FOR YEARS now, the Hebrew tabloids have almost unfailingly dug dirt up on the Netanyahu family with regard to anything that might be remotely perceived as fiscal impropriety, and nothing has changed now that Binyamin Netanyahu is prime minister.
Not waiting to give the prime minister his 100 days of grace, Yediot Aharonot has attacked him for recruiting a waitress who is a member of his professional staff to serve his family Seder at his private residence in Jerusalem, as the family had not yet moved into the Prime Minister's Residence. The meal was ordered from the nearby Jerusalem Sheraton Plaza hotel.
Aside from Netanyahu, his wife Sarah and their two sons, the other participants were the prime minister's nonagenarian father and father-in-law.
Yediot objected to the meal and the fee for the waitress being paid for by the Prime Minister's Office. According to Yediot, only official meals and staff costs are meant to be paid out of the prime minister's budget.
The report quoted the Prime Minister's Office as stating that previous prime ministers had ordered catering and staff for their private events, but the paper also quoted staffers who served under Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon, who say this is not true.
The report also notes that to serve the Netanyahus, the waitress missed out on having a Seder with her own family, and implies that at a Seder for six, the prime minister's household could have managed without a waitress.
n MEDIA REPORTS of the Seder hosted by US President Barack Obama at the White House indicate the meal included several "traditional" dishes such as matzo ball soup, brisket and kugel. Several White House aides familiar with Pessah fare provided recipes to White House chefs who prepared the meal.
During his presidential campaign, Obama joined Jewish members of his staff at an impromptu Seder in Pennsylvania, and promised them that if he won, he would host a Seder at the White House. He was reportedly enamored with the manner in which the Jewish people have preserved the story of the exodus from Egypt and the transition from slavery to freedom.
Apparently, judging by the official photo no one had bothered to inform White House staff that the Seder is not held while it's still daylight, and the table should be fully covered with a cloth. Also there was no central Seder plate. Everyone got their Seder essentials from the equivalent of a bread and butter plate, which was part of each individual place setting.
They didn't bother with fancy Haggadas either, but read from those provided by Maxwell House, affording the coffee company excellent free publicity.
n IT'S NOT exactly commonplace to describe a second marriage as the wedding of the year, especially when both the bride and the groom are over 60 and both have been married before.
However, judging from the near hysterical reaction of the Hebrew media at the beginning of the week to the announcement by Nava Barak and Shalom Zinger that they intend to formalize their five-year union, it will definitely be the marriage of the year - particularly since a lot of media people did not like the way that Ehud Barak in 2003 left his long-suffering wife of 34 years for an old flame, Nili Priel, whom he eventually married in July 2007.
In the interim, mutual friends had introduced Nava Barak to businessman Zinger, and the two became an item, with their names almost inseparably linked in the gossip columns.
It's not yet certain whether the wedding will take place on Lag Ba'omer or later in the summer. It's intended as a small, intimate affair, with the participation of family and close friends, but as the couple has so many close friends, whittling down the guest list may prove problematic, especially as both are heavily involved in philanthropic enterprises.
Barak is president of Elem, which serves the needs of youth in distress in Israel. She is also president of the Friends of the Rabin Medical Center. Zinger is president of Akim, after having served as the organization's chairman for 13 years, and he is also a member of the Tel Aviv Foundation.
What will be interesting is whether Nava will change her name to accompany her change of status.
n APRIL IS always an important month for Nava Barak because it is the month for the Elem's "Lights of Hope" fund-raiser based on lighting the national flag, the mammoth model of which is suspended from one of the Azrieli Towers.
The fund-raising is done via SMS. Each light is worth NIS 10. Provisions are also made for donors who want to give more, especially those who want to light up large sections of the flag in honor of or in memory of loved ones.
The launch on top of the Azrieli roof earlier this month was attended by several top management personnel from the Azrieli group as well as by President Shimon Peres and Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
Barak also attended the launch of a cancer information center in memory of Meir Lizer in the Davidoff Cancer Treatment Center at Beilinson Medical Center. Others present at the launch included Pini Cohen, chairman of the Friends of Beilinson, lawyer Ori Slonim and other members of the Friends.
n ALTHOUGH SHE will be the first MK to give birth during her Knesset term, Israel Beiteinu's Anastasia Michaeli will not be the only legislator to give birth during her period of service, as the Likud's Gila Gamliel is also expecting a visit from the stork.
The difference is that for Michaeli, it's old hat. This will be her eighth baby, whereas for Gamliel it will be a first. Michaeli is due in June.
n WITH THE Holocaust being a focal point of attention this week, it is heartwarming to learn of the attitude of Rachel Barom who runs a soup kitchen and food center in Haifa from which she feeds more than a hundred people every day.
An Auschwitz survivor who went hungry for the two years that she was in the notorious camp, Barom, after coming to Israel with her late husband, decided that the best way to thank God for sparing her life was to feed the hungry.
However, she made one rule. Children were not allowed into the soup kitchen. Families with children are given food parcels to take home so that mothers can prepare fresh meals and children can grow up with the fragrance of their mother's cooking.
n EVERY PESSAH and Shavuot, Rabbi Emanuel Quint and his wife Rena gather as many members as possible of their large clan and take them on an outing somewhere in Israel.
One of their granddaughters, who is studying this year in Jerusalem and has been a frequent guest in their home, could not join them because she went back to New York to be with her parents and brothers for Pessah.
Another granddaughter serving in the army was torn between family loyalties and camping out on the beach with her buddies. Her grandmother let her off the hook and told to go and have fun with her friends.
Nonetheless, the Quints almost filled a tour bus with three generations of their progeny. Because the couple recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and because it was important with so many children in the group to have some mark of identification, especially in a sprawling, multi-leveled place like Utopia on Kibbutz Bahan in Emek Hefer, someone in the family bought up a large quantity of emerald-hued t-shirts.
Heftzibah Chwat, one of the Quint granddaughters, designed a cartoon on the back which reflected the anniversary and the four-generation family the union had produced. Printed in huge letters at the base of the t-shirt were the words Mitzad Hehayim (March of the Living).
"They must have just come back from a pilgrimage to Auschwitz," mused many of the other visitors to Utopia.
Some could not restrain their curiosity and asked outright. They were told no, the family as a whole had not recently been to Auschwitz. This was their private March of the Living to celebrate the fact that Rena Quint had been a child Holocaust survivor.
The general reaction was a nod of the head, a big smile and a wish that the family should continue to expand. However one woman who took aside one of the Quint granddaughters to get a full explanation remarked in astonishment: "All this from one Holocaust survivor!!!"
The Quints, who left New York and settled in Jerusalem in 1984, have four children, 22 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Born in Piotrokov, Poland under the name of Fredja Lichtenstein, Rena Quint survived Bergen-Belsen, was taken to Sweden and was brought to the United States by a woman whose child had died and who decided to give the little orphan girl a fresh start in life using the documents of her dead daughter. Unfortunately, the woman died soon after her arrival in America, and her family was not interested in raising the child she had brought with her.
Leah and Joseph Globe, a childless couple, took her in for a weekend which stretched into a lifetime. The Globes, who were extremely good to her, changed her name to its Hebrew equivalent which means joy. After what she had experienced, losing her parents and brothers and remaining the sole survivor of her family with no aunts, uncles or first cousins, the Globes wanted to put joy back into her life.
They also taught her that all Jews are responsible for each other, as a result of which she became a staunch communal activist and a doer of good deeds. No matter how busy her schedule, she always seems to find time for people in need.
She is also a voluntary guide at Yad Vashem, was the founding president of the Jossi Berger Holocaust Center, speaks about Holocaust issues to numerous groups of both children and adults and accompanies groups to Poland, including those who go on the March of the Living.
One of her favorite stories about the March of the Living took place as she was accompanying a busload of youngsters to the Treblinka death camp. Among the memorials at the camp is a stretch of stones in different colors, shapes and sizes, each symbolizing a lost Jewish community. There are hundreds of stones and unless a visitor specifically knows the location of the stone that he or she is looking for, the search could take hours. The Piotrokov stone is one of the smaller stones, which makes it harder to find.
One of the boys in Quint's bus was obviously from a totally assimilated background and didn't know what he was doing with this group to whom he felt no kinship. Before they alighted, Quint told them her own story and explained how important it was for her to find the Piotrokov stone. The youngsters fanned out across the memorial area, looking intently. The one who found it was the boy who felt so out of place.
All of a sudden, he identified. He began to feel Jewish. He was completely overcome with emotion and a sense of triumph that he had been the one to find the stone. After that, his whole attitude changed, she reported.
n IT HAS become an annual tradition for conductor Elli Jaffe to organize a special concert for the intermediate days of Pessah, and this year was no exception. The program is always a mix of classical and cantorial music performed by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and guest artists.
Credit for the classical side this year went to highly talented pianist Jean Simon, while the cantorial renditions separately and together were by British-born Cantor Simon Cohen, who has a beautiful lyric tenor voice, and South African-born Colin Shachat, the possessor of a powerful baritone.
Although all three soloists earned rousing ovations, the audience really went wild over Cohen, and was reluctant to let him leave the stage, which made the various members of his family who were present simply beam with pride.
Although one could detect a bare head here and there among the males in the audience, the overwhelming majority of patrons were Orthodox, and a few were haredim, whose presence prompted a couple of women to change seats so as not to offend their sensitivities.
Jaffe has a following in the haredi community, not only because he is a fine musician who has been invited to conduct some of the leading orchestras in the world, but also because he is a proud observant Jew. He is possibly the only universal conductor in the world who wears a tailcoat with tzitzit hanging at the sides, and has frequently had to explain the "bits of string" to perplexed non-Jews.
The last song of the evening was dedicated to the memory of Irena Kessler, who had been principal harpist for the JSO for 25 years, often as a soloist. Kessler died in the first week of April after a long illness.
The first song, "Avinu Avinu," (Our Father, Our Father) was dedicated to kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, with Jaffe expressing the wish that he should come home soon safe and sound.
The audience spontaneously joined in the chorus and Jaffe, with a beatific smile on his face, kept turning backwards and forwards on the podium to conduct both the orchestra and the audience.
n FORMER MACCABI World Union President Fred Worms and his wife Della have decided to settle permanently in Israel just a couple of months ahead of the opening of the Maccabiah Games - although that is not the reason they have come.
The idea was family togetherness. Although they have maintained a home in Jerusalem for years, and have given generously to many causes and projects both inside and outside the capital, home for 70 years was London, so they commuted frequently.
Now they've decided that home is Jerusalem, because that's where their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren live. When they don't feel up to entertaining friends from the old country in their gracious apartment, they're conveniently located next door to the King David hotel.
n ONE OF the several titles borne by international businessman and philanthropist Lev Leviev is that of president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Commonwealth of Independent States. It was in that capacity that Leviev hosted a reception in honor of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, head of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, who stepped in to take over some of the fiscal responsibilities that other philanthropic bodies were not able to fulfill to the degree that they had in past years.
Leviev, as head of the Ohr Avner Foundation - named for his late father, who was a leading member of the Bukharian Jewish community in Tashkent and later in Israel - has been the key supporter of Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union, now the CIS.
While other philanthropists and several Jewish organizations have been and are active in the CIS, none can equal the obligations undertaken by the Ohr Avner Foundation, which, inter alia, supports more than 70 educational institutions throughout the CIS and also gives substantial grants towards the construction of synagogues and Jewish community centers and funds summer camps for Jewish children.
In addition, it underwrites the cost of some 500 community Seders and supports more than 100 rabbis and their families who are working to rejuvenate Jewish life in the CIS.
Leviev, who was hit hard by the global economic slump, was rumored to be unable to continue funding these projects, although in fact he did.
However, on hearing the rumor, Eckstein immediately stepped in, and the reception in his honor at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv was Leviev's way of expressing public appreciation for Eckstein's efforts.
Among the guests was National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau.
n MOST OF the protests related to the "Durban II" conference in Geneva this week are somehow connected to what happened at Durban I. But not everyone who has joined the condemnation of Durban II is completely familiar with what happened at Durban I, including some of Israel's experts on anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia.
Rabbi Michael Melchior, who was one of the speakers at a Berl Katznelson Foundation symposium on Anti-Semitism in the world prior to Durban II, and had been Israel's deputy foreign minister at the time of Durban I, pointed out that not everything had been quite as negative at Durban I as has been presented since then.
It was important to see the total picture, he emphasized, and most importantly to realize that not all Muslim leaders are radically opposed to Israel.
During meetings with Muslim leaders, some of them in Arab countries, he said, he had discovered a much more accommodating attitude than what is generally believed.
Melchior is one of those people who is convinced that one gets a better perspective when stepping back a little bit, than when getting too close to the subject. In an address that he gave a couple of years back to Hadassah, he suggested that before people go overboard in their attitudes, that they take a guideline from Jewish prayer and take three steps back, so that they can collect their thoughts.
n WHAT ARE the limits of freedom of expression? Where do people draw red lines - or don't they?
Flemming Rose, the cultural editor of the Danish daily newspaper Jyllands Posten, who published the offensive cartoons of the prophet Mohammed that pushed the buttons of many believers in the Muslim world, will discuss the issue today, Wednesday, at 5 p.m., at a symposium in the Handler Auditorium of the Truman Institute on the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The program is provocatively titled: "Freedom of Expression - Victim of Religion?"
Other speakers are David Horovitz, editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post, and Michel Kishka, editorial cartoonist and lecturer at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design.
Moderator will be former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy, who is currently head of the Shasha Center for Strategic Studies at the Federmann School of Public Policy and Government at the Hebrew University, which is sponsoring the event.
n TEL AVIV Mayor Ron Huldai is notorious for being late. Like many public figures, especially prime ministers and mayors, he has the excuse that he was at another event that took longer than expected and that there was a lot of traffic congestion between the two venues.
This year, with the enormous number of Tel Aviv centenary functions, Huldai has a good excuse to be late for everything, and fortunately most people understand this. He was approximately an hour late in arriving at the Tel Aviv Museum for the Rappaport art awards presented annually by Israeli-Swiss business tycoon Baruch (Bruce) Rappaport and his wife Ruth.
A former school principal, Huldai could not resist posing a question. "Who said that the hardest thing to draw is a rose because you have to forget all the other roses you've ever drawn?" he asked.
Although the room was full of art lovers, the only person who ventured to answer was Museum director and chief curator Mordechai Omer, who absolutely knew that it was Matisse. Huldai looked surprised that anyone should know, but had asked the question for a purpose. It was so that he could refer to the favorite subject of Ruth Rappaport, who loves to paint roses herself.
The Rappaport prize goes to an established artist and a lesser-known artist. This year's winners were Tal Matzliach and Melanie Daniel.
For Daniel, the occasion represented the closing of a circle. When she made aliya from Canada 14 years ago, the first showing she had seen was an exhibition by Matzliach - and now she was sharing a stage with her.
n IT IS somehow fitting that lawyer Dan Lahat and Ronit Reichman, who have been a couple for several years now, should decide to get married during Tel Aviv's centenary year. Lahat is the son of former long-serving Tel Aviv mayor Shlomo Lahat and his wife Zena.
He is also the ex-husband of Strauss dairy heiress Ofra Strauss, who chairs the Strauss Elite Group and is regarded as one of the most influential women in Israel. She has also appeared on the Forbes list of the world's most powerful women.
Soon after the break-up of her marriage to Dan Lahat, she married businessman Adi Keisman.
n REGARDLESS OF what they earn, few people can resist a bargain or the opportunity to belong to belong to a discount club.
Thus, when MK and former education minister Yuli Tamir joined numerous other vacationers in Eilat, she did what nearly everyone else does and went shopping. Her wanderings took her to the recently opened Eilat branch of Hagara, where she was offered the opportunity to become a member of the chain's discount club, which entitles her to a 10 percent reduction on all purchases.
Though MKs earn a salary many times higher than the average wage, Tamir was quite happy to be able to pay less than list price for merchandise and promptly bought two garments.