Grapevine: Farewell to a diva

Israel’s fashion industry was shocked last week by the death of fashionista Nurit Bat- Yaar, who was widely regarded as the doyenne of Israeli fashion.

Ruth Dayan and her sister Reuma Weizman 370 (photo credit: Karen Kuehn)
Ruth Dayan and her sister Reuma Weizman 370
(photo credit: Karen Kuehn)
Israel’s fashion industry was shocked last week by the death of fashionista Nurit Bat- Yaar, who was widely regarded as the doyenne of Israeli fashion. Bat-Yaar, who died of cancer but who kept her illness a secret from all but her nearest and dearest, worked in every aspect of fashion scene except for the actual manufacturing of apparel. She had set her heart on being a fashion illustrator, but while still a teenager she was spotted by eminent fashion designer Fini Leitersdorf, who was then designing for the now long-defunct Maskit and who persuaded her to become a model. Bat-Yaar became a much sought-after photographic model while concurrently continuing with courses in illustrating and in graphic art.
Her chance to work as an illustrator came when Eli Tavor, who was a senior editor with the popular scandal sheet HaOlam Hazeh, interviewed her about a photograph for which she’d posed to promote Jaffa oranges.
When he asked whether she did anything other than modeling, she showed him her sketches and he promptly hired her. The job didn't last very long. Soon after starting at HaOlam Hazeh, where she was also given the opportunity to write about fashion, Bat-Yaar met Dr. Avraham Soriano. They married after a whirlwind 10-day courtship and went off to America, where he was working with the Pentagon. They stayed in America for several years and Bat-Yaar became a fashion correspondent for Maariv, reporting on New York Fashion Weeks, new fashion trends and up-and- coming and famous designers.
On her return to Israel, Bat-Yaar went to work at Yediot Aharonot. where she remained for 26 years until her retirement in 2001. In addition to being a fashion writer, editor and stylist, she was widely recognized as a fashion authority, trend-setter and king- (or queen- )maker. She could instantly spot budding talent, not only in young designers, whom she encouraged greatly by giving them exposure in Yediot, but also in fashion photographers to whom she gave assignments and in novice models whose potential she could immediately detect.
Many fashion writers are not an advertisement for the profession. They often dress like schlumps and, unless blessed by nature, are devoid of any glamor. Bat-Yaar was the antithesis of this anti-fashion attitude. She had her own particular style, which was often classic with a touch of drama. Her favorite accessory was a large artificial rose. She had lots of them in different sizes, colors and fabrics.
She was always perfectly coiffed and made-up, was invariably given a front-row seat at fashion shows, treated with great deference by fashion manufacturers and PR people and frequently interviewed by television and radio reporters who had been sent to cover a fashion show and weren’t quite sure what to make of it. Bat-Yaar’s comments in the interviews were their guidelines.
Bat-Yaar was born and raised in Tel Aviv, where her grandfather, Asher Polishuk, was one of the founders of Nahalat Binyamin.
Bat-Yaar was an alumnus of the famous Gymnasia Herzliya and knew just everyone who was anyone in Tel Aviv. When some people retire they close the door on everything related to their pre-retirement careers, but Nurit Bat-Yaar couldn’t stay away from fashion. She wrote a fashion blog in which she informed readers of the latest trends, the designers to watch and major fashion events around the world. She also mounted an exhibition on the history of Israeli fashion and later published a comprehensive, superbly illustrated book, Israel Fashion Art 1948-2008, which contains photographs by some of Israel’s leading fashion photographers and features nearly all of Israel’s top models up until 2008.
The book was a long-term labor of love which she continued to market via the Internet until just a few weeks prior to her death.
With her passing, a light went out in Israel’s fashion firmament.
■ SOME PEOPLE might wonder why Michael and Liora Federmann decided to host a reception in honor of the opening of the ”An Architect’s Paintbrush” exhibit at the Rubin Museum in Tel Aviv. The exhibition was a retrospective tribute to architect and designer Chaim Heinz Fenchel, who was born in Berlin 1906 and died in Tel Aviv in 1988 leaving behind a rich treasure trove of sketches, photos, collages and architectural plans.
His first project following his arrival in Tel Aviv in 1937 was the famous Café Pilz, overlooking the sea front, which had a reputation for mouth-watering cakes and entertaining night life. In the 1950s, he designed the first wing of the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv. The Dan chain was founded by Federmann’s father, Yekutiel, and uncle, Samo. In subsequent years, Fenchel’s main focus was the design and renovation of hotels, though he accepted other commissions as well. That Fenchel was a yekke and that Federmann comes from yekke stock, coupled with the Dan connection that links him to Fenchel, made him a natural for opening the exhibition. And, of course, he invited his many business associates, his good friends and some of his relatives.
Among those who accepted the invitation were Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his wife, Nili; Reuma Weizman, who was married to president Ezer Weizmann, and her sister Ruth Dayan, who is an amazing personality in her own right; governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer and his wife, Rhoda; Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai; philanthropist Dov Lautman who promotes academic excellence and equal-opportunity education; Elem chairperson Nava Barak and her husband, Shalom Zinger; Osem chairman Dan Proper and his wife, Susie; hi-tech entrepreneur Yossi Vardi; General (Res) Eitan Ben- Eliahu; lawyer Eli Zohar and his wife, Nili; actor Haim Topol; president of the Israel Hotels Association Ami Federmann; directorgeneral of the Dan Hotels Ami Herstein; former Shabak chief and current vice president of external relations at the Hebrew University Carmi Gillon; the wife of would-be MK Yair Shamir, Ella Shamir; former Tel Aviv mayor Roni Milo and his wife, Elisheva, Israel Museum director James Snyder and his wife, Tina; and a large representation of Federmanns.
Joining the Federmanns in hosting the reception were members of the Fenchel family and Carmella Rubin, the daughter of celebrated painter Reuven Rubin, whose home was turned into a museum and gallery. Huldai noted that Fenchel had designed many of the buildings that became Tel Aviv landmarks and which, in many instances, are still standing.
■ SEVERAL OF the same people were at the Israel Museum this week for the annual gala of the Israel Friends of the Israel Museum, which was marketed under the title “Artishuk” – as distinct from “artichoke.” The two words are written identically in Hebrew, except for the placement of one small dot.
“Shuk” is the Hebrew word for “market,” and although the Israel Museum can hardly be described as a market, the concept that dictated the evening’s events was what James Snyder called a cross-cultural and multi-cultural resonance of his two favorite places in Jerusalem – the Israel Museum and the Mahaneh Yehuda market.
Organizers of the event were tasked with coming up with an event that could impact personally on more than 500 people – and they met the challenge head-on by organizing 18 groups that were taken on tours to specific places in the museum, walking without stopping through numerous galleries until they reached their destination and met a well-known personality who gave them his or her impression of a specific exhibit. The ever-articulate Snyder was, of course, one of the lecturers, as were Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon’s widow, Rona Ramon; public relations luminary Ran Rahav and British Ambassador Matthew Gould, who discussed three pieces of archaeological evidence that offered proof of crucifixions in the time of Jesus.
At the opposite end of the religious spectrum, Stanley Fischer, standing in the transferred Surinam synagogue, proved to be almost as knowledgeable about the Jews of Surinam as he is about economics. Using the splendor of the 18th century Rothschild salon, donated to the museum in 1969 by Baron Edmond de Rothschild as a backdrop, award-winning actress Evgenia Dodina recited from the autobiography of Simone de Beauvoir, who was arguably the first feminist.
Given the time factor and individual concentration spans, it was impossible for any of the 540 guests to go on more than two tours. To relieve frustration, all the tours were video taped and will be uploaded onto YouTube so that it will be possible even for people who weren’t there to get the gist of what they missed – though it will not be easy to capture the fragrance and flavor of Mahaneh Yehuda.’ Proceeds from the event will be used to advance the museum's educational programs.
Rachel Yanai, who, with her husband, Moshe, chairs the Israel Friends of the Israel Museum, announced that the sum raised through the gala was NIS 1.6 million.
She also spoke of how the friends of the museum have, through a special acquisitions committee, purchased 39 works of contemporary Israeli art to add to the museum’s collection.
All the guests went home with a beautifully illustrated book on contemporary art in Israel.
■ OVER THE past month, the diplomatic community in New York has come together on more than one occasion to discuss matters concerning Israel. Last week it was not another debate in the United Nations General Assembly that caused diplomats to focus on Israel, but rather a Hannuka party co-hosted by the Israeli Mission to the UN and the World Jewish Congress.
Diplomats from around the world, Jewish community leaders and media representatives congregated in the impressive Neue Gallery in Manhattan to light Hanukka candles and nibble on doughnuts. The Neue Gallery belongs to World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder. Special guests included Elie Wiesel, El Al CEO Eliezer Shkedi and British historian Andrew Roberts.
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor lit the candles together with Lauder and told the guests, “My job would be a little simpler if diplomacy consisted of fewer fireworks in the Security Council and more cocktails by candlelight. May you use this time to enjoy the glow of family and friends, and may the joys of the holiday season stay with you for far longer than eight days.”
Shkedi took advantage of his visit to the US to get some prominent Jewish figures to fill in a letter in the El Al Torah scroll. Prosor did so in New York and Senators Joe Lieberman, Eric Cantor and Debbie Wasserman Schultz did so in Washington. Shkedi presented the Senate with an English-Hebrew edition of the Bible, saying “I leave from here taking with me to Israel a Torah Scroll to which you have contributed, but I leave you a Bible which contains the values that are common to both the US and Israel.”
■ FEW RETIREES remain as closely involved with their former places of employment as those of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Many return to work in voluntary capacities in research projects, in the preparation of legal documents etc. The ministry values both the previous and the ongoing contributions of its retirees and holds activities for them, including an annual Hanukka party.
Such receptions used to be held in plush hotels with waiters serving hot and cold beverages and there were tempting platters of assorted cakes. A few years ago, after the ministry moved to its current premises, it was decided that a hotel reception was too expensive and that such receptions would be held in the ministry’s vast entrance hall, after which everyone would move to the adjacent auditorium for speeches and a light musical program.
There would be an address by the minister or his deputy or, if they couldn’t make it, the director-general. In previous years, there was a generous buffet.
This year, apparently due to budgetary constraints, there was no buffet. Tables were set up in the auditorium. There were some sorry-looking cookies and urns of boiling water from which participants could make their own tea or coffee and there was also some orange juice of a dubious quality.
There wasn’t a doughnut or a latke in sight.
The hanukkiya was duly lit and voices rang out in a chorus of “Ma’oz Tzur.” There were no china cups and plates, as there had been in previous years; everything was disposable.
The minister was busy and so were the deputy minister and the director-general.
Pinhas Avivi, one of several deputy directors- general, came to greet the old-timers, many of whom he had worked with in the past, including former deputy directors-general Arieh Levin, Yosef Govrin, Ephraim Dubek, Itzhak Minervi, Itzhak Shelef and Zvi Mazel and scores of former ambassadors who for decades had represented Israel in many countries of the world. As usual, there were no words of appreciation for the spouses who had often sacrificed careers and had hosted numerous diplomatic luncheons and dinners and had often worked for a pittance if anything at all at Israeli embassy and consular offices to which their significant others had been posted.
■ AT NATIONAL receptions being hosted by republics that were once part of the Soviet bloc, the government is usually represented by Russian-speakers. Thus Minister for Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver represented the government at the reception at the Dan Panorama in Tel Aviv that marked Kazakhstan’s 21st anniversary of independence and the 20th anniversary year of the country’s diplomatic ties with Israel. Landver delivers her speeches in Hebrew and Russian, but never in English. As has happened twice in recent weeks, Shmuel Morgan of the Foreign Ministry’s Protocol Department had to read the English translation of her speech, though Landver made it clear that she would have preferred no English at all. It didn’t quite work out that way, especially as Ambassador Bolat Nurgaliyev delivered his address in excellent English.
Because the Independence Day reception coincided with Hanukka, there was much more to the program than in previous years.
There is always traditional Kazakh singing and dancing after the speeches, and one year there was a Kazakh fashion show, but this year’s celebration also included a Chabad tribute to Kazakhstan by the Chief Rabbi of Kazakhstan Yeshaya Cohen, who had previously met Nurgaliyev in New York and had received from him a document precious to Chabad – the death certificate of Rabbi Levi Yitzhak Schneerson, (the father of the last Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson), who died in Kazakhstan and is buried in the Jewish cemetery in Almaty.
Cohen, who has been living and working in Kazakhstan since 1994, extolled the virtues of Kazakhstan as a haven for thousands of Jews during the Holocaust and as a place in which people of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds can live in harmony. Throughout all his years in Kazakhstan, he said he had never heard a bad word about the Jewish people. “We can go freely in the streets without being afraid,” he said, alluding to the rise of anti-Semitic incidents in several other countries.
Drawing a parallel between Hanukka and the vision for freedom and democracy as expressed in various international organizations founded at the initiative of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Cohen said: “If you want to fight darkness, you have to light a candle.” Then, realizing that there are two sides to any story, he added, “A candle is supposed to make light but not fire.” He presented Nurgaliyev with a large silver hanukkiya as a symbol of the light that Kazakhstan has brought and will bring to the world, with the wish that Kazakhstan will always have light.
A group of seven young Chabad boys, each with a glorious voice that delighted guests, sang the Hanukka blessings, and two of them also performed a spirited dance.
The group, which came to Israel specially for the occasion, also sang to President Shimon Peres during his most recent visit to Kazakhstan.
While Landver didn’t get to make her speech in Russian, she did converse in Russian with Nurgaliyev. The honor of making a speech in Russian went to Zavieli Kremer, the beribboned vice president of the Kazakhstan War Veterans Association, who, like Cohen, heaped praise on Kazakhstan for its tolerance and enlightenment. In referring to Kazakhstan’s economic transformation in only two decades, Nurgaliyev proudly announced that out of the 25 most dynamic economies over the past decade, Kazakhstan ranked third. He was also proud of the fact that his country’s citizens live in an environment of unity, political stability, inter-ethnic and inter-religious harmony and social justice.
Kazakhstan believes in constructive relationships with her neighbors, he said, and has a policy of disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Landver recalled that Israel had opened an embassy in Almata in 1992 and that in 1996 Kazakhstan had been the first Central Asian country to open an embassy in Israel.
She spoke admiringly of what Nazarbayev has done to promote Kazakhstan’s domestic success and its international stature, his role in establishing the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, of which Israel is a member state, and the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, which promotes interfaith dialogue. She also congratulated Kazakhstan on being chosen to host EXPO 2017.
■ EVERYONE WHO has done something of note in their life wants to leave a legacy for future generations. Thus the writing of autobiographies has become an increasingly popular pastime for people from different walks of life who want the coming generations to know from whence they came.
Among the writers of such books is Ambassador Yissakhar Ben-Yaacov, who in 1948 was one of the first and youngest members of Israel’s Foreign Service, serving for almost 40 years in the home office, in Munich, Cologne, Philadelphia, Lagos, Vienna and Canberra, Australia. He also served for five years as a political advisor to Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek and, after retiring from the Foreign Service in 1987, remained a quasi-diplomat, serving as the representative of World ORT and Bar-Ilan University in Central Europe. On his return to Israel he was appointed special advisor to the president of the Jerusalem Foundation, which Kollek established in 1966 and which had grown in importance following the Six Day War in 1967. Ben-Yaacov spent 10 years with the Jerusalem Foundation, from 1997 to 2007.
He recently celebrated his 90th birthday and is still going strong. During his retirement years, Ben-Yaacov, at the urging of his wife, Priva, wrote his autobiography, primarily for their grandchildren. It makes fascinating reading. Beginning with early outbreaks of anti-Semitism in the 1930s in his native Germany, it relates what it meant for his immediate family to be uprooted from their home in Hamburg in 1933 and the adjustments they had to make in their new environment in pre-state Israel. Even as a youth, Ben-Yaacov displayed strong inclinations to serve his people, starting with the Noar Ha’oved youth movement, then the Histadrut and later the Foreign Service, where his superiors were sometimes very difficult people Dignitaries whose names now grace history books were part of his social and working life and he was on first-name terms with them. This is one of aspects that make the book so interesting, as well as all the changes in his life as he was assigned from one country to another. For most of his career, in all his overseas postings Ben-Yaacov played a major role in fostering Israel’s International Cooperation with developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, as well as promoting Israel’s image in this context in Europe and the US.
For someone who had to flee his native land, Ben-Yaacov has experienced two satisfying ironies. One was to be sent as Israel’s representative to Munich and Cologne and the other was to be awarded the Federal Republic of Germany’s Great Order of Merit in recognition of his work in enhancing relations between Israel and Germany. Over the years, Ben-Yaacov regarded everything that he did for the state as a reward in itself, and this is reflected in the title of his book, A Lasting Reward, which was published in German in 2007, in Hebrew in 2009 and in English in 2012.
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