Grapevine: Up from down under

"The Kotel, like every place in Israel, should have enough room for all the prayers of the Jewish people.”

Eli Beer at the 2017 JPost Annual Conference (photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
Eli Beer at the 2017 JPost Annual Conference
(photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
Prominent Australian businessman Solomon Lew, who has long been friendly with former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, hosted a dinner in his honor on the evening prior to Abbott receiving an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University.
Abbott, who was on his third trip to Israel, brought his wife, Margie, for whom this was her first visit, and she loved every minute of it.
Sharing the large, square table arrangement at Chloélys at the Tel Aviv Hilton with Lew, his fiancée, Rosa Prappas, and the Abbotts were a mix of visiting Australians, Australian expats, Israelis by birth and Israelis by choice. Among them were former Israel ambassador to Australia and current Foreign Ministry director-general Yuval Rotem; Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma and his wife, Rachel Lord, who are returning home in mid-June; Ambassador-designate to Australia Mark Sofer, who will take up his post in November; Jerusalem Post columnist Isi Leibler, whose many past and present titles include former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, and his wife, Naomi, a former world president of Emunah; Ido Nehushtan, former commander of the Israel Air Force and currently chairman of the Israel, Australia, New Zealand and Oceania Chamber of Commerce; Paul Israel, executive director of the chamber; Frank Lowy, one of Australia’s wealthiest citizens and chairman of the board of the Institute for National Security Studies at TAU; Yigal Sela, Israel representative of the Zionist Federation of Australia; and Dr. Eran Lerman of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies and a former deputy for foreign policy and international affairs at the National Security Council.
Lew said it was a joyous occasion for him to be able to host Abbott on the eve of his being honored by TAU. Lew noted that Abbott, who is still a member of Parliament, speaks out for Israel whenever necessary.
Abbott, for his part, said he is thrilled to receive a doctorate from TAU, and pledged that he would continue to stand up for Israel. He said that the loss of Leibler’s leadership is felt in Australia, but is glad that some members of the Leibler family are still there.
To Rotem, who served in Australia for seven years and was highly regarded, Abbott suggested: “You might want to do reverse aliya.” It is easy to be a friend of Israel, said Abbott, because there is so much about Israel that is similar to Australia.
His closing line was: “If there is one practical thing we can do for each other, it’s to try to ensure that there will be direct flights between Australia and Israel.”
Afterward, Abbott went around the table, chatting to each guest.
When the Post reporter asked him whether he would move the Australian Embassy to Jerusalem if he were still prime minister, his answer was: “We’d say to the Americans ‘If you want to move, we’ll move with you to give you cover.’” It should be remembered, considering that this year is also the 70th anniversary of the United Nations resolution for the partition of Palestine, that Australia led the yes votes.
■ AMONG THE places that many visitors to the capital explore is the Bible Lands Museum, which this week celebrated its 25th anniversary, the day after the Gregorian calendar anniversary of Independence Day.
There is definitely a link between the two. The museum was founded by Batya Borowski and her late husband, Elie, whose vision it was to show the impact of the region on civilization; and one of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence was Batya’s great uncle Sa’adia Kobashi, who at the time was a member of the Provisional Council of State and leader of the Yemenite Jewish community in Israel. Soon after independence, he was appointed supervisor of the Religious Zionist education system.
The Bible Lands Museum is a family affair, with Batya’s daughter Amanda Weiss as its longtime director.
Visitors to the museum learn that common cultural traditions in different faiths and races around the world can be traced to the Bible lands, where they originated. Some visitors will not be happy to learn that contrary to misguided teachings, the Children of Israel, when they were slaves in Egypt, were not the builders of the pyramids.
Among those who came to offer congratulations were ardent museum supporters Ronit and David Zwebner, legal expert Prof. Shimon Shetreet, executive member of the World Zionist Organization Debbie Ben-Ami, who is planning to establish a museum of the history of Zionism; and sculptress Debra Silver, who is a second-generation supporter of the Bible Lands Museum and a founding board member of Save a Child’s Heart.
■ THE GALA opening of the Connections conference was hosted this week by the World Union for Progressive Judaism at the Olmaya Hall on Jerusalem’s Haas Promenade.
Centered around the theme “Milestones & Innovations,” in celebration of the WUPJ’s 90th anniversary, the four-day biennial event attracted more than 450 lay leaders, rabbis, students and congregants from Progressive, Reform and Liberal communities from 30 countries, who were present at Olmaya to join in celebrating a milestone for the members of WUPJ’s international community.
The evening concluded with the presentation of a 500-year-old Torah scroll by Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf in Southern California to the leadership of Kehillat Sheket, the only deaf congregation in the city of Minsk, Belarus. The Torah scroll, a European treasure that survived the Holocaust and has resided in California for several decades, is a true symbol of connections between Jews across seas and generations. Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, to whom the Torah’s old-new home was particularly meaningful, joined the presentation to help complete the circle and send the Torah back to its birthplace.
“The World Union for Progressive Judaism represents Progressive Jews in over 40 countries, 30 of which are represented here in Jerusalem this evening,” said WUPJ president Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander. “The study of Torah is central to all our congregations, and the acquisition of a Torah scroll is a time for great celebration. How much more significant is this moment when we physically demonstrate Jewish continuity by returning this scroll to a part of the Jewish world where it was originally written to be used and once again will be cherished by an active congregation. No one group of Jews owns Torah. We must remain vigilant in this endeavor and continue to drive home the centrality of Torah, especially in light of the large numbers of young Jews who are disengaging rapidly.
“The presence of almost 100 young adults under the age of 30 at this conference demonstrates our commitment to shape the future of our movement and of Judaism itself with Jews of all ages, levels of ability and religious origin. We recognize the role that the next generation must play in order to keep Judaism vibrant and relevant.”
Sharansky passionately declared that Jerusalem is the home base for all Jews. “Jerusalem unites all of us, but it also obligates all of us. It’s not enough that we say that Jews of the world are welcome here. Every Jew must feel welcome here with his or her community, with his or her spiritual leaders, with his or her style of prayer. The Kotel, like every place in Israel, should have enough room for all the prayers of the Jewish people.”
Sharansky also urged the crowd to develop a deep relationship with Israel. “I always say that if Progressive Judaism wants to be strong, it must be strong in Israel.”
■ HANGAR 11 at Tel Aviv Port has been the scene of numerous mega events, but never before something to equal the dedication of 180 brandnew United Hatzalah megacycles.
The number in itself is symbolic in relation to the lifesaving work of the organization. In gematria, Hebrew “hai” (life) equals 18; 180, therefore, is 10 times “life.”
Speakers at the event, on Friday, May 26, will be Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and US Ambassador David Friedman, who happens to be a personal friend of United Hatzalah founder Eli Beer. In fact, Beer was among the guests this week at the King David Hotel for the vin d’honneur, the reception traditionally hosted by new ambassadors in order to meet their colleagues from other embassies. Other guests included former MK Yaakov Katz (Katzele), who lives in Beit El, as well as other friends of Friedman from across the Green Line.
■ CO-CEOs OF Castro Etty and Gabi Rotter will be the recipients on Friday of the prestigious Hugo Ramniceanu Prize in Economics for 2017. The prize is awarded annually at the meeting of the International Board of Governors of Tel Aviv University. Keynote speaker at the ceremony in the Raya and Josef Jaglom Auditorium of the George S. Wise Senate Building will be Jean-Claude Trichet, former president of the European Central Bank, former governor of the Bank of France, and honorary chairman of the French Friends of Tel Aviv University.
■ OVER THE coming week, all roads will lead to Jerusalem, with groups large and small flocking in for the 50th anniversary celebrations of the reunification of the capital. Anyone with roots in Chicago is invited to the big Chicago reunion taking place at Kiryat Moriah in Jerusalem on Thursday, May 25, for an outdoor buffet dinner and dessert reception. Guest speaker will be Rabbi Berel Wein.
Organizers of the event are Haim Brody, Rabbi Michael Azose, Ari Engelhart, Dov Katz, Simmy Kliers, Rabbi Josef (Yogi) Rimel, Rabbi Zev Shandalov and Shanen Werber.
Judging only on the basis of those who have already signed up, the overwhelming majority of Chicago olim live in Jerusalem and surrounds, but they’re also in places like Hebron, Efrat, Ma’aleh Adumim, Beit Shemesh, Modi’in, Hashmonaim, Ra’anana and Safed. For full details, registration and payment, go to http://
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