On three consecutive afternoons this week, people from many parts of Israel gathered at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem for ceremonies in which honorees were given awards for giving of themselves.
The first of these was the ninth-annual awards ceremony for IDF reserve units – mostly comprised of volunteers.
The second, and in a sense the most moving, was the 56th-annual Israel Defense Prize for the anonymous army of soldiers and civilians whose scientific and technological achievements have made massive contributions to Israel’s security.
And the third was the annual President’s Prize for volunteerism, in which a dozen individuals and organizations working for a variety of causes for the benefit of others, received some of the recognition due to them as role models of society.
David Shporer, 94, the oldest of the winners of the President’s Prize for volunteerism, said that what keeps him going is doing for others – and not the other way around.
President Shimon Peres told the audience at the Defense Prize ceremony that he is often asked the secret of his good health and his longevity. The answer was simple, he said. Every time he visits an industrial park in the Galilee, an incubator in the Arava, a Rafael Advanced Defense Systems laboratory or even a private factory in the Sharon area, he says to himself, “To hell with pessimism” – and it’s this continued spirit of optimism that keeps him going.
Peres apologized to winners of the Defense Prize, the most prestigious award that the nation has to offer, in that their names and their achievements must remain classified and shrouded in anonymity for years to come.
Peres, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Defense Ministry director-general Maj.-Gen. (res.) Dan Harel all spoke of the winners as anonymous soldiers in the defense of the nation. All three made the point that Israel’s continued security depends on her scientists, technologists and engineers always remaining a step ahead of the enemy, as well as of their rivals.
Peres said he did not have enough words to thank them for their contribution to national security. Harel said it was strange to be at a ceremony honoring people who have done so much for national security, without being able to mention the projects on which they were working. Both noted that although Israel is small in territory, it is large in capability, because its scientists and technologists dare to dream and their imaginations are without limits.
This was the only ceremony of the three in which proud relatives, friends and colleagues were not permitted to take photographs.
That’s how secret the projects and those working on them are. Usually, people attending ceremonies at the President’s Residence ignore the requests of moderators not to stand up and snap photos. But on this occasion, everyone present understood the need for extreme secrecy, and other than the pictures taken by official photographers with security clearance, not a single photo was taken by anyone in the audience. It was an amazing and unusual display of Israeli discipline.
One of the honorees, who spoke on behalf of the others, thanked the heads of the defense establishment for placing their confidence in them and for granting them the privilege of being responsible for breakthrough projects that contribute to Israel’s security. “We have many partners in what we do,” he said, “and even though we were chosen for the prizes, we all are equals in the mission entrusted to us.” He also noted that just as there are no limits on imagination, there are also no limits on reality.
The prize is named for Eliyahu Golomb, the chief architect of the Hagana, who was regarded as the defense minister of the state-in-the-making. Golomb’s home in Tel Aviv now serves as the Hagana Museum.
■ TEL AVIV-based sculptor Samuel Willenberg, 90, despite his advanced age, was in Poland last week to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Treblinka revolt, of which he had been one of the leaders.
Willenberg is thought to be last living survivor of the Treblinka death camp, where more than 800,000 people were murdered by the Nazis.
Following Willenberg’s escape, he joined the Polish forces in fighting the Nazi oppressors. He moved to Israel in 1950.
He and his wife, Ada, who is also a Holocaust survivor, have been back to Poland many times, escorting students, giving lectures to Poles and receiving honors from the Polish government. Neither he nor she bear any malice towards Poland, and he proudly wears his Polish decorations wherever he goes. They have also lectured to packed houses in Germany.
Willenberg’s sculptures are small monuments to people he knew in Treblinka. He carves their likenesses from memory, knowing these are the only tombstones they will ever have. He also designed and supervised the construction of the monument to the murdered Jews in his hometown of Czestochowa, where he and his wife attended a memorial gathering last October.
Willenberg was keen to have an educational center built at Treblinka to augment visitor knowledge. Most visitors go to look for the stone that marks their hometown or that of their parents or grandparents. The Polish villages, towns and cities from which Treblinka victims came are marked by large and small stones, labeled with the names of these places; there number in the hundreds.
The cornerstone for the education center was laid at the 70th-anniversary commemoration ceremony, which was attended by hundreds of people from Poland, Israel and elsewhere. It was also announced that the education center would be designed by Willenberg’s daughter, Orit Willenberg- Giladi, a Tel Aviv architect who has designed Israeli embassies in Bangkok, Manila, Geneva and Berlin. The latter includes six iron pillars jutting out of a glass façade, to commemorate the 6 million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis. Willenberg-Giladi also designed the house that is the residence of the Polish Ambassador to Israel; the house sits on land owned by her parents.
Among the Israelis present at the Treblinka commemoration ceremony was Szevah Weiss, the Polish-born former Israeli ambassador to Poland, who was a child Holocaust survivor. Weiss, who frequently returns to Poland to teach at the University of Warsaw, appealed to Poland at the Treblinka memorial ceremony, asking the country to reverse its ban on Jewish ritual slaughter. He spoke of the bridge that has been built between Poland and the Jewish world in recent years, and warned that this bridge is still fragile – and that any law preventing Jews from practicing their timehonored traditions would be detrimental to its stability.
Both Willenberg and Weiss have retained their Polish mannerisms, kissing the hands of women and using the most courteous forms of address in conversation.
■ CROATIA HAS long held a reputation as a tourist destination, especially for sportsminded vacationers and those who like to frequent health spas. But Croations also like to go abroad to see what other countries have to offer, and one of the countries courting tourism from Croatia is Israel.
With a view to drumming up additional interest in and curiosity about Israel, the relevant Israeli authorities got together to organize an Israel Festival Week in Croatia, which started last Saturday night and will conclude today. Much of the festival was musical, with participants including Carmel A-Capella; jazz musician Amir Gwirtzman, who plays 20 woodwind and percussion instruments; Israeli opera singers Keren Hadar, Hila Baggio and Yurik Kissim, who sang solos with the Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra conducted by Noam Zur; and the Sheketak Dance Group. There was also a photography exhibition featuring the works of Shai Ginott, and celebrity chef Shaul Ben- Aderet was on hand to give Croations a taste of Israeli cuisine.
The star attraction was possibly Lior Suchard, who bends spoons and reads minds in much the same way as Uri Geller. Suchard has achieved international renown in a relatively short period of time.
■ WHILE ISRAEL was busy promoting itself in Croatia, the Embassy of Panama in Israel together with the Polaris Company were promoting tourism to Panama at a gala event at Tel Aviv’s Gadot Banquet Hall last night.
There, it was announced that Tel Aviv gained yet another sister city, in the form of Panama City. The agreement was actually signed in Panama City in March, when Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai visited Panama’s capital. Tel Aviv has sister city agreements with some 30 cities around the world.
Last night’s reception was hosted by Panama’s Ambassador in Israel, Hector Aparicio, and officials of the Panama Tourist Authority, and was attended by senior Israeli and Panamanian officials as well as members of the embassies of of Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.
Also there was Eytan Schwartz, who entered the national consciousness in 2005 when he won the first season of Channel 2’s popular television contest, The Ambassador. Schwartz has since been the spokesman for advancement of refugees from Darfur; made a failed attempt to enter the Knesset on a Labor Party ticket; and for the past couple of years, worked for the Tel-Aviv Municipality.
Present as well were: British Airways’ commercial manager in Israel, Yael Katan; Lufthansa’s general manager in Israel, Karsten Zang; and Air France/ KLM sales manager Rinat Hay-Barkan.
One of the highlights of the evening was the presentation of the Panamanian traditional dress, the polliera, which is embroidered with diamonds and pearls, takes approximately a year to make and is worth tens of thousands of dollars. The polliera is worn only on the most special of occasions.
■ LOVERS Of classical music will be thrilled to know that one of the world’s great piano exponents, Orana Yablonskaya, is moving to Israel. Her husband, clarinetist Alexander Volchonok, told Israel Radio’s Hayuta Dvir that they had applied for aliya.
Yablonskaya, who won numerous competitions in the former Soviet Union, has been performing internationally since the 1960s, but was never allowed to play in Western countries. When the Soviets relaxed their emigration laws in the mid- 1970s, she migrated to the US, arriving in 1977. Soon after settling there, she had a concert at Carnegie Hall that received widespread critical acclaim. Her son, Dmitri Yablonsky, is also a talented musician who plays the cello.
■ JEWISH WOMEN INTERNATIONAL showcases Jewish women’s leadership across the US and will be honoring 10 extraordinary women at its 13th annual Women to Watch celebration in Washington in December, immediately after Hanukka. A young women’s leadership conference will be held on the preceding day, to give emerging Jewish women leaders the opportunity to develop relationships with Women to Watch honorees, past and present, who will participate as mentors and share their experiences.
“This year, Jewish Women International is honoring women who have been gamechangers in the worlds of business, media, the military, food and culture, television and film, philanthropy, Jewish life and connection to Israel, reproductive health and adoption, and financial education and independence,” said JWI executive director Lori Weinstein. “We have selected a magnificent group of 10 women leaders and role models who represent a diverse array of fields. Each is leaving her mark on her own community, on the country and on the global community of women JWI works to better every day.”
This year’s honorees are: • Gail Becker, Los Angeles, chairwoman of Canada, Latin America and US Western Region for Edelman Public Relations, and of Edelman’s Global Women’s Executive Network (GWEN). She oversees efforts to increase the number of women at the highest levels of the firm; • Lisa Eisen, Washington, national director of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and director of its Washington office. She supports international initiatives to empower young Jews to embrace the joy of Judaism, build inclusive Jewish communities, support Israel and repair the world; • Danielle Gelber, Los Angeles, executive vice president of Universal Media Studios-based Wolf Films and former executive at Showtime, Fox and Spelling Television. She has developed hit shows including Law & Order, Weeds, The L Word, The X-Files, Ally McBeal, Beverly Hills, 90210, and The Sopranos; • Julianna Goldman, Washington, chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News and Bloomberg Businessweek, and writer on White House domestic policy and the president’s economic policy agenda. She was named one of the 2010 Power 30 Under 30, which ranks the most influential people in Washington under age 30; • Dr. and Lt.-Col. Bonnie Hartstein, San Antonio, Texas, chief of family and community medicine at San Antonio’s Brooke Army Medical Center, one of the military’s largest primary care centers in the US. Board-certified in pediatric and emergency medicine, she oversees a $14 million annual budget and constantly searches for ways to improve patient care; • Pati Jinich, Chevy Chase, Maryland, cooking teacher, food writer, official chef of the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, and host of the public television series Pati’s Mexican Table. She has appeared on numerous TV and radio programs, and published her first cookbook with Houghton Mifflin this past spring; • Nicolette Mason, New York City, writer, editor, designer and art director.
She is a contributing fashion editor and columnist for Marie Claire, and host of the Big Girl in a Skinny World YouTube series.
• Lori Palatnik, Rockville, Maryland, international speaker, author and founding director of the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, which has brought almost 4,000 women to Israel since 2009 on subsidized tour-and-learn programs.
She lectures worldwide and at prestigious universities, and appears weekly on her video blog, Lori Almost Live, on Aish.com; • Meryl Rosenberg, Potomac, Maryland, Sondra D. Bender community leadership honoree, activist, philanthropist and attorney in private practice. She is the director of ARTparenting, a program devoted to all legal aspects of surrogacy, egg donation, embryo donation, and other assisted reproductive technologies (ART) issues, as well as step-parent adoptions and second-parent adoptions; and • Amanda Steinberg, Philadelphia, thought-leader on the topic of women and money, and founder of DailyWorth – an online community (nearing 1 million subscribers) helping women earn more, save more and spend smarter. She has been featured in The New York Times, Time magazine, Forbes, Parenting and Cosmopolitan, and on NY1, CNN, Fox, ABC and NBC News.
There has yet to be a woman president of the United States, but as women continue to make an impact in politics, Eve will eventually overtake Adam there as well.