TODAY IS International Women's Day, and women's organizations all over Israel and abroad are getting their members together to celebrate the steps that women have taken in the struggle for equal rights, equal opportunities and equal pay for equal work. Though there's still a long way to go, many women prefer to look back to see how far they've come than look forward to see the arduous road ahead. And though it's supposed to be a one-day event, International Women's Day, like Purim, has become elastic and stretches for a whole week.
Among those who got in early were the women affiliated with PEACE X PEACE, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that helps women organize and connect across geographical, cultural and religious divides via their Internet-based Global Network. Some 20 Israeli and Palestinian women gathered in Jerusalem at the American Center of the US Embassy on Monday for a Video Conference between Washington and Jerusalem. For some of the women in Jerusalem, it was their first video conference experience, and they found it very moving to be able to share their innermost thoughts with women on the other side of the world. Not all the women who congregated in Jerusalem knew each other, "but you never know where you plant seeds," said Elana Rozenman, the Israel liaison for PEACE X PEACE, as she delighted in the fact that one of the Palestinian women and one of the Israeli women decided to teach each other Arabic and Hebrew and excitedly exchanged phone numbers. Patricia Smith Melton, founder and executive director of PEACE X PEACE, speaking from Washington, bared her soul and told the group in Jerusalem that she had been locked in an abusive marriage, during which time she had felt completely alone. If PEACE X PEACE had existed then, she stated, she would have had sisters all over the world to whom she could turn.
The women who had come to the American Center were all given purses with a frame stitched in traditional Palestinian embroidery. Inside the frame was the slogan "Women can do... ANYTHING."
Two of the women present received much larger purses, as well as Certificates of Achievement.
Lena Gurary, founder and director of Supportive Community - The Women's Business Development Center, an Israeli NGO for women's economic and business empowerment; and Rula Salameh, the projects coordinator of MEND (Middle East Non-Violence and Democracy), a Palestinian NGO addressing issues related to nonviolence and democracy, were the first recipients of the certificates, which will be awarded annually.
WITH ELECTIONS in the air, it is only natural that some of the IWD events have a strong political focus. One such event being held this evening is a symposium organized by the Ramat Gan Academic Law College, in conjunction with the Israel Women's Network. The symposium offers a women's perspective on the upcoming elections.
Participants include MKs Yuli Tamir and Zahava Gal-On, who will doubtless return to the Knesset; MKs Eti Livni and Gila Gamliel, who are unlikely to return; and hopefuls in different parties who stand a chance of making their Knesset debuts. The novice wannabees include Labor's Nadia Hilu, Kadima's Rachel Adato-Levy and Ronit Tirosh and Tafnit's Etti Peretz.
ISRAEL RADIO has also been dedicating time to IWD, discussing outstanding or unusual achievements of women, such as those who braved the skies. Even though there was a woman pilot in Israel's Sinai Campaign in 1956, Capt. Yael Rom Finkelstein, who flew transport combat missions and who is still around to tell the tale, it's nonetheless a big deal half a century later when a woman is admitted into the Israel Air Force to merely train as a pilot, let alone when she gets her wings.
During World War II, Soviet women, though trained in all-female groups, later fought alongside men in regular army units. While it was not a secret that there were women in the Red Army, just as there were in the armed forces of several other countries, none could boast as many or as high a percentage fighting on the front as the USSR.
There were 800,000 women in the Soviet army, with more than 70 percent of them fighting on the front lines. Israelis began to get some sense of this with the huge wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union. The veterans of the Red Army - both men and women - like to parade their medals and ribbons, and some have so many that they take up the width and length of their chests.
There were also 1,000 women pilots assigned to combat and transport missions. Many of them were Jewish or of Jewish background, such as highly decorated bomber pilot Polina Gelman, who flew 18 combat missions. Another was Lily Litvak, who participated in the Battle of Stalingrad, flew 12 combat missions and shot down nine Nazi aircraft.
She decorated her plane with white roses - a fetish that earned her the title "The Rose of Stalingrad." In August 1943, she got into a dog-fight with several Messerschmitts and was shot down. She was 22 years old.
KOREAN AMBASSADOR Kyungtark Park, who, after attending a round of farewells in his honor, hosted his own farewell party at the Tel Aviv Hilton last week, will make yet another public appearance before he and his wife, Jaesoon Kang, return home. They are due to attend the opening tomorrow at the Israel Museum of a display of Korean traditional costumes. In fact, Jaesoon Kang wore one such magnificent costume at the farewell reception, where guests included numerous members of the diplomatic corps who came to pay their respects, then rushed off to the Bulgarian Independence Day reception (though US Ambassador Richard Jones stayed longer at the Korean reception than most of his colleagues).
Others present included business tycoon and entrepreneur Stef Wertheimer; journalist Eitan Haber, who was prime minister Yitzhak Rabin's bureau chief; Ra'anan Gissin, the foreign media adviser to the prime minister; Arieh Shumer, a member of the Tel Aviv City Council and the director general of Beit Hanassi during the presidency of Ezer Weizman; Meretz-Yahad MK Ran Cohen; and numerous other well-known public figures. The genial Kyungtark Park insisted on being photographed with individual guests so as to be able to remember them after he leaves Israel.
ONE OF Jerusalem's well-kept secrets is the Museum of Psalms, located at the far end of the courtyard of the Rav Kook Museum, which once served as the venerable rabbi's private residential quarters. The opening of a new wing of the museum was celebrated this week by permanent artist in residence Moshe Tzvi HaLevi Berger and the Jerusalem City Council. The Transylvania-born octogenarian artist who lived in Italy, France and the US before moving to Israel in 1997, studied at the Belle Arti in Rome and the Beaux Arts in Paris. Since coming to Israel, he has devoted himself to interpreting the Psalms through art. He has taken 150 verses from the Psalms which he has interpreted both textually and artistically, using "only the colors of the rainbow, because each color has its own special significance."
The paintings are filled with clustered letters from the Hebrew alphabet, metaphorical images within images and rays of light.
As far as Berger is aware, it is the only museum of its kind in the world. Jerusalem City Council member Mina Fenton said that Berger is on a "holy mission," bringing to ever wider public attention the words of King David in the City of David through his own creative energies. Berger said that he was delighted to be able to paint in Jerusalem, "which to some people may be like any other city. But it's not; it's the spiritual center of the world."
Because he is interested in sharing this spirituality, entrance to the museum is free of charge. "It's more important to bring people in and get closer to them than to take money," he said.
Adding to the ethereal atmosphere were singer Nissim Baroukh and pianist Alexandra Baroukh, who performed liturgical songs.
n VETERAN CONGREGANTS of Beit Knesset Moreshet Yisrael, Jerusalem's flagship Masorti (Conservative) congregation, could not complain about the pulpit oratory of two long-serving rabbis, one of whom retired in 1993, and the other of whom retired more recently.
Both Rabbi Dr. Yosef Green, rabbi emeritus (1974-1993) and Rabbi Dr. Avraham Feder, who retired after 10 years as the congregation's spiritual leader - though different in style - used to hold congregants in thrall when they delivered their sermons, and are still frequently called upon as public speakers.
Green has a strong sense of drama, and just the right voice with which to express it. Feder's style was particularly unusual, because he exploited his cantorial skills to spice his sermons with songs in much the same way as the troubadours of old used to tell stories punctuated with songs. Both men continue to be beloved and respected by the mainly English-speaking congregation, which decided to honor them with a gala dinner last Sunday at the Sheraton Plaza Hotel.
Some 200 people turned out for the occasion, among them Rabbi David Hartman and his wife, Bobbie, plus a host of rabbinical luminaries from the Israeli Conservative movement.
The dominant spirit of the evening was the Zionist fervor that both men brought to their work. This strong Zionist streak led them not only to talk about Israel, but to set an example by living in Israel, when each could have continued their illustrious and prestigious careers in North America.
Green singled out his children and their families, including one who lives in Amona, for special mention.
Feder - who contributes to the Jerusalem Post's op-ed pages, and who on this occasion, as on most, lifted his voice in song - spoke with typical modesty by saying that "Rabbi Green always says the right thing and all I have to add is 'amen.'"
THE VENETIAN Quarter in Acre was granted to the Republic of Venice in 1123, during the Crusader Kingdom, by Tancred, Prince of Antioch, in appreciation for assistance in conquering Tyre.
Inhabited by about 300-400 Venetians, the "commune," as the Italians called it, was an extraterritorial autonomous unit, with trading rights and other special privileges. Similar rights were also accorded to Genoa, Pisa and Amalfi; and thus, Acre became the most important trading port between east and west.
The magnifico messere, responsible for Venetian trade and relations in the entire region, was headquartered in Acre's Venetian Quarter. The quarter also housed a church, a market, a bath house, a bakery and a slaughter house. To help boost tourism to Acre, the city has restored its Venetian connections, and last week in the presence of local and foreign dignitaries, and with the cooperation of the Italian Embassy, the Italian Cultural Institute and the Veneto Region, the historic Venetian presence in the old city of Acre was renewed with the inauguration of a marble relief of the Lion of San Marco.
The ceremony, hosted by Acre Mayor Shimon Lankri and Old Acre Development Company CEO David Harari, was attended by Italian Ambassador Sandro de Bernardin; a delegation from the Veneto Region, headed by Dr. Angelo Tabaro, Secretary of Culture of the Veneto Region and Dr. Diego Vecchiato, the Region's Director of International Cooperation; Austrian Ambassador, Dr. Kurt Hengl; acting German Ambassador Peter Fischer; Turkish Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu; deputy head of mission at the Spanish Embassy, Diego Maria Sanchez Bustamante; Rev. Mgr. Gianfranco Gallone, Charge D'Affaires of the Apostolic Delegation; Padre Artemio Vitores, Vice-Superior of the Custodian of the Holy Land; Bishop Boulos Marcuzzo of Nazareth; Kadi Daoud Al Zeini, head of the Shar'i Court of Appeals of Acre & the Galilee; Kadi Ziad Lahawani, head of Acre's Shar'i Court; and Sheikh Assi Samir, Imam of the El Jazzar Mosque.
This was the first of a series of truly exciting cooperative ventures aimed at making locals and visitors more aware of the city's history and at attracting more Italian tourists to Israel.
AUSTRIAN AMBASSADOR Kurt Hengl quipped that he always goes where the Italians go, but in a more serious vein, disclosed that his country's flag was "born in Acre."
According to legend, Duke Leopold V was severely injured in the Battle of Ptolemais (Acre) in 1191. His tunic was completely blood-stained, and only when he removed his belt, was there a white stripe on the section that had been covered by the belt. The Austrian flag has three horizontal bands - red, white, red.
PROTOCOL DEMANDS that when national anthems are played during state visits, everyone stand at attention. However, Brig.Gen. Shimon Hefetz, the military aide to President Moshe Katsav, and Yitzhak Eldan, the Foreign Ministry's Chief of Protocol - who were standing with Katsav and Slovenian President Dr. Janez Drnovsek during the playing of the anthems at the official reception that Katsav hosted for Drnovsek at Beit Hanassi - acted beyond the call of duty and sang Hatikva.
Even though Jews are a very tiny minority in Slovenia, Drnovsek held separate meetings with Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau. When asked the reason, the Slovenian president replied that he makes it a point on all of his overseas visits to meet with religious leaders, because he believes that they can inspire peace and reconciliation "even in the Middle East."
BECAUSE PEOPLE in this country come from so many different backgrounds, language is often a problem, particularly when there is no simultaneous translation. Aware of the composition of the participants in a seminar on "Doing Business between Venezuela and Israel," the multi-lingual Samuel Leillen, president of the Venezuela Chapter in the Israel-Latin America Chamber of Commerce, who moderated the event, announced at the outset: "The lectures will be in English, the presentations in Hebrew, the questions in Spanish and the answers in Yiddish."
ANYONE WHO judged her by her bobbing blonde curls and her china doll face with its na ve, wide-eyed expression, may feel by now that Orly Vilnai-Federbush, though a spoof target for Channel 2's hilariously iconoclastic Eretz Nehederet (A wonderful country), is someone you don't want to mess with.
A former social affairs reporter on Channel 1, Vilnai-Federbush unrelentingly attacked the government's economic policies. Her persistence and candor apparently annoyed some people in high places, and Vilnai-Federbush was transferred to the legal affairs beat. Though a more prestigious beat, Vilnai-Federbush didn't want it, preferring to focus on socioeconomic issues. It turned out to be a stepping stone out the door of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, but not before Vilnai-Federbush, a second generation IBA broadcaster, was soundly chastised by her superiors, who more or less forced her to exit.
Vilnai-Federbush didn't like the aspersions they cast on her professionalism. In a series of media interviews, Vilnai-Federbush cast the blame on Yosef Barel, who was then the IBA's CEO, and charged that he was buckling under to politicians who didn't like what she was doing or the way she was doing it. Not content with defending her reputation on her own, Vilnai-Fedeerbush hired a lawyer, who last week not only won statements from Barel and the IBA that vindicated Vilnai-Federbush, but also a tidy sum of compensation to the tune of NIS100,000.
LOST IN translation. It happens to all of us when we are called to translate from one language to another, most especially from Hebrew to English. Jerusalem's Muzeon Kav Hatefer, near what used to be the Mandelbaum Gate, is officially called "Museum of the Seam" in English. Yehuda Stolov of The Interfaith Encounter Association, who sends out the Association's notices in Hebrew, Arabic and English, referred to it as the "Borderline Museum."
Indeed, it does sit on what was once the border of "no-man's land" But semantically, there is a shade of difference between borderline and seam.