Grapevine: Mayor fever on the way

After Giving serious thought to the possibility of running for mayor of Tel Aviv, social activist Daphni Leef has decided that it’s not her cup of tea, and announced on her Facebook page on Sunday that she was not a candidate.

Daphni Leef at social protest 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Daphni Leef at social protest 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
■ AFTER GIVING serious thought to the possibility of running for mayor of Tel Aviv, social activist Daphni Leef has decided that it’s not her cup of tea, and announced on her Facebook page on Sunday that she was not a candidate. Meanwhile, it seems that yet another journalist has been smitten with political ambition. According to Yediot Aharonot, veteran television personality Nissim Mishal, 63, has been approached by politicians and others to run for mayor of Ramat Gan. Mishal is reportedly waiting to see if popular incumbent Zvi Bar – presently facing corruption charges, will run for a sixth term. There are quite a number of people including two former MKs Carmel Shama-Hacohen and David Mena who have indicated that they are also interested in competing in Ramat Gan’s mayoral race. Mishal can be assured of the vote of at least one Ramat Gan resident, Judy Shalom Nir Mozes with whom he has worked on some of her volunteer activities and she has sung his praises on her Israel Radio program.
■ ONE OF the perversities of the Israeli media is the level of attention given to non-Israeli luminaries who visit the country, as compared to Israeli expatriate celebrities who come home from time to time. The latter are often confined to a paragraph in a society column or a news brief, and sometimes completely ignored by the media. One of the most celebrated Israelis living abroad is fashion designer Alber Elbaz, a graduate of Shenkar College and head designer for the prestigious French fashion house of Lanvin, having previously worked for other major fashion houses such as Geoffrey Beane, Guy Laroche, Yves Saint Laurent and Krizia. Elbaz has been with Lanvin since 2001, and in 2007 was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. That same year he was made a Knight of the Legion of Honor in France. Elbaz, who grew up in Holon, came home for Passover but there was no great media fanfare for him. Someone who did find reason to acknowledge his presence was singer Rita, who at a concert that she gave at Habimah last week, called him “the pride of the state” and noted that he was in the audience. Elbaz was not there alone. He had come with some 20 members of his family. Rita has particular reason to be appreciative of his talents. He designed the dress she wore when she performed at the United Nations a month ago.
■ THE MIMOUNA is a Moroccan post- Passover celebration grown into a national holiday, on which, to quote Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – who celebrated in Or Akiva – the nation has moved from bread of affliction with bitter herbs to muflettas with honey, because the festival is one in which people open both their homes and their hearts. It is also an opportunity for politicians to connect with the electorate and for rabbis to reach out to their communities. Additionally, it provides diplomats stationed in Israel with boundless opportunities to experience yet another facet of Israeli life. Quite a large number of heads of diplomatic missions as well as honorary consuls were among the many guests who gathered at the palatial Savyon home of Yardena Ovadia, the honorary consul of Equatorial Guinea who greeted her guests with the traditional Moroccan Jewish blessing for prosperity and success, tirbehu vetisadu. The guests included Costa Rican Ambassador Rodrigo Carreras, Austrian Ambassador Franz Yosef Kuglitsch, Serbian Ambassador Zoran Basaraba, Polish Ambassador Jacek Chodorowicz, Thai Ambassador Jurk Boon-Long, Sri Lankan Ambassador Sarath Devesena Wijesinghe and Estonian Ambassador Malle Talvet- Mustonen as well as Antonio de la Rosa Garabito, ambassador of the Dominican Republic and Moustafa Elkouny, deputy chief of Mission at the Egyptian Embassy.
Also seen among the guests were the Foreign Ministry’s former chief of protocol Yitzhak Eldan – founder of the Presidents of the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel of which Ovadia is also a member – and former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik, former ambassador to France Yehuda Lancry, former deputy minister for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee Ayoub Kara and several other prominent members of the Druse community. Also in attendance were former Tel Aviv mayor and former government minister Roni Milo, poet Erez Biton, former Labor MK Daniel Ben-Simon, current MK and Secretary General of the Labor Party Hilik Bar, multi-faceted businesswoman and philanthropist Galia Albin and Tel Aviv-Jaffa Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who was asked to speak to the assembled guests. Lau emphasized the importance of national solidarity and urged people to help each other in any way possible for the common good. Lau also praised Ovadia for what she has done for the benefit of her country and for that of the people of Equatorial Guinea. Ovadia, today a woman of great affluence and influence, was born into a poor Moroccan immigrant family that settled in Dimona. She has never forgotten what it means to live under impoverished conditions, and these memories have spurred her philanthropic efforts.
Together with businessman Arie Horesh, Ovadia established the Shalom Hospital in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea.
The hospital employs around 100 Israeli doctors and nurses; all the medical equipment is from Israel and an Israeli flag flutters at the entrance to the building. Ovadia has also brokered multi-million dollar arms deals between Israel and African countries.
■ DIPLOMATS AND politicians were also invited to other Mimouna celebrations and those who were interested in making comparisons went to three or more parties around the country. Most diplomats get involved in various Israeli activities beyond their diplomatic duties, but arguably the most involved is United States Ambassador Dan Shapiro, who accepted the Mimouna invitation of Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin, and was quick to post a photograph of his visit on his Facebook page.
Prior to the Passover holiday, the Shapiro family joined Leket, Israel’s National Food Bank, in picking beets to supply to the needy. On Facebook Shapiro thanked Leket for the opportunity to volunteer.
■ Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett took his family to Netivot for Mimouna, Deputy Defense Minister Ofir Akunis went to Kiryat Gat, MK Miri Regev who accepted the invitation of the Suissa family in Gan Yavne arrived in traditional Moroccan attire, while three-time former foreign minister, Moroccan- born David Levy, a leading candidate in the race for Israel’s 10th president, hosted Mimouna celebrations in Beit Shean.
■ TODAY, MEMBERS of Israel’s Moroccan community, including sabras of Moroccan background, number in excess of a million people. They often have large families.
David Levy for instance, has 12 children and many grandchildren, most recently a set of twins. When Ephraim Kishon wrote his famous and enduringly popular play Sallah Shabati that was made into a film and then into a musical, it was based on his experiences in a transit camp where he observed immigrants from different countries and cultural backgrounds, including Moroccans who were then held in low esteem by the ruling Ashkenazi establishment.
Since then, people of Moroccan birth or descent have gone on to distinguish themselves in academia, politics, law, diplomacy, economics, journalism and many other fields. One of those who have been at the forefront of getting Ashkenazi Israel to change its negative impressions of the Moroccan community has been Sam Ben-Chetrit, who heads the Jerusalem headquartered World Federation of Moroccan Jews, currently celebrating its 13th year of activity. A well-educated and cultured individual, Ben-Chetrit has for years brought up examples of great Moroccan scholars and the legacy that they bequeathed, not only to the Jews of Morocco but to the Jewish world at large.
One would imagine that after the years of mistreatment endured by Moroccan communities and individuals throughout Israel, a scholarship fund established by WFMJ would be dedicated only to students of Moroccan origin. However the 2,945 scholarships bestowed between 2004-2012 and worth a total of NIS18 million were awarded free of religious, national or ethnic considerations to deserving students. The WFMJ has also honored exemplary people whom it considers inspirations to the population.
Here too, the honorees have included non-Moroccans such as former prime minister Ariel Sharon, [Rabbi] Lau, President Shimon Peres, Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat and businessman Nochi Dankner. The WFMJ acts as a quasi diplomatic bridge between Israel and Morocco and sends a large scale delegation to Morocco every year.
■ WHILE MOST people enjoyed the opportunity to go on nature hikes, picnics, visits to family and friends and tours of the many museums that were free of charge during the Passover holiday period, it was business as usual for Israel’s energetic President Shimon Peres. True, he did do some relaxing things and had the opportunity to shmooze with old friends such as Yossi Vardi, who in addition to being a major high tech inventor and entrepreneur, also happens to be head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, in which capacity he launches the annual Ein Gev Festival which Peres makes it his business to attend. Peres toured the area around Ein Gev and together with Vardi visited the Yardenit Baptismal site just ahead of the Easter celebrations. The two toured the newly built promenade, whose construction is being completed these days, and sat for a relaxed afternoon in front of the biblical landscape of the Jordan River bank. Yardenit, situated on the banks of the Jordan River, where it flows from the Sea of Galilee, attracts more than half a million tourists and pilgrims annually. Devout Christians come to experience the spirituality and pastoral beauty of the waters of the River Jordan.
Over the years, pilgrims who have visited Yardenit have included well-known entertainers, religious leaders and politicians.
Yardenit combines modern comforts with a biblical setting, so that in addition to the spiritual serenity that they experience, pilgrims do not have to endure physical discomfort.
On Sunday, the last day of the intermediate days of Passover, Peres also visited former chief rabbi and Shas mentor Ovadia Yosef and Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger. In the case of Yosef, it was more than a duty call. The two men who are of the same generation – with Peres four years younger than Yosef, have been acquainted for a very long time and have a genuine regard for each other – so much so that on occasion whether Peres has called on Yosef, or Yosef on Peres at the President’s Residence, the president has been the recipient of one of Yosef’s slaps in the face – considered a sign of affection by his followers. Yosef praised Peres as a unifying force in the nation, adding that he is recognized as such by the public which appreciates what he is doing. Peres heard similar compliments on Tuesday from outgoing Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer when the latter called on the president with the annual report of the Bank of Israel.
Peres, who thinks very highly of Fischer, commended him for his accomplishments in his present capacity, as well as previously for Israel’s economy. In thanking Peres for his confidence in him, Fischer said: “The belief you find in people I find in you – I am impressed time and again how one person can do so much good for a whole country. I thank you for our joint work.”
■ ALTHOUGH SINGAPORE is fast becoming the natural hub for business in Asia, to many people it is still a far-off exotic place which is unlikely – at least in the foreseeable future – to be a destination for direct flights from Israel.Of course that doesn’t mean that there are no direct connections.
Diplomatic, military and business connections have existed for many years, and Singapore’s Jewish community – small though it is – has been extremely supportive of numerous Israeli projects and causes. Now, to the pleasant surprise of Prof. Jacob Yahav, director of the Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot, there is interest in and beyond the Jewish community of Singapore in collaborative efforts with KMC. Yahav discovered this at a fundraiser hosted by Israel’s Ambassador to Singapore Amira Arnon, to which she invited leading business and academic figures, both Jewish and non-Jewish. The main purpose of the evening was to explain that KMC services more than 700,000 residents on the coastal plain and that it is currently in need of funds for the construction of a new children’s wing for inpatients. As proof that the world has truly become a global village, the event was organized by Ilona Hartman, the KMC representative in New York. Yahav, who when planning the event at her residence had not expected much to come out of the event was amazed by both the interest and the response.
■ BRITISH AMBASSADOR Matthew Gould and his wife Celia hosted the launch of a new internet site,, which will provide surfers with a broader and more indepth view of Israeli culture. The site was created at the initiative of the Posen Foundation, founded by Felix Posen in 2004 to support Jewish secular cultural projects and programs in Israel and in other parts of the world. The site was created in conjunction with the Center for Educational Technology, the Avi Chai Foundation and the Hartman Institute. The purpose of the site is to encourage debate and dialogue on secular cultural issues that are both Jewish and Israeli in nature. Among the initial key subjects selected for discussion are social justice, rights and choices. Daniel Posen, who manages the Posen Foundation, was in attendance as was Gila Ben-Har the director of CET, along with several representatives of the different fields of Israeli culture.
■ FOR THE third consecutive year, a procession of more than 300 marchers, including children with severe physical and cognitive disabilities under the care of ALEH, together with their families and caregivers, as well as volunteers and friends from around the globe, set out from ALEH’s Jerusalem facility to cross the Jerusalem Bridge of Strings in a powerful and symbolic display to encourage the integration of the disabled into Israeli society. To signify the buoyant spirit of the youngsters, 500 balloons were released into the air, and there was much singing and dancing to demonstrate the general feeling of optimism about the yet-to-be-discovered potential of disabled children and their ability to face challenges.
“As Israel’s largest network of residential facilities for children with severe physical and cognitive disabilities, ALEH is at the forefront of the movement to promote awareness and acceptance of Israel’s special needs population within the community at large,” said Shlomit Grayevsky, the founding director of ALEH Jerusalem and Assistant Director General of ALEH.
“Thanks to ALEH’s innovative programming, severely disabled children of all ages are able to live much like their non-disabled peers, are accepted by a wider segment of the population, and develop far beyond the boundaries of their initial prognoses,” she said. “Gatherings such as this one have curative powers in that they both benefit our severely disabled children, and heal the world.”
■ HOPES THAT US President Barack Obama would release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard as a gesture to Israel before or immediately after his visit, proved to be unfounded.
Journalist Eitan Haber, who served as bureau chief to former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, in which capacity he had quite a lot to do with attempts to secure Pollard’s release, said in an interview on Israel Radio in the aftermath of Obama’s visit that the reason that Americans will not release Pollard is because they don’t want him to leave the US as a person who had served time for treason only to be greeted as a hero on arrival in Israel. While many Israelis and Jews elsewhere believe that Pollard’s overlong incarceration can be attributed to anti-Semitism, Haber is convinced that if the campaign to free Pollard becomes less visible and less voluble it may be more effective.
■ ON HOME leave for Passover, Israel Bonds President Izzy Tapoohi happily reported to friends at the Hazvi Israel synagogue in Jerusalem that sales of Israel Bonds are 29 percent higher than they were this time last year.
■ CAESAREA, WHICH was both a cultural and commercial center many centuries ago, will come to life at a festival of ancient times. For two weekends, on Saturdays April 6 and 27, an authentic Roman market will be staged at the Caesarea National Park, recreating the way of life, commerce, entertainment and culture of Caesarea in bygone times.
Actors playing merchants, artisans, harbor workers, King Herod, the queen and the king’s bodyguards and more, will mingle with visitors and bring the Old City of Caesarea to life.
Merchants will offer their wares for sale and artisans and artists will display pottery, jewelry, paintings and wooden sculptures, as well as special pastries and wine to be served at a bar of the period. In addition, original shows will be presented. Actors will hold various types of street performances, portraying humorously adapted historical stories and events and including singing, dancing, circus and fire shows, stage combat and ancient musical instruments.
The festival is a cooperative venture of the Caesarea Development Corporation and the National Parks Authority. Dana Dvorin, a prominent children’s show celebrity is the director and artistic manager of the festival. Dvorin said that she and first-time producer Sarai Hillman, her partner at Teatronella, are very excited at the prospect of returning to Roman times. They have attempted to make the festival as authentic as possible and spent a long time studying the period and learning about events and clothing, customs, aromas and colors, with the aim of recreating life as it once was in the ancient Caesarea harbor, dedicated by King Herod to his patron, Caesar Augustus.
■ ORGANIZERS EXPECT a capacity crowd on Wednesday night at the Hanassi Synagogue in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood, where leading Religious Zionist candidate for the upcoming elections for the chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi David Stav will deliver an address in English on The Future of the Chief Rabbinate: A National Rabbinate or a Sectoral Rabbinate? His talk will be followed by questions and answers from the audience.greerfc@gmail.colm