Grapevine: More than just an olive branch

The pope gets a new tree from the PM, the Salomon clan gears up for a get-together, and filmmaker Joseph Cedar wins a "Jewish Peoplehood" award.

olive tree 311 (photo credit: Giovanna Coen)
olive tree 311
(photo credit: Giovanna Coen)
AS A sign of improved relations between Jerusalem and Rome, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent a 200-year-oldolive tree on a 2,000-kilometer voyage to the Port of Ravenna in Italy. From there, it went to the Port of Rome and was then transported to the Papal Gardens in the Vatican. The tree is a gift from Netanyahu to Pope Benedict XVI, following Netanyahu’s recent visit to the Vatican Museum. During his visit to Israel in 2009, the pope stopped in front of an ancient olive tree and expressed a wish for a similar tree to grace the Vatican Gardens.
This wish did not go unheeded.
Netanyahu enlisted the help of the Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemet Le’Israel in selecting a suitable tree and facilitating its transfer to Rome. The tree was chosen by a KKL team headed by Aviv Eisenband. The official replanting of the tree in the Vatican gardens is set to take place Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. in the presence of senior Vatican dignitaries, including Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state; Israeli Ambassador to the Vatican Mordechai Levy; World Keren Hayesod chairman Effi Stenzler; Rafi Sasson, president of the JNF’s Italian branch; and Rafi Ovadia, the JNF emissary to Italy.
According to Netanyahu, the tree, which joins others in the Viale Degli Ulivi (Olive Tree Boulevard) of the papal gardens, is a symbol of the flourishing friendship between Israel and the Vatican, and represents their mutual aspiration to foster peace and brotherhood between peoples and religions.
■ THERE’S A Yiddish expression, “farknipt und gebinden,” which translates as “knotted and tied” (though the English doesn’t have the same intensity of meaning). Many of the veteran Israeli families whose ancestors settled in Hebron and Jerusalem before moving further afield, intermarried to the extent that at family reunions honoring a local patriarch, the participants’ genealogy tends to reflect the much broader history of the Yishuv rather than of any particular family.
That will certainly be the case when the descendants of Rabbi Avraham Shlomo Zalman Salomon – known as Zalman the Silversmith, or “Zalman Tzoref” in Hebrew – get together at the Jerusalem Theater on Wednesday. Zalman came with his family from Lithuania 200 years ago and settled initially in Safed before moving to Jerusalem.
Although he and many of his descendants can be credited with contributing to the country’s development, his grandson, Yoel Moshe Salomon – one of the founders of Jerusalem’s Nahalat Shiva neighborhood and later one of the founders of Petah Tikva – is much more famous, thanks to the ballad written about him by Yoram Taharlev and sung by Arik Einstein.
Two years ago, another veteran family, the Rivlins, marked the 200th anniversary of the arrival of their ancestor Rabbi Hillel Rivlin, who led the first convoy of the Vilna Gaon’s students. One of Rivlin’s descendants, Yosef Yoshe Rivlin, was also among the founders of Nahalat Shiva. Not all the Rivlins remained mitnagdim (followers of the Vilna Gaon, who opposed hassidism); one branch of the family settled in Hebron, became Chabad Hassidim and even married into the family of Rabbi Schneor Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad Movement. That eventually resulted in the Rivlins being related to other prominent Chabad families in Hebron as well, such as the Fondaminskys, and the Slonims, to whom some of the Salomons are also related.
For instance, Ruth Cheshin, who heads The Jerusalem Foundation, is a direct descendant of Yoel Moshe Salomon, whereas her husband, retired Supreme Court justice Mishael Cheshin, is a direct descendant of Schneor Zalman of Liadi.
There are more than 20,000 members of the Salomon family floating around the globe. The Rivlins boast more than 70,000, and the Meyuhas family – one of the most venerable families in the country, able to trace its local lineage back to the 17th century – probably has even more than that. There was a Meyuhas-Rivlin union at some stage – so it all becomes very confusing. Some of the other families of long standing who initially lived in Jerusalem or Hebron but are now spread all over the world are in most cases less prominent now than they were a century ago, though there are exceptions: The Recanati family, for instance, is still at the forefront.
Like the Rivlins, the Salomons include many prominent figures who contributed greatly to the development of the state. Among the members of the Salomon clan are honorary World WIZO president and former beauty queen Michal Moda’i, former Bank of Israel governor Moshe Mandelbaum, author Yehudit Katzir and former Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann.
Several hundred close and distant Salomon relatives are set to attend Wednesday’s gettogether, at which Taharlev will be the master of ceremonies. Missing will be a member of the family whose name has been in the headlines for tragic reasons: Shneor Cheshin – a cycling enthusiast killed in a hit-and-run by driver Tal Mor, who was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment this week – would surely have joined in the festivities.
■ NOW THAT Gilad Schalit is home and was almost upstaged in media coverage by the death of Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi, public focus will in all probability revert to the shrinking number of local medical practitioners, and on a more titillating note, the upcoming court case in which Doron Ofer, the son of Yuli Ofer, will challenge his father’s will. Though there’s been no mention of any disquiet among Doron Ofer’s cousins regarding the will of their father, Sammy Ofer, who died a scant few months prior to Yuli, Doron is seething because his sister Leora received the bulk of their father’s estate.
It is not yet known whether Ruthie Ofer, Yuli’s wife for the past 26 years, will also contest the will. She was left three luxury properties, but she may think that in comparison to what Leora received, she was short-changed.
Doron was excluded from the will because he had received a 33-percent stake in Ofer Shipping Ltd. while his father was still alive.
He claims he was included in a will written a few months earlier, and that his father had been ill and not fully aware of what he was doing when he wrote the second will. However, a prominent businessman who was a witness to the second will says that Yuli Ofer had known exactly what he was doing.
It’s not that Doron Ofer has been left destitute.
For one thing, he sold his share in Ofer Shipping to his uncle. For another, he has millions in his own right – but evidently he’d like to have more.
This fight will not be as complicated as that of the family of Shaoul Eisenberg, in which the daughters of the family and their mother ganged up in court against brother Erwin Eisenberg, who was the major beneficiary cited in his father’s will. Eventually a compromise was reached, but it still left Erwin with the lion’s share of the estate. The brothers of Sami Shamoon are contesting his will because they say he left holdings belonging to them to his wife and daughter. Some other people received relatively minor bequests, but the Shamoon brothers were not mentioned in the will at all. The country’s other tycoons, especially those with large families and with offspring involved in the family business, should take note and make provisions accordingly.
■ APROPOS SCHALIT’S homecoming, which more or less coincided with the 25th anniversary of the disappearance of Ron Arad – the navigator captured by the Shi’ite armed group Amal after he had to bail out of his plane during an IAF mission over Lebanon – the pilot of the helicopter that brought Schalit from the Tel Nof Air Force base to Mitzpe Hila was the son of Yishai Aviram, the pilot on the mission from which Arad never returned.
Aviram’s son, a lieutenant in the air force, asked permission to pilot the plane bringing Schalit home, so he could symbolically close a circle. Arad’s wife Tami and daughter Yuval were extremely supportive in the campaign to secure Schalit’s release.
■ HUNGARIAN AMBASSADOR Zoltan Szentgyorgyi and his wife Dr. Lilla Madaras, a pathologist who works in a voluntary capacity at Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center, hosted a reception at the Hungarian residence in Herzliya Pituah to mark the 55th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution. The nationwide October 1956 revolution against Soviet rule and policies was sparked by students and journalists, but quickly gathered momentum among other sectors of the population.
For a brief period, it seemed that the uprising had achieved its purpose, which was to break free of the Soviet yoke, but the Soviets were dishonest in their diplomacy, and after appearing to accept the new status quo, deployed additional troops around Budapest and other parts of Hungary to suppress the uprising. Despite other world-shattering events in 1956, the Hungarian Revolution captured international headlines, and Time Magazine named “The Hungarian Freedom Fighter” as its “Man of the Year.”
More than 2,500 Hungarians were killed during the revolution, and it was more than 30 years before the Soviet Union was dismantled and Soviet bloc countries in Eastern Europe regained their independence.
Looking back on that tragic period in Hungary’s 1,000-year history, Szentgyorgyi said it was “full of heroic struggle for freedom and independence, aggression by big powers and unfortunately betrayal.” When he thinks about those times and the fear under which people lived, he said, he remembers the first victim killed in the revolution, a student by the name of Vizi Janos, who was only 18 years old.
“I can only hope that a generation after the revolution, we have not forgotten the lessons of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
Such things cannot be taken for granted,” he added. “It is easy to forget, because the nature of our everyday problems is different today.” Nowadays, he observed, the main challenges are economic ones.
National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau, who represented the government, focused on the excellent relations between Hungary and Israel, recalling that during the latter’s 60th anniversary, Hungary’s parliament had issued a declaration affirming its commitment to Israel’s security. More recently, he noted, Hungary was one of six countries that voted against the Goldstone Report in the United Nations Human Rights Council, and was one of the 17 countries that voted against the report in the UN General Assembly.
Moreover, there are no fewer than 20 Hungarian-Israeli Friendship Associations operating in Hungary, said Landau, touching also on the renaissance of Jewish life there and stating that its Jewish community is the fourth-largest in Europe with some 100,000 people.
The popular Szentgyorgyi disclosed that this was the last time that he and his family would be celebrating a Hungarian national day in Israel, as he is due to complete his tour of duty in a few months. His wife and their two sons, Balint and Andras, have had a wonderful time in Israel, he said, adding how much he admired the Israeli people for their strong will to survive, their capacity for adaptation and creativity, and their joy of life.
Some of the guests at the reception must have wondered what prompted Madaras to make a sudden exit. It was an SOS, but not from the hospital: An elderly couple, who for some reason had not been able to follow the map on the back of the invitation, had spent an hour wandering around Herzliya Pituah in their car before making phone contact with someone from the embassy, and then couldn’t follow the directions given to them. So the ambassador’s wife told them to stay where they were and she would come to guide them.
Sure enough, she led them not only to her home, but past a police checkpoint so they could park their car alongside her garage and not have to walk far.
■ CHANNEL 2 news presenter Yonit Levy, who missed broadcasting the Schalit deal because the news broke in the middle of her wedding, interrupted her honeymoon in the Caribbean to fly home for the network’s daylong broadcast of Schalit’s return, then flew back to rejoin husband Ido Rosenblum.
■ FILM DIRECTOR Joseph Cedar added to his trophies on Sunday when he became one of two recipients of the 2011 NADAV Jewish Peoplehood Award. The other recipient was Prof. Yehezkel Dror, a leading analyst in policy planning and management. The two received the award from international businessman and philanthropist Leonid Nevzlin, who established the NADAV Foundation, and his daughter Irina Nevzlin Kogan, its president.
This was the third consecutive year in which exceptional Jews were singled out to receive the award, which was created to promote and nurture global Jewish unity.
In making the presentation, Nevzlin said of Dror that he had made it his life’s work to promote Jewish leadership in Israel and around the world. Kogan noted that due to Cedar’s inspiring movies, millions of people around the world had been exposed to an exceptional and artistic Jewish experience.
His movies have also helped to enhance Jewish pride and strengthen Jewish identity, particularly among the younger generation, she said. The well-attended award ceremony was held in a restaurant in Old Jaffa.
■ BRITAIN’S CHANCELLOR of the Exchequer George Osborne will officially launch the British Embassy’s new High-Tech Hub at a reception for Israel’s high-tech community, to be held this Thursday night at British Ambassador Matthew Gould’s Ramat Gan home.
The chancellor is meeting with Israeli and Palestinian dignitaries during his first official visit here since the coalition government came into power last year.
The HTH event, sponsored by Barclays Capital, will bring together 300 leading figures in Israeli high-tech business and finance to celebrate the launch. According to Gould, “Britain is a natural partner for Israel in high tech. Israel is a phenomenal source of innovation with more start-ups per capita than anywhere else in the world. Given Israel’s small size, all Israeli companies need foreign partners – for capital, business and product development, and access to global markets.
We are close; and we offer access to markets across the world. We have one of the biggest capital markets in the world; world-class professional services; globally significant customers; four out of the world’s top 10 universities; and complementary strengths in high tech. It is obvious to me that we can work together to achieve great things. Britain can help Israeli innovation go global.”
The Hub will ultimately comprise six dedicated staff members, including a director and experts in the fields of digital, cleantech, biotech and the Israeli Arab high-tech community.
All staff members have strong backgrounds in the high-tech sector. Hub director Carmel Gerber’s career spans investment banking, venture capital and startups. Gerber has previously been involved in bridge-building between the players in the Israeli and Silicon Valley start-up scenes, and is excited to focus his talents now on the UK. The next step will be the establishment of a UK-Israel High-Tech Council to bring together the key tech figures from both sides, as well as some of the most impressive start-ups and investors. The British co-chairman of the council will be Minister of State for Universities and Science David Willetts, who will arrive in Israel on Saturday with a high-level delegation of more than a dozen representatives from Britain’s digital sector.
■ ALTHOUGH HIS family has been engaged in the prestige jewelry and timepiece business for more than six decades, Beni Padani, the managing director of the Padani chain of stores, is celebrating the company’s 60th anniversary this year. A former combat pilot in the IAF who joined the family firm in 1970, Padani has maintained an abiding interest in flying, which is probably the reason he brought the Breitling Jet Team, headed by Jacques Bothelin, to Israel for the Padani 60th anniversary bash.
It was a twofold affair. One was a party for some 400 people at Castel in Tel Aviv, where guests included former IAF commander Eitan Ben-Eliahu, as well as businesspeople, clients and some of Padani’s old air force buddies.
The second was an aerobatic display over the Tel Aviv beachfront the following day. The Breitling team, headquartered in Dijon, France, is the largest civilian aerobatic team in Europe.