Grapevine: Happy Birthday TODAY, Mr. President

President Shimon Peres, who has just completed official visits to Latvia and Lithuania, can finally celebrate the real date of his birthday – which is today, August 2.

Latuva President (photo credit: GPO)
Latuva President
(photo credit: GPO)
After receiving 90th birthday greetings for almost a year, Israel’s globetrotting President Shimon Peres, who has just completed official visits to Latvia and Lithuania, can finally celebrate the real date of his birthday – which is today, August 2. No doubt he will continue to receive greetings from wellwishers in the weeks and months to come, and he still has a few more trips abroad scheduled before he completes his seven-year tenure next year.
Meanwhile, Peres is getting ready to welcome members of the Barcelona Football Club on Sunday, though local fans both in Israel and the Palestinian Authority are more interested in star player Leo Messi, one of the best footballers in the history of the game.
■ ALSO IN birthday mode is billionaire philanthropist Sheldon Adelson, who will celebrate his 80th birthday on Sunday.
Adelson, who had once hoped to boost Israel’s tourist industry and economy by opening a legal casino in Eilat, met with so much opposition for so long that he finally gave up.
The upshot was that Israelis and tourists alike cross the border nightly to gamble at the casinos in Taba, just as they traveled to Jericho when there was a casino in operation there.
Adelson operates casinos in the US, Macau and Singapore; they carry strict warnings against gambling addiction and provide information on where gambling addicts can receive help. This goes hand-in-hand with the work of Adelson’s wife, Miriam, a philanthropist in her own right and a physician who has opened drug addiction treatment clinics in the US and Israel, also mentoring medical professionals and social workers in Macau on the prevention and treatment of drug abuse.
Adelson already celebrated the Hebrew date of his 80th birthday last month, and before that in June at a Taglit-Birthright mega-event in Tel Aviv – where some 6,000 Birthright alumni and new participants gathered to honor the man who had made their first visit to Israel possible. Adelson and his wife have donated tens of millions of dollars to the program, to enable young Jews from around the world to connect with Israel and strengthen their Jewish identities.
■ GETTING BACK to addiction, the Israeli media, like that of the US and some other countries, has become addicted to defining the most influential people in different categories.
The Jerusalem Post is no exception and like other Israeli publications, publishes an annual list of the most influential Jews. Other Israeli media outlets also publish lists of the most influential businesspeople and entertainers, the highest earning entertainers and CEOs, and the most influential Israeli women and businesspeople.
Now Haaretz, via its culturally oriented Galleria supplement, has come out with a publication listing the 100 most influential people in Israeli culture, covering television, theater, cinema, literature, art, architecture, dance, Israeli and classical music, fashion and design.
While 90 of the 100 people are listed within the context of their respective categories, the first 10 are not.
No. 1 in the top 10 is Avi Nir, who heads the Keshet production company, one of the franchisees of Channel 2. Second place goes to brothers Moshe and Leon Edery, who started their film careers screening movies in Dimona, and have since become producers and distributors as well as the pioneers of Cinema City theaters throughout the country.
Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, who has just scored a royalties victory for Israeli authors, is in fifth place, and conductor Zubin Mehta, the musical director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, is No. 10.
The overall list is controversial, more so in regard to who has been omitted rather than who has been included. In the theater list, for instance, there is no mention of Tzipi Pines, the general manager and artistic director of Beit Lessin, though Guy Pines, whose nightly Channel 10 show on the entertainment world, Good Evening, is featured in a section on multidisciplinary people of influence.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai is featured in the same section and described as a mini culture minister, because there are so many diverse cultural outlets within his purview. Similarly, Netanya Mayor Miriam Fierberg is listed in the classical music section, due to the tremendous support she has given to the Netanya Music Conservatory, the Kibbutz Chamber Orchestra and the National Youth Wind Instrument Orchestra.
Astoundingly absent from the literature list are Amos Oz, David Grossman, A.B.
Yehoshua, Aharon Appelfeld and a host of other bestselling authors. Etgar Keret and poet Noam Partom did make the literature list, as did some other writers, but not the ones who are best-known.
In truth, there are always disagreements on lists of this kind.
■ LET’S HOPE that Leo Leiderman, the newly designated governor of the Bank of Israel, has no skeletons in his closet.
This is taking into account the humiliating treatment that previous governordesignate Jacob Frenkel received at the hands of the media, and the even worse difficulties that acting governor Karnit Flug suffered at the hands of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who overlooked her capabilities and the fact that she had been recommended by former governor Stanley Fischer.
Leiderman has excellent credentials, but Flug is the qualified person who has been holding the fort. In addition, she would have made history as the first female governor of the central bank.
Although women seem to have broken through Israel’s glass ceiling, in that the state has had a woman prime minister, a female state comptroller, a female president of the Supreme Court, a female Speaker of the Knesset, two female foreign ministers, a female justice minister, and currently has a female chief negotiator in the peace process.
But that’s just a crack in the glass ceiling, not a break – especially considering that one woman, Tzipi Livni, has held three of the above-mentioned positions.
At the local government level, the situation is not much better. While women may receive greater representation in some local councils than in the Knesset, very few are mayoral candidates – and there are less than a handful of women currently serving as mayors. Women have been shamefully underrepresented in Israel’s political spheres, even though they constitute more than 50 percent of the population.
Organizations such as Ken – a Hebrew acronym for Power to Women, and spells out the Hebrew word for “yes” – have been training women to compete and take their places in the political arena, but have not yet reached their ultimate goal.
It is heartening, however, that three of the nine mayoral candidates in Herzliya are women. Herzliya is one of the few municipalities that has previously had a woman mayor – in the person of Yael German, who is currently health minister.
■ WHILE ON the subject of female politicians, both male and female legislators will be taking advantage of the long vacation period during the Knesset summer recess, and will be going on holiday somewhere in Israel or abroad.
Among those going abroad – though not entirely on vacation – is Yesh Atid MK Ruth Calderon, who will be the keynote speaker at the Plenary Conference of the Zionist Federation of Australia. She will address the topic, “Jewish and Democratic: Contemporary Questions of Identity in the State of Israel.”
Also traveling from Israel to Sydney for the August 11 conference is Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth of Ra’anana’s Ohel Ari Congregation.
Together with several colleagues, Neuwirth founded Beit Hillel – Tolerant Spiritual Leadership. The two will participate in a panel discussion on “Religion and State: The Role of Judaism in the Jewish State.”
It’s just as well that the Foreign Ministry has suspended its sanctions, which will enable outgoing Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem to attend the conference and deliver an address.
The conference will be his last formal engagement before completing his tour of duty. He might have received permission to attend anyway, given the nature of the event, which will also incorporate his farewell.
■ CURRENTLY AMERICA’S most famous physician, known not only for his expertise as a surgeon but also as a promoter of universal human values through his highly popular television show, Dr. Mehmet Oz came to Israel with his family at the urging of his friend, Rabbi Shmuely Boteach. Oz is in the process of completing a week-long tour of the country, which has taken him from north to south and east to west.
One of the places they visited was Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center, where they not only toured the facilities and spoke to medical experts and other staff, but also spoke to a large audience in the hospital’s packed auditorium – which contained a good sample of Israel’s demographic mosaic.
Oz, who had been impressed by the fact that Jews and Muslims pray under the same roof in Hebron, was equally impressed by the total lack of discrimination at Rambam, where both staff and patients are of a religious and ethnic mix. “Israel is a paradigm for democracies, for your treatment of minorities. You reward people who are not in the majority,” he said.
When asked how the coexistence model at the hospital can be exported, Oz replied: “We need to create policies based on core values and shared values. Rabbi Shmuley has impressed on me the importance of spreading Jewish values to unite all humanity, and really, they are universal values, the kinds that we all try and instill in our children. But it’s great to be here in Israel, the source where it all began.”
Oz also encouraged Israel to make cooperation agreements with Turkish medical centers and institutions.
■ DESPITE DECLARATIONS by Yossi Selman, director-general of the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, that no one in Israel dies of starvation, it is only because of organizations that run soup kitchens and distribute food to the needy that people aren’t dying of hunger in Israel. Prices keep rising, while wages are either cut or remain stagnant. After coping with rents or mortgages and paying for utilities, there isn’t much money left for food, and what there is, is often spent on carbs that are cheap and filling but not necessarily nutritious.
For the past eight years, the kitchen staff working the sunrise shift at the Tel Aviv Hilton has come in a little earlier than required, in order to prepare 60 sandwiches each day and deliver them to children in schools in low-income neighborhoods. Sixty sandwiches a day doesn’t seem very much for an enterprise the size of the Tel Aviv Hilton, but the sandwich makers don’t really have much time because they have to attend to breakfasts for the hundreds of guests staying at the hotel – and the breakfast has to be ready on time.
Even the hotel’s general manager, Ronnie Fortis, along with other senior staff, join in the sandwich-making enterprise – which is the Hilton’s contribution to Leket Israel’s Sandwiches for Kids project. Leket, which is also known as Israel’s national food bank and food rescue network, supplies more than 1.5 million sandwiches per year – approximately 8,400 each day to needy children, who would otherwise have nothing to eat during the schoolday.
The people at the Hilton admit that their 60 daily sandwiches may not seem like much, but it’s like the old English proverb – if you look after the pennies, the pounds will take care of themselves. Every contribution counts in the battle against food insecurity, and together they add up to a lot.
Moreover, in addition to the sandwiches, the Hilton staff includes a bottle of water and some fresh produce in each food package.
Leket volunteers are making sandwiches all over the country, and are also rescuing hot meals and perishable goods. Altogether, Leket has some 45,000 volunteers engaged in sandwich- making, food rescue and distribution, and believe it or not, more are needed.
It should be remembered that Leket is one of many organizations providing sustenance for the poor. Just imagine what the situation would be like without them.
Anyone who wants to become a Leket volunteer should contact [email protected] or (09) 744-1757, ext.
■ THE SURPRISE treat at the Israel Cancer Association’s bazaar today will be Persian rice cooked by the mother of singer Rita. Apparently it tastes so good that Rita’s niece, actress and singer Liraz Charhi, has promised to come and buy a few portions of her grandmother’s cooking. Being in an advanced stage of pregnancy, Charhi will be eating for the next generation as well.
The bazaar is in the association’s Givatayim headquarters at Beit Mati, 7 Revivim Street, 3rd floor, adjacent to the Shimoni School. It will be held from 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m.
■ WHAT GOES around comes around. In the days when Israelis had access to only one television channel – plus depending on where they lived, news broadcasts from Jordan – the Friday night line-up included a celebrity-studded talk show or a series of satirical sketches, followed by a late-night movie. The late movies were dropped years ago, to be eventually replaced from time to time with British drama series – though recently, the offerings have been increasingly sexualized.
According to the Israel Broadcasting Authority Law, one of the purposes of state public broadcasting is to encourage Israeli productions. The IBA hasn’t been very good about that, at least as far as feature films are concerned – though it has occasionally shown (mostly short) films by students at Jerusalem’s Ma'aleh School of Television, Film & the Arts and Tel Aviv University’s film school.
But the IBA, faced with much more severe budgetary problems than in the past – because the Finance Ministry has reneged on signed agreements, and both the Finance and Communications Ministries want to close down the IBA and reopen it in a radically reduced format – is wary of commissioning new programs. It is thus giving a boost to Israeli feature films, which for the foreseeable future will be shown on Friday nights at 9.30 p.m.
Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Journalists Association is gearing up to fight any attempt by Communications Minister Gilad Erdan and Finance Minister Lapid to close down the IBA, and will use every possible means of preventive action. In a statement released on Thursday, the association charged that management had brought the impending catastrophe on the IBA, which resulted in the negative report published by the deputy attorney-general and the subsequent ministerial assault on the IBA.
There is little comfort in the fact that public broadcasting services worldwide are experiencing similar situations. In Greece, the PBS was temporarily closed and reopened in a much slimmer format. In Russia, the PBS is under threat of being drastically streamlined, and the BBC has already announced a major trim on its payroll.
Threats against the IBA have been par for the course for years, and the psychological effect on staff operating in a constant state of uncertainty must be devastating.
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