Grapevine: Doing good

More people become enamored from year to year, and this year, more than half a million people have signed up to work on some 8,000 projects all over the country.

Peres on the way to Eilat (photo credit: JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH)
Peres on the way to Eilat
With all the criticism that is leveled at tycoons about the tax breaks they get, the favorable terms they are granted by banks for loan repayments, plus other perks, it should not be forgotten that while some of them may be very tough cookies in business – and may even appear heartless when taking efficiency measures that include major reduction of staff loads – most of them give back big-time to scholarships, hospitals, educational facilities, art galleries, sports fields, et al.
It should be noted that with the exception of scholarships, all the projects they support help create many jobs. Some not only give of their money, but also do hands-on philanthropy in terms of personal involvement.
A case in point is Shari Arison, who in 2002 fired 900 Bank Hapoalim employees, but in 2007 introduced Good Deeds Day to Israel. It started out with some 7,000 volunteers using their skills and talents for the benefit of others, on community and individual levels. Arison’s idea was to bring people from all strata of society together to work for the common good, and to demonstrate that despite differences there’s good in everyone.
More people become enamored from year to year, and this year, more than half a million people have signed up to work on some 8,000 projects all over the country.
Following the attendant publicity that Good Deeds Day has received on numerous websites over the past seven years, Good Deeds Day has been adopted in 50 countries around the world, including the US.
In fact, Arison was in the US this week to help kick off Good Deeds Day in various American states, and will be back in Israel in time to participate in the local event on Sunday, March 9.
Arison, who does her own good deeds in different parts of the country, is this year going to Haifa and Hadera, where she will read stories to young children and afterwards dance with senior citizens to help put a smile on their faces. The day will culminate with an exciting happening in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.
■ ONE OF the perks of being a journalist is getting to rub shoulders and occasionally shake hands with dignitaries and celebrities. That may account for the fact that journalists are less excited than other members of the public when newsmakers suddenly appear in their orbit.
That’s what happened last week when The Jerusalem Post’s Health And Science Reporter, Judy Siegel, was among the passengers on Israir’s Airbus jet from Ben-Gurion Airport to Eilat. Siegel, who was traveling to the southern resort town to cover the Israel Medical Association’s Medical Society for Smoking Prevention and Cessation conference, suspected that there might be a VIP passenger when she saw the national flags near the entrance to the staircase leading to the plane. She also noticed when she boarded, together with members of her family, that the first two rows were empty.
Suddenly, after everyone else had boarded, the VIP passenger showed up with a small retinue that included his bodyguards. It was none other than President Shimon Peres, who was going to a private event in Eilat. The president waved to the other passengers, who applauded him. Some even tried to approach him, to shake his hand and speak to him, but the security detail kept them at a distance. One seven-year-old boy even used the excuse that he needed to use the toilet in the front section of the plane, but the bodyguards sent him back as well.
Siegel – who has met with Peres before, as well as with several of his predecessors and other high-ranking individuals – took it in stride, but most of the other passengers were ecstatic. Many tried to photograph him when he boarded, as did Siegel, in case some news story evolved from his presence.
At the conclusion of the 38-minute flight, passengers were asked to remain seated, but as is frequently the case, everyone in the plane rose and aimed their smartphone or camera in the president’s direction as he got ready to disembark and told all the passengers to enjoy themselves in Eilat. Siegel was impressed by the fact that other sitting in the front, Peres had neither asked for nor received any special privileges; indeed, it was a one-class plane. Everyone applauded as he was whisked away.
Siegel, a longtime anti-smoking advocate, was in Eilat not only to report on the conference, but to receive a prize for the principled stand she has taken on the negative effects that both active and passive smoking have on people’s health.
That’s the reason her family was traveling with her.
■ THEY’RE NOT twins in the biological sense, but they were colleagues for many years in the English Department of Israel Radio. Sara Manobla and Harley Braidman were both born on March 6, 1934, and tomorrow will celebrate their 80th birthdays.
Both are British expats. Manobla, who was born in Newcastle, was the head of English-language programs, and Braidman, who hails from London, was the head of English News.
In those days, there was a lot more English for English-speakers on Israel Radio than there is today.
Aside from their British and broadcasting backgrounds, another factor that the two have in common is that both are also writers and have published books. Braidman’s book, Letters to David K.: Marching Forward to the Past, was published in 2009, and he has been writing poetry in the interim. Manobla’s book, Zagare Litvaks and Lithuanians Confront the Past, is hot off the press and was written as an 80th birthday gift to herself and her family.
Growing up, Manobla was unaware that she came from Lithuanian stock. It was only through her non-Jewish cousins, Joy and Suki, the youngest of her grandfather’s 13 grandchildren, that Manobla discovered her Lithuanian family roots – and more importantly, the shtetl of Zagare on the border between Lithuania and Latvia, from which her family stems. In 1941, the Zagare Jewish community was slaughtered by the Nazis, aided by Lithuanian collaborators. Fortunately, Manobla’s family had left long before the war, but she was nonetheless drawn to Zagare.
The book is largely devoted to how she and other descendants of former residents of Zagare traveled back in time and discovered not only Zagare, but themselves; it will be officially launched on March 25 at Alexander Tamir’s Ein Kerem Music Center. The venue is a natural location for Manobla, given that her talents include playing piano, cello and flute in amateur chamber groups and orchestras. She is also a composer.
■ WHEN INDIAN Ambassador Jaideep Sarkar invited members and friends of Israel’s Indian community to his home to celebrate the publication of Shaul Sapir’s book, Bombay – Exploring the Jewish Urban Heritage, he did not expect the huge turnout that filled his garden. In fact, there were so many people that there were not enough plastic chairs for all of them, and embassy staff had to bring upholstered chairs out of the residence to accommodate the overflow. Even then there were not enough, and a carpet was brought out and laid on the lawn for those who did not want to stand.
Sapir, who was born in Bombay and came to Israel at age nine, returned as an adult to explore his roots. A professor at the Hebrew University, he has been teaching historical geography there since 1975.
Sapir made the distinction between Bombay as it was in his childhood and Mumbai as it is today, declaring that his book was about Bombay, not Mumbai, and the influence of mainly Baghdadi Jews on Bombay’s urban landscape – in particular that of Sir David Sassoon, known as the Rothschild of the East, whose legacy has remained.
Sapir originally wrote the book in Hebrew, but was persuaded by Ralphy Jhirad, a leader of the dwindling Jewish community of India and a resident of Mumbai, from where he organizes Jewish heritage tours, to reproduce the book in English. It was a 10-year labor of love; Jhirad came to Israel for the English-language launch.
Sarkar and Sapir discussed the book after the subject was introduced by Mark Sofer, a former Israel ambassador to India who is currently president of the Jerusalem Foundation. Sarkar said that before coming to Israel, he was told that he must meet Sofer, “who not only loves India, he also understands India.”
Sofer said that Jews have lived in India for almost 2,000 years, during which time they never experienced any anti-Semitism. “If you ask Indians about anti-Semitism, they’ll tell you that they don’t understand why people would dislike Jews.” The attack on the Mumbai Chabad House in November 2008 was perpetrated not by Indians, but by terrorist infiltrators, said Sofer.
In addition to writing about the Baghdadi Jews of Bombay, Sapir also explored the history of the Cochin Jews, the Bene Israel, the Bene Ephraim, and the Bene Menashe.
Sarkar, who had made it his business to bone up on the Jewish history of India before taking up his post in Israel, confessed that before reading the book, he had not known there was an urban Jewish heritage.
■ ISRAELI-AMERICAN film producer Arnon Milchan, who has been working in Hollywood for some 30-plus years, scored his first Oscar this week as co-producer of 12 Years a Slave, which won the Best Picture Award.
The Arab Daily News was quick to publish a story about Milchan’s past activities as an Israeli technological and scientific secret agent, who had been recruited by President Peres.
Milchan, who has never denied his intelligence-gathering activities or his role as an arms dealer, still has a strong attachment to Israel, and in 2005 attended the Galilee Conference.
Moreover, at a Jerusalem press conference during that visit, while flanked by Peres and Binyamin Netanyahu, he announced his contribution of $100 million towards the establishment of a university in the Galilee.
Tonight, Milchan will host a gala dinner for Netanyahu, to which many of Hollywood’s who’s who have been invited. The prime minister is expected to make a pitch to Hollywood producers and directors to use Israel as a location for future productions.
Milchan was not the only Israeli expat in the Oscar line-up. Sound man Nir Adiri, who is an ex-paratrooper and ex-moshavnik from Kfar Vitkin, and now lives in England, won an Oscar for the sound mixing in Gravity.
■ YOU CAN take the man out of Jerusalem, but you can’t take Jerusalem out of the man. Born and raised in the capital, singer, actor, current affairs commentator and philanthropist Yehoram Gaon, who for a decade served on the Jerusalem City Council where he held the Culture Portfolio, often mentions the Holy City and his childhood there on his Reshet Bet radio program.
He did so again last Friday, when his varied subject matter included the newly opened Cinema City.
Gaon, who had been there earlier in the week, recalled his days at Jerusalem’s legendary Edison Theater, where as a child he and nine of his friends used to con ushers into letting them in for free – with each boy saying that the last boy, who was the 10th, had the tickets. Meanwhile, the last boy would disappear, and the nine rascals were already inside the darkened theater, where the ushers for whatever reason did not bother to track them down.
Some 60 years after the fact, Gaon publicly apologized on radio to the manager of the Edison. Better late than never.
Gaon also apologized for dirtying the seats. In those days, Jerusalem youngsters put a sheen on their shoes with the lid of a leben carton, and when they put their feet up on the theater’s plush upholstery, they often left a stain.
■ RETIRED DIPLOMAT Gideon Meir has many stories about the bookstore that was founded by his grandfather Ludwig Mayer, who came from a town north of Berlin to Jerusalem. The enterprise was continued by Meir’s father Herman and mother Esther, but the story that came to mind last week, partly because of the visit to Israel by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her government ministers, was one that has become part of Jerusalem’s urban folk tales, repeated many times by different people, and last Friday on radio by Gaon.
A Jerusalem landmark since 1908, Ludwig Mayer Books Jerusalem, near the beginning of Shlomzion Hamalka Street, was the city’s first multilingual academic book shop.
Though still trading under its original name, it is no longer in the hands of the founding family, but when it still was, way back in 1961, a senior police officer came in. He asked Esther Mayer, who was then the proprietor, if she could select six German-language books for him. A week later, he returned the books and asked for another six.
Again, he wanted books in German and left the selection to Esther Mayer. The scenario repeated itself week after week.
Curious, Mayer asked who the books were for, but he refused to tell her. She persevered with her probing, and after three months the police officer finally let the cat out of the bag, on the condition that she promised to keep the secret to herself.
They were for Adolf Eichmann, who was being tried in Jerusalem for Nazi war crimes.
Mayer told the policeman that she would continue to supply him, but under no circumstances did she want him to return any books; she did not want her or her customers to handle any book that had been touched by Eichmann.
After that, the only books she selected were about Jews, Judaism and Zionism. It was a minor revenge, but knowing how eagerly Eichmann was perusing whatever literature he received, it was definitely a psychological revenge.
■ THREE YEARS ago, the Jerusalem Cantors’ Choir conducted by Cantor Binyamin Glickman traveled to Berlin to participate in the first Louis Lewandowski Festival, together with choirs from around the world. On that occasion, Glickman was invited to be a member of the planning committee for the next two annual Lewandowski Festivals, and reciprocated by inviting the Synagogal Ensemble Berlin to give four concerts in Israel.
The ensemble is already in Israel and tomorrow, Thursday, March 6, will give a recital at Beit Brodet in Tel Aviv. On Sunday, March 9, the recital will be at the National Library in Jerusalem. The Hecht Auditorium at the University of Haifa will be the venue on Tuesday, March 11, and the final recital will be at Kibbutz Bar’am on Wednesday, March 12.
Louis Lewandowski was a revolutionary 19th-century German-Jewish composer of synagogue music.
He died 120 years ago. According to Glickman, the Lewandowski Festival is one of the most important projects of its kind, and has a led to a revival of magnificent synagogue music that had been all but forgotten.
Glickman recently retired after 60 years of conducting.
■ EYEBROWS WERE raised in surprise at the Jabotinsky Museum, when regulars who are either members of the Likud, adherents of the Revisionist philosophy or were members of Betar in their youth, saw someone from the opposite political camp in their midst. Former Labor MK Colette Avital had come to the lecture evening on “Between Blue and White and Red.”
What had brought her there, she said, was that former foreign minister David Levy was among the speakers, and she wanted to hear what he had to say. Levy was technically her boss during the first of his three stints as foreign minister.
Before entering the political arena, Avital was a longtime diplomat, rising to the rank of ambassador. Blue and white were the identifying colors of the Herut faction in the Histadrut labor federation, whose overall color was red. To dispel any doubts about her loyalties, Avital wore a red jacket.
Levy said that long before the revolution of 1977, when Menachem Begin came to power and demonstrated for the first time that there was an alternative to the ruling administration, the Herut faction in the Histadrut had worked as a cohesive team, and showed that there was also an alternative within the Histadrut – albeit not with the same success. However, Levy credited the blue-and-white faction, first under Arieh Ben-Eliezer and afterwards under Yoram Avidor, with paving the way for the 1977 change of government.
Many in the audience said that Levy had acquitted himself in a statesmanlike fashion worthy of a president, but Levy himself made no mention of whether or not he is a candidate in the race for Israel’s 10th president. It may have come up in the private conversation that he had with Avital – who, it may be remembered, was Israel’s first female candidate for president in the last elections, but withdrew after the first round to allow Peres to win.
There were three candidates in that first round, with Likud MK Reuven Rivlin as the third. Peres received 58 votes in the first round, which were three short of the 61 he needed to win. Avital, with 21 votes, stepped out of the race to enable Peres to score a victory. Rivlin, who had 37 votes, also withdrew.
On Channel 2 this week, Nobel Prize laureate and presidential candidate Dan Shechtman, who has the support of some Knesset members but does not yet have the required 10 written endorsements, said that if he does not get them he will call a press conference to protest the Knesset’s refusing to allow him to run. This is a distortion of the facts. The Knesset per se has not prevented anyone from running, but the rules call for endorsement by 10 MKs. The reality is that Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has ordered the members of his party not to endorse any candidate. The Labor Party, with one exception, is fully behind Binyamin Ben- Eliezer, and most other MKs have political self-interest with regard to choices.
The best that Shechtman can hope for is the knowledge that he set the ball in motion for an amendment to the law regarding the election of the president, in that the president elected in 2021 may be elected by the public – and not just by the Knesset. Even so, if passed, the amendment will be the result of a Knesset decision.
The Knesset could also decide to abolish the presidency altogether and thus save on the expense of building a permanent residence for the prime minister, because the President’s Residence – which is much larger than the residence currently allocated to the prime minister – would then be vacant.
■ NOT YET a week old, Alexandra Meira Sturm has already been given a unisex diminutive by her proud father, Post Sports Editor Uriel Sturm, whose wife Leah gave birth to their first child at the beginning of the week. An elated Sturm said that they were thrilled with the arrival of Alex.
Presumably, she will be referred to as Alexandra only on formal occasions – or when she misbehaves.
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