Grapevine: The Waldorf walk

Movers and Shakers in Israeli society

FROM LEFT: Stephen Harper, Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu and Laureen Harper.  (photo credit: GPO)
FROM LEFT: Stephen Harper, Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu and Laureen Harper.
(photo credit: GPO)
Coincidence being what it is, the gala dinner hosted by Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund World chairman Danny Atar in honor of former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, happened coincide with the 61st birthday of Sara Netanyahu. Her husband, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was one of the speakers of the dinner, made sure that everyone present knew that it was her birthday, but he didn’t reveal her age. It’s nice for the family to have two birthdays within the space of just over two weeks. The prime minister celebrated his 70th birthday on October 21 with a couple of well-publicized events.
The Government Press Office in a release of Netanyahu’s schedule, stated that he would be attending the Harper dinner at 7:45.p.m.
Dinner organizers asked invitees to arrive at 5 p.m. so that everyone could go through the security check before Netanyahu’s arrival.
In some hotels, there is a secluded back or side entrance that enables dignitaries to enter without encountering members of the public on the way. Unfortunately, this is not the case with the Waldorf Astoria, or if it is, it hasn’t been brought to the attention of the prime minister’s security detail. Thus, the elevators were closed down for the duration of the evening and everyone had to walk down two floors to get to the lobby of the ballroom, with two security stops on the way. They also had to walk up the stairs afterwards.
Netanyahu is notorious for being late, and this occasion was no exception. Guests were not allowed into the ballroom till 7:45, and Netanyahu and his wife entered at 8:22. There was nowhere to sit in the main foyer outside the ballroom, but there were a few seats for a total of less than a dozen people in a smaller adjacent foyer. Basically this meant that most guests were on their feet for the best part of three hours. It takes less time to travel to Tel Aviv and back by bus. Some clever stragglers, possibly benefiting from previous experience, arrived at around 7:30, when there was no longer a long line of people waiting to be processed by security personnel. The compensation for the early birds was in the delicious and creative hors d’oeuvres, such as a pink macaroon sandwich filled with goose pate. The main meal later in the evening was also praiseworthy with the most tender, tasty and succulent roast veal, which had been slow cooked in the oven. Waiters and waitresses were polite and efficient, though there was a little chaos at the bar.
It was an interesting crowd. In addition to the many Canadians present, including Ambassador Deborah Lyons, there was Environment Minister Ze’ev Elkin, multi-millionaire optometrist and real estate developer Laurent Levy, who has bought up a huge number of properties in Jerusalem and the Galilee, Rabbi Berel Lazar, chief rabbi of Russia and chairman of the Federation of Jewish communities in Russia, Guatemalan Ambassador Mario Bucaro, British businessman Lord Michael Ashcroft, who is ranked among the 15 richest people in Britain and is a former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, several Christian clergy, and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, who received practically no applause when his name was announced. Apparently, he’s an unknown factor to the Canadians. The standing ovations for Netanyahu and Harper were deafening.
On Wednesday, many of the dinner guests were transported to the Hula Valley for the inauguration after 10 years of planning and construction of the Stephen J. Harper Visitors Center and Bird Sanctuary that includes a 220-seat auditorium.
The Hula Valley is home to millions of migratory birds. Atar remarked that it was not only a prime destination for birds, but also for tourists. He forecast that the center would boost the economy of the Northern Galilee.
Harper drew a parallel between the center and the State of Israel, saying that the area is one of the greatest restoration stories, just like Israel is to the Jewish people. He regarded it as a great honor to have his name attached to the center.
■ IT’S NOT every day that a close relative of a former British prime minister enrolls in an Israeli education facility. At IDC Herzliya, they have not one, but two members of the family of Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who served as prime minister from 1963-64. Tallula Douglas-Home, the grandniece of Sir Alec, joined her older brother Louis at IDC’s Raphael Recanati International School. The two have no previous connection with Israel.
Their father, Sholto Douglas-Home, who accompanied his daughter to help her settle in Israel, told members of the IDC administration: “Louis had friends coming to IDC, so that played a part in his decision, as otherwise, I am not sure he would have known much about the uni (British and Australian abbreviation for university)! But he was very much of the view that studying as an undergraduate outside of the UK would be a huge benefit to his CV, and he has always had an appetite for travel. We did look at unis in NYC and in Milan, but IDC was his first choice.” Sholto Douglas-Home’s mother is married to MP Michael Howard, who served as leader of the Conservative Party and of the opposition in the British parliament.
Louis is now a third-year student at the Arison School of Business and Tallula is starting her first year at the Sammy Ofer School of Communications.
ESRA, THE English Speaking Residents Association is celebrating the bar mitzvah year of its flagship project, Students Build a Community, by initiating its fifth SBC project, this time in Acre, where eight university students are mentoring 32 children from local schools.
ESRA enables university students to live rent-free in depressed areas in exchange for mentoring the neighborhood’s third- to sixth-grade youngsters. One of the key areas for this project to date is Hephzibah district in Netanya. A major success factor is that the students live “on the job,” are graduates of ESRA’s after-school learning projects and are available beyond mentoring hours. Up until now, Hephzibah consists of almost 100% Israeli-Ethiopians. Together with local community centers, ESRA has made a positive difference in the lives of the youngsters, the students and the adult population.
ESRA project chair Nina Zuck says that SBC was initiated in 2006 in Hephzibah, where youngsters were running riot in the streets. Since ESRA entered the scene, not only have the youngsters benefited from being mentored by carefully selected students, but so too has the entire community.
The Acre project is run in conjunction with the local Young Adult Center (YAC). Here young people between the ages of 20 and 30 have the opportunity to explore ways of continuing their lives; whether to study, seek employment or find other areas of activity. The current students operating in Acre all came via the YAC.
As Jewish and Arab schooling in Acre remains separate, ESRA hopes to next year inaugurate an SBC project with the Israeli-Arab population.
■ THE EMBASSY of Mexico will next Wednesday, November 13, in conjunction with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Department of Spanish and Latin American Studies and the Bloomfield Library for the Humanities and Social Sciences unveil a commemorative exhibition of works by visual artist Neil Katz in celebration of 100 years of the Jewish presence in Mexico. Jews have actually been living in Mexico much longer than a hundred years. The first Jews who came after the expulsion from Spain were crypto-Jews who had been forced to convert to Catholicism, but maintained their Jewish traditions in secret. A small number of people who were openly Jewish came to Mexico in the early 19th century, but in the latter half of the 19th century, there was a significant wave of Jewish immigration. Today, there are more than 40,000 Jews in Mexico living a vibrant, Jewish lifestyle.
■ WHILE SOME international airline companies are cutting down on food supplies, and are not including them in the cost of the fare, El Al Israel’s national carrier is going in the opposite direction, and intends to double its annual output of food servings. This week, Eli Dapas, chairman of El Al’s board of directors, company CEO Gonen Ussishkin, Tamam chairman of the board Nimrod Borowitz, Tamam CEO Amir Shotzman, and Airports Authority director-general Yaakov Ganot among others, attended the cornerstone ceremony for the new Tamam production plant, which will replace the current premises that were established more than half a century ago. Construction of the new plant is scheduled for completion at the end of 2021. Once it becomes operational, it will double Tamam’s output from 3.5 million meals per year to 7 million. Tamam is an El Al subsidiary, which in August celebrated its 70th anniversary.
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