Grapevine: A little piece of Boston

Massachusetts delegations watch a tackle football game, Nochi Dankner’s IDB Group backs a national teleprocessing project.

Deval Patrick with Eliezer Shkedi 311 (photo credit: Sivan Farag)
Deval Patrick with Eliezer Shkedi 311
(photo credit: Sivan Farag)
FOR ISRAELIS, rain is a blessing, but Steve Leibowitz, president of the Israel Football League, would have preferred the rain to hold off for a little while when he had 70 VIP guests from Boston, including Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots and benefactor of the Kraft Stadium in Jerusalem. The special guests included two Massachusetts delegations, one from the Boston Jewish federation and the other of senior government, business and education leaders who accompanied Patrick.
Kraft, who is being followed around by a CBS television crew which is preparing a segment on him for its long-running documentary 60 Minutes and for ESPN Showtime, was present in multiple capacities, and neither he nor any of the other Bostonians seemed to mind the rain as they stood under umbrellas watching a game of tackle football being played by the Leyad Ha’universita team from Jerusalem and a team from Kfar Saba. Also present were a number of American expats from Boston. When Leibowitz asked them if they were Patriots fans, he got a roar of assent.
Kraft, speaking in Hebrew and English, said how happy it made him, when coming to the Kraft stadium, to hear both “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Hatikva.” It always brought tears to his eyes, he said. Leibowitz presented football jerseys to both Patrick and Kraft.
Patrick’s had the number 71, because he is the 71st governor of Massachusetts, and Kraft’s had the number 18 for obvious Jewish reasons.
Patrick said that although he couldn’t speak Hebrew as well as Kraft, he was glad to hear that the word football was the same in both languages. More than that, he was proud that a little piece of Boston – Kraft Stadium – was located in Jerusalem.
Kraft threw the ball that started the game in the direction of Kfar Saba coach Itay Ashkenazi who also plays quarterback. If the name sounds familiar, it’s not by coincidence. His dad is Gabi Ashkenazi, who up until the middle of last month was chief of the General  Staff.
According to Leibowitz, the senior Ashkenazi is a great fan of American football, and regularly turned up to watch his son play. His interest in the game ranged beyond his son’s team, and he indicated that once he was back into a civilian lifestyle, he would become involved with the IFL. Leibowitz is waiting for Ashkenazi to return from his vacation in the Caribbean, to see which way the ball flies.
■ ANYONE WHO’S thinking of inviting British Ambassador Matthew Gould to speak at a luncheon or dinner on April 5 may just as well not bother, because that’s a special date on his calendar that is so important that even his boss, Foreign Secretary William Hague, would have trouble getting him to change his plans.
It’s the date when, if all goes as it should, he will become a first time father. He and his wife Celia are expecting a sabra daughter, and Gould is not the least bit shy about sharing this piece of information from any podium on which he happens to stand.
In Jerusalem last week to address a meeting organized by Europeans for Israel at the Jewish Agency, Gould met one of his heroes, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, who showed him around the building and took him into the basement where the Hagana used to hide weapons from the British in a cache so cunningly created by master carpenter Leo Wisman that anyone who did not know of its existence would not see it. Sharansky would have liked to open it for his guest, but didn’t have the key.
The function for which Gould had come was held in the Weizmann room where on February 16, 1949, Chaim Weizmann was sworn in as the first president. For Europeans for Israel cofounder Andrew Balcombe, originally from Manchester, it was a very moving experience given Weizmann’s strong connections with that city. He also felt the event signified the closing of a circle in that one of Gould’s major tasks is to encourage scientific cooperation between the UK and Israel, and Weizmann was a scientist.
■ THE GENERAL expectation for a marriage between a widow and widower who are both grandparents is that it will be something low key with a few of their close relatives and friends. There was no chance of that when Rahel Meltz married Raymond Jason at Kibbutz Ramat Rahel. Noting the similarity between the bride’s name and that of Rachel, the matriarch for whom the kibbutz is named, Rabbi Avigdor Burstein, who performed the ceremony, said that against the backdrop of the tragedy that had befallen the nation over the weekend, it was a hopeful sign to be able to build a new house in Israel. Borrowing from the biblical verse “Rachel weeps for her children,” he said that she would not weep on such a happy occasion. A large delegation of the groom’s family, including his mother, arrived from England to join in the celebrations.
Her presence turned the wedding into a four-generation affair. The bride and groom were preceded to the bridal canopy by 13 of their many grandchildren.
These were only the girls, who each carried clusters of white flowers. Just before the groom broke the glass, he asked guests not to call out “mazal tov” if he succeeded, because the breaking of the glass was a symbolic reminder of reality when joy was at its height.
And this was indeed a joyous and energetic wedding, with both the bride and the groom, who are each in their 60s, out-dancing some of the younger guests. The couple didn’t have to make any major changes in their lives. Prior to the wedding they lived within a five minute walk of each other.
Both are members of the board at Hazvi Yisrael congregation. Both are native English speakers. She comes from Canada, he from England. Both are outgoing and friendly, and they moved to some extent in the same social circles. All that’s changed is her address, and the collective number of children and grandchildren, which comes to quite a lot. After the ceremony, the bride danced with her 13 flower girls under the bridal canopy.
■ EVERY FEW months, the Hebrew press devotes space to the influence of local oligarchs on political decision-makers. That influence is hardly surprising since the same people who control the national wealth also give the most money to a vast array of social, educational, cultural and sports projects and to medical, religious, educational and cultural institutions. Among the most prominent of donors is Nochi Dankner, who with his wife Orly, is seen at numerous charitable events, some of which he hosts and others in which he is a willing partner. Another extraordinarily generous donor is Sammy Ofer, who has donated $77 million to Ichilov, Soroka and Rambam Medical Centers, as well as many millions of dollars to the University of Haifa, the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, museums and other institutions. He has also given £20 million to the National Maritime Museum in Britain. Ofer, possibly because of his age, is not seen in public as frequently as Dankner, Eliezer Fishman, Shari Arison, Michael Federmann, Alfred Akirov, Yossi Maiman, Chemi Peres, Galia Maor, Rami Ungar, Benny Steinmetz, Stef and Eitan Wertheimer and other generous donors who give to many worthy causes.
The IDB Group, headed by Dankner, has committed itself to a national teleprocessing project initiated by Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, and designed to bring the education system into the 21st century. The NIS10 million project, to which IDB will contribute NIS 3m., will initially operate in Migdal Ha’emek, the Golan Heights and Mateh Asher and will serve as a model for the whole country. To introduce the project and ascertain the needs, Sa’ar and Dankner last week toured Migdal Ha’emek, Kibbutz Ravid and the Golan Heights Regional Council. Among the people with whom they consulted were Migdal Ha’emek Mayor Eli Barda, Golan Heights Regional Council head Eli Malcha, Jordan Valley Regional Council head Yossi Vardi and Rabbi Yitzhok Dovid Grossman, who heads the Migdal Or educational institutions.
■ BRITISH EXPATS flocked to Ben-Gurion University last week to witness the ceremony at which British Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks joined a list of illustrious recipients of the Ladislaus Laszt Ecumenical and Social Concern Award. Sacks, who was accompanied by his wife Lady Elaine Sacks, later attended a dinner hosted in his honor where letters of congratulation were read out from British Ambassador Gould and his counterpart in London, Ron Prosor, soon to be the new ambassador to the UN. The dinner was hosted by David Newman, dean of the Humanities and Social Science Faculty and regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post, and his wife Elaine at their home in Meitar, north of Beersheba.
Among the guests were BGU president Rivka Carmi and rector Zvi Hacohen, Israel Prize laureate Ya’acov Blidstein, a leading authority on Maimonides, and former dean of the Faulty of Medicine Shimon Glick. Foreign guests included Harold Paisner, president of the Ben-Gurion University Foundation in the UK, and international BGU treasurer Eric Charles. Paisner, who was accompanied by his wife Judith, is also president of the Jewish Policy Research Institute, an independent think tank in the UK, and was responsible for the establishment of the Center for the Study of European Politics and Society at BGU, headed by Dr. Sharon Pardo.
■ WITH EVERY new season, there is a glut of publicity about arrangements between major companies and leading models and entertainers who will represent them. Beni Padani, who heads the jewelry company founded by his grandfather Joseph Reicher in Belgium in 1897, didn’t have to look far when seeking a new presenter. He went through the family photo album and saw that his mother Malvin, Reicher’s daughter, was a model in her younger years. Photos of her modeling jewelry were just perfect in an era of the recycling of vintage fashions. He asked whether he could use the photo for commercial purposes – and thus Padani’s current advertising campaign features the very elegant Malvin Padani as she was. Even today, some 60 years later, she’s a very striking woman.
Malvin and her husband Henri Padani came here after World War II and revived the family business in Tel Aviv. Henri Padani opened a small jewelry design studio in 1947, which over the years grew into an empire.
Given their limited finances at the time, Malvin not only worked side by side with her husband but was also the house model. Their son Beni, a former combat pilot, joined the firm in 1970.
■ FORMER AMBASSADOR to France, Nissim Zvili, is back in Paris this week to participate in a conference organized by the International Forum for Peace which will focus on whether Middle East diplomacy has failed. Other speakers will include former French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, deputy President of the Greens/EFA at the European Parliament, and former minister in the Palestinian Authority Soufiane Abu Zeida. Moderator will be IFP president Ofer Bronchtein.
■ FROM THE 1970s to the 1990s the country experienced a huge influx of Russian culture. Now it’s experiencing an influx of French culture – and not just via the French Embassy and its subsidiaries. Tomorrow, representatives of the embassies of France, Belgium, Cameroon, Canada, Romania, Switzerland and Vietnam will join forces at the French Institute on Tel Aviv’s Sderot Rothschild for the launch of International Francophone Week, which begins at 11 a.m. and includes quizzes, food tastings, book exchanges, films and musical entertainment. The festival will also be held in other Tel Aviv venues and in other parts of the country.
It’s not only the French language and literature that is gaining prominence, but also French cuisine, accompanied by the appropriate French wines. French restaurants are opening up all over the country, and last week French Ambassador Christophe Bigot hosted a French wine tasting event at his residence in Jaffa.
■ TEL AVIV likes to convey the message that it’s the city that never stops, which may explain how it has managed to wrap three historic periods into the one event. Tomorrow, visitors to the old Beit Ha’ir in the Bialik complex will hear and dance to the sounds of swing music from the 1930s at a Purim party commemorating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff. A little convoluted? Maybe. But it promises to be fun.
■ TO MARK the first anniversary of the death of David Kimche, former director-general of the Foreign Ministry and deputy head of the Mossad, the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, of which he was the founding president, will host a panel discussion on “Perspectives on the Current Maelstrom in the Middle East.”
Panelists will include political scientist Shlomo Avineri of the Hebrew University, a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry; David Sultan, a former ambassador to Egypt and Dr. Shmuel Bar, director of studies at the Institute for Policy and Strategy of the IDC Herzliya. Moderator will be Avi Primor, who worked with Kimche and succeeded him as president of the ICFR. The event will be held on March 22 at Beit Belgia on the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University.
■ HADASSAH HAS been planning its centenary celebration for several years and will set the ball rolling in Tel Aviv on March 22. Hadassah was founded in 1912 in New York City by Henrietta Szold and the Daughters of Zion, a women’s study group interested in training nurses for service in Palestine. The launch coincided with Purim. The incentive to improve medical services in Palestine found rapid response in America, and from the original concept a nursing school was established in Palestine in 1918, and from there the giant medical complexes in Jerusalem which comprise the Hadassah University Medical Center and School of Medicine. Outgoing Hadassah national president Nancy Falchuk is flying in for the occasion.
Some of her predecessors will also attend. But the really big celebration will take place in Jerusalem next year with the completion of the multimillion dollar Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower, Hadassah’s largest construction project in more than 50 years.
■ FOLLOWING THE announcement that Natalie Portman had won the Oscar for her role in Black Swan, this country claimed part of the reflected glory because she was born in Jerusalem, where she lived till age three when her family moved to the US. She returned several times for visits and spent a semester at the Hebrew University. Portman has said on more than one occasion that although she loves the US, her heart is in Jerusalem.
Her father Avner Herschlag is a fertility specialist and her mother Shelley Herschlag is her agent. Her parents met when both were students at Ohio State University, and corresponded after her father returned to Israel. Her mother eventually followed her own heart to Israel, where she married her father – but the pull to America was strong, and they have been living there since 1984.
Robert Slater, who has written numerous biographies about famous people and who for many years worked for Time magazine, likes to tell the story that when Portman featured in Star Wars, fellow journalist Jay Bushinsky called him asking for a TV interview.
Slater didn’t mind obliging but couldn’t understand why he of all people should be the subject of an interview. Bushinsky enthused that Portman’s family had lived on the same street as Slater. “But I didn’t know them,” protested Slater. That didn’t bother the ever resourceful Bushinsky. “Talk about the community in your street,” he said. Slater agreed, and when Bushinsky wanted the shoot to take place on the street, Slater did not object.
As always happens when there’s a television crew shooting anything, a small crowd soon gathered. A woman driving a car came by and slowed down when she saw the crowd. “What’s going on?” she asked. Slater explained, to which she retorted: “And who appointed you to be the spokesman for the street?”