Grapevine: A favorite role for the president

Yiddish poet Avraham Sutzkever memorialized, AACI moves to Talpiot and IBA in the spotlight.

Shimon Peres Purim with kids 311 Joseef Avi Yair Engel (photo credit: Joseef Avi Yair Engel)
Shimon Peres Purim with kids 311 Joseef Avi Yair Engel
(photo credit: Joseef Avi Yair Engel)
SINCE ASSUMING the presidency, Shimon Peres has said on more than one occasion how much more he enjoys this role than any of the other roles he held as a politician. But even more than being a president, Peres likes being a grandpa, and takes great delight in his grandchildren. Two of the younger ones – Maya Peres, who came dressed as a flower, and Eden Peres who wore a bunny rabbit outfit – were among the children who came to celebrate Purim at Beit Hanassi with the children of Beit Hanassi staff and children in placement who are awaiting adoption or foster homes.
Doffing his regular suit and tie, the president, in jeans and sweater, had a great time playing with the youngsters and exploring their minds, and also took on the role of judge to decide on the best Purim costumes of the day. He changed back into his suit later in the late afternoon for his meeting with US Sen. John Kerry, who heads the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee.
n THE SCORES of people who were turned away from the doors of Tzavta in Tel Aviv because of the overcrowding at the memorial tribute to acclaimed Yiddish poet and Israel Prize laureate Avraham Sutzkever will be pleased to know that much of the culturally and nostalgically rich program was videotaped and will be screened commercially in the not-too-distant future. Admittedly, it’s not quite the same as being there for the live event, but it’s better than not experiencing it at all.
The audience comprised not only a diverse age group but also included a lot of people who are not usually seen at Yiddish productions or lectures. It seems that there’s a little bit of Yiddish in everyone. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai gave an interesting address (in Hebrew) about the importance of Yiddish, while one of his predecessors, Shlomo Lahat, nodded in agreement. Lahat, who has a marvelous repertoire of Yiddish jokes, aided the establishment of the Yiddishpiel Theater, and continues to be an ardent patron and an advocate for Yiddish culture.
Sutzkever was so highly and widely regarded a poet that his works were translated into many languages, and recited in eight different languages at the memorial tribute. Peres, who was also present, said that Nobel Prize laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer had once told him that Yiddish will survive forever and that he was confident that the day would come when all Jews would speak Yiddish. When Peres asked him when that day would be, Singer replied, “When the messiah comes.”
Sutzkever was not prepared to wait that long, and he encouraged young poets who knew Yiddish to express themselves in that language. When Sutzkever, a Holocaust survivor, testified at the Nuremberg trials, he wanted to speak Yiddish, but was not permitted to do so. He was only allowed to speak in one of the official trial languages – so he gave his testimony in Russian, as was seen on one of several film clips of episodes in his life. The tribute was coordinated by his granddaughter, actress Hadas Calderon.
n ACCORDING TO Jewish tradition, no prophet is heard in his own city. This is not the case when it comes to fashion. Indeed the predictions of fashion writers have advanced the careers of many leading designers long before their names became household words. In Israel, Nurit Bat Yaar, who for 26 years was the fashion writer for Yediot Aharonot, was so highly regarded that she had both the first and last word on fashion – and not just in the newspaper for which she wrote. Television and radio reporters frequently waylaid her at the end of a major fashion show to get her opinion on the latest runway styles, and now, several years after her retirement, Bat Yaar’s opinion is still valued. Though no longer a reporter, she remains on the invitation lists of all the leading fashion houses, and young reporters still seek her views on new designs.
Bat Yaar, who originally planned to be a fashion illustrator, became a fashion model and later a fashion writer for different publications before joining Yediot. She has not been idle since her retirement. She has been busy producing a book on Israel Fashion Art 1948-2008. Beautifully illustrated, the book is a double tribute to Israeli creativity in that it not only honors fashion designers but also fashion photographers, and serves as a reminder that some of the most beautiful women in the world reside here and work as fashion models.
Aside from its captivating graphics, the book also tells the literal rags to riches history of the country’s fashion industry. When preparation of the book was not going quite as fast as Bat Yaar would have liked, she mounted a new millennium exhibition at the Tel Hai Museum based on part of the book’s contents, but specifically honoring the photographers. She had hoped to bring out the book last year in time for the Tel Aviv centenary celebrations, in view of the fact that her grandfather was among the founders of the city, but her plans were thwarted by the people responsible for the graphics, who were no less perfectionists than Bat Yaar herself, with the result that the book finally hit the shelves last month.
n NOTWITHSTANDING ALL the international fashion brand names that are finding their way here, veteran fashion company Castro seems to be holding its own and its shares on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange continue to rise. Etti Roter, whose father Aharon Castro founded the company, will tell the story of the people behind the label on March 8, at Hangar 11 on the Tel Aviv Port, with the focus on what it was like for her to grow up in the knowledge that one day she would take over from her parents.
Roter is one of several successful career women who will appear in the fourth annual Women and Business convention which is hosted by The Marker. This year, the co-host will be the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality. Among the other well-known women who will share some of the secrets of their success stories will be Ofra Strauss, who chairs the Strauss Group; Ruth Sheetrit, who chairs the Sheetrit Media Group; Shira Margalit, deputy CEO of Keshet; Nava Barak, who heads Elem Israel which takes care of runaway youth and provides them with the tools with which to change their lives; Shula Recanati, chairwoman of College for All; and Dushi Leitersdorf, who operates a highly successful restaurant in Neveh Tzedek. It’s not a man’s world any more – and it certainly won’t be on March 8, with women’s groups all over the country celebrating International Women’s Day.
n APROPOS CASTRO, in the spirit of Purim, Etti and Gabi Roter joined their designers and presenters Gal Gadot and Jonathan Wagman at a launch of Castro’s limited edition collection based on the movie Alice in Wonderland. The launch in the form of a pre-Purim party was held at the company’s Tel Aviv flagship store, with many of the guests adopting the Purim spirit and coming in fancy costume. The store’s décor was also based on Alice in Wonderland. Entertainment was provided by the Indie group No Moon.
n ONE OF the most successful English-speaking groups in the Coastal Plain is ESRA, the English Speaking Residents Association, whose volunteers are spread out across Herzliya, Ra’anana, Kfar Saba, Kfar Shmaryahu, Ramat Hasharon, Tel Aviv and beyond. For some strange reason, ESRA never caught on in Jerusalem, where native English speakers abound. However the Jerusalem Branch of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) aims to more than fill the void.
This was not as feasible in its previous premises, where the rooms were few and small and not particularly conducive to numerous organizational activities at the same time. The new premises in the Talpiot Industrial Zone are more accessible by public transportation, surrounded by shops and restaurants and, most important, incredibly spacious compared to what AACI members had to contend with before.
One of the new additions is a large culture and entertainment hall with built-in spotlights and stage that will be used for plays, concerts, opera and art displays. But even more important than the many services, programs and opportunities for volunteerism that AACI provides is the personal telephone service. “You have no idea how many people tell us how happy they are to hear a human voice,” says AACI executive director David London.
Although AACI is by no means the first not-for-profit organization to opt for the Talpiot Industrial Zone, it did not move there as part of a herd mentality. It looked at other areas such as Givat Shaul where rates are much cheaper, but opted for Talpiot because Givat Shaul tends to close down at night, whereas Talpiot, with its numerous restaurants, night clubs, movie theaters and banquet halls, continues to buzz, and many of the shops stay open till quite late. It is also far more developed than Givat Shaul, and further development is taking place.
Also the property that AACI acquired lent itself to the organization’s various needs and enabled the expansion of activities. For instance there is now a library, with a good selection of books, and a media library and cinema club are about to be launched. In the good old days, AACI received significant funding from the Jewish Agency and the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, but over time money grew tighter and the funding waned to a mere trickle. To overcome that problem, AACI has designated some 500 sq.m. of space to be rented out to nonprofit organizations, which means that Talpiot will become the headquarters for Jerusalem-based philanthropic, community development and social welfare organizations.
The Jerusalem Foundation was one of the first organizations to establish headquarters in the area and was followed by several others. One of the many advantages of the new premises is that they are located on the top floor of a factory building which means a balcony most of the way around. The balcony will be furnished with seats and tables for informal gatherings as well as for the grand opening ceremony on Tuesday, March 16, when Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman of Toronto, AACI’s partners in their new venture, will be back in Jerusalem to attend the festivities and have the AACI center named in their honor.
By the way, one doesn’t have to be an American or a Canadian to join AACI. Membership is a good investment because it carries with it discounts at various restaurants, office supply stores, theater productions, trips in the country and abroad and even bank fees.
n IF YOU thought that you were completely au fait with current issues facing the State of Israel, you may discover that there were gaps in your knowledge that will be filled on March 9 by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, who is the guest speaker at the British style afternoon tea to be hosted by the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association at the Sharon Hotel in Herzliya Pituah. Reservations for the event can be made by calling (09) 833-5894.
n INTERVIEWED ON Channel 2’s Meet the Press, Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein was asked whether he would return to his position as the minister responsible for the implementation of the Broadcasting Authority Law if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu changed his mind about having Amnon Dick as IBA chairman. Dick was Edelstein’s choice, and was approved by the various committees that have to give the green light, but his appointment was torpedoed by Netanyahu, as a result of which Edelstein resigned. He was the only minister with responsibility for the IBA to return his mandate to the prime minister.
Edelstein replied to the question in neither negative nor affirmative terms. He simply said he didn’t know. However he pointed out that his resignation had been beneficial to the IBA, because other news outlets which had been indifferent to its plight up to that point began to take an avid interest, with the result that the IBA is receiving publicity daily via the electronic and print media.
Rafi Ginat, who worked for 15 years at the IBA before switching to Channel 2, advocated closing down the IBA, because in its current operation it does not conform to the standards of public broadcasting. It should be closed and reopened as a true vehicle of public broadcasting, he said.
Both Israel Radio military reporter Carmella Menashe and Shalom Kittal, who spent nearly half of his 37-year career in journalism at Israel Radio before taking over as editor in chief of the Channel 2 News Corporation, disagreed. Kittal said that while there was definite need for reform, closing down the IBA was not a good idea because there was no guarantee that it would be reopened. Menashe concurred, pointing out that the IBA is home to more than a thousand employees.
Where there was consensus was over who should be responsible, or rather who should not be responsible for the IBA. Putting Eyal Gabai, the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, at the helm was a big mistake, because it gave rise to the belief that the IBA was being politicized, said all the discussants. It was a regressive step, taking the IBA back to the days when broadcast content was controlled by Yitzhak Navon, who was David Ben-Gurion’s political secretary (and later bureau chief), and Teddy Kollek who was director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, said Kittal.
Meanwhile on Israel Radio, economics reporter Oded Shahar, who also anchors the television program Politica, noted that under the reforms, 42 percent of the IBA’s workforce will be laid off either through early retirement or dismissal. Even then he doubted whether the Finance Ministry would follow through with agreements and cited many government decisions which were never honored because the Finance Ministry put a spanner in the works.
n LOVERS AND exponents of the Hebrew language will have a real treat if they happen to be at the Rishon Lezion Heichal Hatarbut on Wednesday, March 10, when the Jabotinsky Institute will mark the 130th anniversary year of Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s birth and the 70th anniversary of his death. The theme of the event will be the Hebrew language, which Jabotinsky battled so hard to have introduced to Jewish schools. Speakers will include Prof. Arye Naor, Dr. Avshalom Kor, Emanuel Halperin and Yossi Ahimeir. Participants will also be able to hear a recording of Jabotinsky speaking Hebrew, and there will be an opportunity to revive some old Hebrew songs which have all but faded from memory.
n AFTER THE first lady of the Israeli stage, Gila Almagor, came out last week with her bookof memoirs, which she says is not an autobiography, but simply acollection of memories, the word is out that Assi Dayan, one of theentertainment industry’s most troubled talents, is concurrently writinghis autobiography and a new film script. Since Dayan is a member of oneof the country’s most noble yet here and there notorious families, hehas lots of scintillating material to include.