Christian communicators come to call

The Ministry of Tourism is increasingly courting Christian tourists, especially those from Latin America."

Japanese calligrapher Tousen Usuda 311 (photo credit: (Courtesy, Faith Baginsky))
Japanese calligrapher Tousen Usuda 311
(photo credit: (Courtesy, Faith Baginsky))
THE MINISTRY of Tourism is increasingly courting Christian tourists, especially those from Latin America. Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov met with the leaders of the Iberoamerican Confraternity of Christian Communicators (COICOM), who were in Israel as part of a seven-day tour hosted by the ministry. Among the participating leaders of the organization were its president, Arnoland John Ems, as well as radio, television and internet broadcasters from the United States, Canada, Costa Rica, Columbia and Guatemala. These included Jeter Stanley, a senior producer from the popular Evangelical channel in the United States, CBN News, and pastor Mynor Vargas, who has a radio show broadcasted on 922 channels across 23 different countries.
Over the course of their trip, the group visited sites of special interest to members of the Christian faith, including Old Jaffa, Caesarea, Yardenit, the Galilee, Nazareth, the Dead Sea and Jerusalem. The journalists who are members of COICOM broadcast from more than 3,000 Evangelical radio stations and 1,500 television stations and write for more than 1,000 newspapers worldwide. The Christian community is an essential component of incoming tourism to Israel, accounting for some 70 percent of visitors to the country.
■ THE EXODUS of members of the diplomatic community who are going home for Christmas has already begun, though some ambassadors and lower-rank diplomats prefer to stay in Israel. Among these is Croatian Ambassador Marica Matkovic, who instead of going home has invited friends to come to Israel and to spend Christmas in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. When they asked her about the weather, her reply was that it’s an unseasonably cold 20 degrees.
■ THERE WAS a taste of home for Hideko Sato, the wife of Japanese ambassador-designate Hideo Sato when, together with Cultural Attaché Tomoaki Shimane, she visited a Japanese calligraphy workshop at Bar Ilan University. Hosted by Bar-Ilan’s South and Southeast Asia Program and led by Master Tousen Usuda, a Japanese calligrapher and Kokuji artisan and winner of the 2011 Ambassador of Japan Award, the workshop was the second of its kind at Bar Ilan, which hopes to make it an annual tradition.
“Compared to Japanese students, who receive this type of art education from a young age, I understand that Israeli students are not as exposed to these crafts,” Usuda said. ”It is difficult to transmit thousands of years of the history of calligraphy in just three or four days, but I could really see how much the participants enjoyed the process and derived satisfaction from their finished products. My main purpose is to build friendships with people from all over the world, and I believe this act is the way to achieve peace throughout the world,” he added. Shimane said he was proud to see the fruit of such exchanges, which bring people of different cultures together.
Miho Kataoka, a Japanese-language teacher who initiated the workshop, showed the visitors a magnificent carving of Usuda’s that featured the word “light” in both Hebrew and in Japanese.
■ NOT EVERYONE believes that Internet publications will make newspapers obsolete. A new freebie launched in Jerusalem last month is the bilingual The Jerusalem Observer, which has all its content in both English and Hebrew on the same page and thus serves families in which the parents may be more comfortable with English and the children more comfortable with Hebrew or where one spouse is a native English-speaker and the other a native Hebrew-speaker.
The layout is a little old-fashioned but there is a good variety of articles considering space limitations. The Observer is published by Adam Nesenoff and Dr. David Nesenoff, who also serves as editor-in-chief. Familiar bylines include Dvora Waysman and Zev Golan. And for such a young publication there is an enviable crop of advertising. At the Mahane Yehuda market on Fridays, newsboys reminiscent of a past era vie with vendors who are shouting out their wares to they make the public aware of yet another news outlet.
■ ONE IS never too old to start something new. At age 101, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, widely regarded as the most authoritative interpreter of halacha, has taken on a spokesman. From now on Shlomo Kook, a journalist and former student of Elyashiv’s, will deal with any media queries to the learned rabbi. It has nothing to do with Elyashiv, the undisputed leader of the global Lithuanian haredi community, wanting to improve his image. It’s simply that he is so totally immersed in Torah study that he has no time to deal with such mundane things as answering the questions of the media – although given what is happening in Jerusalem right now, there are a lot of halachic questions that the media might want to ask.
■ THERE ARE many great teachers, but they don't always know to what extent they have influenced their students. Unfortunately, the late American-born dean of the Mir Yeshiva, Rabbi Nosson Zvi Finkel, who passed away in early November, will never know the extent to which he influenced a student from Los Angles by the name of Dr. Shai Stern. According the haredi publication Hashavua (This Week in Jerusalem), Stern telephoned Finkel’s son, Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, who succeeded his father as dean, and told him that he wants to donate $5 million to the yeshiva. When the rabbi asked him what had prompted such a generous contribution, Stern replied that it was in memory of a conversation that he had with Reb Nosson in the days when Stern was a student at the Mir.
Reb Nosson suffered severely from Parkinson's disease, but refused to allow his illness to prevent him from lecturing, from communicating with his students or from collecting funds for the yeshiva. When Stern, as a teenager, had asked him why he strained himself so much in his condition and why he couldn’t send an emissary to collect funds for the yeshiva, Reb Nosson had replied: “The Torah takes precedence over everything. I had the privilege of studying Torah, which gave me an advantage over those who were not privileged to do so. Now it is my privilege to give those who did not learn the opportunity to at least strengthen Torah studies through their donations.”
Stern, who did not complete his own studies at the Mir, recalled that conversation after Reb Nosson’s passing and it kept turning around in his head until he came to the conclusion that the best way to honor Reb Nosson’s memory was to contribute to the strengthening of Torah study, as though the rabbi himself had asked him to do so.
■ IT’S INTERESTING to contemplate whether former president Moshe Katsav has yet come face to face with prisoners whom he refused to pardon when he was in a more exalted position. “When I was president, I received 10,000 pardon requests,” Katsav told New York Times correspondent Ethan Bronner on the eve of his imprisonment. “They all claimed they had been the victims of injustice. I am so sorry that I immediately rejected those claims. Now I believe that some of them were innocent.”
Although it had been publicized that Katsav would receive no special favors, one was in fact made. Members of his family did not have to wait two weeks to visit him, but were permitted to visit as early as last Friday, only two days after he entered prison. However he never got to see them because he refused to wear the prison uniform. Fellow cell-mate and former minister Shlomo Benizri, who was permitted to go to the circumcision ceremony of his grandson a couple of weeks ago, made it his business at that time to meet with Katsav and to tell him what was in store for him. Benizri seems to have weathered the storm quite well and has been out a couple of times. Several other public figures seem to have become stronger within themselves during their time behind bars, and perhaps Katsav eventually will as well. But for the time being, the humiliation is still too much for him.
■ NOT EVERYONE is aware that opposition leader Tzipi Livni releases her tensions by playing the drums. Livni has been a keen drummer for years, and even took lessons. Last week when Livni visited Shalva, the Association for Mentally and Physically Challenged Children in Israel, which is headquartered in Jerusalem, she was greeted by 150 children and volunteers who regularly attend the after school activity program. After touring the center and observing several group sessions, Livni was escorted to the music hall where she was enthusiastically greeted by the talented Shalva band. The band expected to play for her and was pleasantly surprised when she got up on stage and began joined them. She's quite an accomplished drummer, though some people in her party now think she’s marching to the beat of a different drum.
■ WELL-KNOWN SINGER Neshama Carlebach recently celebrated the release of her eighth CD, “Every Little Soul Must Shine,” a lullaby CD commissioned by Harold Greenspoon’s PJ Library, an organization that sends out Jewish books and CDs to strengthen Judaism in the home. Carlebach discovered something truly special in the collaborative experience. It was different to any project she had ever worked before, and she found it gave her the opportunity to sing softly to her two little boys, to which she dedicated the CD, and lull them to sleep.
■ CELEBRATED INDIAN restaurateur Reena Pushkarna, who is credited with having brought the taste of India to Israel, has now taken the taste of Israel to Singapore. Although she has had relatives in Singapore for several years now, Pushkarna started commuting between Israel and Singapore only after the marriage of her daughter Sarina to Singapore businessman Raju Sundarson.
After the young couple made Pushkarna and her husband Vinod the grandparents of twins, the two had even more reasons to commute.
Now, there's another. Their son, Kunal Pushkarna, who has worked alongside his parents in their various restaurants, has opened a Mediterranean eatery in Singapore that trades under the name of Pita Pan. Naturally, Reena Pushkarna was on hand to help him get organized, and with her experience in charming people, was also able to do some PR for him has well.
Sarina actually works in PR and is the assistant manager for global media at the Marina Bay Sands hotel and resort complex that belongs to Sheldon Adelson. Pita Pan is located just in front of the ArtScience Museum. Kunal strongly believes that Singapore is fast becoming the New York of Asia and is stepping in on the ground floor. Singaporeans love to eat out, and tourists do so naturally, so Kunal Pushkarna is convinced that he’s in the right place at the right time.
■ EACH MONTH, Yigal Sela, the Australian Zionist Federation’s representative in Israel, distributes an e-mail list of recent arrivals from down under. Among these new immigrants is Jarrad Walters, 27, whose initial introduction to Israel was via Taglit- Birthright in January 2010.
One of the Israeli volunteer leaders of the program was a law student by the name of Michal Kedar. Cupid happened to be hovering and, in the wealth of coincidences that often lead to romance, Walters and Kedar discovered that they shared a birthday.
Each had been born on November 26, 1984 – he in Melbourne, she in Jerusalem.
Although there was an attraction, the romance was not immediate because Walters had a girlfriend in Australia.
But that relationship was not destined to last and only after he broke up with his Australian girlfriend did Walters allow himself to focus on Kedar.
He visited her in Israel, she visited him in Australia and, after dating in both countries, he finally proposed to her last August while they were picnicking in Jaffa, at the very site where they had first met.
He popped the question in Hollywood tradition, getting down on one knee and producing a box with a sparkling diamond. And still in accordance with Hollywood tradition, she accepted. They plan to get married next year and will have two weddings – one in Australia so that all his family can attend and one in Israel where they intend to make their future home.
Taglit, at least in this instance, is not only fostering Jewish identity, but preserving it.
Walters readily admits that Kedar is the first Jewish girl that he dated in years. Had he not come to Israel via Taglit, he may well have married the girl with whom he broke up.
Walters is one of 200 Australians who have made aliya in the past year.One thing is certain. Once he does get married, he's never going to forget his wife’s birthday.