Grapevine: Comrades in arms and in peace

If young women get a job working for President Shimon Peres, there’s a fairly good chance that they’ll get married.

President Shimon Peres during a meeting in Toronto 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
President Shimon Peres during a meeting in Toronto 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In life, Yitzhak Rabin and Amnon Lipkin- Shahak were comrades in arms and friends, though Rabin was the senior of the two by more than 20 years. Both had served as chief of general staff, and in civilian life each in his own way was active in promoting peace. Now they have also been linked in perpetuity, with the naming of a hall in memory of Lipkin-Shahak at the Rabin Center in Tel Aviv.
Among those attending the dedication ceremony last week were Lipkin-Shahak’s widow, Tali, and two of their children; Rabin’s daughter, Dalia, who heads the center; Liora and Michael Federmann; Carmella and David Rubin; Niva Lanir; Amos Eran; Eitan Haber; and several American Friends of the Rabin Center. “It is a great privilege for us to be the first to permanently memorialize a brilliant yet modest man, a leader and an exemplary human being, and above all a true friend who was extremely loyal to all that the Rabin Center represents,” said Dalia Rabin.
Notwithstanding a drawn-out battle with cancer, Lipkin-Shahak – who had twice been decorated for valor and who upon leaving the army, became a dove – remained actively involved in Israel’s future and in her peacemaking efforts. Even on his deathbed in December 2012, Lipkin-Shahak spoke by phone from his hospital bed to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahuof his concern for the state. Knowing it would be their last conversation, he still not speak of himself.
Netanyahu later said at Lipkin-Shahak’s funeral that he would never forget that conversation.
In the many eulogies for Lipkin-Shahak, he was praised as a true hero both on the battlefield and in the political arena. Even the Palestinian leadership paid tribute to him.
The romance between him and his second wife, Tali, was kindled when she was a military reporter for the now defunct daily Davar. Now a well-known television and print media journalist, Tali (Rapoport) Schlesinger – as she was then – was the first woman print media journalist in Israel to be appointed a military correspondent. What made her promotion particularly noteworthy was that in her previous beat she had been a fashion writer, but easily made the transition from tank tops to tanks.
■ IT’S AN exhausting time for Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, who in very short shrift has had to be back in Israel for the visits of the US’s President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and this week, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. When Hagel visited the Defense Ministry on Monday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon showed him the wall on which photographs of all of Ya’alon’s predecessors are on display. Hagel was genuinely interested and moved forward to take a closer look, because he had actually met some of them during previous visits to Israel and during visits by Israeli defense ministers to the US.
■ LAST YEAR, Chaim Topol was the co-master of ceremonies at the Israel Prize Ceremony, sharing the microphone with Channel 1’s Merav Miller. This year, organizers had the good sense to let him do his own thing, and he was great, singing some nostalgic songs, switching to moderator and playing gentleman as he helped laureates to and from center stage. Perhaps next year he can take on an additional role and be an Israel Prize laureate himself. Although he has been honored with quite a number of awards, he has yet to receive an Israel Prize for showing the world the stuff of which Israeli actor/singers are made.
■ FEW THINGS could have been more symbolic at last week’s 70th anniversary commemorations in Poland of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising than performances by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. The orchestra was founded by a great Jewish violin virtuoso, Bronislaw Huberman, who saved the lives of 75 other Jewish musicians by arranging for them to come to Tel Aviv to form the orchestra that evolved into the IPO. In October of last year, Huberman was posthumously honored by his hometown of Czestochowa, when the city’s philharmonic orchestra added his name to its title. The building that is home to the orchestra used to be a synagogue, and if it had to lose its original identity, it has not entirely lost its Jewish flavor – hosting an annual Bronislaw Huberman Violin Festival.
Meanwhile, in Lodz, another great Jewish musician is being honored this week by the city of his birth, at the 3rd International Arthur Rubinstein Music Festival, which continues until April 27. Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, who presided over the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising commemoration, is the patron of the festival, and Rubinstein’s daughters, Eva and Alina, are guests of honor. The Philharmonic Concert Hall in Lodz has been named for Rubinstein.
Israeli-born cantor Joseph Malovany, who has lived for many years in America, where he is chief cantor at the Fifth Avenue Synagogue and professor of liturgical music at Yeshiva University, sang both in Warsaw’s Nozyk Synagogue and at the memorial ceremony at the Warsaw Ghetto monument, which is identical to the one at Yad Vashem.
Malovany has sung in Poland many times, and has frequently performed at the annual Krakow Jewish Culture Festival, which this year runs from June 29-July 8.
On the second Friday night of the festival, there will be a Sabbath dinner at the Jewish Community Center with the participation of Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Galicia Edgar Gluck, Chief Rabbi of Krakow Boaz Pash, and festival director and founder Janusz Makuch, who though not Jewish is a fountain of Jewish knowledge. Malovany – who in January 2004 was honored by then-Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, and made a commander of Poland’s Legion of Honor in recognition of his musical contribution to international and Polish communities – will not be singing at the Krakow Festival this year.
However, Brooklyn-born cantor Yaakov Lemmer, who studied with Malovany and Benzion Miller, who is a regular at the Krakow Festival, will be there. Lemmer sang at a special IPO concert held in Warsaw last Thursday night, where he sang “The Partisan” song in Yiddish, the language in which it was originally written, and which carries with it far more meaning than the Hebrew version that is usually sung in Israel.
It will be interesting to hear in which language it will be sung on May 6, when the organization of Partisans, Underground and Ghetto Fighters, and the offspring of those no longer living, will gather at the President’s Residence to pay tribute to those who resisted the Nazis. The event is two days ahead of VE Day, which will mark the 68th anniversary of the victory of the Allied Forces in Europe.
This year, VE Day also coincides with Jerusalem Day, which is celebrated in accordance with the Hebrew calendar, even though the reunification of Jerusalem took place in June 1967.
■ WHO SAYS beggars can’t be choosers? Child Holocaust survivor Rena Quint, a much sought-after voluntary guide at Yad Vashem, so impressed Mary Kluk, chairwoman of the National Executive Committee of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, that she invited her to come to South Africa for a series of Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies in three major cities.
Quint was inundated with phone calls upon her return to Jerusalem. Many of her friends wanted to hear about what she had done and who she had met, and some had actually listened to Internet broadcasts of her radio interviews in South Africa.
While she was on the phone, there was a persistent ring of the doorbell. Quint answered it to a beggar woman, and quickly gave her the small change in her purse. The woman rejected the offer, saying she doesn’t accept coins. It was later that Quint remembered that the same woman had come to her door some time ago, saying she was so much in need that she had no money with which to buy Materna for her baby. Quint always has Materna on hand in case her great-grandchildren’s parents forget to bring it when they visit, and instantly responded to the woman’s sob story by giving her a can of Materna. Later, she found it had been left on the staircase of her building.
■ YOUNG WOMEN looking for a husband don’t have to go to Meron to pray at the graves of the pious. If they get a job working for President Shimon Peres, there’s a fairly good chance that they’ll get married. In the past half-year alone, there have been more than half-a-dozen marriages among presidential staff members, and of course, throughout the whole period of his presidency there have been several more – plus a significant number of babies, with at least two more births on the way.
The most recent marriage took place last week at Ronit Farm in Rishpon, where Meital Jaslovitz – who until recently was the chief assistant to presidential spokeswoman Ayelet Frish, and who is now working in the Prime Minister’s office as spokeswoman on economic issues under the aegis of director-general Harel Locker– married Gil Ben-Zvi, who works in the research department of the Bank of Israel. In fact, their offices are opposite each other, separated by an internal road, but both are so busy that they seldom have time to see each other during working hours. It was a second marriage for both – to each other.
The first marriage, which took place before Passover, was in the family circle and conducted by an Orthodox rabbi. The second, emphatically egalitarian marriage was conducted by Reform Rabbi Daniel Meir, because the bride and groom wanted to share their celebration with a wider circle of relatives and their many friends and colleagues, but didn’t want it to be just a party.
So they went through with the whole ceremony in which they exchanged rings, and each recited the appropriate blessing. Both also read portions of the marriage contract that they had written themselves, instead of leaving it to the rabbi to do so. Jaslovitz, who worked with every department in the President’s Residence, invited former colleagues from most departments, including security, but her nicest gesture was to invite the religious young women who had opted for national rather than military service, and had served with her in the spokesman’s department.
The guest of honor was of course Peres, with whom Jaslowitz had frequently traveled on his trips throughout the country and abroad, sometimes going ahead to ensure that all the necessary arrangements were in order. She says that the five years she spent working with Peres were among the most exciting and rewarding in her life, but she felt that after those years, the time had come to move on. In her current role, Jaslowitz has to keep her finger on the pulse of every socioeconomic issue that the government encounters.
Peres was invited by the rabbi to join the young couple and their immediate families under the bridal canopy. He was pleased, he said, to be attending the wedding of two native-born Israelis who had made it their life’s mission to serve the state. Peres, who has a soft spot for kibbutzim, noted that Ben- Zvi had been born to Rivka and Avi Ben-Zvi on Kibbutz Dan, which he said was a very fine kibbutz – though with his own kibbutz background, he would have preferred that it not be Hashomer Hatza’ir.
Jaslovitz was born in Kiryat Ata, where her parents Etty and Noah still reside. Peres recalled that Kiryat Ata had been the home of the famous ATA Textile Mills, which for decades had produced the nation’s clothing, and from 1934 until the late 1980s had provided jobs for literally thousands of people.
Peres had tried to prevent the closure of ATA, but had failed. Fast forwarding to the present, he commended Jaslovitz for her devotion to duty and her unflagging energy, but warned Ben-Zvi that even though she had a sweet disposition, she was going to be the boss. “She’ll manage you without you even feeling it,” he said.
At the sumptuous dinner after the ceremony, the bride’s parents proved to be excellent stand-up comedians, as they related the experiences of choosing a wedding dress, the number of visits from Kiryat Ata to Tel Aviv for the measurements, the visits to the hairdresser, buying shoes, etc. The staff at the President’s Residence put together a delightful, fun-filled video presentation of the hectic life Jaslovitz had when working there. Peres had also participated in the making of the video and looked as if he enjoyed it more than meeting fellow heads of state.
■ WHEN SHE reads the news on Channel 10, Romy Neumark has no idea how many viewers out there are watching her. Last week, at the Independence Day reception for heads of foreign missions and religious communities hosted by Peres, she forgot she had a live audience. Neumark, who was the moderator for the event, was visibly nervous, especially after announcing the entry of Peres accompanied by Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. Diplomats and community leaders don’t have to be told to stand up when the president or prime minister enters the room – they rise to their feet automatically. After Peres and Netanyahu shook hands with everyone in the front row and took their places in front of their seats, Neumark began reading her written text, oblivious to the fact that everyone – including Peres and Netanyahu – was still standing. After she completed a few sentences, a member of the presidential staff took the initiative and whispered loudly “Efshar lashevet” (It’s permissible to sit). There was a burst of laughter throughout the room, and everyone sat.
■ THE RECIPIENT of many well-deserved accolades, Israel Museum director James Snyder will receive yet another on May 13 at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, when he joins other international luminaries who have merited the prestigious Guardian of Zion Award.
The award is presented annually by Ingeborg Rennert, through Bar-Ilan University’s Faculty of Jewish Studies and the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies.
Just as there are no free lunches, there are no free dinners, and each recipient of the award is expected to deliver the annual Distinguished Rennert Lecture. Snyder happens to be one of the most eloquent of speakers, who successfully uses language to paint colorful mental pictures. His address will of course be related to the Israel Museum, which he calls an oasis of universal culture in a geopolitical world.
■ NO SOONER had it been announced that former science and technology minister Daniel Herschkowitz was the new president- designate of Bar-Ilan University, succeeding outgoing President Moshe Kaveh, then the knives were out. Some people wanted to know why IDF generals need a cooling-off period before entering politics, whereas a minister, especially one whose ministry had close ties with the university, can step immediately from one role to the other. Apparently Herschkowitz had applied for his new position while still a minister – but he had also made it clear before applying that he was not seeking a second term in the Knesset. Moreover, it is the Education Ministry, not the Science and Technology Ministry, that is the supervisory body over Israel’s institutions of higher learning. And lastly, considering that Hershkowitz will take over his duties as president only in October, he will already have had a cooling-off period.
■ IT’S THAT time of year again for the diplomatic changing of the guard, when several ambassadors will be winding down their affairs in Israel. The ambassadors are busy on farewell rounds as well as catching up with people and places that they did not get to meet or see during their periods of tenure.
Among those who will be departing this summer are Australian Ambassador Andrea Faulkner, who will take some leave and then return to Canberra to work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Brazilian Ambassador Maria Elsa Berenguer, who is taking up a post closer to home in one of the South American countries; and Danish Ambassador Liselotte Kjaersgaard Plesner, who is moving to Vienna to take be her country’s ambassador to Austria. Last week, accompanied by Dr. Joav Merick, an Israeli-Danish physician who is the medical director of Health Services at the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, she visited the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon to learn about Save a Child’s Heart. The organization provides lifesaving cardiac surgery and follow-up care to children from developing countries, regardless of race, color, religion, gender or financial abilities – including children from countries which have no diplomatic relations with Israel.
Plesner was welcomed by Wolfson director Dr. Yitzhak Berkovich, who took her to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit headed by Dr.
Sion Houri, and the Pediatric Cardiac Ward.
Plesner met with children from Iraq, the Palestinian Authority, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Ghana, Kenya and Romania, who are all being given the chance to lead a normal, healthy life thanks to Save a Child’s Heart. Plesner was impressed and pledged that her country would do its best to assist SACH in its humanitarian mission, and said she personally would keep an eye out for SACH from Austria.
■ DIPLOMATS ARE supposed to learn everything they can about the countries to which they have been posted, and medical services are included in the knowledge they amass.
Thus it was par for the course for US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, his wife Julie Fisher and mother-in-law Jane Fisher, as well as members of the embassy staff, to visit the Loewenstein Hospital Rehabilitation Center in Ra’anana, the largest standalone rehabilitation facility in Israel. After meeting with hospital director Prof. Amiram Catz and personnel as well as Erez Meltzer and Shula Melik, respectively chairman and director of the Friends of LHRC, Shapiro and his entourage met with some of the patients. They included Uri Sayag, who had been treated for spinal injuries and in the course of his rehabilitation, founded an Israeli nonprofit for the benefit of all people with spinal injuries. Afterward, they visited the physiotherapy and occupational therapy department and were amazed by the technological equipment, which has contributed so greatly to the rehabilitation of those with injuries once considered incurable.
The group also visited the youth section, where youngsters aged 3-18 – mostly accident victims and in some cases those suffering from genetic diseases that affect mobility – receive both therapy and education. They then visited the department where people with brain injuries are rehabilitated, and met with department head Dr. Yaron Sahar, who told them he had benefitted from advanced medical studies in the US. Surprisingly, Shapiro is the first US ambassador to visit Loewenstein Hospital.
The embassy is constantly looking to expand its cooperation with Israeli institutions, he said, and noted that America’s military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq have greatly increased US public awareness of what happens to people with brain injuries, and what can be done to rehabilitate them. The US is investing heavily in this field, he said, and has acquired a great deal of knowledge and expertise, as has Israel – which indicates that the two countries should enhance their cooperation in matters of rehabilitation know-how.
■ INDIAN AMBASSADOR Jaideep Sarkar and Shenkar College president Yuli Tamir last week inaugurated the 3rd Indian cultural festival, Celebrating India in Israel, with the launch of a unique exhibition, “Sari – Timeless Tradition.” Curated by Doron Polak, it offers a rare glimpse into the infinite variety of India’s rich and timeless textile heritage, and includes works from several Indian and Israeli artists on the sari theme. Hosted for the first time ever in Israel, the exhibition showcases an exclusive collection of more than 70 saris, including ornate Benares brocades, splendid southern Kanjivarams, brilliantly colorful bandhinis, intricately woven geometrical patterns of Ikat and pochampally, and storytelling Balucharis. In addition to the sari exhibition at Shenkar College in Ramat Gan, the Indian festival includes a tricity Bollywood Film Festival, Indian music and dancing, and “Words on Water,” a meeting of Indian and Israeli writers including Amish Tripathi, Namita Gokhale and Mushirul Hasan from India, with Dr. Roni Parchiack, playwright Savyon Liebrecht, Prof. Yigal Bronner and author Assaf Gavron. The festival runs from May 1-18.