Grapevine: Running against the clock

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

French Embassy volunteers visit Leket as part of their 'So French So Good' week.  (photo credit: LEKET ISRAEL)
French Embassy volunteers visit Leket as part of their 'So French So Good' week.
(photo credit: LEKET ISRAEL)
With a little under 18 months left in which to complete his seven-year term of office, President Reuven Rivlin is playing hit and run. He still has so many things to do and so many people to meet, not to mention a string of state visits on his agenda, that he seldom stays the duration of large events that take place at the President’s Residence.
It has always been par for the course that when the president, the prime minister or other government ministers speak at major conferences in hotels and convention centers, they leave immediately afterward. But until recently it was not the custom of the president, when hosting an event, to leave after making his speech.
Contrary to what was done by his predecessors, who usually spoke last so that they could also comment on what had taken place, Rivlin delivers the opening address, apologizes for leaving and disappears. He did this even on Wednesday evening during a conference that was very close to his heart – the Keeping it in the Family Conference about strengthening the Israel-Diaspora Relationship.
It was a pity, because some of the speakers actually had things that they wanted to tell him
One such person was futurist Prof. David Passig, a faculty member of Bar-Ilan University who is well-acquainted with American Jewry, having studied and lectured in the US. Passig wanted to tell Rivlin that 100 years from now, the various Jewish movements that we know today will no longer exist because most of them were established in reaction to events outside of Judaism.
He also wanted to emphasize to the president that this is the first time in Jewish history that sovereignty belongs to the people and not to the High Priests, the kings or the rabbis. In the future, he said, it will be the people, and not some elite body, that decides on who is a Jew.
“We will be a different people, with a different identity, different movements and different tribes.” He attributed this to the fact that the largest Jewish population in the world today lives in Israel, and in the course of time, more Jews will choose to live in Israel.
■ ANOTHER SPEAKER was Olympic medalist and judo champion Arik Ze’evi, who has taken upon himself the mission of improving Israel’s ranking in the world of sport. Compared to other small countries, Israel does not have a particularly good record. What rankles Ze’evi is that the number of Olympic medals won by Jewish athletes representing other countries is far in excess of the total number of medals won by Israel. Israeli athletes represent not only Israel but Jews the world over, he said, and that’s why they have to do better. The implication was that not enough is being done to support Israeli athletes to enable them to reach their full potential.
■ BEFORE READING his prepared speech, Rivlin excoriated the infamous UN Human Rights Council black list of Israeli companies operating in West Bank settlements , and reeled off a bunch of names such as Angel Bakeries, Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, Bezeq, Café Café, Cellcom, Egged, Elbit, Israel Discount Bank, Rami Levy, Shufersal, Teva and more. Politics aside, what neither the UN nor the EU seem to be able to get through their heads is that all these companies provide services and employment for Palestinians as well as for Israelis.
If these companies move out of the West Bank, it will have a disastrous effect on the quality of life of every Palestinian household. While most Palestinians would like to have their own independent state, until that comes about, they don’t want to lose the convenience of access to telephones, Internet, supermarkets and banks, nor to the employment opportunities that the 112 enterprises on the black list provide. Closing down their means of livelihood is not a way to bring about peace.
■ APROPOS THE conference, one wonders about the influence that recently appointed Diaspora Affairs Minister Tzipi Hotovely has in the media. Her speech was mainly about the Diaspora friends she made during her civilian national service in Atlanta, Georgia, and as a member of the executive of the World Union of Jewish Students in London, South Africa and Australia, and more recently in her role as deputy foreign minister. It was far from the most important address of the evening, yet it was broadcast almost in its entirety in a late-night current affairs program on radio – and not on a religious station.
■ TO MANY Jerusalemites, the name Gavy Friedson is familiar not only because of his bubbling personality, but because as a paramedic he has helped to save many lives. At age 15, he joined United Hatzalah and over the past 16 years has responded to more than 10,000 emergency calls. Originally from Boca Raton, Florida, he moved to Israel with his family when he was 10 years old, and now commutes from his home in Washington, DC, every few months.
Following his army service in the IDF Infantry Unit and later in the IDF’s international Spokesman’s Unit, Friedson studied at IDC Herzliya and then returned to the United States to broaden his horizons. While in the US he became a coast-to-coast spokesman for United Hatzalah. He did such great work for the organization that he was recently promoted to the position of director of international emergency management and global ambassador for United Hatzalah.
The organization already has branches in different parts of the world, but Friedson hopes to create many more. Whenever he comes to Jerusalem, sometimes alone and sometimes with his wife, well-known American media personality Katie Pavlich, he cannot resist getting back on his ambucycle in response to emergency calls.
He has also been known to use his medical skills in emergency situations while traveling across America.
■ INTERNATIONAL INTEREST in Leket, the food and nutrition security organization which tries to ensure that Israel’s poor do not go hungry, is increasingly gaining international attention. Recently, visitors from Turkey and France who are interested in how Leket operates came to visit.
Members of Tider, a Turkish food bank, and a Leket partner through the Global Food Banking Network, were joined by Senol Demirtas, the executive chef of the Bıg Chefs Restaurant chain to study the complex logistics of Leket’s cooked food rescue activities in order to incorporate Leket’s methods into their own food banking system. This included meetings with representatives of Israel’s leading hotel chains and Leket’s nutrition and food safety department to better understand the process.
French Ambassador Eric Danon, his wife, Marie, together with French Embassy staff also visited Leket, as part of their “So French So Food” week. They all got their hands dirty while helping to harvest tomatoes in the Leket Israel fields in Binyamina. The tomatoes were donated to more than 200 needy families.
Leket Israel founder and chairman Joseph Gitler noted that food insecurity exists in many countries and that Leket is committed to sharing its knowledge and experience, as well as to learning best practices from other countries so as to be most efficient in its food rescue mission. Gitler was also appreciative of the fact that the French ambassador, his wife and embassy staff had made time to volunteer for Leket. Other embassies have done so in the past.
■ ALTHOUGH IT is easy to understand the frustrations of the Israeli passengers who are currently quarantined in Japan onboard the luxury cruise ship Diamond Princess, they are being more than a little unfair when they say in interviews with the Israeli media that no one is in touch with them, especially representatives from Israel’s Foreign Ministry. According to Yaffa Ben-Ari, Israel’s ambassador in Japan, embassy staff are available 24/7 and have made sure that those passengers who require medications receive them.
The Israelis are demanding that a special plane be sent for them to take them home. While Foreign Minister Israel Katz is taking this into consideration, health authorities in Israel are stipulating that once they get home, the Israeli passengers will again be individually quarantined, except that they won’t be on a ship. The question arises as to whether the expense and special human resources required in bring them home is worth it when they are not in captivity, but simply being confined for their own benefits and those of any other people with whom they may come into contact.
After all, a passenger on a luxury cruise ship is not exactly Naama Issachar or Gilad Shalit. Aside from that, modern technology has made it possible for all the passengers to communicate with their families, the Israel Embassy in Tokyo, and with numerous media outlets where it’s not only a two-way conversation. The people engaged in conversation can actually see each other. The isolation is not quite as bad as some of the Israeli passengers imply.

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