WHEN HE left Ruder Finn a couple of months back, there was enormous speculation as to where Charley Levine, one of Israel's better known communicators, was heading. Levine, who already had a reputation as a writer and spokesperson in the US before moving to Israel 28 years ago, managed his own CLC public relations firm before joining Ruder Finn in 1997 to serve as its CEO. To those who were concerned for his future after he left Ruder Finn, Levine gave assurances that he was not going to be stuck out in the cold, and promised that he would have good news to impart in the near future. As they say in the business, the future is now and Levine has been appointed to head the Israel branch of 5W Public Relations, a US-headquartered company that is opening offices in London and Tel Aviv as part of its new international strategy. Levine will be focusing on Israel and Europe, and says that he hasn't been so excited in a long time. "I've learned a few lessons over the years and intend to apply them with passion in this new agency," he enthused.
FORMER JEWISH Agency chairman Sallai Meridor has accused the chief rabbinate of failure to fulfill its function, sinning against the Jewish people and acting against the national interests of the State of Israel. Meridor, Rabbi Yisrael Rosen of the Conversion Institute and former government minister Prof. Ya'akov Ne'eman, who was appointed by former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu to head a committee of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbinical representatives with a goal to hammer out a mutually agreed upon solution to the conversion problem, spoke at a memorial evening for former Sephardi chief rabbi, Itzhak Nissim, who had advocated welcoming would-be converts rather than alienating them.
The 25th anniversary of Nissim's demise will be commemorated on Tisha Be'Av. Although Rosen and Ne'eman, who are both Orthodox, refrained from any direct attack on the chief rabbinate, they agreed with Meridor that if the issue of converting some 300,000 Jews who came to Israel under the Law of Return but who are not halachically Jewish is not solved, it will lead not only to a split in national unity, but also to a breakdown in Jewish observance and demography. If a couple who grew up in Israel fall in love, and the rabbinate refuses to marry them because one of the parties is not halachically Jewish, warned Meridor, they will go to Cyprus to get married, and after that they may not be interested in maintaining Jewish values. If they are converted, their children will be Jewish and their children's children will be Jewish, a factor that can seriously impact on Jewish demographics, several speakers noted. There was no response from the chief rabbinate.
By the way, Meridor has now assumed a new position for the Jewish Agency as overall director of the absorption centers in Safed, which has been hard hit by Katyusha rocket attacks during the war. The current Jewish Agency chairman, Ze'ev Bielski, said "his volunteerism serves as a shining example to us all. I take this opportunity to thank Sallai for contributing his talents, abilities and strength to us at this time."
WAR OR no war, the immigrants keep coming and in some cases, so do the tourists. Shlomo Malka, the editorial director of RJC (the Jewish Radio station in Paris), was in Charles de Gaulle Airport, waiting with a planeload of other French Jews to board a fllight to Israel. Most were headed for Eilat, Netanya, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Malka was talking about them on his cell phone with Israel Radio's Foreign News editor, Yitzhak Noy, but the on-air reception was so bad due to airport interference that he kept fading out.
Aware of the frustration that Malka was experiencing in not being properly heard, Noy said: "Call me when you get to Tel Aviv. The coffee's on me."
ENTERTAINERS CONTINUE to flock en masse to the North to bring cheer to the beleaguered residents and the soldiers. Aside from the busloads of Israel's celebs, there have also been scores of entertainers who are not frequently seen on television or heard on radio. Among them were members of Jerusalem's Great Synagogue choir, who turned out in full force, together with Cantor Chaim Adler and conductor Eli Jaffe, to perform at Rambam Hospital in Haifa for wounded soldiers and victims of rocket attacks. They went at the invitation of internationally-renowned cancer specialist Dr. Jacob Rowe, who is a member of the Rambam medical team and is also a member of the Great Synagogue board of directors. The choir plans to give future performances in Safed and Sderot.
SURPRISE ENTERTAINERS for some of the people in the bomb shelters were former government ministers Silvan Shalom and Limor Livnat (both of the Likud), who were part of a group of MKs touring northern bomb shelters at the end of last week.
They entered one where the inhabitants were singing "Am Israel Hai" (the people of Israel lives). Shalom, who in his spare time is a folk singer and guitarist, grabbed the microphone and started singing together with the people in the shelter. Livnat, who is the daughter of veteran songstress Shulamit Livnat, also sang, but Tzahi Hanegbi (Kadima) preferred to just listen to his colleagues.
THE APPLE has not fallen far from the tree. Whenever there were times of trouble in Israel, the late rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, aka "The singing rabbi," used to come to Israel to bring music and spiritual sustenance to the troops on the frontlines and the civilian population in the vanguard. He would travel all over the country, even to the most isolated areas, to give people a sense of hope and solidarity. Now his daughter, Neshama, a seasoned performer in her own right, with five CD albums to her credit and a sixth on the way, is coming to Israel to do much the same thing. Neshama Carlebach has been coming to Israel every summer for several years, but this time she comes with a sense of mission. She has a concert schedule from August 8 - 15 in which she will be sharing the stage with Etti Ankri, Leah Shabat, Ruti Navon, Yasmin Levy, Mika Karni, and Hadara Levin in Nachal Alexander, Bet Guvrin, and Binyamina. She will also perform in solo concerts in Herzliya Pituah, Jerusalem and Rehovot. Aside from that she will undoubtedly follow in the footsteps of her famous father and give several impromptu performances.
WHEN HE arrived in Israel in early July, Jeff Turnbull of the Australian Associated Press, who had been taking Hebrew lessons from an Israeli expatriate living in Melbourne, decided to brush up further on his Hebrew language skills, and enrolled at an ulpan at the University of Haifa, little imagining that while on vacation in the Holy Land, he would be filing stories for the folks back home from of all places - a bomb shelter. Ulpan organizers, out of concern for their students, subsequently evacuated them to Jerusalem.
FELLOW AUSTRALIAN journalist Tony Walker, who was Middle East correspondent for the Financial Times from 1984-1993 after having been the magazine's China correspondent from 1979-1983, keeps returning to Israel at every opportunity, staying in Jerusalem, his favorite city. Walker who returned to China in 1993 and stayed there till 1998, currently works out of Washington, but couldn't resist coming to Israel for a week to see for himself what was happening here - and of course, to look up old friends.
AUSTRALIAN ACCENTS were also prevalent at the Brit Mila at the HaZvi Yisrael Synagogue in Jerusalem of Yoel Aviad Rockman, who arrived in the world some six weeks after his cousin, Matan Goldsmith, whose father Ariel conducted the morning services.
Yoel Aviad, named for the peace and faith connotations in his name, is the son of Justin and Gila Rockman, who were both born in Australia. The baby's paternal grandparents Beverly and Ian Rockman, very well-known figures in Melbourne, flew to Israel for the occasion. The infant's maternal grandparents Michael and Pamela Goldsmith and Rebecca and Louis Goldberg live in Israel. Among the Australian expats in attendance were Isi and Naomi Leibler, Warren and Shirley Zauer, Jack and Celina Beris, Rochi Pushett, Hirsh Cooper, Zvi Ehrenberg, Tamara Grynberg and many others.
THERE'S ALSO an Australian connection between another two cousins in close chronological proximity, albeit thousands of kilometers apart. Martin and Yaffa Glass of Leeds, England have been commuting between London and Raanana to attend the pidyan haben and brit mila ceremonies of their grandsons, born four weeks apart. The proud grandmother from Haifa, who had been living for three years in Australia some 35 years ago, was returning to Israel via England when she met Dr. Martin Glass - and all the rest is history. The couple and their children traveled to Israel frequently over the years, and plan to settle here when Glass retires. Meanwhile, they'll continue to commute.
IN THE midst of all the recriminations between Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens, there are those who genuinely feel each other's pain and who are working together towards the easing of that pain through mutual understanding, friendship and cooperation. Close to a hundred of them gathered last Thursday in Jerusalem's Sacher Park under the banner of The Sulha Peace Project's "Choose Life" slogan to share their stories, to sing together and to light candles in memory of the victims of the conflict and in the hope of a better future for all the people of the region. Participants came from many parts of the country including the confrontation line. It was particularly touching that those who came from the North brought with them some of the food that they had received from wellwishers to pass around the circle to everyone else. Chen Benita, the administrative director of the Sulha Peace Project, said that she had received messages from many parts of Israel, Gaza, Florida and London that similar gatherings were taking place simultaneously so that there would be a greater global energy towards choosing life.
THE ANNUAL colorful International Arts and Crafts Fair is due to open next week at the Sultan's Pool in Jerusalem, with the participation of exhibitors from some 20 countries. According to Libby Bergstein, who is the coordinator for the international groups, there have been no drop-outs.
DOZENS OF organizations and institutions are engaged in evacuating and taking care of people from the North, providing for those in bomb shelters, organizing entertainment, food parcels, trips by solidarity missions, et al. While some of the individual activists and several commercial enterprises, organizations and institutions are getting media coverage, others, no matter what they do to try and get a little publicity, are falling short of the mark. Among them is WIZO, one of the most veteran do-good organizations which, despite the fact that it has evacuated 28 autistic children from Kiryat Ata, a group from the Alut occupational center in Karmiel and 25 therapeutic staff members who have all been accommodated at WIZO's Hadassim Youth Village, has been unable to arouse much media interest. Altogether, WIZO in its various youth villages is caring for close to 2,000 evacuees, providing them with accommodation, food, clothing, medical services, leisure time activities and entertainment.
Aside from the autistic groups, the evacuees include a group of 40 Christian Arab children and some 20 wheelchair-bound senior citizens from Nahariya who are being accommodated at the WIZO Parents Home in Tel Aviv. Zahava Shilon, the chairperson of Tel Aviv WIZO and the wife of television personality, Yigal Shilon, has been able to muster the entertainment industry to assist in WIZO's efforts, but Tova Ben Dov, the chairperson of the World WIZO Executive, has been frustrated in her efforts to get publicity for what WIZO is doing. Ordinarily, the lack of publicity would not bother her, she says, but since launching an emergency fundraising campaign which has thus far brought in $1.2 million, she is constantly being asked by WIZO leaders from abroad why there is nothing on the web, other than on WIZO's own website, about what WIZO is doing.
Ben Dov, who publishes regular updates on the WIZO website, this week expressed sincere regret for the loss of innocent lives in Lebanon. Noting that Israel always apologizes when innocents are killed in the course of an Israeli military operation, Ben Dov writes: "And we continue to apologize. We apologize because we hurt, not only for ourselves, but we hurt for our enemies. We hurt for a child who is killed, whether it is by a collapsing building or because he is sent to be a suicide bomber. Golda Meir's famous words have never been more true: 'I can forgive you for killing my boys, but I can never forgive you for making my boys into killers.' But we will not let our country be reduced to ruins as the Hizbullah has done to Lebanon. We cannot hold a dialogue with terrorists whose only dialogue is 'we will kill you if you stay and we will kill you if you leave.'"
SOMEONE WHO has received a little publicity for what he is doing, but is definitely deserving of more, is David Fattal, who heads the Fattal Hotel Management group. After touring the North to see for himself what was going on, Fattal turned the Golden Tulip Negev Hotel in Beersheba into an on-the-house enterprise for guests from the North who were accommodated free of charge for stays of three days and two nights. All they had to do was to produce an ID card confirming that they were residents of the North. The time span was limited to three days to give as many people as possible an opportunity to take advantage of the offer.
HUNGARIAN-BORN physicist Michael Klein, a survivor of Auschwitz, who after years of debating with himself about whether to write a book about his experiences, finally sat down and wrote "An Odyssey of Survival," which was published some five months ago. Now it has been awarded the Egit prize for the best book in the category of Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Literature. The prize was established by the Jacob and Clara Egit Foundation of Canada. Klein, who now lives in Jerusalem after spending many years in the US, was unaware of his win until a friend called from America to tell him. The son of a Hassidic family from southern Hungary, Klein's secular education ended in the sixth grade, but he continued with his yeshiva studies until the age of 14. These studies were brought to an abrupt stop in 1944 with the German occupation of Hungary. It was in that year that Klein turned 15, and together with his parents and 10 siblings was deported first to the ghetto and then to Auschwitz and Golleschau. Only Klein and his two older sisters survived. Klein freely admits that he owes his life to Oskar Schindler, who took him in and protected him during the last three months of the war after Klein and 92 other people had spent eight days in cattle cars without food or water.
Now the sole survivor of his wartime family, Klein felt that he owed it to them to tell the story of their struggle during the war years to maintain their faith and their humanity. When the war ended, Klein was seriously ill with tuberculosis and spent six years in various hospitals. Unable to go out to work, he devoted himself to study. In 1950, he arrived in the United States knowing no English, but determined to catch up and to become a useful member of society. In the course of time, he was accepted at the University of Colorado where he majored in Engineering Physics and graduated first in his class. He subsequently received a Ph.D. in Physics from Cornell University and went on to become a professor whose numerous scientific articles were published around the world. What surprises him since the publication of his book is the number of e-mails that he receives each week from readers. Given the huge volume of Holocaust literature that has appeared and continues to appear, Klein is amazed at the number of people who have bought and read his book.
TWO GRANDMOTHERS of British background were discussing how social attitudes had changed since they were young. One said that before she was married, her own mother and grandmother would not allow the word "pregnant" to be uttered in her presence. It was just too unseemly. She believed the relationship that she has with her own granddaughter to be much more open and free. "I think she knows that she can tell me anything," she said.
The second grandmother, Pamela Loval of Jerusalem, related that when her grandson went to the army, she cast around for a suitable gift, and found what she deemed to be appropriate in a menswear store: She purchased a pair of shorts with seven color-coded pockets, inside each of which was a condom. Though slightly embarrassed, her grandson received the gift with a broad grin, and after sharing with his friends the information about what he had been given, returned to his grandmother to tell her that his friends had told him yesh lecha savta koolit (you've got a cool grandma.). Loval could not have wished for a more appreciative comment.