Grapevine: A multiple sense of belonging

Canadian expats living in Israel have walked around with a glow all week, taking pride in the way that Prime Minister Harper has been feted across the political spectrum and beyond.

GERMAN AMBASSADOR Andreas Michaelis honors the memory of Michael Jovy at Yad Vashem.  (photo credit: COURTESY OF GERMAN EMBASSY)
GERMAN AMBASSADOR Andreas Michaelis honors the memory of Michael Jovy at Yad Vashem.

Unlike Israel, Australia does not force public servants who are dual nationals and representing Australia abroad to give up their non-Australian citizenship. Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma, who was born in Vancouver and is of Indian background on his father’s side, also has Canadian citizenship.

This week, he returned from a trip to Canada just in time to go to the Knesset to listen to the address by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
On the following day it was back to Australian business, with the visit here by Australian Shadow Foreign Minister and deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek, who came for two days to learn firsthand about the security challenges confronting Israel.
■ CANADIAN EXPATS living in Israel have walked around with a glow all week, taking pride in the way that Prime Minister Harper has been feted across the political spectrum and beyond. On Monday, many of them packed the visitors’ gallery in the Knesset – and it isn’t over yet. At 6:30 this evening Harper will be conferred with an honorary doctorate by Tel Aviv University, in recognition of his exemplary conduct as a prominent world leader who promotes freedom, human rights and the rule of law.
Harper will also be recognized for his efforts to advance higher education, for his open and fundamental support of the State of Israel both as a private individual and as prime minister of Canada, and for his active and brave participation in the struggle against anti-Semitism and other forms of extremism.
Harper is an honorary member of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, an NGO named after the Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of tens of thousands of Jews during World War II.
■ WITH INTERNATIONAL Holocaust Remembrance Day less than a week away, German Ambassador Andreas Michaelis this week visited Yad Vashem to pay tribute to the memory of a German diplomat, Michael Jovy, who some years ago had been honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.
Jovy was not the only German diplomat whose memory has been honored in this way. Another, Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, has also been recognized by Yad Vashem. Last December, then-German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle – at a ceremony at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, where the Yad Vashem certificates of the two men were displayed – praised them as “shining examples of civil courage and justice.” For Yad Vashem to award such certificates, especially to German nationals, was something both “remarkable and rare,” he remarked.
Duckwitz and Jovy were two very different personalities, who belonged to different generations. What they had in common, Westerwelle noted, was their refusal to stand idly by in the face of Nazi crimes. Jovy was a member of the Edelweisspiraten, who helped Jews in hiding in Cologne. When the group was finally broken up, he escaped through the lines to the US Army. He was granted political refugee status and after the war joined Germany’s Foreign Service.
This week, to mark the 30th anniversary of his death, Michaelis visited the tree-lined Avenue of the Righteous at Yad Vashem and placed a bouquet of flowers by the plaque that bears Jovy’s name.
■ SEVERAL OF the guests at the state dinner hosted by President Shimon Peres for Romanian President Traian Basescu were surprised to see who was not there. They expected to see such people as actor Yankele Bodo, musician and comedian Nansi Brandes, and brother and sister singer Shlomo Artzi and writer Nava Semel, who are the offspring of Romanian parents who were Holocaust survivors. Their father, Yitzhak Artzi, had been an MK and a deputy mayor of Tel Aviv.
“I don’t know who was responsible for making up the list of invitees, but there are many people, including senior physicians at Hadassah [University Medical Center], who should be here but are not,” said Shlomo Leibovici-Lais, chairman of the World Cultural Association of Jews from Romania.
There was, however, a relatively large representation of Foreign Ministry retirees, who included inter alia Yosef Govrin, Moshe Arad, Meir Rosenne and Colette Avital, who were all born in Romania. Also among the guests was former government minister and secretary-general of the Labor Party Micha Harish, who was also born in Romania.
Commenting on the number of dinners that diplomats and former diplomats attend, Avital quipped, “I eat for my country.” Rosenne said that when he joined the Foreign Ministry in the early 1950s, some 75 percent of the staff were of Romanian background.
Basescu said that in addition to all the usual reasons for his visit, he was genuinely happy to come to Israel. On his previous visit during his first term as president, he had visited the Western Wall and left a note in a crevice.
What he had wished for had come true: He had asked to come back during a second term.
He will not be able to visit again as president, but implied that he will be back in another capacity. The note he left this time had nothing to do with being president again, he said.
■ TO READERS of The Jerusalem Post and other Israeli publications, the name of Zvi Mazel, a former Israel ambassador to Egypt, is quite familiar.
Aside from writing op-ed pieces and analyses on recent developments in Egypt, Mazel is frequently interviewed on radio and television, and in retirement has perhaps become more of a celebrity than he was as a diplomat.
(That is, except when as ambassador to Sweden, he pulled the plug on an installation that was outrageously offensive to Israel and to families who had lost loved ones to terrorism.) Some of the more veteran readers of the Post may recall another Mazel by the name of Michelle, who happens to be his wife and the mother of his three children. Michelle Mazel was a frequent contributor to the long-defunct women’s pages of the Post, and occasionally to its op-ed pages. An author and translator who writes fiction and non-fiction in her native French, English and Hebrew, she has authored several books. One of these books, The Ambassador’s Wife, was published in 2002 and tells the story of the eight years she spent with her husband in Egypt during two different periods – the first being as members of Israel’s first diplomatic mission to Egypt.
Now she’s come out with another book related to her husband, Dancing with the Ambassador. Written in Hebrew, the book’s title conveys the impression of a glam lifestyle – which now and again, it was. But much of it was not. People who know nothing about a diplomat’s lifestyle and see only the public persona are inclined to think that diplomats spend their time meeting heads of state and going to garden parties. Yes, that is part of what they do, but for Israeli diplomats and their families, there’s a lot of strain and stress – constant fear of terrorist activities, and for the children, a constant lack of stability, as they move with their parents from one country to another, leaving behind friends and a language they have just mastered.
And that is not the whole story. In Dancing with the Ambassador – with whom she continues to dance – Michelle Mazel presents a lot of behind-the-scenes insights that may cause the spouses of novice diplomats to think twice about their mate’s chosen career, in the shadow of which their family must live.
From her own perspective, Mazel, who has been married for 50 years, regrets nothing, or to quote the song made famous by her fellow countrywoman Edith Piaf: “Je ne regrette rien.”
■ NOT SO many years ago, household furniture and appliances were purchased with an eye toward permanence, and jobs were sought in the hope of long-term employment until the age of retirement. But today, we live in an era of rapid change. Just look at the frequency with which mobile phones are upgraded, and how quickly the new versions are purchased.
Owning the new series of any brand has become a status symbol.
The same goes for jobs. Whereas a person who had too many places of employment on his CV was once considered an unstable worker, today the more places one has worked, the broader their range of experience.
All this preamble is due to a farewell party that was held for three staff members this week – none of whom are moving on to similar places of employment. The three honorees were longtime maintenance supervisor Raed Abu Shmasiya, who worked for the paper for 23 years, and who without formal training, was nonetheless able to solve electrical and other problems in a quiet, unobtrusive and efficient manner. He did not reveal his future plans, but is bound to be good at whatever he decides to do.
Then there was magazine editor Israel Kasnett, who is moving to the Prime Minister’s Office. Unflappable managing editor David Brinn said of Kasnett that he was the first person he met whose disposition was even calmer than his own. It could well be that with five children at home, he’s learned to be calm – although he was equally calm when his family was smaller.
And lastly there was Sapir Sharvit, who directed the editor-in-chief’s office, had creative solutions for almost any problem and with her radiant smile, engaging personality and multitasking abilities, endeared herself to everyone. Only 22 years old when she came to the paper a little over a year ago, she has just secured a managerial position with Champion Motors.
Both Kasnett and Sharvit spoke of how much they had learned on the job and how much they appreciated the work of their fellow employees, who they could see had given their all and gone the extra mile. Editor-in- Chief Steve Linde lauded the virtues of all three, and presented them with stuffed bunny rabbits in colors of their choice. Taking over from Sharvit is Iris Israeli, and from Kasnett, Laura Kelly.
Also farewelled were interns Henry Rome and Benji Rosen, who Linde said had done really great work during the few months they were at the paper. Each is going home with a Post T-shirt. But they may be back. Political reporter Gil Hoffman was an intern at the Post, went back to America to complete his university degree and then came to live permanently in Israel. Ilan Chaim, the newly appointed editor of the paper’s Christian addition, is on his third stint at the Post, having twice returned. There are several others for whom the Post has been a revolving door.
■ NOW THAT he is approaching the conclusion of his term of office, President Peres is not quite as careful about refraining from offending the sensibilities of the religiously observant sectors of the population as he used to be. On the Saturday afternoon that former prime minister Ariel Sharon passed away, Peres issued a brief eulogy only a few minutes later, instead of waiting until Shabbat was over.
Then, last week, he went for lunch to Jerusalem’s First Station, and instead of eating in one of the kosher restaurants, opted to dine at the non-kosher Adom. Admittedly, he was given a private room where he was not seen by the general public either coming or going, but he did pose for photos with chef Elran Buzaglo. At least one of these photos was published in the local Hebrew press, and more than one paper carried an item about the president eating at Adom, without mentioning the kashrut aspect.
Peres has been known to frequent non-kosher restaurants when he is abroad, which is somewhat ironic considering the efforts made by the local Jewish communities to ensure that the president of Israel has kosher food.
■ LAST FRIDAY, two international tycoons who visited the First Station opted for one of the kosher restaurants.
It’s not certain that kashrut would have been an issue with Roman Abramovich, owner of the Chelsea Football Club and chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia. But kashrut is certainly an issue with real estate, diamonds and chemicals billionaire Lev Leviev, who like Abramovich lives in London, to which he moved from Israel in 2007.
Leviev is on a frequent commute to Israel – as he is to Russia, the US and other parts of the world, where he has business and/or philanthropic interests.
He is president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Commonwealth of Independent States of the former Soviet Union.
Also seated at the table was Leviev’s longtime, loyal assistant Shlomi Peles, who represents Leviev not only in Israel but globally.
The trio marveled at the number of people who flocked to the First Station, which is crowded every Friday and is also well-populated during the rest of the week.
■ FEATURED IN last Friday’s Post was a captioned photograph of a luncheon hosted by Pope Francis at the Vatican, in honor of a delegation of 15 Argentine Jewish leaders from the Latin American Jewish Congress.
What the caption did not mention was that the luncheon was kosher – but that may have been self-evident from the photograph, as everyone including the pope was wearing a kippa. The pope wears a kippa all the time, as do senior representatives of the Catholic Church.
Latin American Jewish Congress executive director Claudio Epelman organized the meeting, together with Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka. Epelman, who is the World Jewish Congress official in charge of dialogue with the Catholic Church, said the conversations around the table focused on strengthening interfaith dialogue.
In welcoming the delegation, Pope Francis expressed hope that “this meeting will help nurture the seeds we have planted together,” and emphasized how he was looking forward “with great expectations” to his visit to Israel in May. At the conclusion of the luncheon, the pope and the Jewish leaders jointly intoned Psalm 133 in Hebrew. The Psalm, which contains the verse, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity,” was entirely appropriate for the occasion.
Pope Francis, who himself is from Argentina, was familiar with some of his guests, having met them at ecumenical events in his previous positions of archbishop of Buenos Aires and cardinal. Known for his interfaith activities, in November 2012 he brought Jews, Muslims and leaders of different Christian faiths together in the cathedral to pray for peace in the Middle East.
The Jewish community of Argentina, which numbers approximately 250,000 people, is the largest in Latin America. Argentina’s Muslim community numbers around 450,000.
Pope Francis will be the fourth pontiff to visit Israel since the establishment of the state.
The first, in 1964, was Pope Paul VI.
Then, in 2000, Polish-born Pope John Paul II had a moving reunion in Jerusalem with Holocaust survivors from his hometown, as well as others whose lives he had saved. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI also came to Jerusalem.
■ JERUSALEM KOSHER News, a website run by Yechiel Spira, a native New Yorker who made aliya in 1984, reported that the recently formed Kashrut Police, armed with a search warrant, raided the Basher cheese store in Mahaneh Yehuda as well as the nearby Basher Resto- Cheese Bar on Agrippas Street.
They found what they and Spira term “illegal” kashrut certification provided by Rabbi Moshe Alon of France, whose supervision is not approved by either the Chief Rabbinate or the Jerusalem Rabbinate.
The raid was also reported in the local weekend Hebrew media, with Eli Basher, part owner of the bistro and owner of the cheese deli in the shuk, which also sells pasta and fish palate pleasers, declaring that the Chief Rabbinate in Israel obviously wants to discredit certain rabbis and kashrut organizations from abroad.
Elad Cohen, one of Basher’s partners in the bistro, this week told the writer of this column that he believes this is because any supervising rabbi from abroad who wants his authority to be accepted by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate must pay for the privilege. The bistro is absolutely kosher, he said.
When quizzed about kosher dietary regulations, especially those applying to lettuce, Cohen gave all the right answers, and added that the bistro purchases only so-called Gush Katif lettuce – which meets Israel’s highest standards of supervision.
Eli Basher told reporters that he imports cheeses from many parts of the world, as a result of which they come with many different stamps of kashrut approval. He also stocks some non-kosher cheeses, and informs customers they are not kosher. Cohen thinks that the raid is the beginning of a vendetta against all the breakaway eateries, which used to be under the approval of the rabbinate but decided they do not want to pay the wages of supervisors who seldom show up.
Proprietors claim they are equally kosher, with or without certification.
Most have retained their regular clientele.
Aryeh Green, the founding director of MediaCentral, who is currently on a mini-sabbatical, celebrated his birthday on Sunday – and chose to do so at Basher. For several years before that, he celebrated at Tmol Shilshom and before that, at B’Sograim. What he does on his birthday is spend the whole day in the restaurant, entertaining friends and acquaintances who show up to wish him well. He orders refreshments for them and at the end of the day, pays for whatever his guests have consumed.
He was abroad when news of the raid was published and began getting urgent emails drawing attention to the fact that the Basher Resto does not have kashrut certification. Green, who is Orthodox, made his own inquiries, and was satisfied that with or without a certificate, the bistro – which is closed on Shabbat – meets all the criteria of kashrut. The proprietors placed him in a private room downstairs, in an area that has an ethnic Middle Eastern aura, and there was a constant trickle of people coming in to say “Happy birthday.”
Just as a matter of interest, Spira lists 19 kashrut agencies recognized by the Chief Rabbinate.
■ WORLD-ACCLAIMED expert on trees Yisrael Galon, who is the forest commissioner with the Agriculture Ministry, on Saturday led some 40 congregants of Jerusalem’s Hazvi Yisrael synagogue around Talbiyeh to familiarize them with trees in the neighborhood and explain the genetics of some of the trees. Although there were a lot of broken branches during the snowstorm, Galon said that most of the trees had weathered the storm quite well and were recovering nicely. Had the trees been properly pruned throughout the year, as was the case at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, he said, there would have been far less damage to trees in general.
While it has become a tradition in Israel to plant tree saplings on Tu Bishvat, in most cases it is not the ideal time for planting, said Galon.
He was also critical of the fact that while a lot of attention is paid to planting, not enough is given to caring for the trees. This is one of the reasons the Agriculture Ministry introduced the Embrace a Tree program to schools. Galon stressed the importance of educating children on the importance of trees, especially now that real estate developers want to cut down trees which are standing in the way of their projects.
An ordinance introduced by the British in 1926 designated felling of trees without a special permit a criminal act. The British master plan for the greening of Jerusalem was wonderful, said Galon, adding that most of the old trees in the neighborhood had been planted during the Mandate era.
Among the exceptions were the palm trees, which are much older and which are found in abundance in what was formerly an Arab neighborhood, due to the Arab belief that palm trees are symbols of fertility.
Several passers-by who heard Galon speaking stopped to listen, were fascinated and joined the group.
Some of the olive trees in Talbiyeh are hundreds of years old, he continued.
While older trees will continue to survive, those planted recently will be weakened by air pollutants that did not exist when the older trees were saplings, Galon noted. Particularly sensitive to pollution are recently planted carob trees, which are also sensitive to improper pruning.
■ ONE OF the advantages of having white walls in an art gallery is that some of the items in an exhibition can be temporarily removed from the wall, to make way for the screening of a movie. That was the case last week, when photographer Yoram Amir removed some of the blown-up photographs from his exhibition at the gallery at The First Station so that a large number of invitees, many of whom were invited by Osnat Kollek – the daughter of Jerusalem’s late, beloved long-term mayor Teddy Kollek –could watch Frame by Frame.
Amir is one of the stars of the documentary directed by Ofra Sarel-Koren, who was also present, as was producer Sigal Landesberg. The other star of the film, which was released in 2012, was architect Saadia Mendel, who has spearheaded numerous attempts to preserve historic buildings.
Both Amir and Mandel, in the documentary and later in the flesh, were preaching to the converted. Each of them is concerned that Jerusalem is losing its identity to the greed of real estate developers, whose lack of concern for the preservation of historic buildings has resulted in the destruction of many important buildings.
The film opens with the statement that after the Six Day War, there were 1,200 buildings outside the walls of the Old City; 400 have since been torn down, and others are in danger of being torn down.
Amir, who is primarily a wedding photographer, does not take his bridal couples to the Western Wall.
Instead, he takes them to historic 19th-century and early 20th-century buildings, some of which are under threat, and some which have been partially destroyed and are surrounded by rubble. The locations are certainly different from run-of-the-mill bridal photography.
Another thing he does is salvage windows from buildings that have been destroyed. Unlike modern windows, all the windows in his collection are arched with handmade wooden frames. These also featured in his exhibition, and were rescued from Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian buildings. The photographs in Amir’s exhibition also feature some of the ugly buildings that do not harmonize with the character of Jerusalem, and lack the aura of those old buildings that have been totally gutted.
The First Station, which was restored and revitalized as a cultural and recreational venue by Avi Murdoch and Asaf Hamo, was an appropriate location for screening the film, because it is a prime example of preservation of the past with an eye to the future, as stated in the discussion after the screening.
Though not included in the film, the famous Schocken House, designed by Erich Mendelsohn, has long been a subject of dispute. For many years, it housed the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance and later the Shuvu School. The developer who owns it now wanted to destroy the building, but was prevented from doing so by the Society for the Preservation of Heritage Sites.
The Jerusalem District Planning Committee has approved a revised plan in which the existing building will become the foundation for a six-story residential complex. The building is next door to the Prime Minister’s Residence, however, so given all the security and privacy considerations, no one should hold their breath about construction beginning any time soon.
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