Grapevine: A gold for grandma

Noam Gershony wanted to bring a gold medal home to his grandmother, Bracha Gershony, as gift for her 88th birthday. He is living proof of the triumph of the spirit.

Noam Gershony 370 (photo credit: Razi Livnat)
Noam Gershony 370
(photo credit: Razi Livnat)
Interviewed before the game in which he brought so much glory to Israel, Paralympic tennis champion Noam Gershony said that he wanted to win to so that he could bring a gold medal home to his grandmother, Bracha Gershony, as gift for her 88th birthday. The only gift she treasured more was when he survived against all odds following the crash of his Apache plane in the Second Lebanon War. Not only did he survive, but he is living proof of the triumph of the spirit.
■ IT’S QUITE fascinating to ponder how much thought goes into acronyms in order to be able to create one that fits the mission statement of the organization behind it. One of the newest acronyms to hit the market is BRAIN. The word conjures up any number of cognitive associations, but what it stands for is Breakthrough Research and Innovation in Neurotechnology. It’s a new initiative that will officially be launched today by Israel Brain Technologies (IBT), which, at the conference of the High Tech Industry Association, will announce a $1 million prize to an individual team anywhere in the world that can demonstrate an extraordinary breakthrough in brain technology with global implications.
The launch of this valuable incentive will be announced this morning in Jerusalem at HTIA 2012 at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem. The incentive was spurred by the profound interest in brain research displayed by President Shimon Peres, who, for the major part of his term in office, has frequently spoken of the importance of discovering exactly how the human brain works. Peres is convinced that once the secrets of the human brain are discovered, many neurological illnesses that are now incurable may be prevented altogether or their effects reduced. But his imagination with regard to brain research takes him way beyond health issues, and immediately after the launch he will share some of his visions with participants in what organizers of the conference have termed a “fireside chat.” IBT should stipulate that the prize will be awarded in a ceremony in Jerusalem just in case the winning team happens to be from Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan or any other country that is hostile to Israel.
IBT chairman Dr. Rafi Gidron, who founded his company in June 2011, believes that the prize will cross geographic boundaries in bringing together the best minds for the benefit of humanity. The prize will be awarded at IBT‘s Global Brain Technology Conference in 2013. Participants in the current conference will get a two-generation dose of the Peres family. In addition to the session devoted to his famous father, Chemi Peres, venture capitalist and founder and managing director of Pitango, will moderate a session headlined “From Start-Up Nation to Start-Up Region.”
There will also be a tour of the Palestinian Authority to explore opportunities for hi-tech ventures in Ramallah. It doesn't always take a treaty to create peace on the ground.
■ THERE ARE plenty of examples of how proud US Ambassador Dan Shapiro is to be Jewish. He's fairly adept at reading the Torah in the synagogue. He was perfectly at home on a tour of Mea She’arim, and he fits in comfortably in just about any Jewish milieu. But it goes even beyond that. It was important to Shapiro that the people on his staff get a fuller comprehension of Holocaust history and an understanding of what Jews have had to overcome. So on Sunday, two days before 9/11, he led a delegation of approximately 80 US Embassy diplomats, office staff, and members of their families on a visit to Yad Vashem. This was the first tour of its kind for a US Embassy delegation, although ambassadors have frequently escorted visiting US dignitaries. For many of the participants it was a very emotional day.
At the conclusion of the visit, Shapiro said: “Our visit today is a commemoration by the US Embassy community of the living memory of those who were murdered in the Shoah. It is also a recognition of the resilience of the Jewish people, best exemplified by the strength and freedom of the State of Israel, and of our commitment to confront hatred of every kind, promote human dignity, and make ‘never again’ not just our cry, but our cause.“
Others in the group included Deputy Chief of Mission Thomas Goldberger and Counselor for Press and Cultural Affairs Hilary Olsin-Windecker. The group toured the Holocaust History Museum, the Museum of Holocaust Art and the Yad Vashem Learning Center. Dr. Joel Zisenwine of Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research spoke to the group about the United States and the Holocaust. This was followed by a group discussion with the chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate, Avner Shalev.
Shapiro laid a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance on behalf of the Embassy community. He was back in Jerusalem the following day for the annual pre-Rosh Hashana reception for foreign diplomats hosted by Peres. Then on Tuesday he attended the 9/11 memorial service at the KKL-JNF monument to the victims of the World Trade Center in the Emek Arazim Park.
■ FIVE DAYS prior to the Americans visiting Yad Vashem, Peres honored the institution’s Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations in recognition of its 50 years of activity. In a moving reception at the President's Residence, Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev gave the president a special memento – a copy of the testimony that the president's father, Yitzhak Perski, had presented to the commission in 1965 regarding an English soldier named Charles Coward with whom he had been held prisoner in a German POW camp in Greece. Coward had devised an audacious method of rescuing Jews from Auschwitz and helping them to escape.
Addressing members of the commission and other leading figures from Yad Vashem, who included chairman of the Yad Vashem Council Rabbi Israel Meir Lau and commission chairman Supreme Court Justice (ret.) Jacob Turkel, Peres told the members of the commission, “Your task is not only an historic duty, it is also an educational mission. The recognition of Righteous Among the Nations is important to those who lived then, but also to those who were born later. We all need to know and appreciate those extraordinary and brave individuals who risked their lives and showed that even during the darkest of days, there were people with a shining inner spirit."
Turkel emphasized that, “The responsibility of the commission members to decide who is eligible for the title of Righteous Among the Nations and who is not requires great powers of inner strength, intelligence and compassion. They undertake this holy work that has been placed upon their shoulders with devotion and love and out of a deep historic commitment.”
■ IT'S NOT often that Channel 1’s well-informed and multi-political reporter, Ayala Hasson, gets it wrong, but she’s only human and can make the occasional slip, as she did when interviewing Israel's former ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman. Hasson was interested in getting Gillerman’s take on the US election campaigns. Gillerman was careful to refrain from taking sides, but said that participants in both campaigns demonstrated the kind of fervent patriotism that is rarely seen in Israel, and Israeli wives never campaign for their husbands in the same way as the wives of the sitting president and the opposition contenders do in America. To which Hasson said that the head of the opposition in Israel is a woman. Hasson was a little behind the times. The head of the opposition was a woman, when Tzipi Livni headed Kadima, and the role again reverted to a woman the second time to Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich during Kadima’s brief romance with Likud. But no sooner did Kadima divorce itself from the Likud-led coalition and return to its former position than Yacimovich had to relinquish her opposition crown. Thus, the current leader of the opposition is very much a man, and his name is Shaul Mofaz.
Still, Gillerman is correct. It‘s a little difficult to imagine Sara Netanyahu in the role of Michelle Obama or Orit Mofaz in the role of Ann Romney. Mind you, Nava Barak came close when she was still married to Ehud Barak and literally went running with him as part of a campaign gimmick.
■ BACK TO Livni, who not long ago was seen at a wedding in what appeared to be a very friendly yet intense tete-a-tete with former prime minister Ehud Olmert, for whose resignation she was in part responsible. The media has given Olmert a reputation for being a grudge-bearer. If he was, he’s certainly mellowed, and gave no sign of bearing Livni any malice. On the contrary, they looked as though they were hatching a political plan together. Time will tell. As was famously written by John Milton, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
■ WHEN CHABAD of Rehavia came into being a little over a year ago, there were some people in the vicinity who wondered how it could possibly succeed when so many businesses in the building in which was located in the capital had closed down, as if the site was jinxed. In addition, there are at least six other Chabad facilities within easy walking distance, so what was the point of having another one?
But Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg, the dynamic young leader of Chabad of Rehavia, remained undaunted, knowing in his heart that failures in Chabad are few and far between. The enthusiasm exuded by Chabad rabbis, their wives and children all over the world is somehow contagious – and the operation works.
Goldberg began working out of storefront premises in the Rehavia windmill on Ramban Street, utilizing the basement-level courtyard for a variety of activities as his congregation continued to grow. Last week he announced that for the whole of the month Tishrei – namely, from Rosh Hashana on, activities and services would be held in a larger space at the same address – but on ground level. Better still, Goldberg writes in his email, “while there are several opportunities to contribute there is NO CHARGE for seats. Why pay to pray?” Anyone who wants to check out the premises and the warmth of the environment at 8 Ramban Street (next door to the Prima Kings Hotel), should go tonight to learn how to braid and bake halla for the holiday. The lesson begins at 8 p.m. and everyone in the class gets to take home a halla.
■ IN THE weeks leading up to Rosh Hashana, there seem to be many more beggars in the streets than usual. There are many people who are so poor they do not have sufficient funds to prepare the most modest of holiday meals. According to Israel Radio’s Peerli Shahar, who covers the social welfare beat and hosts a social welfare program, there are some 130 organizations in Israel that provide food for the needy. There may well be more, because some organizations focus only on this area of social welfare while others have diverse programs that include feeding the needy but are not specifically registered in this category.
Shahar interviewed several heads of such organizations, nearly all of whom complained of lack of government involvement and the decline in funding from the public sector, which is feeling the pinch of the economic crisis.
But the most disturbing interview she had was with the legendary Marluma Ben-Yosef, the founder and CEO of the Beit Hashanti shelters, where over the years thousands of teenagers at risk have been given food, a bed, a willing ear and a warm embrace as they are gently guided back into mainstream society.
Mariuma, as she is widely known, was and still is famous for the Friday dinners that gave all the youngsters not only a sense of community but a sense of family. But it’s the same old story – no money, no continuity. Without a sizeable cash infusion, there is a strong chance that Beit Hashanti will close down, and teen violence and other forms of juvenile delinquency will increase. In some ways, this problem is more important – and much closer to home – than the problem of Iran.
■ BUT THEN again, Iran, whether directly or indirectly, figures in almost everything. Considering Germany‘s role in intensifying the sanctions on Iran, one doesn't have to be a genius to guess that the main thrust of the conversation between German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in his meetings with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Barak was Iran, which has become the global common denominator. The difference is that while the Prime Minister’s Office has always put out statements about high-level meetings, even if such statements were vague about their content, the defense establishment was pretty cagey and it was exceedingly difficult to get information or photos from that particular source unless there was something that the defense establishment was especially keen to make public.
But now, with social media as the compass of national and international agendas, everyone wants to get in on the act, to get more “likes” and to win more friends on Facebook.
So the IDF Spokesman’s Office released several photos of Barak with Westerwelle, just as it released photos in previous weeks of his meetings with other high-ranking government and military officials from other countries, particularly those of the United States. Perhaps it has something to do with elections in the air.
■ JEWISH HOLIDAYS can sometimes interfere with diplomatic events. German Ambassador Andreas Michaelis and Nigerian Ambassador David Obasa have each had to postpone their national day events due to the Succot holiday, and will therefore host their respective receptions later than usual. Nigeria’s National Day is on October 1 and Germany’s Unity Day is on October 3, but both ambassadors have chosen the same date later in the month to hold their respective receptions, which means that there will be some party-hopping on the part of the diplomatic community. Fortunately, the residences of both ambassadors are relatively close to one other, so getting from one to the other will not be a problem. There won't be a parking problem either, as most ambassadors live in Herzliya Pituah or Kfar Shmaryahu, which are extensions of each other. Nigeria and Israel are this year celebrating the restoration of diplomatic relations, which were severed in 1973 and renewed in May 1992.
■ THE SELECTION of the same date for the celebrations of Nigeria and Germany was accidental rather than deliberate. Not so in the case of four Central American ambassadors who traditionally celebrate their Independence Days on the same date and hold a combined reception. They’ve also chosen a venue that is off the beaten track given that most diplomatic receptions are held at the residence of the ambassador or at a hotel. But the Latin Americans almost always like to be different, as was evidenced last month when the Uruguay reception was held at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.
Tonight, Suzana Gan de Hasemson, Jose Barahona, Alfredo Vasquez and Rodrigo X Carreras, the respective ambassadors of El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica, will celebrate the 191st anniversary of the independence of their respective countries at a gala reception at the Rishon Lezion Museum under the auspices of the Rishon Lezion Municipality.
Entertainment will include a variety concert in which one of the items will be a dance recital by a group of soldiers from Honduras who are currently undertaking a military course in Israel. The Latin atmosphere will continue to prevail tomorrow when Mexican Ambassador Federico Salas will host a reception at his residence marking the 202nd anniversary of his country’s independence.
■ SIGNS OF the possible recovery of the US economy were witnessed this week with the signing of a contract by local jewelry, fashion and household accessories designer Michal Negrin for the opening of a new chain of stores in New York. Negrin and her husband, Meir, together with Raymond Welber, the CEO of the Michal Negrin chain, signed a contract with Yossi Heyman, the head of the New York based Shiboleth law firm. The contract provides for the opening of four Michal Negrin concept stores in New York. The first of these will be in Soho and is expected to open before the end of the year. Negrin, who has stores all over Israel, also has 15 concept stores in other parts of the world.
■ ONE OF the most heartening aspects of the Justice for Jewish refugees conference was to see the large number of participants who were neither from Arab countries nor descendants of parents or grandparents from Arab countries, but were Ashkenazi Jews who were oblivious to any barriers that may exist between Jews of different ethnic backgrounds.
US Congressman Jerrold Nadler, the representative for New York’s 8th Congressional District, who has been raising the refugee issue in Congress for quite some time, said that there has been insufficient international response to the deliberate persecution of Jews from Arab countries.
It is wrong to address the issue of Middle East refugees and to deal only with Palestinian refugees and not with Jewish refugees from Arab countries, he said. “All refugees in the Middle East should be treated equally.” A bipartisan resolution was passed recently, following the 2008 Democratic resolution urging Congress to recognize and treat the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Currently, there is a pending legislation in the US Senate as part of the effort to raise awareness and promote an equal treatment of Middle Eastern refugees as a whole, he said. Nadler emphasized that any Middle East peace agreement must include the rights of all refugees so as to counter efforts to delegitimize Israel.
■ IF SUCH things do occur, Azriel Carlebach, the charismatic founder of Ma’ariv, is probably turning in his grave. The death knell is sounding for Ma’ariv, whose first edition appeared in February 1948. When Nochi Dankner, who bought controlling interest in the paper 17 months ago, ran out of cash, no one was fooled into thinking that Shlomo Ben-Zvi, the buyer designate, was a knight in shining armor who had come to the paper’s rescue. While Ben-Zvi appears to have the Midas touch when it comes to real estate and hitech, the same cannot be said for his media investments.
Although the British born business tycoon, who established Hirsch Media with Ronald Lauder and also entered into a failed partnership with Sheldon Adelson, with whom he published the now defunct Israeli, continues to invest in media, all such investments appear to be losing propositions.
Ben-Zvi also purchased Nekuda, the news and opinion organ of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria, which ceased publication two-and-a-half years ago and, like the ailing Hatzofe, the former tribunal of the Mizrahi movement, which he also purchased, it was merged with Makor Rishon and lost its identity. Ben-Zvi also had shares in Channel 10, which is currently under threat of closure, but sold them some years ago.
Tchelet, the religious channel that he launched with great fanfare in 2003, also became a failed venture.
Ben-Zvi may have good intentions, but as far as Ma’ariv‘s employees are concerned, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Ben-Zvi initially announced that if the deal with Dankner is concluded, he will retain only 300 to 400 members of the 2,000-strong Ma’ariv staff. It now appears that the figure is closer to 250. He has not yet said whether Ma’ariv will continue to be published as a separate newspaper or whether it, too, will be merged with Makor Rishon. In the latter instance, very few of the 250 Ma’ariv employees who are not immediately being dismissed will be able to keep their jobs in the future, and Ma’ariv will become yet another memory in Israel’s media history – one of several onceinfluential newspapers and magazines that have closed over the past 20 years.
Ben-Zvi doesn't want to be the bad guy – nor does he want to have to shell out severance pay – so one of the conditions of his acquiring Ma’ariv is that dismissals be carried out by the current ownership. Anat Saragusti, a journalist and photographer who worked for 10 years at the controversial and now defunct magazine HaOlam HaZeh, and who is now the CEO of Agenda, an organization that works for human rights and social change, said in an interview on Israel Radio that she could empathize with the staff of Ma’ariv because when Uri Avnery, the owner of the magazine, tried to sell it, he put it on the market with all its assets. The assets included the staff that had helped to make it what it was.
Saragusti recalled that she felt like some kind of chattel rather than a human being. She wasn’t a person – she was an asset.
■ IN AN Internet and social media era, it’s almost impossible to prevent unsavory news reports from reaching around the globe. Thus the allegations made on Monday by Channel 2’s Amit Segal about the inappropriate conduct of Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov, who apparently has a propensity for shady nightclubs and excessive consumption of alcohol, reached a much broader audience than that of Channel 2 within hours of being broadcast. It is not the first time that such allegations have been made about Meseznikov.
One can only wonder why his party leader Avigdor Liberman keeps him on board or why Netanyahu does not ask Liberman to replace him with another member of his party. Then again, both Netanyahu and Liberman have been victims of so-called scandals reported by the media, and have successfully survived them and, as a result, probably share the belief that the Meseznikov foibles will also blow over. Apropos Liberman, according to one of his close associates, he’s on a fitness binge, is exercising more and playing more sport – and he‘s given up smoking cigars.