Grapevine: From Beijing to Beit She’an

Chinese tributes for David Levy’s town, Eitan Ben-Eliahu hosts a gala for Beit Hatefutsoth, British Ambassador Matthew Gould’s Balfour date, and Yad Vashem honors Fanya Gottesfeld-Heller.

ALTHOUGH HE has been out of active politics for some years now, former foreign minister David Levy stepped back in time last week when he joined Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jun in welcoming guests to the 61st anniversary celebrations of the independence of the People’s Republic of China and the upcoming conclusion of the 18th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations in which Levy had played a leading role.
The occasion also provided several opportunities for Levy to greet former parliamentary colleagues. Later in the evening, he also proved that being out of the political limelight had not robbed him of his powerful rhetoric, and also preserved the conundrum as to whether he is able to speak English by addressing the huge crowd in Hebrew.
Zhao delivered his address in English, with a smattering of Hebrew, and President Shimon Peres, who specially wrote an ode to China, spoke in both Hebrew and English.
The event was held in Levy’s home town of Beit She’an, where he has been living since making aliya from Morocco in 1957.
He was initially employed as a construction worker, but soon demonstrated a keen aptitude for politics, rising to mayor before entering the Knesset in 1969.
Today, his son Jackie is mayor and his daughter Orly is an MK.
For Levy, finalizing diplomatic ties with China after months of secret negotiations was more than a political triumph. “You all know how difficult it is to keep a secret in Israel, but the meetings remained secret until we established diplomatic relations,” he told the thousands of guests. Levy commended the ambassadors of both countries for realizing the importance of their mission and for doing great work to enhance bilateral relations.
Addressing Peres, Levy said: “This is not the first time that you have come to Beit She’an, but it is the first time that you have been here when Beijing and Beit She’an are celebrating friendship together.”
Zhao who has been to Beit She’an many times during his three years in the country, and who has a deep regard for Levy, decided to honor him by not only holding the 61st anniversary celebration in the town, but also by bringing highly acclaimed Chinese singer Ha Hui and her troupe to its Roman amphitheater to give Israelis an introduction to classical Chinese culture including songs that are 2,000 years old, and a traditional Chinese wedding ceremony that had many similarities to a traditional Jewish ceremony, with the most obvious exception that the bride wore red instead of white. The groom incidentally, was played by David D’Or.
Ha Hui, who has been here before and is an unofficial ambassador for Israel in China, earned a massive round of applause when she included Naomi Shemer’s “Horshat Ha’eucalyptus” in her repertoire, giving it a unique interpretation of her own.
The event was not only a first in terms of the head of a foreign mission choosing Beit She’an as the venue for the celebration, but for some 7,000 people who crowded into the Roman amphitheater, it was undeniably the most unique way in which they had ever celebrated Hoshana Raba.
Zhao said it was a “great privilege” to be able to celebrate in Beit She’an and added that just as 18 is a significant number to Jews (its alphabetic equivalent spells life), for Chinese it also means happiness and prosperity. Relations between China and Israel are constantly improving on all levels – political, trade, science and culture – he said, noting that China is the country’s largest trading partner in Asia and third largest in the world. He also emphasized the exchange of high level visits, saying that China was now preparing for a visit by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Three presidents and three prime ministers have already visited China.
Peres hailed Zhao as “a great ambassador and a dear friend of our country,” then turning to Levy said that he was delighted to be able to bring him the gratitude of the nation for his role in opening up relations with China. Noting the smooth running of the 61st anniversary event, Peres said to Jackie Levy: “The Romans built the amphitheater, but Beit She’an stole the show. This is an extraordinary event by every standard.”
As for China, Peres underscored its impact on the world’s economy, given the fact that it contains one fifth of the world’s population. He was full of admiration for China’s ability to rise from poverty to be one of the largest economies in the world, and in so doing giving the economically distressed fresh hope.
■ IN HIS weekly current affairs commentary on Israel Radio, Yehoram Gaon was perplexed as to why the Americans have not responded more forcefully to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s contention that the US orchestrated the 9/11 catastrophe. He hoped that Israel would be somewhat more forthcoming when Ahmadinejad visits Lebanon on October 13 and symbolically throws a stone across the border. Alluding to the story of David and Goliath, Gaon called for a mass rally of Israelis on the border, and urged participants to come with slingshots and to aim stones in the opposite direction to give Ahmadinejad a dose of his own medicine.
In some circles Gaon’s invitation might be misinterpreted as incitement, but Gaon simply sees it as tit for tat.
■ KARNIT GOLDWASSER captured international attention and won the hearts of most Israelis when campaigning for the return of her late husband Ehud, who together with Eldad Regev was seized by Hizbullah in 2006. The bodies of the two were returned in a prisoner exchange agreement in 2008. At the time, Ehud’s mother Mickey Goldwasser, who had formed a very close bond with her daughter- in-law, declared publicly that Karnit was a young woman who should get married again and rebuild her life.
Since then she has become a television anchor woman and is a co-presenter of the HOT current affairs program Status. It was through her job that romance entered her life. She had arranged to interview Kadima MK and former Jewish Agency chairman Ze’ev Bielski, who was accompanied to the studio by his spokesman and parliamentary assistant Yair Marton, who for some years was a successful international male model, and before that a combat soldier in an elite unit. He asked her for a date, she accepted and they’ve been spending a lot of time in each other’s company ever since. All those who know her story wish her well.
Meanwhile, like relatives of other soldiers who are prisoners or missing in action, she is part of the effort to secure the release of Gilad Schalit.
■ FORMER AIR force chief Eitan Ben-Eliahu and his significant other Ravit Tralovski hosted a reception at their home in Sde Warburg for the International Board of Governors of Beit Hatefutsoth. Prominent among the guests was Leonid Nevzlin, who is the chairman of the International Board of Governors and whose huge cash infusion saved Beit Hatefutsoth from closure.
Also present were Nevzlin’s wife Olesya, Beit Hatefutsoth director-general Avinoam Armoni, former prime minister Ehud Olmert and his wife Aliza, Rami and Yael Ungar, Yigal and Claud Braitman, Irina Nevzlin Kogan and her husband Michael, lawyer Ram Caspi ad his wife Ettie, Jacob and Osnat Perry and many other members of the business community and the social set.
Nevzlin recalled that when poet Abba Kovner founded Beit Hatefutsoth, or the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora as it is known in English, he wanted to show the long path in the history of the Jewish people and the contribution it made to civilization.
Today, said Nevzlin, it is obvious that Beit Hatefutsoth represents the torch of the Jewish people that was passed from generation to generation. “It enables us to learn about the past so that we can light the path for the future.”
■ SOONER OR later, British ambassadors get to be one of the guest speakers at the annual Balfour Dinner hosted by the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association to commemorate and celebrate the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. In the case of recently arrived Ambassador Matthew Gould it’s sooner rather than later. There is always an Israeli speaker in addition to the British speaker at the Balfour Dinner, and this year it will be Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman.
The dinner will be held just over two weeks after the actual anniversary. The date is November 17 and the venue, as always, is the Tel Aviv Hilton. It will be an ideal opportunity for those British expats who have not yet met the ambassador and his wife to remedy the lacuna.
■ IT’S VERY difficult for almost anyone, including the president, to refuse a request by Rabbi Yitzhok Dovid Grossman of Migdal Ha’emek. Grossman, famous for bringing youth at risk back from the brink, decided to take on the role of peacemaker, and to get Peres to accept the apology of former Agudat Yisrael MK Eliezer Mizrahi, who Peres felt had betrayed him in 1990, when in defiance of prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, he reached a secret agreement with the religious parties that resulted in the dissolution of the government.
Peres, who was then finance minister and Labor Alignment leader, was at odds with Shamir over negotiations with the Palestinians, and had threatened to quit the national unity government.
Shamir dismissed Peres and the other Alignment ministers, but lost the premiership when the Alignment filed a no-confidence motion in the government and won by a vote of 60-55. President Chaim Herzog subsequently tasked Peres to form a new government, but on the day that it was to be approved, Mizrahi and fellow Aguda MK Avraham Verdiger were absent from the vote. It later transpired that Mizrahi had not been present at the signing of the agreement between Aguda and the Alignment. The upshot was that Peres failed to form a government.
Shamir was given another chance, and formed a government two months later.
Peres never forgave Mizrahi, although the latter tried many times to apologize and sent intermediaries to explain that there was nothing personal in his having absented himself. It was simply a matter of principle.
However, just before Yom Kippur, Grossman intervened, brought Mizrahi to Beit Hanassi, and Peres, who can now afford to put the past behind him, given his popularity as president, finally said the matter was closed, shook hands with Mizrahi, and actually took an interest in what Mizrahi has been doing since leaving the Knesset, which for the most part has been heading a kollel in Rehovot.
■ THE ACTOR Tony Curtis, who died last week at 85, never hid his Jewish background, and moreover established a foundation that paid for a major part of the restoration of the famous Dohany Street synagogue in Budapest. His Hungarian ancestry prompted Curtis to not only contribute to the restoration of the magnificent synagogue but also to do tourism commercials promoting Hungary in general and Budapest in particular.
■ ADJUDICATORS REVIEWING candidates for the annual Landau Prize for the Performing Arts, in which the winners are each awarded NIS 50,000 by Mifal Hapayis, have a big headache. There is an unprecedented number of candidates – 303 to be exact – which works out to approximately a third more than the highest previous number.
Theater prizes are awarded to the best actor and the best director or playwright.
Cinema prizes will also go to the best actor and the best director or scriptwriter. The two prizes in the classical category will be awarded to the best instrumentalist and the best composer.
There will be no composer’s prize in the jazz section, but the performer’s prize will not be restricted to individuals. It may also be awarded to a band or an ensemble. In dance the prize will be given either to the person who devised the dance or to the choreographer. Other prizes will be awarded in subdivisions of the above categories.
The adjudicating panel will comprise representatives of all the performing arts, previous winners and academics.
Only citizens of Israel, who are currently engaged in the performing arts and have not won a Landau Prize or any of the other major prizes awarded here, are eligible to compete. Previous winners have included Barry Saharoff, Eitan Fox, Kobi Aflalo, Moshe Ivgi, Keren Peles, Meir Banai, Ehud Banai, Sasson Gabbai, Shlomi Shabat, Idan Raichel, Moni Moshonov and Nora Chilton.
If any of the people who signed an open letter stating that they would not perform at the new Ariel Cultural Center for the Performing Arts is among the winners, he or she will have an ethical problem about accepting the NIS 50,000, because Mifal Hapayis supports a number of projects in Judea and Samaria. The big question is will someone who refuses to perform in Ariel also refuse to accept NIS 50,000? ■ HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR Fanya Gottesfeld- Heller, who lives in New York and serves on the boards of numerous educational and philanthropic institutions and organizations, including the American Society for Yad Vashem, was honored last week in the Yad Vashem synagogue, where chairman Avner Shalev praised her courage, resilience and commitment to Holocaust education.
He also noted her desire to understand what makes human beings good or evil, and her conclusion after researching the matter was that there are no answers: The only thing that decent human beings can do is to build up hope, which is one of the components of the Holocaust education to which Gottesfeld-Heller and her progeny of three children, eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren are morally and financially committed. They have contributed generously to Yad Vashem to ensure that the torch of Holocaust education is passed on.
Gottesfeld-Heller’s granddaughter Aliza spoke movingly of how over the years she had gained a deeper and better appreciation of her grandmother. “Her courage lies in her ability to confront and face that terror every day of her life. She survives every single day. Each and every day she emerges a survivor.” Teary-eyed after her granddaughter’s words, Gottesfeld-Heller said she was filled with humility and gratitude to be standing in Jerusalem with her family.
“In 1981, I was here for the first survivors’ conference, together with my late husband. We made a vow. We would do what we can for Yad Vashem. I came today to fulfill my vow,” she said.
■ ON THE evening prior to being honored at Yad Vashem, Gottesman-Heller was among those who attended the opening of an art exhibition at the Jerusalem Theater by Batya Gevaryahu Wise, whose father Dr. Haim Gevaryahu, a noted Bible scholar, conceived of the annual Bible Quiz that is traditionally held on Independence Day. Also present were Uri Ariel, Ya’acov Amidror, Yehuda Mali, Sherry Ansky, Alex Lebac, Dudu Granot, Prof. Avi Diskin and Joel and Vera Golovensky, who were introduced to each other by the artist, who has proven that she is also a good marriage broker.