Grapevine: A press club to compete with hotel

For decades, the elegant American Colony Hotel in east Jerusalem has been a favorite watering hole for foreign, local journalists.

RANDOLPH CHURCHILL holds Isaac Winston in front of bust 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
RANDOLPH CHURCHILL holds Isaac Winston in front of bust 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
For decades, the elegant American Colony Hotel in east Jerusalem has been a favorite watering hole for foreign and local journalists as well as for the diplomatic community. On his visits to Israel, former US president Jimmy Carter conducts most of his press conferences there. It’s almost neutral territory – the Switzerland of Jerusalem, where Muslims, Jews, Christians and people of other faiths meet and conduct civil discourse without being hampered by the politics of the street outside, which tend to divide rather than unite them.
But the American Colony’s status in the worlds of journalism and diplomacy are in danger of being usurped by Mishkenot Sha’ananim, whose director, Uri Dromi, can hardly wait till next June when Mishkenot’s Foreign Press Club will open its doors. Situated on the site of the original Mishkenot Restaurant, with a fabulous panoramic view of the walls of the Old City, church towers and Arab villages, the club will have a lounge, a bar with discount booze, an outdoor garden area and state-ofthe- art production and recording facilities to enable instant feeds to countries around the world. Dromi wants to open the club to journalists and diplomats, including those residing in east Jerusalem and possibly Ramallah. He also wants to encourage foreign journalists on special limited-time assignments in Israel to stay at Mishkenot Sha’ananim’s guest house, which has easy access to both east and west Jerusalem and which he wants to turn into a social and cultural oasis, in addition to its serving as a creative muse for writers, artists and musicians.
Dromi took several people who had come to attend the unveiling of the bust of Sir Winston Churchill at Mishkenot Sha’ananim at the beginning of this week on the tour of the premises of the proposed press club and enthused about what a jewel it will be in Mishkenot’s crown. The nearby Djanogly Hall will continue to be used for press briefings, lectures and book launches, after which participants can relax and socialize at the club. The only problem is parking, and for that reason Mishkenot will introduce a valet service.
The bust of Churchill, who was a noted journalist before he became a politician, will be placed at the far end of the garden so that passers-by from the outside will also see it and be reminded off what Churchill did to promote the interests of the Jewish people and the Zionist cause. In 2014, Mishkenot will introduce an annual Winston Churchill lecture series in the hope that Israelis will learn more about Churchill’s unqualified support for the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people.
In other circumstances, the inaugural speaker at the lecture series would be eminent British historian Sir Martin Gilbert, who is Churchill’s official biographer.
Unfortunately, Gilbert suffered a stroke which robbed him of his ability to speak, so another eloquent expert on Churchill will have to be found.
■ SOMEONE AT the Churchill event asked Daniel Taub, the Israel Ambassador to the Court of St. James, whether he was now going to become a regular reader of Ma’ariv.
The question was prompted by the fact that Shlomo Ben-Zvi, the paper’s new owner, happens to be the ambassador’s brother-inlaw.
■ THERE WAS strong mutual admiration between Churchill and the man who was to become Israel’s first president – Chaim Weizmann. Coincidentally, in the same week that Israel honored Churchill’s memory, it is also honoring Weizmann’s on the 60th anniversary of his passing. Weizmann died on November 9, 1952, just a little before his 78th birthday. For his 43rd birthday, he received a slightly premature gift. It was a once-in-a-lifetime gift of which he was not the direct recipient.
Instead it was given to Baron Walter Rothschild, even though it was Weizmann who had asked for it. The gift came to be known as the Balfour Declaration. Only two days before its November 2 delivery, Australian, New Zealand and British cavalry forces defeated the Turks in the fiercely fought Battle of Beersheba.
Curiously, the date on which the statue of Churchill was unveiled coincided with the Gregorian calendar date of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, who during the War of Independence commanded the Harel Brigade, which played a cardinal role in the defense of Jerusalem. Yet another instance of linking the dots of history. If one wants to take it even further, Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist Movement which Churchill supported so ardently, was also a journalist and his remains were brought to Jerusalem only after the establishment of the state. Weizmann, a highly respected scientist, developed a process for the manufacture of synthetic acetone, which was desperately needed by the British for use in explosives during the World War I. History also credits him with having proposed to Lloyd George the strategy that facilitated Britain’s victory against the Turks and ultimately General Edmund Allenby’s march into Jerusalem.
Weizmann was offered both a title and a financial reward for his services to the British Empire. He declined both, saying that what he wanted was a national home for his people, which was something that he eventually lived to see. Today, which is the day after the Hebrew date of the 60th anniversary of Weizmann’s passing, Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Humanities together with TAU’s Haim Rosenberg School for Jewish Studies, the Cymbalista Jewish Heritage Center, the Chaim Weizmann Institute for Zionist and Israel Studies, Yad Chaim Weizmann and the JNF Institute for Israel, Zionist and Settlement Studies will host an all-day conference on “Weizmann the Statesman, the Scientist and the Politician,” with the participation of leading academics from more than half a dozen institutes of higher learning in Israel plus one from the United States.
Yehuda Reinharz, former president of Brandeis University, will present the penultimate paper on “Chaim Weizmann – Statesman without a State.” The conference will be held at the Cymbalista Jewish Heritage Center on the TAU campus from 10 a.m.
■ HEH B’IYAR Street in Tel Aviv, better known as Hamedina Square, is known as one of Tel Aviv’s couture fashion centers.
Last Thursday, the large upmarket circle of stores became a red carpet area as a prelude to next week’s Tel Aviv Fashion Week. Fashion and accessories salons served champagne, wine, canapés, chocolate truffles and other goodies in the hope of enticing passers-by inside.
The overall event, headlined as “Fashion Night Out TLV,” included a yesteryear fashion dimension with a memorial tribute to Bulgarian-born Israeli designer Rojy Ben- Yosef, whose Rikma label became a fashion byword in Israel and abroad during the period of 1960 to 1985. Ben-Yosef sought to promote harmony between Jews and Arabs by using traditional Arab fabric designs, including the brightly colored stripes and the black and white keffiyeh, to create exotic dresses that won rave reviews in the international fashion press. She was also known for her creative swimwear.
The tribute at the Zemack Gallery featured a small collection of some of Ben- Yosef’s most eye-catching caftans plus a couple of items by contemporary fashion designer Tamar Primak, who was inspired by some of the timeless Ben-Yosef creations under the Rikma label. Primak, whose own collection under the Ishtar label will open fashion week at Hatachana on Monday, November 12, infuses intriguing details into each garment, but she should really stick to her own style instead of being inspired by other designers, because what she produced for the tribute fell so short of Ben-Yosef’s designs that she ultimately did herself a disservice.
Also on view was a marvelous book of photographs of the various collections that Ben-Yosef had designed over the years, and with few exceptions they could walk straight off the page and be completely in place in Hamedina Square or any other street in Tel Aviv today.
■ HE HAS not yet presented his credentials, but India’s ambassador-designate Jaideep Sarkar has already managed to host his first official function: the launching of a joint India-Israel postage stamp to celebrate the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The stamps were unveiled by Sarkar together with secretary and director-general of India Post Manjula Prasher, Israel Postal Company chairman Sasi Shilo and Israel Postal Company president and CEO Haim Elmoznino at a festive reception this week at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Tel Aviv. Guests included Israeli designer Ronen Goldberg.
A similar ceremony will be held in India on November 19 with the participation of the Indian artist Alka Sharma and Israel’s Ambassador to India Alon Ushpiz.
The two stamps were deliberately released at this time of the year, instead of in January, which was the actual anniversary month, to emphasize an important commonality between the two countries: the Hindu festival of Duvali and the Jewish festival of Hanukka, which are each reflected in the designs of the stamps and which, according to tradition, symbolize the victory of justice over injustice, the forces of good over the forces of evil and the forces of light over the forces of darkness.
All three speakers emphasized the aspect of light and the way in which the two festivals find an echo in each other. While Sarkar and Shilo spoke from printed texts, Prasher spoke eloquently without notes, but what amazed many of her listeners was not only her ability to relate to what had been said before it was her turn at the microphone, but also the fact that she unerringly remembered the names of all the Israelis who were closely associated with the project.
The stamps are a wonderful symbol of the ties between the two countries, said Sarkar, who noted that 40,000 Israelis are expected to visit India this year. He also referred to the success of the Indian cultural festival held earlier this year in Israel and said that he hoped to show more of India’s classic and contemporary culture in Israel in the year ahead. Prasher pointed out that even though a stamp is a very small piece of paper, it is significant not only because it denotes a country’s sovereignty but also because it commemorates important events, such as the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between her country and Israel.
Among the Indian guests in attendance were unofficial Indian ambassadors restaurateurs Reena and Vinod Pushkarna, who are the most visible representatives of India in the local community and who have been of assistance to every Indian ambassador over the past two decades. The Pushkarnas were being congratulated left, right and center on the engagement of their son Kunal, who runs a kosher restaurant in Singapore.
In fact, Vinod left for Singapore the following day, not just to see his son and his daughter Sarina, who also lives there, but to spend time with Sarina’s twin daughters, who are the apples of his eye. Meanwhile, Reena will be celebrating the month of Duvali in all of the family’s restaurants in Israel and has devised a special Duvali menu..
■THE WHO’s who of Israel’s hi-tech industry are fully aware of the enormous hi-tech potential among Israel’s educated Arabs, and several companies have made a point of creating conditions that will enable Arabs with hi-tech talents and expertise to join their teams.
There are also several Arab hi-tech companies that are doing their own thing with a staff that is entirely or almost entirely Arab. Now they’re going a step further with the first Arab Startup Weekend, to be held from Thursday, November 8 through Saturday, November 10 at the Gardenia Hotel in Nazareth. Startup weekends of 54-hour marathons have brought tens of thousands of innovators together in more than 700 cities around the world, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and have spawned thousands of new ideas and products. Now it’s happening in Nazareth at the initiative of three young local entrepreneurs – Jouna Khalil, Sami Abboud and Bshara Rezik.
Sponsors of the event are Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP), Cisco, Google, the Nazareth Business Incubator Center, Mati Nazareth, Mercy Corps, MEPI, NGT and NESTech.
Although hi-tech is the key engine of Israel’s economy, the Arab sector is critically under-represented. According to Tsofen, a non-profit organization aiming to integrate the Arab community into the hi-tech industry, roughly 500 Arabs work in Israeli hi-tech. Tsofen believes that number can be increased tenfold.
“Israeli hi-tech, which is ranked second in the world, must break down barriers,” says Erel Margalit, founder and chairman of JVP,and a mentor at the event. “There is huge potential for creativity and innovation among youth from the Arab sector. I hope this important initiative will open the eyes of Israeli hi-tech to this hidden talent.”
■ AT AGE 84, and a year after undergoing open-heart surgery, Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, who might be eligible for to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for having received more prizes and awards than any other international figure, still has the energy to make a lightning trip to Israel to receive yet another. Wiesel was one of two recipients last week of the fourth annual Nadav Foundation’s Peoplehood Award for 2012. The other was jazz musician Avishai Cohen.
The awards ceremony, in the presence of hundreds of guests, was held at Jerusalem’s YMCA. The presentation was made by philanthropist Leonid Nevzlin, who is the founder of the Nadav Foundation. The NADAV Peoplehood Award, in its fourth consecutive year, is given to individuals and organizations in the Jewish world in appreciation of their contribution in strengthening global Jewish identity and deepening the connection between Jews around the world.
Wiesel, who is arguably the world’s most widely known Holocaust survivor, is a writer, journalist and human rights activist whose writings and teachings have created enormous global awareness of both the heritage and the sufferings of the Jewish people.
He was the founding chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council until 1986, when he established the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity with the goal of fighting against racism and intolerance through dialogue and education.
Avishai Cohen is an internationally acknowledged Israeli jazz musician. He served in the IDF band for two years and his musical career flourished when he was living in New York and began experimenting and collaborating with various musicians, such as Chick Corea. He served as the artistic director of the Red Sea Jazz Festival, performed worldwide and has released 13 albums to date, including his recent album, Duende. His musical creation combines traditional Jewish elements with modern jazz in a rich variety of styles.
■ THE KEREN Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund has also come in for several kudos in recent months. After receiving the Council for a Beautiful Israel’s Award at a ceremony hosted by President Shimon Peres, the organization was honored last week by the Union of Local Authorities, whose president, Shlomo Bohbot, conferred upon KKL-JNF the title of “Notable of the Union of Local Authorities,” acknowledging the work that the organization has done in environmental fulfillment and achievement for the Jewish people and the state over the past 110 years. The award was accepted by KKL-JNF co-chairmen Efi Stenzler and Eli Aflalo on behalf thousands of KKL-JNF activists, volunteers and salaried workers in Israel and abroad. Stenzler announced that the organization’s next mega-project is the construction of a canal from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea.
■ WHILE ROCKETS from Gaza are causing havoc in the South of the country, in Jerusalem’s Gaza (Azza) Road, the bombardment is not from rockets but from culture.
After last year’s successful experiment to turn the street into a Friday cultural hub, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is once again getting into the act and for the second time is organizing what it calls “Einstein on Azza.”
The festive event, which will be held on Friday, November 9, is an extension of the start of the 2012-2013 academic year and is organized by HU, the Jerusalem Municipality, the Hebrew University Student Union and Academic City, a new Jerusalem Municipality project.
Faculty members and students, together with the general public, will participate in free public lectures and musical performances along Gaza and adjoining streets in the capital’s Rehavia neighborhood. In addition to lectures by faculty members, there will also be a mobile art exhibit, musical and theatrical street performances and a designer fair. Both Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who is a graduate of the university, and HU president Prof. Menachem Ben- Sasson strongly believe in integrating academia with the social and cultural life of the city. For many years, branches of the university were scattered throughout the capital and one was located at Terra Sancta, whose premises stretch to the intersection of Balfour and Gaza Roads.
Among the musical performances taking place in various businesses are Michael Greilsamme at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies; the Jamsheed Sisters on the top floor of 1 Ha’ari Street; a Greek concert at Cafe Moise; and Tal Cohen Shalev, appearing at Sushi Rehavia. Lecturers include Prof. Nachman Ben-Yehuda from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, speaking about the social implications of cheats and traitors; Prof. Ariel Knafo from the Department of Psychology, speaking about human personality and how it is influenced by heredity and the environment; Dr. Merav Amir from the Lafer Center for Women and Gender Studies, speaking about the relationship between sexual identity or gender and academic research; Dr. Yaakov Nahmias from the Rachel and Selim Benin School of Computer Science and Engineering, speaking about nanotechnology and the future of medicine; Prof. (emeritus) Yoram Bilu from the Department of Psychology and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, on the circumcision ceremony and its place in today’s world; and Prof. Gad Yair from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, on the nuclear competition between Israel and Iran. Also participating are Prof. Ariel Hirschfeld, head of the Department of Hebrew Literature, speaking about the books of Agnon; Dr. Renana Peres from the Jerusalem School of Business Administration, discussing social networking and word-of-mouth marketing; Prof.
Nir Shaviv from the Racah Institute of Physics, challenging the audience with a truly inconvenient truth about global warming; and Prof. Karine Nahon from the Jerusalem School of Business Administration and the Noah Mozes Department of Communication & Journalism, hosting a discussion on freedom and equality in social networks. All the lectures will be in Hebrew and will take place in eateries and in private homes.
■ NOT FAR away from all this action – in fact, only a few minutes’ walk away – a small but important ceremony took place last week when a blue plaque was affixed to the stone fence outside of 25 Alfasi Street.
Inscribed on the plaque in Hebrew and English is a brief explanation about two lots of tenants who lived in the building 70 years ago: “Abba Ahimeir, an author, a journalist and a leader of the Zionist Revisionist Movement, lived in the ground floor apartment in this building in 1939-1942. In 1942 Aliza and Menachem Begin, who in 1943 became the commander of the Irgun Zevai Leumi, moved to this apartment. In April 1944, after the British Police became aware of their dwelling here, the Begins moved to Tel Aviv.”
Members of the Begin and Ahimeir families, along with Mayor Nir Barkat, attended the ceremony. Menachem and Aliza Begin, who had lived there under the pseudonym of Sassower, had no inkling at that time that they would return to the area in 1977 to take up residence on the corner of Smolenskin Street and Balfour Road in the official home of the prime minister. Even then, Aliza Begin disdained airs and graces and went shopping unescorted to the local grocery store on Lincoln Street (the extension of Smolenskin Street) and waited her turn at the hairdressing salon on nearby Ben-Maimon Street.