Grapevine: What, no strike…?

Teachers plan to start on schedule, Korean Ambassador Ma says goodbye, and the Gesher Theater celebrates a milestone.

First grade school children kids class 311 (photo credit: Marc Sellem Israel/The Jerusalem Post)
First grade school children kids class 311
(photo credit: Marc Sellem Israel/The Jerusalem Post)
TRADITIONALLY, IN the week or two preceding the start of the new school year, news outlets are taken up with speculations as to whether or not there will be a teachers’ strike, in the face of threats by teachers’ unions – and almost invariably, the strike is averted at the very last minute.
But this year, that’s not going to happen. Ran Erez, currently serving his fifth term as chairman of the Secondary School Teachers’ Association, has reached an accommodation with the government, which he says will be beneficial to both teachers and students. These days, he’s featured on a radio commercial assuring the public and the education authorities that there’s nothing to worry about. There are no strikes this year – at least not as far as teachers are concerned. The threat from other professional groups, though, hangs heavy in the air.
■ KOREAN AMBASSADOR Young-Sam Ma and his wife Eun-kyung Ma have been attending a whirl of farewell parties, and on Monday night hosted one of their own at the Sheraton Hotel in Tel Aviv. The ambassador and his wife have made quite an impact during his two separate stints of service in Israel, initially as deputy chief of mission and then again as head of mission. In addition to the two assignments, noted Ruth Kahanoff, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general for Asia and the Pacific region, he was head of the Middle East and Africa Department in his country’s Foreign Ministry, and in a way served as Israel’s ambassador in Korea by making Koreans more aware of what Israel is all about.
The purpose of the party was also to bid farewell to Minister Counselor Chung Nam Park, who left the country the following day, but he will probably be back from time to time, because his next assignment is in Cairo.
Ma and his wife have made many friends in Israel, and they received emotional embraces as guests greeted them, said goodbye, and enthusiastically applauded their speeches. These he delivered in English and she translated into flawless Hebrew as she stood beside him on the podium clad in a traditional Korean gown in a brilliant shade of turquoise. During the eight-and-a-half years that she spent in Israel, she picked up not only the language, but many customs.
The two spoke of the many developments they had witnessed during their stay here and of the many Israeli friends who had helped them acclimatize. “Israel is a great place for a professional diplomat,” said Ma, who was also pleased that ties between Korea and Israel are becoming stronger and more productive, especially in technological cooperation and cultural exchanges. He was also appreciative of the solidarity of the Korean community in Israel, which he said was inspiring.
Two giant screens in the reception area featured a message from Ma and his wife: “You touched our hearts, you touched our souls. We will miss you.” The sentiment was repeated in his speech when he said: “We have been happy here and we will carry with us a lot of your love.
Our hearts stay here. Wherever we are, whenever we are, Israel is in our mind because it is our second home.”
Kahanoff had credited Ma with being an active and creative ambassador with a special style and warmth, but who never took no for an answer. To illustrate these qualities, Shahar Berger produced and narrated a wonderful comic video in which the country was demonstrating against Ma’s leaving, and various MKs and ministers, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, said why they would miss him. Ma is a champion table tennis player who has scored points over both Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein – also formidable players.
In the video, Lieberman promised revenge in his next visit to Seoul.
The soundtrack of the video concluded with Frank Sinatra singing “My Way,” while on the screen was the printed sentence: “I did it Ma way.” But the video did not mark the end of the event. Immediately after it was over, the lyrics of “Auld Lang Syne” appeared on screen, so that everyone could sing it against the backdrop of a recorded choir. Interestingly enough, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jun had “Auld Lang Syne” as background music throughout the whole of his farewell party a couple of months back. It remains to be seen whether Japanese Ambassador Haruhisa Takeuchi, who is also leaving soon, will choose to play or sing it at his farewell.
Before actually leaving Israel, Ma, under the auspices of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations in cooperation with the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, will speak August 31 on “Korea and Israel – Divergent Paths that Meet.” The event will be held at the center.
■ ACCOMPANYING BOTH Republican congressional delegations that met with President Shimon Peres over the past week were billionaire casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam.
In a brief exchange with the writer of this column, Adelson last week recalled the first time we met more than 20 years ago, when I interviewed him in Boston about his desire to open a casino in Israel. He was convinced doing so would help improve the national economy.
All of his attempts over several years had been rebuffed by lawmakers who were afraid that a casino would generate crime and prostitution. Adelson, who is pretty savvy about gambling and gamblers, argued that he had never seen any prostitution on the gambling tables and that proper government policing could keep crime at bay. But these arguments failed to convince Israel’s legislature. Now, at a time when it seems he would encounter far less opposition to opening a casino complex in one of the country’s southern resort areas, he said that even if someone gave him a casino in Israel, he wouldn’t want it.
The Adelsons are major sponsors of the prestigious “Tomorrow” conference, which has thrice been hosted by Peres and which brings prominent business figures, cultural icons and foreign leaders to Israel to share their visions of the future. Even though the Adelsons were not sitting in the front row when Peres entered the reception hall on Monday to meet the delegation headed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, he approached them before approaching anyone else and embraced each of them.
After all, he knows that he can rely on them when the chips are down.
■ PREVIOUS THAI ambassadors have co-hosted large scale promotional events in hotels with an enormous variety of Thai foods on the buffet, films showing the charms of Thailand shown on large screens, and entertainers from Thailand performing traditional songs and dances. Current Thai Ambassador Nuttavudh Photisaro wanted to do something more intimate for members of Israel’s tourism industry, to demonstrate his appreciation for their efforts and to be able to greet them personally within the confines of his residence. Still, he did not omit the Thai food, the promotional film or the entertainment, which included traditional Thai musical instruments, dancing, singing, and a puppet show that was quite different from the Western concept of puppetry.
Wiyada Srirangkul, director of the Rome office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, flew into Israel especially for the occasion. Srirangkul, who is also responsible for Spain, Greece, Portugal, Israel, Egypt, Turkey and Cyprus, spoke of the ever-increasing numbers of Israeli tourists who come to Thailand and who have graduated from backpackers to middle-bracket and luxury-class tourists.
Lots of Israelis view Thailand as a second home, she said.
“It’s true, I’ve been a hundred times,” responded Dvora Bruchstein of Royal Jordanian Airlines. Among the performers at the ambassador’s residence were Thai artists who were in Israel for the Thai festival, which the ambassador said had become a feature on the Israeli cultural scene over the past 10 years.
■ IT’S BECOME fashionable for cultural institutions celebrating milestone anniversaries to do so in Jerusalem at the president’s official residence. One of the younger but nonetheless prestigious institutions that is about to do so is the Gesher Theater, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary and whose gala event to mark the occasion will be held on August 29. Actors, writers, artists and Friends of Gesher, who have helped to bring the theater to its current position of honor, will converge on the capital.
Founders of institutions are not always around to toast a milestone year, but in this case, the past and the present will merge in the persona of Yevgeny Arye, Gesher’s artistic director, who founded the theater in 1991. Arye was an award-winning stage and screen director in Moscow, and has continued to win prizes in Israel and in other parts of the world. Gesher, which is the Hebrew word for “bridge,” came into being with the support of what was then the Education and Culture Ministry, as well as the Jewish Agency, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, the Tel Aviv Development Foundation and the Zionist Forum, to provide a platform for Russian-language actors and actresses and another cultural outlet for Russian-speaking audiences.
It quickly became a bilingual theater, with the same cast performing both in Russian and in Hebrew. It has performed on many overseas stages.
The 20th anniversary event, which will be co-hosted by Arye, Gesher CEO Lena Kreindlin and Friends of Gesher chairman Eli Zohar, will naturally include a special performance based on the history of a group of Russian thespians headed by Arye. Scheduled to appear on stage are Sasha Demidov, Haim Topol, Efrat Ben-Tzur, Moshe Ivgi, Dvir Bendek, Neta Spiegelman, Lucy Dubinchik, Henry David, Natasha Memmer, and Lillian Roth, among others. The performance will include anecdotes related to Gesher’s history and its performers, as well as sketches from its extensive repertoire. Theatrically it promises to be a night to remember.
The national Habima Theater also has its origins in Moscow, where it was founded soon after the 1905 revolution.
It performed in Hebrew, and in 1918 began operating under the auspices of the Moscow Art Theater.
Even though Habima was tolerated in the Soviet Union, it operated with a sense of unease. In 1926, when the company went abroad on tour, some of its members opted to remain in New York, where they had an adoring public, while others went to what was then Palestine, arriving in 1928. Their first performance in December of that year was actually in Yiddish, but they quickly switched to Hebrew, and people came from far and wide to see Hannah Rovina, Aharon Meskin and other great stage personalities perform. Both Habima and Gesher established their own permanent homes, Habima in the heart of Tel Aviv at the far end of Rothschild Boulevard, and Gesher in Jaffa.
■ WITH ROSH Hashana just over a month away, Succot is not far behind – and with Succot comes a plethora of festivals, including the annual storytelling festival hosted by Yossi Alfi at the Givatayim Theater.
The storytelling festival is theme-oriented – not just in terms of subject matter, but also in that those telling stories have shared professions or interests, or, in the case of veteran immigrants, that all come from the same country or arrived under arduous conditions. Some of the anecdotes related over the years are pure gems that have been captured for posterity in the archives of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which relays them on both Channel 1 and Israel Radio.
This year, Alfi will celebrate the 18th anniversary of his storytelling marathons, and from October 13-20, the intermediate days of Succot, he will have close to 800 people telling stories to jam-packed audiences. Some of the themes for this year include stories from the film industry, the police beat, Polish mothers, and childhood in a community of immigrants.
Each year, well-known personalities appear alongside people who are relatively unknown. Among the well-known figures participating this year are Yitzhak Navon (a master storyteller who appears each year), Lia Koenig, Eyal Gefen, Gadi Sukenik, Gila Almagor, Ze’ev Revah, Assaf Hefetz and Nitza Shaul.
■ THOUGH AUSTRALIA, as an island continent, is supposedly less vulnerable to terror attacks than countries that border others, it nonetheless has an ambassador for counter-terrorism. That position is currently held by William Patterson, who will be among the speakers attending the Institute for Counter-Terrorism’s 10th annual conference. This year’s conference coincides with the 10th anniversary of the brutal terror attack on the World Trade Center in New York, in which almost 3,000 people lost their lives.
Using last year’s conference as an indicator, organizers of the event expect that it will attract more than 1,200 participants from 60-plus countries. Speakers and panelists will include leading security experts and decision-makers who specialize in counter-terrorism, as well as colleagues from the International Counter- Terrorism Academic Community (ICTAC), and current and former Israeli ministers, MKs, heads of security agencies and police departments, first responders, academics, professional experts in the field, jurists, businessmen and students.
In addition to keynote addresses, the conference will feature panel discussions and workshops dealing with the phenomena of modern and post-modern terrorism, including the terrorism-media-public opinion connection and specific modus operandi, such as suicide terrorism and non-conventional terrorism.
Ex-officio are often more candid once they are no longer bound by the restrictions of their positions, so it will be interesting to hear the views of Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, the most recent former chief of General Staff. Former IDF Intelligence, Mossad and National Security Agency heads will also share their opinions.
Another speaker will be Dr. Rateb Amro, director-general and founder of the Horizon Center for Studies and Research, Jordan.
Most of the Israeli speakers are part and parcel of almost any local conference on terrorism, security or political strategy, but some of the participants from abroad are particularly interesting in light of the positions that they hold. Among them are Prof. William C. Banks, director of Syracuse University’s Institute for National Security and Counter-Terrorism; Frank Van Beuningen, head of the Counter-Terrorism and National Security Division, Security Policy Department, in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs; David Blose, a counter-terrorism analyst at the Intelligence Fusion Centre, NATO; Weixiong Chen, deputy executive director of the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED); Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; and Alistair Millar, director of the US’s Center on Global Counter-terrorism Cooperation.
On an occasion such as this, marking the 10th anniversary of one of the greatest tragedies in recent American history, US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro will also be among the speakers.
■ GETTING BACK to Australia, ambassador for counter-terrorism is not the only uncommon position there.
James Larsen, Australia’s immediate past ambassador to Israel, is currently ambassador for people smuggling issues, in which capacity he is responsible for high-level advocacy of Australia’s interests in promoting effective and practical international cooperation to combat people- smuggling and trafficking in persons, particularly in the Asia- Pacific region.