Grapevine: Hello and good-bye

Mark Sofer, ambassador-designate to Australia, has said good-bye to old friends.

By
November 3, 2017 00:21
An Australian delegation takes part in a ceremony at Tzemah, one of the sites of the ANZAC battles

An Australian delegation takes part in a ceremony at Tzemah, one of the sites of the ANZAC battles. (photo credit: YOAV DEVIR KKL-JNF)

 
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While former Australian ambassador Dave Sharma, who returned for events related to the centenary of the Battle of Beersheba, spent the week greeting old friends, Mark Sofer, ambassador-designate to Australia, was saying good-bye to old friends.

Sofer, who is due to leave for the Antipodes on November 12, had the opportunity this week to meet many members of the Australian Jewish leadership, which will certainly be a plus factor after he takes up residence in the island continent. He also attended the dinner hosted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, in honor of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his wife, Lucy.

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Sofer, who was born and raised in England, will not a have a language problem in Australia unless he becomes engaged in conversation with someone who speaks Strine, but after a while he should catch on to that, too.

OPPOSITION LEADER MK Isaac Herzog and Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay met with Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten.

Aside from discussing political issues and strategies, both Herzog and Gabbay could discus more personal topics with the Australian political leaders. Herzog could talk about the visit to Australia by his father, Chaim Herzog, in 1986, and Gabbay, who is married to an Australian, could talk about his wife’s background.

Shorten by the way, on Monday attended a cocktail reception at the King David Hotel, Jerusalem, co-hosted by the Australian Embassy and the Israel Australia Chamber of Commerce. In his address to a packed banquet room, what was important was what he said about Australian Jews, a large percentage of whom are first-, second- and third-generation Holocaust survivors.

Shorten, who is known to have genuine affection for Israel and for the Australian Jewish community, spoke of the similar characteristics of Israelis and Australians in that both are willing to take risks, are not afraid of failure and see setbacks “not as the end of a journey but as milestones on the road to success.”



Shorten also spoke of the “wonderful Jewish Diaspora” which had come from Europe to Australia “after fleeing the Shoah” and had elevated learning, established scholarships and funded universities. “They saw the worst of times and sought to create the best of times for their children and future generations.”

IT WAS a pity that most of the people who had come from Australia missed out on seeing the inside of the ANZAC museum that was established by the Jewish National Fund of Australia in collaboration with the Beersheba Municipality. The museum, which overlooks the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, is simply not large enough to accommodate more than 100 people at most on its entrance floor. Thus, only the official party and its entourage plus the JNF leadership were able to be there for the actual inauguration, though doubtless some of the visitors from overseas waited till all the officials had left for the next event of the day so that they could see the surprisingly large amount of data that the museum’s designers have been able to incorporate into a small space.

APROPOS GABBAY, when he addressed members of the unofficial Jerusalem parliament on Monday, he felt particularly at home. Small wonder, as the meeting took place in the Bezeq Building on the capital’s Chopin Street. Gabbay, who headed Bezeq for 15 years, is familiar with the building, which in recent years has been shuttered, but which since the beginning of October has been buzzing with life and culture as one of the venues of the Jerusalem Biennale for Contemporary Jewish Art.

Gabbay, who grew up in Jerusalem, was there to participate in a conversation in the space of an exhibition titled “A Man’s Man” that examines the images of contemporary Jewish masculinity. Gabbay elucidated his political outlook, inquired about the challenges facing the city of Jerusalem and answered questions. When asked whether he intended to return to live in Jerusalem, Gabbay replied: “Yes, certainly... to a house on Balfour Street.”

The Bezeq Building serves as the biennale’s main venue – one of nine venues throughout the city, showing the work of more than 200 Israeli and international artists in 26 exhibitions and projects that explore the theme of watershed. The biennale closes November 16.

SOME OF
the people who were in Beersheba this week will return again on Monday to witness the presentation of the Ladislaus Laszt Ecumenical and Social Concern Award to Cardinal Kurt Koch of the Vatican at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev at 2 p.m.

Previous winners of the prize include the Dalai Lama, Archimandrite Emil Shoufani (Israeli Christian Arab theologian and peace activist), Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (the former chief rabbi of the UK and the Commonwealth) and other world-renowned theologians.

The award was created by Prof. Ladislaus and Nelly Laszt of Switzerland. It is bestowed by Ben-Gurion University on a religious personality of international repute, or on a person or organization that has made an outstanding contribution to society. Awarded for the first time in 1985, the prize “acknowledges and rewards people whose deeds reflect tolerance, hope and vision – those aspects so essential to the survival of the human race.”

On November 7, the day after the ceremony, Koch will participate in a workshop at BGU on “The Other in Christianity and Judaism.”

Koch was born in Switzerland in 1950, and is the bishop emeritus of Basel. In 2010 Pope Benedict XVI appointed Koch as a president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The Council works toward ecumenism. In this capacity, he is also the president of the Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with the Jews. The commission, which was established in 1974, is tasked with maintaining positive theological ties with Jews and Judaism.

Koch is also a member of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches; a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; a member of the Congregation for Catholic Education and a member of the Congregation for Bishops.

He was one of the cardinal electors who participated in the 2013 papal conclave that elected Pope Francis.

THE RESIDENCES of ambassadors are not strictly for their personal use, because they either belong to, or are rented by, the foreign ministries of their respective countries. Thus, the host of a book launch this week at the official Canadian residence was hosted not by the ambassador but by the Canadian chargé d’affaires, Anthony Hinton. Moreover, Mike Prashker, the author of the book A Place for Us All, is not even Canadian.

He was born in London, moved to Israel in 1978, and after serving in the IDF studied and subsequently taught political science. His book is essentially about social cohesion and his belief that Israel should be fairer to all its citizens and make every effort to live in reasonable accommodation with its neighbors.

The launch was in the presence of a distinguished group of the diplomatic corps, Israeli government representatives, academics, NGOs and philanthropists, who heard Prashker present his views on how Israel should face the future. Prashker described Israel’s society as precariously balanced between the danger of tribal fragmentation and the hope of accommodation.

He stressed the importance of gaining a deeper understanding of the concept of “social cohesion,” and the conditions conducive to its promotion, to address the challenge.

Hinton, along with Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer – vice president, research, Israel Democracy Institute, and Ghaida Rinawie-Zoabi, founding executive director of Injaz Center for Professional Arab Local Governance, responded to Prashker’s optimistic reassessment of Israel’s democratic and society-building journeys toward the strengthening of Israeli society.

Published by Alouette publishing, the trilingual book is compiled in a single Hebrew, Arabic and English volume.

AMONG THE many dignitaries who feel the need travel to the Galilee to see for themselves the number of Syrians being treated with compassion and medical professionalism at the Ziv Medical Center in Safed was the prime minister’s spokesman, David Keyes, who came with a group of foreign journalists. They were taken on a tour of the premises by Ziv’s deputy director Dr. Morshid Farhat, who briefed them on the nature of the treatments given to Syrians regardless of whether they are combatants or civilians who have been caught in the crossfire. Keyes asked many questions and was obviously impressed by the answers and by what he saw.

A 26-year-old Syrian whose leg had been shattered by bomb shrapnel, and who had been undergoing treatment for some six weeks, told Keyes that Syrian youngsters were raised with the concept that Israel was a place of evil, but on arrival at the hospital they discovered that the opposite is true. “Jews, Christians and Muslims are working here side by side, and they are dedicated to healing and saving lives,” said the patient. “We are all extremely grateful for the treatment we are receiving from Israeli doctors.”

Keyes said in response: “So many men, women and children have tragically been killed in the war in Syria. I am proud that Israel has provided medical care to thousands of wounded Syrians. I thank all of the Israeli doctors and nurses who are working so hard to treat Syrians who have been wounded in this humanitarian catastrophe.”

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