Grapevine: Friends in need

If US Ambassador Dan Shapiro ever decides to opt out of a diplomatic career, he could easily become the international spokesman for Hadassah.

Peres and Jordan ambassador Obeidat 370 (photo credit: GPO)
Peres and Jordan ambassador Obeidat 370
(photo credit: GPO)
Among the speakers at the National Day celebrations of the Republic of Korea, which were also used to highlight the 50th anniversary year of Korea’s diplomatic relations with Israel, was former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
The many guests gathered on the lawns of the Rishpon residence of Korean Ambassador Ilsoo Kim were hoping that Olmert would finally announce whether or not he was returning to the political arena, but Olmert limited his remarks to Korea-Israel relations and kept everyone guessing as to his own intentions.
In other Olmert news, Yediot Aharonot reported on Thursday that he is being the prime mover and shaker behind the secret campaign to find a country in which former Mossad chief Meir Dagan could receive an urgently needed liver transplant.
Olmert used all his connections to call current and former world leaders, and when his efforts failed he recruited Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, whose influence proved successful.
According to the Yediot story, on the day that Olmert was acquitted of most of the corruption charges against him, he went straight from the court to spend time with his friend, Dagan. It should be remembered that when Tommy Lapid was ill, Olmert also spent a lot of time with him.
■ IF US Ambassador Dan Shapiro ever decides to opt out of a diplomatic career, he could easily become the international spokesman for Hadassah. In his address at the dedication of the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Tower, which was the hallmark of the opening of the Hadassah centennial and its national convention in Jerusalem last Tuesday, Shapiro was not paying the customary lip service of an American ambassador to the impressive record of an American Zionist organization.
His is a Hadassah family in every sense of the word. His wife, Julie, and their three daughters are life members of Hadassah.
His mother, Elizabeth Shapiro, was an active local and regional board member of Hadassah in Champaign, Illinois throughout his childhood, and Julie was raised in a Hadassah home in Duluth Minnesota, where her mother, Jane, was president of the local Hadassah chapter. The ambassador declared himself proud to be a Hadassah “associate,” which is the title given to spouses of Hadassah members who are also active in the organization. More than that, Shapiro, who with his wife and mother-in-law undertook an intensive tour of the Hadassah Medical Center, demonstrated familiarity with its many fields of research, training, education, the huge variety of medical services that it offers and what it does for the improvement of medical services around the world by training doctors and nurses from abroad.
Speaking of the commitment of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, without whose massive and dedicated input the Hadasssah medical, educational and social welfare networks would not exist, Shapiro said that he could scarcely think of a more iconic and more treasured example of the deep and loving ties between the people of the United States and the people of Israel than the holy work of Hadassah. He was also proud of the fact that the United States Government has “also gotten into the act,” and since 1976, with the bipartisan support of Congress, USAID has provided more than $54 million in support to the Hadassah Medical Center through the American Schools and Hospitals Abroad program.
Both Shapiro and President Shimon Peres noted that Hadassah’s contributions to the field of medicine transcend ethnic, political and religious lines and even the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Peres cited the example of Palestinian children who had been injured during the intifada and required the kind of medical treatment not available in Palestinian hospitals.
Through the Peres Peace Center they had been brought to Jerusalem and had been cured at Hadassah with the help of Arab doctors and nurses who work at the hospital and whose input was invaluable in overcoming language and cultural barriers.
Two thousand such children were treated at Hadassah, after which the Palestinians again approached the Peres Peace Center with a request for help for children with a range of different illnesses, and once again, the request was honored.
Altogether, the Peres Peace Center has referred 10,000 Palestinian children to Hadassah. Although political peace is hard to achieve, Peres observed, one place in which there is peace is in the hospital, where Arab and Jewish doctors and nurses work side by side to treat Arab and Jewish patients. Speaking of the relationship between Hadassah and Israel, Peres said: “We consider Hadassah as a joint venture between the United States and Israel.” He asked Shapiro to inform US President Barack Obama that on this score there are no complaints as far as Israel is concerned.
Looking out into the crowd at the Jerusalem International Convention Center at the start of his remarks Peres said: “Hadassah is 100 years old, but the delegates look like teenagers.” The oldest delegate present was Bernice Tannenbaum, a former national president of Hadassah and the founder of Hadassah International. At 99, the immaculately groomed and resilient yet genteel Tannenbaum zips around in her wheelchair, meeting, greeting and innovating.
By the way, she’s not the oldest active Hadassah member. There are quite a few who are as old as the organization itself and older – but forever young.
■ THE VOLATILE situation in the region since the beginning of the Arab Spring has generated both hopes and doubts about the future, especially with regard to Egypt’s relations with Israel. It was therefore an interesting and optimistic coincidence that Egypt’s new ambassador, Atef Salem, and Jordan’s new ambassador, Walid Khalid Obeidat, presented their letters of credence to Peres on Wednesday within half an hour of each other. They were among six new ambassadors presenting credentials, but despite the media hype that preceded their arrival, they were not the first in the group.
When any group of new envoys presents their credentials they do so in the chronological order of their arrival in the country.
They were thus preceded by Ivory Coast Ambassador Jean Baptiste Gomis, Italian Ambassador Francesco Maria Talo and Malta Ambassador Simon Pullicino. The last of the six was Armen Melkonian, the non-resident ambassador of Armenia who is based in Cairo.
Although they have been in Israel for a relatively short time, Salem and Obeidat have already made a strong positive impression on people in Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
“They’re both amazing people, bright, highly intelligent and well educated,” a member of the Foreign Ministry’s Protocol Department told The Jerusalem Post.
■ YET FOR all that the presence of Salem and Obeidat in Israel implies, Peres actually spent the longest time talking to Talo. Peres has a particularly warm place in his heart for the Italians, visits Italy at least twice a year and hosts Italian leaders with even greater frequency. He has an especially close relationship with President Giorgio Napolitano and with Prime Minister Mario Monti, who both visited Israel. More recently, Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi visited Israel and Talo, who had not yet presented his credentials at the time, accompanied him when he met with Peres. Next week he will accompany Monti to a meeting with Peres.
Monti will be in Israel at the head of a team of ministers for a government-to-government summit with their Israeli counterparts.
Peres told Talo that he is in the process of writing a book Dancing with the Future, based on his vision of how the world will look 10 years from now. What the president didn’t tell Talo is that he is also working on the speeches that he will deliver in Russia early next month when he goes there for a state visit and the dedication of the Moscow Holocaust Museum.
■ WILL THIS coming Sunday’s cabinet meeting take the cake? Or more accurately, will there be a cake to celebrate the 63rd birthday of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was born on October 21, 1949? Netanyahu is so far the first and only prime minister born after the creation of the state. But he is not the only Sabra prime minister. The others were Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, who were all born prior to 1948.
■ WHILE MUNICIPAL authorities in the capital have for years struggled unsuccessfully to change the names of certain areas, such as Talbiyeh and Katamon, from their Arabic names to their official Hebrew names (Komemiyut and Gonen), Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat had no compunction on Wednesday about naming a street in his city after the celebrated Egyptian singer Umm Kultum, who died in 1975. Admittedly, the street is not in west Jerusalem but in Beit Hanina, which is part of the city’s network of Arab neighborhoods. The naming of the street is part of a comprehensive plan to name all streets in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, where for many years streets remained unnamed and many buildings unnumbered.
One hundred forty-five new street names approved in 2012 will be given to streets in Sur Bahir, Beit Hanina, Shuafat, Isawiya, Abu Tor, A-Tur, Silwan and Ras el-Amud.
Local muchtars, religious leaders neighborhood representatives, and residents of these areas were consulted by the naming committee to recommend names that would be deemed suitable by the resident population.
It was an interesting coincidence that Umm Kultum Street was named on the same day as Egypt’s new ambassador presented his credentials.
■ IS ISRAEL ready for the female vote? In a country where women’s faces are not permitted in certain publications, where women’s faces have obliterated from billboards, where women are sometimes forced to sit in the back of the bus and where women are arrested for singing at the Western Wall, and where in some places they are not allowed to walk on the same side of the street as men, there might be a lot of people who think that a female vote should be encouraged, but the way things are right now, it’s unlikely to happen.
At a meeting held this week between members of the Israel Women’s Network and American female politicians who are currently touring Israel, IWN chairwoman Yaffa Vigodski declared that the time has come for gender-based voting in Israel. “In the United States as well as in many other democratic countries, it is already understood that women are the deciding vote in the elections and tremendous efforts are put into obtaining the female vote,” she said. “In Israel, perception is still traditional and conservative, and political candidates – male as well as female – fail to understand the importance of women as a unique target audience.”
Among the American participants were Ambassador Constance Morella, former republican representative in the United States House of Representatives who currently serves on the American University’s faculty as an ambassador in residence for the Women in Politics Institute, and Patricia Schroeder, former Democratic representative in the United States House of Representatives, one of the very few representatives who was a mother of young children at the time of her term.
■ THE BRONFMAN Youth Fellowships in Israel (BYFI) is celebrating its 25th anniversary this weekend, October 19-21, with community, celebration and action in a variety of programs throughout New York City. The fellowship program for promising Jewish 17-year-olds, founded under the vision and leadership of Edgar M. Bronfman, has almost 1,000 alumni.
“We were founded as the premier summer program for American teens,” says Rabbi Mishael Zion, “but after educating a generation of Jewish leaders responsible for some of the most creative innovations in American Jewish life, we see ourselves as a community of adult leaders who inspire and support each other in our various endeavors.”
Among the notable alumni are writers Jonathan Safran Foer, Dara Horn, and Daniel Handler and journalist Anya Kamenetz, the youngest person ever nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her Village Voice series, “Generation Debt: The New Economics of Being Young.”
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