Grapevine: Not quite all in the family…

President Shimon Peres arrived on a pre-Christmas visit at the official residence of Archbishop Elias Chacour.

Peres celebrates Christmas with Christian-Arab school kids (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
Peres celebrates Christmas with Christian-Arab school kids
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
AMONG THE staunch defenders of Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett is Daniel “Mush” Meyer, who is the public relations director of the Young Israel Movement in Israel. Following Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s declaration via major news outlets that any soldier who refuses a military order cannot sit in his government, Maj. (res.) Bennett was interviewed on television with Nissim Mishal and said that, if asked, he would be unable to bring himself to evacuate anyone from their home and would ask his superior officer to excuse him from such an operation. He even admitted that he would rather go to prison than evacuate a family from its home.
Enraged, Mishal shouted at Bennett that he was refusing a military order. Bennett tried to explain that this was not what he said, nor would he ask any other soldier to emulate him, but Mishal kept going at him in an accusatory tone that was subsequently picked up by other media and became the news item of the week.
In defending Bennett, Meyer, posted to Facebook a copy of an open letter that had appeared in the Hebrew press in 2005 with an appeal for soldiers to disobey orders to expel citizens from their homes during the disengagement from Gaza. The letter was signed by a large number of prominent personalities, among them Prof. Benzion Netanyahu, the father of the prime minister.
“Does that mean that Bibi would not let his father be a minister in his government?” questioned Meyer. The answer is obvious, because it would mean a conflict of interests if any prime minister had a relative serving in his government. But it is known that when his father was alive, the prime minister frequently consulted with him, in addition to which his father had no compunction about voicing his opinions on various issues to the media.
■ ACCORDING TO the Yeshiva World News Website, Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman claimed, in an election rally address in Bnei Brak, that Tzipi Livni is not quite as squeaky clean as she purports to be. Litzman said that he might opt to reveal a document that has been in his possession since Livni, in her former capacity as head of Kadima, tried unsuccessfully to assemble a coalition government. He explained that, notwithstanding Livni’s statements to the contrary, she was willing to allocate budgets to yeshivot in her bid to form a coalition. Livni recently launched the Tzipi Livni Party and is now championing the anti-haredi front, telling the media and repeating in her Bar-Ilan University address this week that she believes the incoming government must understand the need for law and order and that rule of law must be absolute, and “not halachic” – as opposed to those who advocate that in a Jewish state, Halacha should take precedence over secular legislation.
■ RELATIONS BETWEEN Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Attias and Shas co-leader Arye Deri go beyond politics.
Attias is still being congratulated on the engagement of his daughter to Deri’s nephew, who is the son of permanent member of the Chief Rabbinate Council and chief rabbi of Beersheba Yehuda Deri.
■ IN ENGLISH, they call it pedigree. In Yiddish, especially in Orthodox circles, it’s called yihes. Several people living in Israel mostly in Jerusalem and Efrat, recently received a fresh dose of yihes when their brother/brother-in-law/ uncle/great-uncle Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, known to his family as Errol, was named chief rabbi designate of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. Cultural historian Dr. Gabriel Sivan of Jerusalem is proud of the fact that Mirvis is the younger brother of Sivan’s sister-in-law, Lynette, who is married to Sivan’s brother, Vivian, who is the rabbi of Hove. Mirvis has two younger brothers, Howard and Jonathan, who both live in Israel. Mirvis, 56, spent several years in Israel during his student days and will take up his new position in September 2013. He is currently rabbi of Finchley United Synagogue, where, according to former congregants now living in Israel, he has done a tremendous job in revitalizing the congregation.
■ IS THE PRESIDENCY of the World Jewish Congress jinxed? Former president Edgar Bronfman left his post under a cloud of ignominy and current president Ronald Lauder, who is a former US ambassador to Austria, has been declared persona non grata by the leadership of Austrian Jewry.
Oskar Deutsch, the recently reelected president of the influential Vienna-headquartered Israelitische Kultusgemeinde (which literally translates as “Israelite community”), claims that Lauder pledged millions of dollars to causes in which voting board members of the IKG are involved so that they would vote for Martin Engelberg, who stood against Deutsch. Both Lauder and Engelberg have denied the allegations.
Engelberg did ask Lauder to contribute to the funding of a synagogue for Georgian Jews living in Austria. He also asked for extra funding for a school, but this did not have to do with the elections. Deutsch’s election campaign was based on archival research and the construction of a new museum, whereas Engelberg put his focus on social services. Lauder was reported by American news outlets as admitting that he had intervened in the elections, but only to the extent that he wanted the elections to be free of any kind of coercion.
After publicly castigating Lauder, Deutsch forwarded his complaints to the European Jewish Congress, which is reportedly taking a serious view of Lauder’s alleged interference.
■ MEANWHILE, BACK in New York where he lives, Lauder, together with his brother, Leonard Lauder, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate and celebrated author Elie Wiesel were dinner chairs last week at a gala WJC fund-raiser at which President Shimon Peres was honored with the WJC’s Theodor Herzl Award.
Ronald Lauder hailed Peres as “the last great founding father of the State of Israel” and called him “a man of vision” who was “a true champion for peace in our time.”
Peres, who was unable to attend and accept the accolades in person, sent a videotaped message in which he thanked the WJC for the honor “The Jewish people are a fighting people, more with values than with swords,” he said, adding: “Today, we stand together on two complicated fronts: the State of Israel vis-à-vis Hamas, and the Jewish people vis-à-vis anti-Semitism. When it comes to Jewish life, anti-Semitism is a bias and a sick perception.
As for Hamas, after 64 years, when we thought the time had arrived for peace, we have had to face the ugly, unbelievable assembly of Hamas. Their leaders are calling for the destruction of Israel, for war, for hatred. They belong to the past. They don’t have any future. We must try to make peace with those Palestinians ready to make peace.”
Lauder expressed grave concern about Iran’s continuing nuclear ambitions, the resurgence of virulent anti-Semitism across Europe and the ongoing attempts by Israel’s enemies to delegitimize, demonize and isolate the Jewish state. “The World Jewish Congress is on the ground taking effective action wherever and whenever Jewish life, property or culture is threatened,” he stated. “The WJC has always, and will always, stand with Israel as one Jewish family.”
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who was among the 300-plus dinner guests and who was the keynote speaker of the evening, thanked Lauder for his life-long friendship to the State of Israel and his “positive impact on global Jewry” and lauded Peres for his “dedicated service to Israel.”
In discussing the challenges facing Israel and the wider Middle East, Barak said: “We must be ready to stretch out our hand for peace while keeping the other hand on the trigger, ready to defend ourselves.” He then clarified Israel’s determination to prevent Iran from becoming a military nuclear power. “The Iranians are deliberately trying to create a level of redundancy and protection for their program, what we call the ‘zone of immunity,’” he said. “Once they enter the ‘zone of immunity,’ our fate will be out of our hands. The State of Israel was founded precisely so that our fate would remain in our own hands.”
Barak called the recent Palestinian bid for non-member status at the UN “provocative” and said that it “cannot replace direct negotiations without preconditions, nor should it be used as an excuse not to negotiate.
The objective of these negotiations is clear: two states for two peoples.”
Part of the WJC dinner program was dedicated to recognizing the unique success of the Iron Dome missile defense system. A satellite hook-up enabled dinner guests to see a live interview with IDF soldiers stationed at an Iron Dome battery in southern Israel.
It will be interesting to see if there will be reciprocity on Peres’s part when he awards the President’s Medal of Distinction in 2013. Without detracting from the achievements of any of the honorees who received medals at the initial award ceremony this year, there are not too many people whose activities on behalf of the Jewish world and Israel can compare with those of Lauder. As Communist regimes in Eastern Europe began to crumble, Lauder stepped in and established schools and Jewish community centers, which were decisive factors in helping Jews to regain their heritage and their religious identity.
Many of these Jews subsequently settled in Israel and would certainly not have done so without the projects funded by Lauder.
He has also invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Israel, and those investments that he put food on the table for hundreds of families. His involvement with several major Jewish organizations has been beneficial to Israel at other levels. As president of the Jewish National Fund in America, he has played a significant role in the development of the Negev.
■ IT’S NOT easy juggling motherhood, teaching journalism, running workshops in creative writing, maintaining a career as a journalist and rushing to a series of book launches in different countries, but Ilene Prusher, who lives in Jerusalem with her husband and two young children, seems to be taking it in stride. A former staff writer for The Christian Science Monitor, for which, until two years ago, she served as bureau chief in Tokyo, Istanbul and Jerusalem, Prusher also covered major conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every foreign correspondent working in these countries needs a fixer – a person who knows their way around, can organize interviews with the right people, can make travel arrangements, can act as interpreter when necessary and can fulfill a myriad of tasks which the foreign correspondent, left to his or her own devices, would not be able to do.
It was her reliance on a fixer that prompted Prusher, whose overall career has taken her to some 30 countries, to write her first novel, Baghdad Fixer, which has received a number of favorable reviews. Prusher, who worked briefly for The Jerusalem Post has already had a series of launches for the book in London and east Jerusalem. Last week, the Jerusalem Press Club and Halban Publishers hosted another launch at the Konrad Adenauer Conference Center in Mishkenot Sha’ananim, where the audience was largely made up of journalists and Prusher’s students, family and friends.
Prusher was interviewed about the book by fellow journalist Jodi Rudoren of The New York Times, who is a mom to five-year-old twins.
What Rudoren and the audience were most curious about was how the reportercum- novelist manages to distinguish between fact and fiction when writing.
Prusher said that she’s heard of writers having two computers and even working in different rooms depending on whether they were reporting or writing fiction, but in her house there isn’t room for that.
Seen in the audience were the Foreign Ministry’s mystery man, Bruce Kashdan, columnist Barbara Sofer, husband-andwife journalists Avi and Gila Hoffman, wire service reporter Joshua Brilliant, foreign correspondent Anna Ponger, retired diplomat Zvi Mazel and his wife, Michelle, who is a tri lingual author, broadcaster Idele Ross and many other people whose names are familiar bylines.
Prusher has another launch scheduled for Washington at the end of the month, and it’s anyone’s guess where else in the world the Baghdad Fixer will take her after that.
■ LAST THURSDAY, retired soccer star Haim Revivo was in Jerusalem to meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to assure him of his support and the support of other retired soccer players. Revivo was also in Jerusalem on Wednesday for an altogether different reason – to act as an adjudicator in the soccer-inspired cooking contest among the chefs of Fattal hotels. The contest was headlined “Classico,” in keeping with exhibitions of the world’s best soccer skills, and joining Revivo in tasting the offerings of the various teams that came to Jerusalem from the north and south of the country were celebrity soccer coach Shlomo Sherf and master chefs Hila Alpert, Aviv Moshe, Ezra Kedem, Segev Moshe, Meir Adoni and Shalom Kadosh, who has been the executive chef of the Leonardo Plaza Jerusalem in all its incarnations and who is also the executive chef of the whole Fattal chain.
David Fattal, the genial, Haifa-born owner and CEO of the chain that owns and manages more than 60 hotels in Israel and Western Europe, is a keen soccer fan but he also believes in competition away from the soccer field. Because challenge usually leads to improvement and he wants the restaurants in his hotels to be on a par with the best restaurants in Israel, he has taken competition to the kitchen. Fattal credited Kadosh with initiating the contest, and when the winners were announced after a cocktail reception at the Leonardo Plaza Jerusalem, it was Kadosh who received a thunderous ovation from chefs and management alike.
More than any other Israeli chef, Kadosh has drawn attention to the quality and variety of Israeli cuisine. He has led Israeli teams to prize-winning events abroad; he is a member of prestige associations of international chefs and he has brought leading European and American chefs to Israel to cook gourmet kosher meals. Everyone in the industry respects and adores him. Fattal, who before becoming a big hotel manager and owner had worked his way up through the ranks of the hotel business starting as a waiter, admitted last week that he had never worked in a hotel kitchen and had therefore taken himself off to New York to undergo a cooking course to round out his knowledge. The fact that he’s worked in almost every hotel job gives him a fantastic rapport with his employees – and he’s also generous. Finalists in the contest were given vacations in the Fattal hotel of their choice and those in second and third places won additional training courses in Fattal hotels in Germany and France.
Fattal was thrilled that the master chefs among the adjudicators had been genuinely impressed by the culinary quality of the contest, and some said that what they tasted surpassed anything they had previously eaten in hotels. The winning team was the Leonardo Plaza, Jerusalem, which was a tribute to all that Kadosh invested in training young chefs, but two of the chain’s Eilat hotels did extremely well in individual categories.
Sherf showed up at the award ceremony; Revivo did not. On the political front, the fact that he’s giving his support to Netanyahu may influence the latter to use his influence to help restore Israel’s relations with Turkey. An international soccer player, Revivo played for various Turkish teams and, when he eventually left Turkey, one of the fans who asked him to reconsider was Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
■ STRANGE AS it seems, choirs travel from Jerusalem to Berlin to participate in a festival of synagogue choral music. Two Jerusalem choirs, The Ramatayim Men’s Choir, directed by Richard Shavei Tzion, and the Yakar Choir, directed by Nurith Cohn, left for Berlin last week to sing at the Second International Lewandowski Festival. Most of the pieces they sang were composed by Louis Lewandowski, a noted composer of 19th century choral synagogue music. Lewandowski lived and worked in Berlin, which is why the festival is being held there. The Jerusalem singers were joined by choirs from Johannesburg, Paris, Strasbourg, Berlin and Warsaw.
Aside from their participation in the festival, members of the Ramatayim Choir also sang at Sabbath services in local synagogues.
The grand finale concert of the festival took place in the magnificent 1,200-seat Rykestrasse Synagogue, which was restored after the Holocaust. All the participating choirs sang separately and together, reviving works that were first performed in Berlin 175 years ago. “The fact that two Jerusalem choirs were performing represented yet another victory over Nazi attempts to destroy our Jewish heritage,” said Shavei Tzion before leaving for Germany. “It is a kiddush Hashem [sanctification of the Divine Name].”
■ CHRISTIAN CLERGY and representatives of Christian communities in the north of the country greeted President Shimon Peres in Haifa last week when he arrived on a pre-Christmas visit at the official residence of Archbishop Elias Chacour. Although Chacour received him cordially, he made no effort to sweep any issues that trouble him under the rug.
The Christian community in Israel has withstood many challenges, Chacour told Peres, but is tired of being regarded as just another minority group when it has proved its loyalty to Israel time and again.
Chacour wanted to know how long Christians would have to stand on the sidelines instead of dovetailing with the mainstream and becoming part of the decisionmaking process.
Preferring to focus more on the positive than the negative, Peres said that he felt privileged to send Christmas greetings from Israel to the entire Christian world. He reiterated Israel’s commitment to the protection of all holy sites and to guaranteeing freedom of worship for all. He voiced the hope that the Middle East would enter an era of peace and prosperity.
■ TOMORROW, THURSDAY, PM Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Chief of General Staff Lt.
Gen. Benny Gantz and IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel are expected at Hatzerim Air Force Base to witness the 165th graduation ceremony of the Israel Air Force Flight School. There is a strong possibility that among others watching the ceremony will be Hugo Merom, 83, who received his wings at the first flight school graduation ceremony 62 years ago from then-prime minister and defense minister David Ben-Gurion.
Czech-born Merom was one of 669 Czech children under the age of 17 who were able to get from Prague to England in 1938 thanks to a rescue operation organized by British stockbroker Nicholas Winton. Merom subsequently trained with the Royal Air Force of the United Kingdom, then returned to his home town of Brno to study engineering, then came to the nascent State of Israel in 1949 and enrolled in the flight course. He passed with flying colors and became a combat pilot and later trained other pilots and was assigned to various roles in the IAF. Following his discharge from the air force, he became a test pilot for Israel Aircraft Industries, then later an aviation consultant and the owner of a company that specializes in aviation design and consultation, and he acts as consultant to designers of airports in many parts of the world. His son-in-law and grandson are also pilots in the IAF reserves.[email protected]