Grapevine: The splendor of majesty

Economic crises may have reduced the amounts of money raised abroad for Israeli causes, but not the enthusiasm for giving to Israel.

By
July 24, 2012 22:37
Peres with Ghanaian monarch Tutu II.

Peres with Ghanaian monarch African garb 390. (photo credit: Yosef Avi Yair Engel/GPO)

 
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‘This is closer than I ever got to Haile Selassie,” said an exuberant Yosef Halawe, Ethiopia’s ambassador to Israel. He had just shaken the hand of King Osei Tutu II of Asante at a reception in the king’s honor at the King David Hotel Jerusalem, hosted by Eytan Stibbe, the founding partner in Vital Capital, a global investment group that has been investing in Africa for more than a quarter-century with a view to helping the African people improve the quality of their lives in different spheres of endeavor.

It was the king’s last night in Israel after an intensive week of touring the country and combining a series of spiritual experiences with courting investments for Ghana, in which the kingdom of Asante is located, catching up on culture, history, technology, state-of-the-art medical services and facilities and a lot more. Although Ghana’s ambassador to Israel, Henry Hanson Hall, wore a business suit, the king and the members of his entourage came in their traditional robes. The scores of guests almost fell over themselves in their eagerness to shake the monarch’s hand, but only two or three women had the grace to curtsey.

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Surveying the scene, it was difficult not to be reminded of Mark Twain’s novel, The Prince and the Pauper. With all the intolerance and racism to which African migrants are being subjected in Israel, it was amusing to see how enthusiastically people crowded around the king. Is it not possible that some of the African refugees and illegals sleeping in parks and stairwells around the country might be descendants of African royalty or even royals themselves? Video screens in the corners of the reception hall showed clips of the places that the king had been throughout the week, including his visit that morning with President Shimon Peres, to whom he had given a robe similar to his own.

Several people guests at the reception had anecdotes to tell about the king. Greek Patriarch Theophilus III, who had conferred on him the Knighthood of the Holy Sepulcher, said that the king, who is a devout Anglican, had been very moved by the honor but had also been interested to learn about the differences between the Eastern Orthodox Churches and Catholicism.

Israel Museum Director James Snyder said that when the king visited the museum’s Africa section and saw gold artifacts almost identical to the ones he wears himself, he was very excited – but was even more pleased when he saw a video display featuring his own 60th birthday celebrations two years ago.

Stibbe, who had invited the king and his entourage to Israel, ensured that they would gain a comprehensive experience and understanding of the region, from the Golan Heights to the Sinai.

According to Dror Danino, the general manager of the King David, the king had only one special request, which was with regard to his food: The only meat he would eat was lamb, which he ate in a corner of his suite and not in any of the hotel’s dining rooms.

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Included in the king’s entourage was Kobina Annan, a former Ghanaian ambassador to Morocco who also happens to be the brother of former UN secretary general Kofi Annan. In the morning, when accompanying the king to his meeting with Peres, the president had asked Annan to convey his best wishes to his brother, which he did soon thereafter over the telephone. Kofi Annan was reportedly very interested in what had transpired at the meeting.

At the farewell reception, beyond an occasional murmur to those who tried to engage him in conversation, the king did not speak. Prince Lovelace Prempeh, who is related to the king, spoke on his behalf, almost presenting a travelogue of their visit to the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, the Greek Patriarchate, Yad Vashem, the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River, “which, we are told, has more history than water.” The King took the opportunity to be baptized while at the Jordan River, said the prince.

What was interesting to the entourage, he continued, was that Ghanians, who had never met the king in their home country, emerged from nowhere to greet him in Israel.

The delegation was impressed by Israel’s water technology, its hospital facilities and its history, though it regretted the fact that Israel, unlike Asante, no longer has a king. The kingdom in Asante is centuries older than the Republic of Ghana, the prince pointed out. The delegation had also been heartened by assurances of Israel’s friendship and willingness to assist Ghana in all the areas in which Ghana sought cooperation.

Entertainment was provided by Ahinoam Nini, who elicited a roar of approval from the crowd when she demonstrated that not only is she a great singer, but also a deft hand on the bongo drums.

Stibbe presented the king with two “second-hand” gifts – an ancient oil lamp and a 3,000-year-old bronze spear head, which he said represents the power necessary to maintain peace.

■ NOTWITHSTANDING ALL the wars of the Jews, the political mud-slinging, the debates on universal national service and whether it should be compulsory for haredim and Arabs to share in the national responsibility of carrying the burden for security and social welfare, the record for volunteerism in Israel is little short of outstanding.

It’s been that way since before the establishment of the state. People from all sectors of society, from different age groups of different religions and ethnic backgrounds are all part of a mammoth mosaic of voluntary activity which, directly or indirectly, benefits their fellow beings.

Not only that, but a wealth of volunteer programs attracts both Jews and non-Jews to come and spend time in Israel volunteering in the IDF, in kibbutzim, in hospitals, in probono dental services, in archeological excavations, in retirement homes, in clubs for Holocaust survivors and in a myriad of other fields.

Volunteers from abroad also volunteer in Magen David Adom’s special first responders program for overseas volunteers ages 18-30. The program is named in memory of Sgt. Maj. (Res.) Yochai Porat, who while serving on reserve duty in March 2002, was killed by a Palestinian sniper while trying to rescue a comrade who had been shot by the sniper at an IDF road block near Ofra in Samaria.

Porat, who lived in Kfar Saba, was 26 years old at the time of his death. He had been actively involved with MDA for more than 10 years and was the first program coordinator for MDA’s Overseas Volunteer Program, wherein young people from abroad spend five weeks in Israel as part of an ambulance team. During this time they are trained in life saving skills which they take back to their home countries. Porat created a personal relationship with each participant in the course, letting them know how much their efforts were appreciated.

He was often among the first on the scene in response to terrorist attacks, and his quick actions and know-how saved many lives. His commitment and enthusiasm were such that he served as a natural role model to the young volunteers, and after his death MDA decided that the best way to honor his memory was to attach his name to the program that had been so important to him. Some 400 to 550 volunteers from around 40 countries come each year.

At the end of their course, the volunteers participate in a ceremony in which they receive certificates attesting to the completion of their training.

One such ceremony took place last week, with the presentation of certificates to one Israeli and two Canadians. The Israeli was Tomer Fein, 25, who is responsible for coordinating volunteer activities in the Yarkon region, which includes MDA stations in Kfar Saba, Herzliya and Ra’anana, and whose devotion to duty has not gone unnoticed. The volunteers have commented on what he does to make them feel welcome and part of mainstream society for the period that they are in Israel.

One of the Canadians was Reuven Goldberg, 20, a serial volunteer – first in MDA’s international division, then in the Overseas Volunteers Program, working in the Ramat Gan station. He derived so much satisfaction from what he was doing that he returned again this year, and happily volunteers wherever needed.

Both Goldberg and fellow Canadian Ariel Reisenbach, 23, received certificates of excellence. Reisenbach, who was in the Overseas Volunteers Program last year, stayed in Israel and took a second course, volunteering in MDA stations in the Jerusalem district, and became so involved that he decided to live in Israel permanently, and that if he was going to that, he also had to do a stint in the army. He enlisted two months ago and has completed a preparatory course for paratroopers. He said that this was another way of making a contribution.

Among those attending the ceremony were a large number of high school students who are spending their summer vacation volunteering for MDA. Just another sign that there’s no need to worry about the future; there are enough Israeli kids who care.

■ ONE OF the joys of being in the entertainment industry is that there’s no retirement age.

All those who are capable of performing, be they musicians, singers or actors, continue to do so. Politicians are pretty lucky that way too. No one forces them to retire at age 67, which is why Ehud Barak, Benny Begin, Yaakov Neeman, Yossi Peled, Matan Vilnai (soon to be an ambassador) and Uzi Landau, who are all between the ages of 68 and 72, are still in government, and Binyamin Ben- Eliezer, who is even older, is still in the Knesset. Landau will celebrate his 69th birthday on August 2 and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin will turn 73 on September 9. None of them, of course, will be affected by any change in legislation related to pension age.

Veteran entertainer Yehoram Gaon, 72, says there shouldn’t be a pension age, because modern medicine and good nutrition have taken all the stigma out of aging. People look younger, feel younger and act younger than their biological age and so long as they are capable of working, they should be allowed to do so, he says. Speaking about pension age on his regular Friday afternoon programs on Reshet Bet, Gaon, who is a frequent flyer, said that during a recent flight he went to say hello to the people in the cockpit and was surprised to see the captain, whom he knew well, sitting in the copilot’s seat. The captain had passed his retirement age birthday, and the difference in status became an immediate fact. His former co-pilot, whom only a few months earlier was still being tested for the job, was suddenly numero uno, as if the former captain’s talent and experience no longer counted for anything.

In biblical times, said Gaon, the elders were not shunted aside, but were treated with dignity and respect in appreciation of the knowledge and experience that they had accumulated.

■ THIS COMING Shabbat, July 27-28, JobKatif, founded by Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon, is conducting an international fundraising campaign in some 300 synagogues in Israel and abroad.

Despite all the promises made to properly resettle the evacuees of Gush Katif, some 1,050 families are still without permanent housing and/or jobs. Their lives were disrupted by prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2005 and there was little or no recompense under prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Binyamin Netanyahu. It was yet another case of promises not being fulfilled. The JobKatif people have been told that all funds raised will be matched by the government on a 3:1 ratio, and this has been more or less the case over the past seven years, but the arrangement will cease in 2013. This is last-ditch effort to help these families before it is too late, says Rimon, who will continue running JobKatif for as long as is necessary regardless of lack of government involvement.

Rimon will deliver two lectures in Jerusalem over the Sabbath, the first at the Leonardo Hotel on Friday before the Ma’ariv service and the second at the Great Synagogue on Saturday before the Mussaf service.

Rimon founded JobKatif soon after the disengagement when he realized that the government had failed to create an income-earning fallback plan for people whose incomes had been derived from farms and cottage industries in Gush Katif, and who subsequently found themselves on the receiving end of charity.

JobKatif has been consistently working with the evacuees and has succeeded in finding employment for 2,300 individuals, subsidized 480 re-training courses and helped launch 230 new small businesses..

This has been accomplished with the help of highly professional staff and volunteers as well as by friends and donors from around the world, and has also included psychological counseling.

Although JobKatif can boast extraordinary success, there are still more than 1,000 evacuees who lack financial stability and a secure future, and Rimon is determined to help them through this weekend’s synagogue campaign. In 2008, Rimon was a recipient of the President’s Prize for Volunteerism in recognition of the admirable work that JobKatif has done.

■ ECONOMIC CRISES and changes in the patterns of charitable allocations may have reduced the amounts of money raised abroad for various Israeli causes, but not the enthusiasm for giving to Israel.

In fact, without all this financial support from Jews and quite a few non-Jews in countries around the globe, Israel would not have progressed at anywhere near the rate that it has..

In New York last week, the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, (FIDF), together with the president of the New York Yankees, Randy Levine, and his wife, Mindy, raised more than $100,000 at a fundraising event to support IDF soldiers.

More than 60 prominent lay leaders and FIDF supporters, who are also Yankees’ fans, including FIDF National Director Major General (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon, gathered in a private suite in Yankee Stadium and then joined visiting IDF soldiers for a tour of the stadium and an opportunity to watch batting practice before seeing the Yankees defeat the Toronto Blue Jays, 6-3.

“I am very honored to be a part of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces,” said Levine.

“I believe it is essential to support the courageous men and women of the Oketz Unit and their military working dogs, who sacrifice a great deal to keep their borders and their country safe and secure.”

Funds raised at the event will provide a much needed SPIRIT R&R week for the unit in the fall of 2012, in addition to supplying soldiers with clothing, backpacks and fleece jackets.

FIDF was established in 1981 by a group of Holocaust survivors as a not-for-profit organization with the mission of providing and supporting educational, social, cultural, and recreational programs and facilities for the heroic men and women of the IDF. Today, FIDF has more than 120,000 regular supporters and 15 regional offices throughout the US and Panama.

■ IT’S POSSIBLE that Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design may one day have a woman president. The new vice president, like her predecessor, happens to be female. Dr. Tali Ben Zvi, curator and researcher of Israeli and Palestinian art and head of the School of Arts at Kibbutzim College, has been named vice president by the academy’s search committee, following approval of the appointment by Bezalel’s senate and board of directors.

Ben Zvi who will take up her position in October, succeeds Prof. Yaara Bar-On, who served as vice president for academic affairs for eight years.

In addition to her work at the Kibbutzim College of Education, Ben Zvi is also engaged in research on contemporary art in the multi-ethnic port cities of Acre and Haifa, a continuation of her post-doctoral research at the Truman Institute of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which deals with contemporary art in Jaffa.

Ben Zvi received a B.A. in Art History and Fine Arts from Haifa University, completed the Criticism and Curatorship Program at the Camera Obscura School of Art in Tel Aviv and received her M.A and Ph.D. from Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of the Arts. She has participated for several years in research groups of the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute.

Alongside her academic research, Ben Zvi is a curator of contemporary art and has curated numerous solo and group exhibitions in Israel’s major museums and alternative exhibition spaces. She managed two contemporary art galleries (the Heinrich Boll Foundation in Tel Aviv and the Hagar Art Gallery in Jaffa) and has presented her work in a many locations in Europe and the United States as part of exhibitions, art events and academic conferences.

On the basis of this activity, she received the Curator Prize from Israel’s Ministry of Culture.

The committee wrote: “Tal Ben Zvi has been known for the past decade as an outstanding curator and researcher of Israeli and Palestinian art. The disciplines with which she engages are anchored in those strata of society or populations that have not taken a central place in the hegemonic Israeli art.”

Ben Zvi has also written a great number of exhibition catalogs and major texts which represent a significant body of knowledge in visual culture in general and in contemporary art in particular.

In addition, she has a record of longstanding public activity in the central arts committees in Israel. She is a member of the Department of Plastic Arts of the Israel Council for Culture and the Arts of the Ministry of Culture, Science and Sport; a representative of the department committees such as Venice Biennale, The Artist in the Community, Artist- Teacher and Curator Award; a consultant to the Contemporary Art Projects Committee of the Municipality of Tel Aviv and the Yehoshua Rabinovich Foundation for the Arts; and a member of the Public Arts Committee of the national cultural basket.

Ben Zvi comes to Bezalel at an exciting time when the academy is preparing to move from its current location on the Hebrew University campus back to the center of town, in line with municipal policy to bring young people back to the hub of the city.

■ MEANWHILE, ANOTHER academic Ben-Zvi, Prof. Nava Ben-Zvi who served for 13 years as President of Hadassah College, which has always been in the heart of Jerusalem but which has expanded considerably over the years, was given a rousing farewell by students earlier this month, and last month attended the graduation ceremony in Jerusalem’s Safra Square of 400 students who were addressed by Mayor Nir Barkat.

Nava Ben-Zvi will be succeeded by Prof. Berthold Fridlander, whose position becomes effective on August 1. Fridlender has served as chair of Hadassah College’s Department of Biotechnology since 2004 and was recommended by a search committee headed by Hadassah College chairman David Brodet, who is also chairman of Bank Leumi. Fridlender earned his masters degree in biochemistry at the University of Chile and his doctoral degree in medical microbiology and immunology from the University of California. He joined the Hebrew University as a visiting professor in 1972 and, in addition to his appointment at Hadassah College, has spent the past four years as a visiting professor at Rutgers University.

He has also served as a CEO and consultant for several biotechnology start-up companies in Israel.

Fridlander recently won a competitive grant from the European Union valued at close to EUR 2 million to pursue research on the protection of plant diversity in the Mediterranean.

Hadassah Academic College will undergo considerable expansion during Fridlander’s term of office. The college has received a $7.1 million grant from the Helmsley Charitable Trust to build a seven-story interdisciplinary science center adjacent to its downtown location. This will allow for a far greater student intake and will strengthen the college’s academic impact on the city.

■ INTERNATIONALLY KNOWN bronze sculptress Razia Gershon was a dancer before she turned her hand to sculpture, which is probably the reason that so many of her works are inspired by the body language of the ballet dancer. She is also famous for her horse sculpture series and for the bronze “portraits” that she has done of world leaders and other dignitaries.

She is currently exhibiting at the Ramat Gan Museum, where guests invited to the opening by director and chief curator Meir Aharonson included former Supreme Court Presidents Meir Shamgar and Aharon Barak, along with Barak’s wife, Elisheva Barak, the former vice president of the National Labor Court; controlling shareholder of Bank Hapoalim Shari Arison; general manager of the Dan Hotel chain Ami Hirshtein; part-president of the Jerusalem Foundation Ruth Cheshin; conductor Dubi Zeltzer; the deputy director-general of the president’s office Yona Bartal, actor Dan Turgeman and many other well-known figures.

President Shimon Peres was unable to attend, but sent a letter in which he wrote that he carries the images of Razia Gershon’s works in his heart and in his mind.

The exhibition will remain on view until August 17.

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