Grapevine: Ours and theirs

Rahamim Elazar becomes first member of the Ethiopian community to be made an ambassador.

Beilinson party 311 (photo credit: Dafna Chilag Caspi)
Beilinson party 311
(photo credit: Dafna Chilag Caspi)
■ HEY, HE'S one of ours,” exclaimed Israel Radio's Benny Teitelbaum as he perused the morning papers between 5 and 6 a.m. on Sunday morning. Teitelbaum was reading the Yediot Aharonot interview with Rahamim Elazar, who heads the Amharic department on Radio REKA and is its chief broadcaster. Elazar, 54, who came to Israel alone from Gondar at age 14, has just been appointed Israel's ambassador to Ethiopia.
He is the first member of the Ethiopian community to be made an ambassador and the second member of Radio REKA that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has sent back to his or her country of origin to serve as an ambassador for Israel. Not only is he nation’s the first ambassador from the Ethiopian community, but he was also the first Ethiopian student at Tel Aviv University.
Diplomacy is not entirely new to him. In 1985, on the 10th anniversary of the since overturned United Nations resolution equating Zionism with racism, Elazar, at the invitation of then-ambassador to the UN Binyamin Netanyahu, addressed the General Assembly. During that visit to the United States he was also invited to the oval office to meet with then- US president George H. W. Bush.
■ INTERNATIONAL BUSINESSMAN Lev Leviev, whose many hats include that of president of the World Congress of Bukharan Jews, has established a permanent home for the Congress in a building that belongs to the Tel Aviv Municipality. Named in memory of Leviev’s father-in-law Yehuda Elazarov, the facility, which was totally renovated by the Leviev family,was inaugurated this week at a ceremony attended by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, Tel Aviv City Council member Binyamin Babayoff and MK Robert Elituv. The center will serve as a single address for all matters pertaining to members of the Bukharan community. All Jews of Bukharan origin are guaranteed assistance on legal issues, education, social welfare and more.
■ OUTGOING POLISH ambassador Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska may have unwittingly set a new trend for diplomatic functions in choosing the villa of Israel's first president, Chaim Weizmann, as the venue in which to celebrate Poland's first-time presidency of the Council of the European Union, the 93rd anniversary of Poland's Independence after 120 years of partition, the 100th anniversary of the first woman Nobel Prize laureate Polish-born Marie Sklodowska-Curie and Curie's 144th birthday, which happens to coincide with the actual date of the reception.
Several guests made a point of thanking Magdziak- Miszewska for the opportunity to visit Weizmann's home. Many had never been there before. The ambassador, who concludes her term in January after having served in Israel since June, 2006, made a farewell speech in excellent Hebrew and expressed agreement with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk that relations between Israel and Poland have never been as good as they are now. Magdziak-Miszewska, who is about to become a grandmother, asked Poland's Ministry for Foreign Affairs for a Sabbatical because she and her husband have not lived in Poland for 16 years. Actually every ambassador who has served in a foreign country for five years should go home, because there is a tendency to identify with the host country, she explained. For six months of her sabbatical she will relax and furnish her new home, some 40 km outside of Warsaw. After that she will teach at the School for Diplomats – and then maybe she'll agree to another posting abroad. She intends to visit Israel at least two or three times a year, and says wistfully that if she and her husband win the lottery, they will buy a holiday apartment in Israel.
The vast majority of guests were either Polish-born or had Polish roots – among them Mordechai Paltzur, Israel's first ambassador to Poland after the renewal of diplomatic relations which had been severed in 1967.
Paltzur, who left Poland as a child in 1939 recalled that he returned there exactly 25 years ago to the day.
Other Polish-born guests included singer and composer Zvika Pick, Israel Radio's Arye Golan, Yiddishpiel founder Shmuel Atzmon, and sculptor Samuel Wilenberg, who is one of the few survivors of Treblinka.
Also present was Nobel Prize laureate Ada Yonath, who like Marie Curie was awarded the prize for chemistry.
Yonath, though born in Jerusalem, is the daughter of Polish parents and has lectured many times in Poland. Over the next few weeks she will be participating in additional 100th anniversary celebrations of Marie Curie's Nobel Prize in Warsaw and in Brussels.
Yonath has been lecturing in Poland since the mid- 1980s and said that the number of invitations she receives to lecture in Poland indicates the genuine interest that the Poles have in her work. Six brilliant young Polish scientists currently studying and teaching at the Weizmann institute spoke of the various scientific fields in which they have chosen to specialize.
All spoke perfect English.
Last week, Jerusalem Post Religious Affairs reporter Jeremy Sharon was in Poland last week for an extraordinary historic gathering. Who would have believed 25 years ago that Warsaw would be the seat of a convention for more than 200 rabbis from across Europe? It was the largest rabbinical gathering in Poland in more than 70 years. Anyone familiar with post-Holocaust history of Poland knows that the once glorious Jewish community was all but destroyed and that the few surviving Jews who remained in Poland after the war and after expulsions by the post-war Communist regime lived in constant fear of anti-Semitism. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem M. Schneerson, refused to send his envoys to Poland, calling it the largest Jewish graveyard in the world. Yet today, Chabad-Lubavitch thrives in Poland. Moreover, Poles are interested in Jewish and Israeli culture, eagerly buy up books by Jewish and Israeli authors and filling auditoriums in which there are Israeli performers or lecturers. The annual Krakow Jewish festival that takes place in June and July is the best example of this, but more recently, in fact almost in tandem with the Conference of European Rabbis in Warsaw, the European premiere of Yoni Rechter and David Grossman's opera “Itamar meets a rabbit,” which inaugurated the third Joseph Conrad Festival and was performed by Israeli singers Adi Cesare and Eli Gornstein, filled the Krakow Opera House.
Last Friday, Israeli writer Zeruya Shalev was a member of an international panel of women writers who came to the festival to discuss the pressures under which they work. Participants were swamped with admirers and interviewed at length by the Polish media. Israeli artists frequently participate in Polish culture festivals and Israeli academics are often among the speakers at Polish conferences on any number of subjects. A growing number of Israelis as well as Jews from elsewhere have business interests in Poland, and Poland has excellent relations with Israel.
It is unlikely that Jewish life in Poland will be revived to its pre-Holocaust diversity and intensity, but Poland has a larger Jewish population than was generally surmised, and there are Orthodox and Reform congregations in several parts of the country. Close to a dozen rabbis, including Polish-born Rabbis Mati Pawlak and Pinchas Zarcynski, are helping young Polish Jews to discover their origins. Many youngergeneration Polish Jews who grew up in totally assimilated families and discovered their origins quite by chance have opted to lead some kind of a Jewish lifestyle, some even becoming Orthodox.
The museum of the 1,000 year history of Polish Jews, which has been in the planning stages and under construction for almost a decade, is finally due to open next year during the commemoration of the 69th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. The museum is located in the heart of what was once the ghetto, adjacent to the Warsaw Ghetto memorial. Its cornerstone was laid in 2007 with the participation of then-Polish president Lech Kaczynski, who made the land available when he was mayor of Warsaw. During the building’s construction, the museum's directorate has conducted diverse cultural programs about different aspects of Polish Jewish history. Many Israelis travel to Poland each year to participate in the commemoration ceremonies of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and then symbolically fly back home in time for Israel’s Independence Day. Next year, if the museum opening takes place as scheduled, many Israelis will be in Poland for the occasion as a considerable number of Israelis have been part of the planning process for the museum, whose director was in Israel this week and attended the event in Rehovot.
■ FANS OF the Beatles and the Rolling Stones as well as many musicians will join celebrated British photographer Philip Townsend at Le Minotaure Gallery in Tel Aviv on Thursday, November 10 for the opening of a photo exhibition depicting two British pop groups who revolutionized the peer generation of their youth.
■ UP UNTIL the mid-1930s, Jews were represented well beyond their ratio in the populations of their dispersion in the field of mathematics, especially in German speaking countries. When the Nazis came to power, Jews in academia were persecuted and ostracized.
Some who held important positions in major universities were stripped of their honors. Some were able to find their ways to America, England and other parts of the free world. Others were murdered in Hitler's death camps. In tribute to the memories of some of these great mathematicians who in their time lent luster to the universities where they worked, the Deutsche Telekom Foundation, in cooperation with the University of Frankfurt and the Frankfurt Jewish Museum, is taking a traveling exhibition through various German cities and will on Monday, November 14 open the exhibition at the Diaspora Museum on the campus of Tel Aviv University.
Under the title “Transcending Tradition,” the exhibition explores the working lives and activities of Jewish mathematicians in German-speaking countries during the period between the legal and political emancipation of the Jews in the 19th century and their persecution in Nazi Germany. It highlights the important role the Jewish mathematicians played in all areas of mathematical culture during the German Empire and the Weimar Republic, and recalls their emigration, flight or death after 1933. The exhibition was initially shown at the annual conferences of the German Mathematical Society in autumn 2006 in Bonn and in spring 2007 in Berlin. Since then it has been shown in other parts of Germany and has received an award from the German Ministry for Education and Research. Among the special guests arriving from Germany for the opening of the exhibition and its accompanying conference is Klaus Kinkel former German Minister for Foreign Affairs, who is today chairman of Deutsche Telekom.
■ EVEN THOUGH He dropped out of the race for the leadership of the Labor Party and gave his support to Isaac Herzog, Jerusalem businessman Erel Margalit has not faded into the background. Margalit, who loves a challenge and who is always on the lookout for new things to do in the realms of culture, economics and politics, was last week named the economic adviser to the government of Catalonia. On the following night he celebrated the official opening of the Zappa Jerusalem music club at the Lab, the multi-media facility that he and his wife Debbie opened several years ago in the old Jerusalem railway station. Margalit hosted Oriol Pujul, the president of Catalonia's parliamentary majority, and his delegation at dinner in Jerusalem.
He also showed them around Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) Media Quarter, which he heads. Margalit was flattered when Pujul asked him during the course of the meal to be his economic adviser. What had particularly impressed Pujul was the large number of young people milling through the JVP Quarter, and he wanted to know from Margalit how to motivate young people because the rate of unemployment among young people in Catalonia is exceptionally high. Margalit said that there is definitely potential to develop hi-tech in the Catalonia region and in Barcelona in particular , but the energy of the streets must be transferred to new start-ups, creativity and development. Young people are integral to this change, he said. When the two met again the following day, Pojul reiterated his request that Margalit be his adviser because he said that Margalit had the know-how to recognize whatever opportunities exist in Catalonia.
■ MORE THAN 1,000 friends of the Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus and senior hospital staff joined its 75th anniversary celebrations, which were held on the campus of Tel Aviv University and marked by a concert recital by Marina Maximillian- Blumen and the Ra’anana Symphonietta conducted by Gil Shohat. Pinhas (Pini Cohen, the chairman of the Friends of the Rabin Medical Center, which is the umbrella organization for the Beilinson and Sharon hospital campuses, was delighted to announce that donations and ticket sales to the event had brought in NIS 3 million., which will enable the hospital to acquire new advanced technological equipment. Eli Dafas, the CEO of Clalit Health Insurance, categorized Beilinson as the flagship of its medical services and surprised everyone present by pledging to donate NIS 1.5 million to the hospital, which he lauded not only for its professional standards but for its humane approach, calling it a “a people-to-people place.” Dr. Eyran Halpern, CEO of the Rabin Medical Center, said that he was proud of what had been achieved in the past and was confident that medical center staff could meet all the challenges of the future.
■ PEOPLE WHO may have come to Israel as part of a youth group or a nucleus of immigrants from similar backgrounds tend to stick together in the early stages, but later drift apart, meeting again only rarely at weddings and funerals. This was the case with a group of septuagenarians to nonagenarians who, 50 or more years ago, came from North America as members or former members of religious Zionist youth organizations including Bnei Akiva, Hashomer Hadati and Tze’irei Mizrahi. Among them was social worker and journalist Leah Abramowitz, who was told by wellknown author Yaffa Ganz and several other people at a memorial service for Shlomo Meltz that it was a shame so many of them managed to get together only on such sad occasions. So a group of them decided to organize a weekend at the Bayit Vagan Guest House in Jerusalem over last weekend. More than 125 people spent two days together, sharing experiences and reminiscing about the Israel they had all come to and the ways it has changed. They were joined on Saturday night by an additional 115 of their friends and colleagues – some from kibbutzim, some from Judea and Samaria, some from urban areas in different parts of the country. There was a lot to talk about children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who have contributed significantly to Israel's demographic balance.
Among the participants were academics, rabbis and people from a vast array of professions, all who have had a hand in Israel's development. Key participants included Naomi Rottenberg, Shoshana Silbert, Rivka Merzl, Itchie Fuchs, Nachum Pessin, Eli Klein, Hadassah Klamen, Dov Gilor and Rachel Karni, who were also on the organizing committee.
Some of the more public figures who attended were Rabbis Chaim Brovender, Pesach Schindler and Chaim Druckman.
■ FRENCH AMBASSADOR Christophe Bigot obviously enjoys conferring the Legion of Honor award on deserving Israelis. In fact, he does so with such frequency that he may be in danger of robbing it of its prestige. Recipients this week were art curator Marie Shek and cartoonist and illustrator Michel Kichka. Shek, was born in Tunisia and came to Israel with her family when she was 10. Her love for art was inspired by her sister, well-known artist Linda Zandhaus. Art and French culture dominated their parents’ home, so it was hardly surprising that when Shek enrolled at the Hebrew University, these were the subjects she chose to study. It was in the French department that she met her future (and now ex-) husband Daniel Shek, a second-generation diplomat who went on to become Israel's ambassador to France. Daniel Shek received Legion of Honor award last May. One of Daniel Shek's early postings was when he was still a junior diplomat in Paris, where Marie completed a master's degree at the Sorbonne and also taught art at the local Israeli school. More recently, she worked as an art curator in Paris. In both France and Israel she is considered to be a leading expert on contemporary art.
Kichka, the Belgium-born son of Holocaust survivors who travels to Auschwitz several times a year with high school students, also lectures at Bezalel and is a member of the Cartooning for Peace Foundation.
France has a tradition of highlighting political situations through satiric cartoons, which is what Kichka does in Israel, with great humor. Kichka also produces comics in Hebrew and French for various magazines, newspapers and television stations, including Le Monde and TV5. His work is also included in the French comic anthology Voyage en Israel.
■ SINCE THE report this past Monday on the French website Arret sur Images of a conversation between French President Nicholas Sarkozy and US President Barack Obama following their media conference at the G20 meeting, both Bigot and US Ambassador Dan Shapiro will have to use all the diplomacy at their disposal to soothe the ruffled feathers of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The two presidents, who should have known better, did not check whether all the microphones had been switched off when they had their own tete-a-tete after the conference. In the course of their discussions about Israel and the Palestinians, Sarkozy is reported to have said that he can't stand Netanyahu and that he's a liar. Obama reportedly replied, “You're fed up with him, but I have to deal with him every day.” Netanyahu, who was a diplomat before he became a politician is unlikely to tell the world what he thinks of them. They may have even done him a favor. Israelis are at liberty to say whatever they like about the PM, but foreigners, especially foreign leaders are not permitted to get in on the act. When they do insult our leaders, Israelis tend to close ranks, and the presidential insults may earn Netanyahu more support on the home front.
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