political broadcasts with a new program, beginning today, Wednesday, at 4 p.m. under the title of Bohashim (Stirring). Hosts Idan Kvaller and Sefi Ovadia will indeed be stirring the political pot and supplementing Rafi Barkai's popular morning program Ma Boer (What's Burning), which also deals with current issues.
n SINGERS Achinoam Nini and Mira Awad are declared members of the peace camp and would like to see Israelis and Palestinians living in harmonious co-existence. During Operation Cast Lead, Nini in her blog on Facebook wrote an open letter to Gazans in which the penultimate paragraph read:
"I can only wish for you that Israel will do the job we all know needs to be done, and finally RID YOU of this cancer, this virus, this monster called fanaticism, today, called Hamas. And that these killers will find what little compassion may still exist in their hearts and STOP using you and your children as human shields for their cowardice and crimes.
And then, maybe, Inshallah, we will again have an opportunity... we will again pick up our broken bodies and souls and walk slowly towards each other, reach out a tired hand, look into eyes filled with tears and with a choked voice say: 'Shalom. Salam. Enough. Enough my brother."
Members of the Palestine Think Tank subheaded "Free Minds for a Free Palestine" chose to ignore the compassion and empathy in the rest of the letter and focused only on the sentence about Israel doing the job that needs to be done.
Nini and Awad, a Christian Arab, were chosen to represent Israel at this year's Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow. News of this was published around the world, even in countries that do not participate in Eurovision, but it enraged a lot of Palestinians and not a few Israelis who saw it as a fig leaf concealing reality and started condemning the joint appearances of the two saying that it created a false impression of harmonious coexistence.
The two singers were supposed to join with other Jewish and Arab performers last Friday at a fundraiser at the Levontine 7 Club in Tel Aviv, with proceeds going towards medical equipment and supplies for Gazan victims of Operation Cast Lead. However the two decided on Thursday of last week that there was too much hostility against them and they dropped out.
n THE LAST chief rabbi of the Polish Town of Piotrokow Trybunalski was Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lau, who was murdered by the Nazis in Treblinka. His grandson, who was named for him, is one of the leading contenders for the position of chief rabbi of Jerusalem. Both Moshe Lau the elder and Moshe Lau the younger earned themselves widespread reputations as Torah scholars. Former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who is currently Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv and Chairman of Yad Vashem, is the son of one and the father of the other. Other than Elie Wiesel, he is arguably the world's best known Holocaust survivor - and is an annual speaker at the March of the Living ceremony at Auschwitz Birkenau, and at other Holocaust commemorations elsewhere in the world. This week he spoke at the United Nations in New York. The Laus are fast becoming Israel's best known rabbinic family, with one of Lau's other sons, Rabbi David Lau, the Chief Rabbi of Modiin, appearing weekly on television, and his nephew Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau, the Rabbi of Jerusalem's Ramban Synagogue and one of the leading figures at Beit Morasha (a high level seminary for Jewish woman), also appearing frequently on television.
n FORMER MK Shmuel Flatto Sharon is the King of Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Street in that he owns Dizengoff Center, the huge shopping mall that extends across both sides of Tel Aviv's main shopping boulevard. Flatto Sharon is directly and indirectly involved in promoting Dizengoff Street and is featured in the cover story of a new lifestyle and fashion magazine, appropriately titled "Dizengoff - A Street of Culture," which is edited by Haim Abergil. The magazine was given a festive, albeit modest, launch at the Apartment Club, which is located (where else?) but in Dizengoff Street. There will be a gala launch in February. It is most appropriate to put out a publication with the name Dizengoff in its title at this time. Meir Dizengoff was one of the founders and the first mayor of Tel Aviv, which this year celebrates its centenary.
n AUSTRALIA, THE island continent, is 121 years older than Tel Aviv. Australia Day, January 26, commemorates the landing of the First Fleet in 1788 and the beginning of British colonization of the world's smallest continent. Although Australians like to celebrate Australia Day, preferably with a few cans of Australian beer, Australian ambassadors around the world have been instructed not to waste money on Australia Day receptions. Sometimes the rule is broken by the official visit of a prime minister or a foreign minister. No such luck this year.
Nonetheless, some of the immigrants from down under, as well as Australian ambassador James Larson, found a way around the ban. A group of Australian immigrants ranging from veteran to just off the plane congregated at The English Pub in Allenby Street, Tel Aviv on January 22. The event was organized by Gayle Fantl, who organized something similar last year. When someone opens an Australian Pub replete with Fosters, the folks from down under will gather there.
In addition, this week, there will be an exhibition opening at the new Australian Embassy in south Tel Aviv co-hosted by Larsen and the Joint Distribution Committee. The exhibition reflects the willingness of Australia to take in Holocaust survivors after the war and is titled: "Nationality: Stateless; Destination: Australia." After the war, there were thousands of Jewish refugees anxious to get out of Europe to a place that was distant and safe; 23,000 of them found their way to Australia. Of these, some 60 per cent were helped by the JDC, and the others by the Australian Jewish Welfare and Relief Society.
The exhibition reflects the partnership between JDC and the Australian Jewish community. Many of the survivors went on to become people of affluence and influence, elected to positions of leadership and contributing to numerous Australian causes as well as to causes in Israel. Larsen had been looking for a way to celebrate the relocation of the embassy and to do something public for Australia Day without breaking the rules - and this was the most appropriate solution. For security reasons, the event is by invitation only.
n NOT THAT Larsen missed out on a party on Australia Day. He was one of several ambassadors who accepted the invitation of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to a reception "in the spirit of religious co-existence." Among the diplomats joining some the leading figures representing the Jewish, Christian and Islamic communities of Jerusalem was Peru's Acting Head of Mission Gonzalo Voto Bernales, who in addition to being acting ambassador, acting charge d'affaires and counselor, will now also be performing the duties of defence attache. No replacements have been sent for various members the Peruvian Embassy who complete their tours of duty and if this continues Bernales, who inherits all their responsibilities, will soon have to be cloned.
Among the ambassadors attending were Sri Lanka's Wijekoon Mudiyanselage Senevirathna, Moldova's Larissa Miculet and El Salvador's Susana Gun de Hasenson who delivered a message on behalf of the diplomatic corps. Gun de Hasenson was not speaking as the only ambassador still resident in Jerusalem, but as the Deputy Dean of the Diplomatic Corps.
What was obvious from the greetings delivered by Uzbek community leader and peace activist Sheikh Abdel Aziz al-Bukhari, Shmuel Rabinovitch Rabbi of the Holy Places and Theophilos III Greek Orthodox Patriarch was that they all intended to work with Barkat to eradicate violence and to truly turn Jerusalem into a city of peace and harmony. All three commented in one way or another on how meaningful Jerusalem is to all the people of the three great monotheistic faiths, be they religious or secular. Theophilos, who had a hard time being accepted by the Israeli authorities, apparently harbors no bitterness and declared that there is room for all in Jerusalem. "God is inclusive, not exclusive," he said.
n ACROSS THE other side of town at the Regency Hotel, organizers of the Jerusalem Summit were also holding a reception with guests including a quartet of Egyptian diplomats, the most recent arrival of whom was Barakat El Leithy, the First Secretary at the Embassy, who got to Israel only two weeks ago. He has been here on two previous occasions in a negotiating capacity, but this will be his first long term stay. The posting is for four years.
El Leithy, like his colleague Ahmed Helmy, represents the new caliber of Egyptian diplomats - fluent in English, conversant with the American jargon, capable of laughing at jokes about themselves, natural social networkers and super smart in a very laid back fashion. Others seen at the reception included the Lady in Yellow, Batsheva Isralevi; Mitchell Barak of Kivun Research which is busy these days doing election surveys; Bobby Brown, who after severing ties with the WJC is about to enter into a new job; Israel Medad of the Begin Heritage Center; Eliezer Jaffe who is the most authoritative expert on social work in Israel; and best selling author Lela Gilbert, whose latest book "Blind Spot" is arousing considerable interest.
n THERE'S A rabbi in the Jerusalem zoo. His friends refer to him as Rabbi Marc and just about everyone agrees that he has the courage of a lion. In fact he is a lion, and he was named this week after Rabbi Marc Schneier, President of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and a leading figure in the World Jewish Congress, in celebration of his 50th birthday. Schneier's family wanted to honor him in some way in Jerusalem in a manner that would excite the curiosity of and bring joy to young people while simultaneously supporting a valuable cultural institution which is not always the top of the lists of charitable giving. They thought that with Schneier's personality, pairing him up with the King of the Beasts would be an ideal match, especially because the lion is the symbol of Jerusalem. Accompanying the Schneier family to the zoo for the naming ceremony was newly re-elected President of the WJC Ronald Lauder, who only a week earlier had attended the ceremony in Washington for the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
n LESS THAN a month after the death of an infant grandson who choked in his sleep, former Shas leader Aryeh Deri - who had been very attached to the baby, and had been deeply affected by the tragedy - had reason to smile again, albeit wanly. His younger son Yanki presented him with another grandson, the first to carry on the Deri name. Deri and his wife Yaffa have seven children, five of whom are daughters. The deceased baby was that of his daughter Osnat. In Sephardi circles it is permitted and even encouraged to call a baby by the same name as a living grandparent, so the seventh of Deri's grandchildren is named Aryeh Mahlouf Deri, as is his grandfather. Deri will have further cause to smile when he celebrates his 50th birthday on February 17. Labor leader Ehud Barak will celebrate his 67th birthday on February 12, just two days after the elections for the Knesset. It will be interesting to see if the electorate gives him the birthday present that he wants.
n ALSO CELEBRATING the birth of a boy were Josh and Rebekah Reinstein, who inducted their second son Ari into the faith at a Brit Mila ceremony at the Sharay Rachmim Synagogue. Reinstein is the director of the Knesset's Christian Allies Caucus. Among those joining the festivities that followed were Emunah Elon, wife of Caucus Chairman MK Benny Elon, MKs David Rotem and Elhanan Glazer, and Becky Brimmer, head of Bridges for Peace.
n IN HIS television program "The Way it Was," Yigal Ravid occasionally interviews colleagues who are veteran reporters and makers of documentaries. Last week he interviewed colleague Menachem Hadar, who has been making news features for well over 30 years. The two of them laughed over a film clip taken at the Hebrew University in the days when Tzahi Hanegbi (looking very much like Izhar Cohen at his Eurovision triumph) and Azmi Bishara were both students there.
n IT'S QUITE a triumph for Israel that Ari Folman's "Waltz with Bashir" has been nominated for an Oscar. Menachem Golan, a veteran of seven Oscar nominations, says that "Bashir" is a phenomenal film that will have a vast following around the world. Although Israelis are not always gracious about each other's successes, Golan was more than generous in offering kudos to everyone associated with the production. In a radio interview with Yoav Ginai, Golan was fairly optimistic that it will win the Oscar for best foreign film because it was nominated despite the damage that Operation Cast Lead caused to Israel's image abroad.