For a pleasant change, the main topic of the day on Wednesday was not a terrorist incident or a traffic accident claiming many lives, nor was it the ongoing dispute over the natural gas sector framework. It was whether a casino should be built in Eilat – and not just one casino, as had been proposed in the past, but between two and four, as part of a tourist resort and conference complex on the site of the soon-to-be-dismantled airport.
There are many pros and cons for casinos, depending on how they are run. Not so many years ago, there used to be offshore gambling boats just beyond the 3-mile (4.8-km.) limit of the Eilat shoreline. But even without all that, radio and television commercials several times a day encourage Israelis to buy lottery tickets and to gamble on soccer results. Anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes alongside a Mifal Hapayis booth, including in religious neighborhoods, has seen would-be millionaires coming with wads of bank notes to gamble on scratch cards and on lottery tickets.
The only restriction is that gamblers have to punch the last four numbers of their ID cards into a monitor that supposedly ensures that there will be no money laundering in permissible gambling.
■ FORMER PRESIDENT Shimon Peres has been awarded the Great Cross of the Order of Merit of Lithuania in recognition of his contribution to the Middle East peace process as well as his contribution to the strengthening of relations between Lithuania and Israel.
The award was announced in Vilnius on Tuesday night by Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybuskaite at Lithuania’s National Day reception. The two met three years ago when Peres, as president of the state, visited Lithuania. Grybuskaite visited Israel in October 2015.
The medal signifying the award was to have been presented to Peres on Wednesday night in Israel at a reception hosted by Lithuanian Ambassador Edminas Bagdonas, but Peres was unable to attend. A spokeswoman for Peres said that the presentation ceremony would take place in a few days’ time at a more intimate event.
Lithuania opened an embassy in Israel soon after the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1992, but Israel did not open an embassy in Lithuania until March 2015. Israel’s ambassador to Lithuania is Amir Maimon.
■ ILL HEALTH prevented veteran Mossad agent Avraham Barzilai, 90, from attending the annual Mossad awards ceremony at the President’s Residence last December when he was scheduled to receive a Life Achievement award.
A legend in Mossad circles and beyond, Barzilai spent more than 60 years in helping to maintain the nation’s security, including rescuing Jews from countries of oppression.
After participating in a number of Mossad combat missions, Barzilai, who joined the organization in 1955, was instrumental in bringing 80,000 Jews from Arab lands to Israel.
He officially retired in 1995 but continued to be in some way involved with the Mossad, contributing in different ways to departments of the organization by sharing his experience and deep-seated knowledge with recruits and the younger generation of Mossad agents in general.
One such person was current Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, who, together with President Reuven Rivlin, this week held a more intimate reception for Barzilai and his wife in order to make the presentation. Cohen referred to Barzilai as “my teacher and mentor.”
Rivlin told Barzilai that everyone had been waiting to meet him and congratulate him at the traditional awards ceremony in December, and had been disappointed that they had been unable to give him the honor he so richly deserves. Rivlin said he was proud to be able to confer the award on someone who had served the state so long and so loyally.
Cohen, who already as a child knew Barzilai, credited him with having set the tone for today’s generation of Mossad agents.
Barzilai, openly displaying a degree of emotion uncommon in Mossad circles, said that the president could not know how moving it was for him to receive such an accolade, which he regarded as a signal honor.
The award did not belong to him alone, he said, but also to his wife, who had made “a tremendous contribution” during his years of service, raising their children alone, and on several occasions participating with him in important missions. “This honor belongs as much to her as it does to me,” he said, adding that they recently celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary. It’s not certain whether Rivlin was joking or in earnest when he replied: “In that case, I’ll ask the Mossad for permission to give her an award for exceptional service. The work of the Mossad is beyond what anyone can imagine, and you are among its pioneers.”
■ A VOLUNTEER in the maternity department of Shaare Zedek Medical Center for the past seven years, Jacqueline Maltz a couple of years ago took her American granddaughter Huvi to see some of the newborn babies and told her that not every baby goes home with a new set of baby clothes. Some are born into very large families and are given the hand-me-downs of older siblings. Some are born into very poor families who cannot afford to buy things and depend on charity outlets, and some babies are born with disabilities, a factor that makes many people hesitant about congratulating the parents or to provide a gift for the baby.
All this made a deep impression on Huvi, who recently celebrated her bat mitzva in the US, and as is customary these days among American bat mitzva girls and quite a lot of Israeli bat mitzva girls, she decided to take on a hessed project, meaning a project of loving-kindness, as a first step into her new mature status. She decided that she wanted to collect new clothes for those Shaare Zedek babies who would not otherwise have them. This is what she asked for in lieu of gifts for herself when sending out invitations to her bat mitzva.
Most of the invited guests came with more than one baby outfit. Some came with three or four, and there were further contributions after the bat mitzva. The upshot was that Huvi’s uncle, who is a frequent flyer between Israel and the US, comes to Jerusalem twice a month with a duffel bag full of new baby clothes.
Though impressed by the quantity, Huvi’s grandmother is worried about what will happen when supplies from Huvi’s bat mitzva run out, and is hopeful that other Jewish girls in Israel and abroad will take on a similar project. She tells the story of a poor Ethiopian mother whose face lit up with joy when presented with a set of new baby clothes. Any contribution for a baby will be welcome, says Maltz, noting that people who can’t afford much but want to contribute something can give a pair of booties or a baby’s bonnet or a bib – all of which are very inexpensive but which will be greatly appreciated.
■ ISRAEL’S MAJOR fashion companies are now trotting out their Spring-Summer collections, and have already had mega fashion shows or will have them in the near future. All that polished strutting on the runway is not something that happens automatically. Gala fashion shows require producers and directors. Motti Reif is both, and is recognized as one of the best in the business. He started out as a male model, then later began producing and directing fashion shows for leading Israeli brand names.
He was later appointed Israel’s commercial attaché in Los Angeles, succeeding composer-musician Kobi Oshrat. In Los Angeles he made a lot of contacts and also went into television and movie production.
In fact, it was he who persuaded former Miss World Linor Abargil, who had been raped in Italy shortly before the contest, to describe on film what had happened to her so that other women who had been attacked would also come forward and not feel afraid, ashamed and alone. Abargil identified her rapist, and he spent a long time in prison.
Reif, now 50, is on a regular commute between TA and LA. The candid interview which he gave to Yoav Ginai, the anchor of Laga’at Baru’ah (To Touch the Spirit) on Channel 1, will be screened this coming Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. when Reif, in addition to discussing his career and current trends and attitudes to fashion, will talk about coming out of the closet and his advocacy for the legitimizing of soft drugs.
■ PRIME MINISTER Netanyahu’s lightning visit to Berlin this week caused chaos, according to an I24 report, which stated that streets were blocked, a Film Festival premiere relocated, at least 17 bus routes disrupted plus insufferable traffic congestion. Of course, this is nothing new to Jerusalemites who live near the Prime Minister’s Residence, and it has become increasingly worse in recent weeks with pedestrians denied shortcut access from Keren Hayesod Street to Aza Road or to Balfour Road. The ban also applies to senior and disabled citizens, but is occasionally lifted, depending on who is on duty. Berliners now know what it’s like to live in Jerusalem.
■ WHEN SHIPS at sea are in trouble, they fly the flag upside down as a sign of distress, in the hope that passing vessels may see it and come to their aid. This proved to be a valuable piece of knowledge for Jason Pearlman, Rivlin’s foreign media adviser.
When a delegation from the House of Lords visited the president this week, one of their members took Pearlman aside to ascertain that he was British. Pearlman confirmed that he was indeed born and raised in Britain. To which the visiting dignitary responded that surely he would have realized that the Union Jack was upside down. “Well sir, we’ve got a crisis situation,” replied the quick-thinking Pearlman.
■ ONE OF the reasons that ZAKA, the Israeli search and rescue organization, was able to obtain consultative status at the United Nations in January of this year after a long, fruitless period of applications was the relentless activity of US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power. So it stood to reason that ZAKA founder and chairman Yehuda Meshi Zahav made a point of meeting with her during her visit to Israel this week, so that he could thank her personally for all her efforts over the preceding six months.
Meshi Zahav noted that Power had taken upon herself the challenge – or “mission impossible,” in her own words – of ensuring that ZAKA would indeed receive UN consultative status.
“There is no doubt that it is thanks to the tireless support of US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, together with Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, that ZAKA was finally able to take its rightful place at the UN, as an NGO that offers humanitarian aid and specialist emergency response to mass casualty incidents around the world, regardless of religion, race or creed,” said Meshi Zahav, who, as an expression of the organization’s gratitude and esteem, invited Power to be the guest of honor at a ZAKA tribute event to be held in New York later this year.
Speaking at the American International School’s model UN debate in Even Yehuda on Monday night, Power cited ZAKA as an example of the systematic bias of the UN.
“ZAKA not only works here in Israel, but it responds to natural and man-made disasters worldwide, as it did in New York after 9/11, and in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake,” she said. “Yet when ZAKA was nominated in 2013 for accreditation by the UN’s NGO committee – and this accreditation is what gives NGOs the right to participate in UN meetings, the right to assert their voices, the right to raise causes that really matter in the world – when ZAKA was put forward, it was denied approval. Five subsequent times the committee met, and five times member states blocked ZAKA, not because of the quality of its work – people weren’t that interested in the quality of its work – but simply because ZAKA is an Israeli organization.”
■ FOR SEVERAL years it looked as though cinema theaters were on the way to becoming obsolete. People were renting or buying videos of the latest feature films, and attendance at the movies went into sharp decline. More recently it became relatively easy to download movies on home computers, laptops, tablets and even mobile phones.
Then, for some inexplicable reason, there was a turnaround and people once more started going to the movies, with the result that in Israel, for example, both the Cinema City chain and Yes Planet keep expanding.
Brothers Leon and Moshe Edery together with their partner Yaakov Cohen have enlarged their flagship Cinema City in Glilot, which opened to great fanfare in 2002 and was the first link in their chain. They have completed a new wing at a cost of NIS 90 million and have also begun renovating the existing structure. The new wing has four cinema halls, two of which are VIP, plus an elegant “city hall” which seats 900 people and which will be used for special events. Including the new additions, Cinema City Glilot now has 29 cinemas, one large auditorium and a total seating capacity of 4,000 people.