The Grapevine: Australian brand of reconciliation

Australia is among the few countries that can claim to have a strong relationship with Israel since long before the establishment of the state.

Successful JNF Australia Campaigns in NSW and VIC (photo credit: KKL)
Successful JNF Australia Campaigns in NSW and VIC
(photo credit: KKL)
Australia is among the few countries that can claim to have a strong relationship with Israel since long before the establishment of the state. Four Australian Light Horse brigades as well as a battalion of camel troops helped the British defeat the Ottoman armies during 1916- 1971. In fact, the Australian and New Zealand Light Horse Brigades were instrumental in the winning of the Battle of Beersheba. Australian soldiers were also here and in other parts of the Middle East during World War II.
Herbert Evatt, then Australia’s foreign minister, was chairman of the UN General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine, and worked hard to have as many countries as possible vote in favor of the partition plan. Though heavily pressured by the UK and other Commonwealth countries to abstain from voting on the resolution, Australia, which has a cultural tradition of aiding the underdog, was the first country to vote in favor. Not long after the proclamation of the sovereign State of Israel, full diplomatic relations between Australia and Israel were established, on January 29, 1949.
Australia is one of a handful of countries that actually own their permanent ambassadorial residences; and there has always been Australian bipartisan support for Israel.
Two Australian prime ministers, Bob Hawke and John Howard, who are diametrically opposed on most political issues, were in harmony over their respective pro-Israel attitudes and policies. Each also visited Israel both in and out of office. Australian soldiers who fell in battle here are buried in Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries in Israel and Gaza, and are commemorated on ANZAC Day and Battle of Beersheba ceremonies, held annually in April and October by the Australian ambassador.
Current Ambassador Dave Sharma and his wife, Rachel Lord, have dove headfirst into local and international causes since their arrival in Israel less than six months ago. On December 10, they will be launching a grassroots campaign aimed at all sectors of Israeli society, regardless of social standing or religious or political affiliation. The campaign, which is in support of the current effort to reach a resolution with the Palestinians by Spring 2014, is inspired and endorsed by Australia’s ANTaR Sea of Hands, the first of which was held in October 1997 outside Parliament House in Canberra.
ANTaR stands for Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation, and was originally applied to a petition on behalf of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders by members of Australia’s non-indigenous population. It has since become a symbol for the people’s movement for reconciliation.
Hundreds of thousands of Australians have signed plastic hands in endorsement of the movement. Now, the Australian ambassador and his wife want to introduce a similar concept in Israel, in the hope that both sides will find a way to reconcile their differences with the encouragement of the local population.
■ NATIONAL AND local government leaders who lament the exodus of so many Israelis to Berlin would have been greatly enlightened by the conversation between Keren Neubach and Oded Shahar on Israel Radio.
Each was recently in Berlin, where the cost of living is much more affordable than in Israel. Supermarkets are much more luxurious and better stocked, and most basic products are half the price or less than charged for similar or identical products in Israel. Staff at checkout counters are fast, polite and efficient, never running out of change and having to leave customers waiting, as they do in Israel), while they go to exchange bank notes for bags of coins.
Judging by the conversation, Israelis will be traveling to Berlin with empty suitcases. They should remember to keep their receipts to show the people at airport customs when returning to Israel that they didn’t overspend the legal allowance.
■ IMMIGRANT WEEK opened last Thursday at Jerusalem’s Gerard Behar Center, with most of the speakers and performers demonstrating that immigrants can make a difference and rise to very high positions. The most obvious example was Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky; also present were Masha Novikov, former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, who held the city’s Immigrant Absorption portfolio; Shifra Kirschenbaum, head of the Southern District branch of the Immigrant Absorption Ministry; and Pini Glinkovitch, head of the Municipal Authority for Immigrant Absorption. Entertainment was provided by Galit Giat, Arkadi Duchin, Pablo Rosenberg and Rudy Beensin. The hall was packed to capacity, mostly with immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia and France.
■ OF THE truly veteran Israeli fashion houses with international reputations, only three remain – Castro, Gottex and Gideon Oberson, with Gottex having changed ownership, but Castro and Oberson still in the hands of their founding families. Many fashion houses that were once household names in Israel have fallen by the wayside, with no attempt by the next generation to revive them.
One of the most famous of them all was Maskit, which was founded by Ruth Dayan to preserve the arts and crafts of immigrant artisans and craftspeople, but more importantly, to provide an income for those who had come to Israel with little or no formal education, but with a wealth of tradition. Dayan encouraged them to form cottage industries that supplied the Maskit stores; some of the items were so unique they were exported abroad. Fashion-wise, Maskit was most famous for its desert coat designed by Fini Leitersdorf.
Variations of this theme appeared for many years in the label’s collections.
Maskit creations, though easily recognizable, were acquired by women who wanted to look unique. The intricate embroideries and gorgeous fabrics were something exciting to behold. Then, almost 20 years ago, Maskit closed down after four decades as a showcase for the creativity of immigrant designers and artisans. It was devastating for regulars, who could only take comfort in the fact that they had several Maskit creations in their closets.
Over the years, many people suggested to Dayan that Maskit be revived, especially following a Maskit retrospective exhibition at the Eretz Israel Museum 10 years ago, but none of them were sufficiently serious. Then along came Tel Aviv-based Sharon Tal, a Shenkar College of Engineering and Design graduate who had interned with Lanvin and Alexander McQueen. Tal’s curiosity about Maskit had been piqued while she was still a student. Shenkar’s fashion archives include original Maskit creations, and Tal was able to see and feel what everyone had been so excited about.
She went to see Dayan, who this time was encouraged not only by Tal’s talent and experience, but also by her sincere desire to revive Maskit. Tal also spoke to industrialist Stef Wertheimer, who liked the idea and agreed to invest in her business, so that she could get Maskit back into public focus.
Tal has since adapted several of the original Maskit designs to comfortably integrate into current trends. This was relatively easy because fashion, with minor changes, tends to repeat itself. But Tal’s Maskit will not be the same as Dayan’s Maskit, as circumstances and tastes have changed. Yet there will be a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean flavor to all that she creates, which may once again help to put Maskit on the world fashion map.
■ NOT EVERYONE who attended the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, which recently took place in Jerusalem, went home immediately afterwards.
Many of the participants at the GA support organizations and institutions in Israel stayed longer to visit their pet projects.
In this way, Bar-Ilan University welcomed a delegation of Jewish Federation leaders from Chicago – some of whom had just participated in the GA, and others who had just touched down at Ben-Gurion Airport. The visit to BIU began with a meeting with Prof. Malka Schaps, who recently made headlines in Israel and around the Jewish world as the first ultra-Orthodox woman in Israel to be appointed a faculty dean. A convert to Judaism who received her PhD from Harvard, Schaps is a professor of mathematics who has until now headed the financial mathematics program at the university. Now the dean of the Faculty of Exact Sciences, she has authored several novels and non-fiction works under a pen name.
Dr. Amit Dagan, of the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archeology, greeted the delegation with T-shirts showcasing BIU’s annual archeological dig at Tel es-Safi, the biblical Gath of the Philistines.
The dig has yielded extraordinary finds, he said, including a Philistine temple with a number of ritual items dating back to the Iron Age (10th century BCE). With its two central pillars, it is reminiscent of the image that is described in the well-known biblical story of Samson and the Philistines, when Samson knocks down the temple by standing between the pillars and pushing them down. Also among the findings was a ceramic shard with the earliest decipherable Philistine inscription ever discovered, containing two names similar to Goliath.
Each summer, the month-long dig headed by Prof. Aren Maeir draws approximately 150 people from all over the world, the youngest of whom has been five and the oldest 94.
Dagan also enthused about the university’s additional archeological digs, explaining why they were so fascinating.
“It’s not talking about the Bible. It’s being in someone’s house from the Bible,” he said.
“Since I’m new here, maybe you can tell me a little bit about Bar-Ilan,” quipped Rabbi Prof. Daniel Herschkowitz to his guests, while acknowledging the role he recently assumed as president of the University.

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