Although American Independence Day celebrations at the residence of the US ambassador are arguably the biggest get-together on the diplomatic social circuit, there are limits.
Having some 3,000 bodies mingling on the lawns in humid Herzliya Pituah is about as much as Ambassador Dan Shapiro and his wife, Julie Fisher, can handle. So as they have done in the past, they invited all of Israel to the party as virtual guests, meaning they could see and hear what was going on via the US Embassy’s Facebook page. This didn’t sit too well with several US citizens living in Israel, who made it clear in talkbacks that they wanted to be at the real party, and not watch it on a computer screen.
On the embassy’s Facebook page, the event was billed as a premiere of the 240th anniversary of the independence of the United States of America.
■ DETAILS RELATED to recipients of the prestigious Israel Defense Prize are always classified, and sometimes remain under wraps forever. While the families of the scientists and technologists working on such projects might be aware that they are doing something of infinite value to the security of the country, that’s as much as they ever know – unless they a attend a Defense Prize awards ceremony, traditionally held at the President’s Residence.
That was the case again this week when President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Defense Ministry director-general Udi Adam distributed prizes to teams and individuals that included two main groups – the first being a joint team comprising the IDF Intelligence Directorate, the Israeli Air Force and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the second made up of members of the Israel Defense Forces and the Prime Minister’s Office.
In his address. Rivlin made the point that while it is easy to imagine heroic fighters on the battlefield, the Defense Prize is evidence of the way in which Israel maintains its security edge.
Awarded annually since 1958, the prize is named in memory of Eliyahu Golomb, a founder of the Hagana. Among the former recipients is Moshe Arens, who later became defense minister.
■ WELL KNOWN for her love of nature, Nechama Rivlin, the wife of the president, this week participated in the release of two eagles from the Carmel Nature Reserve.
It was understandable that she was keen to give them their freedom, as they were named Nechama and Ruvi. One was a local product; the other was imported from Spain. The release was within the framework of the 20th anniversary of the reserve’s Spreading Wings project, which enables the care of rare birds from birth or a young age until they are old enough to spread their wings and fly to freedom. The project is a joint venture of the reserve, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Israel Electric Corporation.
Rivlin was anxious that eagle chicks not be released too soon for fear that they might fly to their deaths rather than soar to freedom.
It is heartbreaking that the noble eagle is in danger of becoming extinct in Israel, she said, as she praised the efforts of all concerned to prevent this from happening.
■ CRITICS OF the Reform Movement would have had to eat humble pie on Wednesday evening at the ground-breaking ceremony for the Taube Family Campus at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem, attended by Polish-born American philanthropist Tad Taube.
The founder and chairman of Taube Philanthropies, whose $15 million grant is the largest it has ever given to a Jewish institution, appeared to be genuinely humble in thanking HUC-JIR for enabling him to contribute to the realization of the Reform Movement’s plans for the enhancement of HUC-JIR’s academic, cultural and spiritual programs as a means of welcoming the larger Israeli community and visitors from around the world.
The expanded campus was designed by prize-winning, Israeli-born, Canadian-American architect Moshe Safdie, who has definitely left his imprint on the capital’s King David Street. Safdie was unable to attend but sent video-taped greetings. His wife, the artist Michal Ronnen Safdie, represented him. She is the daughter of the late Mike Ronnen, who for many years was the art critic and frequent book reviewer of The Jerusalem Post.
Speakers at the event focused on the Jewish values of justice and humanity, the centrality of Jerusalem in Jewish life, and the Reform values of pluralism, tolerance and inclusiveness. Although it was an outdoor event and not inside the synagogue, at least half the men wore kippot; and the only woman wearing a kippa was HUC dean Naamah Kelman, the first woman to be ordained as a rabbi in Israel.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat stressed the need for a city to be inclusive. “If there is a tribe that does not feel comfortable in Jerusalem, then Jerusalem is not fulfilling its role,” he said. In emphasizing the need to continue building up Israel’s capital city, Barkat said: “This is not philanthropy. It is an investment in our future.”
Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky noted the absence of Rabbi Dick Hirsch, whom he described as a great leader of human rights and a great Zionist, underscoring that it had been under Hirsch’s leadership of the World Union for Progressive Judaism that the Reform Movement was the first to decide that its student rabbis had to spend a year in Jerusalem. Sharansky also emphasized the importance of the Reform Movement in the city, saying: “It is important for the Jewish people; it is important for Israel; it is important for the Israeli government, even though they don’t know it, for you to be here.”
Concerned by the significant increase in anti-Semitic activities in Europe, Taube, a pioneer in changing the dialogue in Poland, said: “To support the Jewish people, we need to have a multiple front of attack. Israel is the major component in what we’re trying to build in Jewish peoplehood.” In this context, he advocated the encouragement of greater interaction between HUC-JIR and leading institutions around the world in which there are Jewish communities. “Nothing is more important to us than that the Jewish people will thrive in a peaceful existence,” he said.
Polish Ambassador to Israel Jacek Chodorowicz spoke of Taube’s impact on Jewish life in Poland, recalling that Taube’s foundation had been the only American organization with an underground agenda for strengthening Jewish life in Poland when the country was still under Communist rule.
He lauded Taube for opening the eyes of the world to a different Poland, and not only the Poland related to the Holocaust. In particular, he singled out the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, which he called “an extraordinary monument to a millennium of Jewish life in Poland.” Thanks to Taube, he said, Poland has a small but vibrant Jewish community.
■ FOR SEVERAL of the journalists participating in the Haaretz Israel Conference on July 3 in London, it will be a return to their roots.
Among those either born in Britain or whose parents or grandparents were born there are Charlotte Hallé, editor of the English-language edition of Haaretz; Dana Harman and Anshel Pfeffer, both former writers for The Jerusalem Post; and Melanie Phillips, who writes a column for the Post.
A special session titled “What does the age of Netanyahu mean for Israel?” will be held in memory of David Landau, the London-born founding editor of the paper’s English-language edition and, before that, the diplomatic correspondent and managing editor of the Post. He was also the Israel bureau chief for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and some years later became the Israel correspondent for The Economist. Landau fought a brave battle against cancer, dying in January 2015, a few months after the publication of his book on Ariel Sharon. Had he lived, he would have celebrated his 69th birthday on June 22.
In addition to the above-mentioned journalists, another conference participant, Chemi Shalev, who was very close to Landau and is currently the US editor of Haaretz, is also a former member of the editorial staff of the Post.
■ GLOBE TROTTING apparently goes with the territory.
Although he didn’t do too much traveling abroad in the first two years of his presidency, President Reuven Rivlin is now emulating his jet-setting predecessor, Shimon Peres, who traveled abroad every six weeks on average.
Rivlin, who was in Belgium last week, is scheduled to fly to Bulgaria next week. But before he gets ready for take-off, he will host an iftar dinner for civic and spiritual leaders of Muslim towns and villages as well as senior Muslim firstname.lastname@example.org