Everyone has a disability of some kind. The difference is that some disabilities are more obvious than others. And while some people are ignorant of the fact that a disability does not have to be an all-consuming liability, there is a tendency to exclude those with visible disabilities from integrating socially, in the work force and in the army. In recent years, people with disabilities who are entitled to exemptions from military service, but who want to contribute just as their peers must do, have been taken on as volunteers and are thrilled to wear the uniform of the IDF and be assigned to duties.
In keeping with the UN International Day for Persons with Disabilities, Nitzan Chen, the director of Government Press Office – which each year organizes a civil New Year reception for journalists, diplomats and PR people, where they get a chance to hear Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a relaxed environment – this year chose Shalva as its venue.
Shalva is a model facility for the empowerment and inclusiveness of individuals who have had disabilities from infancy onwards. The entertainment included the famed Shalva Band. But before they came on, the audience got to hear a comedy monologue from actress and comedienne Bat-El Papura, who happens to be 48 inches tall and once considered an operation to stretch her bones, but decided the pain and discomfort wasn’t worth an extra eight inches. Papura was born in Bucharest, Romania, when the country was still Communist. The doctors told her mother that Papura would be brain-damaged and would never walk. Her Russian-Jewish mother was determined otherwise. Not only does Papura walk and have a very good brain and loads of personality, but her wise mother also forced her to be independent and to follow her dreams. The upshot was that, so far, all her dreams have been realized, including tying the knot with Nir Borenstein, with whom she was in love for years but had to wait until he’d gone through a string of girlfriends before setting his eyes on her. They were married six months ago. Singer Miri Mesika came on after Papura. Mesika didn’t really need any extra height, yet she chose to wear five-inch stiletto-heeled shoes with platform soles and wowed the crowd with her singing in Hebrew, Arabic and English. But the best was still to come. The Shalva Band, which includes Indian-born Dina Samteh and French-born Anael Khalifa, blind female vocalists with phenomenal voices, started out by singing the version of “Hallelujah” that won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1979. They then continued with Leonard Cohen’s version of the song. The audience, including Netanyahu, was spellbound.
It wasn’t the first or even the second time that Netanyahu had been at a performance by the Shalva Band. At the conclusion of their performance on Wednesday night, he got out of his front-row seat to shake hands with its members. Drummer Tal Kima who has Down syndrome, has that special expression of affection which is common to most people with the genetic disorder. Thus when Netanyahu went to shake hands with him, Kima spontaneously embraced the PM, who in turn embraced Kima. It was a very human and humane moment.
Afterward, Netanyahu said: “What Shalva recognizes is that each human being has a soul – and it’s so evident. We salute what Shalva is doing in Israel.”
In a reference to Israel’s ongoing struggle for its existence, Netanyahu said: “We fight not only physical attacks, but slander and vilification.”
Master showman that he is, Netanya had several ad-lib moments before taking questions from the floor. One of them was asked by the prime minister after he recognized his former spokesman Mark Regev, Israel’s current ambassador to the UK. “Is there anything happening in Britain right now?” asked Netanyahu.
He also recognized Israel Consul General to New York Dani Dayan, who came to Jerusalem with a delegation of bloggers.
Diversity was the name of the game at this annual get-together organized by the GPO. Among those mingling at the reception were Russian Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov, Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz, International Christian Embassy Vice President David Parsons, American journalist Maxine Dovere, who works for New York Jewish Life, a new media outlet dedicated to covering both the diversities and similarities among Jewish communities in the Big Apple, and Israel’s oldest working journalist, Walter Bingham, who will be 95 in January.
■ IN PLANNING ahead for the day when Jerusalem can boast an Embassy Row, Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Gallant demonstrates admirable optimism, even though several embassies have moved to new premises in recent years. The Embassy of Finland moved only a few months ago, following the Swedish Embassy’s move to the Adgar Building on Hashlosha Street. The German Embassy is in the process of moving. The Irish Embassy moved only a few months ago, and several other embassies moved in recent years to Abba Hillel Street in Ramat Gan. The South Koreans built a magnificent new embassy in the Herzliya Pituah commercial area. And the Australian Embassy, having already moved twice – first from Hayarkon Street to Europa House, and around a decade ago, under the supervision of then-Australian ambassador James Larsen, to the Discount Bank Tower on the corner of Yehuda Halevi and Herzl Streets in south Tel Aviv – is most unlikely to incur the expense of moving to Jerusalem, especially as it is one of the few embassies that also owns its residence and is not renting. Most ambassadors live in Herzliya Pituah, Kfar Shmaryahu or Rishpon. A few live in Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan. One even lives in Udim near Netanya. Not only ambassadors, but diplomats of lower rank live in these areas. What will happen to the economy of these cities if the whole of the diplomatic corps moves out? One can’t help wondering if – in his enthusiasm for an Embassy Row in Jerusalem’s East Talpiot – Gallant has spared a thought for what will happen to the areas that will be vacated.
■ MOST OF the Israelis who visit Palo Alto, California, are hi-tech people who are going there for business purposes. But this week, the Israeli focus in Palo Alto was on the future of Zionism. The fourth annual Zionism 3.0 conference was hosted by the Jewish Community Center of Palo Alto together with the Israeli Reut Group.
Discussions dealt not only with the future of Zionism per se, but also with the connection between Israel and Diaspora Jews in the face of ongoing rifts. The Israeli delegation included Betty and Gidi Grinstein, founder and president of Reut; Reut CEO Eran Shayshon; Daniela and Yossi Beilin, former government minister; former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro; Leumi USA CEO Avner Mendelson; Eli Novershtern of the Square Peg Capital Foundation; Yifat Bechor of Taglit-Birthright Israel Excel; former education minister Shai Piron; and Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism.
■ SOCIAL MEDIA contain so many negative comments and opinions that when someone posts a heart-warming story, it merits sharing with as many people as possible. This was posted on Tuesday by David Jablinowitz, and by lunch time on Wednesday it had received more than 200 hits.
Here is the verbatim rendition of what he wrote on Facebook.
“This happened Sunday on a Jerusalem street corner. A kid distributing fliers for a restaurant gives one to a man sitting on the ground who is asking for charity. A man passing by says to the kid: ‘Why did you do that? You’re humiliating this man. He obviously doesn’t have much money.’
“The standing man then picks up the flier from the ground, and says to the sitting gentleman: ‘Do you like this kind of food?’
The sitting man replies sheepishly: ‘Yes.’ He points to what he likes. The standing man makes a call on his phone and orders the dish for delivery. He’s asked on the other end of the phone line about the address for the delivery, and replies: ‘The corner of Yafo and Sarei Yisrael.’
“Obviously, the person on the other end of the line is apparently perplexed about the vague address. But the man promises that he’s legit, and then walks a few steps away to apparently give the circumstances of this order, and even his credit card number, to reassure the person on the other end of the phone line that the restaurant will be paid.
“After getting off the phone, this guy then sits down next to the man already sitting on the sidewalk and says to him: ‘I ordered for myself as well. They say it’ll be 10-15 minutes. When they come, you and I will find a bench somewhere and eat together.’”
■ ANY REALIST elected to a leadership position in the Labor Party knows it will be a short-lived romance. Labor has a reputation for chewing up its leaders and spitting them out. Take a look at how many people have headed Labor over the past 20 years compared to the number who have headed Likud. If Avi Gabbay was convinced that things would be different under his leadership, he is beginning to discover that his popularity within the party has waned and that there is little likelihood he will retain the chairmanship after the next Labor firstname.lastname@example.org
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