THE FASHION Design Department at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design has always prided itself on being the alma mater of internationally acclaimed fashion designer Alber Elbaz, who for the past five years has been the creative director for the prestigious French fashion house of Lanvin. The genial Elbaz, who comes home to Israel to visit his mother, makes a point of dropping in to Shenkar to hobnob with old friends, teachers and colleagues and to look at the work of students who are aching to follow in his footsteps. Remarkably unspoiled by success and unpretentious despite the global influence that he wields and the parade of internationally known personalities who wear his creations, Elbaz has a cuddly bear personality and a friendly outgoing manner. As the most celebrated of all of Shenkar's graduates, the honors accorded to Elbaz reflect on his place of education. And now, there's another honor in the offing. On January 25, Elbaz is to receive the French Legion of Honor from France's Minister of Culture Renaud Donnedieu. The ceremony at the Ministry of Culture in the heart of the gilded Palais Royal will be somewhat of a squeeze for Elbaz, coming between the showings of the French haute couture and men's ready-to-wear collections. But this is one inconvenience that he'll happily accept.
APROPOS SHENKAR, some of the students will be meeting Lars Engman, the principle designer for IKEA worldwide, when he visits the college Thursday to address them. Engman heads the HDK School of Design and Crafts at Goteberg University in Sweden. IKEA Israel owner Matthew Bronfman is building a second IKEA store in Rishon Lezion, where there will doubtless be employment for Shenkar design graduates. Bronfman, who also chairs the Budget and Finance Commission of the World Jewish Congress, is tipped to succeed his billionaire father Edgar Bronfman as WJC president.
SOME OLD-fashioned ideas remain constant. Even in a high-tech era, many young women dream of a knight in shining armor who, riding a white horse, will come and sweep them off their feet. For Jerusalemite Natalie Siboni, that dream became a reality in the most unlikely of places - Eilat. Siboni, her boyfriend and several other friends went to Eilat for a little warmth and sunshine. In the course of a jeep tour they stopped at Kibbutz Yotvata, where Siboni's boyfriend disappeared. She was a little concerned, but the others in the group allayed her fears by telling her that he had gone to pick dates. In fact that was not what he was doing. He had mounted a white horse after changing into a suit of armor, and was preparing for the knightly act. Siboni was brought to the kibbutz observation point, and before she could collect her thoughts, her knight dismounted and on bended knee produced a small box with a diamond ring and asked her to be his bride. After such a romantic proposal, Siboni could only say "yes." The prospective groom is Radio Jerusalem broadcaster Ro'i Zaken, 26, who happens to be the son of Shula Zaken, the prime minister's bureau chief, who was able to rejoice with the young couple before she got into her current spot of bother with the police over the Israel Tax Authority scandal.
HE'S HAD both hips replaced, he's going to celebrate his 90th birthday on January 20, and he still continues to play a winning game of tennis. His name is Kalman Plenn, better known to his family and friends as Kallie. "The guy is a phenomenon," says his regular partner, Prof. Lenny Blieden, a specialist in children's heart diseases, who was formerly the head of Machon Halev and now works in the Department of Cardiology at Beilinson Hospital. Blieden, like Plenn, hails from South Africa where Plenn was a top tennis player, selected to play in two Maccabiahs in Israel. He settled in Israel 20 years ago, and has continued to play with people who are several years his junior.
"Some of the shots he hits are amazing," says Blieden, who admits that as a heart specialist he's sometimes a little worried by the energy that Plenn puts into the game. They used to play every Friday at the Ramat Hasharon Tennis Center, but after Plenn sold his car, it was more convenient for him to play at the Ra'anana Tennis Center.
Blieden, though usually on the losing end of the game, feels no resentment. On the contrary, he is full of admiration for Plenn's ability and determination to win. "You'd think at his age he'd just be happy to hit the ball, but he runs around the court like a man half his age." Blieden attributes Plenn's physical fitness to the fact that he never stopped exercising.
Plenn was one of the thousand spectators at the recent Israel Tennis Championships that were held in Ra'anana in which Shahar Pe'er and Dudi Sela emerged triumphant. But they weren't the only ones photographed with trophies. In recognition of Plenn's exceptional performance on the courts, the RTC management decided that he too was worthy of a trophy. One of the first people to congratulate him was his wife Sarah. Incidentally, Blieden is the nephew of prolific writer Shmuel Katz, 92, who continues to contribute to The Jerusalem Post. Just as he is in awe of Plenn's physical prowess, Blieden is equally in awe of his uncle's mental faculties, his vast range of knowledge and his gift for instant recall.
IT'S NOT only the South Africans who have great genes. The American nonagenarians are also doing well. Case in point is New York art collector and photographer Stanley Batkin, 92, who together with his wife Donna visits Israel at least twice a year. The couple owns an apartment in the Jerusalem Sheraton Plaza hotel, and on each of their visits they host large dinners for their many friends in one of the hotel dining rooms. In the past they held two or three dinners, because there simply wasn't room for everyone on their list. But over the last year or two, the numbers have thinned out, and this year there was only one dinner, at which one of the guests, a fellow American who's been in Israel for a very long time, could claim to be just a wee bit older than the host. The ever-elegant Esther Rubin, who loves a party and is quite used to traveling from her home in Caesarea to Herzliya Pituah, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and beyond, was there as she has been every year. Rubin came to Israel from her native New York before the creation of the state. Batkin, who last year fell down a flight of stairs, appears to have made a full recovery. Straight-backed and amiable as always, he drifted among his guests, paying compliments along the way. When someone commented to his superbly coutured and charming wife about how incredibly fit he looked for a man of his age, the response was: "Yes, and he's got all his own teeth too."
Batkin is honorary president of the American Friends of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, where last year he held an exhibition of his own photographs of well known Israeli artists. He supports not only the visual arts in Israel but also the performing arts, and brings students from the Jerusalem Music Academy to perform for his guests, who on this occasion included art historian and Israel Prize laureate Prof. Bezalel Narkiss, who last month celebrated his 80th birthday. Narkiss, the founder of the Hebrew University's Center for Jewish Art and its director for more than a decade, is the son of Mordechai Narkiss, who was the right-hand man of Boris Shatz, the founder of the Bezalel Academy, which celebrated its centenary almost in tandem with Bezalel Narkiss's 80th birthday. Mordechai Narkiss was the founder and director of the Bezalel Museum, whose collection subsequently served as the foundation for the Israel Museum. Batkin told his guests that Bezalel Narkiss owed his name to Schatz, who had asked all his staff to name their children Bezalel after the Biblical Bezalel who designed and crafted the tabernacle in the desert. Batkin was probably unaware that another of his distinguished guests is also due to celebrate his 80th birthday. Retired Supreme Court Judge Gabriel Bach, whose family was literally kicked out of Germany by the Nazis before the start of the Second World War, will celebrate his 80th birthday in March. Bach, who was assistant prosecutor during the Adolf Eichmann trial, continues to receive invitations from around the world to come and discuss the implications of the trial.
ALSO CONTEMPLATING his 80th birthday is Jerusalem's most celebrated barber, Marcel Saluk, who for well over half a century has cut and styled the hair of presidents, prime ministers, cabinet ministers, legislators, mayors, judges, top businessmen and entertainers in his Ben Yehuda Street salon. One of his most long-standing clients was former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, who passed away last week at the age of 95. The ever-immaculate Saluk has witnessed the development of the city from his unique vantage point, and with his beautifully groomed head of white hair, is as good a walking advertisement for his business as anyone would want.
HIS MOTHER frequently attends functions of the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association. His father was one of IBCA's early chairmen, so when Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog was asked by current IBCA chairperson Brenda Katten to address the organization's opening luncheon for 2007, he could hardly refuse. Many of the IBCA regulars have known Herzog since he was a boy, and will no doubt be sharing recollections about him tomorrow at the David Intercontinental Hotel, Tel Aviv, which is where IBCA's luncheons are traditionally held.
WHEN ONE thinks of Martin Luther King Jr., what automatically comes to mind is the American struggle for civil rights and the famous piece of oratory which begins "I have a dream...." One doesn't necessarily think of King in relation to Israel. But in fact King himself related to Israel when in 1967 he said: "How easy it should be to understand and support the right of the Jewish people to live in their ancient Land of Israel. All men of good will exult in the fulfillment of God's promise that His people should return in joy to rebuild their plundered land. This is Zionism, nothing more, nothing less."
King, who at 35 was the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, will have his name linked in perpetuity with Israel, with the launch this coming Monday, January 15 of the Martin Luther King Jr. Award in Israel. Had he lived, the date would have marked his 78th birthday. Unfortunately, the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was assassinated three months after his 39th birthday, a factor that strengthened rather than weakened the civil rights movement to which he had given the money that came with the Nobel Prize. The Martin Luther King Jr. Award in Israel is a joint endeavor of The Fellowship of Israel and Black Americans and the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus. The launch in the Knesset lecture hall will be co-hosted by Pastor Glenn Plummer chairman and CEO of FIBA, and MK Rabbi Benny Elon, who is KCAC interim chairman in the absence of MK Yuri Shtern, who is undergoing treatment for cancer. Shtern founded the KCAC in 2004.
POLITICS MAKES for strange bedfellows. There was certainly no love lost between Ehud Barak and Avraham Burg during the period in which the former was prime minister and the latter was the Speaker of the Knesset. Burg, who had done extremely well in the Labor primaries, was passed over by Barak when he was naming ministers to his cabinet. A stung Burg made some rather uncouth remarks about Barak and later became one of the most strident voices of dissent in the Labor camp, accusing Barak of being dictatorial. But all that is past history, and has been forgiven if not forgotten. Burg recently came out in support of Barak, and in a quid pro quo, Barak this week placed a condolence notice in the Hebrew media in which he empathized with "Dear Avraham and family" on the passing of Burg's mother, Rivka Burg. Born Rivka Slonim, she was one of the last survivors of the 1929 massacre in Hebron. Her family was also related to that of Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Rivka Burg last year appeared in a documentary by British film-maker Hugh Kitson, "The Forsaken Promise." In the film, she spoke of the good relations that had existed between Arabs and Jews prior to the riots. The eighth generation of her family to be born in Eretz Israel, Rivka Burg was married to Dr. Josef Burg, a leader of the Mizrahi Movement and the National Religious Party, a member of the first Knesset and from 1951-1986, a minister in a succession of governments. Burg, who was also chairman of the Yad Vashem International Council, died in 1999 at the age of 90. The Burgs' son-in-law, Kadima MK Prof. Menahem Ben Sasson, is chairman of the Knesset Law Committee. Although Avraham Burg could be quite rude in political circles, he always addressed his parents with respect. In recent years, if his mother was in the audience when he was making a speech, he referred to her with reverence before mentioning the dignitaries present. It's apparently a family trait. His cousin Ori Slonim, a Tel Aviv lawyer who has negotiated the release of prisoners-of-war and acted on behalf of families of soldiers missing in action, did the same with regard to his mother.
WITH GROWING anti-Semitism in England, it is more than heartening when a British newspaper mounts a campaign on behalf of a pair of Jewish orphans. As a result of the intervention of the Birmingham Mail, Kyrgyzstan twins Karina and Kamila Kaya, 18, who were set to be deported, have been given a reprieve, and will hopefully be sent to Israel instead of back to Kyrgyzstan. The twins fled to England three years ago after their parents were murdered. They went to Birmingham where they were adopted by the Birmingham Jewish community, which has provided for all their living expenses. The twins, who both aspire to become doctors, are students at Bournville College. Seeking to legalize their status, they were detained on December 22 while visiting an immigration office and sent to the Home Office detention center in Bedford while awaiting deportation. The concerted endeavors of the Birmingham Mail, Jewish community leaders, in particular Rabbi Dr. Margaret Jacobi of Birmingham's Progressive Synagogue of which the twins are members, Israeli diplomats and Jewish Agency officials won a temporary reprieve for the girls who are now back in Birmingham after spending more than a week at the detention center.
According to Jewish Agency spokesman Michael Jankelowitz, they cannot come on aliya until such time as it has been positively established that they are Jewish, and thus eligible. Jewish Agency officials in England and Kyrgyzstan are trying to obtain their birth certificates which will enable Meira Katz, the Jewish Agency aliya emissary in London to begin processing the case. For some strange reason, the twins do not qualify for asylum in England, and if they don't come to Israel, they may have difficulty in remaining in England. Meanwhile, their cause was taken up by the London Jewish Chronicle which last Friday ran an extensive front page story. Given the nature of the case, Jankelowitz was reasonably confident that they will come to Israel, and estimated that the processing would take around seven or eight weeks, which would bring them here in time for Pessah, the festival of freedom, which for Karina and Kamila Kaya would be a very symbolic time to start a new life.
JEWISH LIFE is developing at a rapid pace in the Former Soviet Union from which the twins fled. A new Jewish educational center opened last week in St Petersburg, Russia's second largest city. Run by Chabad, one of the most prominent Jewish revival movements in Russia, the center - which includes a kindergarten, Jewish day school, community center and a prayer hall - has been financed by the Edmond Safra Foundation and the Ohr Avner Foundation. The latter foundation was established by Israeli business tycoon Lev Leviev in memory of his father. Through the foundation, Leviev has contributed tens of millions of dollars towards the establishment of synagogues, schools and other Jewish facilities in all the 15 independent countries of the former Soviet Union. Leviev, who is affiliated with Chabad, is president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and in addition to his Jewish community interests, has business investments throughout the CIS and is on tete-a-tete terms with the leaders of those countries. A living legend as a result of his business and Jewish community achievements around the globe, Leviev reportedly had an audience with the late Lubavitcher Rebbe around the time of the fall of Communism. The Rebbe is said to have told him that he would do well financially if he invested in the FSU, but only if he used the profits to benefit the Jewish communities. If the story is indeed true, Leviev did well by heeding the Rebbe's words, just as Australian businessman Joseph Gutnick did well when the Rebbe advised him to dig for gold and to use the profits for the enhancement of Judaism. Although Gutnick has given generously to religious and educational projects throughout Israel, Australia, the US and the CIS, he has fallen down on his luck and a couple of years back was removed from Business Review Weekly's list of Australia's richest people. Gutnick, who is famous in Israel for having bankrolled Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu and initiating the campaign slogan that "Bibi is good for the Jews," is not exactly poor, but he's not nearly as rich as he used to be.
ALTHOUGH IT'S not written into the book of rules, one of the duties of an Israeli mayor is to affix mezuzot, or at least to help the mezuza to remain in place, by being one of those who hits the nail on the head. That's what Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski will be doing tomorrow - but he won't be doing it in Jerusalem, nor will he being doing it in Haifa, where he grew up. He'll be doing it in New York, in the new Penn Plaza offices of Israeli law firm Shiboleth-Heiman (Shiboleth, Yisraeli, Roberts & Zisman). Lupolianski will also light a candle in memory of Teddy Kollek. Israeli Consul-General Arye Mekel is expected to attend, along with clients and friends of the firm's attorneys, most of whom have Hebrew sounding names. Amnon Shiboleth, the senior partner of the firm, is a graduate of the Hebrew University, and after commencing his legal career in 1968 at Solomon Lipshutz, which was then the largest law firm in Israel, he set up a law firm in Tel Aviv in 1973 with Richard Roberts. The firm continues to operate in Israel and recently moved to new premises in Tel Aviv's prestigious Museum Tower. The event was marked by a huge reception at which the attendance was like a who's who in Israel. Shiboleth opened the New York office in 1976. A member of the New York State Bar Association and the Israel Bar Association, Shiboleth, who is also a gifted linguist practices law in both New York and Israel. He speaks five languages: Hebrew, Arabic, English, German and Portuguese.
WHILE JEWS were the main victims of the Holocaust, there were other victims such as the gypsies, whose suffering is poignantly described by Alexander Ramati in his book "And the Violins Stopped Playing." A prayer panel in Lovari (Roma), the language of the gypsies, will be unveiled at the Pater Noster Carmelite Monastery on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem by Dr. Istvan Hiller, the visiting Hungarian Minister for Education and Culture in tribute to the many Christian Roma victims of the Holocaust. The panel will be unveiled this coming Saturday, January 13 in the presence of His Beatitude Michael Sabah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. There are still several million Catholic gypsies or Roma as they prefer to be called, in different parts of Europe. The prayer panel at the Carmelite Monastery will serve them as a place of pilgrimage.