Grapevine: Soccer in the genes

Movers and shakers, how Israeli people shape the places of this country.

BEITAR JERUSALEM midfielder Yossi Benayoun (left) shoots past Atletico Madrid’ Thomas Lemar during last night’s friendly between the clubs at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, where Beitar notched a surprising 2-1 victory. (photo credit: DANNY MARON)
BEITAR JERUSALEM midfielder Yossi Benayoun (left) shoots past Atletico Madrid’ Thomas Lemar during last night’s friendly between the clubs at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, where Beitar notched a surprising 2-1 victory.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
It’s common knowledge that President Reuven Rivlin is an avid soccer fan, so much so that you can wake him up in the middle of the night and ask him the names of top players in any major team in the world and he can name them in a flash and even repeat their best scores. Shai, one of the president’s grandsons, is also an ardent soccer enthusiast, so when the boy’s grandfather went to see the friendly game between his favorite team Beitar Jerusalem (of which Rivlin was once an official), and Atletico Madrid, Shai went with him. It was an exciting game not only because of Beitar’s 2-1 surprise victory, but also because Beitar midfielder Yossi Benayoun, who had previously played for Chelsea, Arsenal and West Ham, and who last month announced his retirement from professional football, had agreed to play one last game. By sticking close to his grandfather, Shai had the opportunity to meet players from both teams as well as Atletico coach Diego Simeone and the Spanish team’s star player Antoine Griezmann.
■ US AMBASSADOR David Friedman hosted an interfaith Iftar dinner at his residence in Herzliya Pituah. In welcoming his guests, he said that Iftar was a beautiful recognition that there is more that unites us than that which divides us. His late father, who was a rabbi who devoted his life to peaceful relations between people of different faiths, he said, had taught him great respect for all religions, especially those emanating from Abraham, the founder of monotheism who taught belief in one God, a God of peace and a God of love. “It is not only our destiny to live together in this holy land,” said Friedman. “It is our privilege. Regardless of whether he is called Abraham, Ibrahim or Avraham, what he taught was that every human being is entitled to live in dignity and peace, which are gifts from God,” Friedman concluded.
■ MEANWHILE FORMER US ambassador Dan Shapiro was this week among the five recipients of Honorary Doctorates conferred by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and delivered the speech on behalf of his fellow recipients, who included Ohad Naharin (Israel); Toni Young (United States), Dr. Jan Low (United States) and Prof. Ahmad Natour (Israel).
Although Shapiro and Friedman are on opposite sides of the political divide, they are unanimous in their belief that all peoples of the region should be entitled to live in harmony, dignity and peace. In his address, Shapiro called BGU a “jewel of the State of Israel” and said he was struck by his colleagues’ “willingness to break down barriers, to blaze new trails, to nourish body and spirit.”
As ambassador, he said, he had visited all the universities in Israel at least once, but was particularly drawn to BGU, and found himself visiting again and again. He was and continues to be taken with the growth and creativity he finds there, and by the special qualities of both students and faculty members.
This was not his first Honorary Doctorate from an Israeli university. He was previously honored by the University of Haifa.
■ DIFFICULT THOUGH this may be to believe, there are at least 1,400 youth at risk in Israel, who have no parental or family support, despite the fact that not all are orphans. Most come from highly dysfunctional families in which the parents are often violent, and in many cases alcoholics or drug addicts. These children are removed by social workers and placed in boarding schools and youth villages run by various organizations, one of which is Yeladim Fair Chance for Children. All in all 10,000 children aged between 8-18 are growing up in 110 residential group facilities and in foster care throughout Israel. This, and other disturbing factors were revealed this week at a farewell reception for Aldo Henriquez, the first ever male president of Diplomatic Spouses Club in Israel (DSI). Though not the first nor the only male member of the organization, Henriquez who is the spouse of outgoing British Ambassador David Quarrey, has made DSI history.
Most of the DSI members also belong to the International Women’s Club. The two organizations give them a sense of community and in many cases, of extended family, especially among regional or specific language groups. While the majority of foreign diplomats also socialize with expatriates and citizens of their own countries who are in Israel as immigrants, students, representatives of global companies and as foreign workers, they tend to spend more time with fellow diplomats due to the numerous events to which all heads of foreign missions are invited and to the many organizations and institutions to which other embassy personnel are invited. Sometimes the same diplomats see each other two and three times a day.
Separately and together, Henriquez and Quarrey have been going through a whirlwind of farewell events, and still had a couple to go before returning to London at the end of this week.
Both DSI and IWC wind up their activities for the year in the summer time, which is when most ambassadors leave after completing their tenure, so that those with school-age children can enroll them in time for the new school year at their next posting.
The presidency of both DSI and IWC is for one year, due to the fact that diplomats are perennial nomads. At the farewell hosted by Henriquez at the British residence, the new incoming president Stephanie Baric, who has been a consultant with UNICEF, and whose husband is scheduled to become the next Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy, surprised her friends and colleagues when she revealed some of her family history. Her family is from the former Yugoslavia. Her father is Croatian and her mother is a Serbian Jew. Baric was born and raised in Canada but is now part of the US diplomatic community.
Also present at the event was Aline Bizimana of Rwanda, who will be the next IWC president following their end of year brunch on June 6.
Henriquez and outgoing DSI Vice President Julie Einweiler took turns in reviewing the year’s activities which were many and varied, indicating that diplomats and their spouses get to see and learn much more about Israel than do most Israelis.
In addition to the farewell for Henriquez, the purpose of the event was to present a check for NIS 20,000 to Yeladim. Each year, DSI takes on another charity. Several worthy causes are nominated by members, considered by the board, and a vote is taken. In Hebrew, the organization was originally called Yeladim B’Sikun (Youth at Risk), but in recent years it was decided that because the organization works towards giving children a fresh start in life, the name ought to be changed to Yeladim B’Sikui (Children with a Chance), which sounds similar, but means something quite different. Yeladim board member Hezi Lavi, whose widowed mother Esther actually founded the organization, spoke of its beginnings during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when high school youth engaged in many volunteer activities to replace reserve soldiers who had been called to the army. His sister, Daphna, had been assigned to a shelter for wayward youth, and fell in love with a little boy there, and brought him home for meals. The mother also fell in love with the little boy and was inspired by him and others like him to go to enroll at Tel Aviv University and study education and social welfare. All the rest is history. Yeladim supports 17 foster homes and residential group homes with minimal assistance from the Education and Social Welfare ministries.
When these young people turn 18 and have to leave the group residences, many have nowhere to go. Yeladim has set up apartments for them to live in clusters, so that they won’t be alone, but will nonetheless be independent.
Among its many programs, Yeladim has one of hosting families who take in youngsters who have no family support for weekends, holidays, and birthdays. In some cases, the bond between such families and the boy or girl whom they have been hosting for so long, becomes so strong that even after the young person turns 18, and leaves the care of Yeladim, he or she continues to be part of the hosting family. Hadar Binyamin, the director of the hosting families program, reported that currently there are 185 hosting families who take these children into their homes on a regular basis.
Singer-songwriter Tzlil Dayan, who entertained with two songs, is one of seven siblings removed from their parents’ home because neither parent worked. When she was 12, she was sent to a boarding school which was not run by Yeladim, and after she turned 18, and was asked to leave, she wandered the streets with her guitar looking for a place to stay – but she had no money. She had a sister in a Yeladim facility who kept urging her to apply to Yeladim. She was initially reluctant, but eventually agreed, and was given all the emotional support she needed, plus a roof over her head.